Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Cork: Random Thoughts & Happy Memories

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I came to Cork last September after 3 indulgent weeks, being spoiled by friends and family, a totally personal time, so way behind on blog posts and other work. It was rainy, and I holed up for 24 hours at a friend’s house, with my first decent internet connection in weeks (and the last one I had I might add there!) writing and catching up with research and social media.

We spent the next couple of days mainly driving around autumnal Co Cork. It was as green as everyone had promised it would be, and it was also as grey as that green made inevitable. It comes at a price. I knew that I had a few days coming up which would be full of note taking and snapping away, and I very much wanted to simply absorb some Irish-ness. Now, of course, I wish I’d made the odd note to help remember the meaning behind some of the snaps I have, but then again, winding down isn’t a bad thing either, and the photos aren’t that great – all that grey!

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Here are just a few, random memories:

 

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Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On

“I want to see something new and for it to ‘wow’ me, take my breath away.  I’m ready for that something new.  I’m beyond ready.” Me: sometime last year.

My whole being ached with the need for new experiences, new sights and places.  I may have written them on my Facebook page or profile. I may have written them in an email to a friend, or I may have just typed them out and kept the file, which I found just now,  to remind me. I don’t remember, but I do remember that feeling. I’m guessing that lots of you will have felt it too.

This time last year my life was very pleasant. I was living in El Médano in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, a town that I liked a lot. I was teaching ESL. I had a pleasant social life. I ran on the beach in the morning. I was writing pretty much as much as I am writing now. For the first time in a long time both of my sons had landed jobs they really loved, and were looking forward to exciting things in the months ahead.

I was 66, and my life could have gone on that way forever. But, pleasant as it was, did a lifetime of same old, same old really appeal to me? Of course it didn’t! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been able to travel, if you were born with wanderlust, as so many of us are, then you can never settle down. You actually need to keep moving around, to challenge yourself, both mentally and physically.

I've loved El Médano. I couldn't have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

I’ve loved El Médano. I couldn’t have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

“To Dream the Impossible Dream” Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (or at least lyricist Joe Darion!)

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Tasca Telémaco: A Story of Wanderings and Food

I’d spent a month wandering and eating royally when I arrived on La Gomera in mid October. I’d eaten moules in France, game pie and pulled pork in London, Cumberland sausage in the English Lake District, and fresh seafood, fish and lamb in Ireland, and capped it off by scoffing the season’s first spiced pumpkin latte in Dublin airport. Safe to say I was stuffed, and not at all fazed by the prospect of living for a few months on a small island where I expected plain, sturdy country food.

Certainly, my expectations have been met. In Hermigua there is no Chinese restaurant, no pizzeria and definitely no sushi. There are excellent, traditional foods, cheeses to-die-for, meat and chickpea stews, palm honey and almogrote (more about those soon), and all the traditional Spanish and Canarian tapas, plus, I recently discovered in this chilly winter, watercress soup,  but my first eating experience was not what I’d expected.

On my second day, I wandered down to the tasca owned by the family whose apartment I am renting, and ordered a tapa of mushrooms. I expected what is usual in the Canary Islands, a small dish, reeking of garlic, in which mushrooms float in a sea of oil. It’s a greasy dish (albeit olive oil, so not as bad as it sounds), which you have to be in the mood for. However, what I got was a generous plate of sliced mushrooms, fanned out, and definitely not resting in grease. They were fresh and garlicky with an aromatic touch of cilantro, and each mouthful was sheer delight. I realized with both alarm (I’d planned on “dieting” whilst here!), and satisfaction, that I wasn’t going to be on a diet of cheese and chickpeas in Hermigua.

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In fact, sitting there on the outside terrace, in Tasca Telémaco, sunlight filtering through the bamboo shade, listening to the faint sounds of cocks crowing and goats’ bells along the valley,  it seemed like such a natural extension of the good life I’d been living that I’m pretty sure that I slipped into the sort of trance enjoyed by the lotus eaters.

 

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First of New Series: Expat Interviews: Chatting with Travelers: Val

Starting today I’m doing an occasional series of chats with people who choose to live, let’s say – not where they were born. They may be constant travelers, expats, snowbirds or maybe some combination, or even defy a label.

Living abroad, or traveling isn’t that unusual any longer. I’m interested in stories that are a bit different. If they are travelers: the reasons they chose an unconventional lifestyle, what they are learning from it, what they do along the way.  If they are expats: people who have begun a business they would never have dreamed of doing back home, launched themselves into new careers, or into relationships with challenges, or who have faced unexpected problems in their new country.

My friend, Val, falls into the latter category. I’ve known her since 2005 when we worked together. She’d been inviting me to come watch the choir in which she sings perform for, oh, must be a couple of years, but our timing only coincided for the first time last year. I was so impressed with their performance. I knew that Val had had to overcome health problems since living on the island, and it struck me how, despite that, she has carved out her own niche here.

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

I’ve had this post almost done for a while. Since it’s my first “interview” – although I think I like the word chat better – I’ve been editing it and hesitating but earlier today I found out that yesterday Val celebrated 10 years of living on the Canary Island of Tenerife ….. so it seemed like the perfect date to publish!

 

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Playing Hooky to Celebrate the Sunshine!

This isn’t the piece I intended to post today. You could say this is spontaneous. Spontaneous is what I did today. Spontaneous is probably the biggest difference between a blog and, say, a magazine article, at least if one’s own blog. Sponteous probably describes my current lifestyle….at least it should do.

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I should be better-organized, but a glimpse of sunshine and I felt like a kid on vacation! After sitting at my dining table, which doubles as my desk, for two hours, watching the day brighten outside my window, I couldn’t take it any longer. Afterall, hadn’t I spent hours when I was tied to boring jobs wishing I could be outdoors and longing for the freedom to improvise my life?

So I bundled Trixy into the van and set off, with no plan whatsoever. My direction was dictated only by the need to put gas in the car. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I needed to seize this glorious day.

The sun doesn’t warm the valley until late these winter mornings. It highlights the hillsides, teases through the gaps between the mountains, but doesn’t rise high enough to reach all the nooks until mid-morning. As we left the gas station it seemed that the last chill was evaporating, and the day began to glow.

This post is simply the story of me playing hooky. There is no deep meaning to it. It’s a photo essay of a crystal clear, blue/green day.

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Is This the Friendliest Hotel in the World?

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I’m a mugwump, as you will know if you’ve read this blog before. That is, I often can’t make a decision about what I prefer: city or countryside? Italian food or Moroccan? Trains or boats? B & Bs or 5-Star hotels?

That last one? That’s the issue here. Generally, B & Bs are great for getting to know your fellow travellers, for feeling “at home,” yet big hotels offer crisp sheets every night, good food, and that touch of luxury which is so good for body and soul from time to time.

What if you could get the best of both worlds? You could say that I’ve spent a lifetime looking, for that magical combination, but never quite found it – until a few months back on a lonesome stretch of lake in Co Donegal, Ireland.

What if you had staff who are as friendly as the staff in your local pub, but do everything with the finesse of perfectly trained 5* staff? What if your room was twice the size of my current apartment, with the sort of furnishings that grace expensive country houses, and a bathroom that belongs in a James Bond movie? What if dinner was fit for the best restaurant in London, and breakfast fit for royalty? What if, as you walk from room to room on the ground floor gleaming woodwork and friendly peat fires make you feel welcome? You must be dreaming, did you say?

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Answer is, no I’m not. The name of this little chunk of paradise is Harvey’s Point on Lough Eske in Co. Donegal, Ireland.

Obviously, I’m not in the first flush of youth, so I’ve experienced a fair few hotels over the years, including some well-known names, and Harvey’s Point surpassed them all.

We were a fairly bedraggled group when we arrived. We’d been battered by ocean and by wind, admiring the heights of Slieve League, and watching dolphins play as we drifted alongside in open boats. Frankly, I was tired, and my mind was running more towards hot baths and warm beds than anything else. We were running late, not unusual when you unite bloggers with stunning scenery and photo ops, but our welcome from proprietor, Deidre McGlone was as warm as if we’d arrived on the dot. (I actually suspect that time runs along the same parallel in Ireland as it does in the Canary Islands, which is slightly off from the norm.)

As we stepped into the warmth of the lobby, I was a little disappointed to learn that we had only a short time to spruce up for dinner (a wave had washed over the boat, and me, at one point, in other words no time to wash my salt-encrusted hair!) When I saw my bathroom that disappointment became bitter. Not because I wasn’t hungry, but because the bathroom was an absolute fantasy; a corner Jacuzzi, (which I knew I dared not step into at that moment, for I surely wouldn’t have got out in time for dinner!); a huge shower, which I enjoyed for as long as manners dictated I might, without being too late for dinner; and a full make-up mirror with lights to delight a Las Vegas showgirl. It was crying out to be used, enjoyed, wallowed in, perhaps even all evening!

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Here’s where I have to tell you that this type of photography is no way my forte. My photos do not capture the sheer size of the space, although I think you can see the quality of the classic furnishings. The huge bed was easily as comfortable as it looked, and though I was alone, I liked the reading lights on the headboard, in addition to bedside lights, so if you like to read in bed, or check your messages you can do so without disturbing your partner. Oh, and the desk? Perfect. I could have worked there forever.

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All this said, it wasn’t simply the quality of my surroundings, nor the comfort which truly impressed so much as the seemingly endless small things, like the books and magazines, the variety of stuff in the mini bar, the bathroom toiletries, the clothes’ brush, the shoe horn – I have never been anywhere before where I felt that all my needs had been anticipated. Well, not just my needs, but even my whims too, seemed to be catered for.

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Perhaps the fact that this hotel is owned by a family that is part Irish and part Swiss that explains this extraordinary mesh of luxury and friendliness. That has to be the perfect recipe, when you think about it, doesn’t it?

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There is a story – of course, and it is, in part, a love story. Well, maybe two love stories.

The first is the falling in love with this haunting landscape of a young Swiss man. So much so that he decided to make his home in Donegal. His name was Jody Gysling. If you look at the pictures on the hotel’s website, you may why he was inspired to create this hotel.  Seen from across the lough, a view I didn’t see, it looks very Swiss, snow capping the hills behind.

Back when Jody arrived, it was a cottage, by the lake, owned by two farmers, brothers, named Harvey, hence the name. The Gysling family bought it and set about creating a hotel, which opened in 1989 with twenty bedrooms. Today it boasts 74, plus an elegant dining room with lake views, cosy but elegant bars and a ballroom. But take a look at their website for details.

My friend and fellow blogger, Alison from The Chino House, holding a picture of the original house

My friend and fellow blogger, Alison from The Chino House, holding a picture of the original house

The second story concerns Jody’s brother, Marc, who came one summer to help run the family business. That particular summer a young lady named Deidre had begun a summer job as receptionist in the hotel – you guessed it – this is the same Deidre McGlone who had greeted us when we arrived. They fell in love, with each other – and with the hotel I think. 24 years on it’s an idyllic setting, perfect for romance.

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My biggest disappointment is that I didn’t truly see it in daylight. We arrived at dusk, and left whilst the day was still too young to do justice to any outdoor photos.

Dinner that night was 5 Star and sophisticated. Genuine smoked salmon was not the florescent pink seen in supermarkets; with just a hint of pink, the taste was, well, smoky, bringing wood fires and wilderness to every morsel. My main course lamb was flavorsome, rich and original – I didn’t want the course to end ….. until, of course, it came to a rich, chocolate desert – well, Swiss, remember!

Breakfast was, quite simply, a feast. We had the advantage of being in the dining room early before the buffet had been picked over, when the fruit looked as if it had just arrived from some tropical island, and the fresh breads smelled heavenly. My personal rule, when not at home (where I endeavor to eat as healthily as I can….hmmm) is to eat a huge breakfast, and to eat whatever is local. So, of course, in Ireland, in addition to bacon and eggs there had to be black pudding; but not only black but white pudding too. That was a new one on me. If there had been more time I would surely have allowed the chef to make me an omelette of my choice, but, alas, we had a schedule to keep!

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The walls of the ground floor are filled with pictures of the hotel as it was, and of the family over the years. Animals feature in many of the photos, and apparently when it was a smaller establishment there were several pets around to make you feel at home, although now there is just Harvey, the pet goose, who was having his lonely breakfast as we left. What I learned is that they are a pet-friendly destination. The ground floor rooms with French windows are available for folk traveling with their pets. Just how cool is that – to find a hotel of this quality where you best friend can come too?

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I left reluctantly, impressed by the fact that, despite the early hour, Deidre McGlone turned out again to see us on our way, despite her busy schedule (looking very elegant too, by the way – just how does she manage it?). Let’s face it, we were pretty much sold on the hotel by then anyway. It was something she hadn’t needed to do. Even if it had only been as half as good I would have been. Yet this attention to detail is probably the thing that makes Harvey’s Point extra special. I would guess that they are always willing and prepared to go the extra mile, to conjure up a guest’s desires before the guest has even thought of them, and do all of it with a warmth rare in the hotel business. When Deidre talked about the staff being a family, I totally believed it. It’s only when you have that ambience between personnel that it can be passed on to guests.

I’m not the only one to think so, either. Just last week Harvey’s Point was one of only 25 hotels in the world to feature in Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards as one of the best in the world.

Here is where I tell you that, yes, I was a guest at Harvey’s Point, when on the FAM trip with Fáilte Ireland, and also that I had only one night to spend there, but I hope you know me well enough to know that, when I say I was overwhelmed by this charming hotel, I speak the truth, so help me *insert name of your chosen deity.*

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Playa Santa Catalina: My New Office

I’ve been almost reluctant to write about La Gomera. My idea of slow travel is to gather information and get under the skin of a place, and even after 3 months here I wonder if I have done that.

In a sense I have, because I’ve been living a fairly ordinary life, working, strolling, shopping, getting to know folk, making bars my “locals”. In another sense, that works against me. Isn’t it just fitting into a predictable, day-to-day pattern, and isn’t that what I am anxious to avoid? I haven’t been doing nearly the amount of research I should have done, or at least that’s how I feel. Can sufficient research ever be done? Even after over 20 years in Tenerife I was still learning, and there is a ton of stuff I don’t know about my hometown back in England.

Of course this is how it should be. We should never stop learning. However, a cautionary word; master storyteller, Stephen King, remarks via one of his characters, that:

“ Al had taken away the scholar’s greatest weakness: calling hesitation research.”

Playa Santa Catalina from La Punta Mirador

When I arrived here in mid October it was to an idyllic scene, and I, floating on the euphoria of wonderful times in France, and London, and Ireland, embraced it, and continued to float.

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