Ahhh… That summer was the deep breath of my life at the time. I had just gotten away from Germany and all the oppression associated with my years there – I needed something really amazing to put me in a new frame of mind. And it did. I looked online to find a room to rent, and connected with Alison in Balbriggan, who promised me a sea view from my room and a beach just a few steps away across the field.
When I arrived in that fresh lushness, it was a balm to my ragged spirit, and I continued to write my current novel, Legendary Space Pilgrims, with new inspiration. Some readers say they can tell when my mindset changed along with my location.
But writing wasn’t all I did. At a tiny local church I met a new friend and we proceeded to go on lots of outings together – mostly day trips in the area around Dublin, but also a couple of weekends away in the West and North. Andrea has since become a good friend and we’ve visited back and forth a few times too.
Looking at the pictures I took back then, I’m amazed at the huge variety of places I got to see, the stunning vistas, the rocky shores (I was showing the album to someone recently and she asked me, why so many pictures of rocks? I suppose that’s what the coast is mainly made of…), the castles and ruins, the green land in its mantle of fecund humidity.
I love Ireland, and I can’t wait to get back there someday.
When I lived in Germany, I got to make several brief trips to other places around Europe. These included:
France (Paris, staying in a quaint old family-run hotel at the foot of Montmartre)
Spain (Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca, with friends)
Austria (Salzburg, to see the castle, also once Innsbruck and once not sure of exact location; remote mountain)
Switzerland (Zurich, Geneva, Winterthur and another remote mountain location)
Czech Republic (only just over the border, for work - I think we ate lunch in Rozvadov)
Tunisia (Hammam Sousse, with a friend for a week in February to escape the northern winter)
England (London, visiting dear friends in Wembley and getting to play the tourist)
Scotland (With my mother, Edinburgh, Perth, Glasgow, Isle of Bute, and a glimpse of Stranraer as we left it)
Ireland (Bangor/Belfast, Dublin, Balbriggan, Doolin, Antrim, Downpatrick, Newtownards and Strangford Lough - Ahem. There'll be a whole other post for this lot!)
Here's a couple of my favourite photos from those trips. Bear with me - for much of this time I was using a first-generation cellphone camera!
On the outskirts of Geneva, looking across the border into France - yes, that's a giant cliff. Geneva is on a bit of Switzerland that sticks into France, so it's possible to use city transport to cross from one French border to the other in about an hour. Which we did. Fun! There was a cable car to go up the cliff, but it happened to be closed that day, so instead we found a nice French restaurant out here in the middle of nowhere and had a meal of several courses for a very good price.
The terrace at Hotel El Menchia in Hammam-Sousse, Tunisia. We breakfasted here each day, then set off to explore the local area - markets and bakeries, and nearby towns by bus or open trolley. Sousse itself has a marvellous souk that pours itself, walled, down a hillside above the modern city, and in the other direction we found a yacht marina with everything a tourist might want.
Walking about the Isle of Bute, we got alternately rained on and dried by the sun. This is a view from the Rothesay golf course above the town, looking east at the mainland and the Firth of Clyde.
Okay, this is where things get crazy. Or maybe things were already crazy a long time before that, who knows?
I flew from Germany to meet several Kiwi friends in Ghana. We proceeded to trek through Burkina Faso and then Mali, which last is where these pictures are from. In Mali we visited several World Vision project villages and were duly presented with a chicken by the elders of each. The above picture is from a school visit; we had brought puppets to show the children, and these caused huge excitement everywhere we went.
Then came an opportunity to visit Timbuktu in the northern reaches of Mali. So we did. Except we got stuck there, because the return flight we'd been sold didn't exist. Our friends drove up from the capital to help get us back to our next flight on time.
The lower picture is a street in Timbuktu. At the edge of the Sahara, this ancient city is constantly under threat of being inundated by sand. The buildings are mostly mud brick, with patterns scratched on them to stop the surface from cracking. We slept in the open on one of the roofs.
Youthful spontaneity notwithstanding, things did turn out all right. I got a job with the Bavarian Police, shared apartments with three wonderful friends, lived in an 800 year old building while working in one that was 300-ish, kept four pet rats (not all at once!) then two cats, and got to travel around Europe a little bit.
Germany has a deep sense of permanence and establishment that can often out itself in lives that don't ever change. Low wages and high rents - never mind the idea of buying a house! - can trap people in the same places for ever and ever, amen. It was like a fog over the land.
Eventually, I just missed the sea too much. So I came home again - but not without a heaping helping of improved German language and a kind of haunting from living amidst all the antiquity.