The grand auld cottage life.

And so another Irish summer begins, yet a hot water bottle is necessary every night and my evenings mainly consist of sitting by the fire wrapped in my poncho and pondering my choice of country in which to spend the “sunny season”.  For the third year in a row – when will I learn? Or at least, when will I learn to bring extra pairs of socks and waterproof over-trousers? 

It’s hard to plan for bad weather when you’re in Greece, knee deep in raki and zooming around on scooters in skirts. 

There must be a reason I keep returning. Is it… The sheep? No, although they are pretty adorable. Even when they stop for a suckle at mothers teat in the middle of the main road, and simply expect you to stop and gaze upon them, as if they are what you were cycling furiously up the hill in the driving rain for.

 

 I have to say, my humble abode for this season makes the bad weather more bearable. I come home, wet and bedraggled, like a wee hamster flushed down the toilet, and my cottage welcomes me with open arms. The shower pressure may be more ‘geriatric dribble’ than ‘power shower’, but i have learnt that if you sit awkwardly in the bath tub, fill it to a mid – bum cheek level, then turn on the hand held shower head and hold it over you, sloshing a bit of water around like a naughty baby,  it’s a whole new bathing experience. It’s just a bit awkward when you need to wash your hair, because a girl only has so many hands, and you need at least one to grip the side of the tub to prevent a slippery death..

  

  
The open fire can really make or break a cosy night in. Now, having grown up with log fires, a turf and coal fire is a whole new challenge for me, and one I am so willing to accept. My first time trying to light the beast ended with me retiring to my bed, chilly, with only a hot water bottle and failure to accompany me. I have tried, several times now, but I cannot seem to get the ratio of firelighter: coal: turf correct. My housemate lights a mean fire, so tonight I watched over her shoulder as she lit it. Now I sit, regally, by the roaring fire, casually hiffing chunks of turf on the fire, swirling my red wine, gazing into the flames and remarking out loud to no one in particular, “By Jove! What splendid heat!”

  
In the morning I shall climb on my noble bicycle steed and begin the daily trek to work, come rain or shine, hail or gale. It’s character building stuff. (And I look ridiculously good in high visibility rain gear and men’s overtrousers).

  
Ahh, the Wild West of Ireland. It’s good to be back.  

Dutch Ovens, Dykes and Daffodils

Tulip Fields
Tulip Fields

We made it to Groeningen, where the beds are comfy and the Gouda is ‘heer lekker’! Pretty sure anything would feel comfortable after a week sharing a very small tent with my brother.. Its our own fault really, we did read the reviews before buying the tent, but it said (promisingly I thought), that it was most suitable for two midgets with no luggage, and we thought it sounded just perfect. At 40 pounds, we figured it was a steal…

Camping in Ternaard
Camping in Ternaard

We lasted one night in that thing, before kicking mum out of her slightly larger tent and forcing her to sleep in “The Womb” (as we lovingly named it). We stole her tent, so it was a little more spacious, and by spacious I mean able to roll over and not be nestled into my brothers armpit.

Camping is so awkward. When you need a wee in the night, you have to thrash your way out of your sleeping bag and liner, stand on your neighbours face a bit, try to squeeze your bottom out of your tent door without getting your feet wet, wriggle your feet into your shoes which may or may not have slugs nestled into them, find your way to the toilet in the dark and also try to remember to take toilet paper with you… And then repeat backwards. Our first night was actually on an overnight ferry from England to the Hook of Holland, which I think may have softened us up a bit and we weren’t mentally prepared for the possibilities of slugs in shoes.

Overnight ferry cabin
Overnight ferry cabin

But all in all, its been a splendid week and my thighs are positively thriving on the challenge! I personally have been thriving on the challenge of eating enough to maintain my energies for cycling 60-80km per day with a laden bicycle, with occasional headwinds and a tender tush. Its a wonderful excuse to eat peanut butter on everything. I actually mean EVERYTHING. Trust me.

CHEESE PLEASE
CHEESE PLEASE

So we’ve cycled over 300km through sleepy beachside towns, sand dunes, tulip fields like rainbows, dijks and windmills, lakes, tiny villages with thatched houses.. A side note: Holland has the most unattractive baby lambs i’ve ever seen (their eyes are extremely close together and they have very muscular faces, and their tails protrude erectly from their bottoms like they were going to the toilet and then forgot about it)….The Dutch have an amazing cycle network from town to town – the Nordzee Cycle Route that mum is following for the next two months goes mostly along a coastal route, which is a pretty incredible journey with different landscape everyday.

A 30km Bridge
A 30km Bridge
Windmill
Windmill
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My noble steed.

The towns are all so so quiet, we’ve begun to wonder if there has been a zombie apocalypse and all that is left are small Dutch women who tend to their gardens and three children who emerge from the schoolyard at lunchtime on their tiny bicycles. We crossed a 30km bridge one day, luckily with a tailwind. I like to wave at the passing vehicles, and say hello to fellow Dutch cyclists (they say something like “Hoy!”, which I have taken to saying in return.) I also like to wave at the men working on the side of the road, and they quite like me, until I lift my bottom off the seat and they see the enormous protrusion of my cycle pants and second-guess themselves. Its all jolly good fun, and you have to have something to take your mind off peanut butter.

Koffie Break Ja
Koffie Break Ja

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I only had one minor crash, whereby I was distracted by something and my front wheel wobbled into the sand, threw me off balance and I charged the sea wall quite aggressively. My achilles tendon is a tad shaky, and it nearly got more hurty today when I basically just rode right into a fence post, completely oblivious to its existence. I came out of that collision unscathed but a little concerned for my state of mind.

Tomorrow Josh and I leave mother dearest to carry on her epic adventure. Josh is carrying on to Amsterdam and beyond; I’m going back to England for a couple of nights to sleep quite a lot and massage my buttocks. Mum is cycling 3000km over the next 8 weeks to fundraise money for a new wheelchair for her sister (my aunt). If you want to, check out her blog at overgroundadventures,com and follow her adventures over the next two months.

Tot ziens (goodbye) , I send you a clog!

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Christmas Holidays, New Zealand Style

Its all been a bit quiet here for a while… Yours truly has been busy flying home from Europe, catching up with friends, and adjusting back into having a normal job in peaceful, sunny Nelson.

Having been away for 18 months, coming back to Nelson was a bit of a shock to the system initially – everything seemed to be in high definition, without the grey skies and smog of a lot of European cities. Even when the sun shines in Ireland, it never seems to be quite as bright as here. I spent my first couple of weeks soaking up the long daylight hours, doing quite a lot of sleeping and working most days to boost the ol’ bank account. My mum, my brother and I also did a hike in the Nelson Lakes which was a nice wee family bonding time.

Christmas was at home in Nelson, where we all wore matching elephant pants and santa hats (christmas present from my brother, recently returned from work in South-East Asia), and I was lucky enough to receive a camera from him aswell, obviously to document the spectacle. We ate outside in the sun and went for a swim in the river to work off the excess consumption.

There’s been a healthy dose of holiday time over Christmas and New Years, which we spent in Wanaka at a lovely bach, with adventure on our door step. (I did quite a lot of time lolling about in the pool, trying to SUP on a boogie board and playing amateur water volleyball with the others.. there were a few bikini malfunctions).

On the drive down we stopped overnight at Birdsong Backpackers in Hokitika, on the wild West Coast. I can definitely recommend it if you’re passing through, and its quite different to some of the hostels I stayed at in Europe – probably because it’s family run and a bit more personal. We had a little unit to ourselves with a kitchen, bathroom and outdoor area, and upstairs in the communal area there is another big kitchen and dining room, overlooking the sea. Jeananne and I felt we should maintain some attempt at health and wellbeing on our holiday, so we went for an evening jog into the town and down to the beach, with a detour to the Glow Worm Dell (sadly it was too light to see any wormies).

The next day we continued on to Wanaka to our delightful house in town, with a pool, spa, big front lawn and spacious living area. I slept on the floor in a swag, (we ended up having more people than beds), which I was a bit apprehensive about but actually I think it was the best deal. I could sleep with the door open on hot nights, and I basically had a double bed to sprawl about in. I just feel sorry for the early risers in the house who had to wake me from my slumber.

We went cycling, walking, hiking, swimming, yoga-ing, drinking, eating, luging (on our day trip to Wanaka and Arrowtown) and wine and cheese tasting, so I feel it was a healthy balance of indulgence and exertion. Very different from the holidays in the UK, where the weather is usually too cold and miserable to leave the house for very long.

On the way home we stopped in Kumara, a tiny gold mining town, and spent the night at The Theatre Royal Hotel which was furnished with antiques (and very comfy beds). We had a delightful meal of locally sourced goods and consumed several beverages, before retiring to our grand rooms, just like the good old days…

On our last day we stopped in Punakaiki to check out the pancake rocks and the blowholes (teehee).

It’s nice to be a tourist in my own country – I’m sure a lot of tourists have seen more of New Zealand than I have!

Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 is filled with adventure.

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Girls On Tour

It’s very easy, when you know you have an entire summer in one place, to make epic plans to do things ‘this summer’, then get to your final weekend and realize you’ve done nothing but get drunk and talk shit all day.

Luckily, this past weekend I actually followed through on one of my whimsical moments, and we cycled our cycles from Jeananne’s parents house in Galway, all the way through Connemara and back to Westport.

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Four days of cycling, two very sore bums and one very heavy jar of peanut butter later, we actually made it. I think Jeananne and I both felt mildly astonished that our tiny stumpy legs took us all that way… As one elderly man in a pub remarked;

‘You’ve got good, strong, MUSCULAR legs on you, girls’. I chose to take that as a compliment, because he looked like he meant it in that way.

Friday night we began our journey on the train from Westport to Ballymacward, where Jeananne’s parents live in a very rural area. We had a delightful stopover in Athlone, where we had cups of tea and I nearly trod on a maxi sanitary pad stuck to the pavement. Not the best introduction to a town that doesn’t have a great reputation in the first place..

Saturday we were up early for what we thought would be a pretty easy cycle into Galway City, but ended up taking us almost four hours due to head wind, and Rosie toppling sideways into a ditch and bending her wheel spoke. What can I say, I’m not used to cycling with that much junk in my trunk. It threw me off. (See what I did there).

 

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Every animal that we passed made me think of Sminky Shorts, which I find deeply hilarious. Your brain drifts to strange places when you’re cycling in a repetitive motion all day. We also passed a small gypsy girl, aged approximately 4 years old, standing on the side of the road with a dog on a leash, wearing no pants and one golden hoop earring. She had a Beyonce stance and a bit of a perm, and she looked at us like ‘Yeah I ain’t wearing pants, wha chu gon do about it?’ Only in Ireland.

We had a whole day in Galway which was a food fiesta. There are so many awesome places to eat in Galway and we only had 24 hours, but I felt that we really did our best to pack it all in.

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Happy Flat White
Happy Flat White

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Burrito Bowl at Boojum
Burrito Bowl at Boojum

Galway has a food and crafts market every weekend, so we nabbed a sushi roll and sprawled in the Church garden, feeling dazed and amazed at all the people around us. That night we went to Boojum which does probably the best burrito bowls ever. Or maybe we were just so hungry that socks would have tasted good. Actually, everything tastes SO AMAZING when you’re outside cycling all day. Like, my gluten free bread turned to crumbs in my basket one day and so I just ate crumbs and bits of peanut butter and a very smushy banana and I was the happiest wee girl.

We crawled around some pubs Friday night (kind of literally, because our legs were floppy) then went to some kind of heaven in the form of a late night French restaurant that served buckwheat crepes. One goats cheese, honey and walnut crepe later and I was basically asleep on the couch in the restaurant. Happy days.

The next morning we went to Pura Vida for a fresh juice, then to the Jungle Café off Eyre Square which reminded me a lot of home – perhaps because of their serious attitude to coffee, their flat white on the menu, and the Fat Freddies playing on the sound system. It felt just like a Sunday brunch in Wellington. Aww.

Gluten Free Beer... I've come a long way since Oktoberfest
Gluten Free Beer… I’ve come a long way since Oktoberfest

We didn’t leave Galway until about 2.30 that afternoon after some last minute shopping. We again underestimated the strength of the coastal wind and it took us many hours to go 30km to the small town of Carraroe. We stopped a lot, including in a little seaside town called Spiddle. We met a French couple who were doing the same thing as us, and it was reassuring when they told us they had left two hours earlier than us and only got there two minutes before us. So we weren’t the slowest cyclists on the road. But almost..

Carraroe was a tiny town down on the South Coast of county Galway, where everyone speaks Irish, even the young people. It’s a little unnerving walking into a pub and not understanding your fellow youth.We walked into one of two pubs in the village and asked if anyone could recommend a camping spot – we immediately got offered a “cosy, warm double bed with an ensuite” in a local man’s house. He was actually a very nice boy and had we been later in our trip, we might have said yes, but we were so determined to use all of the tent and equipment we had carried, so we stubbornly erected our tent behind the school. We apparently missed the part where we were advised to camp in the opposite corner to the priest’s house, and instead set up camp right next to his backyard, so that he had a nice view into our sleeping quarters. He also, coincidentally, had a nice view onto the children’s playing field. So many jokes.

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At one point I was wandering around camp with no pants on (as you do), and Mr Priest came out of his back door talking on the phone.

“Oh… here comes the priest… Oh.. I’m not wearing any pants.”

Not a sentence you say every day.

We were so excited to utilise our tiny gas stove, but after much fumbling, realised we had probably purchased the wrong sized gas canister and that actually we couldn’t cook our brown rice. Desperate times. Lucky we are so good at foraging in the wild…We found a chip shop.

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The next day we used the bathroom in the “Bia Blasta” (Tasty Food) café far too much, drank two pots of tea then packed up our thangs and got on the road again for a rather long days cycling. We had to make up for the puney mileage the previous day, but first we had to shake the priest’s pet puppy who had attached himself to our sides and insisted on stealing all of our socks. He followed us one kilometer down the road then found another dog to play with, thank the lord (or the priest…)

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That day we cycled about 8 hours, with regular stops for bum relief and refueling. We stopped in Maam Cross and Recess, then took the N59 up to Leenane. Our course plan changed several times over the course of the day, because we are so fun and spontaneous and also because we were tired. I think our favourite stop was in Recess, where we ate icecream and slices of cheese and basked in the sunshine. Only an Irish person would be capable of getting sunburnt in that measly sunlight, but Jeananne certainly managed a good lycra tan line.

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The next part was a long, wet, blustery cycle along Lough Inagh and the Twelve Bens, which loomed over us from the right side of the road and reminded us how very small we were. It was a hard road and I personally could have smashed a flask of hot tea, but our 2 euro plastic flask failed to keep liquid hot. And to think I carried that thing all that way between my thighs! I felt deeply disappointed in the euro store, which I am sure many people have in their lifetimes.

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Church in the middle of nowhere, orders us to stop and pray (for no more hills)

That night, after cycling for about 8 hours (with snack stops), we camped at a hostel in Killary Harbour, with the most spectacular view, a downhill driveway and a shitload of midges. As we weren’t really planning to stay there initially, all we had left in our food bag was some brown rice, some corn, and a few slices of cheese. It was a little dry, to say the least, but a girls gotta eat. At least they had free tea at the hostel, which we made the absolute most of. It was very tempting to sleep on the couch inside, but again our pride got the better of us and we had to use our tent which we lugged all that way.

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Our final day of cycling was to be a shorter one, so we took our time in the morning, cycled to the village of Leenane 5k down the road, and indulged ourselves in seafood chowder and a seaweed bath.

You basically take a steam room to open your pores, then go to your private room and lie in a bath of slimy seaweed for one hour. It sounds absolutely revolting and yeah… It kind of was. But also very good for you and your tired muscles.

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I kept expecting little fish to stick their heads out of the seaweed and nibble me. I had a great time, draping pieces of seaweed over my bosom and imagining that I was the mermaid queen. Jeananne overheated and had to get out of her bath and lie naked on the tiles for ten minutes.

After all that, it was pretty hard to get back on the bikes for 3 hours, but we knew that red wine, pasta and Netflix awaited us in Westport, and it was actually a relatively easy cycle, with lots of downhill and only one downpour.

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Healthy snacks..

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My shower that night was heavenly, and I found small pieces of seaweed in all my nooks and crannies. Such fun. 

No injuries, no flat tires and no thunderstorms..

All in all, I’d say it was a success! 

 

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Shits and Giggles

It may be the worst thing in the world, getting sick when you are far far away from mummy and home comforts. Where is mumsie to make you hot water bottles and cold flannels for your brow?

It is, at least, a lesson in harden the f**k up. But it isn’t fun. Especially when you share a bathroom with 10 other travellers, many of whom also have the illness, and when said bathroom is a solid 30 metres away.

You know it’s bad when you wake up curled around the base of the dubiously cleaned toilet, and you don’t even have the strength to be scared of the spiders minxing about in the corners.

I was lucky enough to have my darling Irish friend take me into her home and feed me soup and electrolytes, and let me use her bathroom and sleep in her bed. You know they’re a good friend when they give up their bed for you, whilst they sleep in the tent in the backyard.

If I’m looking on the bright side (which I usually am), I suppose it was my body’s way of telling me it needed 5 days of sleeping, free of alcohol, coffee and pretty much all food. I shall view it as a detox, and promptly get back on the wine wagon.

Having recovered from a sprained ankle, a damaged wrist, a vommy bug and some nasty hangovers, I have a new found appreciation for my health. And my appetite. Food tastes so good.

So what have I even been doing this past month? Not writing blog posts, that’s for sure. I’m sliding off the face of the earth on this island. My day goes roughly like this:

Wake up at 10am. Perhaps do some yoga, perhaps go back to sleep for an hour.

Eat a strange assortment of breakfast foods from the Helpers kitchen. We’re a healthy bunch this year, so the foods in demand seem to be flaxseeds, oats, soy milk and honey. Get em while you can!

Make a variety of glutenous pastries that I cannot eat due to intolerance but I would like to smush my face into, such as lemon meringue pies and buttermilk scones.

Get flour all over my clothing, get flustered if I receive more than one order at a time in the cafe, basically make it up as I go.

Squeal with glee over tip money that equates to one drinkie.

Finish work at 6pm. Occasionally go for a walk, a run, or most likely a nap.

Shower myself, or at least dry shampoo my head.

Sit in pub talking shit with various people. Increase my bar tab. Stay up too late. Go to bed at 3am. Tell myself I will get up early tomorrow and do activities. Secretly know that I will sleep for as long as possible.

It’s a whirlwind of activity, and the days slide by far too quickly.

A couple of weeks ago my homegirl Jeananne and I took a trip to Clare Island, moseyed around, drank a lot of tea, did some naps in the ditch and got rained on far too many times.

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This weekend I’m running away for a few days to do a cycle trip, which will include party time in Galway and then cycling through Connemara, wild camping and cooking food on a tiny camper stove. I’m very excited, and hoping that the heavens will not unleash their rainy fury on me too regularly. I don’t think my Primark raincoat would be able to handle it.

We have sporks, so I think we are pretty prepared.

When I return I promise to write a marvellous post of all our adventures. There will probably be a lot of pictures of me, sodden and downtrodden, regretting the decision to go camping and cycling in Ireland.

I shall leave you with these images of me and my compadres, drinking to excess and having a tremendous time.

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Bacon never tasted so good.

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On Tuesday, I escaped.

It was amazing; small amounts of sadness mingled with large portions of glee. I did it, I stuck it out, I nailed the vegan lifestyle and my body even humoured me with some extra strength and flexibility.

Upon my release, I ventured to the supermarket near the train station to initiate myself back into the world of wine and cheese. Obviously.

I was so overwhelmed. Aisles upon aisles of packaged foods, all screaming that they are healthier because they have been manufactured to have no something or other. In search of something familiar, I looked for mungbeans. They didn’t have any, much to my despair. My heart rate quickened, I became flustered and sweaty, and I panic purchased a bottle of red wine, a mango and a pineapple. It was like I was a prisoner, freshly released from his cell, and sent out to fend for himself in a world full of cookie aisles the length of a basketball court.

This would have been a lot more humorous had I been with a travel buddy who could laugh along with me in my frantic pursuits. But no, I was alone. Just me, my backpack, and my prickly pineapple clasped to my chest. If there had been two of us, people might have looked on and sighed, ‘they look like they are having a humorous adventure’. They looked at me with a sort of pitying disdain; “poor girl, I wonder how she thinks she’s going to cut that pineapple”…

I lumbered over to the train station and sat nursing my pineapple, reflecting on the past month. I have had several revelations over the past month or so, mostly regarding how weird people are, and how in comparison my weirdness doesn’t really measure up. Quite a relief actually. Nothing like a curious travel experience to put your own life into perspective.

Sitting there, I also realised that I am now a less stressy person than I thought I was! I still like to get everywhere about an hour before I need to be there, for peace of mind. And I secretly love that transit time, it gives me a chance to say goodbye to one place and prepare for the next. I scribble notes, eat a banana, go to the toilet and stare back at people who stare at me. But I’m developing a sort of “what will be, will be” attitude. I am exactly where I need to be, even when it doesn’t necessarily feel that way.

The night before I left, my American roommate Aimed interviewed me. She does this with all the people she meets who will let her ask them personal questions. I think it took about half an hour and it was actually an enjoyable, reflecting experience on where I’m at right now. Questions like ‘decribe the room we’re in and what it means to you’, and ‘if you had to get to know someone by only asking one question, what would it be?’ I answered with something like; “this room is real cosy apart from the picture of Jesus who meets my eye when I awake in the morning”. And other, more eloquent answers.

She said she sometimes sends the recordings to people, so that they can go back in two years time and listen to how much they’ve changed. I said lame things like ‘I think I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not a religious person. We need to look inside ourselves to find what we are looking for in that department.’ I’m still scared to use the word God in sentences, it’s like saying Voldemort for me.

So maybe in two years time I will go back and listen to the recording, think how silly I was and how I thought I knew everything. I will probably be eating a large steak and consuming a vat of wine, hooting and tooting about that time I was a vegan for a month.

I have been staying with Sally, a friend of my mums, in a place called Newton Abbot for the last two nights. We have been cycling, I have taught her some yoga for her running and sacroiliac joints, she cooked me bacon (I love her) and I made her socca (chickpea pancakes) with Mediterranean vegetables. I definitely enjoy things more when they are a rare treat. If you have bacon every day, you tire of it (although some may disagree), but after a meat free month it was salty heaven. Her house is so cosy, I’m writing from her kitchen table and looking out over her garden filled with birds and bird feeders, and have just had porridge with her home made honey.

It’s a relief to find that the world goes on outside the bubble of Cranleigh House, and that not every conversation has to involve comments like “you just swallowed down an emotion. What was that emotion, Rosie?”

On to different things now, hopefully involving some sunshine in the not too distant future. Seriously, I’m blending into the white wallpaper.