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.  

Connemara Calling

Many things have happened in the last month but I’m actually far too tired from all this WORK to tell you all of them, so I shall succinctly capture all of these experiences into a brief yet humorous blog post.

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Today is my day off and I am still in bed at 3.21 pm, because this job is tres intense. For the record, I have been doing very important things from the safety and relative calm of my bed, such as sharing things on Facebook and teaching myself guitar chords from weird old men on YouTube.

Every day is a bit of a blur of cleaning, food prep, noisy dirty school children, giant vats of spaghetti bolognaise, dishwashers and dirty inside jokes. And Spanish. So much Spanish, I think I may be learning the language through osmosis.

There is a kind of Spanish squad, and they all understand each other very well but I often have a hard time making out the words. There are several Eastern European staff who are just so good and fast at cleaning things that I look very slow and inefficient in comparison. My personal favourite is Pavlina who works in the laundry and cleans rooms. She enjoys the song “I like big butts” and her favourite expression of distress is “faaacking heeeel”.

My first week here I felt as though I had stepped into a scene out of Orange is the New Black, where we all wear remarkably un-sexy red uniforms and every nationality has it’s ‘family’, and god help you if you offend someone in yo family, because then you ain’t got no one to back you up in a fist fight in the communal showers. Just kidding. No fist fights..

There are of course a lot of Irish people, several Scots, some Frenchies, and me, the token New Zealander, as usual. I secretly love it. Lindsay, my favourite Scottish lassie likes to imitate my New Zealand accent, and I find myself talking in the way that she talks when she’s imitating me, which is very confusing for us all.

My lodgings in the lodge are very comfortable and warm… At least, my room is. The communal areas only ever manage to stay clean for 1-2 hours and the rest of the time they look like someone has gone into a kicking rage, broken things, and smeared baked beans on all white surfaces. I wear flip flops in the shower to prevent catching foot aids. I avoid ever touching any of my bare body parts to the sticky shower curtain, but I still think I feel dirtier when I get OUT of the shower. The joys of sharing a house with approximately ten 20-something males. I made the foolish mistake of taking my shoes off at a lodge party the other night in order to allow the freedom to boogie, and I have had a small shard of glass wedged into my foot for the last 2 days. I have a mental image from that night of my housemate Bobby sitting me on the toilet and showering my feet to try and get through the dirt to the cut itself.

Basically, it’s the kind of house where you must wear shoes at all times. Maybe even to bed. Just in case.

But it’s grand! We have many shenanigans and spend a lot of time drinking tea, wearing woollen jumpers and silky pants, and talking shite.

We’ve done some trips to the beach, hiking, swimming, and cycling, and the past three weeks have been outrageously good weather. I’ve been doing yoga in the living room, surrounded by bottles, charity shop clothing, balls of fluff, bicycles, life jackets and kayaks. And occasionally boys sleeping on the couch with monobrows drawn onto their faces. It’s not really a meditative environment, but it’s all part of the challenge….

Every day I awake expecting rain and ireland just surprises me again! A late summer, and it will probably end soon, therefore I must seize each opportunity to get out and do activities.

*puts kettle on*

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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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