Travels in Literature: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet

This past winter I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, a set of novels that amount to a modern masterpiece, expansive and moving in their depiction of the lives of two women in Naples over the span of sixty years. When I finished the final book I saw there was a “readers guide” at the end of the novel. There’s something annoying about finding a reading guide at the end of a novel that cannot be reduced to simple and trite terms like “who was your favourite character”? These reading guides are often found at the end of books intended for women, I suppose because women are more likely to be in a reading group (or that’s the impression people have) but more often than not the questions seem like they are directed at the boozy moms from some summer comedy and not, you know, women who read a breadth of great literature and enjoy discussing it with their friends. One of the things that this reading guide said was something about the universality of the story. But what universality? In the Neapolitan novels Ferrante shows us what a changing Italy looks like, what it’s like for women to be born into a deeply patriarchal society and the pain and hardship that goes with trying to free oneself from it or, at least, navigate it. There were certainly parts that felt like things that all women have experienced. The ugliness and mundanity of day-to-day life ,the one that so often minimizes and suffocates women. The sense of being around people who are threatened by your intelligence and skill, their desire for you to become less and less until you’re nothing at all, the feeling of loss and jealousy and self doubt and of course the love, competitiveness and the pain of female friendships, yes these are universal themes. But there was also a lot of this book that I didn’t “understand” in the sense that it wasn’t my own experience. The physical violence that the women are consistently subjected to, the deep poverty,  the landscape of a post-war Italy.  At one point the narrator describes a young man, who, striving to become more modern, a Socialist and a feminist, has decided to stop beating women. The problem is he doesn’t quite know how since violence against women has been as much a part of the day to day life of men as eating dinner. In moments like these misogyny and violence become something uncontrollable and overruling. The male characters, as much as the female ones are trapped by a life that has only shown them cruelty and force, where power can only be maintained by destruction and violence. Furthermore the characters don’t have a neat, clean, history book view of fascism, misogyny or familial ties and seeing these things from the perspective of characters who transition from impoverished children to educated adults is enlightening, it’s thrilling. Ferrante’s writing is so vivid and violent that the characters pain feels at once personal and foreign.

The reason that representation matters so much in entertainment is because underrepresented people deserve to see themselves reflected. But for people who aren’t in that group it’s also necessary to see nuanced and complicated portrayals of different ethnicities,  genders and sexual orientations. None of us benefit from seeing, hearing or reading the same stories over and over again. And that’s why I chaffed at the depiction of The Neapolitan Quartet being a “universal” story.  Not only because I don’t think it was a universal story but also because I don’t want or need it to be. In the last year I made a conscious effort to read more books by women and writers who aren’t white or straight and it has made a massive difference in my life and in the way I see the world.  I want to be exposed to stories that show me something different. The part of the novel that was foreign to me, life in Naples, I enjoyed because it was about something that I didn’t know anything about. The parts that were relatable to me, the parts about being a woman were excellent because they spoke about that specific experience.  There’s something cathartic about reading (or watching, or hearing) something that expresses something you’ve felt but not been able to put into words. There’s a reason that the response to The Neapolitan Quartet, because it so accurately describes women’s inner lives. But those inner lives are specific to women and they are not, from my perspective, universal.

Likewise, like you, I imagine, I have an image of Italy in my mind. I imagine old farm houses where long family lunches take place between close knit family members. I imagine the ancient Roman architecture, the quaint villages (imagined in black and white, like the first episode of  the second season of Master of None ), the pasta, the stylish people populating the streets. I’ve visited Italy,  but I could move to Italy tomorrow and live there for the rest of my life and still not know what it feels like to bean Italian person. Or to be an Italian woman born in post-war Naples. North American people hold this idea that Europeans do everything right. We want to cook like Italians and enviously look up to the Scandinavian countries’ education system and their moody crime dramas. We want to dress like French women and envy cool British girls. We see it as an advanced place where the large societal problems we have in North America have long since been vanquished. But this isn’t the reality. There are deep problems in Europe and a troubled history that is threatening to rear it’s ugly head once again. It’s for reasons like these that novels like The Neapolitan Quartet  are essential to read.  Elena Ferrante’s writing is moving, bold and unforgettable and it challenges us at every step.

Why I Won’t Volunteer Abroad Again

A few years ago I wanted to gain some experience as an TEFL/ESL teacher and was looking for a volunteer project in Europe. I found what was ostensibly an English teaching job and applied for it. I researched it to the best of my ability even emailing companies that monitor volunteer organisations. I was wary back then of volunteering abroad, as it always seemed like a way for people to raise money for what ended up being a holiday for them. What’s more it seemed to treat the suffering of others as something they could use to make themselves better. But, I thought, young people around the world need to learn English, however unfair it may be and I was a qualified English teacher. Well, the project was a farce. It wasn’t an English teaching job at all, it was working in a care home for a group of girls who’s parents weren’t able to take care of them, or that was the claim. In an English teaching classroom, the teacher doesn’t always speak the language of the students and there are teaching methods that work around this obstacle. However, I wasn’t in a classroom and I didn’t speak the language. There were no clear instructions about what I was supposed to do and I had never been in such a situation before. I tried to communicate as best I could and attempted some English teaching games but I’m afraid I was wholly useless to them. The volunteer co-ordinator seemed entirely uninterested in helping the girls in any meaningful way. One of the other women who was on the same project as  me, but in a different town mentioned that someone had left her project because of the racism that they had experienced. For a project to not warn a person that they might experience racism in a rural town seems irresponsible and cruel. Since then I’ve read quite a bit about the ways that voluntourism harms people and communities. Few organisations have any kind of rigorous checks on people which means anyone can sign up for a project that works with vulnerable people. In some countries orphanages that attract volunteers are actively harming the communities by  encouraging trafficking and abuse. J.K. Rowling wrote about this recently and explains it far better than I can.

Like those that (wrongly, I believe) buy a sandwich for a homeless person rather than giving them money we feel that if we volunteer we are doing the morally superior thing. We aren’t giving money away for someone to use foolishly, we feel. But the reality is that reputable charities, NGO’s and other organisations that help people do need money. They need well paid and supported staff, they have bills to pay just like the rest of us. It offends us to think that we are paying someone else’s salary instead of helping people. But in fact, we are helping people when we donate to good charities. Of course there have been instances where charities misused funds and it is important that we don’t give to those organisations but in order for a charity to function properly it needs funding.

Worse is when we go to volunteer for an experience. Now I truly believe that most people who volunteer do so out of the goodness of their heart, they mean well and want to help. But the suffering of others shouldn’t be something we gawk at or use to better ourselves or our resumes/CV’s. It shouldn’t be something we pop into for a week or month. If there’s an issue we feel truly passionate about we should educate ourselves and commit to it as a career. If that’s not feasible to find out how to truly help, which governments and policies will positively effect other countries, where to donate money and how to educate ourselves and others on the issues. It may sound counterintuitive but sometimes the best thing we can do when we want to travel and improve the world is donate to a reputable charity and then just take a vacation in said country. Personally I’m of the mind that if we truly help people it doesn’t matter why we do it. If we donate generously and that helps people then it doesn’t matter if some part of us wanted to feel better about ourselves or we did it from some ideologically pure reason. We are fallible humans and we have a multitude of emotions and reasons for doing anything, some of those less good than others. That said, I do think we need to accept that sometimes doing good is boring. Doing something profound and impactful isn’t instagrammable or exciting. Most of the time it’s quiet and hard and ongoing. We should seek to become involved in our own communities, with organisations that are respectful and well researched. We need to commit to doing good all the time, even when it isn’t exciting or glamorous. And most importantly we need to view those in need as complete human beings who are no different from ourselves. If we don’t want a raggedy old t-shirt why would someone else? We wouldn’t appreciate if our bosses said “I don’t know what you’ll do with the money that I pay you so I’ll buy your groceries instead” would we?

After my experience I can say Romania is one of the most unique and beautiful countries I’ve ever been to and I would encourage anyone to visit it, as a tourist. I personally won’t volunteer abroad again. I’m not an expert and I can only talk about what I’ve read and experienced so I can’t say 100% that there are no good volunteer opportunities and that there is never a place for it. But I do believe that we are better off volunteering (long term, ideally) and helping in our own communities and donating  and supporting organisations that are qualified to do the work. Sending unqualified people to do work that requires qualified people isn’t helpful and short term volunteering can do more harm then good. We need to think carefully about the way our actions impact the world.

Some useful articles:
Slate-Charities need your money, not your random old food
The Guardian-Which would you rather have, time or money
The Guardian-Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do

 

How To Have A Very European Autumn

From my extensive studies (ie: looking at instagram and pinterest all day) it seems that Autumn is a universally loved season.I’m not going to discuss the nuances of the pumpkin spice latte debate, although readers should know I fall heavily on the side of “go ahead and enjoy those overpriced seasonal drinks however I’m more of an eggnog latte type of woman”. I think I understand why everyone loves autumn, especially in the age of social media. Bear with me here. Summertime has always been about doing stuff whether that means backpacking trips, heading to the pool, backyard barbecues, camping, music festivals or any of the other things that we should be doing in the summer. And hey, those are good things but combine what with the constant barrage of the cool things our friends are doing on social media and  it can feel like a lot of pressure. Then autumn comes and we get back to routine, we make our homes cosy because we’ll be spending more time in them, boozy nights of dancing can be traded for a quiet drink in the pub beside the fire.  There’s a change of pace that means less pressure, it’s easier to say no to events when it’s rainy or snowy and cold. There’s a it more room to breathe. To focus on our loved ones, to take ourselves out of the race of being the coolest and best.

autumn 4

Canadian autumns are unlike anything else, the leaves turn a million beautiful colours and everything has that truly autumnal feeling (except we call it fall, but I’m tired of being made fun of for saying fall so ahah! I have the last laugh (ish)). But there’s something special about European autumns that I’ve come to love. It’s not as cold or as leafy but it’s peaceful . The cities take on an different beauty in the gloomy and overcast skies, Christmas markets pop up. In Valencia the streets are filled with people selling roast hazelnuts or corn on the cob. Even if it still feels strange to me to see Christmas decorations go up when there are still green leaves on the trees, there’s something I find enchanting about it.

belfast
Belfast 

If you’re planning a weekend (or longer) getaway in Europe  I prefer to wait until September or later. August in many European countries, especially in the Southern/Mediterranean European countries is a vacation month which means the cities are basically empty as most people go to the sea/their village/abroad. These places become very touristy which is good (I like being a tourist) but it also means that not as many places are open and you don’t get the same feel of the city, the hustle and bustle as it were.

autumn 3

Whether you’re going abroad or staying in your own country don’t put too much pressure on yourself to see all the sights, if it’s cold out, find a cosy corner and read a book or have a long lunch.  Have something to look forward to and plan. Head to an art gallery, museum, a talk or just simply go somewhere new. These things make me, for one,  feel more confident, like I have something to contribute to conversations, like I’ve learned something new and am better for it.  Find comfortable accommodation because you might not leave it and pack an extra large scarf and coat. You want to see the city after all but it’s just too rainy/snowy! C’est la vie! Download educational podcasts or audio books and then debate everyone with your newfound knowledge.  Cook a late lunch and curl up in front of an old movie. Call or text a friend or family member and spend the afternoon catching up. Consult your horoscope to see if you should go out or stay in this weekend and then invite friends over with the intention of going out but stay in instead. After all you have a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine. Sit on a bench or in a cafe and contemplate life. Wander in and out of shops with the purpose of buying loads but in the end only purchasing a bracelet. Go with the flow rather than trying to organise a trip that accomplishes everything at once.

I often say and have heard people say that you are more tired after a vacation than before and it makes perfect sense. We feel pressure to do as many things as possible and see everything, we want to be busy but autumn is the perfect time to put those notions aside and embrace friendship and family life, to not worry about being perfect and to see where life takes us.

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Go Ahead, Be a Tourist

If you’ve gone on 0 trips or 7000 you know that you don’t want to be a “tourist” you want to be a “traveller” and you want to seek out “authentic experiences” you want to see “the real ____________”. I’ve heard that everywhere I’ve lived and travelled too. “Dublin’s not really Ireland” or “Rome is a typical destination for a North American” (still don’t know what that means, it’s the capital and a historic city so probably lots of people go there not just North Americans??). I am here to say bullshit. Look the truth is, yes if you live somewhere for a while it will feel different then stopping by for a week or two, and the longer you live there the more your perspective will change. Yes if you learn the language you will have a deeper experience. These things are true. But if you’re travelling somewhere, even if you’re living there, stop looking for authentic experiences. You are having an authentic experience right now. Even if you eschew all the traditional tourist things, you’re still a tourist. At least that’s how I see it. In my years of trying to be an “authentic traveller”  I have yet to have someone come up to me and say “wow Stephanie, good job, you’re a traveller and not a tourist”. What’s more I’ve spent a lot of time trying to please other travellers and impress them with the tales of m authentic travels and you know what? That certain type of person is never happy because there’s always someone who’s been somewhere more “interesting” or done something more adventurous, or been too more countries or whatever the case may be. And you know what that’s true. Because whatever you do there will someone who has done something different.

eiffel tower (1)

Seeking so-called “authentic” experiences often means that one, particularly a Westerner, is attempting to be an arbitrator of another culture and what defines their culture. If  Spain, for instance, and I’m just using this as an example, decides to ban bull fighting or the running of the bulls in the near future it is not the job of  me, or anyone else to say that they should keep the tradition because it’s, well, a tradition. What’s more, what’s often described as the “real __________” is the countryside, the rural places that have remained more homogeneous (or have been seen to remain homogeneous, in reality these places are disappearing fast as well) . It implies that the more multi-cultural cities, the thriving multi-ethnic places don’t really represent a certain country. That things should stay a certain way or else lose their charm. It treats people and cultures as museum pieces that can be preserved for you and your entertainment. It doesn’t allow countries or communities to change as they see fit. Many times on my travels I’ve hear ” oh there’s a Starbucks/McDonalds/ other American corporation that can be used to describe everything that’s wrong with the world in every city” and that’s more or less true. I’m not here to say Starbucks or McDonalds are good or should be everywhere but I mean, I like Starbucks festive drinks and sometimes you just need a Big Mac but I digress. I would argue, and will readily admit if I’m wrong, that cultures are strong enough to survive a McDonalds popping up on the corner. I’m not here defending McDonalds and there are real conversations to be had about gentrification and the harm it does, just to say that maybe a lot of handwringing when we see someone from another country enjoying a 6 euro coffee is out of place. Look, I’m not immune. There was a little cafe in Valencia that was what I would describe as a typical Valencian old man bar/cafe. The kind where everything is kind of orange and brown, there’s probably a fan in the corner and a cigarette machine from the 18th century or so, they give you a coffee for a euro and they seem angry when they do it. If you’ve been to Spain you know what I’m talking about. Last time I went to Valencia it had turned into a brightly coloured, stylish looking place. I felt kind of sad. But guess what? I don’t live there anymore and I don’t own that business. If that makes them more money, or makes them happier or caters to tourists then hey, that’s their choice.

All of this is a long winded way to say, let’s get rid of this elusive idea of a “traveller” because who even knows what that means?When I’m travelling from now on I’m going to be a tourist.  So let’s embrace it (respectfully of course), enjoy the Eiffel Tower it’s iconic and pretty damn cool. See Big Ben or the many churches around Europe. Take some cheesy pictures, stop worrying what everyone thinks of you.  You have the privilege of being able to travel to a new place, enjoy it, without wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough. Readers will know that I’m concerned with travelling ethically and that stands, I think we need to be informed about where we go and what we do when we’re there. But if you’ve done that then just enjoy yourself, do your trip your way and enjoy yourself. You get to travel!

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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Overwhelmed by Travel Culture

I belong to many travel groups on social media that, like anything, are sometimes inspirational, sometimes helpful and sometimes annoying. And often posts will appear by people who quit their job to travel the world and now hate it, or have gone on a long backpacking trip and want to go home or who are just otherwise burned out. Before I go any further I want to say that I don’t mean that we should give up on anything that becomes difficult or that things that are hard aren’t worth doing. Getting an education is hard but worth doing, work is hard but necessary even relationships can be work but we don’t give up on them. Even travel can fall into that category. When I first moved abroad I found the first few weeks very difficult but I wouldn’t be where I am in life or the person I am now without that trip and the subsequent ones. But when I see articles talking about how to deal with travel burn out I want to scream into the void. Because travel was and remains a luxury item. Even if you’re eating beans and rice (or a weird onion soup I tried to make one time when I was broke) you have the luxury of taking time off of work, the ability to afford travel to another country and the assurance that you can go home and resume your life. This isn’t a moral judgement. I’ve spent most of my twenties travelling and have enjoyed it greatly. But travelling is a product and I’m a consumer.Travel can be a valuable experience but it has no inherent goodness. You don’t become a better person just by travelling. Sure it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons if that’s what you want to happen and are already open minded but it doesn’t magically turn a bigoted person into a understanding and compassionate one. The adage that seems to be a sort of Millenial chant that we are and should be “buying experiences and not things” is used to explain why we should travel. But what is an experience and what is a thing? A flight is certainly a thing you’ve bought, as is a hotel or hostel and music festivals and luggage and clothes and miniature beauty products and so on. Inherent in this way of thinking is a judgement and one that is just plain wrong.

When I started travelling I liked and related to every post or story about choosing “freedom” instead of a house, car, family etc. I am still the same person, I’m not ready to settle down, I still don’t own or desire to own a car or house but now these same posts make me bristle. They make me bristle because I am not more free than the people who do have those things but a different kind of free (if any of us are free at all but this isn’t a philosophy blog so we’ll leave it at that) . Sure I could pack my suitcase this minute and go somewhere but financial stability, serious friendships (whatever anyone says, long term travel will strain or break friendships) those are another kind of freedom. And, even if they weren’t there’s another problem. The language around Millenials is that we are “choosing” to free ourselves from the burdens of a stable life, the “American dream” if you will that was sold to our parents. But if we are constantly bombarded with messages that say we should travel, we should spend all this money on experiences and even go into debt to pursue them, that then we will be truly free, we are just being told a different lie. And it’s insidious because the message is, if you don’t travel you are closed minded, you aren’t motivated enough, you just need to work harder and save more money and stop drinking that coffee on the way to work. The message is that you should travel even to places that are hostile towards you and yes, there are places that are more dangerous than others. And you know what that is? Convincing people to go into debt and to endanger their lives in the pursuit of something that is not a necessity? That’s consumerism my friends.

I don’t write this to poo-poo travel or those who travel. I write it because I am feeling exhausted. I’m exhausted by article after article criticising people who don’t travel. Exhausted by “don’t date a girl who travels” or “travelling solo is best”  and other posts that seem to think getting into a relationship or even making friends-God forbid- will ruin all your fun. I’m really tired of the particular safety concerns women, trans men and women, people of colour and others, face being brushed over with “oh well travelling alone is still the best way what can you do”. I’m tired of the idea that we should pursue travel at all costs, even when it’s damaging the communities we are travelling to. When we’d rather stay in an Airbnb that  is pricing people in Barcelona (and other cities) out of their homes than pay for a hotel. When people do volunteer projects that could actively harm the people it purports to help and we say “oh well they have good intentions”. I write this because I love to travel and hope to keep doing so. But I want to do it in such a way that people who don’t want to can say “no, this isn’t for me.  That we can have actual, honest conversations about travel that don’t get derailed by “but travelling is good we can never criticise it”. More importantly I want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm others, that’s sustainable and accessible to all.

 

Culture Shock: A Canadian In Ireland

The first time I tried to wash my hands in Ireland there were separate hot and cold taps and I, a person who has been washing their own hands for 30 years, didn’t know what to do. Washing your hands with cold water seems unsanitary, but burning yourself doesn’t seem advisable either. What about trying to make a little cup with your hands and mixing the water together? Ineffectual.When you’re confronted with something silly and mundane like this in another country you feel small and strange. Luckily, a few days later someone posted on Facebook about being confused at the separate hot and cold water taps in Ireland and the UK and some of my anxiety eased. What about landing in Europe and wondering if that sign that shows a man running into what is clearly a wall and not a door is the exit? The absolute terror I feel at eating in front of other people over here because I hold my fork in my right hand. After years of beating myself up and wondering if other Canadians know how to eat properly (mostly, no) I felt some palpable relief at reading an article on some silly aggregation website about cultural differences. A European person wondered why Americans never hold their fork in the correct hand and avoid using a knife at all costs. Phew, I thought. It’s not just me, it’s my whole continent. For the record I have devised a sort of awkward fork and knife method and now just let people believe I’m left handed. There’s the obvious culture shocks like the seasons, or their absence. Constant rain is tiring and sitting by a fire, inside in July seems wrong somehow. How can I drink a festive autumn drink when it’s the same weather it has been all year? Where are the crunchy leaves and cardigans and pumpkins? There’s my pet peeve, the fact that there are some European people that disparage “the colonies” like we are still in the 18th century, boldly refusing to take blame for any of the evils that Europe has inflicted upon the world during colonial times. The times I argued with Spanish people who insist that the whole world recognises the greatness of Spanish culture while referring to all of North, Central and South America as “America”. Yes, I recognise that that is the correct way in Spanish and I’m not arguing on a linguistic level, but refusing to see two (or three) whole continents as unique, as having their own recognisable cultures and histories is confusing and strange. Of course this is not everyone but it’s not no one either. The sense of propriety here, at least in rural places such as where we live now, is stressful to me. The need to always look young and be perfectly dressed in designer clothes, your house a spotless temple filled with expensive or expensive looking things bewilders me. Sure, Canadians are vain too but in an entirely different way. Rather than attempt to look perfect all the time we dress up to make a statement. Going out without make up can say, “I don’t care what you think of me” or “my life is too busy and wonderful to put it on”. In general we don’t want everything to be too perfect or look like we put in too much effort. A designer bag or scarf is good but you might be wearing gloves from the dollar store or shoes from the charity shop.

But mostly the things that are different are delightful and entertaining. Having the washing machine in the kitchen is as logical as sequestering it away in it’s own room like a naughty child you keep out of sight. Leaving your shoes on in other people’s houses is good for everyone, you don’t have to take off your shoes and they don’t have to worry that they spilled something on the floor and didn’t properly clean it and your feet will stick to it. The nutrition information being listed on everything as per 100 grams, forcing you to either have to do some math or grossly under or overestimate how much you can eat of say, a Galaxy chocolate bar. There’s hearing an Irish name  and hoping you never have to repeat it or worse, spell it. What about the great bacon debate? I firmly fall on the side of North American bacon, it’s delicious when it’s crispy or soft and you can eat it cold, hot or reheat it and it will still taste the same and it always has that smokey flavour. Of course, I wouldn’t dare say that here where I show my reverence for their bacon like my life depends on it. On the other hand, Ireland invented the breakfast roll which is a bunch of meat stuffed into a baguette and if that isn’t something that was invented by a hungover person I don’t know what is. Naturally the belief that everything from one’s own country is the best is not limited to Ireland. On social media I constantly see Canadians lining up or rather, queuing up for Tim Hortons even though McDonald’s Canada has better take away coffee and I will defend that position. It’s these small, confusing, wonderful things that make living abroad an exciting and terrifying prospect.

ireland2

When you move abroad there’s an expectation that it will all be fun and easy and exciting. Even though I have spent most of my twenties moving about I still feel that when I get to the next place it will be the most exciting, that day to day life will be  thrilling just because I am in a new country. That the coffee shop on the corner will be as exciting as the Eiffel Tower. And sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s frustrating, boring, plain.  Sometimes you fantasise about running to the airport like you’re in a 90’s sitcom and you’ve made a terrible mistake and have to get home immediately. But sometimes you feel that you are home, that you belong and that you’ve done something right to end up where you are. And if you aren’t oscillating between these two emotions constantly, then, well, you aren’t living abroad.

You can find me on twitter @athousanddress1 and instagram @stephanierosetravels

Glamping and Caving in Doolin, Ireland

Nature is a wonderful and surprising thing. I try my best to care for the environment by bullying everyone I know into recycling and composting.  Once I even got deeply emotionally invested in a nature program about a bird’s mating dance, you guys this bird did a dance and then made himself look like a leaf to attract a girlfriend. That’s amazing! Still, I believe, that no one loved nature as much as our tour guide when we went to the Doolin caves to see, what will henceforth be known as THE GREAT STALACTITE, because that is what it called on the Doolin Caves website. It is the largest stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Upon arriving at the entrance to the caves the tour guide informed us with great severity that he had bad news. The bad news was that there was a fee to the caves. Honestly, he was probably a marketing genius because after the way he told us that it wasn’t free to see THE GREAT STALACTITE  he could have probably told us it was 100 euro per person and we would have paid it because it was less than we were imagining. After paying the, actually nominal, fee we descended down about 8 million stairs, donned a hard hat and went into the caves. I wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly claustrophobic person but I felt a deep discomfort being underground, especially as our tour guide told us about the two Englishmen in ye olden times (the 50’s) who had discovered THE GREAT STALACTITE. They crawled through a tunnel only large enough for themselves in a crawl they described as miserable, because they were curious. CURIOUS. Men, y’all. I’m curious about a lot of things, for example how did that bird turn it’s butt into a leaf looking thing? Why do they always choose the cheesiest and most insincere people on the Bachelor and Bachelorette? Will I really make $150,000 dollars per week working from home if I click on the link in the Facebook comments (no)? But if I saw said bird going down into a tiny tunnel, I wouldn’t take it upon myself follow it and ask it it’s technique.  If it had been me telling this story it would have been with a undertone of “hahah but why” but not our tour guide, he spoke with reverence. Due to some bad timing on my part I arrived at the head of the group and had to make faces of appreciation when my heart was saying “hell no to these two explorers”  “where is THE GREAT STALACTITE” “maybe I do have claustrophobia”  and other variations on that theme. Anyway. After much dramatic flair, we saw the stalactite. The thing that is both wonderful and horrible about the human brain is that we can fathom things but only to a certain extent. The stalactite is tens of thousands of years old. Try imagine how much has happened in 10 000 years, for example. It’s impossible. Still to see something that has formed over that amount of time, that is still growing and will probably keep growing after we’re all gone, is impressive. It really puts into perspective how small and insignificant our times on this earth are and you know what? I don’t like feeling small and insignificant. Some people channel that feeling into not worrying about the future and to making the most of everyday but I prefer, due to being A NEGATIVE PERSON, to fall into a pit malaise and start smoking again because we’re all going to die and THE GREAT STALACTITE will still be there hanging out and being shown to tourists by over enthusiastic guides. Where was I? Oh yes, it’s an impressive sight. After we had thoroughly examined the stalactite from all angles, including trying to see it’s reflection in a puddle in the dark (I don’t know why either) we ascended back up the stairs. There weremany helpful signs telling people to rest if they need to and I really did want to stop, rest, have a beer, take a nap, go to the beach at many of them but it would only postpone the inevitable climb up 60 trillion more stairs so we ploughed through. But there’s more! There was a short nature walk you could take to really appreciate the landscape. Generally I really enjoy walking but I will begrudgingly admit that I wasn’t in tip top form and was a bit cranky. I tried that trick of when you say “oh will we go to the pub, we’ve seen a lot of nature” and then start walking in direction of said pub hoping everyone will follow. They did not. So after the nature walk we finally made it to the pub, my preferred holiday destination and then to our glamping tent.

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doolin donkey

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Glamping gets a bad rap as being a bit novelty, a passing trend, kind of cheesy and all those things that people like to say whenever something comes along that people seem to be enjoying too much.I, however, am a fan after our experience at Doolin Glamping. We had a lovely tent in the scenic countryside. Doolin is a small, touristy town on the west coast of Ireland and the caves are about a five minute drive from the town and the Cliffs of Moher are about fifteen to twenty minutes away.  In fact we got a bit lost trying to find it, with me, ever the helpful navigator shouting from the passenger side “are we the red dot????” as if I have never used Google maps before ( I have, many times) and my sister chewing anti-nausea pills like they were candy. She generally doesn’t get motion sick but I would argue that the roads in Ireland are enough to bring the strongest stomached person to the state of sticking your head out of the window as far as possible and only making grunts when someone asks you a question, lest you spew something other than words.  Sometimes touristy places get disparaged as being inauthentic but I would recommend a stay in Doolin if you want to see some of the surrounding sites. We saw the caves, of the Cliffs of Moher, the pub,  a lot of friendly people (we did not see a shop, so be prepared if you’re camping there) and beautiful countryside, which is all I ask for from any place.

Fin