Flaneuring in the UK and Ireland

Jun 27, 2024

flâ·neur| fläˈnər | (also flaneur) noun (plural flâneurs). French.

  1. a person who lounges or strolls around in a seemingly aimless way.
  2. one who wanders aimlessly, who roams, who travels at a lounging pace.
  3. an idler or loafer.

The dictionary definition above describes the flâneur as "someone who wanders or lounges around in a seemingly aimless way." In nineteenth-century French literature, the flaneur is associated with a refined and urban person, usually a male. It depicts him wandering the streets for the sole entertainment of observing society, but detached from it–unencumbered and free from mundane obligations.

Le Flaneur

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842. (Public domain)

Since reading Nassim Taleb's Incerto series, I have adopted his use of the term flâneur or flaneuring (as a verb). Nassim applies this concept in a broader sense. Expanding it to other areas, for instance to exploring our own (intellectual) interests–free from others dictating what should or shouldn't be explored.

Following our curiosity, this unstructured approach maximizes our chances of stumbling upon pleasing surprises. And, in the case of wandering around places, something that otherwise just couldn't have happened.

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Steph and I spent a few weeks in the UK and Ireland recently. Arriving in London, we also visited Manchester, Dublin, and Cambridge. Passing through Wales by train, and crossing the Irish Sea by ferry on our way to Dublin. The trip was amazing and full of "happy accidents."

We deliberately didn't have a plan. Only hotel bookings, the ferry to Dublin, and a train to the port of Holyhead–from which the ferry was departing–were planned. Also, Steph needed to be in Manchester for specific days. But everything else was open, and it was a blast. With no schedules to follow, no stress missing a reservation, just discovering and enjoying the places at our leisure. It was an unwinding and inspiring vacation.

His Majesty The King Makes an Appearance

While in London, we decided to visit Buckingham Palace and watch the changing of the guard ceremony. Since we arrived early, we went to get coffee and then stationed ourselves outside St. James's palace, a few blocks away. Here's where the King's guards and the marching band come out and head towards Buckingham Palace. One can then follow the guards and the band along through The Mall Road.

King's guards at St. James's Palace

The King's guards and the marching band at St. James's Palace getting ready.

We overheard a tour guide telling his group to head towards Buckingham Palace once the marching band stopped playing their practice song. So we did the same and started walking from St. James's Palace towards Buckingham Palace. A huge crowd was already gathered there at the gates, so we decided to stop mid-way and stand behind the barriers on the sidewalk. We couldn't see much from there.

After a few minutes, I noticed the police clearing the main road, moving people out of the way and behind the barriers. I found this odd since the guards had already passed by. Suddenly, right in front of us, a convoy of motorcycles passed through, escorting a dark green Audi SUV. In the back seat, with the windows rolled down, King Charles was smiling and waving at the–now smaller–crowd still at the sides of the road. We were there at the right place and at the right time. Had we decided to continue going towards the palace, or worse yet, following a tour guide, we would've most likely missed it.

More Luck in Dublin, Ireland

I've got to say Dublin stole a piece of my heart. I loved the city, the people, the food, and the pub culture. The pleasant surprises started as soon as we boarded the ferry in Wales. When booking the trip, there were no pictures or much information about the ship. To our surprise, it was a fully fledged cruise ship. Complete with a movie theater, a restaurant, a bar, a duty-free shop, and passenger cabins.

Then at the Temple Bar pub–a popular spot in Dublin–it was so crowded we had to share a table. But it was a wonderful experience. We shared the table with a group of older folks from California. They were on their way to Scotland where they had rented a car and were driving throughout the country.

The Temple Bar Pub in Dublin, Ireland

The Temple Bar pub in Dublin.

On the last day in the city, we decided to go to a pub with live traditional Irish music. This was our only requirement. So we found one a few blocks away from our hotel. A small bar at the corner of the street called The Cobblestone. It was packed inside, and it was fantastic. I'd never listened to live Irish music before. Here we met two girls from Germany who were also sitting at the bar. They suggested we try a "Baby Guinness." Served in a shot glass, it's made with coffee liqueur (Kahlua) and topped with Irish cream (Baileys). It looks like a tiny pint glass of Guinness stout beer. I ended up buying a round for the four of us. Then a guy from Australia stepped onto the stage and sang an Irish folk song with the musicians. It was a lot of fun.

Four shots of Baby Guiness

Four shots of Baby Guinness.

Great Food in Borough Market

Back in London for a few more days, Steph wanted to do a guided Harry Potter walking tour. The meeting point was at two p.m. in front of a Costa coffee shop near London's Borough Market. This was all decided that same day in the morning. We had been in the Buckingham Palace area and caught the underground to Borough Market.

When we got there, it was around one p.m. And, at this point we were hungry. Struggling to decide where to eat and pressed for time, Steph picked a random restaurant inside the market. It was a small French restaurant called Camille. We were seated, and as soon as we got the menu, I knew there was no way we'd make it out in time for the tour. I was stressed out at first, but Steph decided to skip the tour. It was the best decision.

The dish we ordered was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. We got Grilled Mackerel and Cafe de Paris Butter with Potato Pavé and Hay Mayonnaise. And yes, I had to google their menu to remember these names. It was grilled fish in a thick sauce and a side of two potato cakes topped with a mayo sauce. We sat back and relaxed, enjoying our view of the bustling Borough Market outside.

Meal at Camille restaurant

Our meal at Camille in Borough Market.

After that, we decided to take the underground to King's Cross train station. Here's where the famous Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4 is located. We got there and saw the tourist crowds, then looked around inside the Harry Potter gift shop beside the (fictitious) platform. We both agreed it was rather underwhelming.

The Memories Remain

We made these and many more memories throughout the trip. Traveling by train and admiring the beauty of the Welsh countryside. Soaking in the magnificence of the Irish Sea–the wind blowing on our face while standing on the ship's deck. Feeling in awe when stepping inside King's College chapel at Cambridge University. With its eighty-foot-high curved ceilings in Gothic style and its large stained glass windows with religious imagery. Simple things like getting lost in Manchester while on a morning run. Hurrying through London's underground to catch the next train. Or, sharing a pint at the bar of an Irish pub with friendly strangers.

Flaneuring–wandering around with no definite plan–is the best way to explore and learn about new places. It maximizes your chances of serendipitous discoveries. And, in my opinion, these make for the best memories.

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Crossing the Irish Sea

Crossing the Irish Sea towards Dublin.

King's College chapel at Cambridge University

King's College Chapel at Cambridge University.