When John and I moved overseas in 2002, we told our family and friends not to think of it as us leaving them, but as an opportunity for them to visit a new and faraway place. Well my words are coming back to haunt me, as friend after friend has moved away this past year. Velouria took off last summer for an extended visit to Northern Ireland. Then in less than 6 months my entire fleche team from 2011 scattered across the USA. I know that it would be boring if things never change, but it's just been a hard year to have so many good friends move so far away.
So in trying to live by my own words, I have vowed to visit my friends in their new homes. Since we were already in Ireland last month, the journey to Northern Ireland to visit Velouria was made that bit easier. We just had to take a train into Dublin, then a train to Belfast and finally a train to Bellarena. Simple...
As the train slows for the Bellarena station, we can see a very excited woman on the platform wearing a hand-knitted striped cap and a long blue coat cinched at the waist by a wide belt. As this woman jumps up and down barely able to contain her excitement, her long auburn locks pulled back into a braid bounce off her shoulders. As we get off the train, Velouria greets us with a big bear hug and ear to ear grin. Imagine, if you will, a scale for measuring joy. At the top of the scale is a puppy greeting her master with unequivocal excitement as if she's been gone forever, even though it really was just a quick trip out to the mailbox. At the bottom of the scale is the snubbing one gets from the cat after a weekend away. There is simply no mistaking that Velouria is happy to have us come for a visit, as her enthusiasm registers high on the joy scale. (Not that I'm comparing my friend to a puppy, since I want to be greeted as warmly on our next visit)
We walk from the train station back to her new home, chatting and laughing the whole way, as we start to get caught up on each others recent activities. Along the way, she shows us her mountain, the mountain where she learned to stand on the pedals while climbing, the mountain she rode so regularly this summer that she no longer fears climbs or descents, the mountain that seems to serve as her muse. We then turn away from the mountain, down a tiny lane toward the shore. We pass the gate into the farm she now calls home. We walk through the barn and she points out the big tank filled with milk, which has been magically converted from grass by those large black and white creatures that shelter in the barn each night. Each day a truck comes to collect the contents of the tank and carry away the raw milk, but the residents of the farm use a small tap to fill pitchers with this fresh, rich and creamy white liquid to use in coffee or tea or porridge or cereal.
We head into the kitchen to sample some of this pure fresh milk in a hot mug of coffee, as we continue to exchange stories of our adventures since we last talked. It's not our usual conversation though, since there hasn't been much cycling for either me or Velouria in the last month. She's been busy moving and I've been busy walking.
We move into the sitting room where Velouria builds a fire. The room warms quickly, partly thanks to the fire, but also a result of the new friends who join us throughout the evening. Velouria has easily made new friends here and several stop by. I am absolutely charmed by Dave and Clive
and Gary. I am coming to realize why she has found this place so
Despite this being in a tiny little country village, her friends come from all over. We have a room full of distinct and varied accents with one each from England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These, along with Velouria's, which has influences from all over Europe, are exotic compared to my simple American accent with its distinctive southern twang. As I try to keep up with the conversation, I am having to constantly recalibrate my ear to understand Gary's strong Northern Irish accent. At some point I mishear our Kiwi friend tell us that he had worked as a cow-banger. After a bit too much wine, my imagination goes wild with the possibilities, but he clarifies that he actually said he was a cow-banker. Accents can be tricky.
We had started wondering about the difference between dairy cattle and beef cattle. We learned Dairy cows have the primary job of producing large quantities of milk. In order to provide this vital function, they must be bred to produce calves, who are quickly separated from mom. Some of these calves are non-milk makers (boys). A lucky boy could become the new breeding bull, but most are sold for veal. Dairy cows don't tend to have a long career though and once milk production goes down, they are destined to become processed beef. As a banker who worked primarily with cows - well not specifically the cows, but the farmers who have cattle, Clive had an encyclopedic knowledge of cattle!
Our group had a common connection, Lovely Bicycle. Yet most of our conversation that night was about everything but bikes, proving we aren't such a boring one dimensional lot!
After staying up quite late and draining several bottles of wine, we retire for a few hours of quality sleep. The next morning, beams of light pour through our window and dance on our covers until we open our eyes. We sleep in a room with a view of V's mountain. Just outside our door, is a desk and chair in front of another window with the same view, where I imagine V, spending hours converting inspiration from this view into words for her blog.
John and I wake, and each are mesmerized by the orange and purple in the sky behind the mountain. Long sunrises and sunsets at this time of year provide a dramatic backdrop to any view, but seeing this one, I truly get why V has fallen in love with this place.
After breakfast, we pack up and walk to the nearby airfield, where we can get out to the shore without having to cross the field where the bull lives. Then the time for our return train comes entirely too quickly. With just two weeks in Ireland and so many friends and family to see, we just had a day here. Like so many other places, I've described in recent posts, I will return here too, next time with a bike!