6 days on the West Coast of Ireland

I have just come back from a six day trip around the west of Ireland with my mother, leaving last Monday morning and coming back yesterday. We went to Galway, Connemara, Inis Mór and Kinvara (with a view to visiting the Burren).

It was one of those trips where things did not go quite as expected.

One of the things that Irish emigrés often talk about upon their return is the sense of a “reverse culture shock”, and the difficulty of resolving their memories of what Ireland is like vis-a-vis what is actually confronting them on their return.

On this trip I was confronted by an image of Ireland as saccharine, parochial, charming. The place was set out for international tourists, particularly on Inis Mór, the largest island of the Aran Islands. We took a pony and trap tour of the Island which was informative and illuminating. Alongside us were an Italian family who snapped pictures over and over of the wattle and daub, thatched houses. It was a little bit funny, because my aunt owns a very similar house in Donegal in which I spent a lot of time during my childhood, and I imagined crowds of Germans and Americans standing outside snapping pictures while we shot air rifles in the back garden or walked to the beach.

Nevertheless, particularly on Aran, I had a sense of resentment from the local people. The service we received in local pubs and restaurants betrayed a lack of training and suggested that hospitality was a profession forced on many on the island rather than chosen; we were informed during our tour that 80% of the island’s income came from tourism. For an island which previously relied on agriculture and fishing, it was suggestive of a way of life in the process of destruction and decline. The disconnect between life as lived and life as presented to outsiders was perhaps particularly startling to me as a domestic tourist.


Another point of interest was visiting St. Nicholas’ Church in Galway, which is Church of Ireland. By chance I came across some regimental banners from the Connaught Rangers, which my great-grandfather had fought in during WWI, having enlisted as a supporter of John Redmond (he had been in the Irish Volunteers and was later in the Irish Free State army). I asked if there was information about the banners, but they had none. (Interesting in itself – in my experience living in England, most Church of England churches would have some information about their regimental banners and memorials).


Moreover, as someone used to travelling alone I found being with my mother all the time at times very restrictive, especially as without a driving licence I could not really go off by myself with the car (and public transport is non-existent). The upshot of this is the realization that I really do prefer travelling solo, at least if I’m going for more than 3-4 days (I was worried I was buying into the hype a bit too much), I ought to finally get a driving licence, and self catering is the way to go (there is only so much restaurant food I can take, but this seems to differentiate me strongly from nearly everyone I’ve travelled with). I ended up buying a pack of amber leaf (the 3-in-1 packs banned in the UK are still sold in the RoI), as being around my mother’s chain smoking all day every day was too much for me – though I can hardly hold her at fault for that. I suppose one of the more interesting things about travel, aside from the cultural impressions made on you by the places you visit, is what you learn about yourself and how you relate to others (particularly travel companions).


Moving from the UK to Germany: a Paperwork Guide

Intuitively this seems like something which should be simple, with Germany being in the EU. Actually I think for the most part it is, but there are quite a few things which have come up which I wasn’t expecting. So here goes.

1. Sort out your accommodation in the UK

This means selling your property or moving out of your rented accommodation and settling up all utilities and bills. It’s an obvious one, but there can be a lot to think about here (phone, internet, water, gas, electricity, insurance, council tax, etc). It is especially important to remember to tell the council you are moving. You should also let your doctor and dentist know.

2. Inform HMRC and Student Finance

Generally you need to inform HMRC that you are moving to avoid paying tax on your earnings abroad (though this depends how many days out of the tax year you are spending out of the UK). You need your last P45 and can fill in the P85 form online.

You also need to inform student finance. Although some people try to escape student debt by moving abroad, SF are now apparently hiring international debt collectors to track you down. You will need to fill in a form and will need your contract, or the last three payslips. If you are a recent graduate, you don’t need to do this until your account enters repayment, which is at the start of the tax year (April) after you graduate. The debt can be paid by direct debit from a UK bank account.

3. Banking

You can generally keep your bank accounts open when you move abroad, and I would advise you to do so, as setting up a UK bank account (which you may need later) while non-resident is almost impossible. However, you will not be able to pay into an ISA, so do that before you leave.

Credit Union accounts in the UK are generally governed by a “common bond” which is often geographical or professional. You should contact yours to find out what they advise.

A few things to be aware of when setting up a German bank account:

  • Cash is used for most day-to-day payments in Germany
  • ATMs are less common and will often charge you for withdrawals
  • Free banking is less common and most accounts will charge a monthly fee

I have decided to set up an account with Sparkasse, who operate the most ATMs and have a reasonable fee. However, it is important to do your own research and chose the bank that works best for you.

4. Register and get a residence certificate 

After you have found accommodation (and that will be another post in itself), you need to register with the Meldebehörde, which will be located in a building called the Bürgeramt or similar. Depending on the Bundesland, you will have one or two weeks to do this. You will then be able to apply for a residence certificate within three months.

Back home in Derry

I flew from Bristol to Belfast last night. The flight had a three hour delay, and easyjet compensated us by offering a £3 voucher, which given we were in an airport wasn’t even enough to buy a sandwich! Nevertheless, eventually I managed to get on a plane and escape back to Ireland, where my mother was waiting for me at the airport.

Today I am mostly relaxing, but also going through all my preparations for moving to Germany. It feels as though I am at the end of a long period of uncertainty and stasis and I can finally feel some mental clarity returning. I feel I know exactly what I have to do and I have no hesitations about working through it, even if that meant I was on the phone to SSE first thing this morning.

I also am working on reigning in my lifestyle and spending. I am off the cigarettes again and also trying to do some exercise. This was helped by going to the Brecon Beacons with my friend on Sunday, where we climbed Sugar Loaf.

It was a strange relief coming home; I felt better than I had done in months, as if I could finally get on with my life. Although it was very nice to stay with my friend, it seemed to continue, or even contribute to the sense of prolonged stasis I was feeling. For the first time in a long time, I am starting to feel like myself again.

My 5 Worst Hostel Experiences

Since 2014 I have been reviewing every hostel I’ve stayed in on TripAdvisor. Since then, at least, I have stayed in 23 different hostels across Europe, so I hope that that figure gives an impression that I (to some extent) have an idea of what I am talking about, and this list is intended to be humorous. No doubt, however, there is much worse out there…

1. The Mosquitoes

It was 2015 and I had just finished a contract at a summer school in the Basque country. I had just travelled to San Sebastian with a colleague and was staying in a hostel in Bilbao before catching a flight back to London.

The hostel I stayed in in Bilbao was clean (very clean), but like most places in that part of Spain there was no A/C. Unfortunately, there were also mosquitoes. The dorm was faced with a choice of keeping the windows open (and getting eaten alive), or shutting them and getting hot. Very hot. This was during the 2015 summer heatwave. It was around 35 degrees outside during the daytime, and unfortunately didn’t get much cooler at night. In the end we opted for open windows. I had never thought that I would need a mosquito net for a holiday in Spain, but obviously I was wrong. For whatever reason, I was extremely attractive to them.

I got less than an hour’s sleep, and the next day was covered in angry red bite marks which itched like hell. Did I mention that I had to catch a flight that day? Well, yeah – I had to catch a flight that day.

2. The Bed

This happened at a hostel in Glasgow a few weeks ago. I went to bed early enough, around 10pm and lay down, hoping for some rest. Then I can suddenly feel something sticking into my back. I toss and turn and try to manoeuvre so it isn’t stabbing me. I realize that a spring is loose in the mattress. No matter how much I toss and turn I cannot get comfortable and my back is starting to get very sore. I go to reception to find it is closed. There was only one option left. I picked up my duvet and slept on a sofa in the common room.

3. The Sales Pitch

This happened at a hostel in Romania in July 2014. I will avoid naming the city, or it will become obvious which hostel I am talking about. I arrived in the afternoon with a large group and we were immediately met with a lengthy (maybe one hour) sales pitch for a number of tours and excursions. I knew from my previous research that the prices being quote were disproportionate to the actual cost, though the Americans I was with all went for it. Any attempt I made to ask the staff for information was met with lies or exaggerations (“The train station is really far away, you should use our taxi service”, etc). I asked for a key to the dorm and was asked for a 50 lei deposit, and getting that back was an interesting experience to say the least…

4. Others’ Indiscretions…

I was staying at a hostel in London in September 2014, for one night only. I had chosen the hostel because it was easily accessible from Heathrow airport: I had flown in from Milan and was flying out to Belfast the next day.

When I went to the dorm I was met by a friendly Australian guy in his late 20s, who was sleeping in the bunk below mine. Although he was quite keen to encourage me to come and drink with others in the hostel despite my protestations, he seemed alright. That is, until 3am, when I was woken up by the bunk shaking back and forth violently. I heard a woman moaning, and I realized immediately what was happening. This did not stop even when I got up and climbed out of the bunk, nor did it stop when I pulled my bag out of the locker beneath them. It continued even as I started packing up my belongings. As I left I noticed that he had left his wallet on the floor and his locker was unsecured. I hope that poor sucker chose his partner wisely.

5. The Fistfight

It was spring 2015 and I had just participated in an Angloville programme just outside of Wroclaw, and was staying at a hostel in the city for a few days afterwards to get a taste of the place. I had just finished my first set of university exams and was feeling optimistic about life.

It started normally, with some obnoxious idiots turning on the light at 4.30am after a night drinking and making a nuisance of themselves. I groaned at the thought of having to confront them, but before I could get up, a man sleeping in the bed opposite me had other ideas. He marched over to the group of guys and immediately headbutted one of them in the face. A loud argument in Polish followed and punches were thrown. I pulled the duvet over my head and waited for it to be over.

Eventually the man who had got violent was asked to leave (with threats of calling the police). Despite all this, it still took two complaints to reception to get the others to shut up and let the rest of the dorm sleep.

Putting the self on display – and Writing about Writing

There is something strange about keeping a blog like this, where so much of my life has been put on display to read. I shrunk from linking it on facebook until recently and when I did (and got a surge in hits) I felt a strange sense of shame, as if I’d suddenly had something intimate more widely exposed. Would the people I had written about read what I had written? Would they think I was some self obsessed idiot, or be surprised at my neuroticism?

We live in a world where the way in which people “write” has fundamentally changed. If you wish to get your writing out there, you must create a blog. One common aim is to generate traffic and eventually monetize. More and more novels are commissioned from bloggers. Moreover, blogging has become an important avenue of marketing. Much of what in a previous era would have been called “copywriting”, is now known as “travel blogging”, “beauty blogging”, and “lifestyle blogging”.

Sensing that I would need some supplementary income in the months to come (my stipend in Germany will cover my living expenses, but with not a lot of room to manoeuvre), I created this blog as an attempt to dip my toe into this rather cynical world. The personal effect of the mixing of personality and blogging “technique” is still something I am adjusting to. I am not sure I ever will, or if it would be natural to.

It was argued by Herbert Marcuse in the 60s that technological development would increasingly interpellate individuals as one-dimensional (and I know I am horribly simplifying here). I have never fully swallowed new-leftist thought but it is strange to feel conscious of oneself as voluntarily participating in such an experience, of putting a constructed, marketized self on display; at times it feels alienating (and certainly moreso than more mundane use of technology, e.g. social media).

Perhaps creative output has always involved a bit of self-marketing. Examples of this can be certainly found in the classical world at least (as anyone who has read any Cicero can testify to). At any rate, please have a look at some of my previous posts, e.g. Why I am Accepting Minimalism or Deutsche Sprache, Schwere Sprache, and remember to like, comment and share!


Why I am Accepting Minimalism

I am currently in the process of pruning down the number of things I own, to the point where I can fit everything in 3 rucksacks and a briefcase. The list is as follows:

  • Laptop 
  • Smartphone
  • Adaptors 
  • Kindle
  • Camera 
  • titanium pan 
  • Knife – buy
  • 1 set of cutlery
  • Bowl
  • Sleeping bag 
  • Bivy bag 
  • Camping mat
  • big rucksack
  • small rucksack
  • Daypack 
  • Briefcase 
  • drybags
  • travel towel 
  • 5 blouses 
  • 2 bras 
  • 10 pairs of socks (inc. walking socks)
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • Trainers
  • formal shoes
  • Hiking boots
  • Sandals 
  • Flipflops 
  • 2 pairs of shorts 
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Pyjamas x2 
  • Outdoor seat
  • Outdoor fleece
  • Walking trousers
  • shell coat 
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 1 scarf
  • Winter coat
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 jumper
  • Suit jacket
  • Nylon tights
  • Work skirt
  • Nail scissors
  • Water bottles and flasks
  • Tarpaulin sheet x 2 
  • Whistle, compass, map case
  • Sheewee 
  • Trowel
  • Diary
  • Pen
  • Notebooks
  • Folder with important documents (passport etc)
  • Duct tape 
  • Water purification tablets 
  • Inflatable pillow 
  • Eye masks and earplugs 
  • books
  • Swimsuit 
  • Goggles
  • washcloth
  • first aid and toiletries
  • insect repellent/suncream

The list reflects my interest in outdoor activities and hopefully will cover all eventualities. I hope that this project will help me keep track of what I own and what I have with me.

The choice of the word “accepting” in my title is deliberate; I am not choosing or seeking minimalism, and in many respects I feel it is something put upon me. Most importantly, I am doing it to make my life less stressful.

In the last 5 years I have moved 6 times. This does not include the ends and beginnings of my terms at Oxford where I have had to move all of my stuff out of my room and then back in again after the vacation. I am about to move again at the end of this month, and will make a further move at the end of August, to Germany.

It has got easier with time, but there is always a sense of dislocation, of scatteredness, of things slipping out of your reach. Things get lost and damaged. It becomes physically draining to carry and move things, unless you are willing to pay through the nose for help. It is not surprising that most people try to avoid having to move more than a few times in a lifetime. A minimalist approach offers at least some sense of control over what you possess; though it is marketed at the middle class as offering some kind of freedom or transcendence of the need for material possessions.

For my generation, who are trapped in a cycle of precarious jobs, contract based work and renting, this approach to life seems more a necessity to cope rather than a conscious lifestyle choice. Moving every year or second year has started to seem inevitable; I do not see how I could avoid it even if I did jump into the rat race in London or Bristol like most of my friends seem to be doing.

I find the one-upmanship that surrounds “minimalism” in travel forums and among bloggers totally baffling. The ultimate point of it is convenience, practicality and saving money. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

Deutsche Sprache, Schwere Sprache

I am asked often, when I tell people that I am moving to Germany in August, whether I speak German.  My response is always a kind of “Er…a bit”, and a swift change of topic. In truth, I have made a lot of effort to learn the language, but it presents a lot of its own challenges, particularly with speaking. I started learning German in earnest last summer, driven in part by the realization that I needed to read German for my thesis, and also by infatuation with my Luxembourgian boyfriend (who then dumped me in January).

The British council job I applied for only specified the need for B1 level German, which, to the uninitiated, means, “lower intermediate”, or a level approximating AS level in the British system. This I achieved, but my progress has been stalled by finals. It was hard to justify spending an hour a day on German when I could be putting the time into study for my exams. Similarly, right now, my progress is hindered by the long and irregular hours of my summer job, though that will come to an end soon.

When I am studying, I try to put an hour or so into it every day. There are a couple of tools I find really useful, which I’ll outline below:

1. Duolingo and memrise: grammar and vocabulary drilling tools
2. lang-8.com – a writing website where one can submit a few paragraphs of writing and have it corrected by native speakers
3. Teach Yourself German – I find it really helpful to also work through a structured course
4. Hammer’s German Grammar (and the accompanying workbook) – massively useful resources for learning German Grammar
5. bliubliu.com – a website which will massively improve your reading fluency by teaching vocabulary in context
6. Deutsche Welle learn German – a treasure trove of German learning resources at all levels
7. Easy Readers – books produced in German (along with most other European languages) graded A1, A2, B1 and B2. I am about to start a B2 graded book.

I hope, that once my job is finished, I can return to this with my full energy with attention, as well as the other languages I have dabbled in previously (Russian, Spanish, Italian), and those I’ve studied a bit more seriously (French and Irish). But, right now, German will be a priority!


A Persian-style Tagine

A variation on Vegetarian Student Kitchen: A Persian-style Stew.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 x butternut squash
1 x aubergine
2 x tinned tomatoes
1 x green pepper
1 x 400g chickpeas
2 tbsp honey (or agave nectar for a vegan version)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp harissa
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinammon
Around 5 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper


  1. Julienne the onion and pepper. Cut the squash and aubergine into chunks. Crush or finely chop the garlic. Drain the chickpeas.
  2. Put the squash and aubergine on a roasting tray and cover with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven at 200 Celsius (gas mark 6) for 25 minutes.
  3. Once the vegetables are roasted, sauté the onion and garlic in a large pan with a lid or a tagine until the onion is translucent. Add the harissa and spices and fry at a medium heat for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the squash and aubergine and cook until covered with the spices. Next add the tomatoes, honey, lemon juice and salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the chickpeas and peppers and cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
  6. Serve hot with e.g. hummus, couscous, or pitta bread.

Relaxing in Cheltenham…and turning 24

I am currently staying at a friend’s place in Cheltenham, sleeping on a futon in his drawing room, and will be until Monday when I fly to Belfast from Bristol.

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera

(My current living situation. The whale was a birthday present.)

It it a strange feeling to suddenly have barely anything to do after the stress of moving in the last few days. I almost am starting to feel myself coming round to feeling human again. The stress of moving prompted me to smoke two packs of cigarettes but I’ve stopped smoking them again now, without much difficulty. My body still aches from carrying everything, but at least I feel some sense of calm.

I feel I am just about to start catching up on my friends, a lot of whom have been in work already for a year or two. But I suppose this is simply a peril of doing a four year course and then having a year out. At any rate, it feels good to no longer be “stuck”.

This sense of delay was brought home to me on Monday evening when a friend wished me happy birthday and gave me a present. It was very thoughtful of her, especially because I hadn’t mentioned anything about my birthday to anyone, being caught up with graduation and moving.

This has triggered something of a quarter life crisis, as I wonder what the hell I am doing, and more importantly what the hell I am going to do after my contract finishes in Germany. I suppose I can only wait and see…

Moving on: saying goodbye to Oxford

I am leaving Oxford on Tuesday.

I am sure I will be back to the city in years to come, not least because some of my friends will still be living here. But I won’t be.

My time at Oxford has been full of ups and downs, some of which I discussed in detail previously. 

Nevertheless, there is something distinctly bittersweet about packing up and leaving. It all came to an end academically with my graduation on Friday, which consisted of a rather impersonal two hour ceremony in Latin. I did get to wear the fancy hood with a white ermine lining, somehow symbolizing that I had, after all this time, progressed from the uncertain undergraduate status to that of a graduate. I have my 2.i. I can finally leave.

Right now I am in the throes of intensively cleaning my flat, something which is made rather more difficult by the fact my flatmates have both gone home. But I agreed to do it and it will be manageable. The worst jobs (cleaning the cooker hood and unblocking the sink) are already done, so there are some small mercies. But I will nevertheless have to be up early.

I have also got rid of most of my belongings. The entire contents of my kitchen will go in the bin tomorrow, which is a slightly depressing thought. It would be nice to able to take things to foodbanks and charity shops, but without a car that is necessarily a struggle. It is strange to see that everything I now own can be fitted into two rucksacks and two shopping bags. It is a mildly depressing thought, but also a necessity.

I will go Cheltenham to stay with a friend for about a week, who very kindly has offered to let me stay until I fly to Belfast next Monday. We are hoping to get to the Brecon Beacons at the weekend, but that will depend on a number of factors. Tomorrow will be taken up by cleaning, saying goodbye to a friend, and probably a final smoke on my balcony, just for old time’s sake.