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Archive for July, 2010

Stop #1: Oxford

Straight off my flight from Shannon I caught a bus to Oxford to check out the town … just in case… The College dorm I stayed in was a bigger version of Massey (where I lived last year in Toronto) down to the breakfast convo in the dining hall and I immediately felt right at home. Although the town itself was buzzing with summer tourist crowds, it was easy to find space for quiet reflection in the extensive parks and wonder whether the guy on the bench next to me was mulling over a problem of theoretical physics or the etymology of a new word to be included in the next revision of the Oxford English Dictionary. Charlene and her friend Emily, both Oxford alumni, came down for the day from London. What do friends do when they get together in Oxford? Why they go punting of course!

Stop #2: London

Nerve-jangling. Loud. Smelly. Too many hours spent in the Tube. A nice dinner with my Mom and Dad at a Turkish restaurant before I saw them off the next morning in their taxi to Heathrow – along with 30 kg or so of my stuff (thanks guys!) – and headed to Paddington train station to make my escape to the English countryside.

Stop #3: Glastonbury

Throne of the High King of the Faeries, Avalon, final resting place of King Arthur, convergence of ley lines, site of the Holy Thorn planted by Joseph of Arimathea (said to be a great uncle of Jesus who travelled to Cornwall regularly to trade for tin) … that’s just a sample of the mystique surrounding Glastonbury. Anyplace that has been a pilgramage site for centuries is bound to have a lot of energy of all kinds zapping around and I certainly found that to be true of this area: light, dark, clear, clouded, just peaceful, just weird and just bullshit, it’s all there. The charlatans with their smoke and mirrors preying on the vulnerable were awfully hard to take, but underneath all the glamour I also found lots of loveliness in Glastonbury: clear and peaceful rooms and gardens, delicious locally grown food, the Tor itself, a fantastic massage therapist from Windsor, Ontario, a new friend from Portugal, a nine-year-old full of questions, a laughing baby and a couple of friendly dogs.

It’s perhaps a sign of the weirdness of the place that as a last resort I turned to alcohol for a dose of reality. For this I went to the George & Pilgrim, a good old fashioned English pub dating back to the 1400s. King Henry VIII stayed here when he came to decommission the monastery (i.e. supervise the hanging of the last abbot on the Tor). Most of the pub staff seemed to be from Normandy so I introduced myself as a long-lost Canadian cousin and enjoyed a relatively down-to-earth conversation. As we chatted in the corridor, two heavily made up women wearing garlands and dressed in flowing red passed by: delegates to the Goddess conference that was on over the weekend. ”C’est une ville bizarre,” muttered the bartender as he walked away. ”Bizarre,” his wife agreed.
Bizarre but also fascinating and in some ways very uplifting. I’m not sorry I passed this way. Any residual bullshit should be blown off in a few days when I’m galloping across the open steppes under the eternal blue sky. Next stop: Mongolia.

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The Emerald Isle

Green, rainy and populated by friendly unpretentious people was how I imagined Ireland, and the reality came pretty close. Three weeks went by fast with a few days in Dublin, a cycling trip in Connemara, and several day trips by car from our rented cottage in Co. Galway. A few highlights:

1. That first Guinness on Irish soil, with a bit of black currant to take the edge off the bitterness: O’Donoghue’s in Dublin. Only thing that would have made it taste better was music – unfortunately we were only there in the late afternoon when the place was almost dead and didn’t make it back at night.

2. Bog Boy – local Dublin theatre production.

3. Cycling a bog road on a rainy day, thinking about Bog Boy and stories about the area being haunted. Haunted by Canadian litterers, I thought on finding 3 Tim Horton’s cups on the shoulder until a friend informed me that selected Spars (a European convenience store chain) are now selling the coffee. Only sign of life was two bog men harvesting peat… or maybe they only appeared to be bog men harvesting peat…. “Lovely day for a ride!” they called out as I pedalled by. (insert Twilight Zone theme)

4. Live music in small town pubs, especially Cong where the band was exceptional (and they’re just in their teens now) and the bartender will give you a ride home. The band is heading out on tour in France and the US, keep an eye out for the Rambling Rogues. Note to Canadian legislators: let kids in bars. Our music will get better.

5. Dun Aonghasa, Inis Mor (largest of the Aran Islands). A stone ringfort dating back, oh, a couple of thousand years or so. The open side of the ring is a cliff dropping straight down to the Atlantic. No safety fences or rails, you can walk right up and look over it as close as you dare. Apparently there haven’t been any accidents in recent memory. Note to Canadian legislators: take it easy on the safety. You’re ruining the view.

6. The native forest restoration project and waterfall near Tourmakeady. Magical.

7. The Burren and the Cliffs of Mohar. Gorgeous.

8. Plunging into the freezing Atlantic from Glassillaun Beach. Possibly the cleanest, nicest white sand beach I’ve ever seen.

9. Finally managing to meet up with my friend Cillian and his dad in a village pub half way between our respective cottages.

10. An entirely hedonistic fiction binge brought on by ceaseless rain. Best read: The Book Thief.

11. Being in the presence of the ancient earth mounds at Cruachan. Mysterious.

12. Going by boat to explore an island on Lough Corrib with David, the owner of our rental cottage. In our wanderings we stumbled across ruins from various eras and a large extended family of hardy campers who invited us for tea, very welcome on a chilly morning. We made it back across the lake and to the truck just before the rain started to come down really hard. As we were driving down the narrow lane, a slight elderly man with twinkling eyes suddenly stepped out of the forest. David stopped and rolled down the window to talk to him for a few minutes before he disappeared back into the trees. “That Paddy, just like a leprechaun,” said David as we drove away.

… or could he be the real thing? 😉

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