Category Archives: Coronavirus

Pandemic travel: Sibiu, Transylvania, December 2021

My final trip of the year was touch and go, as to whether it would actually happen. I booked the ticket only a few days before departure, when Ireland was shutting down once again. I had planned to see Villagers in concert on Saturday night in Vicar Street. As cases of the omicron variant were exploding, new restrictions were introduced, meaning the show was cancelled. Travel was still permitted however, so I went to the ‘Fare finder’ section of the Ryanair website, and entered my flight budget (under 80eur). The result came back as either Birmingham or Sibiu in Romania. I like the city of Birmingham, but this was not a difficult choice. I would be traveling for the first time to the country of Romania, to a city whose name I had never previously heard.

Grand Square

In the days prior to departure I checked the news to make sure that new travel restrictions had not been imposed. I had a bad case of the nerves – fear that while abroad, Ireland might place Romania on a red list of countries. I was still going though. Some precautions would need to be taken. I carried a month’s supply of insulin in case I got stranded. My work laptop was neatly packed in the event I was still abroad on Tuesday when I was due back at work. I had plotted my exit from Romania to Budapest via bus, in case any flight bans were introduced. Excessive planning on my part, perhaps, but everything seemed so flimsy, I thought it wiser to be prepared.

Sibiu is a town of approximately 170,000 people in the centre of Romania. Located in Transylvania it is known as ‘The City with Eyes’ for the design of the houses with eye-shaped windows in the rooves. It was originally a Saxon city, and until World War 2 it was a city where the ethnic German population of Romania lived.

I was staying in a little ground floor apartment in a courtyard off a street, that was metres away from the Piața Mare (Grand Square) where the annual Christmas market was being held. The two bloodhounds roaming this courtyard were very friendly but had a disconcerting habit of jumping on you to express their happiness to see you. I arrived too late on my first night to go out, so ordered a pizza and watched Dolly Parton videos on MTV Romania – the woman is a star the world over.

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Pandemic travels: On the omicron express with Irish Rail – December 2021

After my Christmas trip to Limerick, on the 28th of December I bid farewell to my family to catch my train back to Dublin. As is quite common this was not a direct train. I took the 15.55 from Limerick Colbert Station to Limerick Junction, from where at about 16.30 I would board my connection – the 15.25 from Cork’s Kent Station. Then onwards to Dublin Heuston. Upon arrival at the Junction (which I may have previously referred to as the groin of Ireland thanks to its singular lack of loveliness, and unending air of bleakness and despair – not forgetting the eternal rain of course) I saw the Cork train sitting at Platform 2. In just over ninety minutes I believed I would be back in the Big Smoke.

I boarded the Cork train in carriage E. Thankfully it didn’t seem too crowded. I had my book in my stylish manbag (‘The corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen). This trip would be brief, I thought to myself.

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Pandemic travels: Vilnius, Lithuania; November 2021

Originally my intention had been to visit Latvia and Lithuania in March 2020. I would fly into Riga, spend a few days there; followed by a bus tour to Vilnius which would stop at historic castles and parks en route. My journey would end in Vilnius for a few more days, before my flight home from the Lithuanian capital. Something happened however, meaning the trip was cancelled – the global pandemic. I postponed the holiday until October 2020, as obviously everything would be back to normal by then. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible. I subsequently switched my flights to March 2021. Pandemic said no. Finally I moved the dates to November. The Latvian leg of the trip was cancelled unfortunately, because of a fresh lockdown in that country. Vilnius remained open however. Being both vaxxed and recovered, I decided to take my chances. My trip to Vilnius might be brief but it had been a long time coming. It was time to hit the runway.

Gediminas Castle Tower

After checking in to my grim (but incredibly cheap) apartment I found my way randomly to Bernelių užeiga Vilniuje – a traditional restaurant in the city centre. The food was potato based and tasty. The lounge singer switched between Lithuanian folk music and easy-listening in English. ‘You’ by 10 Sharp was a highlight. I decided against the ballroom dancing when it began. I am not Billy Idol. There’d be no dancing with myself this holiday.

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Pandemic travels – Oslo, Norway, October 2021

The decision to travel to Norway was made in the early summer. It’s a country I had never visited, and knew very little about (Sue Townsend’s famed anti-hero Adrian Mole had once done a school project on the Norwegian leather industry so I was reasonably well versed on that facet of the country. I was also aware of legendary Norwegian pop and A-Ha). My friend R had previously visited, loved it and so we decided that to celebrate the possibility that life might be going back to normal, we booked a trip.

Our early October travel dates were deliberate. The days were still long and the bitter cold that Scandinavian winters are known for hadn’t arrived yet. The SAS flights cost only 120euro for a return trip.

Oslo airport was as clean and neat as you’d expect. What was not so expected was the chaos in the off-license at the duty-free. Norway is one of the world’s most expensive countries when it comes to booze, so the natives purchase as much as they can in the duty free upon arrival back in the homeland. We weren’t there for the duty free. We made our way to the station and the half hour trek to Oslo central station.

We were staying in different hotels both within a three minute stroll to the station – which became our meeting point.

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Pandemic travels: The Scottish Highlands and Hebrides, July 2021

By July of this year, international travel out of Dublin Airport remained banned (in theory) for all but essential purposes. Obviously a hastily muttered ‘funeral’ to any inquiring policeman would see you waved through security. I am not a convincing liar however, so I performed my usual clever trick – I flew from Belfast for my upcoming trip. My destination was the Scottish Highlands. The plan was to visit the city of Inverness to where you could get a direct flight. I contacted a Glaswegian friend M, and asked her if she had any recommendations for Inverness and the surrounding area.

‘When are you going?’ came her reply. I told her early July. To my astonishment she told me that she and her partner D had bought a camper van and were planning a camping holiday in the Highlands at the same time I was visiting. An offer of a tent and a seat in the van was made. This was a welcome development. Solo travel is very enjoyable, and I have become a veteran of such excursions. Traveling with friends is preferable, however. Shared experiences take the edge when it comes to travel.

My EasyJet flight was early morning from Belfast International. The thought of rising at 5am to catch a bus from Dublin filled me with horror. I booked a room in a youth hostel close to the Europa bus station in Belfast that would allow me to emerge from my crypt at a more humane 8.30am and reach the airport on time for my flight. I ignored the fact that I was at least twenty years older than everyone staying in the hostel – I had paid for a private room so I could close my door on the world.

The flight the next day was uneventful, short, and almost empty. The bus to Inverness town from the airport departed once an hour. The next scheduled service was in twenty minutes. I asked the driver if he was going to town. He said that he’d be back in the airport in twenty minutes but if I wanted to board the bus now that was fine. The airport shuttle was a back-and-forth service. I may as well see some of the Highlands. I hopped on the bus and went on my way. The landscape around Inverness is very like West Cork – very beautiful.
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Theatrical: ‘DruidGregory’ at Coole Park, Galway

I received a call from a friend a couple of days before the new lockdown for Dublin was declared; asking if I’d be interested in accompanying her to the Druid Theatre production of ‘Druid Gregory’ in the grounds of Coole Park in Gort on Sunday evening. She had acquired a pair of tickets for the sold out show. I had a very brief internal debate about the wisdom of traveling West on the weekend that the capital closed up shop once again. Considering I live alone, work from home and only meet a small handful of people at a socially distanced level on any given week, my decision was easy. I was going to the theatre for only the second time since March (in August I went to see Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ by Bewley’s Café Theatre in the Irish Georgian Society building on South William Street in Dublin.

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Day 78, Coronavirus diaries: Back to Life

It appears that life is returning to a version of normal. For this I am profoundly grateful. The drudgery of the past eleven weeks in lockdown, in a flat on my own, hasn’t been too oppressive however. I have been diligent about going for a brisk walk around my neighbourhood almost every day – within the approved travel zones of 2 kilometres, and later 5 kilometres from my gracious abode.

Since day one I have bent the rules slightly, by meeting friends whose 2 kilometre zone intersects my zone. We have taken socially responsible walks, maintaining a physical distance of two metres from each other. This was disallowed, but maintaining the spirit of the restrictions seemed sufficient to me. People living alone were being asked to sacrifice more than people in shared accommodation – whether that be with partner, family, friends or flatmates. Human contact – however frustrating it can be – is preferable to none. Being a person who was recommended to self-isolate because of the diabetes played on my mind. The idea of staying indoors for three months never seemed a viable option. Seeing nobody face to face wasn’t a consideration. As a high risk person, my decision to venture out, while adhering strictly to the lockdown rules for outdoors was at my own risk. It was a calculated gamble, but I was careful. Without a garden or any secluded outdoor space to myself I would have been driven demented had I locked myself indoors for the duration.

With a devil-may-care-Texas-playboy attitude, mixed with a hyper-paranoia about physical distancing, I set sail and explored my wonderful neighbourhood. Dublin as a city – and particularly the Northside – is now a much more connected place for me. I know which streets intersect with others; where neighbourhoods overlap; short cuts to various destinations. And I have taken pictures.

As we head to a further easing of restrictions in the next week or so, you can already see the city activity resuming. There are more people on the streets. Traffic – although still sparse compared to normal times – is increasing. More cafes, and restaurants are opening – takeaway only  of course. This is splendid – although my affection for the Cloud Café on North Strand Road and Il Fornaio Italian in the IFSC restaurant is now unassailable – the two venues that hardily remained open throughout the lockdown, providing my weekly posh coffee and takeaway pizza respectively.

The highlight of my lockdown in terms of places, has to be the Blessington Street Basin. It’s an old reservoir that has been transformed into a nature reserve. It is an absolute diamond of a space, hidden away from too many eyes. I stumbled across it about two months ago. Since then I have been back about ten times – such is the peace and beauty of the place.

An interesting discovery is the realisation that those metal electricity boxes throughout the city have been enhanced by artists, with some lovely paintings adorning them.

These streets that almost felt like they were mine alone, are being crowded again. This is a good thing.

I have had a fairly limited but consistent coterie of companions on my walks – particularly for my Sunday strolls. Sometimes circumstance (and travel restrictions) throws people together. And it can be a wonderful thing.

It is apparent that over the last week an adjusted version of normal life is resuming. It may be linked to the glorious weather I guess. Physical distancing may continue (maybe not judging by the gangs of teenagers on the banks of the Royal Canal each evening). Covid is still lurking like an unflushable turd in the toilet bowl of course. So long as people exercise a degree of common sense, caution and human decency and hygiene, then we’ll all be grand.

Dublin – as Soul II Soul might say – is back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now again. For that I am thankful.