Falling In Love With Ireland...The Sligo Edition

Taking flying lessons on the dunes...

Since my last post about Ireland, where I gave into my seven year itch and let off some steam about all the things I dislike about living in Ireland, I have mostly talked about my other half - the fish - and everything Chinese and China. I do have another funny fish tale I'd love to share with you and come to think of it, I haven't really talked about Wang Leehom in a while either but we'll save that for another post or two. Apart from that, I've also been licking my wounds while trying to fall in love with Ireland all over again.

Just for the record, I don't hate Ireland at all. I like living here, I really do. I wouldn't have stayed for seven years and counting if I didn't like it. A plane ticket back home isn't that expensive. It's just, every once in a while I get homesick. Living abroad does that to you, especially when you left home at a young age to find your footing in the big wide world.

Sometimes it's just a little bout of homesickness that can easily be cured by calling my family or friends in Germany. Other times, it's a little more overwhelming than that. My fish selfishly stole my heart and locked it up somewhere in a vault in the depth of a bamboo forest somewhere in China. He refuses to give me the key, let alone tell me where I can find that bamboo forest to take back what's rightfully mine - not that I'd want to. I like the fact that the fish has my heart. In the spirit of Beyonce's "Single Ladies", he liked it so he put a lock on it. Wise guy.


My two best friends, the two girls I grew up with and who know me the best are in Germany. So is my family. It gets a bit lonely sometimes and that's when the homesickness kicks in - I fear my mum won't know what hit her when I pick her up at the airport in December. Mum, since I know that you're reading my blog, be warned! You're going to get the biggest hug in the world and I'm not sure I'll be letting go of you any time soon. You may have to drag me to the bus home. 

So yeah, when I have the blues, that's when everything about Ireland is suddenly crap and that's when the five-year-old in me comes out. The one who wants to stomp and scream until she gets her own way (which I never did I may add, my parents didn't really figure out that having only one child means you need to spoil it rotten!). It takes me some time to get back on my feet.

Nevertheless, I've been pampering myself little by little, everyone needs is bit of balm for the soul every so often. The homesickness is still there but for the most part I can bear it. Today's post is therefore about everything that's good about Ireland...well Sligo actually.

Rockwood Parade. Deserted on a chilly Sunday morning.
Sligo Abbey. Or rather what's left of it.

I've been escaping to Sligo since my first visit in 2006. It's my private little haven. Despite being much smaller than my hometown it reminds me a lot about the city I grew up in. I can walk just about everywhere in the city centre within 15 minutes. My friend owns a gorgeous house on top of the hill overlooking the mountains and Sligo city and that's where I hide away with my book and coffee to recharge my batteries and generally forget about Dublin for a while. My favourite beach is a short bus ride away and my friend makes the best Irish breakfast in the world. Not only is it delicious, no it's also made with love!

Life in Dublin is hectic, that's the place where I work, teach, meet friends, run errands, etc... well you know, all the stuff you have to do every day as an adult. Damn, I wanna be 17 again (not really). In Sligo I can leave that part of myself behind. When I board the train at Dublin Connolly I'm a keyed up, nervous wreck. By the time I get off the train in Sligo three hours later, I'm relaxed, a little tired and looking forward to an amazing weekend. I can just put the phone aside (or ignore it completely), brew a pot of coffee, grab a good book, light a fire and be unavailable for a while. It's heaven, I tell you.

That's what a relaxed woman on a stroll through the dunes looks like.

Last weekend my Chinese teacher and I both decided to escape the Dublin smog and stress. I gave my friend in Sligo a last minute warning and on Friday at 7pm my Chinese teacher and I were comfortably seated on the last train up to Sligo with a big bowl of Chinese takeaway between us for dinner. The dinner was mediocre but we ate it anyway. We slept, listened to music, sang karaoke (much to the delight, and I use this term loosely, of our fellow travellers), played games and my flatmate supplied me with steady updates of the Ireland/Germany game in Croke Park.

Germany won 6:1, that one goal Ireland managed to score was a pity goal, can't have been anything else. The German goalkeeper closed both eyes and side-stepped the ball when it came flying into his direction - sound lad. I'm glad I didn't waste 90 minutes of my time watching that game, I'd have died from shame (see, seven years in Ireland have injected an decent amount of Irishness into me). I'm proud of my German boys but for the lads in green to play such a rubbish game on home turf...well swiftly moving on before I make myself some enemies for life. I probably already have...

Once we got to Sligo, I screamed in delight when I set eyes on my friend. I probably woke half the town - I apologise. My Chinese teacher probably thought she'd agreed to go travelling with an utter nutcase and I'm sure the taxi driver was secretly planning an escape but we kind of had his car surrounded so he didn't have anywhere to go. You see, in the West it's generally frowned upon to drive over people. Do take note of that, China, won't you?

I'd love to tell that we all dolled ourselves up on Friday night and went on a ladies' night out, but my life isn't actually that exciting. We're the kind of girls who prefer our PJs, a hot drink and the couch in the living room. We did briefly contemplate a movie but sitting together and chatting away until about 2am in the morning is much more fun. Ordinarily I'd have lasted until 4am if it hadn't been for the fact that my body can't last that long if I have to get up at 7am and work a full eight hours. You know, we actually had a real conversation. For the most part there was no technology involved. Just good old-fashioned socialising. I love a good night out but a great night in with friends is just as much fun.

Hello beautiful.

I already mentioned this, but just to remind you and of course to make you jealous (what else? yes, I'm that cruel and no I don't believe you, you love me really), my friend makes the best Irish breakfast in the world. This is what my Chinese teacher and I woke up to on Saturday morning. That and the fresh smell of coffee. Breakfast took about an hour and a half, just my kind of thing. Sleep-in, then a lazy start to the morning with a great fry-up and coffee. That's the life, sweet, sweet life. It can't possibly get much better than this (except of course breakfast in bed served by my Chinese beau... with a choice between the two I may reconsider).

What with almost everything in Sligo being in walking distance, we didn't have to worry about missing our bus out to Strandhill. That and the bus was late anyway. There is a timetable but what with Sligo being so close to the Atlantic Ocean the timetable is really only a guideline. The bus comes and goes with the tide. Still, we made it out to the beach in good time. Of course, it started lashing some five minutes after we got there so we had to seek shelter. No complaints there. I got to drink coffee so I have no complaints whatsoever. That and I got to play with a really cute puppy. 12 weeks old. He tried to bite me several times - think he confused my hand with a tasty bone - but it felt more like he was trying to tickle me.

I can't think of a more beautiful sight.

Hiding in the dunes.

Mesmerised. Relaxed.

Dunes offer a great shelter from the wind.

Climbing the dunes and failing, chose to pose instead.

We spent a good four hours at the beach, just enjoying the sound of the big waves crashing against the shore - the tide was rolling in. I love those massive waves, the sound of them drowns out everything unwanted. There's no room for hatred or negativity when you're strolling along the beach or walking through the dunes, enjoying the sunshine. You just breathe in the fresh sea air, watch the birds, the surfers, the kids and the couples walking their dogs.

You stroll along and with every step you let go of unwanted baggage. Stress, troubles, sorrows, worries. That's my magic cure and one reason why I love living on an island - even if that island is usually subjected to a 365 day monsoon season - there are beaches everywhere. Wherever I am, I can always escape to the beach. Also, by the time you're back home all the walking and the fresh sea air has you feeling so tired that you simply don't have the energy to pick up any negative vibes. Your troubles keep away until you feel refreshed enough to pick them up and deal with them.

There are some amazing beaches around Dublin but they lack the force of the Atlantic Ocean so Strandhill it is.

The first time I ever set foot onto a real beach was when I was on holiday in Greece in 2003 but I was more interested in swimming in the crystal clear water than the fact that I was on a beach. The first time I really learned to appreciate a beach was when I flew to California in 2004 to visit my friend. She took me to Baker Beach in San Francisco and the first thing I did was to take off my shoes and socks and run into the Pacific Ocean. Mind you, it was December so I only went in to my ankles but what fun it was!

Look at that cool pose. 17, innocent and in the US for the first time!

That day Baker Beach was deserted, the waves were huge and I couldn't hear anything my friend was telling me. I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. The first time I got to Strandhill beach and stood on a large rock, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean I got the same feeling - home sweet home. I have an irrational fear of waves (that's why you'll never ever get me to try out how to surf) but I love the sound of them and I love watching them in awe.

Isn't that just beautiful? I do apologise for the overload of wind and the lack of the sound of the waves. I've no clue about video editing, so you'll just have to appreciate my ordinary skills. If you have the patience to teach me, I'm a willing student. The question however is: How patient a teacher are YOU?

If you'd like to see more of the beach, here are two more videos. Click here and here

Last Saturday I also discovered a couple of interesting things about Strandhill beach. Things I didn't know up until then. Yes, it is apparently possible to regularly visit a beach for some six years and still discover secrets about it.

So here we go: The owner of the SurfSchool has a delightful Australian Accent and there's a tiny little bakery that bakes gorgeous cakes...they were so delicious that I can only offer you a picture of the package but not the cake. We devoured them very quickly...even a big dinner of Hong Kong Style fried noodles and dumplings couldn't stop us. That's girls for you...they have no self-control when it comes to cake and no that's not a bad thing. Cake is awesome and it's a life saver. 

About that dinner...kudos go entirely to my awesome Chinese teacher, who brought everything she needed to make dumplings and her famed Hong Kong style fried noodles. She took over my friend's kitchen and whipped up the most amazing meal ever. I just followed instructions and then I was banned from watching how she makes her fried noodles...traditional, secret recipe which she got from her mum. If I grovel long enough I will get it out of her eventually but I was actually pretty happy to just sit at the kitchen table and wrap dumplings. Strangely enough that's actually pretty relaxing. Chinese music on full blast, great company, a kitchen full of fresh food and amazing smells and then you just sit there and wrap one dumpling after the other. Take a piece of dough, add the filling, wrap it and next one... My fish thinks I'll make a good housewife. I'll let him think that until after he signed the wedding papers...bahahaha.

A girl needs flowers. I got tired of waiting for himself to send me some so I bought them myself.

A crackling fire. I started it myself, if I may add. Worked on the first try. Mighty proud.

The good housewife.

Fried dumplings.

My Chinese teacher cooks THE BEST FOOD.

Dinner is served.

Conclusion? When you have a secret hideaway, great friends and awesome food, life abroad isn't so bad afterall. Agreed?