Halfway Through The “Trial Year”

I hugged a total of four humans in the past two weeks.

Thought I’d start with the most important news! After three months of touch-deprivation, it’s beyond wonderful to hug actual, living, breathing people of flesh and blood. Now, I’ve always been a cuddly hag, but the last few months have made me appreciate the sense of touch even more.

It’s also midsummer. The Solstice happened on the 20th this year and was a time of intense, deep emotions for me, because a dear friend back in Ireland, Brendan, died just the day before, in one of those freak accidents you sometimes read about, never thinking it could happen to anyone you know and love. I cried until my eyes couldn’t produce any more tears and paced up and down for hours (most of the night, actually), then I did a ritual Solstice dance to process the sadness, anger, and mourning. After 24 hours I was able to function again, and on the other side of the weekend I’ve begun to, I don’t know, accept? Not that I’ll get used to talking about Brendan in the past tense any time soon. But it’s beginning to sink in.

At my birthday weekend in Vienna. Brendan in front.

On a happier note, last weekend may have been the first day of summer, but today is the first day of summer weather. 29 degrees! Over the past few weeks, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first proper spring I’ve seen in years, with a mix of sunshine, cloud and rain and constant mild temperatures between 18 and 24 degrees. Now it feels like we’ve made the jump into full-on summer, and in Croatia that means serious business.

Over the last weeks, I bought:

  • summer clothes (because I hardly owned any),
  • a beach towel,
  • beach shoes (beaches are stony rather than sandy here),
  • a straw hat,
  • and sunscreen.

After around 18 years of not swimming in the sea – which I love – I was being a bit of a chicken, but thankfully Aleksandra dragged me along last week, and it was great!

First swim of the year/decade!

The end of June of course also means that the first half of the year I gave myself to decide where I’m going to live, is now over. To spoil the ending: I’m no closer to a decision. But I thought I’d share my thoughts and feelings so far, unfinished as they are (and I’m not pushing myself either; there’s a reason I gave myself 12 months).

I love it here. Croatia is everything and more – much more – than I ever expected. Obviously, I picked the worst time to move to a new country. I’ve been here for six months and have hardly seen anything or made friends, because I’ve been a) gone and b) in lockdown for all but a few weeks of my time here. Having said that, I’ve met quite a few amazing people already, people I can truly relate to on a meaningful level – in other words, friends. That this happened so quickly astonishes me and is, in my humble opinion, a good sign.

It’s so beautiful here, I have to pinch myself several times a day because I can hardly believe it. Seriously, this place… the bay, the towns and villages, wedged in between the mountains and the sea… it’s breathtaking. Obviously, the weather is great, too. And the people are lovely and helpful throughout. I’m already in love with the language, and my little house may be small, but it’s beautiful and functional and really everything I need right now.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? And it is, or would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m so homesick it hurts physically. It sounds mental, but I miss the wind and the miserable rain, I miss the lakes and the green and the rough Atlantic coast. At this point I’d give a lot to be able to go to a cafe and order a proper sandwich. I miss my lovely friends, obviously, but most of all Mayo, Massbrook Woods, and archery. I’d give a kidney to be able to teleport myself there for just one day.

Reminder: This is my fifth country. I’ve missed people from all these places after moving away, and I smile fondly when I remember places and experiences. But there’s only one home, one place I actually belong. And while Croatia suits me better in almost every single way, I’m going to have to decide, come December, whether I can make a worthy life away from home. Others have done it, of course. My job is to find out if I can, too.

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The Sensual Bealtaine World

This is where I usually gush about my favourite time of the year.

The “luminous weeks” from May to July, the sleepless nights of light and balmy air filled with the seductive scent of blossoms and the burgeoning life of spring. It’s always been utterly intoxicating to me.

Before I continue, I’d like to explain this a little, because to non-pagans or even pagans who aren’t as sensitive to the rhythms of nature (or whose path simply didn’t involve spending decades sharpening their senses, bathing in moonlight and making love to the earth), it might seem like it’s “all about sex”. And don’t get me wrong, it’s without a doubt the sexiest time of the year, pure ecstasy in a lover’s embrace, but that’s because it’s all about sensuality, those sharpened senses of mine that somehow respond to things like luminous nights and soft grass and crashing waves over rocks, that get drunk on the elements. Don’t get me started on what the moon does to me.

And this year, I don’t quite know what I’ll do:

  • There’s this whole thing with social distancing. I’m so touch-deprived it’s not even funny. Again, it’s not all about sex (although that’s of course off the agenda too, seeing as I live on my own), it’s about touching, hugging, breathing in friends, falling about laughing… Zoom and messages are an increasingly stale replacement.
  • 15 years ago, after 13 moons of intense preparation, I spent Walpurgisnacht celebrating and then sleeping in the woods and got up at the crack of dawn to dedicate myself to the powers that be (not governments. The actual ones). I’d planned to spend this anniversary in the same place, near Vienna. You know what became of that.
  • There’s another, more subtle thing. You know how people say they’re “between jobs” or “between relationships”? Well, I’m between mythologies. I’ve been inexplicably sad at times, violently so and completely out of the blue over these past few days. Nothing to worry about, by the way, it’s simply emotions; my point is, I can distinctly feel my gods withdrawing from me. They bear me no ill-will; they simply can’t follow me here. They’re bound to this soggy island almost 2k km North-West of here, where my soul is also. The waves of sadness come whenever I sense this. I’m mourning.

There’s a great German term for being very, very alone: mutterseelenallein. No German speaker ever thinks of its meaning when they use this expression, but literally it says “mothers’-souls-alone”. This is what I feel right now spiritually, like the souls of all the ancestors and the spirits and the deities have left, and I’m alone.

I’ve been starting to read up on Southern Slavic, particularly Croatian mythology recently. There’s not much to go on, at least not in English, but there are some folk tales and mythological creatures I think I’ll be able to relate to very well (those who don’t mind a long read, bookmark this). I simply haven’t had much opportunity yet to get to places where I could start making contact. It’ll come with time, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I’ll have a strangely up-rooted Bealtaine because I can assure you, all my Bealtaine feelings and the absolutely explosive energy which translates into an inability to concentrate or stay still, is very much present with me this year, just like every year.

So, it’s not a bad thing, I’ll just need to learn more and actually communicate with… them. These things can’t be forced, but they’ll happen, I’m certain. I may be foreign here, but I’ve felt strangely at home from the first moment I arrived in Croatia, like I just slotted into the energy here. So I’m optimistic that this will work out in time. It’s the exact opposite to the time I visited Nova Scotia, which I then considered as a place to live: The spirits of the land weren’t hostile or unwelcoming there, but they were completely alien to me, almost like my DNA was incompatible. Beautiful as it is there, it’s not my home. Here, it’s a different story.

I still intend to celebrate the Hel out of Bealtaine Eve and the following few weeks. Virtual hugs are very much welcome – seeing as there can’t be physical ones – but please understand, I’m not down or anything, just perceiving what’s going on and experiencing it. No filter, so to speak. I’m actually quite happy most of the time.

Have a beautiful Bealtaine! I’ll try and get outside, although the weather is pretty wet and supposed to stay that way for the rest of the week. In fact, there have been thunderstorms on and off for the past five hours or so. I thought it was over, but it’s just started again. Might be time to leave the house and meet Perun.

Photo by Francisco Negroni. For more info click here.

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A “Wartime” Adventure

Cuddling a very muddy Kiki

I made it home.

After the second cancelled flight (the one I wrote about last week), I phoned Croatian Airlines and was lucky to get one of those people on the phone who don’t just shrug and give up. It took about half an hour, and then I was booked on a flight that she guaranteed me wouldn’t get cancelled.

The only trouble was, the flight was once again out of Frankfurt, so I had to find a train and get across the border. The night train was cancelled, so I spent Monday night sleepless in the most uncomfortable seat – not even the back was adjustable – and made it across the border because luckily, I have a German passport.

Changing trains in Munich and later on waiting at the airport was a PITA with no shops open. It was 2 degrees and I sat there shivering on a cold plastic seat for two hours. At least the airport was warm. When the time came to check in, I was told only Croatian citizens were allowed to fly. I explained that EU citizens who are residents in Croatia could, too, and after a lot of back and forth, they allowed me on the flight.

Across the snowy Alpine peaks

In Zagreb, the whole experience became a lot more heartwarming, if no less complicated. I still don’t have a Croatian ID – everything is closed here, too – although I do have permanent residency now. Fortunately, they found me in the system at passport control. Then I wandered around the completely deserted terminal and spent about an hour talking to police, the information desk, and the car rental who all disagreed on what the correct procedure was – rental car, taxi, what else? There’s a 14-day mandatory self-isolation after entering the country, and driving between cities is only allowed with a special permit these days, which I don’t have. Fun.

In the end, they told me to just wing it. I got into the rental car and drove, grinning from ear to ear because even in pandemic times, Croatia is as beautiful as ever, the weather was gorgeous, and the penny dropped more and more that I was actually going home. As expected, I was stopped by a police patrol before I reached Rijeka, and explained that I’d just arrived from abroad and was on my way to 14 days of quarantine. The officer asked where I live, and I said: “Rijeka. Well, Viškovo, really.” -“You live in Viškovo?” -“Yes.” -“Me, too!” Turns out he lives all of two streets away from me. We proceeded to assure each other that Viškovo is the best possible place to live, and then he sent me on my way.

I adore the people here. If you were wondering why I feel so at home in this country, there you go.

When I first glimpsed Kvarner Bay, I almost lost it again, just like that first time months ago. Once again, I had in front of me the deepest blue sea with sunlight sparkling on the water and the mountain panorama. Jaw-droppingly beautiful. I left the rental car at the drop-off station in Rijeka, from where Andy – the saint – picked me up, face mask and all, and drove me home. He’d also bought a boatload of groceries for me, so I won’t have to worry about starving any time soon.

After 26 hours of travel, 0 hours of sleep, and lots of drama, I was finally at home. It truly felt like I’d been crossing enemy countries in a war!

Behold the most-kissed piano in the world:

The next morning, I developed a cough and shivers.

I phoned the epidemologist (which is mandatory upon arriving in Croatia), who ordered a test. I got an appointment an hour afterwards and was told the result would arrive the next day.

Now I’m a fairly rational person. I’m not one of those people who imagine they have all sorts of illnesses they’ve heard about, and neither was I particularly fearful of COVID-19. But I have to admit, that day was surreal. I sat down and thought through, to the end, what would happen if a) I did have it and b) be amongst the few percentages of severe cases (which would be more likely for me, with my damaged lungs). This isn’t morbid, by the way – I live alone in a foreign country, so I need to take precautions. I reviewed my “testament”, made sure my emergency contacts are up to date, and then went to dance for a few minutes and practice the piano, in spite of feeling really ill.

By evening, I had developed more symptoms and suspected that I just had a severe cold, because COVID-19 doesn’t usually come with these. But it was still a relief when I got the call the next morning, confirming that the test had come back negative. Phew! The cough is just a cough. Still, great timing for coming down with one, two days after going out into public spaces, trains, planes, public restrooms…!

So all’s well, and now I’m just very very grateful. It’s so good to be home. I don’t mind this quarantine at all. I sit in the grass outside cuddling Kiki, I work, play WoW, practice, study… or just rest, as I’m still sick. But I’m happy. And I’m not going to go anywhere (except grocery shopping) until this is over.

I hope you’re all coping well. Be gentle with yourselves and each other, and most of all, be safe and stay healthy!

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I’m still here. Meaning, in Vienna. Travel is pretty much non-existent at the moment, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to get back home. Which sucks, because I’m paying double rent on a reduced income with so much fewer proofreading and translation work now that companies and universities are closed all over the place, whilst everything I love most about Vienna is denied to me anyway: the people, the music, the theatres, and the museums and galleries and nightlife.

Vienna’s Karlskirche by night

On the plus side, I’m healthy and safe and have food to eat. It could be a lot worse. It’s just that it would be better in my kućica, for reasons such as:

  • Now that the days are getting milder, I could step out into the garden in the morning and walk around barefoot in the dewy grass.
  • I could cuddle Kiki the kitty, who loves visiting me at home.
  • I could walk to the front of the house and see the bay. I miss the sea sooooo much.
  • I’d practice the piano. And then, with reckless abandon, practice again the next day! The luxury.
  • I’d remember that music sounds great when you can actually hear the bass. In other words, through speakers rather than a laptop.

I just thought the other day how cruel it is that two months into being the European Capital of Culture, Rijeka was cut off from tourist visits and forbidden from actually going ahead with all those cultural events. The same goes for Galway, of course. I hope they’ll allow both towns to make up for it somehow, maybe move everything forward so they can be Capitals of Culture in 2021?

Because I don’t know how soon this will be over. I don’t see things changing much until at least June, and we may be looking at most of the summer as well. It’s a scary thought, although I’m doing well so far. I’m just not sure what prolonged isolation will do to me. Touch is important. I just thought back, and the last time I hugged a human being was three weeks ago when I visited Kati. It seems a lifetime ago already.

I know of couples who are stranded on different continents. Others who simply don’t live together and now can’t see each other at all. I don’t have any of those problems, and like I said, I’m dealing with it all pretty well so far. But that’s just the thing.

There’s no doubt I’m good at being alone, as you may remember if you’ve known me for a while: So good, in fact, that for years on end I had isolated myself completely and been quite “happy” – except that I was actually in a mild depression and had kicked people out of my life.

My problem is not that I struggle, it’s how easy it is for me to be by myself. How the numbness beckons. I remember the ecstasy of coming back to life during that enchanted spring of 2016, connecting to people again, meeting friends, drowning in a lover’s arms… – and how I swore to myself I’d never stop feeling my feelings again.

And yet, here I am.

It’s been just over four years and I remember it well. I must be very careful, remind myself to keep reaching out to people, keep talking, messaging, send virtual hugs in the absence of actual ones, and use my body to ground myself, because that’s the key to everything I am, even when it ends up looking rather undignified and silly:

I hope you’re all holding up, wherever you are, that you and your loved ones are healthy, and that you’re coping with all the material and emotional fallout. We need to stay connected, support each other, create, and be as happy as we can.

And hope to the gods that this mess will be over soon.

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… And Home Again, Unexpectedly

Café Sacher with part of the birthday crew

In recent years, (peer reviewed, mainstream) science has found out that trauma can be inherited. Grandchildren of holocaust survivors, even when they’ve never had a bad experience in their own lives, show the same physical and psychological trauma patterns as their grandparents. Women everywhere display the effects of trauma from centuries of patriarchal abuse and oppression.

In a Facebook group of pagans in Vienna, someone posted that she has an ominous feeling these days, as though something major were on its way (Martina, if you read this: thanks for the prompt). Which startled me, because I instantly, instinctively knew exactly what she meant. To avoid misunderstandings: This isn’t about people buying 200 rolls of toilet paper in a panic. In fact, it’s not panic-related at all.

This is all on the energetic level, which explains why highly sensitive people and pagans who work with energy feel it in particular. It’s like a collective version of inherited trauma. Throughout history, Vienna has seen several catastrophic epidemics, from the (pandemic) flu of 1919 to the plague in 1679 – to this day, the impressive “plague column” commemorates how one third of the population was wiped out over a short period of time.

Pestsäule (Plague Column), Vienna

Stuff like that leaves a mark on the collective psyche. And I believe the current pandemic, which has led to rather severe restrictions of public life here, touches on old trauma nobody is even aware of in this day and age. And that’s the ominous energetic hum, the vibration of “uh-oh…” that permeates the city, even while its inhabitants are amazingly calm and cheerful and for the most part, take the news in stride so far.

I for one am glad that Austria is one of the few countries who seem to take the threat seriously and who take appropriate measures. I’m starting out by saying this, because what follows will be a bit of a whine. Or rather, an expression of how fucking sad I am that things have turned out this way. I just want to make clear from the start that I know the world has far, far more serious problems right now. I’m humbly aware of how insignificant my own woes are in comparison, and I’d still like to voice them, here, on my personal blog.

This thrice-accursed virus is cutting short my three months in Vienna which I’ve been looking forward to, counting down to, for ages. First of all, all cultural events were cancelled, and that includes Evgeny Kissin’s concert with Renée Fleming that I had prime tickets for. It was supposed to happen yesterday, and I still tear up every time I think of it. All other concerts, operas, and theater performances are cancelled, too. And my Croatian course, along with all university courses in Vienna, will happen online rather than in person.

Yesterday, they also closed all state museums, and overall the recommendation is to restrict one’s social life as much as possible – which is shit when you’re stuck in a small flat with two suitcases of clothes, virtually no books, no music, no piano, no bow, and only a tiny laptop that doesn’t even fit a computer game. What would I do in isolation here?? I came to Vienna for the cultural life and for meeting groups like the aforementioned pagans and polyamorous/non-monogamous gatherings.

Today, Croatia has announced that everyone travelling into the country from abroad, must enter into 14 days of self isolation. Who knows what the situation will be like in a few weeks or months – judging from the developments in China, this thing will be far from over in May, when I was scheduled to go home. What if I got stuck here? Therefore, I’ve done the sensible thing and booked a return ticket on the train, for Tuesday.

Don’t get me wrong: Being in Rijeka isn’t a punishment, it’s amazing – although I’m not looking forward to 14 days incommunicado. Expect a lot of messages and social media shenanigans from me. Caging a hag is never a good idea, I’ll go nuts within two days. Again, I’m grateful for the measures and I know they’re necessary. I’m also grateful that those I love are still, to the best of my knowledge, all healthy. But it doesn’t cheer me up one bit that I’ll be back in Rijeka and won’t even be able to go to the city and down to the sea.

What’s worse is, I’m not done in Vienna yet. Being here has been so emotional. The other day I returned to one of my favourite haunts from the time when I used to live here, the Plötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark. There are pictures from me in the 90s in this exact same place. It was profoundly moving, being back. So many memories from the time “before” (before all the crap happened). I’m going to have to dig out those old photos some time, here are two new ones:

Plötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark


So nice to see these pseudo-Greek guys again.

I’m far from done re-visiting old favourite spots and my original self along with them. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet that I’ll have to leave again so soon.

I’ll be back of course (read in the Terminator’s voice). And just to balance things a bit, here’s a reminder of how danged blessed I am. Here’s a small selection of the things I’ve managed before COVID-19 forced me into isolation:

  • Seeing and hearing Kissin’s incredible Beethoven program in London. I don’t think I could have put up with missing this. It was beyond words, surreal, slightly unsettling.
  • I also got to see and hug Penny while in London!
  • I managed to celebrate an epic birthday in Vienna with some of the loveliest, most amazing humans I know.
  • I saw my lifelong idol Martha Argerich playing Prokofiev’s 3rd concerto the way only she can. And I’ll never, ever forget that night.
  • I also went to a great 80s disco, and now I’m crying because I just realised I won’t be there for it in April… oh man.
  • I spent a beautiful day in the countryside with Kati.

These next three days, I’ll enjoy the shit out of being here. Obviously, I’ll be sensible. I’ll take a lot of walks and revisit the wide open spaces in the city center and around it. If I manage at all, I’ll also take the train outside of rush hour when it isn’t crowded, to go to the place where I used to live in Langenzersdorf (I really, really need to cry in the arms of the Greenman, and I always know where to find Him there). The fields, the Bisamberg, the Danube around my old home are further places of power for me, the places where I experienced a few years of intense growth in spirituality and power.

And then I’ll go back home to my bow and my piano, into solitary confinement.

This too shall pass.

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Home, And Away

Kvarner Bay Kvarner Bay

The timing couldn’t possibly be more awkward.

I’ve just about arrived, unpacked, got my IKEA table, started battling the bureaucracy required to open a bank account and get a phone number here. And in a few short weeks I’ll already be gone again.

Not for good, of course! It’s just that I decided to spend a few months a year in Vienna around a year ago, and then I booked my upcoming stay from early February to early May when I still thought I’d be living in Ireland in my own house the rest of the time. It’s all good, though – a little weird, but good – I’m looking forward to Vienna and seeing my lovely friends for my 50th birthday, which means absolutely the world to me. It’ll be sooooooo much fun!

Of course, people will always be welcome to visit wherever I am. I do need to qualify my invation to my new home in Croatia a little, though, mostly because my flat is absolutely tiny: I don’t have any space to put up visitors in my home. Sorry! Then again, accommodation is very affordable around here in any case, and of course I’ll meet you and hug you. I obviously work here as well – so far I’ve been in Rijeka for two weeks and haven’t done any sightseeing here, because you know what, I’m self-employed! But my friends get this, and those who want to see me, are coming to my birthday anyway. I’ll take the full four days in Vienna, promise. Those will be my days off work in 2020.

sunset in Rijeka My first sunset in Rijeka

But I’m telling the story backwards. I’ll start at the beginning.

My journey through Europe was a huge adventure, as predicted. From the very rough sea crossing to France, to driving across impossibly high, arced, vertigo-causing bridges, to having to get out of the car every time to run to the left side because all the stupid toll payment stations are of course made for cars with a steering wheel on the left, France was… interesting! Then I drove through the South of Germany the next day, and once I got past Munich, the scenery became majestically beautiful.

I went into Austria, and it just continued. Gorgeous alpine landscapes and a motorway that snakes its way across tall viaducts and through narrow passes, as well as many many tunnels. Slovenia brought more mountains and forests and valleys, and I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road. I met Helena and we had a great evening in a restaurant whose food and wine I still dream of. I slept in a house in the woods in complete silence. Amazing.

But the most unforgettable moment came after crossing into Croatia the next morning (31st of December), when I crested the last of the alpine passes and suddenly saw the 180-degree panorama of Kvarner Bay in front of me, far ahead and very low down. Mountains on two sides, the sea on the other two. Islands ahead. The morning sun glittering on the blue water, Rijeka and Opatija nestling along the shore, not a cloud in the sky. It was breathtaking.

I realised I was looking at my new home.

That was the moment I lost it and dissolved in tears. It was just lucky there was zero traffic that morning, because I couldn’t see for a good few minutes! I continued down the mountain and eventually into the city, and the magic never stopped. The place I was staying in these first few nights is lovely (in fact, that’s where I’d recommend you stay if you come visiting), affordable, central, and run by the best people you could wish for. I spent New Year’s Eve in town with random strangers, one of whom turned out to have lived in Dublin for some years.

The next day I went on a drive around Istria – I knew it’d be my only day off and I wanted to get the lay of the land. It was another glorious, sunny day, and I had to keep pinching myself to believe that I actually live here now.

Poreč In Poreč

The next day I moved into my little cabin, which is tiny but perfect, pretty, and functional. I never want to leave! My piano got delivered a few days later, and now my life is complete. It seems stupid to leave it all behind again for three months, but then again, it’ll still be here when I get back and then I’ll have late spring, all of summer and the rest of the year here.

In short: I’m settling in, doing my work, living my life, making friends, and spending a lot more time outside the house than I used to. Yes, I do miss Ireland. When I see pictures of Massbrook, I choke up, and I haven’t found any cafe even remotely as amazing as McHugh’s. But this is my life now, and at the same time I’m self-employed and it feels like I’m waking up from a long dream, to a reality that’s impossibly beautiful.

I’ll see ye in Vienna!

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Towards Dreams


Stormy Mayo coast

I’m quite literally on the eve of my dream life.

Sure, I thought that I would have my main base in Ireland, and that didn’t happen. I will, however, live in a beautiful place, radically be non-busy and focus on the things that light me up – my businesses and my other passions:

  • Coaching (which will be my main income).
  • Languages (freelancing as a proofreader and translator, also continuing to study Croatian).
  • Piano (more about that below).
  • Music in general (regular concerts, recitals, opera, whenever I get the chance. So many planned already for 2020).
  • Archery (haven’t found a club in my new home yet, but I’ll ask around once I arrive).
  • Nature and wildlife (plenty of that in Croatia).

I’ll also spend several months a year in Vienna. Come to think of it, every last thing I dreamt of is coming true, which is almost a little scary. No, not just almost. It’s actually not all that easy – people sabotage themselves all the time because they suddenly panic when things get “too good”. It’s what Gay Hendricks wrote about it The Big Leap. I’m already working on expanding my capacity for happiness, and I suspect this will be an ongoing process for a good while yet.

It feels surreal to write this on my last evening in Ireland. The last time I left this country, I cried the whole time and later fell into a clinical depression. That’s not going to happen this time; I’m ready to go, and the world is very different from the way it was then. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not possible to go back. Nostalgia is the false promise of a lost paradise, when actually the only time to be happy is the present, and the only true promise is the future.

I said good-bye to friends over the last weeks; watched a last solstice sunrise, or rather, watched the clouds changing colour once again, because in all the last 14 years since I returned to Ireland, I’ve never managed to see an actual sunrise on the winter solstice. But it was beautiful. I then spent a wonderful morning in my favourite place in the world with my friends from the Mayo Archery Club, having great food, tea, a good chat and a laugh, and of course shooting the course in Massbrook. Without question, this is what – and who – I’ll miss most.

Mayo Archery Club, Winter Solstice 2019

Last week, I went on a drive through Mayo to say good-bye to my county. It was a miserable day and therefore perfect: Storm and rain and that particular greyness which brings out the incredible colours of the landscape. Brown-red contrasting with the silver-grey of the rocks, the green of the grass, and the dark grey of the sea. It was beautiful.

I’ll miss the fresh, salty air the most. But I suspect I’m going to love the mild mediterranean climate, the beautiful nature, the food and the lovely people in my new home. It’s been quite an experience to prepare the move, sell off my things here and throw out others. I’ve never been a hoarder, but nothing forces you to clear out junk like an international move. It’s a relief to let go of things.


Winter Solstice dawn between two lakes (Mt. Nephin in the distance)

The hardest part was letting go of my piano. After my solstice celebrations, I’ve had the first few days off in a long time over Christmas, and I would have loved to spend hours practising. I do not know how I ever managed to live without a piano. They were desperate times, and I hope I’ll never be in such a dire situation again.

But really it’s not all that sad because I’ve fulfilled another dream – one I’ve had for over 20 years. You see, before the little Laniem I bought last year (and now sold again), I’d never really owned a piano. My parents always stressed that the piano I practised on at home as a child, belonged to the whole family. Later I rented pianos wherever I lived at the time.

It was in a piano store in Vienna some time in the 90s that I sat down at an August Förster upright and felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. An attack like silk and velvet, and a full, bell-like sound made my chin drop. I fell in love then and there and have been dreaming of my own Förster since.

By now, I’ve saved about half the 13k Euro for the smallest August Förster model (how they manage to keep them so affordable, I do not know – remember a piano has more parts than a car and lasts many decades longer than a car, if looked after properly!). I had the choice of either buying another cheap compromise that I’ll sell at a loss when I have the money for my Förster saved, or being bold. And I made a decision, took the other half out of my savings (which I’ll have replenished in about three years), and ordered a Förster from a piano store in Austria.

I have told very few people about this. Mostly because I wasn’t coherent for the first weeks afterwards. I’m still tingly and can’t believe it’s actually happening! I’m getting my own August Förster piano!!

The best part? When I ordered it, they started building it, and I kept getting updates. If you’d like to know what this process involves, here’s a short video – Förster are the only traditional piano manufactory that still builds their pianos in Germany from A to Z. After some weeks, the update was that they were doing the final voicing and tuning, and a little later my piano arrived at the store in Austria. From which it’ll be delivered to me in early January, once I’ve moved into the kućica!

How gorgeous is this?? And trust me, it sounds even better.

The next time you’ll hear from me, I’ll be in my new home. Please understand that I’ll not be able to reply to messages or emails in the next week; I’ll have limited access to internet and stay in guest houses and similar. I’ll probably still see your message, but please don’t expect to hear back before the 3rd of January or so. Until then, a very happy New Year to you!

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Strangest Things

How cute is this??

Gods, there is just so much to do!!

(…she cried, as she was enjoying the shit out of all the insecurity, chaos, and rapid change)

But seriously, it’s getting a little scary. I’m currently on a weekend shift, and come Monday, I’ll have all of two more weeks left at my job. I’m still madly organising the move and all the bits and pieces connected with it, and juggling this with friends who are coming to see me because, well, they won’t see me again in a while. Obviously, I’m making time for that, but it’s not easy alongside working my hagish backside off for my two businesses, which will have to carry me financially a few short weeks from now.

Before I continue with the interesting stuff, here’s a few practical announcements, to anyone here in Ireland: I’m selling off some of my stuff! As in:

  • 3 tall bookcases, black
  • 1 chest of drawers, black
  • 2 more chests of drawers, pine and a darker wood
  • 1 IKEA double bed in pine with hardly-used mattress
  • 1 IKEA wardrobe

Anyone who’s interested, and able to pick up what they wish to buy here in Mayo, they’re yours at a nominal price. And the piano – in excellent condition and only a few years old – is 2,000 EUR and will be transported professionally to wherever you live. Get in touch, shoot me an email or a Facebook message, and we’ll sort something out.

Piano in excellent condition – 2,000 EUR!

To those of my friends who usually send me seasonal cards: I’ve moved from the place I was in last year, and while I’m happy to give you my current (temporary) address, please do keep in mind that I’ll leave right after Christmas. So either send your cards really early, or consider waiting and sending me a different greeting to my new home in Croatia a few weeks later! I’m happy to give you that address as well.

Because yes, I’ve found a kućica, a little house to rent. It’s lovely, perfect for me, just outside of Rijeka and in the garden of my landlady’s house, as you can see above. The interior is just as pretty! Cue happy hag.

So now this headache is dealt with, I’m finding pockets of time to contemplate the huge shift in my life. Anyone who reads this blog, will hardly be surprised to learn that while I’m a fairly rational person who likes factual evidence and all that, I’m also up to my neck in the woo-woo – magic, intuition, the spiritual world, and the classic elements of earth, fire, air, and water are a hag’s natural habitat. And thinking of the latest developments and my upcoming move, I can’t help but wonder how it all came together and fell into place.

There are little things I never mentioned before, because they either seemed insignificant or just me being a little silly as usual. In hindsight, they make me go “hmmmmm!” For example, when I first decided to learn Croatian in March/April this year, I passed the weeks until the sign-up to the beginner’s course opened (in May) by reading up and watching every documentary I could get my hagish claws on, about Croatian nature, people, geography, history, politics… I’ve always loved maps, and so I also spent hours on Google Maps.

But I didn’t just look at places, I found myself looking up towns and districts and contemplating which would be the best place for me to settle down in. Then I’d pull myself up and think, ‘what am I doing, I’m only ever going to spend a holiday in Croatia. It’s not like I’m moving there.’ Little did I know! And this is just one example out of about a dozen things that were not-at-all-subtly nudging me. It wasn’t just a once-off either, I found myself obsessively coming back to the map, and Wikipedia, and looking up places for rent (yes, really) all over the place.

In hindsight, it was perfectly obvious. But my stubborn head was so intent on buying a house here come hell or high water, I didn’t even see it.

When the house in Kilmaine fell through near the end of August, my first thought was: “Fine, I’ll move to Croatia then.” This is the first time I remember thinking it in this clarity. I still dismissed it as a slightly crazy Sibylle-plan and only told very few people I was even considering it. But I found myself getting unreasonably excited at the prospect. Eventually, I strictly told myself that it was time to act like an adult and be a homeowner, and then I jumped right into the attempted purchase of the house near Kilkelly. It was only when that became impossible despite me allowing no doubt and thinking of it as “my house” and fighting tooth and nail, that I remembered that “other option”.

You may make of this what you will, but I believe some things happen for a reason, and this is clearly my path. I’m very, very curious what it’ll bring.

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Fun Facts

Look what I found! This is just one of many tourism videos about my soon-to-be town. Be sure to set the resolution to the highest value possible (by clicking on the little cog wheel), and you’ll get a slideshow of the town, historical buildings, market, harbour… It’ll give you a bit of an impression.

As for me, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of preparations. There’s so much to do, and time seems to fly and crawl at the same time. I’ll spare you the details of all the things I’m organising right now and instead entertain you with a few fun facts:

  • I’m about to move just over 1,900 km South-East, as the crow flies. Holy shit!
  • Because roads aren’t straight, I’ll actually be driving closer to 2,500 km.
  • Exactly seven weeks from now I’ll spend my last night in Ireland. Early on the 28th, I’ll drive to Dublin port and board the ferry to France.
  • Within three days, I’ll cross five international borders, driving through Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally Croatia.
  • My new home is eight degrees further South than my old one, and six degrees further East.
  • This means that on the day of the Winter Solstice each year, Rijeka gets a full 1 hour and 20 minutes more daylight than my little village here in County Mayo.

Apologies to those who aren’t as fascinated by numbers and facts as I am. I’ve been known to pour over maps and globes endlessly and read up on places I’m interested in. Geography Now! is my favourite YouTube channel bar none.

In the meantime, I fluctuate between ecstatic happiness and fits of being “scared of my own courage”, as the Germans put it. What if I can’t live off my businesses? What if I never ever ever ever find a place to rent in Rijeka? What if they don’t like hags in Croatia? What if I never find any friends ever again??

Don’t worry; after being me for 49 years, I know not to take these phases too seriously. They are few and far between, and they’re simply a result of being highly sensitive and highly emotional. In fact, this meme I found on Facebook a while ago, perfectly describes me to a T:

I’ve never felt so understood in my life! LOL.

One thing that does make me sad is that I won’t be able to take my piano. Now, this is still the cheap-ish model I bought last year, but it’s actually really decent for its price, and it’s the piano that helped me begin to regain some of my former skill. Well, very little of it, actually, but that’s down to my lack of time for practice. This will change next year, and ironically that’s when I won’t have my piano anymore. So fingers crossed that I’ll find an affordable and decent one somewhere around Rijeka.

And if you know someone who’d like to buy a piano that’s easily worth 3 grand (ca. 5 years old and played for only 1) for 2,000 EUR, let me know. It’s a steal.

What’s absolutely typical of me is that I’m far more worried about finding a good piano than I am about finding a house, haha! Maybe, just maybe I should put my efforts into getting a place to stay first, or I’ll end up with a piano and no house to put it in. That’s hagish priorities for you.

I’m enjoying the excitement so much, but it can make it a little difficult to concentrate on work and do things like, you know, get enough sleep. The best way of grounding myself at the moment is to remember that I’m still here right now, and Mayo is as beautiful as it’s always been. And nowhere am I more grounded that when I’m in Massbrook, shooting.

In the kill!

Two announcements before I close:

  1. If you’re in Ireland and would like to see me before I leave, please get in touch now. It’s slightly frightening how little time I’ll have between now and the holidays, I’m going to have to plan for it if I want to see you (and if you read this, rest assured that I do want to see you!).
  2. If you’re going to come to my 50th in Vienna, keep an eye on the Facebook event tomorrow – I’m going to post a few things we could go to around my birthday, some of which I’ll order tickets for within the next few days.
This is one view I’ll definitely miss

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Preselim Se U Rijeku

Lough Conn, Co Mayo

I once swore to myself that I’d never move away from Ireland again.

From the first time I set foot on this island, it’s been my home. I still can’t explain why. For years, I cried every time I left. It’s why I usually got a window seat on the plane: I could turn my face away and look outside while tears were streaming down my face. I don’t remember when exactly this changed, but it must have been around 10 years ago, when I finally believed I was really, truly at home here now and would be coming back.

When I had to return to Germany in 1992 after being here for a couple years as a student, I fell into a clinical depression. That was when I made myself the above promise, a promise I’m about to break. But after the initial sadness, I’m actually happy about it. I know I’ll miss this place and its beauty and its people, and my favourite cafe, and the lakes and the hills and the storms and the rainbows. But people have always been forced to leave this island, and I’m so much better off than the millions who went before me. I’ll stay in Europe. I’ll be able to fly back and visit at any time. And I might even return; the jury’s still out on that.

So here’s what happened: My bank pulled the plug on the mortgage. It’s a long story I won’t bother you with. Disgusted, and not one to give up easily, I offered the sellers a rent-to-own deal, which they considered but then declined.

Did I really really want to buy a house here? Yes. But I’ve tried for 10 months, had three deals fall through, I fought for each of them tooth and nail, and you see, I have this pact with life: I trust and in return it guides me. I made this pact long ago and it’s never failed me. Fight for something, yes, but if you keep getting hit over the head, there’s a message there: This isn’t for you at this time.

I’m not sad about it. Or angry. I mean, the mortgage system in this country is ridiculous and rigged against anyone who doesn’t have parents who give them a piece of land, or 50 grand to pay down. But I’m not adding my energy to it by ranting about it. I might still get a house at some point. For now, I’m investing the little money I’ve got and saving some more. I’m actually grateful, because as I said in my previous entry, I’m giddy with excitement about my next adventure.

Here’s the plan.

Actually, I’ll start with what prompted me to come up with this particular plan: I realised that if I was going to keep renting, it couldn’t be in Ireland, where the countrywide average for a 1-bedroom apartment is now 1,300 EUR a month. Excluding bills. So I began to ponder a few things. If I had to move away, I reasoned, then at least I’d escape the terrible weather. Heck, why not go somewhere with really nice weather. And a coast, because I can’t be without a big water near me (I mean, I can, I have been for decades, but it’s miserable).

Have you put the title of this post into a translator yet? It means: “I’m moving to Rijeka.”

There it is! Click for a larger version.

I swear that’s not what I was planning to do when I decided to learn Croatian earlier this year! In fact, my idea was to study for a few years and then reward myself with regular holidays in Croatia, so I could practice. I’m nowhere near a level where I could actually have a conversation with native speakers yet.

But now that I’m in this situation, I realise that it’s a perfect fit. It’s a EU country, beautiful, with lovely people and reasonable prices – at least for someone who works internationally and location-independently the way I will once I’ve given up my job.

Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia, it’s all of two hours away from Zagreb on the motorway, and it’s on the coast of Istria, not far from Slovenia and Italy. It’s got a university and quite an international community, but it’s not one of the main centres of tourism (thank the gods). And it’s got a harbour, and I’ve always loved ships and boats. It’s also a three hours’ drive from Venice!

There’s another, more serious issue I haven’t really spoken about yet. For the past several months, something weird has been happening to my lungs. Basically, every time I breathe, there’s a rattling and a feeling like my lungs are coated with something. I also cough at times, but not in the way of an infectious cough. Now, my entire breathing tract has always been the weakest part of my body health-wise, and Ireland is incredibly damp and has one of the highest incidences of asthma. It’s quite possible that life really is watching out for me here – general wisdom has always been to recommend a mediterranean climate for such matters…

Rijeka waterfront

So in December, I’ll put my books and most of my stuff into storage here in Ireland (in a year or so, I’ll either come back or bring it over, depending on where I decide to settle down), and then after Christmas, I’ll load my clothes, computer, and sheet music into my car and take the ferry to France. Then I’ll spend two days driving through France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia – visiting Helena along the way – before crossing the Croatian border and arriving in Rijeka on the 31st, in time for New Year’s Eve fireworks!

There’s tons to prepare and arrange of course, but the most important stuff is done. I’ve got my ticket and my overnight stays booked, as well as a hostel called “Music House” (!) in Rijeka for the first week. After that, I’ll either have a flat or I’ll find another temporary place – early January is hardly the height of the tourist season.

I’ve reached out to a few archery clubs, researched banks, and am keeping an eye on property to rent. The best part is that all the people I know from that part of the world, are really excited and happy for me (and my Croatian teacher pointed out that I’ll have to actually speak Croatian every day then! Haha). Yes, I’ll miss my soul’s home, but this is an adventure and it’ll be fabulous. And just think: You’ll all have a place to stay if you ever decide to holiday in Croatia! Otherwise, if you want to see me, you’ll just have to come to my 50th in Vienna.

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If you’d like a quick email notification every time I post something new on my blog, fill in this little form. I give you my hagish word that I’ll never spam you or pass on your data!