Bonjour Paris, et Au Revoir

Two nights in Paris. Lovely not-so-little City.

I caught the Eurostar train from London to Paris. I was sitting next to a very surly and generally unpleasant woman who looked at me like I was the biggest inconvenience in the world when I boarded the train. So, a very quiet couple of hours listening to my music and reading my book was pleasant enough.

Upon arriving in Gare du Nord in Paris I looked on a map to try and find my hotel, which was a 5-10 min walk from the station. How long did it take me? One one long bloody hour. I passed 3 Ibis hotels before I finally found my one. It was hot and I was sweating profusely, carrying my stuff, but I got there and hopped into the shower.

I have ex-student Patrick Burfitt a call on Skype to organise a time to meet and grab some dinner. Pat was in my tutor group and we had a very strong relationship. He’s currently in Paris on holiday.

We had some food and a long talk and headed back to our respective accommodations. I figured out how to work the air conditioner and got some sleep.

The next day I met up with two more of friends from Maynooth, Thomas and Rabab. We met at midday and the day was hot and sunny. I think this was the third day in this whole trip that actually felt like Summer.

Once again I was overwhelmed with memories when I saw these two people. The last time I saw them was in Ireland at the end of 2003.

And so we walked, and walked, and walked. Thomas, being from Paris, knew where to take me. We went up to a basilica that boasts the best view on Paris of Paris. Thomas explained that this was the only hill in the city. The view was something else.

Afterwards weer decided to go have s beer and lunch and that’s when the catching up started.

I ate some snails (because, why not do it while I’m in Paris?) and a seafood dish and we all recounted our lives over the past ten years.

A particularly big bombshell from Thomas I think cemented the trust between us and it was seriously like nothing had changed between us over the years.

We continued or walk and got on the metro to go see Notre Dame. It was stiflingly packed. And when we arrived at the cathedral, the long line to enter the church was far too long so we decided to go find a cafe to have a coffee instead.

Rabab then left us to make her long journey home and Thomas and I wandered around for another couple of hours. We walked through/past the Louvre and I took the obligatory selfie…

And we eventually settled down for a beer in a corner cafe on a busy road.

Here Thomas and I got into deep and meaningful conversations, ranging from relationships to literature, to spirituality. We reflected on the very nature of our friendship and the ease with which we were able to connect again after so many years. It was a really nice afternoon and I really felt connected to him in that moment.

Thomas walked me back to my hotel where we said our goodbyes.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my weeks so far here in Europe, seeing the old gang from Maynooth. The common experience has been this: we pick up so easily where we left off all those years ago. A tiny bit of awkwardness at first is quickly replaced with genuine pleasure of being with old friends.

And so now I’m in a train to Amsterdam, the last destination of my trip before I fly home on Thursday. I think it’sv fitting that the last two friends in visiting from our days in Ireland are the first two friends I made there.

Bring it on.

9 July 2013. 12:44


My second trip to London was far better than the debacle of being stuck in Heathrow last week overnight. This time round I was only staying for one night before moving on to Paris (where I am right now).

So I flew in from Shannon airport to Heathrow and caught the underground straight to Vauxhall. I had to change over at Green Park but the carriage was so full of passengers I didn’t reverb try to get out with all my luggage. Instead I waited it out till I got to Kings Cross station and changed there.

When I finally got to my hotel I had time to freshen up and get ready to meet Katherine Stewart at 7pm.

Waiting for her at the station I heard some commotion. I turned and saw a couple of young-ish junkies giving an old man a hard time (and he was giving it right back to them) and then the lady pushed him down. I started to walk over to help him up and the security arrived, followed shortly by the police. A pretty shitty scene that just added to my increasing dislike of over-populated cities.

Katherine finally arrived on time and we have each other a big and a few moments to get over the surreal reality that we were in London together. Up to that point our friendship was very much limited to me going to the cafe and Katherine making the coffee I was purchasing.

We walked along the Thames for a while, grabbing an (average) coffee along the way.

Dinner was delightful – Kath and I finally had an opportunity to have a real conversation and, I think, we really enjoyed each other’s company.

We walked and talked some more after dinner on our way back to Vauxhall.

We drank a half pint each of beer and said our goodbyes. I’ll see her again on a week back in Sydney.

So that’s about it for my trip to London this time round! The next morning my hotel’s fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate – pretty annoying but, hey, I’m on holidays…

A little town called Doolin

I have so much I want to write about this little Irish town on the west coast.

To start, this is by far the most beautiful of the towns I’ve visited in this trip. Hills, ocean, brooks, and lots of green. I must’ve walked through the town a dozen times just taking in the scenery:

And then the quaint little buildings, including a few pubs and boutique shops. If it weren’t for the tourists I doubt many of these stores would stay in business.

On my first night I had a few (ie. many) drinks at O’Connor’s pub and listened to some great trad music. A fantastic atmosphere, albeit with the presence of many Americans out and loud  celebrating their Independence Day.

At about 11:30pm I felt like taking a walk down to the shoreline and so, in darkness, I drunkenly walked the 2km or so till I could hear the ocean.

Because it was so dark I wasn’t able to get to the water – I discovered the next day that I had to take a right so as to avoid the camping grounds and get to the pebble beach. But the walk itself was great.

I slept in the next day and had a full Irish breakfast:


This Day, Friday 5 July, was to be the day I farewell my oldest and favourite item of clothing, Peter Parka. I was nervous the whole walk over which took about 25 min from my hotel.

Listening to Loreena McKennitt along the way I finally found myself facing the ocean. I wanted some privacy so I went searching along the rocks for a more secluded place and, about another half an hour later, I found it.

It was a somewhat hidden area with the camping site and tourists hidden behind a big rock formation, while I looked directly out at the Atlantic Ocean.

And there I found the perfect Cliff. I took old Peter Parka from my backpack and sat there for a very long while just thinking about everything that jacket represented in my life, and how this act of letting it go was far, far more than just getting rid of an old and used jacket.

For the last fifteen years and more that jacket has kept me warm and safe, cloaking me and giving me comfort. So, despite it being just a jacket, I felt like I was saying goodbye to one of me closest friends. It was (and still is) a very emotional thing for me and something I know nobody understands.

So I prepared myself; I considered wrapping the jacket up in a bundle but then decided to just let it go as I’d been wearing it all these years, as that was far more fitting.

I zipped and buttoned it up and stood on the cliffside. I put on The Old Ways by Loreena McKennitt and, at the right moment, I threw the jacket over the Cliff.

The jacket unfurled and seemed to float down to the water, landing spread eagle add the waves crashed against the cliff.

Moments later it was gone.

I stayed for a short while afterwards and then slowly made my way back over the rocks to the beach and then to town.

I was really sad but also glad I made the decision. Coming to Doolin was very much about this act and I feel like I did what I was supposed to.

When I got back to town I saw the young guy (Liam) at the tourist and boat tour office. He recognised me and we started a talk that lasted over an hour.

He invited me to go watch his Hurling game at 7:30, writing down the location on a piece of paper. It took all my strength and will power not to correct the several mistakes… including even the name of the town:

I didn’t end up going to watch the local game, instead I grabbed sine dinner and a drink at McGinn’s pub, listened to a few songs from the trad pergormers, and then went back to my hotel pretty early to pack and organise accommodation for my stay in London tonight.

My originally booked hotel feel through because I apparently have the wrong credit card details. Very annoyjng and expensive mistake! But it’s all good. Tonight I’ll catch up with Katherine.

I’m just at the airport now waiting to board my flight, and I think I’ll leave this blog entry here…

Doolin is my favourite place in Ireland and I’ll definitely be back.

Saturday 6 July.  12:16pm.

One final night in Dublin

My final transient night in Dublin on Wednesday was awesome.

I went to watch Riverdance in the Gaity Theatre. Even though I saw it in Sydney a couple of years ago it was just as enjoyable.



The train, ferry and bus rides over from Stonehurst were pleasant but really long. I was in the road for about 5 hours in total.

At Holyhead point I was so happy to see and hear the Welsh language in action. Great accents with completely incomprehensible signage…


So yesterday morning, when I got off the train at Limerick, I was inspired. I wrote a poem, a Limerick in fact:

There once was a man from Sydney,
Who did not like to eat kidney,
He hopped on a train
Again and again
And saw many an Irish chimney.

I’ve wanted to visit the town for years – the Cranberries originally come from there. But I didn’t plan it so a view from a distance was gonna have to do.

The bus ride to Doolin showed me the best scenery yet; beautiful lush green hillsides.




So I’m here now in Doolin and had a great evening lady night. I’ll update this blog tomorrow about my experiences in this, my new favourite holiday destination.

Stonyhurst College

I spent two nights visiting ex student Ben Powell this week. He gave me the grand tour of Stonyhurst, another Jesuit school with whom we are connected.


It was a great old building, once again extremely old, and this one was filled with about a dozen little chapels within its walls. Some are extremely extravagant, others understated.

Also contained within the are a huge number of historical artifacts, among them religious relics of great importance to the history of Catholicism in England. They even have the mummified body of a child from 2300 years ago, found by a Jesuit in the 1800s and brought back to Stonyhurst.

The school very strongly identifies with the story of Edmund Campion, the patron of my House. They celebrate his feast with greater fervor than even Ignatius’. Imagine once again my excitement, then, when I learned they have in their possession the rope used by the Church of England to hang him all those years ago:


So yes, a wonderful school with so much history, but also one that really needs revitalising. Understandably they are affected by the poor economy and the buildings look pretty run down. But I was still very much impressed.

Beyond the school tour, Ben drove me around some visiting villages and you can imagine me excitement when I found this little restaurant/pub:


The “summer” weather was pretty average…


…so we grabbed some take away curry last night and ate indoors. Ben and I had dinner great chats and it’s strange but very rewarding to see our old boys turn out to be such great men.

So, this morning we said our temporary goodbyes and I hopped on a train down to Holyhead port here in Wales. The Welsh countryside matched the Scottish and English with its beauty:



In and hour or so I’ll board a ferry in to Dublin where, tonight, I’ll watch Riverdance and tomorrow head in to Doolin on the west coast for a couple of nights.

That’s all for now, folks!

How to do Scotland in under four hours

Edinburgh. Lovely city!

I finally arrived in Scotland yesterday morning after the British Airways debacle the previous night. My first impressions were very positive – the quaint airport with its tiny luggage belt servicing the flights made me laugh.

I caught a bus in to the city centre andwas instantly struck by the awesome buildings, made from stones and plentiful in number. While they made up the backdrop, the natural surroundings were also beautiful.



I had to wait a few hours till check in so I dropped my bag off and went wandering, despite my being awake for nearly 30 hours at this point.

I found myself in the National Art Gallery which boasts sine absolutely stunning works by Scottish and international artists. I loved the religious depictions, some dating backto the 1500s.

I didn’t take any photos – I always feel uneasy doing so in museums and art galleries.

After an hour or so I made myway out to the attached cafe/restaurant and had sine lunch. Had to try the haggis…


Now clearly this place was hoity toity, hence the presentation of the dish. But I didn’t mind the taste of this dish! Maybe they watered it down for tourists but, hey, I have it a go.

I eventually got back to the hotel and decided I needed to sleep – 30 hours awake was not agreeing with me. I had every intention to wake up at 8pm in order to go out to a pub and grab some dinner. Instead, I slept through till 9:30am and I was glad I did. My body was exhausted.

But waking up at nine put me in a tricky situation. There was much I wanted to see but I had to catch a train at 2:51pm down to Preston.

So I did the one big touristy thing I hate – I bought a ticket for one of those hop-on/hop-off tour buses. Most importantly, I wanted to check out Edinburgh Castle.

Luckily for me, I got a great tour guide with a solid knowledge of the history of the city.

Interestingly, we drove past the birth house of Abraham Graham Bell, inventor of the  telephone:


as well a heap of other cool stuff:



I got out to see the Edinburgh Castle which, from the outside, was pretty cool. The tour of the castle needed 2.5 hours but I didn’t have time, so a quick look around the entrance was better than not at all!



And the tour bus took us around the back and side:



I had a light lunch in a very small pub hidden half under ground near the Castle before walking to a nearby church:


I hopped on the bus and went back to the hotel to collect my bag and catch my train down to Preston. When I went to get in the train I realised I hadn’t printed the online ticket and the lady in the ticket Centre wanted to charge me £10 to print it off – yeah right.

I got on the train by showing the ticket in my screen and the train guardwas really cool about it.

The two and a half hour train ride down was really lovely. I listened to Tracy Chapman and sat at the window watching the gorgeous Scottish and English countryside go by:





And so, Ben Powell, an ex-student now friend who finished years ago, picked me up from the station and brought me back to Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school he’s been working for the last few years. Really good to see him!

So, bed time now (I won’t get to upload this till I get Internet access in a couple days). More to come about my stay in Stonyhurst!

I just want you to know….

I hate British Airways and London Heathrow Airport.

After a series of stupid delays yesterday I missed my flight to Glasgow and had to rebook a flight to Edinburgh today.

On the plus side I made a new friend – Allyson Sheffield is a published American astronomer whose research revolves around stars in our galaxy. She teaches at Cambridge University.

Anyway we had a blast yesterday as we waited for literally two hours in line for British Airways to fix our flights, and then caught the train in to Paddington where we had a very late dinner. Awesome to know an astrophysicist!

So, despite getting no sleep last night and being his away yet from sleep today, life’s good.

Photo: London Heathrow at 3am:

So, how about that Germany

Sitting at the airport and waiting for the (delayed) British Airways flight to London then Glasgow and I’m bored as hell. 40 minutes is a long time to wait without wifi.

Anyway, my last three days here in Germany have been pleasant.

I started in Essen with Nicola who showed me a couple of great little places in her home town. Her apartment is really great – but I survived from our conversation that, at least where she lives, almost everything in the flat has to be furnished by the tennant. Sure the bathroom amenities are given but that is about all.

The kitchen is bare, lights dint exist (there are wires hanging out the walls when you move in), curtains, wardrobes… In some cases, even the floor itself. It is outrageous!

So anyway, Nicolatook me to the historic (and UNESCO listed heritage) coal mine in Essen.



It was pretty cool to walk around and see it all cleaned up and historical.

We also went to a great old church in the town, dating back hundreds of years. Housed inside is one of the oldest statues of Mary in europe. And she and baby Jesus have freaky eyes….


So, a nice lunch ended my stay in Essen and I hopped on the train to the busy Cologne. First impressions: there are more people here than in Essen!

Yalda met me at the train station and we traveled on to her parents’ place where we stayed the night.

The next day was fun. I started early by attending Mass in German at the amazing Cologne Cathedral. I looked around the enormous inside – very extravagant.





Following that I headed to the Ludwig Museum – inside it is a big range of modern art works. I spent two hours just wandering around and seeing syne great works by the likes of Picasso and Dali. I bought two postcard prints of my favourite two pieces – couldn’t take photos inside.





Yalda meet me after work and we walked around, covering a fair bit of the city and finishing up with some beer…


I had a quiet night and was up pretty early this morning (thanks to the maid banging on the door).

Yalda took me to see the Rhine River and we walked across the bridge, looking at all those padlocks that couples have put on it over the years.




We also finished up my stay in the city with lunch where I saw a piano that took me back to year 12, when we read the book Maestro… Not sure why this sticks out in my memory.


So there you have it. Germany in a nutshell! Boarding is now happening so I’m off to Glasgow.

Till next time…

Bye bye Dublin, for now…

Here I am sitting in a plane to Dusseldorf and reflecting on my last few days in Ireland.

Fair to say, it was spent mostly catching up with some Riverview connections, starting with Tom Caroll in Clongowes.

When I arrived in Dublin on the Monday I dropped my bag off at the hostel and walked up to a great cafe-bar named Beeckers St Cafe and Bar. There I caught up with two View boys on gap year at Belvedere College Dublin. One I knew very well through my work in the boarding house, the other I spent 12 days with in Cambodia in Immersion.


Even though I was adamant that I would not meet up with any old boys, I decided to do it. And it was a great afternoon!

We shared a few drinks and stories and they told me all about their gap year so far. I think that, because the nature of the student-teacher relationship is real and natural, there really is no awkwardness but instead a genuine interest in the other. But I dunno what I’m writing now – we’re in turbulence and it’s difficult writing this on a phone. 

When I returned to the hostel I was a little tipsy. Along the way I passed what I think to be a Jesuit church or building of some sort:


Anyway, after a very disrupted sleep (our hostel room was right above the street and I kept waking up to drunken Irish people arguing and sirens going off) we decided to visit the coast.

Howth is the suburb where, apparently, Bono and other upper-class Dubliners reside.

As I sat enjoying a coffee there I was put in mind of Mosman. There were quite a few people walking dogs and, in the current economic state of the country, surely only the richest could afford to own a dog and take it for walks in the middle of the work day.


Anywho, Nicola and I decided to go to the beach. It was so depressing – grey clouds and no sand.



We walked around and found yet another church inside which there was a Eucharistic adoration taking place:



Following this, and yet again, we found another cemetery which was built in the ruins of an ancient church:




All in all, Howth was a cute little part of town. On the train to and from Howth we came across this name:


Later that arvo we watched Before Midnight, a surprisingly great film!….

And so, the last fun thing I did in Dublin was to catch up with young Gavin, a kid from Clongowes who came over to View last year for a term and ended up in my House. Great kid, and pretty level headed for a 17 year old. We had a quick coffee at Bewley’s and caught up on the last six months.

He spoke very fondly of his time in Sydney and it was nice to connect with him over another commonality – Clongowes. He really wishes there was a House system there like the one at View and it comforts me to know that being in Campion while in Sydney was a help for him to settle in so quickly and smoothly.


In a typically Irish way, he paid for the coffee when I went to the loo. I swear they’re just like the Lebs by way of hospitality and many other little quirks, and I really like that about the country and culture.

Gavin then gave me another gift:


One of his own school uniform ties. This goes back to Sydney where I gifted him a Campion House tie and cufflinks when he was leaving and, of course, he witnessed first hand all the different ties I wear each day to work.

Anyway, what excites me about living? Human relationships that are meaningful and lasting.

This was my primary purpose for taking this holiday, to connect with old friends and not-so-old not-quite-friends with whom I am connected. And for that alone, truly, this is turning out to be such a great holiday!

Okay, I’ll wrap this up here. Next entry will be from Germany somewhere! I’ll be there till Saturday before popping off to Scotland.


P.S. I’m not quite done with Ireland on this trip – in one week I’ll be back, on my own, to visit Doolin on the west coast of Clare for two nights. There I will say goodbye to my much loved jacket,  Peter… At least, that’s the plan. Let’s see if I can bring myself to do it.