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.
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.
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.
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.
Non-essential travel from Ireland was re-permitted from the end of July. Having bought a flight to Malaga on the Costa Del Sol earlier that year, before the date when restriction were eased, for the day after said restrictions were finally lifted was perfect timing. This would be my first trip to Malaga – though I’d been to sister Andalusian city of Seville en route to Morocco some years earlier. My preconception was that Malaga was a gateway to Torremolinos and Fuengirola and those massive sun holiday resorts so beloved by the Irish and our northern European neighbours.
What hit me first as I disembarked the plane at 8pm was how hot it was. I’d forgotten to take into account the sweltering heat of southern Spain in summer. I should have known – I’d been to Greece and Malta during high season on previous travels. My lack of foresight was my own fault. I wasn’t worried – I was on holidays. I would struggle through. More concerning was my lack of digital Covid vaccine certificate. Having been fully vaccinated since May I should have received this soon to be compulsory travel pass. No such luck. I had the cardboard HSE card detailing my status but was worried it might be looked at askance by the Spanish authorities. There was nothing I could do about that now. I wasn’t going to delay my trip for the sake of a QR code.
My hotel was in the centre of the surprisingly large city. My research indicated that Malaga was Spain’s sixth largest city with a population of 600,000 people. Good news. This wasn’t just a beach resort. Press 2 below for next page
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. Press 2 below for next page
As this strangest of years draws to a close, I am putting finger to keypad one more time to describe my travels in the time of pandemic. My final jaunt of the year taken before the second lockdown was imposed was to Venice as September turned to October. I will preface this post with my usual disclaimer. While traveling to, and while in Venice, I observed all physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing guidelines. I observed the fourteen-day quarantine period upon my return to Ireland – which as I have previously mentioned is not that difficult when you live alone. I kept this excursion entirely to myself again, not wanting to hear people’s criticism or judgement of my decision to travel. The only person I was placing at risk by my choice was myself. For the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.
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.
‘Brief Encounter’ – the 1945 British film directed by David Lean is often cited as one of the most romantic films of all time. Based on the play ‘Still Life’ by Noel Coward, it tells the tale of an extra-marital affair between two middle-aged people, whose relationship is played out in stolen moments at a train station. Continue reading Brief encounter at Limerick Junction→
The flight to Kyiv from Dublin lasted 3.5 hours, and was a typical Ryanair experience. When you are trapped in the air for that length of time, they can try the hard sell at their leisure.
We were greeted at the airport by Vladimir – the representative of the letting agent, whose apartment in city centre Kyiv we were residing for the weekend. He drove us to our abode. It was 11pm. We needed a cocktail, and headed to N::B Cocktail Bar which has to be the loveliest bar I have ever visited. It is just off the Maidan Nezalezhjnosti (Independence Square) and is a cosy yet luxurious place with the best signature cocktails on the planet. Continue reading Chernobyl→
I had been to North Africa before. The exact timing is hazy but I suspect it was in 2007 that a small group of us travelled to Egypt, and I ended up in a situation where an obstreperous camel pissed on my brand new designer trainers, beside the Pyramids. Egypt was spectacular but I still bear a grudge against that camel. It was time for my return to the continent. My destination – Morocco. Continue reading An Irish goat in Morocco→