Month: December 2018

FROM THE BIG APPLE TO THE BIG ONION

Yo bro’s, what’s happenin’? Been long time … you know whaaaa I’m sayin’? 🤪

I’ve been crazy busy immersing myself in the whole Chicago culture and spending lots of time with the apple of my eye, … Harry! (Sorry Colm 😂, you know you are too!).

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we have had nothing but good experiences with the natives of each place that we have visited so far. Our journey is not just about the places we visit but also about the different people we meet along the way. I know this sounds a bit disingenuous given that I have mentioned this in my previous blogs, but guys, the people we have had the honor of hanging out with here in Chicago on both this and our previous visit here has been so heartwarmingly welcoming! They have gone out of their way to spend so much time with us, taking us to see the sights of the city during our stay and just hanging out with us generally. And I speak in particular (aside from Allie and Jonny) about Stephanie, Mona and Erin, Athena and John, Dale and Maddie, and of course Marian and John!

So, before I move on to Harry, let me tell you a little bit about this fantastic city! As with all of my visits to previous destinations, one of the first things I always try to do is to learn a bit about the history of the place that I am visiting, to get a feel for the place so to speak, and so, I always find that a trip to a local Museum is the most informative place to do this as a first stop. A Museum will always set the tone and give you a great insight into what has shaped a place and is great for prioritizing your itinerary on the most interesting sights to see in any city. We got that opportunity in the first few days of our visit when a wonderful friend of Alison and Jonny’s (and now thankfully ours too), Mona, took us on a tour of the Chicago History Museum. And let me share a little bit of the amazing history that I’ve learned folks! Did you know that this city of culture and art derived its name from an Onion? Yes, an Onion (or more correctly a “wild leek”). It was originally called Checagou, which was the name that the Native American Indians gave to the plant back in the 1700’s. They, as in the Indians, grew this plant for food way back then! And Checagou then became Chicago! Not fake news! But true!

Chicago has come through so many periods of crisis over the years and its response to each has most definitely shaped its identity today. Gangland crime, Mass immigration and the successful integration of a vast amount of immigrants into its society, etc. however the biggest and most famous crisis of Chicago happened in 1871. The “Great Fire of Chicago”, left 300 people dead with hundreds of thousands losing their homes. Now, that’s not a lot of people I hear you say, but just think, way back then the population of Chicago was quite small, c. 300,000. The number of people that perished was quite small given that strong winds spread the fire which started in the southwest side of the city, across the city. However, the death toll would have been higher but for the natives taking refuge in the waters of Lake Michigan. The city for the most part was totally destroyed. In the aftermath of the fire, the people of Chicago basically had to re-build the city from scratch, pretty much on the ruins of the city that had lodged its debris on the banks of the Great Lake (east of Michigan Avenue). The motto “I will” was born here and the city as it stands today with outstanding architecture and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see are evidence of the resilience of this community. Interestingly, no real reason was ever found as to what started the fire. However, one of the stories doing the rounds is that it was the fault of an Irish woman called Catherine O’Leary who was milking her cows in a barn one night in the southwestern part of the city, with a paraffin lamp lit by her side. The story goes that the cow kicked over the lamp and that the this was the source of the small fire that spread and destroyed the city. Ah…sure it’d have to be an Irish woman that’d get the blame…😱😂. Later stories discounted this version and a more scientific explanation was that a meteorite shower that coincidentally happened that very same night caused the fire in a dried wooded area. Now, as an Irish woman, that sounds like a more plausible explanation to me! Did you know that the very first Skyscraper was built here? The contraceptive pill was also invented here too, which led to the whole free love and all that went with that of the 1960’s and 70’s.

I was also blown away when learning more about Abraham Lincoln! I know I am stating the obvious when I say that his connections with Chicago are huge, thus the naming of so many places in his honor. Statues adorn so many parks and streets and in fact the area that Allie and Jonny live in is called “Lincoln Park” after him. Another fantastic man, Dr. Martin Luther King who had strong connections with Chicago. In 1956 during the early months of the Montgomery bus boycott, he gave his first sermon in Chicago. Both men had the same dream, freeing black people from slavery and seeking justice and equal rights for the black communities. And both suffered the same fate, death at the hands of white supremacists. Reading about these influential heroes of men, being shot in cold blood after all they had achieved, was so dreadfully wrong and should absolutely serve as a reminder to every political leader throughout the world today charged with ensuring that people of different colors, race, religion are treated equally !! It is quite moving seeing the trojan work done historically for the black community by both Lincoln in the abolishment of slavery and of Martin Luther King on the work he and his followers have done in an attempt to ensure that the black communities are treated with respect and have the same opportunities as all other nationalities living in Chicago. And yet, while I’ve visited the north side of the city and Chicago itself, I have been advised not to venture into certain parts of the city where black disadvantaged communities exist. It is apparently not safe to travel into these parts, with drug cartels, gang wars and a huge number of shootings happening on on a daily basis. And I can’t help but wonder (albeit without a thorough and full knowledge of the causation of the problems faced by these communities and more importantly, the reasons why these black communities remain so ghettoized) if Martin Luther King and Lincoln were alive today, what their take would be on the situation that still exists with the lack of investment to these ghettoized black communities? Would they believe that there is enough being done to educate and help these people to break the cycle of ghettoization and stop these daily shootings? Incidentally, I noticed in the recently televised elections for the State of Illinois, that out of a huge number of candidates running for election, there is a clear lack of representation from the black communities. Only one candidate (Kwame Raoul) who won the Attorney General count was black. I’m at a loss to understand how the black people of Chicago/Illinois feel when they see absolutely no representation from their own black communities at such important election events? It has certainly given me an appetite to learn more about these parts of Chicago and to delve further into the reasons why these predominantly black neighborhoods still have such huge social problems.

And while I have had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city, my access to parts of it have been somewhat restricted. I can only speak of the more privileged parts of the city that I have had the pleasure of seeing, which on the face of it are diverse and full of people integrated from all countries around the world. Black, White, Asian, African-Americans, etc. all living together in harmony for the most part. Homelessness seems to be pretty much under control here too, and the numbers of homeless people visible on the streets is much lower than New York. I’m not suggesting that the problem is any less significant here, but again, I am told by the people of Chicago that homeless people are well taken care of in the main in this city.

Having said that, on Mother’s Day, Alison took me out for a lovely lunch and Colm ventured off into the city by himself. While walking down one of the main streets in Chicago, he came across a man, (pretty much the same age as himself), sitting in the middle of the road, clearly distressed and wanting to end it all. Colm and another lady went to intervene and thankfully Colm managed to convince him to stand up and walk with him to the safety of the footpath, where he spoke to him and took him for some lunch/food. Naturally, he wanted to find out pretty much what was going on in this poor man’s head and so spent the afternoon with him, and they shared stories of their respective lives. This man had had a really tough time of life up to this point and thankfully at the end of the evening when Colm left him he had moved past where he had been earlier in the day. The reason I am mentioning this here is for no other reason than the fact that unfortunately Colm only managed to get the man’s name and has since been wondering what became of him when he left him that afternoon. He said his name was Francisco Thomas, and that he was completing the last five months of a probationary period following a lengthy prison stint. Colm found him at Wells Street, Chicago but Francisco was from Birmingham, Alabama. So if anyone reading this knows of this man, it would be great if they could reach out and let us know if he is doing ok and if there is anyway we could contact him again. It’s worth a try!

On a lighter note, I’ve been touring around getting flicks of the famous Chicago Bean 😱 where my ass looked way bigger than it normally would in photos due to the magnified mirror and its concave shape..ahemmm… doing the whole Shakespeare Comedy Improv show, which was most definitely another highlight of the trip for all of us, thanks to Mona again. (If you have never experienced the improv comedy that Chicago is renowned for, you really haven’t lived folks. It is a uniquely hilarious art form that has to be seen to be believed). The Shakespeare one is particularly amazing….and it is certainly not what you’d imagine it to be… I won’t spoil it, just get there if you can!. Travelling the subways and discovering the underground city of Chicago (the Pedway), taking lovely walks by Lake Michigan, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Centre, Millennium Park, the Willis Tower, and some fantastic walking tours of the city. Seeing the Hugh Hefner playboy mansion (they invited me to come join them, but I said I was only here for a month 😂 – although I did bring my small red swimsuit in case I had a change of heart 😂😱), Cathal’s arrival in Chicago, celebrating Paddy’s Day with him and my beautiful daughter Allie, her husband Jonny and Harry and their fabulous friends. Witnessing the whole St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (after that Irish Rugby win – talk about adding to the excitement of the day), the dyeing of the Chicago river to a luminous shade of green, celebrating with Egan’s Irish Whiskey (no less). Man, I have just fallen head over heals in love with this city! Sadly, both Caoimhin and Colm’s absence were felt on St. Patrick’s Day (Colm’s wonderful uncle Jim passed away just before St. Patrick’s Day and he travelled home to Ireland naturally to be with his family. Caoimhin is busy working in Madrid in Spain).

Now if you are lucky enough to be visiting Chicago, you cannot miss a visit to one (or all if you can manage it) of the city’s old Speakeasy bars. Speakeasy bars (secret bars) became a thing during a time when there was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production and sale of alcohol between 1920 and 1933. Prohibition supporters called “drys” (mainly women apparently, trying to keep their husbands from the curse of drink) presented the prohibition as a victory for public morals and health. However, unbeknownst to these do-gooders and as with all banned substances, there were ways and means around the prohibition, and the people of the USA figured it out by setting up secret “Speakeasy” bars. In these bars back in the day, alcohol flowed freely and all sorts of shenanigans went on…best leave this bit to your imagination! Interestingly, Mona, for whatever reason and in her wisdom knew how much we might appreciate a visit to one of these bars (ahemmm) and kindly took us to one of the oldest and uniquely authentic Speakeasys in Chicago called “The Drifter” . On arrival we climbed down a staircase to the basement of a building and accessed the bar through a secret door disguised as a bookshelf! Yes, honestly, a bookshelf with ornaments placed neatly on each shelf…all innocent like! Sure what else would it be there for boyyyy ehhh? 😂😂😂. To open the door we had to twist one of the ornaments – and inside, a jaw-dropping sight! Nothing has changed since its original existence. The bar, the bottles on the shelves, everything remains intact as it was back then. And a stage with musicians and dancers performing exactly as they did back in the day. A true glimpse of a moment in the city’s history where we felt transported back to the 1920’s as we sat there watching the performers on stage and sipping our cocktails – in the dark, in secret  Although, it was a bit of a throwback to my teenage years, sneaking Pernod from my parents drinks cabinet and thinking they didn’t notice when I watered it down so they wouldn’t see how much I’d taken out with me to our very own Speakeasy bar which I won’t reveal – but the cloudiness in the bottle after I had added the water was a dead give away – and put a very quick halt to my party plans 😂

And on now to the most important part of our visit to Chicago … this little perfect person called Harry – oh my gawwwd guys! The highlight of this whole trip – I kid you not! I’m not telling you a word of a lie when I say he’s most definitely (and I don’t say this lightly) but he absolutely is definitely the most intelligent two year old walking the planet right now! I know, I know, you’re saying I’m biased, but seriously, this is my total impartial opinion of Harry! He’s also the cutest and most beautiful too! On that note, I have a confession to make since becoming a grandmother (and I just know other grandparents feel the same about their grandchildren). But lads, when I see other kids his age, I just think…nah, they’re not nearly as intelligent or cute as he is…I seriously am doing the whole comparison stuff! I know it’s so wrong of me to say that, but hey, I said I’d do the whole truth and nothing but the truth on this blog, and there it is for ya! He turned 2 at the end of February, and the first thing he roared when he saw me for the first time was “chocolate butttonnnns, and Tayyyytoooo” (I clearly made a huge impression on him when he stayed with me at Christmas (ahemm!)), but how and ever, luckily I had brought these items with me and he was delighted to devour as much Tayto and chocolate as we would allow him. He’s just hilarious…his vocabulary has gone from saying words sporadically here and there only two months ago, to now having a full blown conversation – albeit it’s like trying to decipher a secret code or cryptic message sometimes when he gets deep in conversation about something – (it’s good training for a potential career as a Russian spy I guess) – and when he sees that we are understanding what he’s saying, when the penny drops with us and we look relieved and enthusiastic, he is ecstatic with delight and continues on for another half hour! His favorite subject right now is farm animals. I reckon he’s gonna be a Vet if he continues like this for the next 20 years. (It’ll be interesting if he reads this blog when he’s older how amused he’ll be about this prediction).

A trip to the local Zoo in Lincoln Park is his absolute favorite and he is obsessed with the Friesian cows there. (The Zoo at Lincoln Park is free for children which is fabulous and so educational for them). He’s like a little sponge, eagerly wanting to learn new things and his ability to learn is absolutely mind blowing! He can count to 13 already, I kid you not! He knows his whole alphabet, he sings dozens of nursery rhymes, clear as day, and is his own little hilarious person with a huge personality and ability to wrap myself and Colm around his little finger. One of the funniest things he does is an impression of his Dad dancing. You see his Dad, Jonny, puckers up his lips when he’s getting into the whole groove and when Harry is asked to make his Dad’s “dancing face”, lads, I swear, he puckers up his lips and starts wiggling his hips and it’s just fantastically funny! In a nutshell, we are hanging on his every word and loving every single minute we are spending with him!

We spent so much time hanging out with him at the Zoo, the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, parks and playgrounds, sitting him, watching all of his favorite programmes and singing all of his nursery rhymes, taking him everywhere we possibly could and doing what he loves to do most – having stories read to him. We have loved every minute of him. He is such a happy-go-lucky little boy! While hanging out with him and Allie, my heart was bursting with love and pride at what a fabulous wife and mother she has turned out to be! She basically rocks ! 👌 Whenever we meet up, we always have a Mammy and Daughter “Hang-out Day”. Our day this time around was an early morning Yoga Class, a healthy lunch and then a proper going over with a real Chinese massage, where two expert Chinese women hung from poles on the ceiling and walked all over us basically! I’m still feeling the pain but my gawwwd, has it loosened those tight shoulder muscles from carrying my luggage on my back!

There is another really special woman in Harry’s life that I absolutely want to mention in this blog. And that is his American Grandmother, Stephanie. In addition to the devotion of Alison and Jonny to Harry’s development, much of it can also be attributed to a beautiful, colorful lady whom I had the honor of meeting very soon after we arrived here. She is someone who has left a profound and lasting impression on me as Alison’s Mum and Harry’s Grandmother.

Stephanie lives in the same apartment block as Alison, Jonny and Harry and has well earned the title of Harry’s “American Granny”. Her devotion and love of my grandson is something that gives me great comfort. His paternal grandmother Ann and I already have our own “Harry fan club” going on and meet regularly for lunch back home to discuss his every move 😂. And to have another female on board – well I just hope that we can have a “Harry’s Granny Harem” event in the not too distant future with all three of us. We will surely turn him into a women’s rights campaigner yet! Stephanie and Harry have a bond that is quite rare and beautiful. She knows his every grimace or smile, she recognizes every sign of his love of learning and she feeds that longing like nothing I have ever seen before. An example of this is when we were busily getting ready for Harry’s 2nd Birthday party shortly after our arrival. Stephanie arrived at Alison and Jonny’s apartment just as the party was getting into swing. We had all exchanged gifts with Harry and she calmly and gently handed him hers towards the end of the evening. When he opened it, her gift left us all gobsmacked and moved beyond words. It spoke volumes of how well she knew and loved him. Inside her parcel was a hand stitched soft book that had taken her weeks to make. It contained material pages of activities from his favorite songs and nursery rhymes. She had carefully and lovingly attached felt pieces to each page of the book with zippers and buttons, characters from his favorite stories and nursery rhymes that he could remove and attach and which would develop his cognitive skills and his love of learning. The room fell silent when the parcel was opened and we gasped with amazement at the love and care that was jumping out from every page of such a beautiful handmade creation. And throughout our time here witnessing her total devotion to Harry, caring for him with such love and attention, it warms my heart to witness this unique relationship between them both. Harry’s reaction to mentioning a visit to Stephanie’s place is wonderful. He is equally as devoted to her. His little eyes light up and his smile spreads across his whole face when he knows he’s going to see her. He tries desperately to pronounce her name “Ste..haneeeee”. I wish every child in the world could have a “Ste..haneeee” in their lives. Walking into her apartment one could be mistaken for thinking it was a children’s daycare centre designed with love for the joy of the children she takes care of. Colourful soft surroundings with shelves full of handmade toys and robots she herself has put together. It is nothing short of a child’s paradise. I have never in my entire life met anyone as dedicated and full of love for the children in her life. No matter where Harry goes as he grows older, I’ve no doubt she will be there in his life, if not his minder, then in whatever shape or form that might take.

Stephanie also took us under her wing to show us as much of Chicago as she could while we were here. As a member of many clubs and organizations in Chicago she has turned herself into our tour-guide, taking time out from her own busy life to take us around all of the sights of Chicago. I have spent many sunny fun-filled days with Stephanie visiting the Chicago Art Gallery, doing walking tours of Chicago, lunching in unique and quirky establishments and generally exploring this wonderful city. Each day is a new adventure with her, and we have become almost “Thelma and Louise-like”. And so a new wonderful lasting friendship has begun, which is really exciting for me and I feel, (as do Alison, Jonny and Harry and Colm) so very lucky to have her in our lives. Thank you Stephanie!

Another fabulous woman that I’ve mentioned throughout this blog is Mona. Mona’s family roots stem from Co. Cork and we had met her briefly when she did a stop off in Tullamore on a trip she had taken to Ireland last year. She has spent most of her life living in the USA and possesses a wealth of knowledge about this city and the USA generally that is better than any you’ll get online. Nothing like local knowledge as they say and in this case, this is so so true. She has given us some amazing advice and help with our plans for travelling down the west coast, and as a result we are pretty much sorted …Thank you Mona!

While I am sad and quite tearful to be honest saying farewell (for now) to Allie, Jonny and Harry, I will be meeting up with them again on our return trip hopefully. So, here I am now, mid-air, (having left Chicago O’Hare Airport) on the way to Seattle for the next stint of our trip, i.e. travelling the high-speed Amtrak Coast Starlight train down along the Pacific coastline of the USA. We will stay in Seattle for a few nights, then move on to Portland, then Sacramento, then San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, San Diego, and then on to a place that Mona swears we have to visit before we leave – a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, following which we depart for Japan. After all the snow and freezing temperatures, I can almost smell the heat from here…. Eeeeeek!

Just landed in Seattle – Be back soon y’all! 💋💋💋

GRAN NYC

Start spreading the news…I’m leaving today! After a pretty hectic fun-filled week in NYC I am now, at last, en-route to Chicago to see my beautiful Grandson, Harry! Alison and Jonny will collect us at the airport and for a full month we will be surrounded by the Egans and friends. Cathal will be arriving shortly from Ireland too. I literally have butterflies in my stomach with excitement as I sit here about to board the plane for O’Hare Airport, Chicago.

The week in Manhattan has been “awesome”. The thermals most definitely had to come off once we arrived in Penn Station, Manhattan in NYC (well when we got to the hotel, not actually in the middle of the station! This granny has some decorum 😂 ) after a relaxing 13 hour train journey. Now, deciding on doing a 13 hour train journey instead of a couple of hours of a flight sounds a bit crazy. But, folks, trust me on this one. We had no long waits when boarding. We had a comfortable space to chill and rest on the train and some spectacular scenery as we travelled along the Mohawk River and into snowy Manhattan. By the time we arrived late on Tuesday night we were rested and ready for this major metropolis they call New York City! (Photo: Mohawk River en-route to NYC by train)

After a quick stroll around Times Square we decided to stop off at Connollys Irish Pub on 45th street for a bite to eat. We found two stools at the bar and proceeded to chat to the Irish barman serving us. A witty Kerry man called P.J. who told us he had moved to New York many years ago. As the conversation went on, he told us he had worked in the Castle Inn Bistro Restaurant near Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin back in the 80’s before moving here. Now, this is where the story gets interesting! You see I had worked at the same establishment doing the accounts in the 80’s too …. and then the penny dropped 😱 This was P.J., an old friend who I had worked with and partied with back in the 80’s. Who had been to parties at my flat in Manor Street with many others who worked with us. It’s been over 32 years since I’ve seen P.J. His quick witted retorts and big colourful personality is the very same as it was when he was a young buck up in the big smoke from Killarney back in the early 80’s. We hugged each other, in total shock, and were both blown away by the randomness of walking into a pub in New York and finding each other after 32 years! Gobsmacked, I returned to our hotel, excited about what had just happened and also about what we might explore the following day in the Big Apple. (Photo of me and PJ after 32 years)

Our hotel, the Wellington, was right on the edge of Times Square. (A whole new experience, peeing in the Wellington ha ha). The brightness of the LED digital billboards surrounding Times Square makes it difficult to tell if it is day or night. You’d be tempted to take out the bottle of sunscreen and definitely sunglasses are a handy accessory regardless of what time of the day it is. It is filled with thousands of tourists, and you can almost feel the pulsation of this place at the heart of Manhattan. Walt Disney characters adorn the square, people dressed as the Empire State Building and Statues of Liberty taunting tourists to get photos with them for a few dollars. Now the way it works here is that each costume character guards his/her own space with a vengeance. There’s a story that appeared in the newspapers here not so long ago, where Spiderman beat up Bat Man in the middle of Times Square for moving in on his turf. Elmo had to intervene to stop the fight! Where else would you get it? 🙀🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️. All three costume characters were arrested and appeared in court (not in their costumes I guess). Can you imagine the trauma for kids witnessing their favorite characters beating the s**t out of each other in the middle of Times Square? And apparently it’s a pretty regular occurrence and not staged as you might suspect, but genuine rows between the different characters occur the whole time 🙂 I find this hilarious!

The city itself can only be compared to someone on speed! It certainly lives up to its name, the city that never sleeps! You can walk around at the small hours of the morning and it is just as busy as it is during the day. The noise at night-time takes a bit of getting used to when you’re trying to get some shut-eye. The drivers have an obsession with honking their horns at any traffic inconvenience, and there are constant sirens going. The noise is like nothing I’ve experienced in any other city. It got so bad that we had to resort to taking antihistamines to help us sleep through the noise after nights of sleeplessness.

Lo and behold, when we woke on Wednesday morning it was like the miracle on 54th Street! Not a flake of snow, and 22-23 degree heat outside. In February! Weird but true! Just perfect for a boat trip on the Hudson River. Equipped with the only dress i had packed and a light cardigan we headed out to find the Staten Island Ferry which took us out on the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and gave us a perfect view of the skyline of Manhattan. Now many boat tour operators take tourists on this very route and charge them a significant amount of dollars. We were lucky enough to have met an Irish guy, another immigrant from our shores, who told us to take the ferry instead. It’s free, runs every half hour, and you pretty much get the same views you would get on the tourist boat. As for the absence of the tourist guide, well there’s WiFi at the Ferry Terminal and you can google everything you want to know about the sights either in advance or when you get back. So be wise folks. If you come to NYC, it’s quite expensive to do everything you might want to do, and so a few corners need to be cut to save money. Another must is learning how to use the subway! Again, Colm’s talent of figuring out the most complex transport systems was a huge plus here. Looking at the map of the subway to me was like looking at a bowl of multi-coloured spaghetti. Within a very short time, Colm had digested the whole bowl of spaghetti/subways and we could plan out where and when we could go each day with ease. And for only 3 dollars a trip, no matter how far you travel we had access to so much at such little cost. After the boat trip, with sunburned noses and lots of great photos, we made our way back through the streets of New York. We made our way through Wall Street, where security is at an all time high since the September 2011 attacks. And then on to the Memorial Centre for those who lost their lives on that day. A visit to this Memorial is an absolute must for anyone coming to NYC. What struck most about this landmark was the eerie, reverent silence as you approach! Making our way there, the city was filled with the usual crazy noise that comes with the buzz of Manhattan. The honking of horns, sirens, etc. But when you enter this space, where thousands of people are visiting every day, the silence is what can only be described as eerie, in a respectful kind of way. Two huge square pools of cascading water fall downwards far beyond where the eye can see, and the names of all of those innocent victims who lost their lives cut out in the cast iron surrounding of the pools. It’s overwhelming, and the enormity of this tragic event really hits home. My attention was drawn to a simple tree that has been named “The Survivor Tree”. It is a Callery pear tree that stands distinct from all of the others in the Centre of the site. The tree was discovered in the wreckage after the 9/11 attacks. It was charred from the fire, yet somehow it still bore leaves, showing signs of life in the ruins. The tree was cared for by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and brought back to life. It bursts into blossom each spring and is a powerful symbol of hope and resilience standing tall in defiance of the evil that struck Ground Zero that day. It also gives strength and recognition to all of the survivors of this horrendous event.

We also visited the Number 1 World Trade Centre, travelling to the 102nd floor in 48 seconds in a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” type elevator. Now in my previous blog about our trip to Canada I said that the CN Tower in Toronto was the tallest building in the Western World (because it claims to be in its advertising). But apparently this No 1 World Trade tower has surpassed the CN Tower and now claims to hold the record of being the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. I won’t argue 🙂

One of the lovely parts of this trip was getting to meet up with friends and family that we hadn’t seen for some time. First was meeting with our Groomsman Sean, his wife Kate and their young son Ole from the UK who were visiting NYC at the same time we were. Now if Carlsberg did parents, these guys are it! They are totally devoted to each other and to their little boy and their solid and loving parenting is clearly evident in this kid’s sunny, happy-go-lucky disposition. The day we met up it was pouring out of the heavens with rain. We decided we’d take a bus tour around the city. As we chatted on the top deck of the bus, I was filling Sean in on the whole story of us arriving in NYC and meeting with P.J. His mouth was opening wider and wider as the story unfolded and I did think at one point that his reaction was slightly more dramatic than I expected. When he leapt up screaming, I immediately stopped the story, jeez, what had I said that was freaking him out this much? It was then that the downpour of water from the roof of the bus caught my attention landing right on the back of his neck. 😂.

Myself and Kate arranged a girls afternoon for the following day, which gave us time for a lovely catchup and cocktails, as us ladies love to do 🙂 (We had tried to have breakfast at Tiffany’s but what they don’t tell you in the movie is that there’s a 30 day waiting list to get in). Some more sightseeing over the next few days still only touched the surface of what’s to see here in NYC.

A visit to Ellen’s Stardust Diner (recommended by Kate) just off Times Square, a 1950’s style diner with singing waiters and waitresses, was probably the most unusual and class experience of the week. The queue to get a seat at this restaurant is about an hour of a wait, but boy was it worth it. Music students from NYC and all over the world who are competing to make it big on the Broadway scene, only a few blocks away, serve your food to you and sing some of the most famous songs from the musicals of Broadway as they work. The money that they earn in the diner goes towards dancing/acting/singing lessons in their quest to make it big and see their name in lights. It really has to be seen to be believed!

Saturday morning was pencilled in for meeting up with my younger cousin Blake at his Irish bar/restaurant on 3rd Avenue to watch the Irish Rugby match where the buzz of Ireland’s win was celebrated by every nationality in the bar that day. An early start, we arrived at Blakes Bar (Dylan Murphy’s) at 9.15 a.m. (kick-off in Ireland was 2.15 p.m. Irish time so it had to be done). Now Dylan Murphy’s is a replica of the bar we are all familiar with in the TV Programme “Cheers”. It’s got everything you would expect from a bar. Cosy and friendly where everybody knows your name! And Irish Granny on the Run and Colm got a wonderful welcome from Blake, Patrons and Staff – so much so, lets say, we stayed there a little bit longer than expected. Family member aside, I can’t help but have the height of admiration for my young Irish cousin for having the b***s to leave Ireland back in the early 1990’s in his early 20’s to come to New York with a dream of a better life. He arrived here, worked in construction and then moved on to doing bar work for almost ten years in a New York bar. It was there the seed was planted for him to set up his own bar. He worked his a** off and eventually his dream became a reality when he bought a premises on 82nd street, 3rd Avenue and opened his own bar/restaurant in a lovely suburb of Manhattan. To say it is thriving is an understatement. This guy runs a tight ship where his patrons and staff alike have a fondness and loyalty to him that one doesn’t come across too often. He’s an absolute inspiration!

One of the main things that strikes me when travelling around NYC is the diversity of the people living and working here. Especially the Irish … they are everywhere! It truly is the land of immigrants, despite Trump’s ramblings which smacks of racism in my opinion. His policies on this front are nothing short of fascism. These people from every corner of the world thrive alongside each other and have such respect for their different plights. Now, I would never class myself as racist, but had to check myself on one particular occasion. One evening I was paying for some purchases at a nearby shop. The girl behind the counter had a beautiful Asian look about her. I tried to strike up a bit of conversation with her when paying my bill, asking her politely where she was from. Her response “here!” All i was short of saying next was “no, I mean where are you REALLY from” so she got that and was none too pleased understandably. 😂

Walking through the streets of New York, you will see high end stores with merchandise for sale that one could never afford in a lifetime. Jewellery displayed in windows for millions of dollars, clothes, bags, shoes the same. We stopped outside an Auctioneers window one morning and gasped at the prices being sought for an apartment in the centre of the city. Upwards of $12m. The Auctioneer almost tripped over herself rushing to the front door when she saw us gazing longingly in the window, asking if there was anything she could help us with. We were so tempted to ask if we could view any properties with a large garden and a view in the Centre of Manhattan 😂.

On a more serious note, homelessness, (as it is back home) is a serious problem here in NYC. I was brought to tears one evening when we passed yet another homeless person lying at the exit to the subway station. Stooping down to see if the person under the blanket on the ground was ok, an African American guy with the sweetest smile peeked out from his make-shift home. I asked if he was ok, and his kindness was something that will remain with me forever. He gently said he was fine and not to worry, that he didn’t need anything and that “God would provide”. His name was William and he was from Barbados. He is one of a huge number of homeless people here, lying on the pavements right next to stores where people are paying thousands and millions of dollars for all sorts of designer labels. It is nothing short of a disgrace that these people are lying in sleeping bags on the streets of one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world.

And now this Granny on the Run is heading for the highlight of this entire trip…a whole month in Chicago with little Harry, Alison and Jonny. We arrive just before Harry’s 2nd birthday in two days time. We will fill him with sugar, cover him in kisses and hugs, take him on little trips with us and basically spoil him rotten! Cos that’s what Granny’s do! (Photo: Harry ) ❤️

OH CANADA!

“I’m sitting in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination…ohh ohhh”. Yep. Just cleared security at the Canadian border at Niagara Falls and what a funny experience that has been. The police man on the border who gave us clearance spent ages chatting to us about our trip and gave us some great tips and advice for our travels. What a pleasure it was to deal with such a nice man as we arrive across the border and into the USA. He’s a credit to his country and his profession for sure and we need more of him on border crossings. Having spent a glorious week in Canada we are now heading for New York City where we will spend a week taking in the sights there. We’re facing a thirteen hour train journey from Toronto through Niagara and down into the States. A perfect time for writing this blog 👌. It’s gonna be a long one, ya hear! 🤓

Now before arriving in Canada, I’m ashamed to say I knew very little about the country, its culture and heritage and its people. Having spent a week here I’m a small bit wiser and educated, and what I’ve experienced is definitely worth sharing with ye guys.

The first positive thing that struck me about this country on arriving on a flight to Toronto airport from Iceland (aside from all the snow piles again) was the politeness and friendliness of the people, and apparently that is one of the big things that Canadians are famous for (so it’s not just us Irish?) At the airport, an assistant called Delphine quickly spotted us looking for the way to the train and bus station with our haversacks and offered to take us to where we needed to go. She was such a breath of fresh air, chatting with us all the way through different elevators which took us through a maze of various levels of the airport to reach the train link. She travelled with us on the train link to the bus station to make sure that we took the right bus to Hamilton, almost an hour away from Toronto. Now that’s a welcome that I’ve never experienced yet at any airport. Although, maybe we looked a bit more disheveled than usual after the long flight and the freezing weather of Iceland. Sympathy might have been the instigator 😂. On the not-so-positive side, there are Canadians, (only a few mind) I kid you not, who hang rubber scrotums from the tow-bar on the back of their pick up trucks! I personally witnessed them on our return trip from Niagara Falls to Hamilton. True story! They are absolutely gross and a huge distraction when driving behind one! Swinging in the air, in different colours, black and skin coloured ones. Gross but hilarious!

We arrived at our accommodation quite late the first night, tired and cold and hungry. Our accommodation was a cozy quaint wooden cottage near the centre of the city of Hamilton, with a population of over 550,000, almost twice that of the whole island of Iceland – (Not in the cottage! In the City! 🤪) with patchwork quilts and everything you could wish for in an immaculately clean kitchen. And Netflix on a huge TV at the foot of our bed! We were in our element. I have to say, our experience with Airbnb accommodation so far has been top class.

It was only 9 p.m. Canadian time, (2 a.m. by our body clocks), but regardless we needed food and ventured out for Pizza. Safe to say we were shattered the next day and decided to take a much needed “John and Yoko” day off, which is a day that we have made a regular and compulsory event in our marriage, and I’d highly recommend. Lock the doors, get in the food and wine (which is a fraction of the price we were paying in Iceland), watch movies from under the duvet and whatever else tickles your fancy 😱 One of the loveliest parts of this trip is that at last I get to have breakfast every morning with Colm. Away from the roller-coaster of life where we were lucky to have one breakfast a week together, it is just exactly what we need. While we make sure that we each have time apart (cos we’d drive each other bats if we didn’t), it is nothing short of a godsend to get to spend some quality time with my husband at last. (After 20 years of marriage, my blog might not read like this 😜). One of the many things that’s impressed me most about Colm on this trip (stop it now! Lol) is that he has a gift of being able to look at a complex and detailed map and quickly figure out how to get to where we need to be..what trains and buses we need to take, and when. This is a must for a trip like ours, as it would be far too costly to travel on anything other than public transport. So, he is the Navigator basically for every place we want to visit. The accuracy at which he links buses to trains to planes without more than a ten minute wait for us is amazing and has to be seen to be believed! It also means we can visit places off the beaten track, cheaply and confidently knowing we’ll get there and back safely. Money couldn’t buy it!

Speaking of which! When I first held Canadian Dollars in my paws I had to do a double take when I saw the face of Queen Elizabeth II looking back at me! I never knew that she was the Head of State in Canada? And did you know that the Canadian Dollars when you get them from the ATM machines smell like Maple Syrup! Yep…now there’s something I found fascinating! Although walking around with two ten dollar notes stuck up my nose wasn’t such a good idea 😂 (I’m kidding of course…they were fifty dollars ha ha)

So, after a much needed day of rest, we took a leisurely stroll around Hamilton itself to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. Hamilton is a huge industrialized city, with steelwork factories scattered everywhere. It’s a hive of industry and these factories have been the main employers in the area for decades. There is also a military history to the city, with fabulous statues erected in the centre of Hamilton in memory of those who lost their lives during the World Wars and more recently in Afghanistan. The historical influence of the British occupancy of this city, and in Canada generally, is clearly evident as you stroll around. Hamilton itself is called after George Hamilton (not our guy!) a Canadian politician with Scottish family connections. Streets and roads are called after the British Monarchy, King and Queen Streets and the main motorway being the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way). Houses and buildings generally in Hamilton and even the suburbs of Toronto have a very British look about them.

We also discovered that Alexander Graham Bell made the very first phone call from just outside of Hamilton. Hellloooo! 😂

There is a wonderfully huge diverse population in Hamilton. Immigrants are well taken care of and form a significant percentage of the population. When we arrived in Toronto airport I was really moved to see parents hugging refugee children and vice-versa who had obviously just arrived safely to be with them. The scenes of so many people crying with joy at their loved ones arriving safely from wherever they came was heart wrenching but also heartwarming to witness. Which brings me to the story of a day that we travelled by bus to a local supermarket in Hamilton. An elderly woman who was most definitely in her 80’s, with a hand knitted colourful hat and scarf on her was busily clicking away with her knitting needles and wool on the bus. A young boy sitting opposite her asked her what she was knitting. She kindly looked up and said to him, I’m knitting hats and scarves to keep the refugees that are due to arrive here soon warm from the coldness here. She explained to him that they were coming from hot countries and that she had another 300 hats and scarves to make before they arrived. What a valuable and beautiful lesson that little boy learned from that woman on the bus that day! Human beings are just fabulous in the main.

We ventured into the city of Toronto the following day. Top of our list of things to do was to take the tour to the top of the famous CN tour in the centre of Toronto. The highest building in the western world, standing at 553 meters above ground level, it’s not for everyone I admit. But when we got to the viewing points at 447 meters above ground, the view was nothing less than astounding. We could view the whole city of Toronto, and the frozen Lake Ontario with a Titanic-like iceberg look about it down below where the ships were docked. The high rise apartment buildings that span the city resemble “stickle brick” lego which leads me to think that the architect designing them may have had a love of “stickle brick” in his childhood and was trying to recreate stuff he’d made as a kid? With a few hours to spare before we took our bus back to Hamilton, we hit the Ripley’s Aquarium Centre, and saw living creatures in the water that ranged from beautiful to absolutely horrifically ugly looking specimens (and no, there were no mirrors🤪). An education for sure! But i found Nemo! And Twinkies!

Now part of our plan when we decided to visit Canada was to catch up with a friend of Colm’s and his wife who live not too far from Hamilton. Colm and Chris had spent time in California together on work trips and hadn’t seen each other for some time. I had never met Chris or Jen before this. I have to say, the day spent with them was the highlight of our trip! We hooked up with Chris and Jen on Saturday afternoon, and within less than a half an hour, I felt like i’d known them for years. We laughed hysterically for the whole afternoon. Chris and Jen kindly drove us from Hamilton to Niagara Falls and gave us a whole well informed tour of the area. It was beginning to get dark when we arrived at the falls and on stepping out of the car it took my eyes a couple of seconds to adjust to what I was seeing! Niagara Falls, pounding from the cliff above into the river below – I will never in my life, ever, forget the sound of the water rushing down and the sight of this wonder of nature! I have goose pimples even writing this. It really has to be seen to be appreciated and the photos I had seen in books and magazines beforehand certainly did not do it justice. Two waterfalls, one on the Canadian side (the horseshoe one that we are all familiar with seeing in photos) and the smaller, straighter waterfall on the USA border within a stone’s throw. As we stood there with our mouths open, a beautiful light show began on both waterfalls. With colours of the rainbow and the Canadian flag being cast across the horseshoe falls, and the American flag on the fall on the USA border. It is an out of world experience to watch that I cannot even begin to describe! And one that we needed a gin and raspberry cocktail and beers to reflect on and finish off such a wonderful day, as ya do.

And now, Irish Granny heads for the bright lights of New York, New York! One city closer to seeing Harry!!! 😱😱😱. If I can, make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…See ye soon y’all! (And the thermals will be coming off!…Start spreading the News 🙈🙈🙈).

MODORAMMA IN ICELAND

Arriving in Iceland, just as our plane was coming in to land in Reykjavik, the aerial view was overwhelming! The lyrics of David Bowie’s song “is there Life on Mars” pretty much sums up my initial reaction to the vast snow covered mountains and black lava rocks peeking up from under the snow. Land that was totally barren and not a tree in sight! (There are very few trees growing in Iceland because of the sulfurous volcanic terrain apparently). The land ahead of us, stretched for miles as we travelled by bus from the airport to Reykjavik. I was gobsmacked at the spooky moonlike appearance of the land and yet it was beautiful at the same time. There was certainly an Armageddon type feeling about the place. Not a live animal in sight either. The growing of plants and flowers is a huge challenge for the people living here (only 350,000 in total). Two thirds of the total population live in the greater Reykjavik area with the remainder living in other small coastal towns scattered around the coastline. No one lives outside of these regions and there is nothing living or growing outside of the small, sparsely populated coastal towns. Everywhere else, including the central part of the island is totally barren and mountainous with volcanoes splattered throughout.

We arrived in the city of Reykjavik by bus late in the afternoon in a blizzard of snow. The driver told us that we were lucky to be able to travel from the airport to our accommodation as there had been severe snow storms on the days previously which blocked all roads from the airport to Reykjavik and beyond. The view as we entered the city changed from the barren black landscape to fabulously designed buildings, a snow-covered harbour with huge fishing vessels from Greenland (the nearest neighbour), yachts and buildings covered in beautiful graffiti artwork, apparently done by a very famous local artist. Litter is non-existent and the city streets are quaint with cozy, brightly lit, colorful houses that wouldn’t go amiss in a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The Icelandic connection with Denmark was severed way back in 1944 when Iceland secured its own independence and established its own Government. The local people are so knowledgable about the history of Iceland and will only be too delighted to educate visitors arriving in their country. It fascinated me that every Icelandic native that we met, young or old, was highly educated in every aspect of their country’s heritage, particularly about the history and geography of it and it is very evident and understandable that they are extremely proud of their country.

We stayed in a guesthouse pretty close to the centre of Reykjavik, the Alfholl (the Elf Hole) Guesthouse, run by a lovely young Icelandic native, by the name of “Hawk”. An extremely well read, educated man, Hawk was once a psychologist working within the prison system in Iceland and gave it up to run Alfholl Guesthouse. Interestingly, crime is pretty much non-existent in Iceland. It is one of the safest countries in the world to visit, and feels very much like that when you arrive. Safe! There are only about 150 prisoners in total housed in 5 prisons on the island, of which a minuscule number are for serious crimes.

Having struggled up the hill from the bus stop on compact ice and snow with our haversacks to Hawks guesthouse (Torville and Dean had nothing on the pair of us), we were delighted to arrive to a warm, clean house with a kitchen and dining area right next to our bedroom. Well, that was until just after 7 a.m. the next morning when the other guests began to arrive to cook breakfast in the kitchen . In fairness, we were so tired that we were only vaguely aware of the rattle of cups and cutlery and became accustomed to it as the days went on. The warmth and friendliness of Hawk and our fellow guests made up for the small inconvenience of the noise from the kitchen area. The accommodation was so cozy and comfortable that it felt like home away from home, and even better, it was great value for money. And so, it was naturally time to take my morning shower. Now, having a hot shower in Iceland is not for the faint hearted. Once the tap is turned, you really need to breathe through your mouth and try not allow the sulphuric smell from the water permeate your nostrils! If you can imagine a really bad egg smell, or maybe more like those stink bombs that we used to get from the joke shop and smash on the ground as kids. Well that’s the smell that hit me. After my first shower I complained to Colm that there seemed to be something wrong with the plumbing and we should tell Hawk about it immediately. And when we did we were assured that it came from the geothermal water system that is used in 85% of households here to heat the water. How innovative! They just pull it from under the ground and into their houses to use for underfloor heating and hot water and general household heating. So that’s the smell, it’s the naturally heated volcanic sulphuric water from under the ground! It’s how the Geysers work here. It’s cheap and free and the best demonstration of environmentally friendly heating I’ve ever seen. The locals don’t even smell it anymore and find foreign visitors reaction to it hilarious!

The next thing that hit us, albeit not unexpectedly as we had heard about this before we arrived, was the cost of food and alcohol! Folks, thankfully Hawk’s guest house had excellent cooking facilities, (and if you’re considering visiting this uniquely fantastic country you need to make sure that these facilities are available) because if not, we’d be home, broke, after a week of eating out and drinking here. To give you some perspective on the cost of food. A packet of cheese slices that we can get back home for about €3, is about €14 here. A single red pepper is approximately €3.50, for just one, yep, just the one! The cheapest pint of beer (outside of the happy hours that the pubs and restaurants put on to entice the likes of us) is roughly between €10 and €15 a pint. I kid you not! Even to buy food in the supermarket is crazy expensive. The supermarkets don’t sell beer/wine. There are state run off-licenses that are highly regulated where you can get alcohol at slightly cheaper prices than in the pubs and restaurants. They close at 6 p.m. on the dot! So, the only thing for it is to follow the bars that have happy hours and do a pub crawl basically til you run out of pubs and happy hours and money and slide home at a relatively early hour. It takes a bit of getting used to for sure.

Sadly, the recent snow storms have hampered our chances of seeing the Northern Lights and doing our tours to the famous geysers and waterfalls, as many of the roads have been blocked with every nights new snow storm. But it has given us a much needed opportunity to relax, and dare I say, chill.  We’ve heard that they have to bring food and supplies to people in a nearby town through an underground tunnel when storms like this happen, so we don’t feel too hard done by when we hear about their isolation with snow storms. When we get even the smallest fall of snow back home, children are quick to be outdoors building snowmen and having snowball fights. I didn’t actually see any snowman built anywhere here which was very different to back home, but given that we were in the city area, that may well explain it.

The Blue Lagoon is one place that we had so longed to visit and thankfully we got to do that on Monday evening. We were so thrilled that it hadn’t been cancelled even though the snow was still pelting down and roads were pretty dodgy with the build up of snow. So, the visit to the saltwater thermal spa (heated again with natural geothermal springs) didn’t disappoint and was a truly magnificent experience. Outside, in swimsuits, bathing in minus 6 degree freezing cold with snow pelting at our faces and we were so cozy and warm under the thermal water. We looked amazing in our Algae face masks, and could sip a beer at the bar in the middle of the pool. Oh my, what a sight to behold!

In a nutshell, would I recommend this place for a holiday? Absolutely, yes. I would come back in a heartbeat. The place has a uniqueness about it that I’ve never quite felt or seen in any other country i’ve visited. It’s exquisitely beautiful with such a touch of class to everything that it offers. It feels extremely safe (apart from the icy paths). For every degree of coldness here, the local people make up for it in abundance with their genuine warmth and friendliness and their eagerness to make our stay the best it possibly can be given the current weather conditions.

For example, we dropped into a local indoor hot-dog stand on one of our days out walking and happened upon a local guy who was also having one of Reykjaviks famous hotdogs. He started chatting to us and on discovering that we were Irish chatted to us about DNA tests that are carried out by a pharmaceutical company here in Iceland. Icelandic’s apparently can avail of these DNA tests for various medical reasons, including genetic testing which is a whole other discussion in the context of pregnancies and illnesses that they are trying to identify within families etc. but it is also used for exploring genetic heritage. He was delighted to tell us that he had had the test carried out a few years ago and discovered that he was 52% Irish. Given that he had red hair and sported a red beard we were kinda convinced he was telling us the truth. Before we had a chance to finish our hot dogs he was excitedly beckoning us to come walking with him around the city so he could tell us some more about the history of it. We followed and then en-route he swung by his house and invited us in. His house was once the only funeral parlor in the city. It was eerily magnificent with giant stuffed Polar Bears greeting us as we walked through. Now, under normal circumstances, there is not a chance that we would take the risk of taking a stranger up on an invitation into his house, but for some strange reason we followed him. When we spoke about it to each other afterwards about how risky it was, we both said that we felt in our gut that this guy was a genuinely good guy, and again the feeling of safety we had sensed since we arrived may have lulled us into that sense of security. Lucky for us (and for him – remember, he was bringing us, strangers, into his home too), he was an absolutely fantastic and wonderfully colorful character who shared some really interesting local stories with us. It turns out as we followed him around his house that he was a well-known Icelandic ship designer and builder. To our surprise he took out the Icelandic equivalent of our Hello magazine and showed us his photo on the front of it, and it quickly dawned on us that this was no ordinary tour guide showing us around. He was an absolute breath of fresh air to listen to his stories about his life experiences, his time spent in Greenland as a fisherman many years ago, about his country etc. We ended up heading to the local Irish pub with him (where the happy hour was on of course) and spent a few more hours chatting to him. The Seanachai was definitely evident in him and on leaving him we exchanged numbers and contact details and have now gained a new Icelandic friend who we will certainly be meeting up with in the future. He will be no doubt one of many that we’ll make as we travel around the world.

Iceland, I was delighted to discover, is also one of the leading countries in egalitarianism, which in today’s world is a rare find! This is the country where it is great to be a woman. Women are highly respected for their contribution to society both inside and outside the home. Out of 144 countries in the world, it ranked number one in political empowerment of women. Their political leaders and Presidents have been mainly women and almost half of board members of listed companies are women. It also ranks number one for closing the gender income gap. Parental leave here is divided equally between men and women, with both parents being able to avail of 80% of their salary while on leave. Research has shown that this has resulted in men being significantly more involved in child care and domestic duties. Women make up 66% of graduates from University, and hold almost half of the countries parliamentary seats. Now that’s what we need to aspire to in Ireland! The health care system here is also one of the top health-care systems in the world. A visit to a GP costs no more than €10 compared to to €50+ back home.

Finally, while the continuous snow storms have hampered our travel plans, these have been an experience in themselves and created different, unexpected events which have been just as fantastic. Before starting our journey we resigned ourselves to the fact that no matter how tightly we plan each part of the trip, it will take us where it will, and we just have to weather the storm so to speak. That’s part of the beauty of the trip. The uncertainty and sense of adventure when you’ve no idea after arriving in a country what’s going to happen and where it will lead you.

And so, the Irish granny takes her leave of this beautiful country of Iceland and heads for yet another snowy adventure in Toronto and Hamilton in Canada. See you there soon 

STRIPPING GRANNY

Sitting here in the Departure Lounge of Dublin Airport, and I’m pinching myself. This is it! It’s actually happening now! The plane to take us to Reykjavik in Iceland has just rocked up to the Departure Gate and it’s looking Wow!

Now ..when we were discussing the idea of doing this world trip way back, we thought naively that it would just be a matter of walking out the door with haversacks on our backs and flying away on the wind for two years. When I say I was a small bit naïve … well, let me put it this way, I was a wayyyy ginormous bit naïve! I finished work just before Christmas and at the time thought, “sure that’ll give me lots of time to do my TEFL course, to write my blogs and to basically have some much needed ‘down time’ before heading away.” But you see, it doesn’t quite work like that at all. I was absolutely delusional! It’s been an education in itself since. Detaching from all of the material things here and stripping back everything to one haversack is a bit more time-consuming and overwhelming than I could ever have imagined.

The realization that I couldn’t do just that came as a bit of a shock if I’m totally honest. It kind of crept up on me slowly (as things usually do with me) once Christmas was over and little Harry had returned to Chicago with his Mum and Dad. Gazing out at the car in the garden and thinking…what am I going to do with that while we’re away? Naturally the answer was to sell it…and then it dawned on me! Paperwork, bureaucracy, all of the stuff that needs to be sorted before we leave. And then the panic began! Now those who know me know that “Diva” is not my style (ahemmm)…anyway, things that I thought would come naturally being a civil servant, hit me with a bang. All of the work discussions and meetings about the importance of “Customer Service” really rang through. But this time, I was on the other side of the desk and I did not like it one bit! Ringing about car insurance/travel insurance/network access abroad and all of the other items that were raising their heads and screaming out to be sorted. Being asked by voice machines over and over would I mind “holding the line” for what seemed like hours, with music that’s supposed to calm you but irritates the s**t out of you after about two minutes waiting. Receiving the wrong documentation in the post after spending almost a half an hour or more on the phone only to have to start the whole process all over again! I’ve concluded that we need to go back to having real people instead of voice machines when we want to make calls to various organizations (now that rings of granny stuff I hear you say:-))

Then our Vaccinations. Now there’s a whole new experience! And certainly one that I hadn’t given any real thought to in advance. Three weeks of shots – against everything and everyone except each other! Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis, Diphtheria, Polio, Tetanus, and the one that took me by surprise the most – Rabies! I mean, I didn’t even know that it was still a thing. But no, apparently in some of the countries we plan to visit, monkeys running around wild are a threat and if they decide to nip you you’re in serious trouble. Imagine that?! On my first visit to the Vaccination Bureau in Dublin, I was squealing like a baby pig and the nurse hadn’t even taken the injection out of it’s wrapper! But the Doctors and Nurses were just fantastic and gave us such great advice (and lollipops btw) about keeping safe and healthy during our trip. The numerous packets of Malaria tablets and other prescribed medication that I’ve packed might mean me having to wear my hair in a bun for some time when we hit Peru, if you know what I mean 🙂

And the wonderful moments crossing my mind this morning in the run up to us just about to board this plane. The various farewell dinners, nights out and visits to and from friends and family. Spending time with the in-laws in Wexford, with life-long friends from Dublin, with family and extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbours, work colleagues and all of the thoughtful gifts we have received. One of my favourites is a quaint silver locket with a photo of my Mum and Dad placed carefully and lovingly in the photo section of it so that I’d feel they were with me throughout my journey. This was a gift from my beautiful Godmother/Aunt Anna and I will cherish it throughout our trip. Holy medals to protect us from every possible disaster from another wonderful wise aunt (who has persuaded us that having read an article from a reliable source, that St. Christopher is not the saintly figure of travel that he made himself out to be and sure we couldn’t possibly carry medals of his after that. It’d be a recipe for disaster :-)). She kindly researched it further and provided us with a more worthy saints medal to carry on our travels, St. Michael. Who knew? A moment of enlightenment for sure! I have all of these gifts packed into my bag and when I wear each piece it will remind me of each and every one of you that we spent time with before we left. Also, the efforts made by a certain individual to make sure we had our Visas for China sorted is so very much appreciated too. (you know who you are!). Sometimes there are just no words enough to thank people for taking the time and effort in the last few weeks to spend time with us and help us on this journey. And to those too who wanted to but couldn’t and sent us well wishes, thank you! You will all be sorely missed!

One such hilarious night with two of my childhood friends from Dublin that I must mention. We had decided to book a family room in a hotel in Tullamore and have a girls farewell night out. So, after some good food and wine it was time to hit our beds. Three beds in a row, each one of us vying for the position of Goldilocks 🙂 and just as we were about to nod off we heard this unmerciful snore. She (who will not be named) was woken abruptly by the remaining two, and told to put some higher pillows under her head to stop the snoring. Her response…”sure I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep” … and then it all started, the fits of giggles went on till the small wee hours and we were 12 years old all over again!

So onwards now and my boys are also well and truly sorted. One is living in Madrid and the other is loving his accommodation between college in Dundalk and his new lodgings in a lovely house in Tullamore. His stunning girlfriend Aoife has become a welcome addition to our ever extending family. He will be joining us to visit Alison, Jonny and Harry in Chicago shortly and will then re-connect with us in China. And the whole family will all be meeting up in different parts of the world as we go. Family on tour is right 🙂

To anyone considering doing this, I can safely say that the biggest task is preparing the family home for renting. We are extremely lucky to have secured a lovely family to rent our home relatively quickly with the help of an auctioneer who has guided us so professionally through the entire process. The new family are coming to Ireland to live with their children and cats. Yes, cats! Bringing these little creatures with them as part of their family from abroad. How fantastic is that, and how lucky are these little guys to have such loving owners? Like, if there is such a thing as re-incarnation, I want to come back as one of their cats, without a doubt 🙂 They will be the new occupants of our home for the foreseeable future.

There has been a constant flow of tradesmen and cleaners coming and going. The whole process has been all consuming time-wise. The exercise of decluttering our home after almost seventeen years living in it has been a life-changing experience for sure! If I’ve learned anything so far, it is that we, (as in, all of us), accumulate material items to the point of it being almost immoral! After the major clear out, about fifteen bags and many boxes of items went to charity, a full car load to the dump. I found so many of those enchanting impulse-buy special offer items from Aldi and Lidl. Remember those Thursday offers? Lads, seriously, they were still in their boxes in my presses! And I know there are more of you out there who do the very same!. What are we at? Clothes with labels still on them that I had forgotten I had bought. Children’s clothes the same. To say I was ashamed to see the absolute waste of money over a lifetime is an understatement. Stripping back to one haversack is the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. Of course, the sentimental items have been put into storage, but what I have kept compared to what went out of the house in those black bags is nothing short of a disgrace. I would highly recommend that even if you are not moving house, that you go through each room and declutter ruthlessly as though you are. You would be amazed at what you discover about yourself in the process.

Another not-so-nice learning curve has been the fact that when we tried to get travel insurance for our trip, I was shocked to learn that there are almost no travel insurance packets for this type of trip if you are over 49 years old! Now that is just so disheartening is it not?. It almost sends out a message that if you’re over this age you won’t be needing this type of long-term travel, back-packing insurance?!!! Do the insurance companies out there think that once you hit 50 that you just sit in your armchair and watch the soaps until you pop your clogs? Now come on! How and why this is allowed to happen? It is something that I will certainly be following up on.

Granted, Colm has been getting an earful from me over the last two weeks about putting too much coal on the fire to the point that I am suffocating with the heat. I was freaking out! I mean I genuinely thought he was coming down with some serious infection as a result of the vaccinations and had suggested he take a trip to the doctors surgery to make sure that he hadn’t contacted some serious deadly virus as an indirect consequence. Some horrible sickness that was making him feel so cold the whole time maybe?. The house was so warm and I was thinking “What the hell is wrong with him?” And as the days went on and I had to have my own medical checkup before we left….well ahemmm…you see it wasn’t him at all. It was me! 🙂 The separate journey of the aging process which brings with it its own thermal heat is not something I’ve taken to graciously as you might guess! 🙂

And today, as we leave, we have in our possession a new pair of boots each, a coat, a hat and scarf that my dear friend Mary crocheted for me to keep me warm in Iceland and beyond, that I just love! My teddy bear with his “Irish Granny on the run” jumper clearly visible and secured to my haversack. (He’s so visible that when we were walking down Grafton Street in Dublin yesterday with teddy tied to the haversack on my back, I heard someone shouting my name! A friend from primary school who had followed my blog and had seen a picture of my teddy bear on it, realized it was me from the teddy and we stopped and chatted for a bit. How wonderful and random is that?).

We have our phones and gadgets for keeping in touch with the world as we travel, minimum amount of necessary clothing (and I mean minimum to the point that we may have people giving us plenty of space on those warm trains as we travel), gifts for Harry, some oestrogen (naturally), Malaria tablets and gifts that we received over the last few weeks. And now, having stripped back to just this, there is a wonderful feeling of freedom. This is where we wanted to be all of those months back when we made the decision first to travel. Right here and now, after months of bureaucracy, the physical work of decluttering our lives, emotional farewells and long goodbyes, the medical checks and packing. This is the start of our wonderful journey. Where the excitement really begins. Granny has well and truly stripped :-0

See you all again shortly in Iceland for the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon experience … and we’re off!

“It’s the journey, not the arrival that matters” T. S. Eliot

Oh Holy Mother of Divine, save me! There’s so much involved in preparing for this journey!! (Eye roll)

When we decided to do the trip, I was filled with aspirations and dreams of freedom, of flying high, of putting a pin in a map on any given day, getting on a plane, train or automobile. Rocking up to the frontiers of each country and receiving a welcome with open arms from the national security lads of whatever country we landed in. The natives letting us have the run of the place ‘til we tired of it and wanted to move on! Yeah? Isn’t that what we all dream of doing when we think about going travelling? Well let me tell you something lads, it’s a very different thing than that altogether! That song “No Frontiers” is a gimmick!

From getting the house ready to go on the rental market (I mean, where on earth does one put all worldly belongings collected over so many years – well not that many, ahem!) to booking our visas, flights and accommodation. Nothing could have prepared me for the hours spent poring over websites! Nor the feeling of being the third giraffe trying to get onto Noah’s ark when sorting our Visas. 🦒🦒🦒I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at the warmth, friendliness and enthusiasm of some of the hosts we’ve been communicating with while sorting our accommodation between here and China. It has most definitely added a new dimension to the excitement of our trip and I already feel that we have made new friends around the world. In particular, our hosts in Beijing, Shaohui and Shufang, and Ash and Nate in Hamilton, Canada have been extremely helpful. It’s sooo exciting now 💫

At this point we have managed to put together the guts of an itinerary for the first 6 months of our 2 year trip and it’s looking something like this (it’ll be interesting to see if it actually happens like we’ve planned…watch this space)

First stop is Reykjavik in Iceland (as I write I’m hearing reports that the Volcano might erupt shortly. 🌋…noooo!), then on to Toronto. On to Hamilton in Canada and back to Toronto where we will take a 13 hour train trip to New York City (Manhattan), visiting Niagara Falls as we go. On then to Chicago (which will be the absolute highlight of our trip), to see Allie and Jonny and Harry and to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style where the Chicago River will be dyed green for the day with vegetable dye I’m told. No doubt we will down a few shots of Egan’s Irish whiskey while we’re there. My boys will fly out from Ireland to join us for this part of the trip. Precious family time for sure!ter almost 5 weeks in Chicago we head to Seattle. When we feel like it, we’ll take the Amtrak Coast Starlight train along the West Coast of the USA. We’ll stop off at places like Eugene, San Francisco and wherever the mood takes us to be honest, until we eventually hit San Diego. This train looks spectacular and we will get to view the beautiful scenery of the West Coast of America as we go. From San Diego we will head to Los Angeles, stay a while there and will then take a flight to Tokyo in Japan. Hang around there for a bit with the Japanese and then fly on to Beijing in China.

While in China we will fly from Beijing (after about 3 weeks in Beijing) to Yangshuo in southern China’s Guangxi region, with its dramatic karst mountain landscape. We will stay at a cool hostel called “The Giggling Tree” which is a total hippy experience and in such a scenic rural location (this is the piece of the trip to China for me that is a little glimpse of heaven on earth). I had visited this very spot with my daughter Alison in 2013. We went to see the Li River Fisherman’s Light Show while we were there. The show, a major musical production, is directed and produced by the guy who did the whole opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. To say there is nothing in this world that can compare to it is an understatement! I remember we both cried at the end of the show, overwhelmed with awe and emotion and wishing everyone that we loved could be with us to witness such a remarkable and moving event. (Ya’d have to be thereJ). The show was held just as the sun set on the Li River. The mountains and the river became the backdrop for the stage lit up with colourful beaming lights. Chinese Fishermen sailed out onto the river on bamboo rafts with lanterns …. I get goose bumps even recalling the show now. When we arrive there I will post as much as I can to give you a taste of the whole experience. It’s inconceivable and mind-blowing! I’ve been raving about it to Colm since I met him, so it’s fantastic that at last he’ll get to witness the actual event (and not have to listen to me harping on about it the whole time) 🎧

After that it’s Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Bali (if the volcano stays quiet of course).

I have to admit though, there is a certain level of funny anxiety spells that goes into preparing for a trip like this. I’ve taken to waking at the small wee hours of the morning with totally irrational questions and ponderings going around in my head. Poor Colm who is already sleep deprived with his daily 5.30 a.m. start each morning, is being prodded by me asking him all sorts of questions that have been going around in my head throughout the night. So what’s been popping into my head? Well, ya see, when we booked our flights from Chicago to Seattle, we talked about the option of doing the Amtrak Coast Starlight train along the coast. But when I checked it out it said that it went from Los Angeles to Seattle. My worry was that this train wouldn’t work for us because we were going in the other direction?!!@@@ Colm, thankfully reassured me that the train travels in both directions and I went back to sleep..haaa haa! 😴

But just then another one popped into my head. The website that tells us about travelling on the train from Toronto to New York states that we must expect delays due to border control, and we should bring along some reading material. So should we bring a copy of Lord of the Rings or a quick guide on travelling around the Aran Islands? While in the USA should I pretend that I think that Trump is doing a great job? Or avoid discussing the Apple tax debt in Ireland? I mean these things must be thought through in advance I believe to avoid running into difficult situations 🙈

Likewise, when booking flights, I’m insisting that Colm check out the safety records in painful detail, of all airlines that we are travelling with. Also, being new to all of the preventative measures we need to take when travelling the world, I’ve been wondering, you know… if you get vaccinated against a disease, will the vaccinations we get before we leave make us sick for weeks before we go? If we get them all together will we get a bit of each of the illnesses like Yellow Fever and Typhoid and Malaria? Irrational or responsible? It’s a thin line I’ve discovered 😜 I’ve also discovered that my husband has the patience of a saint, I swear it! And now to focus on Christmas preparations and the anticipation of the arrival of my beautiful daughter, her husband and the cutest lil grandson everrrr…Harry who are all coming home for Christmas in Ireland… Merry Christmas y’all and I hope you also get to spend it surrounded by the ones you love 🤶 More to follow ….

THE QUANTUM LEAP 😱

Now that I’ve reached the decision to make the transition from the institutionalised existence of a full-time Civil Servant and Mother, to an Irish Granny on the run, living from day to day from a rucksack, with the uncertainty that lies ahead, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have mixed feelings about this whole thing.  (When starting this blog I committed to giving an honest account, warts and all, of the journey I am about to embark on)! The fear of entering the realms of the unknown is palpable.  I have really known nothing outside of the regular routine of a full-time job in the Irish Civil Service coupled with the responsibilities of being a full-time Mum (mostly as a lone parent) to three amazing, grown up children for the past 32 years.  (I have, of course, travelled for short-burst holiday’s abroad. However, there is a particular level of comfort in knowing that after a few weeks you can come home to the familiarity of surroundings and get back to the routine of daily life).  I guess such a huge change will take a bit of getting used to under the circumstances. The unwavering support of my best friend and husband Colm joining me on this journey is without doubt the greatest comfort of all.

It certainly feels like I’m about to jump off a cliff!  But nonetheless, the excitement of taking such a quantum leap into this “life-adventure” at my age, coupled with the wonderful anticipation of meeting new people from various cultures, experiencing a completely unfamiliar way of life, not just travelling to holiday destinations but actually integrating with different cultures around the world, will, I’ve no doubt, be a mind-blowing and educational experience!

My first thought is that preparation is the key to making this work! That preparation involves, for the foreseeable future, letting go of many things that give me great comfort in my life.  I will be relating to the advice continuously given by the Dalai Lama and Buddhists generally, not to overly attach to any material things in life.  The little that I know about this principle will most definitely be tested now.

Living in a different country to my adult children will certainly be an excruciatingly painful step, (despite their reassurance that they’ll be fine and that I will be bringing them out to wherever we are at every given opportunity).  Leaving friends and family for such a long time (albeit only 2 years to start).  Putting the family home on the rental market.  The thoughts of someone else cooking big Irish fry-ups and bacon and cabbage in my kitchen, sleeping in my bedroom and my children’s bedrooms! Strangers using my showers and bathrooms!  Material things like my piano, my cosy couch with my snuggle blanket.  Not to mention my daily routines; the luxury of putting my make-up on in my magnified mirror, shopping in Aldi, Tesco, Dunnes, and oh the pain of not having the excuse of popping into Penny’s for a pair of socks and coming out with half of the clothes on display!That is almost too difficult to endure ha! I’ll be lucky to have shampoo and shower-gel for parts of this trip and clean underwear will be a luxury I believe!  Although Colm assures me that he has found a site that sells underwear with three leg-holes that can be rotated each day and then turned inside out and rotated again…a good weeks supply in one go 😜 😜

Giving up my full-time job might not be so difficult from a work perspective, but leaving behind my family of incredible work colleagues who have had to endure the whole minutiae of my daily life for years;  being subjected to continuous photos of my kids and grandson, my new husband and our wedding preparations for our big day in huge wigwam tents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Dingle, Co. Kerry. And the whole aftermath that goes with that. Sharing almost every waking moment with these people!

Not having them around will be hard.  Not for them mind you!  (I was sure I heard a muffled sigh of relief and a “yippee” when I announced my plans to travel 😂) On the absolute plus side…spending time with my only daughter, her husband and of course Harry, my Grandson who lives in Chicago. Every son-in-laws dream, eh? Having his mother-in-law come for a lengthy stay 👍👌

So, warts and all, it’s happening… we leave after Christmas for Iceland to start..there’s no going back now.  Look out World…here we come!  And now, just to finalise flights and accommodation. We have the pins, we have the map!   Oh…I hear choirs of angels singing…”Freedom…oh Freedom”

So, if any of you have any recommendations on places to visit, or travel tips (I’ve already had the incontinent pads tips and they’re packed lol) please let me know in comments below. Be back soon with more updates! Now for some Complan and a bit of Sudoku before bedtime 🤪🤪

GRANNY KNOWS BEST!

Hi, I’m new to the blogging world.. An Irish granny with a beautiful 20 month old Grandson called Harry, writing my first blog. The mind boggles….how and why? Well, it all started with Harry barging into the world just before my 50th Birthday. This little bundle of love turned my world upside down with joy. Harry brought with him a very special gift for his new Granny. The greatest gift of all…PERSPECTIVE! This wonderful new perspective has resulted in me making the decision to take time out from my full-time job of 32 years to travel the world for the next two years, with a back pack and a pair of boots. Persuading my soulmate and husband to join me! To be free as birds, to spend time with our grandson in Chicago, to hopefully do some volunteer work and to basically put a pin in the map of the world and spread our wings and fly! And all because Granny knows best 😉 I plan to blog all about our adventures of surviving on the contents of a rucksack, in budget accommodation all over the world as middle aged old foogies. I would absolutely love ye all to join me in our travels where i’ll be sharing the highs and lows of our journey. First steps ..to get planning. So far, we’ve earmarked Iceland, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Seattle and the west coast USA and on to Asia. So lets have fun and join in with Irishgrannyontherun.

an