Dublin in the Spring

Last Friday we left Germany and went to Monisteraki, Athens. This week, we’re going to Dublin. Why? It’s Friday and as of last week every Friday I’m taking you out of Germany and depositing you elsewhere, until I run out of places I’ve visited (at which point I may just start making it up). Plus I wanted to give you the chance to read about the worst hangover I have ever had.

In 2010, as I was shivering in Münster and learning the ins and outs of German governmental procedures (not in pursuit of further education, merely to remain in the country legally) a friend of mine was doing the same thing in Dublin. We had previously spent the summer (of our lives) together working and drinking cheap wine on Santorini as a prelude to setting up shop in the colder, greyer parts of Northern Europe.

In March of 2011, after a very long and very hard European winter, I jumped on a plane and flew into Dublin to visit my friend and to see Dublin for the first time. What followed was a long weekend that encompassed one of the single worst hangovers I have ever had, a lot of heavy, moorish food, a tantrum in Primark because nothing fit (nothing to do with the moorish food, obviously) and crashing onto a live music stage after my jigging got a bit out of control. The jigging and the hangover were connected.

You can read about it here:

194 Euros: Part 1

194 Euros: Part 2

194 Euros: Part 3

(I recommend a single sitting, just to get a feel for the pace of the weekend.)

Now, enjoy a few snaps of Dublin waking up from a nasty, bitter winter.
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The Markets of Monisteraki

Let’s leave Germany today, just for a little while. It’s Friday, Summer has handed over her evening domain to Autumn who prefers cold nights and feet, and things are very quiet outside my window (I suspect many Bavarians have stretched their Thursday public holiday into a 4 day weekend.) It’s quiet enough to close my eyes and go to …

Greece.

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I haven’t been there this year – physically; in my head, I am there all too often – making 2013 only the second year since 2007 I’ve not yamas-ed my way through alarming amounts of ouzo and taramasalata.

So we’re going to Greece today – you, me, all of us. To Athens, one of my favourite cities in the world.

I wrote this about Athens back in 2010, the last time I was there:

Athens, or at least, its city centre, Monisteraki, is everything people who warn you against spending too much time there, say it is. And to those people, I say, rubbish. Open your eyes just a little wider. Athens may be a city that requires some work (it lacks the charm of, say London, or the overwhelming beauty of, say, Paris) but it’s worth it. Monisteraki heaves with people and voices and the scent of constant cooking. It bustles with spices and street vendors and cafes. It’s loud and grimy and in your face. It’s sort of brown. There are as many souvlaki stores as there are pigeons and everything feels old. Monisteraki is also market heaven, which explains the constant barrage of odours – a big meat hall stands next to the fish markets and both are fronted by vendors selling sacks of dried herbs and pots of vermillion spices, fresh fruit and shelves of nuts.

Since then the Euro Crisis has changed so much for the city and its people. It has been a dark, dark couple of years for an ancient country with a proud, angry, hurting population. It will pass, my God I hope in good time. Der Spiegl published this piece, this week, about how these difficult times are bringing out the best in the youth of Athens, encouraging a sense of purpose and community. Light, tunnel, all of that. Go, Greece, go!

So, to the markets of Monisteraki, the spices, the street vendors, the souvlaki …

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 Happy Friday.

 

A Little Villa

Every once in a while, SG or I will mention the words, with a curious mix of certainty and wistfulness, ‘…when we have our little villa on Santorini’. It is usually when we’re talking about things like vegetable gardens or pet goats (me, largely) and almost always when talking, unabashedly, about an ideal life. Because an ideal life, for both of us as it transpires, would be spent on that island, in a small white villa with cool rooms, a ntomatini plant outside and a couple of pets (Günther the mini pig and a goat. I casually said the other day I could use the goat’s milk to make cheese and SG sort of scoffed. He’ll be sorry when he tastes the feta I shall make.) We don’t know how we’ll get the villa (lottery, I could write the next Huge Thing, SG could be mysteriously left a large amount of money that would stretch to cover our modest Greek abode) but we’ll get it somehow. This little villa has nestled itself into both of our consciences. It’s where we’ll be when we get there. It’s that kind of place.

I miss Santorini, often and a lot. That place is under my skin, in my bones in a way entirely different to my home, Australia and Germany. Our relationship is a different one.

On the days I particularly miss Santorini, even days like these, where the Baltic is as blue as blue and the wind whispering through our attic apartment is perfectly cool, I bring the island – or the Mediterranean, really – into my own home. We cook moussaka or prepare huge mezze plates full of tomatoes and cheese and zucchini and garlic. We cook and make do with the colours, the scent, the flavours of summer nights spent in front of beach-side tables laden with dishes and little jugs of cold, tart white wine.

And we talk about our villa with its vegetable garden and pet goat.

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Marzipan & Backfisch

A cloudy but clear Sunday, nothing planned. We got two coffees to go and then into the car, hair still wet from the shower. It was just over an hour to Lübeck, a maritime town right on the curve of the Baltic, where the inky sea brushes up against the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein border. Everything is so green right now, completely filled up by the relentless rain that has, in other parts of the country, absolutely destroyed towns. Up here we’ve had rain, plenty of it, but it’s served only to thicken the thickets of wildflowers that grow roadside and turn fields into clean cut squares of Irish emerald. We’ve been lucky. We played the usual road-trip game (we spend a lot of time driving) calling out every time a deer or particularly large rabbit (or indeed any round, glossy farm animal) was spotted enjoying the endless grünes Futter. 

Lübeck was under cranky clouds that had their fun by constantly threatening but, naturally, never delivering rain, so we were able to stroll, dry, through the stone streets. The Niederegger store was open, despite it being a Sunday, so we strolled through rows and rows of marzipan lobsters and pigs and lighthouses and got a little treat at the end.

Then it was on to Travemünde for Backfisch by the Baltic. The kiosk was tiny and ramshackle with a sprawling menu that managed to include gyros, currywurst, sardines, and several varieties of fischbrötchen. The weather was awful, a cold wind rolling in off the sea that was being braved by a few keen wind surfers wrapped up in wetsuits. But the fish – and the huge dollop of potato salad that accompanied it – was good and plentiful.

It started to rain as we drove home. The fields got even greener.

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Mini Castles & Taking it Easy

I wasn’t going to write about Berlin because, it’s Berlin. And there are people far better equipped to write about a city that’s name and reputation precedes it so thoroughly it is nigh on impossible for a passer-through to do it justice. And Berlin, like Hamburg, is one German city that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a few times. So I reconciled myself to two days of wandering around, a spot of light shopping, some good old fashioned eating and precious time spent with my intrepid Aunt and Uncle who are currently on a road trip around parts of Eastern Europe.

What I was going to do, was take a few photos and make this a quick, easily digested photo post. The camera came with us and we snapped here and there. But, really, as we swayed between book stores and crepe cafes and hand-warming cafe lattes, the camera stayed zipped in its bag. Berlin, for both of us, is a city we’ve seen a fair bit of and documentation of its grit and grandeur has happened on previous trips. So it seemed, with no details being scratched into a notebook and no one really manning the camera, the SG and I were subconsciously determined to just take it in and take it easy.

But then I went and Googled the area we were staying in, because I wanted to know about the big, beautiful houses that seemed architecturally unusual and sort of higgledy piggledy, as if someone with a lot of money had brought to life a series of their dream houses complete with spires and spikes and the overall feel of being something out of of a fairy tale. As it turns out, the neighbourhood we were in – Lichterfelde West – was developed throughout the late 1800s by a wealthy Hamburg business man, and is, according to Wikipedia ‘a remarkable example of 19th-century Villenkolonie, a German concept of settlements completely made up of mansion houses or villas.’ Those big, fairy-tale houses were indeed the product of someone with a lot of money and a penchant for spires and homes that look like mini castles. Furthermore, gas lamps are still found on street corners in Lichterfelde West, just to add to the sensation of suddenly existing in 1892.

So there you go. You learn something new everyday. And also … Villenkolonie … what a bizarre concept.

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For words on Berlin from the aforementioned people far better equipped than I:

Überlin, Explorer in Berlin, Nicole is the New Black, Irish Berliner, Ian and Ebe, andBerlin

 

A Day in Göteborg

We were up early, considering it was a Sunday morning, because SG was determined to catch each second of the slow steam into Göteborg. As our big boat cruised toward the harbour, little rocky outcrops began to appear, then little rocky outcrops with red cabins balanced on top. It was all very Scandinavian, as was the icy wind blowing up off the sea we had traversed while sleeping in our can-beds. Then, like a lovely little cherry on top of a very picturesque arrival scene, came the floating ice, as if to confirm precisely how freezing the weather a winter Sweden has enjoyed.

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We disembarked with a stream of Swedes, most of them hauling their body weight in alcohol – not because, as that sentence may imply, the Swedish necessarily drink to excess, but because alcohol in Germany is substantially cheaper than it is in Sweden and so many Swedes hop on the ferry for the express purpose of topping up their cellars.

A tram delivered us to Göteborg’s city centre and there we experienced mild panic concerned a repeat of Pilsen was occurring. All was quiet. Many shops were closed. SG turned to me and said, ominously, ‘remember Pilsen’. We had visited the Czech Republic town on a Saturday and assumed most things would be open. They weren’t. We were in Göteborg on a Sunday. The chances of everything being closed were even higher. There was nowt to do but seek refuge in a cafe and soothe ourselves with large coffees and baked goods.

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Suitably thawed and map in hand, we hit the road, via a stall that sold a dazzling array of doughnuts and almonds in various sweet coats – sugar, honey, chocolate. We went for an iced doughnut covered in Smarties. We don’t do things in half measures and travel is for eating, not worrying about whether pants can be done up.

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We were bound for Haga – ‘Göteborg’s first suburb’ – the oldest, most traditional neighbourhood of Göteborg famed for its little houses many of which were rebuilt in the 1980s when the area underwent significant renovation. As we strolled, map fluttering in the cold breeze and fingers holding the map slowly turning to stone like something out of Narnia, the city seemed to be stretching and yawning. More and more people were popping up and cafes and restaurants were unstacking chairs and opening doors.

The long, stone street that ran through the middle of Haga yielded little boutiqes full of clothes, homewares, books, antiques and food. Little market stalls and tables had been set up outside and wares ranged from the wonderfully strange – bejewelled telescopes proferred by a man with a mane of black hair, expertly kohl-rimmed eyes and perhaps the legs of a fawn? – to the downright delicious. Obviously we were sucked in by the downright delicious. SG had instant wurst hunger upon spying a wurst stall and I fell upon a large goats cheese and spinach pastry. Our pants strained further.

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Behind Haga, high up on a hill, looms a rather imposing fortification – Skansen Kronan. Thighs burning, the weight of all of our recently consumed treats threatening to hold us back, we hiked up the endless stairs to the top. The fortification itself is topped with an enormous gold crown and surrounded by canons. And there, beneath the gaze of the enormous gold crown, you can gaze down over the red roofs of Göteborg.

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And then it was more walking. Down past the university, the library, the big old buildings and onto to the long, wide shopping street, Kungsportsavenyen, with its abundance of Irish pubs. Göteborg was well and truly awake, its people filling the shops and cafes.

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We stopped into a French cafe and resisted the urge to gorge on macaroons and croissants. We walked through parks and saw birds preparing their nests. That means but one thing – Spring with all its little birds, is on the way.

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We wound our way up past the museum, to the post-modern opera house and back into the mall (apparently the biggest in Scandinavia) where we started with our coffees in the morning. It was heaving, the Göteborg locals all enjoying their Sunday in one large, convenient shopping sprawl. A last snack (meal) was had at an extremely strange Irish/American themed restaurant/bar that served nachos and fried things in among the shrimp toast, the both of us too tired to search further afield than what the mall had to offer. Then it was a tram back to the boat which was waiting patiently for us.

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We slept like logs in our little can beds, feet sore, bellies full, Göteborg done. The next morning we stood on the roof of the boat again and Kiel, covered in blue, welcomed us home.

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The First Mango

Like Christmas beetles and cicadas, the smell of bushfire smoke and sunscreen, a big, ripe, sunset-coloured mango is one of the stalwarts of an Australian summer. And if you can get them in a tray, bought from a truck on the side of the road, even better. My inaugural 2012 summer mango didn’t come from a truck on the side of the road, he was plucked from a tray in Coles because on my way out, through the fruit and veg section, I smelt those mangoes and I turned right back around and bought one. Then I carried it carefully to work – where I just held it and pushed my nose up against it every so often, to breathe in its summery scent – and home again, not wanting to bruise that sweet flesh, and told my Mum not to eat it. She ate it. But she replaced it with one just as sunset-coloured, just as sweet, just as fragrant.

And this weekend, I ate it, my first mango of the season, in the most inelegant, satisfied fashion possible. Come on, Summer.