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You can email Ronan O'Shea at ronanosheajcl@gmail.com


London
United Kingdom

Writer & Journalist

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The Anxious Travel Writer

Kalamaja Nights

Ronan O'Shea

Every city has to have its own hipster district, and Tallinn is no different. A wintry walk through the boho district of Kalamaja, which has nothing to do with calamari 

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Kerry – A Graveyard Smash

Ronan O'Shea

In August this year I went to Waterville, County Kerry, in Ireland, to attend the Charlie Chaplin Film and Comedy festival. I also went to a graveyard to visit my beloved late Uncle Jamie, and discovered he'd gone walkabout. Sort of. 

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Seal of Approval

Ronan O'Shea

Kangaroo Island is named as it is for good reason, but it's also home to seals, sea lions, koala bears and a lot more. But it's Seal Bay (actually home to sea lions) that really takes the breath away, Berlin style. 

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Getting into Gear

Ronan O'Shea

It’s become something of a cliché, like many of my thoughts the past few days, but yes, the Faroes do remind me of the west coast of Ireland. Then again, so do most places, from the hospitality of Abu Dhabi, to a dimly lit bar in Doolin which, admittedly, is a little closer to Kerry than a Middle Eastern emirate.

But without a doubt, the Faroe Islands remind me of Ireland, the wind- and rain-swept hillsides verdantly green, sheep dotted around everywhere, wandering seemingly clueless, spots of sunshine lighting up hills in the distance, in stark contrast to the cloudy skies overhead.

The weather here changes more than Paul Pogba’s haircut, bright sunshine giving way to lashing rain and sleet within a matter of minutes, then back again, all often within the space of an hour. But I like it; the unpredictable weather an added element of intrigue in a place that has fascinated me since I arrived a few days earlier.

Besides, I’m helped no end by Bertie, my faithful hire car, which has served me well since refusing to start on day one (I didn’t know I had to push the clutch down when turning the ignition), our road trips accompanied by the dulcet tones of Anderson .Paak and Tallest man on Earth. 

Now, four days later, we travel in sync, though right now our pace is glacial. I'm in a valley on the way to the village of Saksun. The hillsides here remain green and healthy but the height and proximity of the mountains means its very dark, almost like night.

The village is on the far north of the island of Vagár and is known for its beach, though I’ll not be visiting it today, not with the rain now lashing down in droves.

Bertie chugs along slowly as the rain continues to pour, flickering his eyelashes each second to keep the road ahead visible for me. Eventually, we reach an opening, and I’m able to pick up speed. I reach a fork in the road and turn left. Like so many times during my stay in the Faroe Islands, it proves to be a mistake – Saksun was to the right. Fortunately, I don’t and do not need to care. Time is something I have a rare abundance of during my four days on the Islands, wrong turns all part of the fun – sometimes. Getting to Torshavn (the capital) in darkness proved a little panic-inducing. Still, for a man forever worried over time, it's a blessing not to be constantly concerned about it. 

Turning back on myself, I eventually reach Saksun. The town is tiny, and looks nothing like the photos online, to be expected given it’s been pouring rain solidly for around four hours, another thing which has been a rarity here – consistent weather, good or bad. The rain's abated though, and I’m able to get out of Bertie, a sentence that sounds odd now that I’ve anthropomorphised the Peugeot Sedan.

The wind howls as I plod along with my camera dangling by my side, and I nearly get blown over twice as I walk away from the small cluster of houses towards the beachfront. I’m out in the open, the wind fierce, spittle of what turns out to be continuing, albeit light, rain hitting my face.

I reach a brow in the hill and start to head down, before deciding it’s too dangerous to try and get to the beach, which, now that I think about it, is supposed to be visited with a guide anyway. I make my way back up, taking photos of the mountains, a beautiful waterfall and innocent, succulent-looking lambs. They run away from me as I near. Smart lambs.

Not stupid

Not stupid

Getting back inside Bertie (fuck it, we’ve grown close), I drive back the way I came, churning through the rain (heavy again) and make my way to Gjogv on the adjacent island of Esturoy. Though just under 40km away, it takes around an hour. I get lost again, taking a wrong turning, but also have to drive slowly when I get into the mountains, the steep drops to my left a cause for concern. This reminds me of Kerry a great deal, specifically childhood trips into the mountains with my family, my mother driving, me petrified by the sheer drops below and an inability to understand the mechanics which keep a car from rolling backwards.

After a while, I feel comfortable despite the now (again) lashing rain and the narrowness of the roads. At one point, I even have to reverse to let a huge coach pass. It should be a cause for anxiety, and in a minor way it is, but calmly, I get into reverse gear and pull back into a small lay-by to let the driver and his sixty or so passengers pass. I can’t deny feeling good about this minor achievement. Me, the anxious type, successfully not losing his shit in the unforgiving, harsh mountains of a foreign land. Much of the credit must go to Bertie.

We head to Gjogv, driving up into mountains again, through a brief spell of sleet, then back down a gentle hill towards the village.

On the northern tip of Esturoy, Gjogv is incredibly beautiful. Like most places I visit, life centres around the small church. It’s Easter Monday, there's a service on when I arrive, after which I notice a number of people visiting relatives in the local cemetery.

I check out the village, careful not to walk on private property though, it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here if the behaviour of the local sheep are anything to go by, the ovine residents weaving between grass-covered houses without a care in the world.  

Jack Charlton

Jack Charlton

I go to the town’s only guesthouse for lunch. The manager was supposed to meet me, but has forgotten, our meeting arranged, presumably, without anyone realising at the time that it would be Easter.  I laugh it off. I’m perfectly relaxed, looking out of the window. How could I not be, with the pretty town in front of me, and the island of Kalsoy in the distance? It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and three or four of the top ten have all been in this country over the last few days. Others have been in far flung locales such as Australia, others still closer to home, County Kerry, always, or the indistinct country towns of my Czech days. No, I could not be worried here. I tell the manager to relax and enjoy his holiday. I have lunch, coffee and a shed load of cake. I’m perfectly at ease.

After the mountains, the road into Gjogv was a gentle descent. Going back, me and Bertie are going to have to work those gears hard. We’ll manage. We always do.

Absolute Gas Craic

Ronan O'Shea

I could live in Ostrava, I tell myself, as me and my guide, Lucie, walk around town. Of course, I could not live in Ostrava. I wasn't able to live in Prague, arguably the most beautiful city in the world; so how I could settle and build something approaching a life in a far eastern (by Czech standards) former mining town? Her question moments earlier proffers an answer to my own, and the insanity running through my mind: 

"Would you like a beer?" she says. 

It's 10 am, I think. 

Marry me, I think to myself. 

I'm on the outer fringes of the city centre; a city famous for pig-ore and steel production, one maligned in the Czech Republic for its smoggy, industrial past, and its high concentration of gypsies, the evergreen scapegoat of most social ills.

Dolní oblast Vítkovice from above

Dolní oblast Vítkovice from above

Dolní oblast Vítkovice's Bolt Tower. Named after its resemblance to a bolt, it has since been endorsed by the fast running man, a regular visitor to its Golden Spike athletics meet.

Dolní oblast Vítkovice's Bolt Tower. Named after its resemblance to a bolt, it has since been endorsed by the fast running man, a regular visitor to its Golden Spike athletics meet.

I've been to Ostrava once, but only briefly; calling in at its main train station on the way to Colours of Ostrava, a wonderful music festival set in the now disused factory, Dolní Vítkovice Oblast. I also had lunch in the Czech equivalent of Pizza Express in a shopping centre but, delicious as it was, I don't think I really got the essence of the place.

Now, I'm here to see the city in all its earthly delights; the factory, Bolt Tower (endorsed by but not named after the athlete), Landek Park (a mine repurposed as a museum) and of course, Stodolní, a 350-metre stretch of bars and clubs that might be compared to Camden for its buzz, Vegas for its neon, Milan for its forecourt seating and Watford for its class. I like it.  

Last night, I went after dinner, having been shown around the city with Lucie by a local guide. The view from the town hall tower is vast, Poland's mountains in one direction, Slovakia's the other.

There is a gentle haze in the air from methane which still continues to drift up from below the ground. Thankfully, it isn't accompanied by the smell, and there are vents all over the place to help it safely into the atmosphere. 

Methane vent; thankfully the air is as fresh as a daisy. Or at least doesn't smell something powerful.

Methane vent; thankfully the air is as fresh as a daisy. Or at least doesn't smell something powerful.

Stodolní itself proved lively on a Tuesday night, the bars a range of 2-4-1 offers on beer and cocktails, to spirit-centred joints where the bar staff take pride in what ends up in the glass. I bought a pint and read my book; enjoying the street but keenly aware I was on my own amid groups of tourists and locals enjoying the evening sun and the warmth of community. As usual in such situations (which are not unusual in my travels) I felt conspicuous, out of place and unable to focus on my book. 

I decided to pay up and prepared to leave, on for the waitress to tell me I have a 'free' beer with my order. I feigned ignorance even though I understood every word in Czech and waited for my bill; which arrived with a second full pint. Given that it cost less than a pound, I decided I could forgo the pint and hit the road, keen not to spend an evening drinking alone surrounded by colour and life, for it tends to compound rather than mask. 

Now though, the following morning, the world is good. I'm sitting with Lucie, my pretty, friendly companion. It's stiflingly hot already but the day is bright, the city just about waking up to the summer ahead. 

I take up Lucie's offer and recommendation of a local craft brew; even though both Radegast and Ostravar, the local favourites, are great beers in their own right. You would struggle to find them in many places in Prague, let alone Britain, so both are worth trying if you happen to visit, particularly Radegast, which is bitter, but with fresh, clean taste. 

Coffee To Go

Coffee To Go

After finishing our beer I have a few hours to myself and discover that the city has a thriving coffee scene, with a number of great cafes and even truck in the city centre which serves up a mean espresso.

In the afternoon, I meet Lucie again and we jump on the tram towards Dolní Vítkovice Oblast. I recognise the shopping centre on the way, and then the site where I camped for three days in the unforgivingly dry Czech July heat of 2014, a weekend when I saw Seasick Steve and Charles Bradley, a weekend when I breathed in the dust and the life and the sound for three days without a care in the world, or less than usual at least. 

Lucie walks in to the ticket office to tell the staff I'm here. Our English speaking guide arrives, telling me to put on a hard helmet. We begin our tour, memories of the festival flooding back to me. When we reach the top, the views are more impressive than yesterday, now that the weather is clear and the sun is out.

Yes, it's the kind of city a mother might love; but there are plenty of them here, the streets as storied as Prague to the west or Krakow to the east or Vienna far south. For me, much is familiar even though I've not been here properly before; the bins on the streets the same as in the capital, the pavements still made of large cobblestone like bricks, the focus of activity centred on the main square. The body heat on the trams, the middle-aged women in the Tabak, the teenagers with their half comprehensible squawk and their terrible fluorescent-heavy fashion choices and gaudy jewellery. It's all very familiar. 

Where miners used to collect their clothes in the morning and leave them in the evening

Where miners used to collect their clothes in the morning and leave them in the evening

As is Landek Park in the morning, even though it is yet another place in Ostrava I've never been to. Me and Lucie meet at the hotel early, and take a bus and tram to the outskirts of the city, where the park, once a mine and now a museum, is located. 

I recognise the manner of the old men (former miners now working as guides), both gruff and cheerful, with an appealing sense of cynical dark humour. As we descend the mine, my guide Daniel cracks jokes earnestly, and in strong though flawed English and it reminds me again that I lived here once, albeit far west, far from the mines, amid the hustle and bustle of a city huge by this country's standards and tiny by my own. 

A goat, because why not? 

A goat, because why not? 

We walk around the cavernous mine, looking at the equipment the miners used over the years and the small, cloying spaces in which they worked. Daniel fires up a huge drilling machine, the noise shrill. Lucie covers her ears. After making our way around we go back up in the lift, which tells us we have been 600 metres below ground; a cheeky lie, I imagine. We visit a museum dedicated to rescue workers who lost their lives over the years saving miners from certain death and of course, in typical Czech style, such a visit is capped off with humour; as Daniel makes me have a go on a mock assault course rescue workers use to this day (one mine still operates in the region) to keep fit and prepared. 

Lucie holds my smartphone to take pictures. I shuffle along the narrow tunnels, anxious that I'm being out-shuffled by a man twice my age; anxious that Lucie will deem me unmanly, and anxious (more than anything) that my relatively new Nudie jeans are about to get destroyed. 

Lucie takes pictures for posterity, chuckling as I emerge panting and sweating (of course), but laughing also. 

A few days ago I nearly forced Ryanair staff to let me off my flight. Here I am now, laughing, out of breath, joking with two strangers, one I met a day earlier, the other less than forty-five minutes ago. 

Ostrava, it's a gas craic kind of place. 

Having a Le Havre

Ronan O'Shea

I lie on the bed in my hotel room, surrounded by the 1950s furniture of Hotel Oscar; a building designed by Auguste Perret, the Brussels-born architect charged with bringing the city of Le Havre up from the ashes. Bombed heavily by the Germans before being carpeted by the Allies towards the end of the Second World War, his was a difficult task and the results controversial, though his vision and unique, concrete-heavy style was recognised in 2005 with UNESCO heritage status.

Like Perret’s remit, I find moving from my bed a difficult endeavour, the fight less military, more an internecine struggle between wanting to go carpe the diem out of Le Havre, and wanting to stay in my room, with the doom, and the gloom.

I look at the antique chair and the dressing table and the mid-century lighting, and realise I had better go out. That’s why I’m here after all.

And within minutes I experience a sea change. Sat out front in Bistrot Grenadine, a good Kasabian song (it may not be vogue to say, but there are many) streams from a large speaker to my right. Something about the café lifts me; the blonde beer, the brunette waitress, the art deco tables.

There is a quiet liveliness to it, a youth. It’s been a long journey via Portsmouth and the Channel, but through the daze I’m here now, where I want to be, in front of a café with a Moleskin and biro in hand. Kasabian give way to Arctic Monkeys and I realise that despite the grey clouds above, I am on the road again, as I like to be. The song brings back days of old. It was a good decision to leave the hotel room, where the memories were more cloying, and various shades of blue.

I sit with the beer and the music and the pleasant to and fro of waiters and waitresses buzzing with activity. Maybe I’ll even have a stab at speaking the lingo when I pay for my drink. Only maybe, mind – the three sentences my French housemate has taught me are yet to stick.

Still, leaving the room was a good move, taking heel to pavement once again a smart idea. Carping the diem, as it were.

Le Havre Beach.jpg

The clock ticks by, indie bands replace one another on the speaker, and soon enough I’m forced to make my way back to the hotel to meet my guide. She walks me to her tiny Renault Reliant. We head towards the dock for a boat tour of the port. Admittedly, being the son of a merchant navy sailor piques my interest in what is otherwise a tour of an industrial port, but if nothing else the boats have two things going for them; one, they're massive (massive is popular right now); two, they're boats. Boats are wonderful.

As we make our way back towards the harbour the tugboat sailor honks his horn and does what can only be described as a nautical wheelie for our amusement. It’s grand.

Back on land, I wander up the seafront and find a bar called L'Abri-Côtier. The barman appreciates my piss poor attempt to speak French, serves me a beer, and leaves me to look out on the lapping waves. I have two hours 'til dinner, so I walk to the suburban hills, a world away from the concrete city centre, the cars and crowds of the harbour and beach, and the bars thronging with people, which after sometime, I yearn for again, teeming as they are with people and life and laughter. I head towards the people and the life and the laughter. 

Prague-Bound

Ronan O'Shea

The gulf between forty-eight and fifty-four is a vast one, at least with regards to Gate numbers at Stansted Airport. 

I stand in the queue morosely, devoid of feeling save for not wanting to feel much at all, an unwillingness to recognise that I very much do not want to be here, and certainly not there. 

But when the gate number rises by seven, I feel something indeed, a strong urge not to board the plane, to leave the queue and run away. I can't do it, can't return to Prague with its cobblestones and Baroque, its Albert stores and red-tiled roofs; each bar and café and corner coated in memory.

That damned castle… 

That damned castle… 

But it's too late to turn back. I'm being paid to get on this plane, or, more pointedly, someone else has paid; for the flight, the train to Ostrava tomorrow afternoon, the hotel and the meals. I'm being paid to write, as I always hoped I would be. So it goes. 

I get on the plane, but again decide I can't do it. I make to get up, only for a Japanese couple to sit beside me. And yet still, I nearly tell the hostess I have to get off; I can't go into the skies. Like many things, thankfully I suppose, it remains only a thought. The plane takes off. My usual anxiety about flying is absent, I am too focused on the past and an approaching future which promises to be a painful present. 

The stewards try to sell me booze and fags and perfume and the like, but I pass, certain I'll source most of those things for myself on the ground. I am on my way to Prague and cannot turn back. 

And then, for reasons I don't fully understand, something shifts. That forty-fifth minute banking of the plane maybe, the level of the sunrise across the clouds perhaps, the realisation that for all it did for and to me, Prague lies ahead. I am Prague-bound, heading to the place I called home for so long. I don't feel better per se (I'm undeniably still utterly butterly fucked), but I am Prague-bound, and that's something. 

I haven't got off the plane, or out of the queue. I am in the sky and on my way. I have to face it; the city I loved, the city I left. With eight and a half hours to kill before meeting my friend, I've little choice but to tread the paths of ghosts, to find her on every corner, to feel whatever it is this particular return to Prague makes me feel. In many ways, it won't differ much from my day to day, in which I retrace the memories and misturns and mistakes over and over. Now, however, I'll do it in 3D.

That damned work of art… 

That damned work of art… 

Perhaps it will be worse; the stuccoed facades of Vinohrady – so near our old apartment – heart-wrenching up close; the river, the castle, that damned bridge overrun with tourists, the streets we walked together.

The olfactory senses lead the way, forgotten smells bringing the memories back in droves; grilled klobása redolent of football summers  but her parents' garden too, the reasty scent of sidewalks bringing back the years, that odd stench on the Metro concourse redolent of my teaching days. So it goes. 

I walk. I see the old haunts. The church where Kubiš and Gabčík died bravely, betrayed by comrades and a generation that lost its mind. The babies of Kampa on which tourists sit on sunny days for selfies, only to discover that metal on human skin causes a burning sensation. The tunnel leading out to Thámova through which we once rode bikes, her with aplomb, me with graceless fear.

I have the good sense to forgo my old roads, and the café where we met because even I'm (just about) not fool enough nor so devoted to the cult of misery. 

But I inadvertently stumble upon memories nonetheless. The path in Riegrovy Sady looking out over the city, the tower with its babies where her loving parents bought me lunch, Café Boudoir, different now only in that the ashtrays sit in the garden. I walk it all because I've time to kill, and because I must face the fact that it's all very much in the past tense now. 

I set my eyes to the wind, and walk, letting it wash over me for good and bad but most of all, for whatever it is. The beer garden where I watched football and wrote poorly crafted pages of a badly written book; Hanil, where we promised we'd give it the best of goes when I was leaving; which I believe we did.

Maybe I'm a fool to have returned, but returned I have, and I feel better for it, better than I did some hours ago, when I so very nearly caused a scene at a British airport, at a time when the last thing British airports need is a scene.

That damned tower…

That damned tower…

Yes, I shudder at the sight of each blonde-haired girl and every pram in case its her; I even shudder at the babickas in the park and the thought of her mother walking the newborn, beautiful kid, but not my kid. 

I walk past a woman I knew and don't stop to say hello because it would mean admitting I left it all behind. I walk past another I taught just once within the first two months of my time in the city, but recognise all the same.

And come the end of it, I meet my friend, and we recall the old days and let whatever regretings and musings and feelings arise come and go freely, and it's good, kind of fun even. 

And when he goes to take a piss and I am left alone that nth beer makes me wistful, and I sit philosophically, thinking about the day, thinking it was good to have come, to have gotten on that plane. I muse, paraphrasing Dylan Thomas to myself.  

I will not go softly into the night/I will not be vanquished, I say to myself, earnestly.

That isn't Dylan Thomas. It's Bill Pullman in Independence Day. It's just possible that I'm a bit pissed. To hell with it, Pullman said it well and I've never read Thomas besides. I'm here. 

I've faced it. And gently, softly, gradually I will tip-toe forwards, onwards, because I came.

Travel is at times a beast of burden, bearing neither pleasure or joy. But still, it's travel all the same, and I regret none of it. It has meaning. That much is true.

That damned lovely hill… 

That damned lovely hill… 

I Don't Wanna Fado Way

Ronan O'Shea

"You die." 

That's the answer we get from Joana, our Fado walking tour guide and a local resident as we negotiate the cobbled, narrow and extremely slippery streets of the Mouraria. An increasingly chic part of Lisbon, it's experiencing all the pitfalls that come with gentrification, like rising prices and gawping tourists like myself. 

And the question as to what causes such death?

Another member of the group asked what happens when you slip on the cobbles. According to Joana, there's nothing in between. No broken bones, no twisted ankles, just quick – albeit painless I presume – death.

Of course, she's pulling our collective, hitherto unbroken legs and we following willingly as she leads us, taking in the street art that seems to adorn more or less every reachable or scalable wall, the Cape Verdean restaurants, the closely huddled buildings and narrow alleyways. 

She has a point though. The hills up to Mouraria aren't exactly Everest, but they're not Denmark either, and the old cobblestones are precarious to say the least. For me, general clumsiness aside, it's not such a problem. But women in high heels? Forget about it, says Joana. 

"You don't dress to look hot on a date in Mouraria. You dress to survive." 

The district is old, very old. Indeed, it's one of the few parts of Lisbon to have emerged relatively unscathed from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which destroyed around 85 per cent of buildings in the city, and it shows in some of the architecture which remains. 

Careering through the alleys and down steep steps, we eventually stop in at  a shoebox-sized bar run by Tony. An avuncular man in his early fifties, he pulls out eight shot glasses and pours large shots of  Ginja, a cherry liqueur. It goes down a treat even if the religious iconography and faded, timeworn pictures of Mother Mary remind me of my teetotal grandma's house. Tony poses gladly as we take photos, particularly for the women in the room. Joana points to the many polaroids on the walls, particularly those that show Tony as a younger man. As if on cue, he pulls out an ID card. 

"Oh wow,' says one of the women in our group. 

Moustache-clad and chiselled of jaw, it's safe to say Tony was a bit of a Lothario in his day. He pulls out a slightly more recent card. 

"No," the woman says, "I think I prefer the other one." 

Though he doesn't speak a word of English, he laughs, seemingly understanding, and we leave him to bask in the memory of his glory days.  

Tony, Lothario and purveyor of Ginja 

Tony, Lothario and purveyor of Ginja 

Walking on, Joana tells us more about Fado, the country's unique form of folk music. It's distinctive melancholy style came from the sea, she says, or more specifically, from men going away with no certainty as to whether they would return, and a strong chance they might not. Fado songs tend to centre on love and, more often than not, loss and though it's not to everyone's taste, it's undeniably impressive, the singing throaty, the mournful tones steeped in the city's fascinating history. 

Joana shows us a pretty mural to Maria Severa Onofriana. A prostitute who became a prince's mistress, she is widely credited as the first Fado singer to achieve any level of fame before her death at the age of 26, possibly of Tuberculosis, though TB was often cited as cause of death by highly religious clerks or doctors rather than admit the prevalence (and existence) of venereal disease.  

We walk down an alley and into a relatively large square, where we wait at a tram stop to go up to Alfama which, we're told, really is too much of a climb for our untrained legs.

As Joana tells us more about the city, I watch a man in the background stumbling blind drunk, dropping and then picking up a pair of glasses, before sitting down on the sidewalk and whacking his head against the opposite tram stop's plexiglass.

It's a reminder of where we are. For all the cobblestones and small doorways and clothing lines and photos of well-known elderly locals that adorn Mouraria's walls (an art project by a resident UK photographer), there is the poverty of those who still – for the time being – can just about afford to keep living there, and at the very least, it doesn't seem like the city is trying to hide them away, as is often the case in other cities around the world. 

As the tram careers up the hill, Joana assures us there hasn't been an accident in years, and says the trams have three brakes should one fail. I look to my right as a child no older than ten jumps onto the side in order to dodge the fair and get where he wants to go, and can't help but admire as he jumps off a few minutes later with the tram still travelling at speed, weaving his hip to the left to dodge the wing mirror of a parked Nissan Micra. 

Badass 

Badass 

Though close by and still a cobbled thing of beauty, Alfama has a slightly more pristine veneer, the sight of the port out in the distance and the picturesque skyline – including the Church of Santa Engrácia – making it all the more photogenic. Joana says the streets, now relatively quiet and calm as dusk settles, will be packed with revellers during the feast of Saint Anthony, music and dancing the staples of a month long celebration throughout the city, but one that began in this part of town. 

"It's exactly the same in England," I say. "Dancing with strangers. Singing in public. We do that all the time. We're a very passionate people." 

Despite saying earlier that she has never been to England, she knows I couldn't be more wrong, and laughs hysterically. As if on cue, I catch my toe in a cobblestone and trip slightly. Who am I kidding, I've two left feet and the only passion I can openly display involves twenty-two men chasing a rounded piece of leather.

Still, misery likes company, and I'm a Spurs fan. Perhaps I could get used to Fado, and singing, and dancing in the street. Maybe, just maybe. 

I Wanna Get Laid-Back

Ronan O'Shea

I stand at the periphery of the periphery of the venue, a large tent named the Garden of Unearthly Delights, a place where all that is weird and wonderful is celebrated during the Adelaide Fringe each year.

So far, I’ve witnessed a semi-naked dancer in nipple tassels distend her limbs into a large balloon, listened to an expletive-laden rant by a Frenchman who I suspect isn’t actually French, and watched as a ludicrously well-toned (and semi-naked) man named Marco (with suitably indistinct Eurotrash accent) bates the audience by flicking them with water from the hot tub he’s standing in. It’s very camp, very funny, very fun.

And this is just day one. 

Not bad after a fraught, 22-hour journey to the South Australian capital, including a three-hour layover in Dubai (thank God for the Heineken Bar), lots of coffee and the realisation that I left a change of both socks and t-shirt (plus my Fluoxetine) in my checked baggage.

Luckily, missing one day's meds is about as likely to do anything significant as Jeremy Corbyn; less luckily, I do have a mild phobia of flying to contend with. And yet, to my surprise, my journey is one of relative ease. 

In the run up to my Exodus-like travel, I’ve been reading a self-help book on flying, experiencing all the self-loathing I would expect of anyone resorting to self-help books.

Fortunately, the writer is both a former pilot and a trained therapist, so while the hallmarks of self-help literature remain (an overuse of exclamation marks, readers’ endorsements, excessive positivity, shit fonts) Soar actually has some smart ideas for handling flight anxiety, many of which I put to good use during my flights.

‘Assess,’ I tell myself, as we hit a bumpy patch somewhere over Turkey. ‘Build a plan,' whatever the hell that means. 'Commit’.

The Barossa Valley

The Barossa Valley

No idea, really, and I feel like a tit, but it actually works. For once I'm not beset by an impending sense of doom (on the flight at least) and I find myself able to actually enjoy a couple of films and relax. Sitting in Dubai’s Heineken Bar during my layover, I enjoy the most expensive pint I’ve ever bought and watch Leicester City play, realising the biggest cause of stress in my life isn't aeronautical malfunction but the pained expression on Claudio Ranieri’s face as he watches his side labour against Sevilla.

When I finally arrive at my destination, I'm relieved to have finished my journey more than anything; and excited to see what Adelaide it has to offer. As it turns out, Adelaide is my kind of city; medium-sized, quite square, a reputation for being lame. A bit like me. 

Fortunately, that less than generous reputation has done Adelaide wonders. For all the opprobrium sent its way over the years (it was often called dull, fusty and lifeless) Adelaide has a lot to offer. While Sydney and Melbourne reaped the international and domestic plaudits, Adelaide's reputation for cultural inertia has given it time to it to thrive under the radar, and it's now chock to the brim with many a funky bar and restaurant, laid-back speakeasies, chilled out pubs and tonnes of other places you could describe with positive adjectives. 

I’ve also come at arguably the best time of year. The tail-end of summer is a little cooler, and March is known as Mad March in the city with good reason, with the Adelaide Fringe, Clipsal 500 race and Writer’s Week all taking place.

Having shrugged off any remaining jet lag, I get straight into things with a tour of the bustling Central Market, before my guide David drives me up into the Adelaide Hills.

Here, I visit The Summertown Aristologist, a former general goods store which has a calm, rural feel and is great for anything from a full on meal, a quick coffee or a relaxed glass of wine or five.

I try types one and three, with wines named – among others – Commune of Buttons Pink Flamingo Fizz and Gentle Folk Scary white; and watch as the waiter describes each before popping the cork with a huge bowie knife, which he tosses to the floor. Suffice to say, it's a little more chilled out here than back home, a themethat persists throughout my stay.

Indeed, dinner that evening at Africola is about as pretence free as you can imagine. An African-themed restaurant, it has the look of an American diner from the 1950s, with seats at the counter, an open kitchen and various vintage pieces complementing the upbeat vibe of the place, while chef Duncan Welgemoed acts as a one-man soundbite machine.

A domesticated kangaroo completely unrelated to my story

A domesticated kangaroo completely unrelated to my story

“This is my fuck you Nandos dish,” he says, placing a large plate of peri-peri chicken in front of me, having just a few minutes earlier given me a dish of pickled things which described as, well, ‘pickled things’. He doesn't seem overly full of his own burgeoning reputation.

But it's not just the chilled out atmosphere that impresses; the food is incredible, and definitely better than Nandos, though I've only eaten there once, so maybe I'm being unfair on them

Slightly glazed from more wine and a chaser containing Maker's Mark and gravy (it's a lot nicer than it sounds), we head to the Garden of Earthly Delights to enjoy it in all it's camp splendour after dinner, where I see those burlesque dancers do their thing. 

I see much of the state over the coming days, from the seaside town of Port Lincoln to the wine regions of McLaren Vale, Barossa and Clare Valley, all lovely in their own way. But I love cities, and I quickly grow to love Adelaide; cool, calm, collected Adelaide.

Whisky Breakfast 

Whisky Breakfast 

After returning from Clare towards the end of my trip, I walk to a pub I saw on my first day; Thrift Shop Bar, a small place specialising in Australian spirits, where I order a Whisky Breakfast, sit down on a large antique sofa and relax after a long day.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Long as I Can See the Light' plays in the background, the slow, repetitive drum beat willing my breath to ease up after a long day spent walking around in the hot sun.

I recline, lay my arms on the soft material of the sofa and listen to the music. It may not be the most lively way to cap off a great trip, but right now I just wanna get laid-back, and Adelaide's got me covered.