August 19, 2018

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Words written for the year: 98,482

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At the moment of writing I am sitting in a low lit pub, heavily wooded, founded back in eighteen something something, and festooned with Guinness paraphernalia. There is a beer in front of me, it is black and creamy, and whenever I take a drink it adds a second mustache on top of my home grown one. Across from me sits the Lady Holly, she is looking lovely

This is a scene we have repeated many times in the past week as we’ve road tripped across the western edge of Ireland, and I have yet to grow sick of it. Far from. Were it not for the cost and the effect all the beer is no doubt having on heart and liver, I feel like I could continue this trend forever.

We’ve had many pleasant days in this wet and green country, but I’d like to tell you about just one as I think it epitomises the rest of them. The day in question was last Thursday.

We woke in the comfortable AirBnB we had rented, and I started the day by excitedly checking my phone for news of the imminent birth of my nephew. All was silent on the Eli front, so I got up and started getting ready for the day we had planned from the advice of previous tenants of our room, collected in a small book left by the owners of the house.

We were in Killarney, which has won itself the spot as my favourite place in Ireland. It had stiff competition, as all the places we’ve visited had either fine pubs or beautiful nature. Killarney, however, has both. They tag themselves as ‘the town in the park’, the park being The Killarney National Park; an impressive expanse of woodland that contains lakes, mountain peaks, waterfalls, red deer, and, for two days, two Australians named Holly and Damian. The park is large, one hundred and three square kilometers, and circles around one third of the town, giving Killarney a perpetual hug. Then there’s the town itself, which is full of character and overflowing with pubs. Over fifty in total, each one full of beer, rich food, and, come the night, traditional Irish music. But we’ll get to that.

We left the house and picked up a lazy man’s breakfast of a pre-packed sandwich at the nearby Tesco, and then traveled the short seven kilometers to the park and Muckross House; an old Tudor-style mansion that forms the heart of the national park. After doing a quick lap of the house we left it to the busloads of incoming tourists and walked further into the park, towards Torc waterfall.

The day was surprisingly sunny. We had already learnt by then that any weather in Ireland is only ever temporary, and so, counting the current sun as good fortune we hurried on, marvelling at the twisted trees by the cold blue lake before edging into the lush wet forest.

It didn’t take long before our now well worn-in boots traversed the trail to the waterfall. It was heavy with water, cascading down into the clear river and mossy rocks below. The full trees sheltered us from the now light rain, with edges of sunlight already returning. It was a fairy tale scene, one that made me look around for the nymphs and pixies that I knew had to be hiding somewhere. After a poorly taken selfie we continued on, walking a trail uphill. We climbed up above the lake, the kilometers falling away behind us. We finished the trail but found we wanted to walk some more and so entered another feature of the park; a route that took you through the workings of a traditional farm. It was spotted with old farmsteads, saddle-makers, and a schoolyard–but easily the best part was the animals. Pigs and donkeys and Irish wolfhounds and goats, all happy to receive a scratch around the ears and a pat on their bottom.

It was now close to one o’clock and having had our nature craving sated headed into town for a drink. We took our pick of one of the local pubs and settled in, me with my laptop to work on a story, and Holly with a book. A few hours and drinks later (and a lot of “fooking insert-word-here” from the locals) we decided we needed some fresh air and so, braced against the now cold, headed towards the local cathedral. We saw some green behind it and followed the footpath in, only to realise it was yet another entrance to the national park. We saw signs towards Ross Castle. Carefree and with nothing else pressing, decided it must again be the walking part of our walk/drink cycle, as so started moving. It was slow movement thanks to routinely standing under trees to wait out the latest batch of five-minute rain, but pleasant, warmed by the romance of the moment and the beer in our bellies.

A quick walk through the castle was followed by deer spotting and the fervent wish that a badger (magical or otherwise) would join us on our walk. None did and we made it back to town, taking our total kilometers walked for the day up to twenty one. We took up residence in another pub to while the evening away before hopping to a restaurant for dinner, and then from there to yet another pub called Courtney’s to await the night’s music.

We had passed Courtney’s the night before, drawn in by the sound of it’s resident band only to find many others had already followed the lure and that there was no seating available. We had been determined not to make the same mistake twice, and so got in early to score the best seats in the house. It was worth it. The band wasn’t really a band, but rather one guitarist who had invited any available friends to come jam with him. At first it was him and an accordion player. They belted out two toe tapping tracks, both exceptionally proficient at their chosen instrument. Then a third fellow joined them. I eyed his instrument case keenly, hoping with everything I had that there was a fiddle inside. There was. The next song started, rich, and fun, and improvised. Then a fourth man pulled up a seat and took out an instrument that I had never seen before and that I can best describe as somewhere between bagpipes and a clarinet. I’ve since learned the instrument are called Uileann pipes, and can tell you they were a treat to watch played. With all the avengers assembled the music rose to even greater heights that left me grinning like a pleased pug. The atmosphere was perfect. The pub, older than my great great grandmother, was full with tourists and locals alike, the candlelight giving the space an almost ethereal glow. I had a drink in front of me, Holly beside me, and music swirling around us both like water in a river.

The next day Holly wrote about the music of Courtney’s in the book at our AirBnB and I couldn’t help but wonder who would come after us, who would read her words and retrace our steps to discover the sights and sounds of this soul warming Irish town. I hope they enjoy it as much as we did.

Talk soon,

Damian

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August 8, 2018

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Another track from Passenger for today’s post. As this blog has temporarily turned into a travel journal I thought this song was particularly apt. It’s called Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea. Note the lyrics.

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Words written for the year: 94,897

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Holly and I left Edinburgh four days ago. We picked up our rental car and headed north, into the highlands. A lot has happened in those four days, most good, one thing not so good, and now we find ourselves on the Isle of Skye, where we are staying in a tiny wee home for the next three nights.

The Isle of Skye is exactly as imposing and impressive as you may have been told or read about. It is a landscape so rich with stunning views that it feels like just driving around is activity enough; until you get to one of its landmarks and see exactly how much greater it will prove itself to be. This beauty, though, is not for the faint-hearted, at least, not from our experience. Mist and fog and rain are an almost constant, although it is summer and so showers of sunshine do occasionally roll across the sky. The mist shrouds the mountain tops, hiding them, forcing you to wait, hoping that it will part so you can see the true grandeur hiding behind it. And then, when it does….worth it. This seems to be a staple of this harsh Scottish isle. The promise of great beauty, but only for those who prove themselves particularly persistent or stubborn.

Our first stop in the Isle of Skye was to a landmark known as the fairy pools. A cute name to be sure, but as we drove up the single lane road, which was boarded with sharp edges and thick deposits of mud that practically told us we would be bogged if we edged too far to either side, we saw that these fairy pools would require some work before we could enjoy them. We pulled as far to the side of the road as we could, slightly widened in this area as a makeshift car park– the actual car park already overflowing–and stepped out into the mud as a fine sleet, not even counted as rain by the locals, but that which nevertheless got us damp, settled over the area. We followed the mud track and other tourists down a hillside until we got to a river. The only path across was a series of stones, well submerged in the water. The first test. We, along with many others, searched up and down the river for another way to cross. There was not one to be found. The path and car park were man made, yes, as were the submerged stones, but it would seem that if you want to see this particular spot of beauty then you better be prepared to get your feet wet. After some umming and ahhing and talk of going back to the car we decided that we were worthy of seeing the fairy pools, and choose to prove it. With the water above our ankle and the very real fear that we would slip on the submerged stones and join them in the river, we stepped once, twice, three times, four, then a final fifth, until we made it across onto a wide and well laid path that made us ask the question if you can build a path, why not build a bridge? But we already knew the answer, and so with a stubborn and persistent pace began to walk up the hill, to the pools that ran alongside it. It was worth it.

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The next morning we got up early, had a quick breakfast, then hit the road, eager to beat the rest of the tourists to another landmark known as the Old Man of Storr. While we were successful in beating the crowds, even scoring an actual parking spot in the car park, there was one element we were never going to beat; the weather. That didn’t matter though, because we had come prepared. We had ponchos. Ponchos that were untested and may have as well have been made of cling wrap. These flimsy pieces of plastic were as unready for this mountaintop weather as we ourselves were, so at least in that way we were well matched (our fault entirely of course, they didn’t even have full length sleeves! Always test your gear before packing it) Nevertheless we covered ourselves in the brightly coloured garb, mine tearing immediately, and started walking. We had only gone a few dozen meters when the weather thought to test us further. The wind picked up, the rain fell harder, and over the loud flapping of our crappy ponchos we yelled to each other if perhaps we thought we should head back. We almost buckled, almost failed the test, but then rallied and continued up the mountain, our poor choice of clothes quickly becoming soaked. Seeing our perseverance and stubbornness, the isle rewarded us. The clouds parted, sunlight showed itself, and after around thirty minutes we had climbed into a scene I previously thought must only exist in fantasy books.

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The sheer magnitude of the scenery made me want to run around the mountains like a child, which I did. We made it to a peak where the wind roared and did its best to knock us from our feet. I breathed it in, full of elation and adrenaline. We then saw grey clouds approaching on the very same wind and decided it was time to head down. The inevitable happened. Rain and wind came on us once more, even stronger than before, made worse by how high we were. My adrenaline dropped as my clothes became truly soaked and I realised just how far down we had to climb. We were so poorly dressed, so very wet, all we could do was laugh, yelling at each other how mad this was over the screaming of the wind. We made it back to the car and once more the sun returned. Was it worth it? Of course it was. We drove on.

More sights were seen, more breathtaking landscape passed through, until I just had to stop commenting on it because every turn of the road revealed some new remarkable backdrop. We picked up some beers, made it back to our tiny home, and, once warm and dry, rose a toast to being perseverant and stubborn.

Talk soon,

Damian

August 2, 2018

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Frank Turner’s Be More Kind is today’s blog song. A sweet song with a poignant message.

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Words written for the year: 92,032

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I am at this moment sitting in a park, surrounded by gravestones, atop a literal mountain of bodies. I have a slight buzz thanks to the whisky tour I just completed, and I can hear the faint sound of bagpipes blown to me by the almost constant breeze. If you guessed I’m in Scotland you would be quite correct. If you guessed I was in Edinburgh you would be even more correct. I could have also told you that I just finished eating a roast pork roll that had the option of haggis stuffing but I felt like that would have been giving it away.

After a very enjoyable second week in Vienna, including a weekend away to the picturesque St. Wolfgang, the Lady Holly and I said farewell to J and A and flew to Edinburgh. It’s been quite magical. Not least because it’s festival season here, something we were dimly aware of, and which means there are roughly five different festivals taking place; all of which have a staggering amount of acts that are all competing for your attention at the same time. Because of this the city is bursting with people, with its populations likely to double this month. It does make sense however, because if you want to run a festival in Scotland it would have to be during the short summer months. In our three days here we’ve mostly worn jumpers and beanies and have been rained on every day. I can only imagine what winter looks like.

This increase of tourists is not a bad thing however. One, because we ourselves are tourists, so who are we to complain, and two, because the city is crackling with energy. Everywhere we go there are buskers performing, people handing out flyers asking (arguably begging) us to see their show, pop up bars, pop up venues, tour groups, comedians, and a general sense of excitement and holiday mentality that can usually only be found at Christmas; all surrounded by the stunningly old and stunningly well maintained city of Edinburgh. It’s quite the atmosphere.

Speaking of Edinburgh’s age, we’re staying at an airbnb in the new part of Edinburgh–new meaning it’s roughly two hundred and fifty years old. Which sounds a little crazy until I consider that the old part of town is roughly eight hundred years old, or more. It’s all a little staggering. The bedroom I’m staying in was built roughly seventy years before my hometown of Melbourne was even founded. The gravestone next to me, which is one of the newer looking ones I should note, is two hundred and fourteen years old.
As you can imagine, a city with that much time under its belt it has a substantial amount of history trodden into its cobblestones. We’ve only done a couple of walking tours in our short time here but it already seems that any one spot in Edinburgh has a dozen stories attached to it; most of which are brutal or comical or both.

It is a city of filth and festivals, cholera and culture, bloodshed and beer. It’s a place where you can find multiple pubs on every street, where graveyards are also park lands, where it’s heroes are scoundrels and dogs (literally), and where history drips out of every crack to soak into your imagination and shoes.

I love it.

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Remember to look after yourself, disconnect when you need to, go for a walk even if it’s raining, put your phone in the other room and read a book for an hour. The world can wait.

Talk soon,

Damian