The flight to Tenerife was chaotic. It was a sold out flight, and the passengers were a youthful demographic. I am not saying they were all feral but there was a sizable number who seem to have been dragged up. After a spot of turbulence I decided to avail of the facilities. The agitated, young man in front of me in the queue starting banging the toilet door shouting ‘Will you hurry up, I’m dying for a slash!’. I recoiled in horror. The occupant was a companion of his and the expletive laden response burned my ears. Everybody seemed to order multiple mini bottles of hard liquor for the flight. Being far classier, I demurely sipped my bottle of flat warm Diet Coke, while reading ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan. I ordered pasta for lunch estimating a twenty minutes delivery time. I took my insulin injection at what I thought was a reasonable time before food would arrive. One hour later there was no sign of it, and the food trolley was still far away. I was starting to feel poorly so I invoked the help of the lovely Clondalkin girls beside me who fed me a Kit Kat. ‘Are you alright love? My sister’s s diabetic. It’s a SCOORGE.’
My friends collected me in the rental car and we made our way to the villa in Adeje on the south west of the island, which was to be our home for the next five nights. Four days before our arrival I had received an email from booking.com informing me that due to an ‘electrical fault’ at the property our reservation had been cancelled. No alternative was offered – leaving us without a place to stay mere days before departure. With four of us in the group I was stressed – booking rooms had been my job. Thankfully AirBNB offered a few alternatives. Several were managed by a character named Oksana however – the same charlatan who had cancelled our booking.com reservation. Avoiding all properties managed by her, I located a beautiful house with a pool, only marginally more expensive than the previous place. That evening we dined on steak – mine as always, rare – and met a Scottish couple. They had been a couple for a few years – she’d been widowed three years earlier and this was her first subsequent relatrionship. We consumed a few beverages with them.
Bucharest was a city about which I knew little. I knew that the fictional character of Count Dracula hailed from Transylvania in the north of Romania. The city of Sibiu was a beautiful location when I visited the week before Christmas in 2021. The Romanian capital city was a mystery to me. I’d heard grim murmurings about how the city was polluted and crime-ridden. However when Ryanair had a flash sale last month I noticed that a return flight to Bucharest would cost 60eur for a four night stay in January. I purchased my ticket, invited my friend and departed last Friday morning. A dive into the unknown.
From Dublin the flight takes 3.5 hours. We landed in Otopeni Airport (located twenty kilometres north of the city) at 5pm. It was already dark. Purchasing a seven day public transport pass we took the number 783 bus to the Old Town Centre – called Lipscani. The rain was heavy but the forecast for the coming days was encouraging. Upon arrival we encountered a friendly gentleman who attempted to assist us in entering my friend’s apartment (we were staying a five minute walk from each other). His motives were mercenary, his assistance was unnecessary but he wasn’t threatening. That evening we dined in the pub downstairs from my flat before heading to a bar called the Storage Room for a few sociables. It was quite plush in its décor. What was that smell though? Indoors? It was very retro. There were ashtrays on every table and people were happily puffing on cigarettes and shisha pipes. Smoking is banned in bars in Romania – but I guess this venue never got the email.
From January 2016 until August 2022 I lived in a flat overlooking the end of the Royal Canal in Dublin . Where it meets the river Liffey. From the balcony in the kitchen I could observe the riverside Convention Centre and a block of gleaming, glass apartments in the IFSC. Living on a corner, the view from my bedroom was different – the Laurence O’Toole church on Seville Place and the statue of Sherriff Street and Dubliners legend Luke Kelly. This was the point where Seville Place turned into Guild Street. If you walked from the river to Guild Street and onwards through Seville Place, underneath the railway bridge, and across Amiens Street, you’d reach Portland Row – from where Olympic gold medallist Kellie Harrington hails. Portland Row turns into the North Circular Road when you cross Summerhill. The North Circular continues in a loop for several miles until it ends at the Phoenix Park. These are roads that I know well, and which I got to know in great detail from March 2020 when the lockdown was declared and we were mandated not to stray further than specific distances from our homes.
In early December a documentary called ‘North Circular’ was released. It tells the story through music, of how the old working class communities of Dublin are adapting to a city being homogenised for tourists and tech workers. This sounded interesting. It’s a road I had walked hundreds of times over the years – even prior to lockdown, it was the street I walked through to reach Dorset street to take my daily work bus to the Wastelands. Press 2 below for next page
Ireland and the UK seem to be the countries in the world with the most unbreakable attachment to the pantomime style of theatre – whereby an old fairy-tale is adapted into a musical comedy for all the family; where the performers onstage interact with the audience; where middle-aged men dress up as pantomime dames; where a young hero or heroine finds true love (with assistance from the audience). Targeted at children, there is plenty of topical, adult humour for the grown-ups. Staged from before Christmas to the New Year, it can be an extremely lucrative endeavour, when for a period of several weeks, there will be two shows daily, where former soap stars and TV entertainers can top up their income, or indeed earn enough to keep them in greasepaint for several months to come. The shows staged tend to be the same – Cinderella; Sleeping Beauty; Puss in Boots; Mother Goose; Peter Pan; Aladdin; The Jungle Book; Jack and the Beanstalk; Hansel and Gretel.
The 18.50 train left Colbert Station in Limerick on time yesterday evening – the coldest night of the year. I ate my ham, cheese and tomato sandwich contentedly. I would be changing to the Cork train in the armpit of Ireland – Limerick Junction – from whence I would be transported to Dublin Heuston. Estimated time of arrival 21.05. I was planning an early night in preparation for the big Christnas dinner at work the following day (my company has a tradition of laying on a full Christmas spread for all employees in the staff canteen about a week before Christmas). The Cork to Dublin train was waiting for me at Limerick Junction. Try as I might I will never love Limerick Junction – bleak and desolate it is the place that dreams go to die. As such it has a micro-climate – it is always cold and wet, with a biting wind at the Junction. For once the rest of the country was in perfect synchronicity with that godforsaken place.
I shivered in relief as we pulled out of the Junction. Onwards to Dublin. Through Thurles, Templemore and Port Laoise – our final stop of the night before reaching Dublin Heuston. Just outside Portarlington in County Laois the train stopped. This was no cause for alarm. Irish Rail has issues with trains passing each other in opposite directions, at the same time. It is quite routine for a train to stop, while waiting for a train to pass, before continuing. It was 20.35. At 21.00 it was getting annoying. Some information would be appreciated. Finally the train host announced over the intercom that there was engine trouble but that a tow train was on its way from Heuston which would pull us into Dublin. It would arrive ‘shortly’. Apologies for any inconvenience were issued. At 21.30 the same announcement was made. And again at 22.00. There was never an estimate offered as to when we would get moving.
My first visit to Madrid was in 2007. The memories are hazy, but there was a sense that it was a city that I would revisit one day. It was too vast a place to absorb in a solitary trip. I felt joy when Aer Lingus had a sale in September – a return journey cost a hundred euros. As I was still on my post pandemic travel binge, I booked my flight and accommodation. I would be making my triumphant return to the capital of Spain between the 9th and 13th December.
Along the way I acquired some travel companions. I am comfortable as a solitary traveller but am amenable to some company on the way. I will book my trips in the expectation that I will be a sole wanderer and if I acquire some companions en route then this is a bonus. In the end it was a group of four – two who were travelling on Ryanair at 9.30am and two (myself included) who were taking Aer Lingus flight EI0594 at 17.30 that evening.
In the days pre departure, the forecast from Madrid looked ominous – it was an unseasonably wet December in Spain- with persistent rain forecast for the duration of our stay. The temperatures were mild, but the rain promised to be constant. So much so that a few days before take-off our travel numbers were reduced to three. Disappointing but it was still going to be exciting. Among us we have agreed that the Saturday would be spent exploring the ancient city of Toledo. Located about an hour by train from Madrid, this was a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most historically significant towns in Spain. I had almost visited back in 2007, but the shenanigans the night before rendered me unfit for purpose on the day of travel. It was finally time to rectify this. A return visit to the Prado Museum was also on the cards. This was a ‘must see’ for both my travel companions and as such I was willing to participate.
My first-time seeing Villagers live in concert was about ten years ago. A friend of mine asked if I’d be interested in seeing the Dublin band. I agreed – going to a concert is rarely a bad way spend an evening. What I witnessed impressed me greatly – soulful, melancholy and reflective music. Villagers can be classified as an indie-folk group but that wouldn’t be completely accurate. The only permanent member of the group is Conor O’Brien from Dublin. In the years since I have seen them / him live many times – from an old church in Amsterdam, to Vicar Street and the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin, to Dolans in Limerick. Last night’s gig was in the Limetree Theatre in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. Having seen them earlier in the summer at the outdoor gig in the Iveagh Gardens, I know that last night’s concert would be more subdued. Villagers’music is wistful and forlorn so there would be none of the braggadocio that is required for outdoor concerts. Last night was advertised as an acoustic set. This wasn’t going to be a Bon Jovi with big hair type of gig. This is no bad thing.
There was an air traffic controllers’ strike in France on the Friday I travelled. My airline informed me that unless I had received an email telling me that my flight was cancelled, then it was proceeding as scheduled. This was a relief. This was my first trip to Paris in approximately a decade, and it would also be my first foreign trip from my new local airport – Shannon, in County Clare. Paris is a city that I have visited several times over the years, but never really as a tourist. My trips tended to be overnight trips on the high-speed train from Amsterdam for nights out. This time I was going to explore it properly. My co-conspirator for this journey was my friend from England (via Limerick) who’d be arriving on the Eurostar from London.
The flight was at 19.25. My bus to Shannon Airport was meant to be at 17.24 from Limerick Station, with arrival at the airport at 17.53. The bus arrived in Limerick Station at a leisurely 17.45 and reached airport at 18.15. At security check-in I was told the Vueling boarding pass on my phone wasn’t valid. Back to check in desk I trotted, got new pass and back through security. I went to the lav, bought a Coke, and strolled to the departure gate. Gadzooks. Where was my bag? It certainly wasn’t with me. The clock now read 18.55. Back to the toilet I went – no bag there. Back to security. No bag. The kindly airport policeman checked cameras. ‘You brought it through security’ he informed me. That was all very well I thought to myself, but where was it now. I had my insulin packed in that bag.
The announcement over the intercom ominously declared ‘Flight to Paris closing’.
Thousands of years ago (meaning February 2020) before the hated Plague had restricted our lives so drastically, I visited Rome for the first time. While I was there, I took the FrecciaRossa hi-speed train service to Naples so I could travel to the outer edges of that city to see the archaeological site of Pompeii. This had been a dream of mine since the age of nine years old when I was taught about it in school. It fascinated me – the idea that a town was frozen in time after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius two thousand years ago. It exceeded my expectations. However, my regret was that it was a day trip – there was so much to see and do in Rome that I didn’t have time to explore the rest of Italy’s third largest city Naples. When my friend suggested an early autumn jaunt back to Naples, I was all over the idea like eczema. Flights were booked, accommodation sorted and on the 7th of October we travelled from Limerick to Dublin to begin our journey.
I felt very responsible. This being my twenty second foreign trip since the start of the pandemic meant that international travel was quite routine for me. My friend hadn’t travelled abroad since late 2019 (when we visited Ukraine) so was understandably nervous. I tried to place myself in her shoes. We’d work it out.
As I sat in Dublin Airport waiting to board my plane to Bergamo, I had a thought. If I’d checked travel dates when booking my foreign trips six months earlier, I wouldn’t have travelled to Naples one weekend, returned home, only to go back to southern Italy the following weekend. I’d have stayed in Italy. Sadly, this was only a thought, so there I was again – sitting in Departures, waiting to board a Ryanair flight.
Upon arrival in Bergamo I realised why my hotel was so cheap – it was out in the countryside – and as my flight landed at 10.30pm I had to take a taxi there – there being no public transport at that hour. The driver was a sleazy grifter. He didn’t look like one, but he changed forty euros for a five-kilometre trip. In these situations, it’s not worth arguing. I paid the money and swore not to take another taxi this holiday. Arising at 7.30 I started planning my return journey to Bergamo Airport for my 11.50am flight. Sipping a strong coffee, an awkward fact presented itself. It would be quicker to walk from my rural B&B than to take a bus. Also 40 euro cheaper than Uber was telling me the 5km journey would cost. It seems like I had misjudged by driver from the night before. This is after all the most expensive part of Italy. The early morning stroll to the airport was scenic and rustic until I reached the motorway. I could see the airport in the distance, but how to safely traverse six lanes of traffic. A kindly Italian farmer pointed me in the direction of an underpass (he saw me looking bewildered from his tractor). Onwards to Lecce.