On the road…to Sicily

With the November cold creeping in, it’s nice to remember the (late) summer trips that we made in October…it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago we were enjoying the sun and swimming in the sea!

First we went on a family trip to Sicily…I tried to keep as zero waste as possible but when you go somewhere for a short period of time, you might not get the chance to find all the alternatives you’d like. Also, being a part of a large group calls for some compromises…but I did my best and touched on how to be a zero waste Sicilian!

Here are a few pictures from our trip showing my attempts…

Sicily (and Italy in general) is famous for its cuisine and we opted for an apartment accommodation so that we could eat out in local eateries, enjoying local food and not international hotel cuisine. It turned out to be a good call!! I was pleasantly surprised when ordering beverages for a large group (we were 10 adults and 3 kiddies), as they offered a bulk bottle rather than a lot of small ones. As a bonus, these often are glass bottles!

We didn’t eat out every night and sometimes cooked our own meals in the apartment. The traditional base of Italian cuisine, bread and pasta, were easy enough to find packageless or in recyclable packaging. Pasta in cardboard boxes, ready-made tomato sauces in glass jars, lovely fresh bread and pastries in paper bags. It was a bit more difficult with meat as the few times we tried, the meat counter was closed. Oh, you lazy siesta culture!! Fruit and veg were also pretty easy to find in bulk in small stalls throughout the village and the owners were happy for me to use my own cloth bags.

What I saw for the first time and was really impressed with was a glass ‘cork’ in a wine bottle. When the owner of the shop told me it was from glass, I first thought I hadn’t understood. But I actually had! Of course, I took it home not only as a souvenir but as a lovely wine bottle topper! (Mental note: the local wine Nero D’Avola is pretty tasty.)

During the trip, I found the Sicilian ‘relationship with waste’ quite peculiar. First of all, there weren’t many recycling bins around. I know it was a small village but still, it had all the other infrastructure so I would expect at least some responsible public waste services. Instead, I saw a lot (and I mean a lot) of waste bags hanging from balconies. Yes, you read it right (see the pics below if you don’t believe me!).

Now, I am not entirely sure what it’s all about because I didn’t ask (people nor google) but my wild guess is that they hang it out so that it doesn’t smell inside…but then I cannot guess if these will be collected by a someone to dispose of or the residents will take them somewhere next time they’re out. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Despite the fact that the supermarkets replaced normal plastic bags with the biodegradable sort (yay!), I again didn’t see many organic bins. There were a few though and I did use them for our apartment food waste even though it meant going for a walk :)). I also made the point of bringing the recyclables with us when we went for a trip and found some recycling bins (probably belonging to some residents but hey, it wasn’t much!) and sorted the carton, glass and plastic packaging which we couldn’t avoid.

What also struck me was that despite the country and scenery being so picturesque, the public effort against littering was very lukewarm. During a walk on top of a cliff, I couldn’t believe the rubbish that hemmed the footpath. I mean, it’s not really a very touristy place but still. Pick it up and put it in a bin!!

But it wasn’t all bad! There were a few more green things to be seen. Even in the small village of Balestrate, you could rent a bike – an electric one which is understandable with all the hills – but the user guide was only in Italian so I couldn’t tell you the deal…They looked nice though!

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On the right track…

In Palermo, on a short stretch of a road, we passed at least 3 libraries or used book shops which were cool. Also, a book about veganism had a prominent place in one of the bookshop windows!

Upcycling seemed to be getting a bit of traction here and there…

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Make and mend. 

I guess it’s about someone starting a debate…leading by example and not being afraid to change things. I am already looking forward to going back in a couple of years to see if it has changed…because the potential is there.

Next week, I’ll tell you about a trip that followed this one…to Barcelona!

Bee aware

Share from Pixlr(1)Summer usually means holidays, relaxation, sun, sand and sea….all things nice. Even if you live in a country where the classic four seasons don’t really happen, summer is the time when all outdoor things are much more pleasant. The rain stops for a couple of days or even weeks, temperatures are reasonable and with a bit of sunshine, there is even a bit of ‘hot’ air around here and there. This might not last long, every year I forget how short the Irish summer is…at the beginning of June everybody jokes that the week of sunshine is all we’ll get. A month and a half later you realise that was actually ‘it’. There might be an Indian summer coming in September (please and thank you!) but despite the warmth, the air is different, with a leafy aroma – a hint of what’s to come. That is my favourite time of the year, even though I am sad that the real summer is gone.

A reliable cure for the Irish pseudo-summer is a holiday abroad. This year, as we were busy with moving house and all, we chose to go for a relaxing week to Slovakia. I went back to my childhood school holidays times, with hot air, scorching sun and evening thunderstorms from the heat. You may have seen the highlights of this trip from my zero waste perspective on my Instagram. As you might remember, my parents have a big vegetable garden and this is now abundant with produce. You name it, it’s probably there. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, beans, corn, poppies, grapes and more. It’s amazing to see what loving gardener’s hands and favourable climate can achieve in a few months. When I was there in April, the ground was bare and the seedlings were just getting ready in the greenhouse. But it’s all go now. My Mam regularly preserves the produce and makes it into pickles, compotes, purees, frozen goodies and dehydrated snacks. It was a totally aspirational trip and I came back relaxed and encouraged to make and create. The climate might be different but the principle stays the same. Grow it, harvest it and use it up to the last bit.

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The garden in summer

When I think about the change in their garden in a mere couple of months, I am fascinated by the power of nature. How everything works perfectly, how all the pieces create a flawless puzzle together, how a little seed can, in time, turn into a tall plant heavy with fruit. How nature organised everything conveniently to its benefit. I am amazed by its design and how people sometimes take it for granted even though they really shouldn’t. I do my best to get back closer to nature, even though I’m in an urban setting. It happens sometimes in an unexpected way.  

Some time back, I came across a small artisan food producers from Brookfield Farm in Co. Tipperary here in Ireland. They had a stall with their honey and beeswax produce. Beside the delicious honey, they were selling bee hive shares. I really liked the idea, being a part of something so nice and beneficial as keeping bees even if you don’t have the resources to do it yourself. (I am not sure how our neighbours would take to swarming insects out in our backyard…). Therefore, I was so happy when I got one of these hive shares as a present for my recent birthday!

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Brookfield bees

On top of receiving a certificate and some sample hive goodies and being kept informed about all updates about your hive and seasonal farm happenings, you are invited to attend a Honey Celebration – a harvest festival where you can visit your hive and meet your beekeeper (and collect your honey). So, the Sunday before last I did just that.

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Beekeeping paraphernalia!

After some initial car trouble which wasn’t the best start and being late as a result, I eventually arrived to the beautiful Brookfield Farm in the middle of Irish countryside. A lovely welcome in the form of a typical ‘cuppa’ and a piece of cake followed by an interesting introduction into the life of bees. During the afternoon we were shown the apple orchard and farm where they have the best conditions for their work – Ailbhe, the beekeeper and farm owner, has sown about 11 acres of wildflowers just for the bees. A special mixture of seeds for bees blended with winter barley which makes bird feed in the winter. Amazing. I love the fact that there are farmers that are not all about profit but about giving something back to the nature.

Along with the bees, there are also organic pastures for sheep and lamb on the farm. They have a great space for roaming and they seemed pretty happy about it 🙂 We saw some magic well :), a fully-grown mini-forest with its own ecosystem, some bee boxes and bat boxes – wooden structures encouraging animals to move in and make a new home for themselves, contributing to the natural balance on the farm.

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Bee Hotel

The farm borders the beautiful lake Lough Derg and I am sure it must be fun to dip in it at the height of summer (it cannot be colder than the Irish Sea :)) Any other time, you could take a boat and try out your fishing skills, the lake is full of fishies! Oh and at least one swan 🙂

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Mystic Lough Derg

After the interesting farm tour (a mental note though, bring wellies next time), all hive-share owners received their honey. But it was a tough year for the bees. Ireland has 98 native bee species and one third of these species are known to be in decline. It is caused by a combination of factors like habitat loss, declining quality of habitat, general decline in wildflowers within the landscape, pests and disease, pesticides and climate change. Therefore it’s so important to help the bees to do their job.

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Honey from my hive share…

The Department of Environment in Ireland actually took the time and calculated that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy, just in case you were wondering about the cold hard cash. But it’s not about money, it’s about the fact that without bees, there would be no pollination and there would be no food. You can fill in the rest. 

We can all help by doing our bit. We can plant a few more bee-attractive flowers, build a bee hotel or support sustainable beekeepers who look after the bees not just for the profit. Who’s with me??