Discovering Donegal

And so, we are in Ireland.  Precisely, at the time I’m writing this we’re somewhere in the countryside between Donegal and Galway. Having bussed our way through the North from Dublin to Donegal on Wednesday afternoon, I’m taking a break from watching green fields dotted with cattle and sheep and the occasional pony in order to catch up on blogging and photo editing.  When I need time to collect my thoughts into some coherent expression, the rolling grey clouds above patchwork greens provides a calming focal point for my wild, excited mind.

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We stayed in Donegal two nights and one full day, arriving in the early evening of Wednesday and leaving late this Friday morning.  True to stereotype, it’s been rainy the whole time; on-and-off at the very best during the daytime and rather steadily once evening sets in.

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Abbey ruins provide a unique site for a cemetery, and this one actually also looks over the water.

Nonetheless, we’ve made quite a solid go of Ireland so far. I’ve even managed to find a little piece of Ireland for everyone back home on my souvenirs list, including a small token for my boyfriend’s parents so that I won’t arrive empty-handed when I finally get to meet them in October. As for my own self, a pop into a shop just off the main square (called The Diamond) called Wool’n’Things yielded two skeins of fine, locally grown-and-spun Donegal tweed in heather purple and forest green, and a pair of crimson wristlets of the same woollen tweed to wear over Pharmaprix HotPaws gloves back home in Montreal this winter.  I much preferred Wool’n’Things to the other larger souvenir shops on The Diamond proper, mostly because the old proprietor of Wool’n’Things indulged my curiosity to learn more about Donegal wool and brought me back into the storeroom to help me find end-of-batch skeins to buy and knit up myself once I’m home.

Staying in a proper Irish bed-and-breakfast is also something I highly recommend when you get it into your head to visit a small town over here and really want a “local” experience.  Forego the larger hotels in the town centres and find yourself a place like Haywood’s B&B that’ll serve you a full Irish breakfast and provide you with insider opinions on where to go and what to buy in town.  At Haywood’s in particular, an en-suite room provided us a lovely balance of privacy when we needed downtime when paired with chatting in the common dining room with other guests and the proprietors during the course of breakfast.

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Visit the Olde Castle Bar for hearty fare (like wild venison pie or the pub staple of fish-and-chips) and a pint of Donegal Brewing Co’s Red Hugh Pale Ale, or pop into Dom’s Pier One for live Irish music every night of the summer season, a bowl of seafood chowder caught off the coast just a few miles down, and a pint of more Donegal Brewing Co’s craft beer (the Atlantic Amber Ale comes highly recommended).

But most importantly, while you’re in Donegal make sure to take a stroll along the Blue Stack Way, and best be sure to take it at a leisurely pace.  Rugged wild Ireland is, after all, a place of mysteries and old ways; you never know when you might bump into them.

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“…for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

Leonardo, writing in Italy on the subject of man taking flight, was still right:  once you’ve been somewhere and found more of yourself and your heart outside of wherever you call “home,” you’ll always want to go back.

And so it is with Sweden.  A few days now into Ireland and I’m still catching up with photo editing and journalling, and therefore still stuck on Sweden particularly in terms of my writing.  My heart is happy to be on the Emerald Isle at long last, but it’s also already yearning to beat once again in time with Swedens’s old, wise heart.  Luckily for me, my other half is looking forward to coming along next time, and I’ll only be too happy to oblige and indulge his own curiosities by bringing him back to places in Stockholm and Falun that I found and fell in love with on my own.

After returning to Stockholm from our weekend “at home” in Falun, we spent much of our time once again in Gamla Stan as well as Djugården Island, the former to revisit some of the more interesting and peculiar shops we’d discovered on our first outing as well as to visit the Kungligastottet (the Royal Palace) and the latter to see the Vasa Museum. We were blessed once more with beautiful weather and countless more discoveries and little marvels along the way.

As we drive now through a rainy Irish countryside to make more memories and gain new experiences of the world, images of “my” Stockholm keep a firm hold on the pieces of my heart that I found there.  I say “my” Stockholm for the way it was when I first walked upon its venerable stones will never be that way again; I will return to this northern city more knowledgeable of its ways and privy to some of its secrets, and I’m sure I will always find something new to love there — but it will be like coming back to a familiar friend who has also grown and changed in the interim, and therefore Stockholm as she showed herself to me when I first met her will always be uniquely mine.

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View of Strandvägen from Djurgårdsbron, the bridge that takes you from Stockholm proper into Djurgården.

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Stockholm, you are beautiful! 

 

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One of the quirkier shops in Gamla Stan. We don’t know its name or how anyone manages to find something to buy in here or how it’s still open. It’s as if everyone in Sweden came with a box from the attic and dumped it out in this shop.

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One of my favourite window displays ever, in any city I’ve ever been in!  A candy shop called Polkagris Kokeri in Gamlastsan (Lilla Nygatan 10) combines old books, vintage luggage, and greenery with their home-made candies and confections to create an eye-catching, whimsical, and utterly beautiful display.  @gamlastanpolkagriskokeri on Instagram for photos, and http://www.gamlastanpolkagriskokeri.se for more info.

A weekend at “home”

Early on Saturday morning, my travelling companion and I boarded a train at Stockholm Central that was heading for the town of Falun.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who fly Stockholm, especially for the first time, don’t necessarily plan on taking two days out of their trip to Sweden’s capital to go see a town two hours out into the countryside, but we did — because a very old, very dear, and very special friend of mine lives there.

I’ve known him for more than half my life, yet this weekend was the first time we ever actually met face-to-face. But from the first hello and long-expected hug to the last good-bye and one last hug to last us until next time, I felt like I had gone home for the weekend.

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Not actually outside his place, but rather by the entrance of an adorable little bed-and-breakfast in the former miners’ district near the Falun Mine. Half of them were torn down in the 1960s or thereabouts, and the half that survived are now cosy, but rather pricey, homes for Falun families.  The horse figure here is actually known as the Dala Häst, or Dalarna Horse, and is a prevalent souvenir option for sale in Swedish gift shops.

Not only is there a lovely old soul in this town, but the town itself is also a lovely old soul.  We three spent most of our waking hours talking and walking through Falun on impromptu tours from his apartment to the Falu Gruva (the Falun Mine) or through church graveyards (the “Old Church” couldn’t contain the town’s population at one point, so sometime in the early half of the 1600s construction began on the “New Church”).  All along the way, we were walking in the middle of the town’s streets flanked on either side by quiet houses, many of which were painted in failuröd – a distinct reddish-brown shade of paint made from the run-off of the Mines that’s composed of iron ochre, flour, and oil.

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“We haven’t really seen many people…so…what are all the Swedish people doing on a Sunday?” — “Mostly…minding their own business.”

After the hectic day-and-a-half journey from Montreal to Stockholm and a long amble through Gamla Stan, our weekend in Falun really was a lovely escape that brought us right into the tranquil, beautiful heart of Sweden and her people.  But the best part of all was finally having the chance to spend time with two of the best, most wonderful friends anyone could ever ask for, including one whose heart of gold was the reason why I insisted we trek out to this small town whose heart beats thanks to copper.

It’s strange how a place so far from where you live can feel familiar even though it’s entirely new to you.  Part of the reason was that as we were walking through Falun he was telling us the town’s story, and how intimately he knows and how deeply he loves his home came through in the narrative he gave of its old, long life.  There’s something truly transformative and magical about having a tour guide with personal connections to you as well as to the town, instead of one who’s just paid to do it as a job.  The other part of it was that, having known and talked to him for more than half my life, any conversation to be had over the weekend was merely a face-t0-face continuation of a stream of chatter that’s continuously flowed since some time in 2002.

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Maybe not everyone is as lucky as I am to be able to “go home for the weekend” while on vacation abroad, but certainly if you’ve got a long haul in Sweden it’s worth it to take a train into Falun and take in the many little marvels (as well as the one grand marvel that is the Falu Gruva) it has to show you.  I’m highly aware of how fortunate I am to have many reasons to go back to Falun on my next journey into Sweden, and how one of them can give me a hug when I set foot back in this beautiful town again.  I’ve found a big piece of myself on its quiet streets and in its unbroken, dramatic sky, and I’m sure there’s more to find down the road.

Hej från Sverige!

Earlier this year when I realized it had been six years since I last had an actual vacation that was longer than four or five days off work, I decided to take a full two weeks off Job1 and a full three off Job2 to get the hell outta Dodge for a while and talked one of my best friends into skipping town with me.

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And now here I am now in Sweden; next week, I’ll be in Ireland.

Getting across the Atlantic was no trouble at all.  The overnight flight from Montreal to Paris was a breeze, because I’m one of those special people who can fall asleep within an hour if they play no active role whatsoever in the process of moving the vehicle in question forward.  I fell asleep somewhere between Newfoundland and Iceland on a plane flying in complete darkness, and then woke up halfway over England with bright sunshine streaming into the cabin and a flight attendant pulling up alongside my row with coffee and banana bread.

Getting through Charles-de-Gaulle was a production and a half, though all was well in the end with the reward of a cappuccino and a tartelette-aux-pommes  at the gate while we waited for our SAS flight to Arlanda.  Once in the air, I again slept for most of the flight, waking up just in time to see our plane break through the cloud cover and catch my first glimpse of Sweden through the tiny window.  Seeing all that green space, broken by tawny patches of fields and glossy swathes of blue-grey water, made my heart soar ever higher as we got closer to the ground.

My first footsteps on Swedish ground were on the airport’s tarmac as I came off the exit ramp of the small SAS bird and crossed into the Arlanda terminal.  A few hours later, walking back with my companion from the grocery store to our cosy Airbnb rental, my Fitbit buzzed on my wrist to tell me I’d completed my daily goal of 12 000 steps (which might just indicate how much we had to walk even in spite of being stuck in airplanes for 10 hours today).

It’s so exhilarating to finally be travelling after so many years of hoping and dreaming and scraping together enough to get here.  I’m so excited to finally be meeting friends who I’ve known for half my life in both Sweden and Ireland, yet never yet met with in person.  Funnily enough, when we were waiting to leave YUL yesterday, I saw on my “On This Day” Facebook feed that exactly three years before, I had pulled the following fortune out of a fortune cookie after eating dumplings with the very same friend with whom I’m travelling now:

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I’m glad I was finally able to make good on the promise I made to myself that day:  that before I left my 20s, I would make this dream vacation reality.  And so, hey från Sverige and stay tuned for updates as we go through Stockholm, Danderyd, and Falun this next week!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

And I’m back!

So sorry that I had to step out for a while — I was swamped with the stuff of life swirling around me, and I had to extract myself from the blog universe for a while to come up with a writing plan that will (hopefully) enable me to write regularly and make this endeavour a truly serious effort.

I’m back with a new look, a new outlook, and a renewed sense of purpose for my writing. I’ve figured out ways to tell you some of the stories I’ve been wanting to tell for so long. I can’t wait to get started, so stay tuned for a post tomorrow evening!

Going on Hiatus

But not for very long 🙂  Just for a couple of weeks!  I’ll be back on March 19…with a new image, new posts, and maybe even a new domain name.

I’ll still try to fill the silence with brief updates on my Facebook page, Demipinte (the blog) — and that’s also where you’ll find all the new info regarding the new website.

See you soon!

In Pursuit of Happiness, #7:  Hashtag Games, Collaborations, and Music (in a way)

I’m terribly late with this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness,” but with a giant French exam (for my business bilingualism certification) this week and a new online literature course to contend with, in addition to stepping up to double-time at the gym (thanks, twelve-week transformation challenge and Spartan Race training), I’m going a little easier on myself about missing a self-imposed deadline. After all, this time it wasn’t laziness, forgetfulness, or a combination of the two that caused me to miss Monday’s post.

Seeing how this is late enough, I’ll leave my excuses/explanations there and just get down to the heart of the matter.

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Hashtag Games: My re-introduction to the Twittersphere has put me in touch with some pretty awesome people so far, the latest being the hilarious and lovely Andi (@iheartwerebears). Because of this lady, I have been laughing my way through otherwise dull days. In addition to posting various Vines and “The Tatooine Diaries,” in which she plays an exchange student who spent a year on Tatooine, she spends much of her online time bringing out the übergeek in many other Tweeple by engaging us in hashtag games.  Right now we’re in the middle of #jurassicparklife but the first one (which I actually won, because apparently it was a contest) was #badstarwarsjobs.  (FYI I think I won on account of citing “Hutt Massage Therapist.”)

I might be a little too enthusiastic about proving that I know these movies well enough to make jokes about them in less than 140 characters, but that’s the beauty of hashtag games. They’re an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge of something other than what any given (per)mutation of the Kardashian clan is currently doing to supposedly rock the world, with the added bonus of making other nerds laugh. It’s great.

Fantastic geekiness aside, though, I actually genuinely like Andi and am really looking forward to connecting with her more and more over social media. I seriously don’t know how she has time to do all of this (because in addition to being highly active on Twitter and Vine, she’s also a mom of a couple of super cute toddlers as well as an author and crafter), but the fact that she does all this and still manages to connect with her followers makes me pretty happy.

Collaborations: Speaking of connecting with people, I have a unique privilege at Job2 of having very talented colleagues in all kinds of artistic and creative fields. From other writers to photographers to musicians to aspiring filmmakers to dancers and just about everything in between, I feel extremely blessed and humbled to be in contact with so many beautiful minds.

It’s about darn time I collaborated with some of these people, having worked with many of them for almost five years now, and I’m extremely excited to say that 2016 will be the year it finally happens. I won’t give away any details yet except to say that in one project, I’ll be combining my newfound love for calligraphy and typography with a friend’s photography skills and in another, I’ll finally be getting back into music again. So sit tight and watch this spot (or my Twitter or Instagram accounts) for what’s going on!

Music (in a way): If you were to create a Venn diagram of my closest social circle based on music I’m pretty sure I’d be in the middle of it all where everything overlaps. My Apple Music is a musically globetrotting eccentricity and that’s mainly due to the fact that in addition to having a diverse and steady diet of music when I was younger, my best friends are all, to different extents, judgey-ass nerds when it comes to what they listen to on a daily basis. I pick and choose what I like from their various recommendations, staunchly stand by the artists I love even if nobody else likes them, and generally enjoy all the discussions – even the heated ones – that arise from such artistic diversity.  Given that I recently got a 1-year subscription to Apple Music as a gift, you can probably imagine just how over the moon I am right now about having all this music available to me.

This week, though, what’s making me happy regarding this isn’t a new discovery or even a rediscovery of a band I haven’t listened to in a while, or even the subscription present (though I am totally grateful and appreciative of it for sure).  It’s not even a remotely stimulating or intelligent debate about music, though I’m sure there have been enough of those in my life to constitute a separate blog post on the subject.

It’s the fact that after exchanges like this, where I surreptitiously poke fun at his extremely underground preferences by making references to bands he shuns, the biggest and most judgmental music nerd in my life still tolerates my existence enough to still be one of my closest friends.

 

(FYI, he later admitted that off the top of his head he was 1-for-3 on the Bon Jovi  references I made.)

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Don’t forget to take note of what’s making your life happier and brighter, and come back next Monday when I’ll be on time with three new things to share with all of you!