Cooped Up in Cork, Ireland

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I’ve been living in Cork for the past few months.

I’m a Dublin girl, so I’d grown up hearing Corkonians talk about how Cork should be the capital city of Ireland, and how Dublin had robbed Cork of its rightful place as the nation’s most important city… It left me with a somewhat garbled idea of what Cork must be like. After hearing all this chatter, I imagined Cork to be a large, multicultural place on par with Dublin. You know, an actual, geographically alternative capital city.

… And then I moved here.

Cork city is tiny. If I walk so slowly I’m practically going backwards, I can walk from my apartment all the way through the city centre to the other side in twenty minutes. Not only that, but considering it’s the south-west corner of the island, I had always imagined Cork to be positively Mediterranean weather-wise. This is also not the case. In fact as I type this, I’m looking out the window at a flat, grey expanse of cloud that is so low it’s partially obscuring the rooftops of surrounding buildings. It has been raining since last night without pause, and this seems to be the usual way of things in Cork. I never realised Dublin could ever be described as “dry” until I lived here.

I realise all this may sound very negative, so let me assure you that Cork has its positives. The surrounding countryside and all of West Cork is truly beautiful, even with the constant, unrelenting rain. The pubs here are charming, the restaurants are wonderful, and the people here will happily talk your ear off if you stand still for longer than two minutes (the key is to keep moving and look busy).

It’s a city with incredible detail. You can walk down a bland, narrow passageway and look up to find beautiful stained glass, or climb up a raggedy-looking hill and come to a little castle, or drive down a bog-standard country road and find an old viaduct.

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When it comes to food and drink, Cork has you covered. For vegetarians, it has unbeatable options such as Cafe Paradiso – the only high-end vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to – and the Quay Co-op which has every possible vegetarian/vegan product you can imagine. For omnivores the arracy of choice is spectacular, from lunches at Orso to brunches at Liberty Grill to dinners and cocktails at Market Lane and Cask. There are coffee shops on every corner, and there are university students everywhere giving the city a young, slightly alternative vibe.

So on balance, I find Cork city… fine.

It’s fine. It’s okay. When we go out with friends it’s fun, and the rest of the time it’s raining and I’m stuck in the apartment, slowly being driven insane by whoever designed this place.

Really, the apartment is probably the crux of my issues with Cork city.

The place we’re renting here was clearly built with only optics in mind. The block was built before the recession, and is presumably now being rented out until house prices go back up and they can make their money back. Whoever designed it obviously gave a lot of thought as to how it would look in photos, but unfortunately nobody stopped to think about how it would feel to live in it.

When we first moved in, I spent valuable time and energy trying to figure out a way to make it more homely. Eventually I admitted defeat, because no amount of soft woollen throws can soften the angular white walls and black and chrome decor. The hard leather couch could probably just about accomodate half a person … as long as that half a person doesn’t mind sitting on something that gives about the same level of comfort as a window ledge. We don’t have a television, but if we did it would be smack in the centre of the room leaving no space for a dining area. The round table – that we have unceremoniously shunted into the corner – is a glass and chrome monstrosity that shows up every streak and stain on its surface. You never need to use coasters, which is nice, but there is something unsettling about seeing your legs every time you look down at your plate.

Basically, if you want to feel comfortable in this apartment, you need to feel like one of those people who isn’t home long enough to give their house a personality and so rents the furniture from a staging crew. You need half a friend, since that’s all that can be comfortably entertained at one time, and you need to be really into microwaveable meals (the microwave here is a space-age contraption the likes of which I’ve never seen before).

The apartment does come with rack space for 12 wine bottles though, so while apparently the ideal home owner will have no friends, they will have the storage space to accomodate a robust alcohol dependency.

I like my apartments to be cosy. I like the place I’m living to have lots of soft textures and warm colours and preferably a fireplace or a stove. Maybe some twinkly lights. Ideally a pet around the place to snuggle with. This apartment checks none of those boxes. It makes me sad. I hope I can shake off my discomfort for the last few weeks that I’m here and maybe venture out into the rain a bit more… I can’t have seen everything there is to see here!

Still, I doubt I’ll be too sad when it’s time to move back to Dublin.

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In other news, I numbered comments on the last post from 1 – 22 (I didn’t count double comments) and then used Google’s handy dandy random number generator to pick a number and it chose:

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… which if I’m right means Lost Astronomer is the winner of this giveaway. Astroboy, send me on your address (if you’re happy to) and I’ll send you on a little box of randomness!

I’m in a bit of a mood today which is seeping into everything I do so if you can read my grumpy thoughts crawling into this post I apologise. Poor Cork, getting the short end of the stick today! I think I’m going to go bake a cake or something to lift my spirits…..

Travel Review: Sensimar, Riviera Maya

Sensimar Seaside Suites
Credit: Tripadvisor

When Scrubs and I walked out of Cancun airport, we were completely unprepared for the heat. I was wearing a thick grey woollen jumper and jeans and immediately started panting like a fat King Charles Spaniel. In hindsight it would have made a lot of sense to have changed into something summery on the plane. However, I’m basically myopic when it comes to looking ahead so instead I took off my jumper, stuffed it under my arm, and greedily gulped at the bottle of water I’d been carrying ever since we left Manchester. Looking up, I snapped a photo of the palm tree overhead and felt a deep calm wash over me.

Heat.

Sunshine.

Palm trees.

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Yes, I liked Mexico already.

A smiling man with our names on a sheet of paper led us to a large taxi, where a driver was waiting to take us to our hotel. Located just outside of Tulum, it took an hour to reach the resort from the airport. I spent most of that hour in an exhausted but excited stupor, staring out the window at the tropical flora that lined the motorway. Every once in a while the giant gates of a resort would loom out of the greenery, looking like cheesy Disneyfied versions of Maya architecture, before receding back into thick jungle for another few kilometres.

Our resort had – thankfully – no giant fake huts or Mayan pyramids adorning the gate. A large stone arch led down a narrow, tree-lined road down to a pavilion, where our friendly driver dropped off our bags and we got our first look at where we were staying. Our hotel, the Sensimar Seaside Suites, turned out to be part of a complex housing three  different (but connected) adult-only hotels.

Sensimar, to the right, was a complex full of little condos. It housed about six restaurants, had multiple swimming pools with swim-up bars, a few thatched cocktail bars, and a long expanse of beach. It was also populated almost exclusively by European tourists.

To the left lay El Dorado, the hotel that catered to American tourists. El Dorado was one large rectangular hotel block, with its own swimming pool and restaurant but not much of a beach. The people staying at this hotel could – and often did – spend their days and nights roaming Sensimar where they had more options, more food, and actual sand.

… And then, tucked away neatly in the middle behind a large white wall with a wooden door, was Hidden Beach, a small, boutique, nude resort. According to the googling I did about this place, it’s one of the nicest nudist hotels in Mexico, so. You know, if you’re looking for a place to get a tan where you don’t need to worry about tan lines…! I didn’t venture in, mostly because I read some reviews by grumpy nudists giving out about people popping in to have a look IN THEIR SWIMSUITS. THE VERY NERVE! I wasn’t prepared to strip down again just to have a nosy, so I decided to leave the wooden door unopened.

On arrival, we were presented with glasses of prosecco, which was nice, although really all I needed at that stage was a change of clothes and about five gallons of water. We were given a mercifully brief explanation of the facilities available, and told that there would be a more extensive talk at 9am the next morning with our personal concierge. At this, Scrubs and I immediately shot each other the universal look for ‘No way in hell are we doing that,’ and then we smiled at the nice man as he gave us our key and directions to our suite.

Our suite was lovely.

We stayed in a premium suite, so we had one of those bathrooms with two washbasins, a jacuzzi, and separate little rooms for our shower and toilet. Whenever I see a bathroom with two washbasins I always wonder who are these desperately busy people that can’t stand waiting to use the sink while the other person brushes their teeth? I’m really not convinced there’s ever truly a need for two sinks in one bathroom, but I do concede that it gives me a lot of counter space on which I can spread every unnecessary item I own, so I’m not complaining.

We also had robes and slippers in the room, which I love … even though for some reason all robes seem sized for giants so I always look like I’m being kidnapped by an expanse of white cotton.

After setting down our stuff and changing into clothes that didn’t feel like thermal underwear, we unpacked the essentials (Scrubs unpacked suncream and sandals, I unpacked my inflatable donut and snorkel) and set out to explore the place. It was a bit cloudy that evening, but after picking up a cocktail from the bar we watched the sunset and agreed that it was a beautiful place.

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The resort is really spectacular. It never felt crowded, each little path was hidden between large patches of leafy vegetation, and it’s all-inclusive so as you can imagine there were many, many cocktails consumed.

Here is a hideously unflattering photo of me fresh out of the sea doing just that:

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No make-up, no shame…Great cocktail! (Electric Lemonade)

The Sensimar has hammocks strung up around the place where you can read or worry about the coconuts overhead, a beach volleyball area, a ping pong table, and also a giant chess set for the less athletically inclined (me). We spent most of our days on the beach, because I am a sea baby through and through and God knows we don’t see much of the sun back in Ireland.

Also, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the beach when it looked like this:

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Seriously. Look at that sand.

On our second day, when we returned to our room, I found a towel animal on the bed. I can’t fully express my excitement at finding this towel animal, except to say that I made a noise that sounded not dissimilar to what I imagine a surprised chimp might sound like. I took a photo of it and then very carefully lifted it off the bed and moved it to the table in the corner of the room.

I then wrote a note for housekeeping asking them to please not remove Towelephant, because I loved him. I mean, just look at him. He’s adorable!

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Housekeeping not only honoured my wish, but the next day when they did up the room they left me another towel animal! I’ll leave my disproportionate levels of enthusiasm to your imagination. I carefully scooped up Towel Rabbit and placed him on the table next to Towelephant.

This continued for each day that we were there. Not only did housekeeping not say anything about my growing menagerie of Towel Animals, they actively encouraged it by making me a different animal every day. On the last day I made a little conga line on the floor and photographed them, so here the rest of them are for your viewing pleasure:

We tried most of the restaurants. They all had decent food, although the one night we had booked for the fancy asian fusion place I was feeling pretty rough thanks to serious dehydration, so I didn’t get to enjoy the food there as much as I would have liked. The buffet breakfasts were my favourite though. There are few things better than hotel breakfasts; you can get first breakfast (cereal), then second breakfast (yogurt and waffles with maple syrup … or fruit, I suppose, if you’re so inclined), then third breakfast (custom omelette and toast), and just keep going until you have to roll yourself out to the Balinese beds to digest under the sun.

Ideal.

I loved the wildlife around the place – iguanas, Fiddler crabs, geckos, coati, agouti – they could all be spotted around the resort. One of the days they even had some casual hawks just… around the place, chilling on their perches, looking very disgruntled (although I think that’s just their usual expression).

The swimming pools were also incredible, although we didn’t actually use any of them.

… Sea baby, like I told you.

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Even when it was cloudy, like it was on the day we were leaving, it was still a beautiful place.

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What else is there to say about Sensimar… The location is great; Tulum ruins and town centre are only a $4 colectivo away. If you want to eat at either of the two restaurants that take bookings, try to make the booking as soon as you arrive (or even before) because they seem to book out about four days in advance. Definitely drop by the personal concierge because they will swap out your pillows (if you prefer them softer or firmer or whatever you’re into yourself), and they will also change the contents of your minibar if you want less beer or more juice or extra packets of crisps. They’re really nice. Actually that goes for everyone who works there; the staff were amazing, and I don’t just mean housekeeping. They are the loveliest people and their curiosity about you is genuine.

Also, and this is more of a general Mexico rule, if you do go, don’t bother bringing a hair straightener. I’d straighten my hair, and five minutes later it looked like this:

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That’s after just eating breakfast! Three hours later I looked like a Springer Spaniel.

If all-inclusive is your thing, I would definitely recommend this place. It’s beautiful, it’s spotless, the drinks are delicious, there’s plenty to do, and – obviously – towel animals. We got a great deal on flights and the hotel with TUI and I think these deals come around pretty often, so could be worth checking. That was my first time at an all-inclusive place and I have to say that, going forward, I’m not sure it’s for me. I felt it really limited us in terms of exploring, since anytime we thought about going for a drink or a bite to eat in Tulum we would think, ‘OR we could just stay here and have it for free‘ which is what we would inevitably end up doing.

The other thing is that they had these (very lovely) reps going around every morning trying to recruit you for group activities like beach volleyball, or table-tennis tournaments, which made me feel like I was in a modern version of Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing. I am not about group activities. I am not even really about activity in general. I think I prefer hotels in which I have to actively seek out things to do rather than feeling like I’m being conscripted into some sort of cheerful chain gang.

Still, it was a beautiful place to spend a few days. I had a brilliant time! I ate myself silly, I tried almost every cocktail on the menu, I got pretty close to petting an iguana, and I successfully avoided participating in any group activities.

Sensimar gets two thumbs up from me!

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I reached 1000 followers!

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I hate being asked to retweet/regram/re-whatever accounts when I want to enter a giveaway so I’ve decided I’m not doing that, but I did make a facebook page (I know, look at me and my notions) for my blog, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d hit the ‘like’ button! I haven’t decided how I’m going to do the giveaway, although I’m toying with just entering anyone who comments on my Friday post… What do you guys think? On one hand I run the risk of leaving out lurkers, but on the other hand, I’d like whoever wins the giveaway to be someone who engages with me because then I can tailor the little package a bit, you know?

Has anyone else done a giveaway? How did you do it?

Life Skills Unlocked: Reading for Enjoyment

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage thr.png

When I was a child, I would read books to teleport out of my life. One moment I would be lying in bed staring at the white ceiling, anxiety clawing at my throat, and the next I would be visiting prickly Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, or laughing at Dogmatix and his fondness for trees. My introduction to reading was a steady and consistent diet of Beatrix Potter, Goscinny and Uderzo, Hergé, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Enid Blyton. I read compulsively, almost obsessively.

As soon as I was able to read by myself, it became a fixation; whether we were out for a walk or it was after dark, I would have a book in my hand. I became adept at reading while also watching where I was going. I would fall asleep with my cheek pressed against the page.

My mother made us members of the public library and each week she would drive there and let me check out seven books, since that was the most that was allowed at the time. I still remember carrying my wobbly pile to the counter and watching the lady methodically stamp each one before handing them back to me with a smile. If I close my eyes I can still smell the ink and paper.

For a time, Enid Blyton was my crack; Wikipedia tells me Enid Blyton published 762 books and I’d say I’ve read the vast majority. My addiction was so intense that my mother actually forbade me to borrow any more of them. There were multiple trips to the library where I would have to engage in serious subterfuge to get my fix. I would pick out my books, wait patiently for my mother to go out of the room, and then rush the counter in a blind panic to get them stamped before she returned. I would hide them under my jumper or tuck them into the waistband of my highly fashionable corduroy trousers. I could carefully conceal two Enid Blytons (three if I was wearing a jacket). Of course, to avoid suspicion, I would have to then borrow four or five books just for show. When my mother inevitably wondered why I hadn’t checked out the usual seven, I would have to pretend I couldn’t find anything else that interested me.

In hindsight, I wonder what the librarian made of us…

After Enid Blyton I got hooked on Nina Bawden, R.L. Stine, Bill Watterson, K.A. Applegate, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Garth Nix and eventually just a broad scope of authors from all different genres. As I grew up, I continued to see books as an escape route to other worlds. Anytime I was feeling too much stress or anxiety or discomfort or worry, I would open a book and disappear into it head-first. It was like a wormhole to another life; a sort of body-swap, if you will. I would slip into the shoes of the main character and do what they were doing, feel what they were feeling. I was Sabriel learning to ring the bells, I was Lyra leaving Pantalaimon on the shore. When I finished a book I always felt bereft, like I’d been kicked out of a temporary home.

I think that all of my time spent inside stories – looking through the eyes of different characters and experiencing their adventures, loves, heartbreaks, successes and betrayals – has made me a more empathetic person. I think it taught me so much more about life than what I could ever learn from my own experiences. I won’t say reading makes someone a better person but I do think it makes them a more rounded one. Books have taught me so much more about people than I could ever have learned otherwise. It gave and still gives me insight into lives completely different to my own, motivations I could never share, and realities I could never imagine. In a way, reading other people’s blogs is an extension of that. Reading other people’s blog posts lets me share in their feelings and inhabit their world for a minute or two.

I have a clear and vivid memory of sitting on the windowsill in my 4th class classroom, reading during lunch hour, when a friend saw me and said, “Quinn, when you grow up you’re probably going to marry a book!” At the time I was upset by the comment because I wasn’t an overly sociable child and my interests were pretty much restricted to hanging upside-down from trees and reading. Sometimes I combined the two and hung upside-down from trees while reading. I remember wondering if that would be my life as an adult; just me and my books. I wondered if I would die crushed under a tower of heavy hardbacks that had just been a little too precariously placed.

Now that I am an adult, I am in a much better place. I live a happier, less stressful life. I no longer feel the need to body-swap with fictional characters. These days I read because I enjoy it, not because I need it. I no longer desperately try to make out words by the light of the moon (terrible for your eyes, by the way), or escape into stories like I’m using them as a hiding place. I’m glad to say that now that I am a bona fide grown-up, it’s not just me and my books, and my heavy hardbacks are tidily stacked on a sturdy bookcase where they pose no danger to anyone.

[Just a quick note to say that (astonishingly) I am getting closer to 1000 readers and if I do reach that number I will be doing a weird but fun little giveaway! 

… Well. Even if I don’t ever reach that number I’ll probably do the giveaway. Basically, I am planning a giveaway and writing it here so I don’t forget because although I’m excellent at compiling things I always slack on actually going to the post office! I mean, I have three things that I’ve been meaning to post out for about a month now, so might as well add this to the list. It’s happening! Don’t let me forget!]