Another Decade in Dublin

On October 5th I made my zillionth trip to Dublin, that city of vast literary and cultural genius that always has me holding my breath and wondering just what will happen this time. Magic always happens there – sometimes in obvious ways but mostly in quiet ways. Ways that are mostly inside me.

Something about Dublin makes me want to be a better writer. Maybe it is walking the streets where once many literary giants walked; Beckett, Behan, Joyce, Kavanagh, Wilde (I’m just plucking a mere few feathers from a magnificent plume). I’m always struck by the knowledge that they were once just regular people, like me – and much more. Fantastic, romantic or realist visionaries who dared to hope that what stirred them would one day stir the world. Ordinary dreamers who became extraordinary guides to the internal worlds and ideas that previously only they knew.

I could go on and on about them, but that is for another time and I will write more soon about the literary side of my trip.

This post is about the reason I went to Dublin this time. It was to celebrate the 60th birthday of my good friend, Sue Fell, along with our friends Dianne and Dan from Arizona, who joined us for the week.

Sue and I have known each other for over twenty years now and have spent many fun and adventurous times in each other’s company. We met through our mutual love of U2, and that shared passion has seen us experience some wonderful times at concerts in several countries over the years.

As a treat for Sue’s special night (her birthday was in September but we designated October 9th as the big day in Dublin), we booked the penthouse suite at The Clarence Hotel, which is famously co-owned by Bono and The Edge of U2. Now, we are not millionaires by any means, and not even close to it, but this suite is a very special place, and this was the third time we had stayed there. We save very carefully for it, and between four people it is not so bad!

For the rest of the week (seven nights in the penthouse would make our wallets explode!) we booked a really lovely duplex apartment in Smithfield, on the north side of the city. From our 6th floor living room window we could look out to the Jameson Distillery opposite (no longer operating) and the new Generator Hostel, which makes staying in the city cheap and comfortable for youngsters looking for a good time! The Luas (Dublin Tram) runs from just across the street so the location could not be more convenient.

Our week was our usual holiday mixture of culture, laziness (lots of that) and good food and wine (lots more of that!). We saw a play at Bewleys Lunchtime Theatre on Grafton Street and one at The Peacock on Abbey Street (more about both of them in another post). We ate at fantastic restaurants (Dada on William Street South, The Green Hen on Exchequer Street, Town on Kildare Street and of course Cleaver East, which used to be The Tea Room, in The Clarence Hotel).

On the Sunday we ventured on the DART to Killiney to blow away the cobwebs. In the wide arms of the bay we walked, the pebbles and shells crunching beneath our feet, and watched the pale, cloud-filtered light from the sun dance on the surface of the water.

With an appetite built, we took the DART one station back to Dalkey and had lunch at Finnegans, where the ghost of writer Maeve Binchy (Dalkey’s famous daughter) can still be felt – if you really want to feel it. This was her regular drinking place – she even used to bring her own chair!

On one of our days there, Sue and I had what we call our “lazy day” – which is code for slow and meandering boozy day. This tradition was started in Nice exactly one year previously, when we spent the day in glorious sunshine, sampling a jug or three of local wine. In the much cooler Dublin climate we kept out seating arrangements indoors for the most part, but did venture outside at one of the venues in our 4-pub crawl.

As our first weekend moved towards mid-week, our thoughts drifted to the penthouse. This was something we had arranged a long time ago. With the memory of our previous two stays there still in our minds, it had a lot to live up to. Thanks to Mario, the Revenue Manager at the hotel, it certainly did! He always looks after us so well whenever we stay at The Clarence, and this time was no exception. From the arrangements for afternoon tea on the day we arrived (there was a long table set out in The Study to accommodate us four and three of our friends who had come to help celebrate Sue’s birthday) to a couple of bottles of bubbly and a plate of chocolates for Sue in the suite, everything was perfect.

Staying somewhere as special as the penthouse suite at The Clarence means you have to make the most of every moment. Who wants to sleep when you are in such a beautiful place? The décor is subtle and tasteful, with beautiful accent colours like reds and teals to compliment the pale walls and oceans of oak. Sue and I stayed up the latest, going outside at intervals to catch the changing light of a Dublin day. When Sue went to bed, I spent a scant few hours on the couch in the Gallery upstairs, with the light from the dozens of tealights we had placed around the room flickering on the walls and casting gentle shadows upon me that stroked me to sleep.

I awoke briefly to catch the fire of the sunrise as it set Dublin ablaze. I went out onto the balcony feeling as sleepy as the city looked, marvelling again at the river and its bridges, the buildings old and new stretching into the distance and – for the moment at least – the tranquil beauty of city waking up.

We had done what we came here to do. We had marked another decade in Sue’s life. She’s been coming to Dublin for almost three of them and I am sure she will continue to do so.

It is always my pleasure to share it with her.

If God had been a watercolour artist (Travels in Nice – Part One)

If God had been a watercolour artist, he would have created the world with his brush, and started with Nice.

Every colour you can think of exists here – from the palest of yellows (stone, bleached by the stare of the sun) to the most vivid greens, blues, reds. The green is not just the lush vegetation; the blue is not just the sea or the sky that kisses it; the reds are not just the flowers or the faces of the people melting in the heat. All those colours are also alive within the very walls of the city, and the city is a pulsing, breathing body. Confident, well fed, strong and vital.

It would be easy to believe that Nice is asleep, gasping on the south coast of France like a puppy with its tongue out, as a merciless sun casts its glare. It might seem superficial – it is, after all, encircled by the arm of a playboy’s paradise (St. Tropez, Cannes and Monaco are all close neighbours along the Cote D’Azur).

But there is raw beauty and honesty waiting to be discovered.

When you arrive at the airport, you find yourself in a seemingly ordinary modern place. Tiled floor, ranks of bucket seats, phone booths, ticket machines, all leading out to a concrete world ruled by taxis and buses – they are the only way out of here! This is your first glimpse of Nice, and it is invariably hot and humid as you trundle your suitcase to the bus stop.

Ten minutes on the bus and you are soon stepping back in time. In the early 1800s, the coast road at Nice was a deserted beach at one with nature and not much else. The first houses here were built way up on the hills away from the water. Later on, in the latter part of the 1800s, people from England began to spend time in Nice, vacationing. They fell in love with the panorama and the rugged beauty of the coast. Eventually, a road was built and this was named Camin deis Anglés, which meant The English Way in the native Niçoise dialect.

In 1860 this changed to La Promenade des Anglais, and this is the place you see today, with its amazing early 20th century architecture, including the fabulous Negresco, a luxury hotel which also in its day acted as a hospital. There are more modern buildings along here too, but what strikes you is the opulence and history (some of these buildings were constructed around the time the Titanic sunk) and the sheer beauty. I sometimes think of wedding cakes when I look at some of these buildings. Their walls look smooth and silky, with stucco work like fine icing.

Today the Prom is a seething place at the height of summer, with the beach front thronged with sun seekers, and the sea wall and road alongside it heavy with strollers, skaters, joggers – and just sitters who often stare out to sea (I’ve done it myself). A charming aspect of the Promenade is its famous chaises bleu, which you see everywhere – sometimes arranged a tad artily as in the picture here.

Famous blue chairs of Nice.

Famous blue chairs of Nice.

Another ten minutes or less and you are in the heart of the old town – or Vieille Ville – of Nice.

And that is where my travel story starts; in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor of a building so old that I could almost feel it wheezing around me, and sighing at night as it settled to sleep in the balmy Niçoise air. So old that no air conditioning unit had ever darkened its doors, nor any lift ever violated its floors.

Our first view on reaching the summit of our old building!

In Part Two of my travelogue, I will tell you about what lay outside our little rooms, once we had dumped the cases and got our breath back from the 76 stair climb!

Travel Plans

At this time of year, when there is frost on the ground every morning, and a chill wind blowing, my thoughts always turn to travelling. Now, more than ever, getting away from the rat race is very important to me. It always was, but recent events have made me realise that you only get one chance, and you don’t know when it will be taken away from you. So I believe you should do everything you can to enjoy the time you have.

For me, the work/homelife balance is key to happiness. It has to be very heavily weighted in favour of home. That’s the way I have always rolled! I live for the evenings and weekends that I get to share with my husband, and the travels with him or with my friends. I go to work to make money to pay my bills, and to fund my travels, and maybe one day – if I am very lucky and get the break I need – I won’t have to do that anymore.

This year I have already booked all of my annual leave days – and have something planned for every one of them! I have never done that before, but I find that this year I need concrete plans to look forward to. I am going to Egypt in June to lie by a pool for two weeks, then to the US to visit dear friends at the end of July. October is my good friend, Sue’s, special birthday (oops, I almost gave the game away there and told you which birthday! LOL) and we are off to our favourite city, Dublin, to celebrate in style. Well, it’s actually her birthday in September, but we are celebrating it in October, which is the only time we could co-ordinate it all. We are going to be staying in a gorgeous apartment in Smithfield for a week, and in the middle of it all we will stay at the penthouse suite at The Clarence Hotel for the third time! I can’t wait. More about all that later.

Today I booked a trip to go and stay with Sue for the weekend at her home in Carlisle. It’s been a while since I was there. I usually visit quite regularly and have done for almost 20 years, but last year we had so many trips booked together that we did not get together at her place. So, I will be going on 3rd May and staying over for two nights.

Booking the train was a farce! Initial enquiries told me that the total fare was about £133!!! But experience told me that if I did my trip in stages (from Stoke to Manchester, then Manchester to Carlisle… then Carlisle to Manchester, Manchester to Stoke on the return day) I could probably get it cheaper. After much tapping of keys and to-ing and fro-ing, I finally got a total fare of £36, which was ridiculous. Why did the search and booking engine not do that for me automatically!? They seemed proud enough to tell me, at the end of my booking, that I had saved £97!!

Anyway, it is all done now, and I am really looking forward to going. Sue and I always have a lovely time chilling out. We are both very like-minded when it comes to rest and relaxation, and we both very much enjoy food and wine and great company.

Something else for the diary! I love to fill it up.