Drink your wine from a mug

21 05 2008

With the fine summer weather it would be downright rude not to sit out on your balcony sipping a cool crisp white wine. Now I don’t pretend to know very much about wine but can happily invent all sorts of pompous descriptions if I am in company and feel the need to show off. After a couple of glasses the words just tumble off my tongue… Yes, I can detect undertones of cinnamon with a hint of distressed truffle – gentle ripples of vanilla radiating through the soft shades of elderflower… or my favourite, whispers of nutmeg enveloping echoes of rich oak.

My Occasionally Sober Friend however has given one of the very best descriptions of wine I’ve ever heard. Coming across a brand new wine in our local supermarket I felt obliged to investigate. ‘I had that one last weekend’ she announced. And when I asked what it was like she paused in thought for a moment before replying – ‘It was very cold!’.

My laughter only settled down about an hour later when I had a chance to examine the label in more detail at home and discovered on the back that it had ‘a third less alcohol than other wines’. I felt ridiculously hard done by! Less alcohol? And they’re proud of this? It was all I could do to prevent myself throwing the whole bottle down the drain. Until I realised with glee that this was in fact a wonderful thing. It means I can drink three times as much! Well, maths was never my forte in school.

Summer is ready when you are

22 04 2008

It turns out that trains to Paris are only sophisticated when they’re not cancelled and when you don’t end up doing a Tour de Netherlands to try and score an international train with some space to take you to Brussels before begging a ride on yet another train to France. Well, I suppose all good things are worth fighting for and Paris certainly made up for the difficulties in getting there.

Our hard work was rewarded by a glorious show of greenery. All the trees there are already proudly displaying their full leaves whereas here they’ve just begun to show their heads. Can’t blame them really what with our yo-yo weather.

So I walked the length and breadth of the city taking it all in between munching on scrummy French food and Kirs galore.  Musée d’Orsay became my favourite museum in the world. Not just because of their impressive collection of art or even the stunning building but the fact that ‘kids’ up to thirty years old get a reduced rate. It’s been years since I’ve been in an age category that benefited me – I felt like Le Spring Chicken and bounced about the museum in my newly discovered youth.

Saturday night saw me on my own in the big city as my travelling companion developed a questionable attachment to the hotel room. It’s notable how often I’ve needed to rely on my own company recently – a syndrome of singledom I suppose. Having thus lost my interpreter and considering that French waiters don’t really believe I’m vegetarian and seem hell bent on hiding little surprise cubes of pig under salad leaves I thought it safer to have a more liquid evening meal. This of course led to a most …. interesting series of events. Armed with only a map and a whole lot of Dutch Courage I marched about town trying to find the friendliest locals in the cosiest pubs. It’s amazing how social one can be armed with gallons of beer and the realisation that you don’t live there and never have to see anyone again. I kept on returning to the bar to order more drinks under the pretence of perfecting how to do it in French. This also made the irritating tasks of direction and map reading close to impossible. Strategies such as to keep walking in a straight line (easier said than done at 4am) with the hope that the hotel would miraculaously appear proved not to be the wisest. I will be eternally grateful to the taxi driver who took pity on me and brought me safely back to the hotel in the wee small hours.

The humungous hangover on Sunday morning was softened wonderfully by a lazy brunch with the most charming of everyone I had met the evening before. Strolling around Paris with him in the glorious sunshine was the perfect close to the weekend. I am definitely ready for Summer. 

10 great things about The Netherlands

22 08 2007


I sometimes fear that I have a reputation as being a complainer. Can’t think why. Although I think that most people who blog are people whose friends are sick of hearing them moan so they try and find another, safer outlet.

 Anyways today I’m feeling positive. I’m determined to prove that it’s not all doom and gloom and what better topic to pick than my adopted country. It’s very very easy to complain about things when you live in a foreign country often blaming day to day problems on the country itself. So to show that windmillland can be pretty fantastic I’ve come up with ten great things about living here. Don’t worry, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.


1. There is no doubt about it but the Dutch are a great looking bunch of people. Doesn’t matter if they’re tall and blond or short and dark they’re usually still strikingly beautiful. And all of this without the ego to match. They’re generally down to earth and take their looks as being nothing unusual. Your average looking Dutchman could go to Ireland and become a supermodel overnight!


2. People have an incredible confidence about them here. From an early age there’s a feeling instilled in the Dutch that they can do anything. Of course this can also have a downside but I am not mentioning arrogance here as today’s is a positive post. I’m very jealous of people brought up in such a positive environment (ironic I know).


3. Boy do they know how to make bread. Even in the supermarkets you can buy delicious bread of all shapes and sizes with a whole variety of seeds and grains or whatever is your crunch du jour. Bread from the bakeries (there’s one on nearly ever street) is even better. I would seriously think about selling a couple of my best friends for a freshly baked pumpkin seed bread.


4. You can cycle anywhere in the land without fear of being laughed off the road or run down by speeding maniacs. Every single road in every town and city almost without exception has a bike path on both sides. In fact there are 10,000 kilometers of them! And it’s not just for green freaks or the poor either – everyone cycles here from grandparents to business men in suits. The Dutch are very proud that even a former queen used to cycle to the supermarket (that’s the very least she could have done if you ask me but that’s another story).


5. Being gay in the Netherlands just isn’t a big deal. It’s not even so much that it’s accepted or tolerated – it just isn’t so important which is exactly how I like it, thank you very much – I mean why should anyone care? I used to live in a big student house with about seven other people. It took over a year for some of them to find out I was gay. In Ireland that probably would have taken roughly ten minutes.


6. There is a much healthier attitude to alcohol in The Netherlands. You don’t see hoards of drunkards getting sick on the streets in the weekend or gaggles of young women wearing little more than belts with a can of cider in one hand and a hen night fairy’s wand in the other. And that’s not to say the Dutch don’t enjoy drinking because they certainly do. They just don’t drink to excess as a rule. The beer is served in glasses slightly bigger than half a pint which I find much more conducive for a good night out than the pint glass. The beer stays cool and fresh and it gives you a chance to take a break between drinks as you have to go to the bar more frequently. Also nobody looks at you like you’re George W if you have a coke or water for a round. Oh and incidentally the legal age to drink beer here is 16 and the bars/clubs stay open very late – is this the answer to sensible drinking?


7. You can fill your house with fresh flowers for almost no money at all. In spring tulips of all shapes, colours and sizes and in summer sunflowers galore. Just a couple of euro will fill a large vase and cheer up even the dullest day. What costs you about €30 in Ireland will be around €5 here.





8. The Dutch transport system is brilliant! As an Irish man from Tralee I was gobsmacked when I arrived to hear everyone complaining about trains being five minutes late. Five minutes late? I would exclaim in disbelief – sure that’s early! There are about six trains an hour from The Hague to Amsterdam and trains even run all night long in the Randstad so you can go out in Amsterdam and still catch the train at 3am to go home and begin hangover therapy. Twenty minutes will bring you to Rotterdam, 45 to Utrecht, 30 to Schiphol. All without ever changing in Mallow. And the most exciting thing is that they have double decker trains! 




9. Sinterklaas. On the 5th of December the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas. Santa Claus is basically the result of pimp my Sinterklaas (He looks like a red St Patrick). The focus here though isn’t so much on presents as on how the presents are packaged. People go to extreme creative lengths to wrap them in the shape of funny items. They spend hours and hours making cardboard castles and the like to put the gift into. It doesn’t stop there either as you have to write a poem to go with it. We’re talking less Wordsworth and more ‘There was a lad from Ballymuck…’ the whole lot together though is a lot of fun.



10. The Netherlands borders Belgium and Germany and is also within fairly easy driving distance to at least five other countries. An hour in the air (not talking smoking dope here) will bring you almost anywhere in Europe.  So if you get sick of the yummy bread, positive attitudes and moderate drinking it’s as easy as pie to go somewhere else fabulous!



I haven’t even mentioned the scrumptious cheese, the pretty canals and crooked houses, the national park with an amazing museum hidden inside, the wonderful coffee …. well you’ll just have to come visit to see the rest!   




How I wonder what you are

13 08 2007

How is possible that a three day weekend felt like it lasted about three hours? Not sure if this is a sign of a well spent weekend or a bad omen. Am I blocking out bad memories or have I simply destroyed so many brain cells that I can only remember a fraction of what happened?

I know I called round to my occasionally nefarious friend for a quick beer at about 2:30pm on Friday afternoon. I left roughly twelve hours later, his alcohol stocks severely depleted. While I don’t remember too much of the intervening period I did have a flashback the next morning to singing yelling along to Bollywood music and dancing about frantically as if actually at an Indian wedding. If it was a wedding I’m fairly sure I would have been the black sheep cousin that everyone avoids.  Oh dear, his living room curtains weren’t even closed. The shame. Thankfully I live safely far away on the other side of town. He may need to consider a timely move however.

To make up for the frivolous evening before, I decided Saturday would be all about being sensible and grown up. Not the easiest to accomplish with a hangover but I decided to achieve this by going to the market in a bid to save money and observe some free entertainment. You really get all sorts at the market. I’d fit right in. I spent the entire time repeating how cheap everything was compared to the supermarkets. After exclaiming this for about the tenth time (but really five limes for a euro – who’d be without?) I could see my occasionally better half’s eyes glazing over as he made a beeline for the fish and meat section. The sight of rows of fish eyes and counters dripping in blood is always guaranteed to keep a Conortje at bay. Foiled again by the shrimps!

That evening we strained our eyes and froze our arses off trying to witness what was promised as a spectacular light show in the sky of the Perseid meteor shower. I’m not sure we’d have made convincing astronomers sitting out on our balcony, a glass of red wine in one hand the other shivering cowardly in the cold. We did see a couple of shooting stars but I’m not sure I’d go as far as calling it spectacular. In fact I’m sure I saw many more the night before in the living room of my occasionally nefarious friend.

The Drinking Song

27 07 2007

My occasionally nefarious friend and myself hit the town last night as we both had Friday off work. We went out to swing our bits to the hits only to find that Rihanna is still bandying her umbrella about – I think it’s safe to say she’s gone beyond persistent at this stage. Nevertheless we were having lots of fun letting the beer buzz slow us down to the pace of the weekend so much so that we joined in with everyone and sang along with Rihanna. People watching while sipping a cool beer – sure isn’t that what weekends are all about? We always get a bit silly when there’s beer had and last night was no exception until the point when my ONF pointed out that the beer (almost all drunk at this stage) was a bit sweeter than normal. We carefully investigated the label to see if it was out of date or made by sadistic monks or the like. What we discovered was worse. Far worse. It was a non-alcoholic beer! There it was in big bold letters 0.0% alcohol. Holy crap I thought, I’m sober. Does this mean I like Rihanna? I raced to the bar at lightening speed and ordered two large vodkas before I had a chance to ponder this any further.

Life as an old fart

21 07 2007

After about an hour of what seemed like an excruciatingly bad remix of the soundtrack of an atari computer game my good friend Mr Heineken encouraged me to go and have it out with the DJ. ‘Do you have any actual songs back there?’ I asked her. ‘Of course I do’ she pleasantly responded looking a tad quizzicle. ‘Well are you going to play any?’ I rationally probed. ‘Of course’ she flashed with a grin.

I return to the wall I’d been propping up and true to her word three minutes later we were treated to a ‘real’ song. It was a frazzled remix of the Pussycat Dolls Dontcha. I decided I’d given enough to this club and the wall would have to go it alone. At least I didn’t spend the evening queuing to buy the new Harry Potter book I reassured myself as I plodded home.

I’m thinking about my doorbell, when you going to ring it?

28 05 2007

Where would you be off to without a bell on your bike? Or more importantly what kind of party would you be having without a bell on your front door? Yes minutes before the first guest was due to arrive my doorbell decides to go on strike. Now the thing is that I live four stories up so even the loudest knocker down the road wouldn’t be heard without the aid of a bell. This resulted in an over-excited stressed out Conortje running here and there popping my head out the window trying to strain my eyes up and the down the road in case there was a desperate guest within a one mile radius. While not exactly being terribly efficient this worked quite well for the first 30 minutes or so until the effects of the cocktails hit in, after which I decided to just leave the front door wide open for all and sundry to come in. Fortunately only sundry was about and everyone managed to find their way up to the party. Almost everyone who was invited turned up which was a huge relief.

The rest of the party went marvellously well with a respectful amount of drinking and flirting among guests – always a sign that things are going well. I developed an acute ability to spot an empty glass and make sure it was refilled within seconds. My occasionally sober friend was somewhat startled to hear me announce that the place was full of tarts – I reassured her that I was referring only to the apple pies and other assorted pastries.

The theme that ran through most of the presents seemed to be booze –  from wine racks, alcohol flavoured chocolates, rivers of wine to an actual vineyard. OK maybe not an entire vineyard but an actual grapevine. It’s a start though – I like to think ambitiously. My balcony might not be the rolling hills of Tuscany but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Today I have been busy cleaning and getting the place back in order while happily eating my way through all the leftover cakes and pies – all in the name of tidying up of course.  A suitably apt way to spent the very last day of my twenties.


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