A big advantage of living in the middle of Europe is the convenience traveling to many beautiful and/or fascinating places. In addition, friends visiting Europe usually can squeeze in a few days to visit me. After having traveled extensively in Asia, Africa as well as Latin America and North America, I am beginning to explore more places in Europe, especially since very many of my favorite places in the world have since become overrun with tourists.
We decided to take a train to Naples, although flying would have been a couple of hours faster and a bit cheaper. But a train ride is certainly better from an ecological standpoint, and we hoped to see the landscapes on the way down, not realizing that the middle of Italy is mountainous and that the ride seemingly was in tunnels half of the time.
I had booked what I thought was a hostel in Naples, since you often met some interesting people there and they are usually cheap. However, it turned out to be a small place with three rooms, one other guest, bunkbeds and mosquitos with no place to hang a mosquito net. We had already been in Naples, so after some great pizza (which apparently was first concocted there), another 2-hour train ride south to Pisciotta, a beautiful, old village on a hillside where we had a small apartment with a view of the sea 150 meters below.
It was supposed to be warm that time of the year, but while it was 30° C in the city where we live much farther north, it was cold and rainy the first five days. We took a nice hike right from the village the first day, although the trail was a bit hard to follow. We actually got to the place where we wanted to go, but were unaware of that we were there.
The village square and a tuk-tuk, which you could take down to the beach and back when you were lazy.
Too cold to swim, so we drove to Paestum, which has three well-preserved Greek temples, the next day. Nice, but not something you have to see despite what the guidebooks claim.
Ride along the coast
Still cool, but sunny, we hiked up Mt. Bulgheria with its peak at 1,225 meters, although we didn’t start at sea level. The trail was very difficult to follow at times, especially on the way down, so we wound up bushwhacking at times and needed a lot more time up and down than expected.
The welcoming committee at the peak
A nice boat ride along the coast from Marina di Camerota, passing a few caves where the water was a strange blue color inside. We arrived at a small, secluded beach, from where we hiked back after a swim. The trail was well-marked at the beginning, but then became difficult to follow.
Relaxing, great food—my favorite was linguine with anchovies, capers and olives—hiking along an almost empty beach (it was pre-season) and swimming. One more short boat trip around Capo Palinuro and more strange blue water caves. There are some crevices at the top of the cave that let sunlight in, which gives them their color.
And then 12 hours of train rides back home, but fortunately I had my laptop and was able to get a lot of work done.
I started attending the Freiburg Writers’ Group not that long ago. A bunch of wanna-be writers—some very good, some terrible and some not great/not bad like myself—meet once a month to read our scribblings or the guy running the meeting comes up with some interesting writing exercises, which we then discuss. Twice a year, there is a public reading where anyone who wants to can read something he or she has written. The focus seems to be on very short pieces, although I prefer novels in which characters and the plot can develop over a longer time. Most of the participants have not been away from the USA that long and often refer to US pop culture of the last decades, of which I have next to no knowledge. Ask me about the sixth generation of Chinese film directors, French-African literature (my Master’s thesis) or flamenco guitar, and I can have a discussion with you. On the other hand, Hollywood movies, tv sitcoms or American sports teams and I am completely in the dark, and I even had to ask another American years ago what a “sitcom” is, since the word only originated after I left the country.
Since I have mostly been writing travelogues and essays for my blog, I didn’t really have anything new to read (they seem to concentrate on fiction), but I dug out something I had written a long time ago, edited it and dared to make a fool of myself reading it to the public. It was a fun evening, although I would have liked a bit of feedback from the group. We are not supposed to criticize each other, only say what you like, but I would like to know what I did poorly.
The flamenco school that I attend here performs most summers at a local music festival, although we are outside on a stage and perform for free: just happy to have a chance to perform in front of an audience. We had an audience of approx. 200 people, which was quite nice, since a friend—who is a much better guitarist than I and has played professionally—played there with his country band a couple of years ago and I was almost the only person in the audience.
This was one of the most intense trips I have even taken and totally unexpectedly so. We first had a mini family reunion near Dublin. My brother and sister came, and we three are all totally different, have led totally different lives, different worldviews, live in different countries and have very different memories of the past. We rarely see each other and almost never all three of us at the same time. Still, we get along fine and it was nice to spend a couple of days with them.
We rented a house in Killiney south of Dublin, a nice village with many expensive homes. Supposedly Bono has a villa there. It was a short walk to the beach, and we even dared the Irish Sea for a short dip on the first day. A local pub served mediocre food, but Irish beer compensated for that.
We visited the pretty neighboring village of Dalkey, to which we walked to along the coast with great views and spent time catching up on each other’s lives.
Lobsters and crabs for sale at a harbor in Dalkey
After three days, we took a bus to Belfast. I hadn’t expected much out of the ordinary, but on a walking tour the next day, the guide related much about the bombings and killings that had taken place there only a few years previously. A peace treaty was only signed in 1998, and it took another 10 years until the locals began to believe that there really would be peace. I had not thought that the history of those troubled times was still so present in the minds of the people.
Until 1998, there had only been one hotel in Belfast, Europa Hotel, where journalists stayed, because no one else ventured there. Bombs were often set off near the hotel, but with an advance warning and not to hurt anyone, but so that the journalist would report on it.
Belfast used to have green and orange-colored buses, but the Protestants would not ride the green ones and the Catholics the orange ones. So they painted them all pink!
We went on a very informative walking tour, and when we arrived at the meeting point for the start, there were two groups for Spanish speakers and one for English. Our guide remarked how happy she was that so many tourists were coming to Northern Ireland, but they we certainly were not coming for the weather. I countered that the Spaniards were surely coming for the weather, i.e., to escape the 40° C heat of Spain in the summer. There were very many Spaniards everywhere we went in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which initially surprised us until we considered the weather aspect.
One of the oldest pubs
The Grand Opera House, which was severely damaged in a bombing during the troubles in Northern Ireland
Belfast is developing fast these days, but it seemed a lot poorer than Dublin. There were many obese people, usually a sign of poverty (poor eating habits and a low level of education). We had difficulty finding an open restaurant later in the evening, very surprising in a country’s capital. The city is intensively marketing the Titanic, which was built there and the Game of Thrones, which was partially filmed in Northern Ireland.
The Titanic Belfast, which we did not visit.
Stained glass depictions of The Game of Thrones (I haven’t seen the tv series)
We then drove up the coast, not sure where we were headed since we had not really planned an itinerary. We first stopped on Island Magee for a short walk. We could not find any cafés there, so we continued to Cushendun, a nice fishing village where we arrived in a heavy rainstorm. We had some coffee and ordered some pie, since it looked good but was so sweet that we felt sick from it. Fortunately, the rain stopped, so we drove to Torr Head from where we could see Scotland across the water. The passage of transatlantic ships was recorded from there in the 1800s. Since it was getting late, we book a BnB in Bushmills and drove directly there, returning to the area the next day for more sightseeing and a hike.
The next day, we drove back to a Rope Bridge, a short walk to a very small island where fishermen used to go to catch salmon. Pleasant, but not something for which you need a lot of daring to cross. However, there were many overweight tourists who were struggling. I heard one say that she almost had a heart attack crossing the bridge, but it really was not dangerous.
On to Dunservick Castle, just a ruin, but from where we took a long, fantastic hike along the coast to Giant’s Causeway. The cliffs where stupendous as were the views. I had expected a lot of rain in Ireland, but we had very little overall and fantastic sunshine on that day, although it did get very windy at time. I knew the northern coast would be very special, but it even outdid my expectations.
Giant’s Causeway has very special rock formations and we were looking forward to arriving there at the end of our hike. However, there were literally thousands of tourists when we got there, so you could barely see the rocks. We got out of there quickly and drove on to Derry.
The Protestants call it Londonderry, some king having renamed it so, but it remains Derry for the majority of the population who are Catholic. Derry is quite a nice small city, but with a terrible history. We took the Bogside History Walking Tour. Our guide had been eight years old when British soldiers killed 16 peaceful protestors on Bloody Sunday. He lived in the street where it happened and saw people being shot. He spoke very quickly and passionately about the experience and pointed out places where people had been shot.
At that time, Protestants controlled the government, and only those who owned a house had the right to vote, i.e., almost no Catholics who outnumbered the Protestants but were much poorer. The police were 99% Protestant. If was very difficult for Catholics to get jobs, and most had lived in dire poverty. He had grown up in a house without running water and only an outhouse for a toilet. Their initial demonstrations for the right to vote and equal rights were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King.
He took us to the memorials for the victims of Bloody Sunday, and related how only now will one of the killers from the British army is going to face trial. We saw some of the murals depicting scenes from Bloody Sunday and some graffiti stating the revolution had not ended (small minority of Irish Republicans).
Wall murals depicting scenes from Bloody Sunday with our guide who witnesses the massacre.
Che Guevara’s grandmother was from Ireland
We liked Derry and wanted to stay another day, but the BnB we were staying out was fully booked for the next night (the same had happened in the two previously BnBs we stayed at). Consequently, we drove back into Ireland and Donegal and only noticed that we had crossed the border when distances were posted in kilometers and not miles. Who knows what they will do after Brexit, since there are 242 road crossings between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
We booked a BnB in Buncrana and took a walk along the coast, nice, but spectacular was the coast at Malin Head, the northernmost tip of Ireland. The ride along the coast there was again spectacular.
Fort Dunree, built by the British in 1813 to suppress a rebellion by the Irish
It has a very strategic position above the bay separating northwestern and northeastern Donegal, so you can understand why the fort was built here.
Mamore Gap was a mountain pass to a village at the sea, which had declared independence, because they did not want to pay taxes on their home-brewed alcohol, poitin. They defended their village against tax collectors and constables at this pass, hurling down boulders and rocks to keep tax collectors from passing through. The frequent fog and mist certainly helped to obscure the way and make government officials easy prey for the locals. The town below, Urris, remained independent for three years.
At Malin Head, the most northern point on Ireland
There was again a sign there about a movie filming that had partially taken place there, some Star Wars sequel (I only saw the very first one around 1980, but I usually don’t go to children’s movies). The mixture of Irish history in Belfast and Derry and the stunning landscapes along the coast were almost too much to digest.
Back to Dublin where we stayed in nice student dorms (Aparto Dorset), great deal for Dublin. We found a pub that we had visited years early where they had great Irish music at that time, but this time the music was rather mediocre. Next day to the Irish Immigration Museum, which depicted some of the many times that the English invaded the country, slaughtered many people, stole their land, etc. However, the second part of the museum seemed just to be bragging about what Irish had done in the world.
Fortunately, the dorms had printing facilities. We were flying with Ryanair, which charges it you want to select your seat and allocates seats far apart from each other to people who don’t pay. You can then only get your boarding card 48 hours in advance, which you have to print or pay a hefty fee. Since most people do not travel with printers, which the airline knows, this can be a problem. No leg room, huge fees for check-in baggage, not even water available free on board, but at least they were on time.
Now I need a while to digest all I experienced on the trip.
Years ago, I swore that I would never waste time with spectator sports. But I worked as a camera assistant for a couple of TV stations for a while, and we filmed at some of the games of the local soccer team. They had just moved up to the first division for the first time, which was quite a feat for such a club with little money. However, they had a very clever coach and even landed in third place their second year in the league.
The atmosphere in the stadium, which was still quite small at that time, was electrifying. I was fascinated, but for years kept telling myself that I didn’t want to waste time watching other people playing. However, finally I gave in and have had a season ticket for years.
Sports leagues in Europe have a very nice system that if a team is in one of the last places at the end of a season, it goes down a division and the top teams in the lower division move up. This creates enormous tension and excitement at the end of a season. This system moves all the way down through different leagues to the local level. Could you imagine that in North America? The Yankees or Mets regulated to the minor leagues!
Soccer will never become that popular in the USA, since there are no timeouts during which commercials can be broadcast. Basketball and American football have an increasing number of timeouts toward the end of a game when people stay glued to their televisions. It is the same as on free tv stations during a movie: at the end, when you really want to know how things turn out, they insert commercials at increasingly shorter intervals, knowing that people will stay tuned. And the marketing people have even come up with something to keep people watching commercials: contests for which are the best ones during popular games such as the Superbowl. This is really perverse, since they are trying to get people to vote for which commercial does best at manipulating themselves.
In addition, soccer is usually low scoring, which increases the tension. But many US Americans like the cheap thrills of high scoring games such as basketball and American football. The US soccer league even introduced some kind of scoring contest at the end of tied games, so that there was a winner (not sure if this still exists). How silly!
Freiburg’s soccer team and coach are the most liked in Germany according to surveys in the country. The club has one of the lowest budgets of all soccer clubs in the country, but promotes young players who then get bought by the big clubs when they do well. Freiburg also has the highest percentage of women who go to the games.
After 80 minutes of play, the score was tied at 0-0. Such a result might have been fair, but then Freiburg scored three goals within six minutes. What a way to start the season! And in all the excitement, I forgot to take a picture.
À la recherche du temps perdu
I was very surprised to hear from someone whom I had not seen for many, many years. One of our dear friends had unexpectedly passed away, and she decided that we had better have a reunion of friends from long ago while we were still alive. The reunion was arranged to take place in the Vosges Mountains in France, and I was very curious as to who would show up.
The reunion took place at the farm that we had often visited in the past, although less and less since the friends there were very busy and often did not have much time to sit and chat in the evenings with us (and they were often too exhausted then), but also because I no longer had a car to get there. Approx. 20 people showed up, half of whom I had known, but most of whom I had not seen for many years. I had mostly hung out with a different group friends in those days, but it was amusing to look at the old photos that many people had brought.
I didn’t recognize some of the people, and of course everyone looked frighteningly a lot older. I imagine that I will never see many of them again in this lifetime, which is a strange thought. But then it is the same with many high school acquaintances, with whom I had fleeting contact on facebook before I deleted by account there.
Summer will not officially end for another two weeks, but my European Summer has come to a close. Looking forward to what the fall will bring.