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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Recently I attended Kelly Donegan's fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society #Trek4Life campaign at which a number of bloggers spoke about the challenges which shaped them. It happens to be quite poignant for me as it has been 2 years since a very low period in my life where I found myself with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes and living in the boxroom of my parents house. I feel enough time has passed for me to finally tell the story about how my life fell apart and I picked up the pieces.

The Ten Year Plan
I had it all planned out. I would be married at 27, start a family at 28. I would have a big house and a beautiful Audi in the drive. I would have a successful career and wear a power suit and have perfectly manicured nails. At least that’s how I saw myself at the age of 18. It was my ten year plan and I was focused on chasing all of these warped measures of success.

The Crash
Fast forward ten years. The only box I had ticked was the big house, but I would often neglect to admit that the big house was accompanied by an even bigger mortgage. I was so far away from being married, instead I was clinging to a relationship that made us both deeply unhappy, but I couldn’t leave. I was afraid. Afraid of being single, afraid of being alone, afraid of what people might think, afraid that I might never meet another person who would accept me. In terms of my career I was working in an entry level job that I despised. Having recently completed my Master’s degree in psychology and pouring all of my savings into tuition, I had no choice but to take on every shift that I could. I didn’t wear a power suit to work. Instead I wore a tracksuit or jeans. I won’t even mention that state of my nails, because grooming was a luxury I couldn’t afford. The years of neglect and unhappiness had taken its toll and I was overweight and under stimulated. Children were a no-go area since I had sworn that I would never bring a baby into the world while I was so unhappy. Finally the Audi? Well, I couldn't even drive. 

I had to do something. I had to change my entire life in one foul swoop. I had to walk away from my life. I had the heart breaking conversation and I left my relationship of 9 years. I walked away from the house that I thought I would raise my children in and moved into my parent’s box room. I realised that I had nothing to show for the last decade of my life other than a suitcase of clothes. A suitcase of plus sized clothes.

It was tough. I had to admit to myself that I had been on the wrong path and I had walked so far down that path that I had almost forgotten the way out. What followed was a frenzied attempt to pretend everything was wonderful. “Celebrating” my new found freedom by drinking every night for a fortnight. But the party couldn’t go on. All of the people who had rallied around me slowly eased back into their own lives and then there was just me. Just little old me, in my parents box room with my suitcase full of plus sized clothes and turning 29 years of age. 

I realised that it wasn't enough to simply walk away from unhappiness. Happiness is something that you have to make for yourself. I decided first to start with myself. My first step throw myself into work and I started to achieve little things here and there. Work became something I loved and was interested in.

Down-sizing Me 

I then started to work on reducing the size of the clothes in that suitcase. The years of neglect on my mind and body had rendered me unfit, unhealthy and unattractive. So I contacted a personal trainer. I was so nervous and unfit but Michael from Bodycoach helped me to overcome all of my fears and body issues. I lost 12 kilos and began to feel confident again. I started to do things for myself again. I took a course on how to do my own make-up and I finally felt comfortable in buying new clothes and making the most of my appearance.
Getting stronger

Getting out of my comfort zone
I started to date and I won't lie to you this was pretty terrifying. I had never really dated before and I didn't even know what people did on dates! I met some really lovely people and some not so nice. Some dated me for weeks and never called again, some told me I was fat and some verbally abused me. Before I would have let this get to me but the New Clair was stronger than that.
Learning to Love myself again

Broadening my Horizons 
The third step was the reason I write to you today. I began to travel at every available opportunity. I travelled with friends and I travelled solo. I made my mind up where I wanted to go and I used all of my free time travelling to 12 countries and 4 continents in 12 months. Travelling made me feel alive again. I realised that I was far more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for. I danced salsa, drank Mojitos and smoked cigars in Cuba. I watched a bollywood movie, saw the Taj Mahal, crashed a wedding, survived a sleeper train and sailed on the Ganges in India. I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland. I haggled in the Souks in Morocco. Above all of this I fell in love on the beach in Latvia.
Getting spiritual in Jaipur

This blog was created to tell my story and this has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. By continuing to push myself out of my comfort zone I have experienced more in the last 2 years alone, than in the decade before. I am finally learning to drive and have signed up for a comedy improv class. I will turn 30 fitter, healthier and happier than I was when I turned 21. It feels hard to believe that just 2 years ago I felt like my whole World had fallen apart. To anyone who is reading and feels this way, just know that you are the creators of your own happiness. Only you can change and direct you life in the way you want.

This is the challenge that shaped me.
The future is bright


Thursday, 11 August 2016

I've written before about how disappointed I was with my recent trip to Paris. It's true to say that I did not exactly fall in love with the place, but there were a few things that I did enjoy. Ironically these things had a distinctly patriotic feel to them. So here is a little list of the three things every Irish person should do in Paris.

1. Visit the grave of a literary genius. 
In a bid to be the World's most Irish tourist after frequenting a hoard of Irish pubs, we went to visit the grave of one of Dublin's most flamboyant, and celebrated literary greats, Mr Oscar Wilde. I have been a huge fan of his work for a very long time and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books to this day.

It is no surprise that Oscar Wilde's tombstone sticks out a mile in Pére Lachaise cemetery. Towering over many, the huge modernist construction depicting an angel is easily identifiable among the traditional gravestones and tombs. It looks almost Egyptian in style and it felt so apt for Oscar.
 Tradition dictates that visitors to the grave don brightly coloured lipstick and kissed the gravestone in tribute. You can see the reminiscence of previous fans who have come to pay respects all over the sides of the tomb. Sadly the act is now prohibited and a large glass wall surrounds the tomb. Due to the cost of cleaning the stone, a fine has been instated for those caught defacing the grave, but I think Oscar would have rather liked it.  
So did I rebel against the law and pay my respects? Well...... that would be telling!

Other famous people buried at Pére Lachaise include Victor Noir, heralded a bit of a stud, the French Journalist's grave has become a well known fertility symptom. It is believed that rubbing the crotch of the bronze statue brings fertility, so I had a little try and I will let you know how I get on!
The grave of Victor Noir
Don't forget to also visit the grave of musician Jim Morrison where fans have been known to sit and drink beer, leave souvenirs and wrap bracelets around the barriers and bizarrely, stick half eaten chewing gum on a nearby tree.

2. Find a bit of Grá
Located in the Montematre area, Le mur des je t'aime (I love you: the wall) provides a dash of calm in an otherwise hectic city. The mural was inspired by Frédéric Baron who dreamed of travelling the World to find 80 I love yous. He didn't actually leave, instead asking neighbours to write the phrase in his notebook in different languages. By the time he was done, the book contained over 1000 I love Yous in over 300 languages.

Of course one of the essential things for any Irish person to do is the find the words "T'áim i ngrá leat" if you want to be a true Irish tourist. You won't be looking for long. Promise.

3. Do us Proud 

The final thing that every Irish person should do in Paris is do our country proud. This goes for every place we visit, but particularly in the aftermath of an incredible Euro 2016 which saw Irish fans win the hearts of all of Europe. 
 From winning the City's Grand Vermeil medal, to turning the Eiffel Tower green, white and orange, Irish fans truly left their mark. So wherever we go, lets all continue to bring that Irish charm.

So there we have it. My three things that every Irish person needs to do in Paris and I didn't even include a single pub!

Bon Vacances x

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dear Paris, I’m so sorry, but I just don’t get you. Maybe it’s not you, it’s me. Then again, maybe it is you Paris.

I realise that this might be controversial but I have really tried to love Paris. So much so, that I have been to Paris 5 times. I’ve gone with family, with friends and (ahem) “lovers”, but I have just failed to get that “Wow” moment every time. Sure it’s place packed full of things to do and see but I have not been able to fall in love.

So on my most recent trip, I decided to try to do things that were a little different - A few things that I had never done before. So after you have visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arch de Triumph, wandered down the Champs Elysee and spent a full day browsing artwork at the Louvre, what is there left to do in Paris?

Well my quest to find fun in Paris started off on a sour note. Paris was closed. Well, almost! The French were on strike. The first stop on our trip was to see the palace at Versailles but unfortunately this was closed. I was majorly peeved, since we had prepaid for tickets and hired a rental car especially to drive to Versailles, but we were greeted with a sign that said the Palace was closed on account of the strike, but no further information as to how we could get a refund for our tickets or when it would reopen again. BOO!

So we decided next to drive into the city centre. Sure we may as well see the Eiffel tower while we’re here we thought. Wrong! The Eiffel Tower was also closed. We took a token picture and got back in the car.

Disaster! We had no idea, but tens of thousands of French had come to protest on the streets of Paris. The roads were closed and what followed was a 2 hour journey trying to get out of the city. So unfortunate as it may seem, Paris... You left a a terrible taste in my mouth and sadly I have no desire to hurry back.......

No hard feelings,

Clair x 


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

I’m TERRIBLE… I have not been keeping up to date with my adventures at all because I basically keep getting distracted. I STILL haven’t filled you lot in on the second part of Euro 2016 for me and I’m sure it’s old news by now, but nevertheless, I still do want to tell you about my time in Bordeaux.
So we flew into La Rochelle, one of the teeniest little tin sheds of an airport and picked up our rental car for the week. Of course we firstly had to decorate it with Irish flags and wing mirror covers – God forbid that people might think that we were French!

We weren’t alone with our public display of patriotism and we spent most of the journey beeping at fellow supporters all heading to Bordeaux for the game. While stopping at a petrol station for reserves, we bumped into a hilarious group of lads driving the wittingly named “Wes Hooley Van”. There were 12 of them all bunched into this minibus and they kindly gave it a wash when I asked them for a picture. Sound lads!

We stayed in the Ibis Budget hotel in Bordeaux…. That’s right you heard me, the Ibis budget. We were made immediately aware of this when we arrived to check in and were told that our separate “budget” reception was around the back….. so we checked into our tiny lime green room and made a mutual decision not to spend too much time in the room! We headed off to explore the city and found a few poor Scottish football fans who were clearly lost.

The excitement got a little too much for me when I bumped into Matt Holland on the street. I totally fangirled it, and without shame jumped in for a photo!

The Irish had well and truly descended on Bordeaux and you couldn’t move for green shirts and Irish accents, but the Belgians were out in force too. Every bar was full, and the fun was incredible, so much so that the fanzone, set up to house thousands of fans was almost empty. The craic was in the Irish pubs!

A short walk from our hotel a local police man began to sing along with the lads and a chorus of “Stand up for the French Police” started up. I also had to drag my other half away from a group of lads who decided that he was the image of Martin O’Neill and told me how lucky I was to be with him. We exited just as they began to chant and made a lucky escape before the thousands of others joined in.

On match day we hopped on the tram out to the new Stade de Bordeaux, an interesting box shaped stadium. Here we mixed with the Belgians in stark contrast to the reports of fights between English and Russian supporters.
Add caption

There were dance offs, brass bands and general merriment. I also saw some good natured political activism, who said sport and politics don’t mix?

We were literally sitting in the back row of the stadium and I had to climb up like a mountain goat, but the view of the game from up there was pretty decent.

Sadly the result didn’t go our way and the Belgians trounced us 3-0. Somehow, this didn’t dampen our moods much and we enjoyed some friendly banter with the Belgians after the game. I want to tell you more about our tour de France and I will! But that’s all from me for now! 


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Last weekend I had the honor and privilege of being chief bridesmaid for my best friend. But as you know one of the duties of a bridesmaid is to organise a kick-ass hen party! So I wanted to do something a little special. Even though my first choice would have been to jet off somewhere special, Budget was the main factor in my decision making this time.

We are at that age where every second person we know is getting married (I've been invited to SIX weddings this year!) so I was looking for a location that was cheap and cheerful, but above all fun!

The bride is adventurous and well travelled so I hit the jackpot when I came across Galway glamping, a super cool spot just outside of Tuam. I booked us into their Mongolian Yurts for the night and decided to pay homage to my friend's travels by organising a full-moon theme!

The Accommodation was so quirky and cool and not at all like camping, complete with proper beds, showers and and fully plumbed toilets. We were also given our very own social area and a cute swing and the option for a campfire.

We opted for the team building style activity and were put through our paces with a blindfolded obstacle course, which was absolutely hilarious! We followed this up with a Yummy BBQ that was organised onsite for us and then got ready for the night ahead.

Of course it wouldn't be a full-moon party without the essentials, UV paint, Glo sticks and buckets full of booze. We were allowed to bring all of our own food and drink and this helped with the budget a lot.

The owners helped us to organise a bus into Galway city where we danced the night away and got up to all sorts of mischief.....

I would highly recommend Galway glamping for a hen party or a girls night, the staff took excellent care of us and left us to our own devices and most importantly, the bride and her hens had a ball :)
Love from the girls x

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

When I read that travel writer Louise Linton has managed to piss off an entire country by writing her memoirs, I felt compelled to write about my own experience as a teenage volunteer in Africa. I have never really written about my time spent in Rwanda other than to praise the women of the country, because I have realised how differently I would have approached the opportunity as an adult.

In 2003 as a school girl, myself and a number of friends raised the significant amount of €32,000 for an NGO charity and I was rewarded by being selected to travel to Rwanda to see all of the good work that our money had done. I was naturally ecstatic, the adventure and the excitement of travelling to Africa was incredible and the weeks and months prior to departure was taken up with shopping for suitable clothing, getting vaccinations and nervously  anticipating what it would be like. Locally, we were heralded as heroes – two 16 year old girls raise a tonne of money and head to Africa. We were in the papers and even on RTE news. I cringe at the thoughts of it now.

I am glad that I have not written about Rwanda because at 16 I too would have fallen into the trap of the white saviour complex. As a naïve teenager I did think that I would be able to save the World, or at most change the life of some of the people I met. In hindsight that is ridiculous.

Like Linton, I too was young, pale, slim and blond and I received an abundance of attention from local people. Yes, I was proposed to by local men, I was called Muzungu by the children and yes, they were happy to see me coming, but to say that I changed any of their lives would be severely self-indulgent. In fact, I doubt that any of those children would remember me, and if they do, they would probably wonder why I left and never returned. The fact is, I was a voluntourist. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a publicity stunt. A great white saviour, who was sent to meet and greet like a celebrity. How much of that €32,000 was spent of flying me to Rwanda and paying for my accommodation?
Travelling to Rwanda, June 2003

Of course my intentions were good, but at 16 and with very little understanding of my significance in the World, I genuinely thought that I would be saving starving children. But there were no starving children. I saw happy children going to school, with loving Mothers who did everything they could for their children.

Looking back at some of my photographs I feel embarrassed. I can hardly name the people in most of them with me. It was as if I was at a people zoo. Ok granted it was before selfies and I was using a disposable camera, but mostly it was me posing with curious people. I was not their friend and you can tell. I do think of some of the people I met there, Julienne, Eric, Cecelia and wonder how they are. I sometimes think that I would like to go back and find out what happened to these people. Thirteen years later how are they doing? I kept in contact with some, but only those privileged enough to have access to the internet at that time.

I do feel a little sorry for Linton, because she wrote with the romanticism that hindsight can sometimes bring. But the fact is that what she has written has done more damage to the people that she claims she helped. She has done nothing more than feed into the stereotype that Africa has and frame herself as a hero and a martyr. I feel it is far more productive to write about my uneventful travels in Rwanda. I was there 9 years after the genocide and the year the conflict in the Congo ended, just a short paddle across Lake Kiwu, but nothing happened. I was protected by the NGO far more than the people they were there to assist. I met friendly, happy people who looked after their communities and strong women who had rebuilt the country. I ate a dinner of goat meat with villagers and took the seat of honour under a hole in the roof where the rain dripped through. These are the stories of Africa I would like people to share.

I could easily have framed this story differently and as a teenager, I might have been tempted to. But now as a woman of almost 30 I see my place in the World. Travelling to Rwanda was a time of personal growth and something I learned a lot from, but did I make a difference to the people there? Probably not. Of course we all have Egos and we all like to exaggerate, but we have a responsibility as travel writers and bloggers to present facts and not to present ourselves as heroes in our own Walter Mitty-esque tale. Let’s hope that there are some lessons learned from the Linton Lies. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Time 7.20 am. 
Location Pigalle, Paris.

I am awakened in my somewhat seedy, dark red hotel room with a chorus of “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé”. I’m not even mad, I’m just amused. I look out the window to see the iconic Moulin Rouge, but instead all I can see is a splatter of green jerseys cleaning up from the night before.

This is exactly the tone that was set from the Irish camp at Euro 2016. Good natured and (mostly) responsible fun. I have given myself a mammoth task, in trying to put into words what the atmosphere by the Moulin Rouge was like when the Irish were in town. Like St Patrick’s Day on Steroids……. For two weeks. 

There were people in fancy dress in 40 shades of green and famous journalists dancing on top of public toilets. We had dance-offs and games of football involving 500 players at a time. Since the 3 Irish bars in a row were all full, we ventured to a corner shop to buy booze, where the owner couldn’t believe his luck; he was selling out of everything! While queuing in the tiny shop with a bottle of Bubbly (for a fiver) a wave of song began
Well, if you've got a wing-o, Take her up to Ring-o, Where the waxies sing-o all the day

We were learning that the Irish fans were developing quite an online presence and locally, people were gathering to watch and join in with the fun. Children were watching with a mixture of shock and admiration from apartment balconies as the bars slowly began to sell out of alcohol and the party moved out onto the streets……

Match day was nerve racking and we headed toward the Stade de France. I had only bad memories of this place, since the last time I was there was the famous Thierry Henry incident. Oh course I couldn't miss out on an opportunity to dress up for the occasion and arrived complete with a flashing green tiara and green white and orange false nails!

Security was tight and we had been advised to arrive up to 3 hours before kick off, but luckily a surrounding the ground there was a selection of (albeit overpriced) food and drink. The atmosphere inside the ground was electric and I had a fantastic view from just behind the goal. I had to ask myself why I did this, as the butterflies came and my nerves started to get the better of me. The sound of the National Anthem inside the stadium only increased my anxiety and we counted down to kick off.

A strong Irish side were on top throughout the first half but it remained scoreless. But we came back fighting and Wes Hoolahan put us ahead with a cracker 3 minutes into the second half. The celebrations were somewhat short-lived what an unfortunate OG from Clark put Sweden level. When the game finished 1-1, the mood was low and it felt like a cruel way to draw a match that we had so nearly dominated. Still, we knew that maybe just, we had done enough to put us in a good position. The important thing was, that we were on our way to Bordeaux to face the Belgians. 

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