Tuesday, June 14, 2016

All Things Irish -- Phoenix Park in Dublin

Pedestrians taking of the bike lane at Phoenix Park
For the last few years I've been hearing that Phoenix Park in Dublin (created in 1662) is the largest urban park in Europe. Living in Munich with its grand and expansive English Garden, I've always found this a wee bit hard to swallow. So last weekend--when it was pouring down rain in Munich--I decided to set off from our flat across from the Convention Centre in Dublin (which is just about as close to the sea as you can get) to Phoenix Park, which is on the western edge of Dublin--on foot. Hold your applause till the end please.

I like walking. You might even say I love walking. Do you love walking? Dublin on foot is very doable, especially if you use the Liffey as your guide. The river runs west to east through Dublin and is of course the life of the city. It flows past the Convention Centre, O'Connell Street and Temple Bar, under the Ha'penny Bridge, past the Guinness brewery-cum-very-cool-museum, past the National Museum of Ireland and finally (but this is just the beginning) to the entrance of Phoenix Park.

Having a look at Phoenix Park on the map, I see it actually looks bigger than Dublin itself. I'm beginning to think our quaint English Garden, with its 910 acres (I've just Googled it), won't even begin to measure up. It turns out that Phoenix Park boasts 1,750 acres. By the time I reach the entrance, I've already been walking for around 45 minutes. But, again, hold your applause until the end.

By this time, I've also forgotten why I'm here: to see BLOOM, the garden show that's on this weekend. Because I'm always embarrassingly uninformed, I think the entire Phoenix Park will be bursting with flowers everywhere, that I'm in for the most giantest, most floweriest day of my life. And of course I'm totally wrong about this. Phoenix Park is kind of boring when it comes to flowers. It's mostly big open fields where deer roam and massive pop concerts are held, vistas and rolling hills and the occasional bench. It's wilder than I thought it would be. It's less park and more countryside. And, sadly, there's a nice fat road cutting it down the middle.

When I see a sign that tells me BLOOM is only 25 minutes away--I'm walking in the bike lane with hundreds of other people--I remember, ah yes, BLOOM. It's not, in fact, the entire Phoenix Park but only a small bit of the park to the far far far west. Ten minutes later I come to the sign that says BLOOM is only 20 minutes away, which doesn't seem possible unless I've entered a new time-space reality. Ah, wait: for bikes. And I'm walking. And walking. And walking.

Some interesting facts about Phoenix Park while I'm walking:
  • It includes the residence of the President of Ireland.
  • It's home to the Dublin Zoo, the third oldest zoo in the world.
  • It boasts the tallest obelisk in Europe: The Wellington Monument (62 meters).
  • The Deerfield Residence is home to the US Ambassador to Ireland.
  • The Phoenix Park Motor Races are planned again for July 30 and 31 (2016), if you're into that sort of thing.
About an hour later I finally arrive at the entrance to BLOOM just past the residence of the President of Ireland. It costs a whopping 20 euros to get in, so I decide I've seen enough vegetation for the day. I jump into a taxi, not because I'm exhausted, but because I can't wait to get to my favorite Mexican restaurant in Dublin, Mama's Revenge. Nachos with absolutely everything they have. And a cider. A perfect end to a long walk. You can applaud now.

The Wellington Monument
I love taking taxis in Dublin. Dublin taxi drivers are almost always talkative and friendly. I found out from this one that Donald Trump will be visiting Ireland and Scotland soon. We had a grand discussion about how the US has completely lost its mind. Ireland and Scotland, I hope you give Trump a nice welcome--with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Or do you throw something else. Chime in! What would you throw at Donald Trump?  

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: Have you entered the 2016 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition? The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2016. 

____________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whitewashed Mykonos

Mykonos is probably per capita the world's biggest consumer of white paint. At the very least, there must be a large shipment of whitewash to the Cycladic Islands in Greece each month. While not all houses on Mykonos are painted in the traditional whiter-than-white, white walls have become the standard since the 1930s, and it's what tourists have come to expect.

It was in the 1930s in fact when the Cycladic Islands began to enjoy the gift of tourism. Before that time, they endured the scourge of occupation, pillaging and ransacking--which was not so nice. The Venetians, though, left a nice mark on Mykonos in the much-photographed Little Venice.

The old town of Mykonos is now a maze of trendy bars, pricey clothing shops and restaurants where dinner might cost you a month's rent. Mykonos is known for attracting guests who can afford to pour a 600-euro bottle of champagne over their heads.

We're in the mood for a champagne bath, so we stop at one of these restaurants, try to take a peek inside. The conversation with the greeter goes something like this:

We start to enter (read barge in) just to have a look around because we, it seems, are cretins born in a barn.

The greeter blocks our way. "Have you visited us in London or Paris?" She's in her twenties. Her tan is perfect. Her smile is Mykonos white. She smells like spring.

"Um, probably," I say, pulling my arrogant face. "I've been to so many exorbitantly expensive places. It's hard to keep them all straight." I turn to Egbert the Armadillo Roller's Assistant. "Didn't we go there with Carl and Peter last summer? You know, when we poured the 600-dollar champagne on our heads?" I swoosh my head and pick up the menu. Cocktails start at 6000 euros and a finger of your choice. "Can we have a look around? Ambience is very important to us . . . if we're going to eat here instead of buying a car."

"Do you have a reservation?"

"Do we know how the ambience is inside?" I counter.

"Do you need to? We do have locations in London and Paris."

"So does McDonald's."

She laughs hysterically because I am so funny. And adorable.

"So, if I understand correctly, we can't have a peek inside."

"No."

The funny thing about these trendy restaurants in the old town of Mykonos is that they don't even have a view of the sea. You're not going to watch the sun set here. You might as well be in a restaurant in London or Paris. Same with most of the trendy bars.

Obligatory Photo of Little Venice, Mykonos
Obligatory Photo of Mykonos Windmills
There is (at least) one restaurant where the food is reasonably priced and good, where you can watch the sun set. It's Joanna's Niko's Place a short walk down to the sea from the old town of Mykonos. The first evening we eat there, we don't have a reservation, so we can't sit outside to watch the sun set. We like the food so much, however, that we make reservations to eat there the following evening. And it is definitely worth it.

The Sunset from Joanna's Niko's Place

Most people who visit Mykonos stay in their snazzy hotel, broil themselves at the pool, and prowl around the old town at night. Not us. We rent a car and explore the island. Egbert the Armadillo Roller's Assistant and I go hiking. Mykonos is one of those Greek islands that has very few trees. If you go hiking, remember to bring a hat and sunscreen. You'll be in the sun. The hills are covered in prickly vegetation that smells warm and heady, like curry and spices. It's the fragrance of joy. I know that sounds sentimental, but the air on Mykonos makes me happy. I could walk here for days.


The west of Mykonos is not exactly the safest place to drive. Many small secondary roads are gravel at best, crumbling off the side of the mountain at worst. As we travel the roads we have the feeling that countless building projects have been abandoned. Maybe victims of the 2008 real estate collapse? Most sources, though, say that Mykonos was spared the worst of Greece's financial crisis. The tourists have never stopped coming to Mykonos--at least that's the PR Mykonos gets.


The tourists herd to Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach. I'm not sure what's so super about Super Paradise Beach. Both beaches look pretty much the same, as if they're run by the same people. You can eat lunch at one of the moderately priced restaurants or eat the slop the self-service restaurants serve up. It's fairly basic fare. You'll have a more interesting trip if you get off the beaten path, get out of your car and breathe in the spiced air. 



But most tourists stay in Mykonos town where the air reeks of motorcycle exhaust and the houses are continually whitewashed. I couldn't help seeing this symbolically: that all the white is covering up the pain of a country in crisis. 

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: Have you entered the 2016 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition? The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2016.

___________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.