Why are we all so ready to get in line and then jump the queue?

Irish Independent

I have often been accused of being an overly passive person.

However, there is one thing that makes me feel really quite violent: queue jumpers.

Nothing could be more irritating than, after standing in line for what feels like a lifetime, having someone push in front of you.

Fury

Queue-jumpers can be found in all walks of life: at cinemas, in airports, on ski lifts, even in the most wholesome place on earth – Disneyland.

It would be acceptable if no-one waited their turn, if every time something desirable came along it was every man for himself and elbows were raised in an attempt to get somewhere first.

But as it stands, we supposedly live in a civilised society, whereby order and respect for lines should prevail.

Rules are not made to be broken when it comes to queues.

What really irks me is that when a pushy, brazen type feels he has the right to jump in front, that no-one else reacts.

Yes, I am a self-confessed non-confrontationalist . . . but why is it that everyone else in Ireland seems to be of a similar nature?

We will give the said queue jumper murderous stares, not to their faces of course, only to the back of their heads.

We will glance around looking for support, shaking our heads disapprovingly but we won’t say ANYTHING!

Why are we so passive aggressive? If someone stands on our toe, we apologise.

Awkward

Our lack of directness and complete fear of causing a commotion, while some may consider quaint and charming, won’t serve us well in this fast-paced world.

Those who have caught on to our nation’s passive nature must be having a field day, so confident are they of our inability to stand up for ourselves.

I will only be happy if either anarchy reigns in a world without queues or if everyone learns to respect social certain codes. Otherwise, I might just get violent.

Link to online version: Rant against queue jumpers article- Irish Independent

Net now allows us to embrace the inner stalker within us all

Irish Independent

Have we all become perverts of late? Technology nowadays allows us to embrace the inner stalker within each and everyone of us.

In the age of Big Brother and Bebo, close monitoring of other people’s lives is only a click away.

Through television and the internet, we can embrace a novice yet covert method of stalking.

Information of every description is available through social networking websites (such as Bebo or Facebook).

You can instantly determine someone’s relationship status, see how many friends they have, observe who they are in regular contact with and which events they shall be attending.

Big Brother similarly provides us with a chance to be voyeuristic of complete strangers, allowing us to be privy into how the housemates interact, who they sleep with and who hates who. But why are we so interested in following the lives of strangers or people we hardly know?

After meeting someone or hearing a story about a friend of a friend, it is not considered weird to go and look them up on Bebo and view their profile.

Immediately we learn of information that we either didn’t need or shouldn’t know.

The ‘Bebo look’ is now a regular occurrence, whereby you meet someone out socially and you smile awkwardly because you know more information about them than you should and desperately try and play down any knowledge you have of their social lives that you have obtained through your hobby as a stalker.

Perverse

Whatever about stalking the profiles of people you know, what is perhaps more unhealthy is our avid interest in strangers.

Apparently we have too much time on our hands.

Is our perverse tendency to stalk only developing because information is so accessible, or has there always been an inner stalker trait to all our personalities? While it may only be human nature to be fascinated by how others lead their lives and although looking at facebook/myspace/bebo profile pages and Big Brother may only be a harmless practice, I fear it has opened up doors to a whole new level of unprofessional stalking.

Link to online version: Social Media Article- Irish Independent

Japan: How we unlocked the mysteries of the orient

Irish Independent: ROWENA CROWLEY

When you find yourself travelling on a silent carriage of a high-speed train where you daren’t eat or show your shoulders in public, then you know you can only be in Japan.

I was travelling with three friends, one of whom had been living there for more than a year, so we were hoping that with her by our side, cultural faux-pas would be kept to a minimum.

But even simple activities, such as crossing the street, meant a whole new approach. This is particularly true in Tokyo where you need nerves of steel to cross Shibuya Crossing, the busiest traffic intersection in the world. When the lights turn red, they do so at the same time in every direction, and thousands of pedestrians surge onto the street from all sides in a scene of organised chaos known as the ‘Tokyo scramble’.

In Hiroshima too, crossing the road was an experience, with even the smallest streets having traffic controllers. Even if there isn’t a car in sight, locals won’t cross until they have permission. This rigid following of the rules is a national trademark. But the flip-side is a culture of trust, with bikes left unlocked, and as four girls travelling, we never once felt unsafe.

Another seemingly straightforward activity — dining out — was not as clear cut as you’d expect. On our first day in Tokyo we went to a local restaurant. Guided by pictures on the menu, we tried to order but the waiter kept shaking his head.

As there was no-one else in the restaurant, we couldn’t understand his reluctance to take our order. After many gestures, we eventually established that we had to order and pay through a vending machine first and give the ticket to the waiter.

Food experiences generally baffled us. The nation’s favourite beverage, green tea, comes in endless guises such as green tea bagels, green tea ice-cream and green tea Kit Kats. On the streets, you’re not allowed eat in public, unless it’s ice-cream, and in restaurants, staff will happily dash after you to return a tip.

By day, the locals seem so serene, yet after dark, they reveal a very different side. Their favourite social pastime — karaoke — gives them a chance to let their hair down and we saw everyone from elderly couples to singletons going into booths and singing their hearts out without a hint of Dutch courage in their systems. Putting our embarrassment aside, we finally joined them for a very memorable rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

In pretty Kyoto, a city of 1,600 temples, the old traditions of Japan come to life. On the narrow streets adorned with wooden teahouses and paper lanterns, you see geishas dash from one appointment to the next, striking with their white faces and colourful kimonos.

We stumbled upon our first Zen Garden (Shosei-en) in Kyoto. Filled with ponds, shrines, and ornamental bridges, it spanned more than eight acres and was a haven away from the more touristy parts of the city.

We had a similar feeling of escape when we stayed in our first ryokan (a traditional inn) in Osaka. We were given kimonos and green tea upon arrival, and the room, which was sparse, had pillows filled with rice, in theory to aid sleep, but in practice, not quite. Beds were the one home comfort we always hankered after.

Despite the culture shock it induces, Japan is one of the most captivating countries in the world. The language barrier can be tough, but the people are so hospitable, you’ll always get your point across.

Six months since the tsunami, their response reflects the resilience of this stoic nation but they need all the help they can get. If you’ve taken Japan off your must-see list, now is the time to put it back on. 

Link to online published version: Japan Travel Article- Irish Independent

Maya magic

Irish Independent

 With a no-frills budget and no itinerary, Rowena Crowley set off with six friends to see Central America in six weeks

I don’t think anyone travelling to Central America for the first time really knows what to expect. Six friends and I set off on a six-week adventure into this land of mystery and magic last summer, with the only condition that we had to fly in and out of Cancun, one of the region’s main gateways.

Before we left, we were following hurricane paths, getting vaccinated against every possible infection and debating whether to bring pepper spray as a weapon, given that we were seven girls. We had no hostels booked and no route planned. ‘Just go with it’ was the motto we adopted.

Our first stop was the Yucatan peninsula in the south-eastern corner of Mexico. Flying into Cancun, its seaside hub, was a shock. The place locals call ‘plastic city’ did not meet our expectations of the ‘real’ Mexico — indigenous markets, ancient ruins, cheap food and empty beaches.

Instead, there was an ultra-modern strip, known as the Hotel Zone, consisting of five-star hotels, glamorous shopping malls and hi-tech nightclubs. Everyone spoke English to us, and if you could muster up the basic ‘gracias’ you were thought of as a genius. After two nights, our budgets had enough and we left the Mexican version of Miami by bus in search of some authenticity.

Valladolid was our next destination. We stumbled upon what we presumed would be the worst hostel of the trip — complete with fluorescent orange walls, broken beds, power cuts, and no air- conditioning, doors or toilet seats. But at $4 (€2.80) a night, who’s complaining?

We finally felt we were in Mexico — the guacamole and beer were cheap, there were lots of dogs that looked ravaged by rabies, and many of the townspeople were wearing the traditional dress of the Maya.

The Maya were one of the most advanced pre-Colombian civilisations who prospered in Mexico and northern Central America between 300 and 900AD. Much archaeological evidence has been left by the Maya, most famously the ruins of Chichen Itza (Mouth of the Well). In an attempt to beat the crowds (there are 4,000 visitors each day) and the sweltering heat, we got up early and were at the ruins by 9am. Our guide told us that human sacrifice was a key element to Maya traditions, but being singled out for sacrifice was a huge honour, as these people chosen from an early age had a far better life than the average Mayan.

While in Valladolid, we also embarked on the first of many cycling trips. We rented bikes (some with no brakes, others with flat tyres) and cycled to the Cenotes Dzitnup and Samula. Our bikes were ‘watched’ by enterprising eight-year-old locals while we climbed down a treacherous stone staircase into a huge cave, wherein lies the perfect swimming hole.

Cenotes are a geographic phenomenon found only in this Yucatan area and are sinkholes that make the underground rivers accessible. The water is crystal clear and is lit up by a tiny shaft in the ceiling, dripping with stalactites that reach the water. The Maya considered Cenotes as gateways to the underworld.

Our final destination in the Yucatan Peninsula was Merida, which heralded for us an amazing road trip to see the flamingos of Celestun, a colonial city that lays claim to having the oldest cathedral in Latin America (completed in 1559) and, more importantly, our first major laundry session. It was here that we also waged war on the mosquitoes, armed with nets, repellent, citronella shower gel, incense and a local herb called La Ruda.

We left Merida and got our first overnight bus to Palenque in the Chiapas region. We weren’t sure if we would even get seats and at least expected livestock of some description, so we were very surprised to discover that we all had reclining seats, there was a functioning toilet and not a chicken in sight!

Somewhat delirious from lack of sleep, we embarked on a day trip to the ancient Maya ruins of Palenque, which are surrounded by an encroaching jungle. This was our first experience of the jungle and we learnt to appreciate Ireland’s lack of humidity.

The town itself has little to offer but we used it as a base to get to the famous Agua Azul waterfall, which is a major tourist destination. We were promised impressive waterfalls and a refreshing place to swim. In the hour that we were there, two of our group had to save a man from going under in the strong currents that were produced by the powerful cascades and a Mexican man drowned from jumping off a rock into the water (an activity that many, including my friends, had been engaged in). When we were leaving we saw a hidden sign saying swimming was prohibited but it was a little late for that.

Leaving Palenque, we had our first experience with a second-class bus. It was scheduled to leave at 5am but it wasn’t until 6.30am that it trundled up the street. The bullet holes, broken windows and the fact that the door wouldn’t open properly was somewhat off-putting. Strangely, there were no other tourists on the bus, and what should have been a three-hour ride turned into a seven-hour trip.

We eventually arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas, one of our least favourite places. Rebellion and resentment towards foreign influence has always been a feature of this region since its establishment as a town in 1528. Selling their local crafts to tourists is the indigenous people’s main source of income, yet the presence of visitors is not appreciated.

From here we travelled 12 hours to rugged, southern Oaxaca, one of the best places we visited. The city bears witness to both its colonial and indigenous past, making it both beautiful and of historical interest. But for us, it was all about the food. We sampled chapulines (grasshoppers, which were salty and crunchy — it was best not to think what you were eating), Oaxacan string cheese (quesillo), shots of mescal (a drink similar to tequila that usually has a dead worm at the bottom) and mole (Mexico’s version of curry served as a sauce to meat, combining chilli and chocolate).

We also endured another cycling trip — what we intended to be a two-hour trip to an indigenous village turned into a seven-hour nightmare when we got lost along a mountainous dirt track. With no food or water and a map that had the new names of landmarks — and not the indigenous names that the locals could recognise — we began to lose hope. Eventually we hitched a lift with the first car we had seen in hours. The driver seemed somewhat confused as to how seven pasty Irish girls had ended up alone in an Oaxacan valley. When we made it back to civilization, we said goodbye to Mexico and headed for Costa Rica.

After travelling for 60 hours on a bus, we finally made it to Costa Rica, a land where Bob Marley is God and where taxi drivers hand you a beer and open one up for themselves. Multi-tasking is an important feature of the economy, where the same few people seem to work in all the establishments of a town.

While San Jose, the capital, wasn’t hugely interesting, visiting the most active volcano in Central America, Arenal, was definitely worth the effort. At night we swam in hot springs and watched lava spew down the mountainside while sipping cocktails.

In Monteverde, we went zip-lining through a cloud forest. At times, we were dangling 1,800 metres off the ground, harnessed to a rope. This Cloud Forest Reserve has been a nature reserve since 1972 and only allows a maximum of 150 people in the area at any one time. We happened to bump into some Irish people we knew here as, yes, the world really is that small.

Montezuma, Santa Teresa and Puerto Viejo were all hippy, surfer towns where the Costa Rican laid-back motto of ‘Pura Vida’ (literally meaning ‘pure life,’ referring to enjoying life leisurely and to the full) is particularly embraced. These towns were the type of place you go for a few weeks and never leave.

It seemed we were doing a fairly set tourist circuit as we kept bumping into people we’d previously met. Our plans to become pro-surfers were thwarted by torrential rain, which was an effect of Hurricane Dean.

On our last day in Costa Rica we had a great day white-water rafting in the river Pacuare, doing class four rapids. That night we slept soundly in the check-in area of the airport in San Jose. After travelling down by bus, we frantically found a cheap flight to travel back up to Mexico. Our flight landed in Belize City, where we intended to spend a few days, but at the airport we were made to evacuate on the last bus out of Belize as Hurricane Felix was set to hit the country. We spent the remaining few days in and around Cancun. The people, places and food of Central America won us over — we all plan to return one day.

Link to online version: Central America Travel Article- Irish Independent

The Self-Help Industry: Scam or Saviour?

Ok, so I’ll admit it- I have always wanted to buy the self-help book He’s just not that into you. If not for fear of the scorn of the bookshop workers or my dislike of online shopping, I could have sorted out any relationship problems (or lack thereof) years ago. But many people, it would seem, do not share this sense of embarrassment at purchasing books such as Cinderella Was A Liar: The Real Reason You Can’t Find or Keep a Prince or Angry All the Time. This is evident from the phenomenal growth of the self-help industry.

Bookshops now devote large portions of shelf space to the genre, and self-improvement books continually feature on bestseller lists. In a world where Oprah is God, George Bush has been seen carrying The Middle East for Dummies and with a market worth over £15 billion each year in the UK alone (including books, motivational speaker seminars, videos, CD’s, mail-order catalogues and personal coaching), the self-help industry looks set to grow, as people frantically attempt to improve every aspect of their lives.

But where did this concept emerge from and why is it that we are so overly dependent on other people telling us how to fix our lives?

Before becoming a synonym for psychobabble, the term ‘self-help’ was first employed in a legal context, referring to the principle whereby a party in a dispute has the right to make use of legal means without involving lawyers or even courts to remedy a wrong.

The first literary contribution to the genre of self-help, however, is said to have been published in 1732, when Benjamin Franklin wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack. Then in 1859 came Samuel Smile’s book Self-Help with the opening line ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves.’

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friend’s and Influence People (1936) marked the beginning of the 20th century’s self-help movement and is regarded as the quintessential self-help book, having sold over 50 million copies. Since then the industry has continued to grow, with books such as Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (1992) and The Secret (2007) becoming publishing phenomenons.

Author Christopher Buckley said: “The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one” and looking at the bestseller lists in America or the UK, it would seem this is an accurate assertion. With over 45,000 titles on Amazon that claim to help improve our lives, publishers and authors alike are catching on to this trend.

It doesn’t seem that hard to become a guru of the genre. If you are a recovering alcoholic/ have been a reject in love and/or have had a near death experience, it helps. You also need to reassure people that they should blame their parents/childhood for anything bad that ever happens to them- people like hearing that they are not personally to blame.

It was inevitable that the industry would drift across the Atlantic- mirroring American fads has become quite the speciality the UK and Ireland. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people in the UK has had some form of self improvement service, but according to some surveys, Britons are less happy than ever before.

The New Age self-help genre has grown to such an extent worldwide that there is now a subsection within the market for those who have bought too many books (Bridget Jones comes to mind). An example of such is Stop Improving Yourself and Start Living.

Comedians, likewise, have cashed in on the industry’s success by publishing self-help parodies such as I Hate This Place: The Pessimist’s Guide to Life and Get Stupid! which promotes an ‘ignorance is bliss method’ to obtaining happiness.

Purely in the name of research, I decided to look at some self-help books, only to read that I am going about life completely the wrong way. Below are seven ideas that I picked up from books that will apparently drastically improve my life:

  1. The only reason a person does not have sufficient money is because they are blocking money from coming to them in their thoughts (if the UN read these helpful suggestions, no doubt world poverty would be banished)
  2. Don’t criticise, condemn or complain (what would we talk about if we couldn’t complain? Does this apply to the weather? )
  3. Encourage others by making their faults seem easy to correct (but I thought I wasn’t allowed criticise?)
  4. Shun your friends if they become ill because you are asking to get sick if you are listening to other people talk about their ailments (surely that is a fast-track way to losing friends? Is the aim not to win friends?)
  5. Don’t look at fat people because that encourages ‘fat thoughts’ to enter your mind (yet another helpful suggestion conducive to positive self-image)
  6. What is holding a person back is the relative smallness of their thoughts (big thoughts, big thoughts, hmm, but don’t think big thighs…)
  7. Don’t take anything personally (but you’ve just told me I’m a failure in life)

Unsurprisingly enough, the industry has come under much scrutiny and criticism for making false promises and regulation and accreditation is an issue. Academics have branded the self-help claims as being socially harmful.

Many books of this genre present a model that the participant is to learn and continuously apply to their life. Yet they also contain a disclaimer in some shape or form that absolved the author/guru from problems arising when the model fails. Examples of such include ‘trust your instinct’, ‘you won’t agree with everything I suggest’ and ‘adhere to my step-by-step strategies rigidly.’ These statements enable the author’s to propose unrealistic plans and flawed theories without having to back up their ideas with actual research.

If I have learnt anything from these types of books, it’s that self-help is where the money is. There are just so many self-help junkies out there who are willing to part with their money in search of success, happiness, inner peace, health and wealth. Maybe I could write a book entitled He Actually Is Into You as people will pay to hear that kind of thing.

Published: Trinity Record, May 2004

The Great Gatsby Film Review

F. Scott Fitzgerald died feeling The Great Gatsby was largely unappreciated and misunderstood.  The directors of the three previous film versions of this novella may suffer the same fate as all three were met with poor reviews. The latest attempt is Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s bold and flashy retelling of this great American classic.

Luhrmann is certainly not known for his subtlety. Director of spectacles such as Moulin Rouge and Australia, you know going into a Luhrmann film that it will be an extravagant and over-the-top production, brimming with zim and energy. In The Great Gatsby, this approach proves highly effective in recreating the frenzy of the hedonistic Roaring Twenties.

Decadent, drink-fuelled party scenes that are splashed with glitter and glamour and pulsating with a modern soundtrack capture the passion and zeal of the Long Island of the Prohibition years where the film is set.

The plot follows Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who moves to Long Island in the summer of 1922. He befriends his neighbour, Jay Gatsby, (Leonardo DiCaprio) a mysterious millionaire who throws parties all the time and who is in love with Nick’s married cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Nick is lured into this world of endless money and deceit but ends up being disgusted by the moral emptiness of the wealthy American elite.

Luhrmann has made use of a narration device that involves Nick in a sanatorium writing a book about that era in his life which has left him so depressed as a form of therapy. In both the film and the book, Nick is the non-participating narrator, very much on the periphery of the action. He says of himself that he remains both “within and without” this world of loose morals, lavish parties and jazz.

Maguire is suitably low key in this role and although in the film we never get as comprehensive an insight as we do from this character in the book, the narration frames the film well.

Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly cast as the charismatic enigma that is Jay Gatsby. He is back on familiar territory, playing a character who is from a poor family but falls in love with a wealthy woman as he did in Titanic. In this film, DiCaprio displays Gatsby’s determination, charm and hopefulness that borders of delusion as he tried to recreate the past. In the novel, what makes Gatsby so intriguing is that he’s impenetrable as the reader never really knows the real Gatsby.

In Luhrmann’s version, this mysteriousness is built up at the start of the film when we don’t actually see Gatsby until 20 minutes into the feature. That said, the book is a better medium for capturing this ‘unknowability’ as character descriptions can be much more vague than an up close camera shot.

Comparisons with the book are not the best way to view this film; it needs to be viewed in its own context. Where Luhrmann is successful is modernising the themes of moral decay, decadence and the corruption of the American Dream. The soundtrack plays a key role in contemporising these themes.

Luhrmann collaborated with hip hop artist Jay Z and instead of using music from the 1920s, they made use of modern day songs featuring well known artists such as Florence and the Machine, Lana del Ray and Kanye West. Although this move has been much criticised, the music captures the fever pitch of boom-time and sets the pace of the film. Today’s hip hop is centred on fast cars, money and attractive women which were all features of the jazz age. The relevance of modern day music to the themes of Fitzgerald’s novel of the 1920s illustrates the longevity of the book.

One approach of modernising the story that didn’t work, however, was the unnecessary use of 3D. CGI did nothing to enhance the already intoxicatingly dizzy film and should be reserved for action blockbusters.

The film isn’t all booming music, 3D effects and bling. There are some tender scenes such as when Gatsby is meeting Daisy for the first time after five years and in his nervous state, he breaks a clock. We see him at his most human in this moment.

While the purists are deeply unimpressed with Luhrmann’s take on the classic, this fast-paced, hypnotic film confirms Fitzgerald as a storyteller for all the ages. It seems Lurhmann’s version is headed the same way as his predecessors in terms of harsh criticisms. Go on, be an old sport and embrace the fun.

Peaking in Patagonia

Irish Independent

Though not known for her love of the great outdoors, the beauty of Argentina’s Patagonia region had Rowena Crowley climbing mountains, traversing glaciers and, somehow, playing bingo on a bus

It was only when we had skidded down the mountain, making full use of all limbs, that we saw the ‘Peligroso’ sign which warned that only very experienced climbers in good physical condition should attempt the Laguna De Los Tres hike of Mt. Fitz Roy. The reason we missed it was that we had opted to do the 700 metre ascent in Southern Patagonia at 4.30am in complete darkness with no headlights, armed with just a phone torch app to provide light.

Desperate to catch the sunrise over the dramatic snow-covered granite towers that are Mt. Fitzroy, we had stumbled quickly up the steep exposed mountainside, using our hands to claw ourselves over boulders up the jagged terrain. Light rain started descending on us which provided a welcome respite from the exertion of the climb but made for slippery surface underfoot. The constant billowing, agitated wind seemed determined to carry us off the mountain.

“This better be worth it” panted my travelling companion as he knocked back the remainder of our water and pressed his chest, unsure whether he was more likely to vomit or have a heart attack from the effort. We needn’t have rushed- with heavy cloud cover, the mountain range wasn’t lit up with golden orange hues- it was just grey. “Did we miss the shining?” asked a fellow camper.  Yes, it would appear we did.

Patagonia will do strange things to you. This region of glaciers, desert, never-ending snowy mountain ranges and glittering lakes is so startling that it’s impossible not to embrace outdoor living. Over ten days, I found myself voluntarily doing all day cycling trips and hiking and camping for days on end. This was not the tango dancing, maté drinking, football crazed part of the country I had seen in Buenos Aires and it served as another reminder of how vast and diverse Argentina is.

The failed climb to see the sunrise was not the first time we had been caught out unprepared and unfit on our travels across Patagonia. Prior to the hike, we arrived in the compact town of El Chaltén which is situated in Los Glaciares National Park. From the town, you could see Mt Fitz Roy’s soaring jagged peaks dusted with snow.

It may have been the blinding sun overhead but on a whim, we decided to rent camping equipment. We trailed up and down the one main street of the town (it didn’t take long) but discovered we were not alone in our camping endeavour as every shop was out of equipment. Half hoping we could scrap the plan and stay in a comfortable bed, we tried one last rental shop on the outskirts of the town that had some equipment. The die had been cast- we were going camping.

With initial enthusiasm levels at an all time high, we set off on a trail towards Poincenot base camp carrying more wine than water, one muesli bar and what would later become overcooked, slimy noodles to sustain us on our maiden camping expedition. Within two hours, we reached Laguna Capri which is an invitingly pristine turquoise lake surrounded by hillocks. With Mt Fitz Roy as the backdrop, it was a classic Patagonian landscape sculpted by the force of the glaciers. While captivated by the scenery, I kept on my guard- we had been warned by the park rangers that pumas skulked around the area and I wasn’t convinced that our noodles or muesli bar would be sufficient in fending off any unwanted attacks.

On route to Poincenot, we hiked for five hours through terrain that was snaked by rivers and ranged from dense forest to arid low lying shrubland. On arrival, we set up camp and ate ‘dinner’ begrudgingly while surrounded by smells of stir fry and steaks. The other camp folk could spot that we weren’t authentic campers very easily- we were having wine while they were having an early night.

Although it was late summer, we slept in all the clothes we had carried with us for warmth as the temperature dropped below freezing. Luckily, due to our sunrise plan, we didn’t have to endure the uncomfortable sleep for too many hours before the alarm shrilly rang off at 3am.

Early morning rising became a feature of our travels in Patagonia. To get to the ice glaciers of Perito Moreno, we had to be on a bus leaving the sleepy town of Calafate at 5am. After two hours travelling, which marked our shortest bus journey by far, we came round a bend. As the glacier came into sight as the driver played the theme song of ‘Chariots of Fire in case we were in any doubt of the spectacle we were about to see.

Covering 250 sq km and standing uncompromisingly at 70 metres tall in the middle of Lake Argentina, Perito Moreno is a beast of a glacier. We donned ice-spikes on our shoes and began trekking across the ice, battling through rain and wind. The jagged glacier seemed to stretch on indefinitely and the heavy cloud descending on the ice gave the impression that we had reached the end of the world. The glacier had all shades of blue peeking through the cracks and crevices and every so often, a thunderous clash could be heard from what sounded like a far off location, which signalled some ice breaking off and plummeting into the lake.

Our guides were very deft of foot, jumping like mountain goats while our group crunched through the ice. Exhausted from the trek at the end, we were given shots of Jameson, served on glacier ice towards the end of the trip. The alcohol in no way helped my balance as I proceeded to slip twice after the drink.

Bleary-eyed and aching after the trek, we got on our last long-haul bus, revelling in the fact that it would only be a short 18 hour trip as opposed to the 32 hour ride we had recently experienced. As the delirium set in, the booming voice of the bus driver’s assistant could be heard through a microphone. The whole bus was to play Bingo. Paper and pens were doled out and locals and tourists alike showed their competitive edge, hushing other passengers so that they could hear the numbers being read out.

The assistant was a born showman, making for a lively game. Unfortunately for him, he had to compete with another spectacle- the sky suddenly lit up in those purple and orangey colours we had searched for at Mt. Fitz Roy. While sitting on the luxury bus with our backs fully reclined was a more comfortable viewing point than freezing on the top of a mountain, we somehow didn’t feel that we had earned this ‘shining’ as much as before.

Link to online version: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/travel/peaking-in-patagonia-29673037.html

Best cake spots in Dublin

Let them Eat Cake

Marie Antoinette knew what she was talking about when she (supposedly) uttered the now infamous line. Everyone needs cake at certain times and as Autumn is now creeping up on us, comfort food is the one thing that will get us through the dark days ahead!

Luckily, we are spoilt for choice in Dublin when it good cake. Below are some local spots that will satisfy any sweet tooth:

Queen of Tarts

If you haven’t heard of this cafe then you aren’t a true cake lover! Queen of Tarts is a patisserie and cafe and everything is baked fresh on the premises.The cake counter is, in a word, enchanting and displays all types of cakes such as rich chocolate fudge cake, Baileys chocolate chip cheesecake and Carrot Cake (if you want to fool yourself that you are going for the healthy option). My advice- be firm in your resolve as to what you want- I often start floundering when I have to commit to one type cake in the face of so many amazing options.

Cake Cafe

Known as one of Dublin’s best kept secrets given it is so hard to find (it’s at the back of a stationery shop), this oasis on Camden street is a great place to go if you are in need of a sugar high. Recommendations include the chocolate biscuit cake,the coffee and walnut cake and any of the brownies or rice-crispy squares. If you want to be self-sufficient when it comes to cake eating, they also do baking classes!

Butler’s Pantry

If you like coffee cake, you need to go here. It’s best to go at the end of the day when they sometimes have half a cake le and give it all to you for the price of one slice!

Winnies Craft Cafe

This is a charming cafe just o the dual carriage that is part of a craft shop. Crafts and cake- such a wholesome combination!

Fallon & Byrne Food Hall

This food hall takes food very seriously and the cake section is no exception- they have cakes to suit all tastes and is a perfect place to go if you want to get something for a special occasion.

Avoca  

Avoca has over 12 cafes throughout Ireland and is one of the best places to go for comfort food, particularly dessert! Their lemon curd cake is very tasty, as are their roulades and cheesecakes. To justify all the eating, it’s best to go to one of the Avocas outside of Dublin such as Powerscourt and go for a big walk before indulging!

Phoenix Park Cafe

Voted one of the top 10 independent cafes in Ireland, this is a great spot to go for homemade cakes and there is a lovely patio outside if it’s a sunny day.

chocolate cake
Chocolate fudge cake from the Cake Cafe

Best brunch in Dublin

Bubbling Brunch

While Britain is well known for having given the world Will and Kate, Shakespeare and the Beatles, a lesser known fact is that the concept of ‘Brunch’ was also first coined in there in 1895 by Guy Beringer. He was a big supporter of the fact that Brunch eliminated ‘the need to get up early on Sunday… (making) life brighter for Saturday-night carousers’. He believed that the social activity of this meal promoted human happiness as it ‘sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week’. If you are looking for this type of happiness, read below for some of Dublin’s best Brunch spots:

Lennox Cafe

If there is any reason to crawl out of bed, this place is it! It has buckets of charm and there is something for everyone with the wide range of dishes, including brunch classics such as Eggs Benedict with minty hollandaise, French Toast and Huevos Rancheros. The food is served quickly (but get there early) and the atmosphere is homely.

BiBis

This lovely spot is hidden away off South Circular Road. It’s very cosy (read: small) and you feel like you are in someone’s kitchen- the shelves are lined with cooking books and you can see the chefs preparing the food. The menus are hand-written each day to reflect the changing dishes and the metallic teapots make you feel like you’re camping. Tip: Do not leave without picking up some of their homemade baked goods- the brownies will certainly promote human happiness!

Juniors

It’s an obvious one but this local hotspot has to feature. It’s always busy and even when you’ve booked you’re never sure exactly when you’ll get a table. If you have been a proper ‘Saturday-night carouser’ then nothing else will do except the Breakfast of Champions which redefines the ‘Full Irish’. If you are feeling more functional, the Pint O’ Prawns is delicious although hard work.

Eatery 120

One of many lively brunch spots in Ranelagh, Eatery120 does all the Brunch classics. Beringer was seen as a visionary for incorporating alcoholic drinks into his concept of Brunch and Eatery120 stay true to his Brunch principles in this regard.

If you are looking for an excuse to stay out later on the weekend and skip breakfast, this gastronomic hybrid is your answer.