Memories are made of fish (and other things)

This last week we passed four years since the UK officially exited the EU and like many people our lives were never going to be the same again. Unlike a lot of people, we took a rather more drastic turn, leaving our home of almost forty years behind us. There have been a lot of changes in our lives. The seemingly endless struggle with the infrastructure, for example. The weather, which is generally milder but certainly wetter than England. Many things are more expensive in Ireland though lots, especially the food, are of a better quality than in the UK. On the plus side we have space, off-road parking and an abundance of birds plants and wildlife.

So where does the fish come in? We were surprised to find the fish over here is simply stupendous. We have a “local” fishmonger who can produce a full side of salmon caught only a few days ago. All his produce is excellent and caught off the West Coast. It also comes with a generous handful of samphire grass, added gratis by Mr Daly who also has (amongst others) excellent cod, mussels and mackerel and makes very good fish cakes. Last week we indulged in some sea bass, a fish we know well from our travels in the past, and it brought back memories of the last time we were in Greece. As we don’t fly, the journey was part of the holiday and we set off on the tiny local train from Saltburn, heading for the Ionian Islands, at stupid-o’clock in the morning. The excellent rail service got us to Lausanne for the night and then on to Ancona where we were catching the ferry to Patras.

Italian trains are very fast and very comfortable – if you travel first class. This is not something we do normally but earlier experiences led us to this extravagance. Second class carriages are crowded and even reserving (and paying for) a seat means nothing to many passengers. I swear the corridors are awash with nuns, all dragging babies and children with them – orphan “bambinis” – and the refusal to give up your place leads to much pushing and angry muttering from those around. The nuns try but rarely succeed in their attempts to infiltrate first class and it is possible to sit quietly and admire the scenery. Every hour or so a steward comes round and places something on the table – a bottle of water, some biscuits, a newspaper, in Italian of course.

We caught our ferry the next day after a riotous evening in Ancona that would fill another blog on its own. We finally arrived on Kefalonia, at the wrong end of the island for our accommodation. There were no taxis. We were saved from a very long and hot walk by the fabulous Batistatou Sisters. I know they sound like a dodgy singing group but they have a car rental business on the dock and dug up a Fiat 650 convertible for us. We called her Penelope and despite her size she coped admirably with the roads and hills of the island. She even took us to Zakynthos on the local ferry so we could visit old friends there.

There was a lot about parts of Kefalonia we didn’t like, especially our first room in Skala. I cannot recommend Skala in any way at all. It was overhyped, dirty, crowded and noisy yet managed to have nothing to do. On returning from Zakynthos we moved up the coast to the Green Bay Bungalows (not bungalows but much nicer then Skala!) and explored the top end of the island. Here we had lunch one day, seated on a walkway across the water. Shoals of fish flitted through the water below us including sea bass. The freshest, most beautiful sea bass I’ve ever tasted.

Our sea bass came from a company in Galway, discovered by Jacqui and now a mainstay in our shopping. Every Tuesday their web site, “Eat more Fish” lists what’s available for delivery on Thursday or Friday. Along with sea bass and bream we’ve had monkfish, cod, line-caught squid, oysters, smoked roe, kippers and even lobsters for a special occasion. Everything is packed in ice and driven to the door, still frozen. There are some problems with deliveries up here but this is one company that has never let us down. We always have a selection of fish in the freezer and it is always stunningly good.

The sea bass evoked happy memories of our Greek trip and also visits to Bern in Switzerland. Here we sat by the Aare river at the “Schwellenmatteli” and watched them pull our lunch out – fresh perch from the glacial waters. We have done some epic journeys over the years and are fortunate to have those memories to share. We’re probably not up to the 1,000 kilometre drives any more, nor the rigours of some of the places we’ve stayed (Mme Cockroach anyone? The beds that tried to eat us at the Golden Lion?) Despite this the knowledge and the images stay with us, and the food still evokes many smiles.

This year we plan to explore a bit more of our new home, starting with the area of Cork where my Irish ancestors came from. Jacqui has found a place by the sea that will accept our three dogs and we are really looking forward to it. It’s a chance to see something new, maybe meet new people and rest a bit too. So here’s to fish – and happy memories.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back in a couple of weeks.