Monday, September 15, 2014

Hiking in Ireland: Bray Coastal Walk

I had been told that September was the best month to travel around Ireland as the weather usually shows its most gentle side. Everybody knows it is so because everybody remembers going back to school after a cold and wet summer only to find out that the sun was shining again outside while they were putting their new books on their desks. This year was no different and as soon as the streets were full of schoolboys and schoolgirls wearing uniforms of every possible colour combination the summer showers took a break and the sun begin to shine again. Yeah, the weather is being nice again and it definitely seems like the perfect time to be outdoors. So that's what I'm trying to do.

Some weeks ago I ventured myself outside Co. Dublin for the first time ever. I didn't get far though, just went to Bray, the first village in Co. Wicklow after the end of Co. Dublin. Someone had told me that Bray made for a nice summer daytrip, especially during the Bray summer festival, when there is a fair on the main square. But I missed the summer fair and Bray wasn't especially beautiful nor especially interesting. There is, however, something good about Bray, the hiking possibilities. And apparently there's also a nice bowling place where you can spend the whole evening trying for the perfect strike for only €10, or so I've heard (oh my, I'm realizing now that I hear too many things ...). Anyway, back to the hiking, the good thing about Bray is that it is a great base point to start exploring Co. Wicklow, known for its lush nature, and it also offers some scenic views of the coast of Ireland.

Bray's most distinctive feature is Bray Head, a hill which overlooks the village and can be seen from all over the coast. I first intended to walk up to Bray Head but I somehow missed the way and walked along until I reached Greystones, the next village in Co. Wicklow. While the views from Bray Head are probably spectacular, the coastal walk from Bray to Greystones was also delightful. Six kilometers along the coast seing cliffs, wild vegetation, old railways, rocks and stones, hundreds of lilac flowers and the mighty sea. It was a first taste of Ireland outside Dublin, of all the wilderness of its nature and of its famed greenery. It was an easy path to follow and even though I went hiking on my own I didn't feel unsafe as there were always people around.

I treated myself to a fish and chips when I arrived to Greystones and then I wandered a bit around before I took the bus back to Dublin. Greystones might not be particularly interesting either but it was more charming than Bray and the main road had several good-looking cafés. I may never return to Bray or Greystones but it was lovely hike nearby Dublin and I can tell you, Ireland is really that beautiful!

Have a lovely week!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Photowalk: Dublin National Botanic Gardens

Last Tuesday marked three months since I moved to Dublin. Time really flies! During these three months I've been out and around Dublin and by now I can confidently say that I quite know the city. And more importantly, I quite love this city. I really like its easy-going vibe and provincial feeling and attitude. People are never too busy to stop for a chat, bus drivers are always willing to help with the way, the nearest supermarket is usually never further than a street away, there are hundreds of cafés to pause for a while and there are dozens of green spaces where to relax on a sunny day. Or simply on a non-rainy day. The weather forecast says that the sun will be shining timidly this weekend and that temperatures should stay around 20*C and that's more than lovely weather in Ireland. So I though it would be nice to take you for a walk to one my favourite places in the city.

I went to the National Botanical Gardens a couple of months ago and I truly enjoyed my time there. The weather was nice and July must have been a very good month to visit them as many flowers were in bloom and plants and trees were at their greenest. The most distinctive feature of the botanical gardens in Dublin are its glass greenhouses which are scattered over the park and each of them is home to different flora according to their natural ecosystems - there is a small glasshouse for delicate alpine flowers and some bigger houses for tropical plants and trees. Outside the glasshouses, the gardens are also arranged in different sections. There is a rose garden, Chinese gardens, Irish vegetation areas and even fruit and vegetable patches. Botanic gardens do not usually rank high on my sightseeing lists but I am happy that I discovered this small gem in Dublin, though it is slightly out of the touristic trail.

The National Botanic Gardens are located on Botanic Road and be reached by bus (no 9, 13 and 83 among others). The gardens are open Monday to Sunday, though opening times vary throughout the year. Entry is free.

Have a lovely weekend!

Monday, September 1, 2014

That was a weird day

The funniest things can happen in Ireland. Like that time I was waiting for the bus and a man approached me and asked if I was Spanish or Italian and then told me the story of his life, which basically was something along the lines of him making the resolution of learning a new language for the new millennium, him actually learning Spanish and eventually moving to somewhere in Catalonia to teach English and have much fun doing paragliding or whatever, him coming back to Ireland but missing Spain a lot. He even had a joke to tell in Spanish. I wondered what story he would have told me, had I said I was Italian. Anyway, that didn't happen on that day.

It all started in the morning, when I poured some boiling water on my hand when preparing my morning tea. Oh, did it burn. My hand was hurting all morning and sometimes even the still air would make my hand sore. That day was rather hectic at work and I went for lunch a bit later than usual. I was chatting with some colleagues I had never talked to before and just before returning to my desk the cook came to compliment me on my hair. 'Oh, it looks lovely. Did you straighten it yourself?'. 'Ehm, yes, thank you!'. Later, the girls explained that he has a thing for hairs and hadn't he been a cook, he would've trained as a hairdresser. I had to do some overtime but when I finally went home I turned on my laptop and looked for flights to Switzerland for a long weekend. I was going to book them separately and after booking a ticket from Dublin to Basel my laptop decided it was about time to stop working. And there I was, with a one-way ticket to Switzerland and no laptop to book my return ticket.

And that's the story of how my laptop finally powered off. After eight years and five countries, my laptop and I parted ways. He was a good laptop but I could see this coming for a long time. It was years since he started making a terrible noise and for that I nicknamed him 'the helicopter'. Seriously, it was so bad that when I once had an interview via Skype my interviewer asked if I was living near an airport. But he was a good laptop. I asked to live at least until I finished writing my master thesis last summer and he survived for even another year after that. It is not going to be easy to replace him, I don't even know where to start looking (any suggestions?).

That's one of the reasons why this space has been so quiet during the summer. However, it wouldn't fair to blame it all on my laptop. I've been quite busy in the last weeks, out and about. Either Boyfriend was here or I was there; either I was daytriping outside Dublin or staying in Dublin for summer bbqs; and I even spent some quality time with a childhood friend who booked a family holiday in Dublin. So, yes, I've had a good summer and all that resulted in an impromptu blogacation (blog+vacation, you know). I have quite a few stories to tell you but I have to figure out how to continue blogging until I get a new laptop. Maybe I should give mobile blogging a go and see what happens, though I'm afraid my posts will be more talk and less pics. Or maybe I should blog less until I get myself another laptop and can edit photos again. I will see. Do you have any tips to blog from mobile devices? How do you organize your blogging?

Have a lovely week, y'all!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Expat Experiences: What I would change about Dublin

Welcome to another instalment of the July Expat Experiences link-up hosted by Molly of The Move toAmerica. If you've never heard of this link-up before you can find out more about it here and also read Molly's story for this week or my previous Expat Experiences posts. The prompt for this week is 'What I would change about …' and the idea is to have a good rant and list all the things that could do with a bit of improvement in your current city. Positive criticism, they call it.  

The Move to America

You all know that I'm feeling quite infatuated by Dublin at the moment but after a month living here I've also started to take notice of some random small things that make my life here slightly less than perfect. They're really small things, as you shall see, but they annoy me from time to time. So here's my little list (Dublin, don't get mad at me for talking behind your back).

The taste of tap water 

Problem: I'm used to drink from the tap and I've probably been spoilt because tap water in the Netherlands and Switzerland tasted way too good. As good as something which by definition is tastelest can taste. Consequence: I am probably not drinking enough water and half of my daily water intake is in the form of tea. My skin is already paying the price.

Public transport routes 

Problem: Now, Dublin has actually quite a decent transport network. There are buses, trams (called luas), urban train. (called DART) and commuting trains but there is a minor flaw in the transport system. Most buses and trams connect peripheric neighbourhoods with the city centre but most neighbourhoods are not connected among themselves at all. Consequence: I spend two hours a day on the bus because I need to change at the city centre to get to my office even though I don't really live that far and it would only take me twenty minutes by car. If only I had a driving license ...

Supermarkets product choice 

Problem: This is almost a bipolar situation, as there is either too little or too much choice for almost everything. I can go crazy looking for the perfect brown bread among at least ten different types of sliced brown bread but then I go to the dairy products aisle and I cannot find a single normal yogurt amid so many low-fat types. And that's not the only aisle inundated by low-fat crap. Consequence: Grocery shopping is confusing and trips to the supermarket have become something overwhelming and time-consuming. Perhaps it's me who needs some improvement this time.

I think that quite sums up what I would change about Dublin, every other thing is just fine. Ok, maybe houses could do with some help too – what about better isolation and normal showers (seriously, THIS is just weird!). But I guess that living in an old house and spending my evenings under a blanket sipping tea is part of the charm of living in Dublin. So, from the cosy corner of my room where I pass my evenings under a blanket, here are some tips to help you get over any inconvenience you might find in your place, expat or non-expat home.

Find a remedy - easier said than done, but it's worth the try. I might be buying a filtering jar in the near future to see if that makes tap water more appealing to my palate.

Ignore it - not applicable to all problems but when it can be done, it is really the best solution. I didn't tell you but Dublin can be a bit filthy, only a bit. Anyway, as long as where I live is clean, I can live with whatever it's on the streets.

Move out of town - drastic times call for drastic measures. If there is something you really, really, really cannot put up with, then better start packing. Maybe day after day of rain will eventually see me leaving Dublin but for now I'm just hoping the weather will not take that nasty turn.

Have a lovely Monday!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A day at the coast: Dún Laoghaire

Dún Laoghaire: [] Fort of Laoghaire.

It took me nearly a week to learn to pronounce correctly the name of this coastal town south of Dublin. I left the office one Friday asking my colleagues if Doon Loughrie would be a place worth a visit and I came back the next Monday telling them that Doun Laughrie has been a really nice daytrip. No one knew what I was talking about. After explaining briefly what I had seen and done and which bus I had taken, everyone said, 'Oh, Dunleary, lovely, isn't it?'. Ehm, yeah, that's exactly what I was telling you all this time. Anyway.

Dun Laoghaire

Living in Dublin I feel very fortunate for being so close to the sea and being able to go to the coast whenever I feel like. Unlike in Belgium or the Netherlands, where a trip to the coast was a big event due to the distances and hours spent on trains, in Dublin I'm spoilt for choice. Not that I really, really need to go to the beach everyday and that I miss the chance of laying under the sun all year round, but it just feels right to be able to go and see the sea every time I want. Probably this has to do with me coming from a small island. So one of the first things on my Ireland to do list was to explore the coastal surroundings of Dublin and a couple of weeks ago I started with a daytrip to Dún Laoghaire.

The bus stopping in front of my house goes from Phoenix Park to Dún Laoghaire and one sunny Sunday I decided to jump in and ride till the last stop. The Irish coast was awaiting me! The sun was shining brightly and as we left the city centre behind the sky became even more blue, if possible, and the brightness of the day was almost blinding. That was NOT the kind of weather I was expecting in Dublin and I was glad that my first venture outside Dublin wasn't drowned in rain and mist.

The bus ride to Dún Laoghaire was long, around an hour, but as soon as I stepped out from the bus I knew there was a fine day ahead. I could smell the sea, hear the gulls, feel the summer breeze on my face, it was perfect. Dún Laoghaire is a small town some 10 Km south of Dublin; its centre is small but full of cafés and shops and it has some beautiful buildings dating from the 19th century. It is an important port and one of its main attractions are the long piers, which embrace the harbour both from the east and the west. I took a long walk along the East Pier and entertained myself taking photos of everything around me. The shoreline, the fishing and sailing boats, the clear skies, the coastal vegetation and the stranded jellyfish in the water. I was walking for a good hour and the pier came to an end by the lighthouse. From the East Pier you can only guess the silhouetes of the bay of Dublin but you get a superb view of the Malahide Peninsula. Just before the lighthouse there was a single bench facing the ocean. I sat there for a while, breathed in the salty air and gazed into the blue sky. That was my first taste of Ireland outside Dublin and it was quite a tasty bite, now I'm hungry for more.

While in Dún Laoghaire I discovered the '99, a summer favourite of every Dubliner. This beloved cone of soft ice cream could be the most mundane ice cream in the world - in fact it is quite the same as a McDo cone - but everyone in Dublin will tell you that a '99 is a rather special thing with a distinctive taste that makes it different from every other ice cream in the world. Different or not, a '99 is a cone of soft ice cream with a bar of chocolate sticked on it and it usually costs €2.20, so I've no idea why they call it a '99.

Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

Du Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

Have you ever been to the Irish coast? Any recommendation to share or tales to tell?

Have a lovely Thursday!

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