Travel

A Three-Day Itinerary for the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef. It conjures up a whirl of coral, fish and beaches, diving into the depths to witness a world hidden beneath the waves. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The Whitsundays is the perfect base to explore this magnificent natural wonder.

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Day One – See Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island

Fly into the Whitsunday Coast Airport (Proserpine). It’s about a 45 minute bus journey to reach the small town of Airlie Beach. There’s also an airport on Hamilton Island, about five minutes’ drive from the resorts there.

Spend some time in Airlie Beach looking at the local wares, swimming in the lagoon and taking a stroll along the Bicentennial Walkway to Abell Point Marina. Get a ferry over to Hamilton Island (times, prices and regularity vary) – the trip is around an hour each way – and do a kayak tour at sunset.

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Continue reading “A Three-Day Itinerary for the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays, Australia”

Travel

A Home from Home

When I first landed in Avignon back in September, I was pulling my suitcase behind me, muttering a few phrases in French and wearing big sunglasses. Six months have flown past since then.

Continue reading “A Home from Home”

Travel

La Vie En France: The Second Semester

I have only two months left on my Erasmus year abroad in the south of France and I can’t believe time is flying by so quickly. After much-needed catch-ups with the family and friends in Kerry – and my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding in Galway – I returned to Avignon at the end of January, and it’s been an absolute whirlwind of chaos ever since. After the freezing gale-force winds of the Mistral (as a friend said, “If you think it might be the Mistral, it’s not the Mistral”), the blushing sun of the last few days is serving as a lovely pick-me-up.

The Erasmus in France/Creative Writing experience thus far has been like nothing I had expected. As I blogged in September, the nerves were hitting in: I had just moved to a different country, with a different culture and a different language. Being a French resident for the last six months has helped me become more accustomed to life outside Ireland. I’ve definitely become more confident in speaking French and interacting with native speakers. I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier for the Anglophone French to realise what a challenge it is to integrate yourself into an entirely new place and improve your language skills. I’m very glad that those students make the effort to speak in French with us.

On the creative side: I’ve put more work into my writing since September than I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve got my fantastic course at NUI Galway – and my editor, Geraldine Mills – to thank for that. It’s been a hell of a lot more hard work than I thought it would be, but so far I’ve had an absolute ball doing what I’ve wanted to do since the age of five. I’ve been writing all the time and got my first ever cover story published earlier this month by my university newspaper, Sin, on the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn’s, increase in college fees.

In the last few weeks, I’ve joined the ranks of the wonderful websites that are Studenty.me and Kettle, so I’m looking forward to writing articles for them. I think it’s great to have publications out there that specifically want student writers. Journalism is such a difficult industry to make your name in; the more credentials you have to your name the better, so I’m delighted that they’ll have me. I’m thriving on being involved with journalism. Even though I’m living in another country, each team has made an enormous effort to make me feel part of them. I’ll be contributing to Written in Ireland‘s online magazine as well, so make sure to check out that site.


I’m having a great time doing author interviews for writing.ie. Learning from other writers about what works for them will never stop inspiring me. I recently spoke to Tom Darling about his second novel, Summer, and he offered some great advice on writing – you can read about it on the site very soon. I’ve also set up a new blog specifically for Beauty, Fashion and Red Carpet blog posts, called Marése Martha, if you’d like to check it out here.
I’m terribly, terribly excited about everything that’s coming up on A Younger Theatre. The team have been nothing but fantastic since I started working with them. My interview with the internationally renowned performer, Michael Ball (currently starring in the West End adaptation of Sweeney Todd) will be published soon on their site. I’m also going to be interviewing English actress Jessie Cave, who played Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films. My Want to Write? Blog is set for some amazing interviewees in the literary/journalism industry: I will be talking to Irish poet, Gerry Hanberry; the founder of writing.ie Vanessa O’Loughlin; TV3 broadcast journalist Sinéad Desmond; Irish children’s author Claire Hennessy; AYT‘s Laura Turner; novelist Sarah Webb; The Guardian apprentice Rhian Jones; Móna Wise of the brilliant Wise Words blog, who will be self-publishing her début book this year; and British children’s author Bali Rai (who is also now the Writer-in-Residence for Booktrust). Finally, I will also be interviewing a New York Times bestselling author for the blog…but I won’t reveal who that is just yet!

With the busy writing schedule and life in general, it’s been hard to utilise the great South of France base that Avignon is and find time to go travelling, but my trip to Paris last December with my lovely housemate Hannah – where I visited the most beautiful bookshop possibly in existence, Shakespeare and Company – worked wonders for me in terms of reminding me to stay positive about everything.

All set to go: TGV train ticket to Paris
Yes, alright, I was a little bit excited about Shakespeare.
Partyin’ with Mona: Picture courtesy of Hannah O’Reilly.

I’m lucky enough to be going to Paris again in April for the last week of my séjour in France and I already know it’s going to be a bittersweet goodbye. I plan to fit in some more gallivanting around Marseille, Nimes and Arles before I head off home too and a couple of other cities if I have time. I’m not saying au revoir just yet!

Travel

London Calling

Time has absolutely flown this summer. One month ago, I returned from the unbelievable city of London, and I already want to go back.

London has a way of never letting you forget it. When it calls you, you have to answer.

Trawling through the maze of the city’s streets is an experience unlike any other. It’s incredibly vast, and with only four days to explore…we spent thirty-eight hours camping out in Trafalgar Square.

Madness.

From 5am on Wednesday morning to about 7pm Thursday evening, we took up residence in one of the most iconic squares in the capital. The final Harry Potter premiere was to take place, on Thursday the 7th of July, 2011, in this very spot. We not only wanted to visit the quintessential, historic London sights and spend more money than we had on shopping, but we wanted to be there when the epic film saga, based on the world-famous J.K. Rowling’s book series, came to a smashing close.

Our new home: Trafalgar Square

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 shattered records all over the globe, not only to become the highest grossing film of 2011, but is now the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, taking in box office sales in excess of $1 billion.

We, however, still had over a week to wait before we could flock into the cinema for the finale, and time was ticking ever so slowly away to the start of the premiere. Seventeen hours down, fourteen hours to go: it was the middle of the night. We were frozen, lying on one solitary blanket with jackets wrapped around us, huddling together for warmth. The stage setup’s bright flashing lights were whirling and spinning in every direction. preventing us from getting any valuable sleep in our makeshift tent.

Our lone voices began to sing. Our choruses of Disney classics and rounds of Abba songs sailed through the dark, amongst the mass of humans gathered in the Square, below the faraway shining stars.

The next day was spent clutching small umbrellas amidst the lashing rain, squashed against railings, and screaming our heads off with excitement. After waiting for endless hours and finally meeting the actors, hearing the heartfelt and tearful speeches by the cast and crew, and seeing Jo Rowling at the last HP premiere EVER…

…We were wrecked, emotional, deprived of sleep and food, and ready for our real London adventures to begin.

The following morning, being the literature enthusiasts that we are, off we trotted to Shakespeare’s Gl0be in Southwark for a tour of the reconstructed theatre. As we walked over the old cobblestones and spotted painted poetic quotes on walls, it felt very much straight out of the Elizabethan era. The theatre itself only opened its doors in 1997.

The Replica of the Globe Theatre, London

Since, I believe, there is no actual image of the Globe Theatre as Shakespeare would have known it, the faithful reproduction is based on authentic original drawings from Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Under the direction of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, the atmosphere of the new Globe was created by the replication of techniques that would have been used to build theatres in the 1600s, such as a thatched roof, with no steel or use of amplification.

Inside the Globe

We treaded on famous names carved into stepping stones underfoot, were told about the walls made of goat hair (ew) and saw the stagehands setting up for the afternoon performance. There were a few costumes onstage for the ‘Anne Boleyn’ play later that evening, threaded with the utmost care and devotion; they were all handmade dresses, each worth a cool £10,000!

That night was spent with The Wizard of Oz cast at the famous London Palladium Theatre, Argyll Street, which has the most amazing location: just off Oxford Street. I hadn’t heard a live orchestra play probably since I was in school. The booming clashes of the ‘Over the Rainbow’ overture theme magnified a thousandfold throughout the massive theatre when we entered.

The spectacular visual effects, particularly the hurricane in Kansas, combined with the show’s powerful musical numbers and strong soloist performances to make it a truly fantastic production. The show’s cast even got a standing ovation from the audience at the end!

Our last day in London was spent by the River Thames in the beautiful Westminster (my favourite part of the capital), where we ran into Johnny Depp (“Cap’n Jack Sparrow”) and Charlie Chaplin beside the London Eye, as you do. I really wanted to experience the London Eye and see the whole of the city below me…

…except I did not really factor in my fear of heights. Hmph.

After a thorough security check, we hopped on the London Eye (and it doesn’t stop. AT ALL. You actually have to jump onto the pod, while the wheel is MOVING). Rising higher and higher into the air, the golden sun glistening over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the crowd below on the bridge became smaller and smaller, until all we could see were little human dots bobbing along beside the rumbling, bright red, double-decker buses.

By this point, I was obviously clinging to my seat in the middle of the pod, taking deep breaths and wishing for dear life that I was back on the ground.

Our view of Westminster from the London Eye. Photo courtesy of Shauna Cunniffe.

Once the half-hour tour was up, my feet were firmly and delightedly back on English soil (knowing that I would be thousands of feet higher in the air later when I got on the plane home. Very reassuring as you can imagine). My first and, hopefully, last time on the London Eye had been terrifyingly fun.

On the flight back home to Ireland, we were already missing our favourite city: the fact that when we’d got (BRIEFLY) lost, we had ended up on a landmark (London Bridge), being proud that we knew what Lines to get on at the Tube stations, and just the real friendliness of the people.

London is such an easy place to love.

The Blazing Sun on the Palace of Westminster
Travel

Why I Love London

London is one of the greatest cities in the world. The blend of the ancient and modern alluringly combine in England’s capital to make it one of the most diverse and wonderful landscapes to explore: from beholding the might of King Henry VIII’s five-hundred-year-old Hampton Court Palace to going for a spin on the tallest Ferris Wheel in Europe, the ‘London Eye’.

Hampton Court Palace, dating from the Tudor era – Photo from its official site

London’s ability to grab and captivate the imagination of artists and writers extends back almost two millennia, inspiring countless works of outstanding creative merit – from Shakespeare to Dickens to Rowling, to name a few – and it’s no wonder. Majestic landmarks are dotted around almost every corner of the city centre. Even the Queen calls London her home (the iconic Buckingham Palace, of course, being her residence). The rich and diverse history and heritage of the United Kingdom’s capital city beckons generations of people all over the world to be enchanted by it.

It’s so easy to wander around the hubbub of the British city; the mixture of cultures, personalities and lifestyles give an eclectic yet fun feel to London. As the sun comes up, traditional jet-black cabs zoom past iconic motion picture locations and very familiar settings and sights from classic British films, such as ‘James Bond’, ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Children of Men’. The buzz and bustle of the capital merges to become one continuous low rumble: the locals frantically rush to work, the wide-eyed tourists clutch video cameras as they pass on the top deck of the scarlet-red bus tour and lighthearted buskers strum along on their guitar. Fragments of music notes and scattered chords echo along the market streets, accompanied by vocals in the crisp English accents that I adore.

No matter what your passions in life are, you will find something to fuel them during your London experience. Nightlife throbs, bright lights flash and flicker, and wellies squelch at summer festivals. There are many chaotic and fun sides to the city, but there is also a deeply serene atmosphere about London, even in the midst of the hype and intensity: there is a unique vibe of coolness intermingled with true beauty, found in very few places on Earth.

My favourite aspect of London, though? The more you see of the vast city, you still haven’t seen it all. All its wonders will still be there for you to treasure upon your return…which means you have another reason to come back.

Marése O’Sullivan

Exploring the city around the unbelievably beautiful Westminster, 9/07/2011
Travel

La France

For the next year, I will be crashing a country where they are renowned for chomping on snails, where they have multiple forms of saying “you” and where they invented the guillotine.

Nervous, me?

While I certainly will be adjusting to a lifestyle quite unlike the Irish one I am so accustomed to, France will be a welcome change. It is undoubtedly a country with a past. Centuries of bloodstained history define my future home: tales of beheaded Kings and battles to the death, tested rivalries and colossal challenges to the defence of the country’s borders from seemingly unconquerable foreign armies echo throughout the ages.

Battle of Castiglione, 1796

France would not be the country it is today without the horrors it has witnessed and the wounds it has attained from bygone eras. The French have a strength, a distinctive toughness, that is evident in their everyday life.

We all feel that our past has marked us somehow – maybe not in an obvious way – but the scars are there, unseen to the human eye. The French, as a people, are a remarkable embodiment of the struggles and pain that their country has endured. Their solemn pride in the rich and magnificent landscape of France, the graceful beauty of the countryside and the shining brilliance of the cities transcends any language or cultural barrier.

Brittany, France

Akin to the Irish, when young and old French soldiers alike were heading into battle, ready to lay down their lives in wars that extended far beyond themselves as individuals, they had to fight to the bitter end for a cause they believed in. They fought for their families, they fought for their freedom, and most of all they fought for their wonderful country that they called their home.

I have realised that the similarities between Ireland and France are more important than their differences. Going to a new country does not mean rejecting the established ways, accepted practices and traditional approaches there. It is about respect: an endeavor to embrace the diversity of a culture more alike your own than not.

That does not mean, however, that I will be trying any snails.

Marése O’Sullivan