Three Days in Dublin – The Detour

About a month ago, I finally fulfilled one of my lifelong travel dreams and visited Dublin, Ireland. I am not ashamed to admit that I have been dreaming of Ireland for years. I don’t really know where it all started, but there was definitely a time in my early teens when a friend and I went halfsies on a “teach yourself Gaelic” CD set that we listened to for hours on end in her tree house. I also had VHS tapes of all the PBS Irish Tenors specials I managed to catch.

Yes, I was a teen obsessed. 

Unfortunately, the only phrase I still remember is “Cad é atá an focal Gaeilge ar…?” Which, if you’re going to remember only one, is a good one, since it means “What’s the Gaelic word for…?”

Anyway, when I realised that one of my musician acquaintances was going to be playing a show in Dublin during a week-long grad school break, I knew it was a sign. Finally, I would visit Ireland, and maybe try out that one Gaelic phrase!

I found a fantastic deal on train/ferry tickets from London to Dublin on sailrail.co.uk and before I knew it, was on my way.

Now, you should know that one of the persistent sources of anxiety for me when traveling is the fear that I’ll miss whatever transportation I am using and be stuck somewhere, watching said transportation fade into the distance. The thing is, it’s actually a legitimate concern for me because it has happened more than once.

photo credit http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plik:Holyhead_station1.jpg
photo credit wikipedia.org

This trip was going to be easy though. Train, one hour stop in Holyhead to wait for the ferry, take the ferry, arrive in Dublin.

How hard could that be?

Not hard at all, you would say. One change, an entire hour to walk from one end of the Holyhead station to the other, all 100 meters or less of it, mere child’s play, you would say.

And I would say that you don’t know just how good I am at missing my connections. It has taken years of experience to hone this skill, and it was put on its best display on the way to Dublin. I managed to miss the single easiest connection I have probably ever had.

Needless to say, I was really, really mad at myself.

Missing connections is just a huge pain for many reasons, not the least of which is potential costly re-bookings, which I have had to do a few times (though thankfully not this time). Once I calmed myself down with the realisation that this mistake would cost me no money and just a few hours, I realised that this could actually turn out to be a fun little adventure, like some other missed connections in the past have turned out. I have seen things I wouldn’t have stopped for otherwise and have been able to slow down a bit and take things in. And ultimately, a little adventure is way better than sitting, pouting in a boarding area for hours.

So, I had a day in Holyhead.

A short walk from the station, across the bridge, and we were right in the middle of Holyhead, one of the most charming little towns I have ever seen. The streets are winding and narrow and impeccably clean, with cozy little shops and cafes throughout. I had also seen some old-looking buildings from a distance while crossing the bridge and found them almost immediately.

KHolyHeadThe beautiful, medieval church St. Cybi, overlooks the port and stands on the location of a  monastery founded in 540 AD. It was a desperately cold and windy day with weather changes every few minutes, but we still hung around outside the church for quite a while, taking photos, reading little information placards, and looking at old gravestones.

HolyHeadPanIsn’t that a beautiful building? And those clouds! I swear, it’s straight our of a Lord of the Rings still, if on the wrong continent.

HolyHeadOnce we had thoroughly frozen ourselves, we headed back into the centre, stopping by a candy stall at the market to pick up some chocolates and listen for a bit to the accordionist playing outside local coffee shop.

It picturesque, really – the town, the old buildings, the wind and clouds – and we would never have seen them had we not missed that ferry. Though I certainly wouldn’t recommend intentionally missing flights and such, there is a lot to be said for rolling with it, setting aside your frustration, and just taking it all in.

I tend to be a worrier about travel, and I was certainly upset when I realised what had happened, but while walking around that lovely town, looking at beautiful old buildings and munching on chocolates, I was reminded of just why it is that I travel. Certainly, the destination is a reason, but it’s the journey there as well that keeps me going. It is all the things I stumble upon, the people I meet, and the unexpected surprises that always seem to come out of missed connections, wrong turns, and mistakes.

And who knows? Now that I have wet my appetite for Holyhead, and Wales in general, I just might go back, but on purpose next time.

How about you? Have you ever missed a connection or had an unexpected detour and ended up with a nice little unplanned adventure? I’d love to hear about it.

Stay tuned for the next part of the Dublin trip, which actually takes place in Dublin! Yes, we did finally make our ferry and get to Ireland.

Just a Bit of London Slang

Since I am originally from the United States, a move to London was a bit of a relief after living in the DRC for a year because I knew I would be able to speak English for the most part rather than mangle French for a year like I had in Congo.

However, every region has its own English and London is no exception. I really enjoyed this little video, Living the Slanguage, and its charming explanations of London slang.



Hello 2014!

What a year this has been!

I will be writing a recap of 2013 post in the next few days, but wanted to drop in to say Happy New Year and let you have a little look at what I was up to on New Year’s Eve.

After debating the merits of watching from Parliament Hill, near my apartment, watching streaming online at home with a big pot of tea, or heading downtown into the thick of the celebrations, I decided to go big this year and went with Ryan and our two guests into central London with 300,000 other Londoners to watch the fireworks display over the Thames at midnight. Crazy for sure. That is a LOT of people!

But was it worth it?


Well, what do you think?

I took the tube to Embankment at around 8 in the evening, in hopes of getting a good view, and was swept along with the crowd down the Strand to Waterloo bridge.

NYE2014They were huge crowds, far bigger than anything I have experienced before, but everyone was in a great mood – laughing, singing, riding on shoulders, and high-fiving metropolitan police guiding us along.

NYE2014-2We found the perfect spot in the middle of the bridge with beautiful views across the Thames to the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.

I had packed some sandwiches and leftover Christmas mince pies, and plenty of hot tea and hot toddies to keep us warm. There was music and dancing everywhere and plenty to keep us occupied during the three hour wait. I watched a pushup contest between two guys dressed up like Batman and Superman, sang along with the thousands of other people on the bridge to the terrible One Direction songs on the loudspeakers, and had a contest with Ryan to name the most US state capitals.

Time flew by so quickly, with all the madness and celebration going on around us, and next thing we knew

NYE2014-326 seconds left in 2013! The crowds counted along… 3, 2, 1…


Fireworks coordinated with Big Ben sounding at midnight. One burst when it struck one. Two for two, three for three, the suspense!


And straight into the most incredible show I have ever seen.

NYE2014-5The fireworks lasted for a full ten minutes, coordinated with the music that played throughout. It was truly beautiful, reflected on the Thames and lighting up all of downtown London, and beyond anything I have ever seen.


If you’d like to see the entire display, check out this BBC1 video. The helicopter views over London are breathtaking.

Well done, London, and what a great start to 2014!


How about you? What did you do for New Year’s Eve? Did you go out for a big fireworks show, party with friends, have a quiet night in? I’d love to hear about it.

Also, if you have any family or regional New Year’s traditions, I’d love to hear about them as well.

Happy New Year!


Christmas Chatter with Jingle Belle Jackson

Now, I know that Christmas is over for this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about it!

I wanted to let you know about a little Christmas interview I had with Jingle Belle Jackson on her blog on Christmas Eve. I talk about Christmas as an expat, a few of the Christmas habits I have picked up over the course of my travels, and, most importantly, what my elf name would be.

Take a look at the post and the JBJ blog, which is a fun haven of Christmas chatter year-round.

Christmas time at last

I can’t believe Christmas is almost here, though our advent calendar confirms it. Only one more day to open!

adventI will be celebrating here in North London with Ryan. I made mincemeat a few weeks ago, and it is smelling amazing and perfectly ready for the mincemeat pies I will be making tomorrow. Skype conversations with family have been scheduled and plans are in the works for a nice mushroom shepherd’s pie for Christmas dinner.

But most importantly, I will have a couple of days holiday to relax, celebrate, and enjoy a very London Christmas.

Happy Christmas!


A Countryside Ceilidh

As a musician, obviously whenever I move somewhere new, one of the first things I do is try to find other musicians. It’s not usually too hard. Musicians tend to stick together and know everyone else, it seems. In Congo, everyone I met played one instrument or another and was happy to spend hours talking about favourite musicians and songs. I loved being invited over for all-day porch jams where I learned how to attempt Congolese rumba on my banjo, though I never did quite catch on to complex rhythms.

Once I moved to London, I knew I had to find other musicians here as well, especially because I have been interested in folk from the British Isles for years and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn while actually living here! Luckily for me, my school has a ceilidh band, which I learned about during the first week of school. I dragged my feet about joining for a rehearsal, mostly because I was so overwhelmed with the huge tasks of getting back into academia and finding and moving into a flat. However, once I no longer felt totally overwhelmed, my accordion and I jumped right in.

The band is really more of a loose organisation of students that plays  from an enormous repertoire of old English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish music for several hours one evening each week rather than a proper band. Whoever shows up plays, and whoever doesn’t show up just receives a healthy dose of good-natured ridicule the next week before the rehearsal. We play shows and dances at the school and have quite a few paying gigs throughout England scheduled for the year as well.

The first traveling gig took place just not long ago and really, what a night! Since I have only been in London for a couple of months, I hadn’t had a chance to get out of the city and see the countryside yet, which made this gig especially exciting.


With instruments in tow, we boarded a train headed south into Kent and in thirty minutes, found ourselves in the village of Meopham, home to this gorgeous 14th century church where the gig and dance were held.

Meopham2Obviously, the building isn’t all original – and I was certainly glad for that in-floor heating while we were setting up. I can’t imagine trying to play in one of those old stone churches without heating.

Meopham3The dance went on for almost three hours, though with plenty of breaks for food, because three hours is a crazy long time to play ceilidh music. If you know anything about jigs, reels, and such, you know that the majority are quite fast and quite frankly exhausting. Thankfully, we were well kept in cheese and such and had a nice couple of hours in the local pub, which looked straight out of a Midsomer Murders, to look forward to.

In the end, it’s not just the music itself that makes it so important for me to find other musicians in new places. It’s what I get to experience and see through those connections that makes it so important as well. I never would have ended up in this little village with its beautiful buildings and warm hospitality had I not joined up with the band, nor would I be learning so much great music and getting to enjoy this small, brilliantly fun little slice of life in the UK.




All’s Quiet on the London Front

Just so you aren’t worrying about me and my absence from the blog, this has been my view for the last few days – the SOAS library:


Indeed, it is the last week of term, so it’s nose to the grindstone, head down in the books, and, alas, a little two-day break in the middle to get over a cold that I may or may not have picked up from sharing a lovely bottle of red with the rest of my band after a particularly fun gig we played in Kent last week.

But never fear, more posts are soon to come, and until then, you can enjoy this little view of what I am told is the world’s most extensive library collection of books on and from Africa. It also happens to have an incredible collection of Japanese and Chinese art, which regularly distracts me from what I should be working on.

to travel, to learn, to explore


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