30/07/2013

dublin

Last week, I hopped on a plane and took a little spontaneous trip to Dublin.


Despite living just across the water I have, shamefully, never been to Ireland until now, so I was all excited to get my teeth into everything touristy and explore a new city in a country I'd never been to before.

I arrived ridiculously early in the morning, so after a quick breakfast and a chill in the hotel, we headed out to the zoo! It was a really nice day, so I wanted to make the most of the weather, and I'd heard there were elephants. I adore elephants, I think they're magical.





Now this was quite an eventful trip to the zoo. The first elephant we saw got a little over-excited, provoking a mass exodus of parents with small children before all the awkward questions started flying out of their little innocent mouths. Then, the chimpanzees refused to do anything but stick their bare bottoms up in the air at us, and to top it all off, a rather uncomfortable looking orang-utan suddenly stood up and threw his own muck at us and our fellow spectators. It was hilarious.

After my early flight and an afternoon of walking around the zoo in the heat, I was pretty exhausted. So we headed back to the hotel, had a nap, dinner nearby and then had an early night, so we could manage  a full day of touristing the next day.




We started the day with a little wander around the Museum of Modern Art, which was frankly beyond both of us. We did however, meet a lovely old man who was as bamboozled as we were by the bizarre arrangements of living room furniture and morse code decoders, who let us in on his favourite game. 

Whenever he ends up at a gallery whose displays confuse him, he likes to go up to the desk on the way out, hand back his brochure about the exhibit and emphatically say something like "marvellous" or "wonderful." That way, he gets rid of the leaflet he has no interest in keeping, those organising the exhibit are happy that their work has made such an impression, and he gets to come across as an informed, arty and culturally aware individual. 

On our way out of the gallery, he turned to us and told us to "watch this." He then went up to the girl at the desk, returned the brochure and said, with much gusto, "breathtaking! absolutely breathtaking!" The girl was chuffed, the man was chuffed, and we had to do all we could to refrain from giggling. 

The next time I find myself at some unfathomable modern art gallery, I think I will be following suit.



Our next stop saw us take a trip to jail. 

I look a bit too pleased with myself to be holed up in a little cell like that, don't I? 

Anyway, we took a little tour guide around Kilmainham Jail and learnt about the prison reforms of the Victorian era, the conditions for inmates and the stories of some prisoners involved in the 1916 Easter Rising. It was an interesting, informative and sobering way to spend an hour, and I would definitely recommend it. (It's also very affordable, and the cafe across the streets does great sandwiches!)

To take the edge off the seriousness of the jail visit, we headed to the Guinness Storehouse.



I absolutely love Guinness advertising campaigns. I just think they're so clever, quirky and funny and I only wished I liked drinking Guinness more, so that I could justify having old Guinness advert prints on my wall. This fantastic piece of TV advertising, has been etched on to my memory ever since I first saw it as a little seven year old girl, cross-legged on the floor and transfixed to the telly. Fifteen years on, it's still my favourite TV advert. That's some seriously good advertising.


After learning about how Guinness is made, admiring the print ads, and spending a ridiculous amount of time transfixed to the various TVs showing adverts from decades past, we hopped up to the top floor to claim our free pint in the Gravity Bar, and admire the panoramic view of Dublin. 


After we finished our pints (I drank all mine too! *proud face*) we headed back into the centre for some dinner. I love all the vibrant buildings and bars, the flags and the flowers in the Temple Bar area. It may be incredibly toursity, but it's still incredibly pretty.




On the recommendation of our taxi driver that morning, we were heading to Elephant & Castle for dinner. There's one in New York and one in Dublin, and it is so popular we had to wait for an hour for a table, but I am so glad we waited. 


Again, on the recommendation of our taxi driver (!), we ordered a basket of chicken wings to share. Now, I am not a massive wings person - I tend to not really be a massive fan of meat on the bone, but oh my god, these were the best wings I have ever eaten. They were delicious. So tender, the meat just melted off the bone, the marinade was delicious and spicy but not too spicy, and oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about them. So good. I couldn't recommend the wings enough. 

And then I had steak. He had a stilton burger. Both were delicious. I was in my element, and left a very, very happy camper.




The rest of my time in Dublin was spent wandering around, enjoying the sights and the sounds of a new city, stopping for coffee and cake in cute little cafes and just taking it all in. 

It's a city I'd love to spend more time in. I imaging it'd be exceptionally beautiful at Christmas time, all covered in lights. Just don't expect me to go anywhere else for dinner but Elephant & Castle. 

God, I could devour a basket of wings right now. 

15/07/2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed



I've just graduated. I'm in that awkward stage of graduate limbo land, not knowing what to do now, or where I want to go. Everyone's asking me if I've got a job yet, what I've been applying for, what I want to do. And I really don't know.  It's tough. At the moment I don't feel like I want a 'proper' job, a 9-5, taxes, bills, rent, day in day out, a totally normal humdrum existence...

The life that I want is a big one. I don't really know what I mean by that. I just want it to be full: bursting at the seams with colour, places, sights, sounds, smells, people, thoughts, dreams, mishaps, love, regret, anger, tears, laughter, experience, adventure... life.

Still, I sit, drinking tea and reading books and my big as-yet-still-empty sack of life rolls by little by little. One of my recent reads was Wild by Cheryl Strayed.



Strayed has some serious ovaries.

In Wild she tells the story of when she hiked 1100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. She had lost her mother, dabbled with heroin, divorced her husband, changed her name and was up to her eyeballs in student debt for a degree she never finished. She was lost.

She decided to go on a three month long solo hike. To save herself.

It sounds clich├ęd; redemptive nature-travel tales are hardly new, but I think the mere fact that stories of the healing power of the wilderness are so numerous proves that there is definitely something to the idea. Anyway, Strayed's story is fascinating and emotional. It's more of a journey through the landscape of her mind and her past, set to a magnificent backdrop of the mountains of the PCT. There are ups and downs, bears, drugs, death, sex, a diminishing number of toenails, and more than anything, a sense of self-discovery as she pushes both her body and mind to its limits, all alone in the American wilderness.

It's a book that somehow managed to both quench and spark my thirst for adventure and for that type of journey of self-discovery. By that I don't mean that stereotyped gap yah notion of going abroad to "find myself" whatever that means, I just want to discover my limits. I have had a very easy, charmed life thus far, for which of course I am incredibly grateful, but what can I withstand? How far can I go? What's beyond my cosy little comfort zone? What can I do? What can I learn about the world? What can the world teach me about myself? What's out there?

Sometimes it's so hard to see beyond the banal path laid out for a twenty first century graduate that you almost forget the monstrous size of the world and all the landscapes, people, chances, opportunities and lives it could offer. I know that one day, that spark of adventure will dim, and I'll find myself conforming and fulfilling all of society's expectations, but I'd like to postpone that as long as possible.

It's by reading books like Wild that I keep these ideas burning.

14/07/2013

on friendship


I recently spent a weekend in Edinburgh, and on my way home, I had a bit of a light bulb moment about friendships. I've come to realise that true friendship is a conversation in which you don't have to filter your thoughts, but just let them slip off your tongue, and even if the person sitting opposite you doesn't agree with you, or thinks you're weird or just downright insane, that doesn't matter at all.




We sat in the sunshine with wine and laughed about our reckless traveling days; about new flames, old flames and flames long extinguished. The conversation rolled effortlessly from crude hilarity to the answering of questions that you hadn't yet realised were on your lips and the solving of problems that had been unknowingly weighing you down for quite a long time. Although it could be attributed to the wine, I'm going to blame the growing sense of calm and peace that descended upon me during our sunny, wine-soaked afternoon to the conversation and the friendship itself.

 It’s so easy to get caught up in “toxic” friendships and to think that because you’ve been friends with someone for a while that you need to continue that friendship for the foreseeable future. If a friend isn’t a positive force in your life, you shouldn’t feel like you have to keep them around. I’m not saying a dramatic bust-up is necessary, but just pay more attention to those who make you feel good about yourself, and less to those who don’t add anything to your life. Time spent with friends should leave you with a feeling of calm happiness and with a reaffirmed sense of self, not a sense of frustration and self-doubt.



I'm very lucky to have found a few of these great friendships.

There are some people in this world with whom I feel irrevocably bound. It is as if they make up my backbone: they form some sort of metaphorical structure within me that enables me to stand up, as myself, no matter where I go in the world. If I find myself surrounded by people with whom I don't get along at all, in relationships fraught with tension and misunderstandings, it doesn't matter much to me, as I know I have friendships in which there are no judgements, no dishonesty, no reservations. They are the type of friendships that aren't affected by months passing without speaking, as I somehow feel constantly connected. I trust that they will always be there for me, as I know I will be for them. In all its cheesiness, I have found some people who accept me for me, and who I accept whole-heartedly for themselves.


I have never much thought about the meaning of friendship until I sat on the train home that evening with Vivaldi’s L'estate Presto blaring in my hungover ears. As I left Edinburgh that night, I felt calm, happy and with a serene sense of self; confident that everything is going to be okay. That is what my truest of friends do for me; they make me feel completely at ease, happy and sure that I am on the right path, that I have made the right decisions. Even if I cock up royally somewhere along the line, we will always have sun-soaked afternoons and evenings, with conversations that flow as freely as the wine.


My only hope is that they know how much they mean to me, and know that I would go to the ends of the earth for them.