3. The Wacko Episode

irelandKim and I went to Galway’s ‘Quays’ that night. When we finally made it to our room, one of those things happened for which one has got to love sleeping in hostels and sharing rooms with perfect strangers. I was taking off my contact lenses at the feeble light that Kim had turned on for me next to her bed when a woman, whom I had previously identified as “not right in the head” (but then she was outside our room, so that did not worry me much), literally walked into our room. I immediately recognized the “nut” that I had left somewhere in the corner of my mind as a mere insignificant encounter. But there she was, standing tall, hippie-style dressed and throwing menacing looks at the two of us. My first reflex was to check the door: Did I leave it open or how else did she come in? I was far from imagining that she would actually sleep with us that night. And some sleep we had!

The lunatic started to yell at us (for the record, all this lovely circus was taking place at 1 a.m), and for cause: according to her, we were waking up the other roommates (all snoring) with the shine of our feeble, tiny, going-blind light. I obviously knew that crazy dudes have indeed a distorted sense of reality, etc., but right there, looking repeatedly at her yelling self, then at the light bulb and back to her, my source of wonders, this evidence thundered right through me. Well, looking was all that I was still able to do, so dumbstruck I was. Kim, on the contrary, got a splendid grip of herself and fought the woman right back with sane and reasonable remarks. I quickly vanished behind the bathroom door to put on my night-shirt and proceed with my going-to-bed preparations, knowing all sensitive talk was pointless.

From the bathroom, I feared that Kim might actually attempt to strangle the Shouting-Defender-of-the-Sleeping-Mates-Against-the-Light. But she contained herself beautifully. I could nonetheless hear her voice tonality change and she was by then much ruder than a few minutes before, when she actually had done her best to explain the situation to the weirdo. I couldn’t keep my seriousness anymore and burst out into laughter. This was just hugely out of our dimension.

Then there were Kim’s eyes. I had stepped back into the dorm, thinking that I could control my inner itch to giggle (I certainly would not have done that in front of the mad lady), but Kim was in no mood for sleeping. She was stuck in her anger, practically annihilating the enemy with her look. I climbed the ladder to the top bunk bed as quickly as I could, because I could sense laughter coming out loud again, and I hurried to stifle it in my pillow. I wouldn’t have wanted to unleash hell more than that. The woman still had some insults and Messiah-like prophecies to throw at Kim, then opened the window (probably to save us from earthly comforts like keeping warm on a Galway November night) and ended up by taking Kim’s kind advice to “shut the fuck up and let us all be miserable and sleep”. That night was indeed young.

Next morning, off to Dublin we were. The wacko leaves the room early, slamming the door shut, on her way to some other imaginary mission. We leave Galway behind and with it, some of the most precious memories that would keep us company for a while.

2. Night and Day in Galway

Galway, ireland

During that short November west-east coast journey across my beloved Emerald Island, we only spent one full day in what I call the “real” Galway. The town is small and magnificently surrounded by nature. It is very tempting to plan a trip to one of the Aran Islands or to Connemara, or to the Cliffs of Moher. And if during the day one keeps busy outside the city gates, Galway definitely owns the night. The most difficult part is to choose which bar to go to, but the choice can be simply a matter of musical tastes. Alalé plays traditional music on Wednesdays at ‘The Spanish Arch’, a lure not to be missed. ‘The Quays’ is another place where one would be strongly advised to enjoy some time and at least one Guinness. This two-storey pub built after the model of a French medieval church is constantly filled with people from all the corners of the world, the live band plays varied music and chances are one spends a great moment of ‘craic’ to remember for a very long time. Those were the Galway nights…

Back to daylight, we strolled along the Bay and spent some time and some camera shots on the white swans which graciously reigned over their territory. We were lucky to share some very relaxing moments under the timid rays of sun. We went forth, visited the Cathedral, and attended the Christmas market. Team work was necessary to help Kim pick out some eight-odd charm beads to make a bracelet she wanted to have. I remember my limbs were painfully frozen. Fortunately, one does not recall the pain…

Galway, irelandGalway, ireland

 

1. A Piece of Connemara

connemara, ireland

Galway. Out into the fresh air. I left Kim putting on her make-up and went to search the streets for some coffee to help us both brighten up and greet the morning. And a particularly inviting one it was, with all that bluish sky stretching above our heads to a far-away horizon. The sun loomed promising that day.

We finally made it to the bus, high-spirited and chirping. Kim threw herself merrily into her good old habit that I had grown accustomed to: that of casting her spell over the bus-driver. Only this time she drew the man’s attention to me. No danger other than spending a good time, though. I introduced myself and the day was bound to be a long, yet a fun one. What followed was that I became the centre of attention, the target not-to-be-missed by the Irishman’s mischievous remarks. He sang ‘Sylvia’s mother’ to me and served me a portion of that rude, proud-to-be-Irish ironic humour, which he melted in a hearty, honest smile, when he said to me that if I didn’t know Irish, then I knew nothing at all. That was when he heard Kim saying that I spoke four languages. He also encouraged the other travelers to go on doing dodgy things each time we made a halt in some unheard-of tiny village, and blame it on me. It was all very exciting and I started to blame it on the weather, because the sun turned into Irish myth and the ever-present rain was pouring down so densely, that we were all stuck on the bus. I have to say that most of the Irish bus-drivers acting as guides are human chatterboxes, so if one gets past the accent, one might actually get some beautiful stories.

Connemara spread out as magnificent as it could be on a very cloudy, cold and wet afternoon. Looking out every bus window that allowed my eyes to wander in that landscape, I was already cropping up a plan to come back by car one day and step out whenever I felt like. The bad weather conditions took nothing away from the greatness of that untamed beauty, or so it seemed to me, fascinated with the dramatic painting I was witnessing. This is how I was striving to keep it in mind, for this was no time to go out with a camera. We covered several sights: the Ross Errilly Friary, the Ashford Castle, passed through the village of Cong and Leenane to the Kylemore Abbey and back to Galway via Inagh Valley. Through it all, memories, laughter, music, tiredness and that bitter-sweet feeling that we were both losing and gaining something as our bus was cutting its trail.

connemara, ireland

 

connemara, ireland

Deromanticizing Rome

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I went to Italy, scene of ancient battles, gladiators and perverted pleasures – so delightfully reproduced in movies and TV series (if you think “Rome”, there sure is a lot of reproduction going on) – four days after the 4-0 defeat of the Italian football team by the Spaniards (remember, Russell Crowe in “The Gladiator” was nicknamed “The Spaniard”?). All roads lead to Rome, goes the saying. With Ryanair, the selling point of everything that you have never considered buying while being up in the air, you are left at the Ciampino airport. From there, it takes 40 minutes to travel by bus (and almost the same to wait for one) to the Termini Train Station, Rome. And this, at Termini, is where things actually begin…

When Martin Luther (the guy with the Bible) stepped into Rome, he issued: “If there be a hell, Rome is built over it”. Now, I am centuries apart from this guy, but that day, when I disembarked at Termini, our minds were one. The heat was slightly unbearable (but that’s normal, because I was coming straight from Belgium), the crowd of people was just horrifying, the Romanian gipsies too many and everyone seemed preoccupied with walking on my toes, robbing me, pushing me and all sort of group activities against me. A piece of Dante’s “Inferno”.

After having walked to the metro station in Brussels, taken the metro to reach the station, taken the bus to go to the airport, flown with Ryanair, taken the bus from Ciampino to the Termini station, all within 7 hours, I then needed to take the metro from Termini to wherever my camping for the night was. So I needed a metro ticket. Some ticket machines came into sight, but what a hard work to get to them: how to make your way through the gipsies who gravitate around you like hungry vultures, the visitors who already bought their tickets but won’t separate themselves from the ticket machines, and the Polizia who passively pretended to do their job and chase the gipsies away. I could have bet that they split 50-50 with them.

Anyway, ticket in hand, I look for metro line number 2. Easy as, I thought, knowing that in Rome there are only 2 metro lines. Think twice and bite your tongue, baby! For the way to El Dorado was long. The metro station was actually under construction for Pope knows how long and the only signs towards my longed-for destination were sheets of paper glued to the walls, with an arrow and a 2 printed on. So I followed, for quite some time.

While Rome was not built in one day (and the precious remains definitely testify for that), it was certainly built on seven hills. Hence the uncountable number of stairs that you climb to get anywhere.  Honestly, do not pack too much if you really need to go through the metro station: all escalators do not work. You’ll just end up carrying your luggage on an insane amount of stairs, so it’d better be light (and you’d better not have a heart condition). You’d also better not be handicapped; for I’m not sure Romans are actually prepared to welcome disabled people with the necessary facilities.

So much for the first impressions of a highly coveted and excessively touristic European capital…”Sinistra”, says the voice in the metro to announce that the way out for the next stop in on the left side. “Sinister”, I thought, holding my bags extra close to my body, for by that time I had started to suspect everyone of wanting to rob me.

After the metro, I also had to take a bus to reach the camping site where I was to spend the night. In Rome, buses have still not been provided with on-board systems announcing or displaying the bus stop name. Consequently, you never truly know when to get down. Luckily, the bus I was in was filled with young people speaking English, so I told myself I should just follow them: they looked like the camping type. I eventually got to do the check in at the camping site, cursed myself briefly for having booked there, but then, hey, I actually started to notice that: it was hot the way I liked it, the sun was shining and there was a pool! With water I could swim in!

What I normally do once I dropped and locked my luggage somewhere in a foreign country/city is to immediately grab a map and explore it. But then I was so glad to have escaped the hustle and bustle that Rome was to me that afternoon that I decided to know better than that: I jumped in the bathing suit, took a beer and laid by the pool in the company of a friend who was travelling with me the next day. Only when we finished the third beer and got sunburnt (I do not consider putting sunscreen on necessary, since I only see the rays once a year) did we realise that we had to go to the Termini Station (oh, no, not there!!) to meet up with another travel mate and have dinner.

So there we were, 3 girls from 3 different corners of the world, wandering in the streets of Rome to get some food. Bree, our mate from Australia, was recommended good restaurants in the San Lorenzo area, which we still could not locate half an hour later. I then started to look for my skills in Italian and asked a guy for the direction. What he said to me in Italian confirmed the puzzled look in his eyes: he explained to us that San Lorenzo was a place where people openly sold drugs and put it in your hand without you even asking for it. We “grazie”-ed him and took the first chair of the first restaurant that was not in San Lorenzo and had the best gnocchi alla carbonara and the most delicious wine my lips could have expected to taste. Evening in Rome was good.

Between brackets, it’s true what they say about the Italian men: they truly jump out of the car at the red light, no, not to kidnap you, but just to tell you “You look beautiful”. If that does not make one smile!

During the next 3 days, I had a most wonderful trip to Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello (The farther from Rome, the nearer to God?) with Busabout. I could call this a perfect break, since I fully enjoyed so many of the plentiful flavours that Italy has to offer. So much so that I have to go back.

 

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