I think to myself, what a wonderful world

IT IS early April and the train from Budejovice in the Czech Republic to Linz in Austria takes us through a wintry countryside, not a wild flower, weed or blade of new grass yet to be seen.

Snow lies in pockets in the woods beside the track; a cold fog hangs over the lakes and fields. The birches are leafless, their trunks and branches bleakly elegant against the grey sky.

For a minute, I wonder why we’re not at home in Ireland, where spring is on the wing.

It’s hard to believe that before we left, we drove past ranks of daffodils hundreds of yards long outside Cork city and that celandines sprinkled the ditches of the country lanes. Rhododendron blossomed in full glory and the gorse was spreading like gold blankets over the hills.

New grass carpeted the fields. The beeches were reddening with buds and there was hardly a foot of ground beneath them not already greened over by docks, nettles, lords-and-ladies and the leaves of wild garlic and bluebells.

What a difference the Gulf Stream makes to our island! Landlocked central Europe is weeks behind.

But maybe we are like old Rafteri the Poet and, as spring comes in, we feel the urge to travel. We have family to visit and new grandchildren to see.

We’ve enjoyed Ireland in the spring many times and hope to do so many more times.

She’ll be there for us in all her finery. As Shakespeare’s Anthony said of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety”. So it is with Cathleen Ní Houlihan in springtime. And we’ll be back home for May.

As we travelled south, the sky brightened and the fields showed a stubble of green. A snack trolley passed down the train corridor and we had a cup of passable tea. The red roof tiles of dinky Austrian villages glowed in the sun. Then, it was Linz airport, and soon we were high over the heart of the frozen Alps, fairytale white mountains extending to the horizon, shining and blanketed in snow.

Amongst the peaks were icebound lakes the dull blue colour of blind eyes.

Sometimes, river valleys cut deep into the armour of the mountains, wide plains worn down by threads of streams, the awesome works of water to behold.

For an hour, the earth below was floored with white mountains, like frozen waves of a snowbound sea. How wonderful is our planet! Age, indeed, cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.

When we landed in Barcelona, the welcome was warm, but the weather not, and it rained. After three days, we drove north to the Pyrenees to a small village.

There, the sun shone and now we found ourselves looking up, not down, at peaks white with snow. We headed for the hills. She walked, arm in a sling; I limped, due to a tendon damaged in foolish pursuit of the thief who had knocked her to the ground in Havana, Cuba, last month. Our wounds improve by the day. The path took us high above a broad, clear river and the wide valley it had carved below us as it came tumbling down from the snow.

As we walked, robins sang from the trees as they would have in Ireland.

Primroses flowered on leafy banks, cowslips blossomed and the wood anemones were not only white as in the west Cork woods but also pale blue.

A pair of ravens landed at their nest beside a torrent that fell two hundred feet from a cliff above us. It was heartening to see those Pyrenean ravens busy raising a brood — at home, the torn tendon had stopped me from walking to the sea cliff where I watch our local ravens nesting every year.

It was heaven to be out and about in the coming of spring to the Pyrenees.

In our travels, we’d gone from spring to winter and back to spring. We’d seen the snow peaks from above and below. Butterflies of exotic varieties fluttered around me as I hobbled along the sunlit path.

Two days later, in Zaragoza, we sat in a park where every tree was green.

The air was full of down, as light and thick as snowflakes. It gathered in drifts on the grass. Above us, exotic parakeets built their huge communal nests in the exotic trees.


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