MOROCCO – Casablanca to Fes (via Rabat) November 2013

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I’ve not been good at blogging about Morocco – have I? πŸ™‚ That’s because I’ve been pretty crook for several days and it has been hard enough just staying upright long enough every day to get to the next stop!

I’ve been planning for two years to visit Morocco and as soon as we got here I started panicking! It was mostly about the dress code – being highly conventional for women in this Muslim country. I know I’m not exactly a ‘bosom-baring’ sort of gal ( πŸ™‚ ) but still – was a top too fitting or was I exposing too much neck? Also, as we arrived at a hotel that was quite gucci and very French, I felt my normal feelings of inadequacy (particularly in a fashion sense) were hyper-inflated and I felt I just wasn’t going to fit.

That first evening, before we had met our driver or gone outside the door of the hotel, I was saying to Eric that I just didn’t want to go anywhere the next day! Such a baby!!

The next morning we met our driver Idriss (Morocco Tours). He is our driver for the entirety of the organised tour we are on with Experience It! Tours. This group works out of the US and they do ‘private’ tours – as in your group could be 1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 20 …. people and only those people, nobody else will be added. So, we are a group of two. When I first inquired about booking I said that I would actually be a little shy about having all the attention of a driver for 10 days and would be happy if another small group wanted to join up with someone else; but they were clear that they didn’t do that. So, it is Eric and I and Driss – and for this last 7 days he has been great!

On that first morning he quickly took us on a quick drive around Casablanca and to the Hassan II Mosque – which was purpose built about 20 years ago under the direction of the King. He wanted a memorial for his father and something that would bring visitors to Casablanca. It can host 105,000 people for prayers at a time (80,000 outside and 25,000 inside); the walls are handcrafted marble and the roof retracts; the minaret (the needle point part of the building, like a cathedral’s spire) at 689 ft (210 m) is the world’s tallest. It is pretty spiffy all right!

Casablanca is not very attractive really – the buildings are very poorly maintained generally. I think it has to do with the fact that the city’s modern history only starts from the late 1950s, early 60s and the country has been busy establishing itself again with its own constitutional monarchy and without the French (thanks!). All of the Moroccan cities are divided into some combination of an old town and new town – the old town always being surrounded by a wall, often kilometres long.

Our room at Le Doge hotel was extremely nice – as my Facebook friends would have gathered!! It was the Coco Chanel room and was in black and white with photos of Coco all over the room. Drinks at the hotel were expensive – 2 drinks at 300 dirham compared to lunch in a local restaurant for three people being only 100dh (equivalent to AUD 12).

We had a walk on the promenade (Casablanca is on the Atlantic and the Mosque is built on a promontory) and a coffee then were on our way to Fes, via Rabat!

Rabat is the capital of Morocco, is approximately 1.5 hours from Casablanca, has a population of 3 million and is where King Mohammed VI has his official residence (he has palaces in each city – Casablanca, Rabat, Fes and Marrakech). We stopped at the official residence (had to show our passports) but only to take a photo of the palace entrance! WHAT? It was pouring and Driss had to park quite far away and sent us off in the rain. We got like 10 steps and went ‘this is crazy; just to take a photo of an entrance!” and went back to the car. Something we have taken pains to explain to Driss and various guides this week is that we don’t have an interest in taking photos of things that mean nothing to us – that is if we learn about it (history or a story) and have some ‘feeling’ involved then we are keen to photograph towards memory keeping. But, drive up to the palace to take a photo and then drive on? Fuhgeddaboudit!

We visited the Kasbah of Udayas in Sale (Rabat). A Kasbah is something like an enclosed small town or fortress. This Kasbah is lived in today and the colours are very similar to the Greek Islands. We were guided by a local young fellow (who volunteered himself πŸ˜› ). It was quite interesting. A little scary because this was the first opportunity we’d had to be waylaid by someone who could help us, without actually working out a deal with us, just taking us on and it gradually turning into ‘I’m your guide’ and us deciding how to tip him! Photos below: 1. Typical street in the Kasbah 2. Gardens 3. Panoramic photo of the outside of the Kasbah

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We also visited Roman ruins (Chella, Rabat-Sale) are from approximately 40 A.D. and one of the earliest identifiable settlements of man in Morocco (some evidence that a colony of Phoenician and Carthaginian explorers was on the site as early as the 3rd century B.C.. This was an interesting small site (unguided). We then visited the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, containing the tombs of this king and his two sons King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. It is a very good looking area – but we were dropped off and had a look (unguided) – which makes a difference because you admire, but don’t learn much!!

(Photos below: Rabat/Sale – 1-3 At Mausoleum 4. Outside one of the 7 gates at the King’s residence in Rabat 5. Panoramic view of Rabat/Sale from a nearby fort)

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After some lunch we drove for the two hour drive to Fes.

We stayed in a Riad in the Medina in Fes (a medina is the old part of town and this one dates from the 9th century. Our Riad is at the very edge of the Medina, where cars can still drive into. After just a short way the streets are too narrow and only passable by foot or donkey.Β Driss parked the car out on the street – then we had to walk through a rabbit warren of streets (keep left going in) to reach our accommodation.

A Riad is original accommodation (most likely a home) that has been redeveloped for tourism – in this case an old home. It is in the Moorish (Arabic) style with ‘inside balconies’ – that is they look out over an internal courtyard, rather than out on to the street.

Our room was gorgeous – our bathroom was well appointed, but old!! I went from ‘what an incredible building and what a beautiful room’ to ‘I’m going to die’ quite quickly, because we soon realized that due to the inward facing rooms there are no external windows. I can’t sleep without the window open!! Add to that, our room was on the ground floor and close to where people passed a lot and opposite the dining area (courtyard) and the staff kept closing our big doors, to protect our privacy! Therefore when it came time to sleep I was stressed out, because I’m mildly claustrophobic and a) didn’t have a window for fresh air b) felt ‘locked’ into a room and c) didn’t see the escape route! I was amazed that I did sleep in the end, but I didn’t awake refreshed! Too bad; but not a third world problem? πŸ™‚

Our full Β day in Fes was spent mostly with our guide Abdul in the Medina. About 300,000 people live there and it is very old with winding streets, fresh food markets, craftsmen (and artisans) working with metal, wood, dyeing, tannery and carpet making. We visited an old school still in its original condition, including an area for learning that doubled as the prayer area (including the niche pointing to Mecca – called the Mihrab – and is from where the teacher and Imam lead prayers. Also there was a courtyard with a fountain where the children would clean themselves before praying.

Also in the Medina we visited the oldest (believed) university in the world – and founded by a woman; we visited a museum in a building that used to accommodate travellers in caravanserai – the only one that accommodated people only, as the animals were stabled in a nearby building (as opposed to others bringing the animals inside!).

There is a woman’s co-op in the Fes Medina overseen by the government that sells handmade rugs and carpets (Berber) – made in their homes. It is housed in an original Medina home renovated to its original style, which is good because everything you see on the outside looks like crap!! I had been wondering what the insides of homes might look like – and this gave a good idea, although it had been restored to its original condition and not many homes were going to look that good!

We were given the sales spiel – didn’t feel like a hard sell until the end. They gave us mint tea while they showed us lots of beautiful rugs. We ended up buying one – small enough to carry home. These ‘original’ rugs get better with age (apparently) so hopefully it is going to age gracefully with us and become a beautiful part of the furniture!!

Many of you will have seen photos of the dye pots of the tannery in Fes – the outdoor shots of large ceramic pots with either a creamy lime-wash-type substance or colours (dye). It’s pretty smelly! As you enter they hand you a bunch of mint to put under your nose, in case it is too strong for you. It wasn’t too bad that day and is apparently a lot worse in summer (which I can imagine!). After explaining the tanning process you have the opportunity to purchase leather goods – mainly bags and jackets. Because we’d unexpectedly blown our budget by buying our ‘one of a kind’ rug, I couldn’t buy the backpack I’d been planning on – maybe in another town, when the card is recharged! (Photos below: 1. Original school 2. Tannery 3. View of the inner courtyard of Riad Myra (Fes))

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Food-wise; dinner last night was vegetable soup (delicious) tagine chicken and lemon and a honey and almond iced dessert. Breakfast consists of a variety of carb choices (:)) flatbread, pancakes, cakes, porridge, yoghurt and fresh squeezed juice and coffee. Lots to choose from (at our table; not buffet).

For lunch on this day we ate in a ‘typical’ Moroccan restaurant and had a selection of Moroccan salads – cooked carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and peppers and tomatoes with lots of olives, yellow beans, green beans, zucchini (first course) shish kebabs (beef and chicken) seasonal fruits (pomegranate, oranges and some grapes finished with mint tea and a biscuit – WAY TOO MUCH FOOD! This was only the beginning and something we’ve struggled with. Quantity at every meal and richness (AKA oily) of the food – not the spices, that’s okay.

These first few days were pretty great and smelly (:)) and I was SO tired. It was a full start and when we were supposed to eat out at a local restaurant in the evening we declined. I’m a bit like that though; at the end of a busy day, once I’m in I am just not interested in going back out!

Tomorrow we are out to visit Volubilis (Roman ruins from 3 A.D.) and Meknes and the following morning we leave Fes for a couple of days based out of the desert town of Erfoud (over the middle Atlas mountains) and down to the Sahara!

Farewell Alora, Spain

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Alora Perota Soup Day

A cosmic coincidence today – our last day in Alora!

In the bus from the train station up to town, we got chatting with some visitors (Irish and English) who had jumped on the train out of Malaga for a day trip. Unfortunately, as some road work is being done in ‘Alora Centro’ the bus only came partway, so we offered to accompany them up town.

For an hour or so we played tourist guide – handing out snippets of local info learned from Paco! One of the ladies had been looking for some sewing bobbins – her machine has stopped auto-winding (something like that) – and she has been on the lookout for full bobbins and we know where the sewing shop is! Mundane, but helpful to her πŸ™‚

They were looking for lunch, so we took them to our favourite bar/cafe and had a coffee with them and a little chat – pointed them in the direction of the famous stairs (posted in an earlier post with a link to youtube video) and said that if Veracruz Church was open when they went by that it was worth a look in!

We didn’t stay with them for lunch, because we’d already planned to have our last lunch in Alora at Casa de Correos (old Post Office) – nachos, curried chicken and rice, prawns in creme fraiche and Greek salad (all entree sizes) for a mini banquet, so we left them there! Not before one of the Newcastle ladies shared her Morocco horror story (from her 2012 holiday) – thanks for the scare lady! As we were leaving I said to her “I’m a born worrier; so, I’m going to try to ignore everything you’ve just told us!” We all had a laugh!

They travelled independently and disliked the things that most people on travel reviews seem to complain about – mainly the hard sell culture (snakes in their faces!!). Also, one of them got very sick for two weeks. They said “we were staying at hotels, so we shouldn’t have had to worry about the food.” Maybe they didn’t take enough care with hygiene? Nowhere else on our travels have we worried about antibacterial hand wash or wipes, but based on our reading we decided to get some for Morocco. It is our responsibility, so with some care and luck we’ll get through our 14 weeks travel without catching anything πŸ™‚

We had a good Samaritan moment today. Not sure if it’s clumsy to share, or not! In Los Fuentes (our coffee shop) the cook is a young Bulgarian lady and Eric has chatted with her a lot over the weeks. She’s here with her husband and child mainly because there’s no work in Bulgaria. There’s no work in Spain either and her husband still doesn’t have a job! She’s not sure what they’re going to do. So, we asked her would she be offended if we gave her some money. It was only something small for us, but hopefully a small windfall for her family.

So, today we played tour guides, collected out printing, dropped some clothes, books and one of our suitcases into the charity shop, had a coffee with strangers, said goodbye to favourite hangouts, had a lovely farewell lunch – bought our favourite lollies from the lovely old husband and wife team near Veracruz Church – we explained by sign language and pidgin Spanish that we were leaving and he shook hands with us both πŸ™‚ – and walked home to Finca Fenix for the last time!

As we walked under the ‘nun’s bridge’ we heard an Irish voice call out – looked up to see one of the day tourists. They were lost and looking for the bus! So, we had a last change to help out!!!

It feels lovely today! We aren’t sad – we are ready to move on now. Alora has been a perfect place to base ourselves for two months in Spain – even though the hills were a struggle; they are very much a part of the charm of the place!

So, on the train to Aeropuerto tomorrow and flying out to Casablanca, Morocco on the 2.30pm flight – woo hoo!!!

Goodbye and thank you Spain and HELLO, North Africa! πŸ˜€

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View from Castle Alora

Non-cultural pursuits, pursued

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We haven’t ‘actively’ pursued culture in Spain (I guess) having really wanted to absorb the culture by living in it!

Of course, we have visited some churches and castles, done some guided tours (including with our friend Paco; probably the best!) learned some local history and enjoyed some day trips. In the last two weeks especially we’ve just ‘been’ here in Alora!

This three month break has also been about escape and relaxation – and for me, books and movies MEAN escape and relaxation!

Funny thing is that Eric doesn’t usually read a lot (although more than when we first met) – usually at Christmas – and it has been great to see him enjoying reading and it has amazed me today to realize how many books Eric and I have read in the last couple of months!

Usually I buy Eric books at Christmas time that he reads immediately before he gets busy with review season, but the rest of the year he doesn’t have much time for it, although he occasionally picks one up!

So far, Eric has read eight Jack Reacher novels on the kindle, the new Roddy Doyle, a Jeffery Deaver out of the Alora cupboard and the Atlantis Lost and Leonardo da Vinci we bought in Santorini – 12 books so far!! FANTASTIC!

At the same time, I’ve read nine Jack Reacher novels on the kindle, both the Santorini books, Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’, Daniel Silva’s ‘The Fallen Angel’, two Dean Koontz ‘Frankenstein’ novels, Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’, two John Sandford’s and 2 W.E.B Griffins, Tampa and The Stalking of Julia Gillard – so I’ve managed 22 books so far and I’m on number 23! YES! Perfect!!

It took us almost two months to get to the movies – we couldn’t work out how to see English speaking films for ages, because we didn’t have any Spanish. When we worked out that we wanted VO, VOS or VOSE films we then realized that movies don’t start in Spain until about 10 or 10.30pm! So, that put us off! Eventually here in Alora we recognized the versions we needed and that on Saturday and Sunday they had afternoon and early evening sessions. So, now we’ve seen THOR, Ender’s Game, Gravity, About Time, Captain Phillips, Prisoners (a waste of life!) and The Butler. Not good enough for holidays and it won’t get better from here because we have a full itinerary for Morocco – so no more films!

However, this drought of movies was relieved by the presence of ‘Big Beast’ – access to Mark and Kim’s movie drive!!!

Astonishingly we didn’t actually watch as many shows on this as we might have – we watched three seasons of Game of Thrones – Eric loved it – but I was bored by the second season :). We watched three Matrix movies and Skyfall. We also did have SKY TV, so we watched lots of news, old Star Trek, British quiz shows, auction shows, Come dine with me – lots of shows we wouldn’t watch at home – and only in the evenings, when we were at home!

Plaza Mayor was the place for us to go and see movies. This takes two trains – Alora to Victoria Kent and then on to Plaza Mayor – about an hour. I think Plaza Mayor has been created for shopping, eating, cinemas and the game arcade.Β So, it became our Saturday excursion – and if we had time while waiting for the train we’d play Guitar Hero at the arcade – which has given me the desire to have an Arcade Game Guitar Hero at home πŸ™‚

Last Saturday I played four songs at medium level and was highest scoring on three and second on one song. I LOVE IT – makes me think I’m a muso!

So, in this time of repose from real life and experiencing cultural diversity we’ve had plenty of down time and enjoyed less-cerebral pursuits.

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Costa del Sol – Benalmadena and Fuengirola – November 2013

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Trish, Eric and Bele at Blankko

On Tuesday we had the experience of eat at Blankko Restaurant Lounge Bar in Benalmadena, which is along the Costa del Sol, near to Torremolinos (which whenever I say, see or hear that name a voice in my head sings “Torremolinos! Torremolinos!” – some old movie? We went with Mark and his friend Bele (German and living in the UK). Mark drove us out from Alora – which was an adventure by itself, Mark! xx

Being at Blankko was very much like re-visiting the Greek Islands – a white building and white furniture, high on a hill (lived the lonely goatherd!) overlooking the Mediterranean – breathtaking views! The water views in the Greek Islands AND Esperance are better, but this is the Mediterranean AND you don’t get that at home!

You can see all along the coast line down to Fuengirola and up to Malaga (and beyond?). What is very evident looking at the coastline is the density of the holiday apartments – this IS the Costa del Sol! Luckily for us there isn’t a high occupancy rate right now, out of the summer season. It would be a nightmare come true to be booked in at Torremolinos in peak of summer with streets and beaches ‘bumper to bumper’ with people!

Good decision we’ve made in general to visit Spain in Autumn then!

In general, the weather has cooled off! It will be a miracle if we get into the pool again (miracle = Eric pushing me in!). However, on Tuesday we went off to lunch (Eric and I – not our companions) dressed warmly with backup scarf and rain coats in our bag, just to swelter in 28 degrees! The day before Eric and I caught the train to Fuengirola, which is the town at the end of the line on the coastal route from Malaga. We only visited for a day out; to get out of the house, visit the coast (which we hadn’t done yet; not high on our priorities since we LIVE on the coast!). The forecast said 23, with 18km/hr winds and cloudy. So, again we dressed for ‘cold’ weather (this is all relative guys! It’s been higher than 27 degrees most days we’ve been in Spain; we’ve just spend 2 weeks in the UK and Ireland where it’s about 11 and 12 degrees ‘freezing’ and in our house at the bottom of the mountain ‘in the shade’ it is actually quite cold too!) only to spend three hours walking up and down the foreshore – looking for shady spots! Must be that transitional place where the weather doesn’t really know what it is doing yet!! (Sitting at our favourite bar/cafe in the sunshine in Alora – writing this – it is currently 28 degrees) This is clearly a weather story!!! πŸ™‚

So, back to Blankko – it was Mark’s special treat (Mark, our host at Finca Fenix, Alora) as he is off to the UK for a couple of weeks and won’t see us again before we leave for Morocco. It is extremely generous of him – he is a very lovely and gracious host! Drinks for an hour in the sunshine with the ocean views and then into the ‘shady’ outdoors eating area for lunch.

Mark insisted we have three courses. We have the restaurant dining down to a main and sometimes a dessert – but I think that’s part of the long and relaxing social eating thing that I don’t do very well πŸ™‚ The food was lovely – company excellent and ambiance ‘warm’!!

Thank you Mark and Bele!

A really good thing about travelling by car to the restaurant, away from the foreshore and centre of town, is that we get to see and enjoy the back streets and homes around the town – not just the tourist locations.

When we trained into Fuengirola on Monday it was very interesting to notice the coast coming into view and being amazed at the tourist accommodation. Block after block of high-rise apartments!

We googled Fuengirola before leaving home and decided on a couple of sights we might pursue and found a restaurant that had a good review – amazing views and great food!

So once we hit Fuengirola we fund the tourist bureau, got a local map and noted where the places where and set off towards the beach. We walked for so long!! We visited the port area and then walked one way along the beach, which thankfully had a good promenade and we didn’t have to tackle the sand! We couldn’t see public loos anywhere, so visited Burger King (Hungry Jacks to Aussies) and bought the token coke (didn’t want to spoil our appetites for our splendid upcoming lunch).

At some point we decided to check street numbers because we knew our lunch spot was at number 86. We were at 32 and kept heading in the same direction (leading to zero). After a while we turned around and slowly (enjoying the view and marvelling at all the oldies sunbathing) made our way back up the street – back past Burger King and the port – and we walked and walked – where is it?

Finally, we found it – Plankstek Restaurante & Pizzeria – comfortably furnished restaurant with stunning bar and nice sea views! The nice sea view was alright! Yes, across the road was the sea – between the car park on the left and buildings on the right.

The food was acceptable, but really just a cafe style okay. I laughed because I’d already ‘prepared’ Eric that it might ‘cost a bit’ because it sounded like such a nice place. Funny really!!

This feels like such a negative story :(, but it’s not supposed to be. I guess when just seeing the ocean OR having it in sight while you dine is a novelty, then the descriptions in reviews are accurate. However, we come from Australia (particularly from Esperance) where an ocean view includes colour and movement – surfers, boats, fisherman, sail boats, ships, kite surfers, islands, jetties, wildlife and pristine sands going off as far as the eye can see – on beautiful, clear blue seas!

We did feel it was a good day out – one of our objectives was to get some exercise, which has dropped of in the last few weeks. I think three solid hours of walking counts as having achieved that. AND our meal was substantial and left us with no need for an evening meal.

Visiting a Costa del Sol holiday spot was worthwhile for perspective and we always enjoy the train trips!! The trains are quick, clean and on time, with not a hooligan in sight!!

So, we’ve been sitting at our coffee shop for a couple of hours now; it’s probably time to head home. We’ll be back up town later for Paco’s Spanish class. The shops are all closed for siesta, so I’ll have to look for those shoes I want this evening! Ciao!

P.S. Paco’s Spanish class wasn’t on, because now that Paco has a full-time job he can’t do everything!!! WHAT? Not good enough Paco! πŸ™‚ xxx

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Trish and Mark at Blankko
DSCF2567Foreshore at Fuengirola, Costa del Sol

IN DUBLIN’S FAIR CITY

 

I wanted to stay there!! – (above Florrie with Trish)

I’d had a taste of green, soft, Irish, sights, sounds, colour (grey) πŸ™‚ pubs, food, Grafton Street, O’Connell Street, Ha’penny Bridge, Stephens Green, Trinity College (again; wish I could go there!) visiting Florrie in Fourth Avenue, buses cleaner than in the 80s, bus out to Celbridge, three storey bookshop (Grafton Street) cakes, Butlers chocolate/toffees, RAIN, green, green, green – great for the soul!!

It felt like home – in my genes; in my cells!

I love Australia for all its faults, but the one thing that really kills me is the landscape! This won’t gell with many of you because lots of the people I know are attached to the land, particularly in country Australia. It’s a harsh and unforgiving landscape and for me it eats at and attacks the soul. It is the most stressful part of living in Australia. When is this alleviated? Early in the growing season when suddenly everything is green; for a second! Some people may cultivate a luscious garden, but with a lot of toil and use of precious water. It’s a lot of work finding the ‘soft’ in the Australian landscape.

Of course, this is very personal to me and everyone else is entitled to feel differently!

I didn’t need to SEE anyone; I could have just BEEN. And that is probably what I needed to stay there for.

I made the effort to catch up with some family; but not many were available. Anyone in touch with me on Facebook has known for about two years that we were going to be visiting in 2013. There were two particular relatives that I was surprised were unavailable and one old friend (but her father has recently passed, so understandable). The old boyfriend is a worry! Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t end up together. He couldn’t make a decision and in the end I said “it’s obviously not high on your agenda; we’ve only a few days, so don’t worry about it!” Funny thing is that he hasn’t said anything to that, but still comes on line on Skype every day, so he hasn’t disconnected.

The voice in my head is saying “dude, you weren’t really fussed if you didn’t catch up with anyone – except for Florrie – so it doesn’t matter” But of course it does! Even anti-social gits like me want to be wanted! (People, you know me! I’m private and reserved and not a people person – it isn’t me!)

So, we did catch up with some relatives – one lovely girl totally unknown before Facebook contact – Pamela; daughter of Aunty Teresa (and therefore cousin). Pamela is so gorgeous! She is loud and funny and articulate and Irish – and so welcoming!

We had dinner with Pamela on our first evening in Dublin at the North Star Hotel. Pamela was more excited at the recent refurbishments (I think πŸ™‚ ) than catching up with her Aussie cousin (and Eric!!!) It was a really nice evening; easy. Like when we caught up with Rachel in the UK – no awkwardness at all. Thanks Pamela!

They say Dublin is a village – and here’s proof! We were staying at Cassidy’s Hotel in Upper O’Connell Street and went walking down to Grafton Street and surrounds, and who do we run into? Pamela! Just finished work and on her way to the airport for her visit to Glasgow. When you’re in a city (of approximately 1.5 million) where you don’t expect to meet someone you know and suddenly there’s a friendly madwoman waving at you (sorry, I mean friendly woman waving madly! πŸ™‚ ) it feels awesome! Just as it did when we first met at the Spire on the Tuesday (newest favorite meeting place in Dublin) – hello, friendly face waving!

We grew up knowing the Byrne side of the family (mum) much more than the Shelleys (dad). I think that’s probably normal – women make the effort to keep the social familial stuff happening and it (again) makes sense that it’s easier to do that with your own family than the in-laws. Add to that, the Shelleys are very private and keep to themselves a lot – we don’t know the Shelleys very well.

Pamela is a Shelley and not only are we alike in our attitude and likes – we knew we were Shelleys!! As we’ve lived in Australia most of our lives anytime we’d say ‘it’s a Shelley thing’ we mostly mean’t as in the six of us! What I realized, beginning with Pamela is that the traits we recognize as Shelley are across the board – being reserved and private, being at the top of the list!

We caught up with Davy Shelley (uncle) too – travelled by bus out to Donaghmede. I remember Davy and his lovely wife Emily from my visit with them in the early 80s. Davy is a widower now and instead of inviting us to his ‘bachelor pad’ we visited with Tracey (cousin) her daughter Hannah and little Alex. AND that was easy too! He is lovely and from the moment I spoke to him on the phone, I could hear my dad! They laugh the same, make the same faces – dad has more hair!!! LOL πŸ™‚

Even though most of his kids live close by they still keep to themselves a lot – although Davy is clearly proud of them and close to them all! It’s beautiful seeing the loving relationship he has with Hannah, who is a very lovely girl! Thank you Davy and Tracey for the very warm welcome; we loved it! Davy and I have been ‘friends’ on Facebook for a little while. Now we know each other and it will be a warmer Facebook friendship!

As I said earlier we were closer to the Byrnes growing up and although we couldn’t catch up with Greg and Emmett (best bud cousins in childhood) we did visit with cousin Kevin and his wife Fiona and children Philip, Rafe and Roisin – and with aunty Florrie and her husband Frank.

Last I knew Kevin he was (virtually) a snotty nosed kid. Put it this way; I was a self-absorbed teenager and he was a child!!

But Kevin and I have been in touch for a while through Skype and he was quick to invite us to visit; and we did! On the Thursday evening we were out in Celbridge, Co Kildare having delicious lamb shanks and mashed potatoes (Kevin had mash duty; because apparently he does it best!) followed by Bailey’s cheesecake (say no more Fiona!). It was all yummo – especially because the spuds had spring onions in and since I’ve been a mother I pretty much haven’t had potatoes with onions – because the kids all had fits!

Kevin is clever and well informed and we had a really great night. I’d want you on my quiz team any time dude! You and Fiona were generous and welcoming hosts – we also loved how the house was geared up for Halloween!

Kevin then went out of his way to collect us in the morning to take us on a whistle stop tour of Celbridge and district on his way to work in Dublin. Celbridge is famous as the home of Arthur Guinness (founder of the famous brewery) – and the countryside is lush!!!! Drool!

This only makes for a warmer long distance friendship for us and the Kevin Byrne family!!

However, the most important person for me to catch up with in Dublin was my Aunty Florrie (mum’s last sister) and her husband Frank. Probably because she’s my Godmother too (I don’t know) we were always closer to Florrie. We knew and loved Kay very well and knew Evelyn and her boys Greg and Emmett too. I was apparently very close to Greg as a small child and was definitely in love with him as a teenager πŸ™‚ We knew Paddy (Kevin’s dad) and Johnny and their kids too, to a lesser extent. We didn’t know Nelly O’Brien and her family well at all, but then I think she was an unusual Byrne in that she was reclusive. She never came out (that I can remember) and as I said earlier, it’s the women who drive these things.

So, regardless of Florrie being the last Byrne aunty or uncle left to visit, she was and would always be the magnet for me in Dublin. And she’s not well and quite frail – of course she is getting older (no ages here; it’s against Shelley law!) but Florrie was always full of life and she has no energy for life left in her. It was fantastic to be able to visit with her now. Unless some miracle happens, it will be the last time!

She was asking after ‘her Patty’ (mum) and her Von (my daughter) who I think she remembers best as a child of four, not as a child of 12 (might be a misconception on my part). Florrie seemed as delighted to see us as we were to see her and Frank.

We caught up with them as soon as we got to Dublin on the Tuesday (straight to the hospital) and again for several hours on Thursday before going out to Kevin and on Saturday for a couple of hours, before flying back to Malaga.

It was very sad at the end, with Florrie very aware that it was almost definitely the last time we’d see each other 😦

Frank is her rock – and a devil!! I have lovely fond memories of Frank from my teenage years; but Frank is his own worst enemy. He’s very much “I don’t give a fuck!” about pretty much everything – fuck you, fuck them, fuck the dog, fuck the world – and then gets everyone offside, which is very sad from the outside, but he would just say “I don’t give a fuck!” Except that he does; about Florrie, about kids (especially his nieces and nephews) and animals. Maybe not grown-ups – but many would say he’s still a big kid himself, so no wonder!

Love you Frank (seriously!) and there’s always a place in my heart for you!!

Love you too Florrie and God Bless!!

One of the sad things about my family being just “us 6” here in Australia is that I don’t have a strong sense of identity – who I am and where I come from!

I am a Dubliner! That’s where I feel most myself. I love and adore my Eric and my children. I like being an Aussie. But a long genetic history rooted in Ireland is what makes me who I am!

The people I’ve met who have said I’m not Irish – because I’ve spent most of my life in Australia – can go and jump – in the Liffey!! πŸ™‚

I flew out of Ireland wishing the next three weeks were to be spent in Ireland; not in Spain, which probably explains why I’ve been feeling down for the last week or so!

TΓ‘ mΓ­le blessings a thabhairt duit (a thousand blessings to you)

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Trish, Pamela & Eric

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Eric, Davy & Trish

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Frank, Trish & Florrie

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Kevin, Trish & Fiona

xxx

[Update] In January 2014, my Aunty Florrie died. And although this was very sad to the entire family, I’m so glad that I got to see and hug her before she passed. She was in pain and ready to go, even in the October. I think of Florrie often and even from as far away as Australia, she is loved and missed. God Bless Florrie! xx