Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Thirteen memories

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On Friday, I will be celebrating the thirteen's anniversary of my move to Ireland. I can't possibly remember everything that happened during all those years, but I will share a few of my fondest memories. Some experiences were good, others were frustrating at the time but looking back I'd rather laugh than cry, and there are some funny ones as well. So here it goes, a little summary of what happened to me during the past 13 years...

1. The day I arrived

My host family had offered to pick me up at the airport but I didn't understand it at the time, so I said I would take a taxi. The taxi didn't know where he was going (or pretended, I'll never know...) so I paid a small fortune to get to my destination. I arrived at the address and there was nobody there. After freaking out for 15 minutes, the dad of the house showed up and told me he was at the airport... It was the first misunderstanding of a long series...

2. Trying to find the post office in Malahide

This post office is like the best hidden place in the village. Seriously, it took me an hour to find it, and just when I was going to give up, a lovely old man gave me directions. When he saw how puzzled I still was, he took my hand and walked me there. It was at the back of a key cutting shop, under a supermarket, near an underground car park. Nope, I wouldn't have found it on my own.

3.The Grove

The pub where I met my husband. The pub where I got drunk for the first time, drinking flamed Sambuka. The pub where I used to meet my friends after work. The pub where I had my last cigarette before the smoking ban... Ah memories... It's such a shame it's closed down now.

4. My first Christmas in Ireland

This first Christmas set the tone for a tradition we repeated almost every year since. We decided to spend Christmas Eve with all our friends who were not going home. We ate, we drank and at midnight everyone received a small present.

5. Wild house parties

Have you ever woken up to find strangers sleeping in the corridor or under your kitchen table? House parties can get a bit crazy alright... There's usually Vodka jelly or Fat Frogs involved, and when there's not enough space in the fridge anymore, all drinks are thrown in the bathtub, covered in ice (although the wheelie bin is another option). The Irish do know how to throw a good party...

6. Meeting people from all over the world

I have met people from all corners of the world and even if I don't travel as much as I would like to, discovering so many cultures has definitely broaden my horizon. And if we want to visit another country, we'll always know a local to help us out!

7. Getting stuck on the M50

Or should I say, the "car park". The first four years of my Irish life were spent driving daily through that nightmare of a motorway. Once I got stuck in a traffic jam for four hours, due to flooding. This is the first and only time I saw the toll barriers up. That day, I really thought I was going to spend the night in my car.

8. Our landlord

When I hear horror stories about friends who had problems with their landlord, all I can say is we were very lucky. I mean, the man gave us presents for Christmas and chocolate eggs for Easter. The day we came back from a 3 weeks holiday, there was a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine on the table with a little note "Welcome home". He came to our wedding in Ireland and in France (we also went to his). He drove for an hour to give us a spare key when we locked ourselves out. He helped us apply for a a mortgage, he let us use his van when we moved out and even gave us some furniture.
This man deserves a medal.

9. The day we queued for 8 hours at the garda station

The joy of being married to a non-European meant that before Fabrice got his Irish citizenship, I had to accompany him to his visa renewal, you know, just to prove that we were married. One year, we had no choice but to wait 8 hours to get the paperwork sorted, the reason being we were going abroad and he might not have been let back in the country! The immigration officer in the Garda station was also going on holidays, which meant pretty much every foreigner in Drogheda showed up on that day. We were there from 11am until 7pm, and it was so badly organized that if you left the queue, you lost your place, so we had to take turns to go for a smoke or buy a sandwich. It makes for a great story now, but at the time I was fuming.

10. A week-end in West Cork

My best friend came to Ireland for a 2 weeks holiday but was staying in West Cork. I really wanted to see her, so I drove 8 hours to get there (with a stop in Cork airport to pick her up). We spend the evening in Crookhaven, and camped in the local pub back garden. The following morning we had an Irish breakfast, visited Mizen Head and I headed back to Dublin. Another 8 hours drive and I was finally home. I've done crazy things for my friends, but this one tops everything I think.

11. My hen party in Temple Bar

Yes it does sound cliche, but my French friends and my sister being over for the celebration, we had to do it there. It wasn't disappointing. I had to sell lollipops and condoms to passer-by and to my surprise, encountered a great success. Enough to buy a few rounds to my friends anyway. Everybody was congratulating me on my wedding and  we got free drinks in every pub we went to. My friends had the time of their life and I'm glad they got to experience a different type of hen party!

12. Friends coming back to visit

I'm always happy when a friend who moved back home decides to pay us a visit. It makes me feel good and realise that even though we don't live in the same country anymore, they haven't forgotten us or Ireland altogether. Actually, I don't know anybody who didn't like Ireland! That's probably why they always come back.

13. Dublin airport

I've passed through Dublin airport more times than I can remember, either as a passenger or to greet family and friends and I've always thought there was something special about airports. For me, it's a place full of emotions where joy and sadness coexist. And these emotions pretty much sum up my feelings about being an expat.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

My Irish favourites

We're coming close to the thirteen's anniversary of my move to Ireland, and because sometimes you're just not inspired videos and pictures are worth a thousand words, I thought I would share a few of my Irish favourites with you...

Favourite song: "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

Favourite TV program: "Father Ted"


Favourite insult

Favourite movie: " The Commitments"


Favourite book

Favourite drink

Favourite word 


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

How I got to see U2 in Croke Park...twice!

If you're a foreigner in Ireland, going to a U2 concert in their home town is the ultimate Irish experience.

You might be aware that the band has finally announced their concerts in Dublin in November. And if you read the news you probably learned that all the gigs were sold out in less than an hour.

I had the chance to see them twice in concert, and never had to queue for a ticket. I might be boasting a bit here, but really, I just got really lucky both times. I never intended to go to these concerts, mainly because I couldn't get myself to queue for hours or frantically look at a computer screen in the hope of securing a ticket. Even if I really like U2's music, I'm not that big of a fan to do that.

The first concert I went to was the Vertigo tour, in 2005. Fabrice was working in a hotel at the time, and one of the customers gave him two tickets for free. He was going on the Saturday and had spare tickets for the Monday.

The show was absolutely brilliant, but yeah, Bono talked A LOT and a good part of the gig was a platform to promote his RED charity. But when the band was playing, the atmosphere was just uplifting. Watching U2 play in their home country is something special, and you can feel it. The best part of the concert was the end. After the "encore", and once the stage lights were shut down, the band came back and sang a cappella. And they did it for a very Irish reason: to avoid traffic jams outside Croke Park.

I also went to the 360 tour in 2009. We were on holidays in Mauritius when the tickets went on sale, but without an internet connection handy, it was impossible to get any. A few days after we were back, I got this text from a friend:

"Hi, I queued all night on Grafton street to buy U2 tickets, and we were allowed 6 tickets per person, so I bought them. I thought you might be interested in going!"

Yes, I have a friend who loves queuing all night in the cold and rainy Dublin, just to buy concert tickets. And on top of that, she thinks of others. What more could you ask for? A cheap ticket, maybe...As a matter of fact, that's exactly what happened. Ireland was in recession at the time, and the band decided it would be a good idea to sell affordable tickets.

And that's how my friend could actually  buy 6 tickets, at 30 euros each.

This concert was even better than the one before. There was a lot less talking, and a lot more singing.

Technically it wasn't a 360 tour, more like a 280...

So what about the upcoming concerts? Well, my lovely friend wasn't in Dublin the day the the tickets went on sale (although before we knew the dates she offered to queue all night again!). She did try online though, but it just didn't work.

Unless a miracle happens like in 2005, I don't think I will go the Innocence+Experience tour. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter, I had the chance to enjoy U2 playing at home, and that's the dream of many foreigners in Ireland (and a few Irish people who don't despise Bono). 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

My love-hate relationship with Ryanair

Michael O'Leary, the Irish man everyone love to hate. In a way, I admire him. He started from nothing, built a successful business and most importantly, completely democratised air travel. Now you can fly for less than a hundred euros to every capital in Europe (well, to a town in the middle of nowhere at least 45 minutes drive from a capital).

I almost always travel with Ryanair because at the end of the day, they are the only airline flying to my region all year long, and on a direct flight. It wasn't always that way though. When I went back to France the first time, I had to go through London, and land in a tiny airport in Brittany about 5 hours drive from my house. The tickets cost me less than 50 euros so I was willing to make that sacrifice (and I didn't have kids to run after or entertain in the airport).

Here are some of my thoughts about the low fare airline...

If you follow the rules, nobody will annoy you.

Have your boarding pass ready. Don't exceed the weight. Don't show up with a hand luggage twice your size and expect to go through. Don't try to blame the check-in staff because you thought you could buy a priority seat cheaper at the counter than online (I know that's ridiculous, but I've seen it).

You can get really good prices

If you travel on your own, are flexible with the dates, don't have luggage, don't buy a priority boarding or a seat or insurance. Yes, that's a lot of conditions, but it happens more often than you think.

Contrary to popular belief, Ryanair is almost always on time

Landing that is. Because when it comes to take-off, it's another story. But boy do they go fast when they're up in the air. Many times my flight was late departing, but arrived on time. I don't know how they do it...

They are not family friendly

I know they claim to be, especially in the last few months with their re-branding but more than once, I had to deal with unhelpful staff, especially in Nantes airport (so maybe that's just French Ryanair staff?!). Straight to my face they told me it wasn't their job to help me with a buggy, two kids and bags although I was travelling on my own.

Recently, I have discovered one of their dirty little trick... If you are a couple with 2 children and you book a flight all together, you might pay more than if you book two separate flights with 1 adult and 1 children. I know it may sound crazy, but sometimes they increase the price of a ticket based on the amount of passengers on the booking.

This is what happened to us last summer: we booked two separate flights because it was around 40 euros cheaper to do it that way. Ryanair now allocates you a seat when you check-in online and I must be naive, but I thought if I checked-in both flights one after the other, we might be close enough to each other in the plane. Well, we were 15 rows apart.
So basically, if you're a family of four, you have to pay 40 euros more to be seated together (and on their website they actually encourage families to buy seats to be sure they're together!) I know this is reverse logic, but it bugged me a bit at the time. 

Having said that, I'm not going to moan too much, it was only a 90 minutes flight. But still, this fare manipulation is a little trick that spoils Ryanair's supposedly new family friendly attitude...

But overall, Customer Service is good

I have to say, except those bad experiences in Nantes (and I think it's more due to the airport in itself than Ryanair), I always had to deal with pleasant check-in staff or customer service agents. I tried their online chat once when I stupidly misspelled my own name when booking a flight. They were very helpful and changed my reservation without any issues. One of my friend even received a refund when her suitcase handle got broken.

In the end, I think you get what you pay for. When I spend only 50 euros for a flight, I don't expect extra services for free. I take Ryanair for what it is: a low-cost airline that takes me from A to B when I need it. Not more, not less. 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Blog Awards Ireland 2015 - Vote for me!

For the second year in a row, I've made the shortlist of the Blog Awards Ireland  in the "Lifestyle" category and I couldn't be more excited!

Last year, I went all the way to the final and it was truly a great experience. I got to meet really nice people and even if I didn't win, I had a fantastic night with all my fellow bloggers.

The great thing about the Awards is that it makes you discover great blogs that you might not have come across otherwise. This year I've also signed up to be a judge and read truly inspiring blogs that helped on my own writing journey.

So what's happening now? This year, all the shortlisted blogs are opened to a public vote, so I need your help. I hate doing that sort of thing (i.e begging) but if you enjoy reading my blog and think it is worthy of being in the final, then please click on the link below, select "Nearly Irish?" and submit. 

Voting is opened until 21st of September. Thank you very much!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The highs and lows of raising bilingual children

Recipe for a Bilingual Child (INFOGRAPHIC)
We'll get there... Eventually!

Since the kids came back from France, they tend to speak a mixture of French and English and it can be very funny. "I'm going to reveiller Papa" (I'm going to wake daddy up) said Ethan this morning, and when I asked Ciaran to say something in French, he just took a French accent but kept talking in English. 

Sometimes I feel a bit discouraged and realise I did many things wrong when trying to raise them with two languages. Everywhere online you can find tips on helping your kids to become bilingual, and frankly, it looks like we broke a lot of golden rules!

One parent - One language

Yes. In an ideal world where the two parents speak different languages and your child doesn't have any delays.
We had a plan. A good one. Because we are two French speakers but really wanted our son to speak English we decided that I would speak French and my husband would speak English (the reason being he has a better accent than me). This worked for a while, but it was hard to keep going. Ciaran started to speak very late and had difficulties understanding basic instructions. He wasn't speaking French or English, he was just speaking nothing. For a while, we thought his delay was due to having two languages. Which brings me to the next point...

Don't give up one language, even if you think there's a speech delay

I remember telling my mum I would NEVER stop speaking French to Ciaran, even if a speech therapist would tell me to. As it happens, he told me to keep on speaking French, despite the delay. But after a long and heated argument with my other half, we decided it might be better for him to be confronted to one language only. So I started speaking English to him. At that point, I felt like a failure. And I cried. A lot.

Be consistent

Always speak the same language. Have some rules. Consistency is the key. When I was pregnant with Ethan, I wondered if I should speak French or English to him. I decided I would give him a chance and try speaking French again. As it happened, he doesn't have any speech delay, he understands French very well and can speak it (when he wants...). The only thing is I speak French to Ethan and English to Ciaran now. Fabrice speaks English to both of them but we speak French to each other. So much for consistency.

Even if the road to bilingualism is bumpy and sometimes it seems there is no light at the end of tunnel, I know I am doing a few things to help them on their journey:

I read stories in French as much as I can

Actually, I read stories in both languages, but I brought back a lot of books from France over the years and I'm trying to get them interested as much as possible.

They watch movies in French (sometimes!)

Most of the time, they just want to watch the English version, even if it's a French DVD. But lately we managed to watch "Brother bear" and "The Lion King" in French. And they're even starting to sing the movie songs in French. The only downside is that "Hakuna Matata" has been stuck in my head for days now...

They spend time in France

They stayed with my parents for 5 weeks during the summer, and since they came back the improvement has been spectacular. They even speak French to the childminder, who doesn't understand a word.

At the end of the day, I think we have tried to do the best we could with what we had. It's not easy to teach a different language to a child with special needs, but to my surprise, Ciaran is making a lot of progress. The weird thing is that his best subject at school is Irish, which is amazing considering he still needs speech therapy! Ethan is a bit on the lazy side, and lately he's been mixing up French and English (I've read that's normal and I shouldn't worry), but at least he's making an effort.

I was always conscious of the fact my kids would be better in English than me, and somehow I felt jealous. Now, I want them to be as good as me in French. I know it will take time, and I don't want to give up. I know sometimes I take the easy way out and start speaking English because I think they understand it better, but I'm really trying my best.

Every bilingual family is different and what works for one might not work for the other. I've also stopped comparing my kids to other bilingual children because we all have a different story. Ours is a bit less straightforward than others, but for the moment it works, and it's all that matters.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Fitzpatrick's Bar & restaurant

I usually don't do pubs or restaurants reviews (I just enjoy eating and drinking in them!), but this time is different. I was so amazed by this place that I just had to let the whole world know about it.

When the kids were in France we decided to go to Carlingford, and on the way back we stopped for dinner in Fitzpatrick's pub. The place already looked fantastic from the outside, and that's why we decided to stop there. Trust me, we weren't disappointed.

First of all, if you like flowers, you're in for a treat! There are flowerbeds pretty much all around the pub, in different settings.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we decided to eat outside, and discovered many more interesting decorations at the back of the pub...

That's all well and good, but what about the food?  Fabrice had the fish and chips, and I settled on a Prawn Caesar salad. I asked the waitress how big was the main course, and she advised I would better off taking it as a starter because portions were big. Well, she was right, and I didn't even finish my plate! I have to say, the prices are a bit expensive, but the food was absolutely gorgeous. The staff were nice and the service was fast even if the place was full.

I didn't take pictures inside the restaurant, only because I didn't want people to think I was crazy. There are old cameras hanging out from the ceiling, and a lot of bric-a-brac in pretty much every corner. It does look a bit crowded but I love old memorabilia, and I could have stayed around for hours just looking at everything.

Even the toilets have something to offer...

Another great thing about that place is the small animal farm they have on the other side. Kids can go around and look at the sheep, poneys, chickens, deers and birds (Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures). There is also a kennel, which means you can leave your dog while you're having lunch.

We went back with the kids at the week-end and ordered ice-cream for them and a couple of drinks for us. When we went to pay, we were told the ice-creams were complimentary. How much better can it get?!

This is definitely a great spot (and I haven't been paid for saying that!). Yes, it is a bit expensive, but well worth it. So if you have an occasion coming up, why not drive down to Dundalk and experience it for yourself...