One of my dearest friends in the world is Maggi, an 86-year old woman I met back in 1976 in my Freshman English class at college. A housewife and mother of two, Maggi was born in Belfast. Northern Island and moved to Massachusetts when she married an American in the 1950s. Maggi is a rather famous storyteller who shares traditional folk tales, sentimental and thought-provoking reminiscences of her childhood in Belfast, and traditional folk songs and rhymes. She has performed all across the U.S. and in Britain, has won many prestigious awards in the folk world and recently published a book of her stories, Belfast Girl.
My first visit to Scotland had been a brief trip with my dear friend Carol in 1986 during which we drove up from London to see Yorkshire and the Lake District of northern England, and then crossed Hadrian’s Wall to see a bit of southern Scotland. Though brief, that trip held memories of rolling green hills, rainbows, more sheep than you could shake a stick at, afternoon teas and a hospitable people with a wonderful sense of humor and irony.
For years I’ve wanted to visit the French island of Corsica, intrigued by stories of its incredible natural beauty. I’ve been to 10 of the Greek islands and to Sicily and Sardinia in Italy, and have loved the scenery and amazing beaches to be found on all of them, but people assured me that Corsica trumps them all. Corsican culture is a mixture of Italian and French influences and so I assumed that I would feel right at home there, so I was eagerly anticipating my 5 day visit to this Mediterranean paradise.
After a whirlwind first leg of my European travels in early November, which took me through Wales, England, Finland and Italy, I raced home to New England to grab some Thanksgiving turkey and a whole lot of birthday cake and spend the week seeing all friends and family, along with practical things like doing laundry and planning for Europe Part II in December.
In June of 2008 I realized another of my travel dreams by capping off a stay in Europe with a visit to a place I’d always longed to see: Iceland. I’d already seen Norway and Sweden, and while both were beautiful and offered many adventures, Iceland sounded more wild and more exotic. And given my fascination for volcanoes and hot springs, Iceland seemed to have the edge over its quieter Scandinavian neighbors to the east.