Tag Archives: europe

Ireland Travel Diary

Well, it’s been over a year, but I finally found some time to travel. If you follow my Instagram or Facebook, you will have been getting some updates over the past year, but nothing that really warranted a full travel diary. If I had thought to bring my SD card reader, there probably would have been two of these posts.

Ok, so here we go, my week on the Emerald Isle…

Day 1
I took a bus from London the previous night, and caught the Holyhead-Dublin ferry, arriving in Dublin at around 6 am, which I don’t recommend, unless you really want to save some money like I did.
After dropping my bags off at the hotel, I decided to take a walk around town, because I honestly had no idea what I was going to do. Unlike last year’s trip, I didn’t really have any plan, beyond ‘three nights Dublin, two nights Killarney, three nights Cork’. I knew I’d go to Trinity College at some stage, because that library is on the old Bucket List, and a couple of pints in Temple Bar was a must-do, but beyond that… I had no plan.
Which is why I was happy to discover the National Leprechaun Museum. Outside of one room at the beginning, it’s not a museum in the traditional sense. It’s really a guided tour through a selection of Ireland’s folklore and mythology, not limited to leprechauns. They offer two tours a the moment, the day time, child-friendly tour, and the night time, adults only, slightly scarier tour, which has some quite bloody stories to go with it. I took both, naturally.
I also decided that today was the day to get all my alcohol-related tourism out of the way. After catching the smell of the Guinness Brewery near my hotel, I had absolutely no intention of doing anything Guinness related. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on it anyway. Between trips to the Leprechaun Museum, I took in a tour at the Jameson Distillery, complete with tastings and a free drink after.
After my second run through the Leprechaun Museum, I decided to hit Temple Bar. On advice of my coworker, I went to The Auld Dubliner, and had a couple of pints (Irish Cider, Bulmers, rather than a beer), but to be honest, it was far too crowded, and full of tourists, so I decided to retire to my hotel for the night.

Day 2
Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, I dusted off my walking shoes and did the old ‘two walking tours in one day’ trick. The guys at Dublin Free Walking Tours were fantastic. They were knowledgeable and really knew how to keep your attention.
So first up was the South Side tour, which, as the name suggests, was on the south side of the River Liffey. This tour covered the more ancient history, Trinity College, both main cathedrals, Dublin ‘Castle’, as well as Temple Bar. It was really cool learning about what little remains of medieval Dublin, and the history of Temple Bar.

St Patrick's Cathedral (Probably)
St Patrick’s Cathedral. I think. It’s pretty close to Christchurch Cathedral. So it could be one or the other. I managed to spend a week in one of the most religious countries in Europe, and didn’t set foot in a church.

The North Side tour, shock horror, took place on the north side of the River Liffey. This tour focussed more on the 1916 Uprising, and everything leading up to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, as well as a general overview of the history of English/Irish/Northern Irish relations.

Day 3
Another day of a million sights. I probably could have done with one extra day in Dublin.
I started off at Killmainham Gaol, which has operated for centuries, but is most famous as the location the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion were imprisoned and executed. It is also home to that impressive cell block that I posted on Instagram, which our tour guide called the ‘Photogenic Wing’.

I then took a short walking tour of Trinity College, which led me to my favourite part of the trip, the Long Room.

Long Room, Trinity College Library
You know that scene in Beauty and the Beast, where Belle sees the library for the first time?… Yeah.

Often cited as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it’s hard to argue the point.

I finished the day with a problem. I only had time for one more stop. So was it to be EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum, or Dublinia, the Viking history of Dublin. EPIC won out, since everyone knows Ireland’s main export is the Irish themselves.
It really was interesting to see all the places that people with Irish blood have left their mark, as well as an indepth look at the driving factors for their leaving in the first place.

Day 4
Travel Day. Train from Dublin to Killarney, with a change at Mallow. Nothing interesting to report at all really.

Day 5
I took a bus tour around the Ring of Kerry, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a ringroad that goes around County Kerry, beginning and ending in Killarney. It travels through Killarney National Park, through beautiful mountains, picturesque ocean views and a quintessential Irish landscape. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.

Apparently the haze had only lifted half an hour before.

Day 7
Another travel day. This time a train from Killarney to Cork, again stopping in Mallow.

Day 8
Cork is, unfortunately, really only interesting for one reason, and that’s Blarney Castle. The Gardens are probably the highlight, at least for me. From the Poison Garden, which contains a number of poisonous plants, in order to educate people (although what the marijuana was doing there is anyone’s guess), to the Fairy Grove and Druid’s Cave.
I did climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, which is more waiting than climbing. I almost kissed the Blarney Stone, but my fear of heights got the better of me at the last moment. Not that I’m too worried, I’ve heard some horror stories about what happens to the stone when tourists aren’t around.

Blarney Castle
See that grating between the battlements in the middle? See the arms stretched out across it? That’s where you have to hang, upside down, to kiss the Blarney Stone. I think I’m eloquent enough, thank you very much.

Travel Diary 20/5/16

Slightly earlier than usual, here’s a travel diary. Won’t be much to report this time around, mostly some do-nothing days. All this travelling is hard work, you have to relax sometimes.

Day 43
My last full day in Rome, I figured I should make the most of it. First up I trekked my way over to the Catacombs of St Callixtus, one of five underground cemeteries in Rome. I suggest you take the bus, as the walk from the nearest Metro stop is not as easy as Google Maps would suggest. I got onto the last English tour before they closed at noon (to reopen at two pm, like so many other places in Italy). it was really interesting, however, unlike the famous Paris Catacombs, the bodies have been removed from the publicly accessible tombs, including more than a few Popes.

After taking another ill-thought out walk, I found my way back into the city proper, and went to the Spanish Steps… which are currently under extensive restoration. You can see the steps through the transparent barriers, but I think I’ll save the photos for next time.

From there, it was a short jaunt to the Pantheon, which is quite impressive. Not sure what I was expecting, it’s one of those sights you know you have to see when you’re in Rome, but I don’t know, I never had a coherent picture of it in my mind. But yeah, another big, ancient church to cross off my list.

Day 44
I made the most of my ten o’clock checkout, and slept in. At this point, I want to plug the place I stayed in Rome, Hard Rock Rooms. It’s a tiny place, an apartment converted into a two-dorm hostel. It’s a minute away from the Metro, the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, and in addition to the standard free hostel breakfast, they provide a pasta dinner every night. It’s almost like a big family dinner, with everyone around the small table. By far the best place I’ve stayed.

Anyway, I took an afternoon train to Naples, found my way to my hostel, and didn’t do much else with my day.

Day 45
A bucket list item got crossed off today, one of the big ones: Pompeii. Getting there is easy enough, despite Italy’s famously poor rail system.

One thing I didn’t know is just how enormous Pompeii is. A lot of it is kind of same-y after a while, and the distance between the points of interest are kind of long, especially for someone of my fitness level. It also rained. But all in all, I’d say a good day. Pompeii is just too cool to be any other kind of day.

Day 46
I decided to have a look around Naples today, I climbed up to St Elmo’s Castle, or at least the square in front of it, for an amazing panoramic view of the city. I then hiked all the way down to Castle Nuovo on the waterfront. I didn’t go into either, because I thought they were impressive enough from outside, and I’m trying to save a little money at this stage in my trip, since I overspent in that first month.

image
Don't quite have the hang of the panorama feature on my camera...

I did spend money checking out ancient Greek/Roman aqueduct under the city, which was converted to a bomb shelter in the 1940s. The two-hour tour only cost €10, and was fantastic.

Day 47/48
A couple of do-nothing days, caught up on laundry, uploaded some photos watched some TV and read some comics. Basically just recharged my batteries, before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo…

Day 49
I got into Palermo at around 6.30 am, having got around three hours sleep on the ship. So I found my way to the hostel, which was easy enough, and dropped off my bag. I then proceeded to wander the city for the morning, until I could check into the hostel. I didn’t accomplish much of anything, to be perfectly honest. Too tired.

image
I looked a lot like this dude most of this week.

Day 50
I think fifty days is an achievement in itself, and to celebrate (because I definitely knew I was fifty days in), I had another lazy day, this time heading to the beach for a few hours. Which brings us to this exact moment, as I have returned to the hostel now, since it has clouded over a little, and I am relaying my week to all of you adoring readers.

Tomorrow I’ll do some proper sightseeing in Palermo, it’s really a nice city. And maybe some more the day after, since I am once again waiting for a night ferry back to the mainland.

Travel Diary 1/5/16

Today I learned that if you change orientations from Portrait to Landscape while using the WordPress app, it reloads the page, deleting everything you’ve written.

Day 21

As I said in my last entry, today was my sightseeing day in Antwerp. i started by returning to the train station, which was a huge, beautiful building, right in the Diamond District. The sheer number of jewelers in the area is astonishing.

I went on to the Grote Markt, a grand square in front of the City Hall, with a huge fountain in it. Nearby is Antwerp Cathedral, in which you can find a number of artworks, including a few by Rubens.

I walked by a few more historic buildings, and finished with a walk by the river, passing Het Steen, a medieval castle.

I then walked down the Sint Annatunnel (Saint Anne’s Tunnel), which was completed in 1933, connecting both sides of the river for foot traffic. It contains the original wooden escalators.

image
I am literally the only one who thinks this is cool, aren't I?

Day 22

Another travel day. I left Antwerp for Luxembourg, via Brussels.

When I arrived in Luxembourg, around lunchtime, I made the most of my time in the city. It was unfortunate that they are currently in the process of repairing the Adolphe Bridge and the square in front of their palace, but that gave me time to see their local history museum, and to explore the casemates (fortified tunnels in the mountains for the city’s defense).

image
Casemates Du Bock, Luxembourg

Day 23

Another travel day. This time to Amiens, France, via Saarbrucken, Germany, and Paris.

By the time I got into Amiens, I just found some dinner and called it a night.

Day 24

It was a little rainy today, but I didn’t let that stop me from seeing what Amiens had to offer. Primarily, that meant the cathedral.

Notre Dame d’Amiens is actually bigger than the one in Paris. And I think it’s nicer, but that could just be the chapel at the back with the Australian flag in it. I could be biased.

I also discovered the Jules Verne Museum, in the house he lived in during his eight years in the city. They claim that he was at the height of his fame, which I’m inclined to believe, since he had already written the books he’s famous for before he moved there.

That evening, I caught the last train out to the village of Villers-Bretonneux. Just outside of town is the Australian National Memorial. During the Great War, the town was occupied by the Germans on the 23rd of April, 1918. At 10 pm on the 24th, the Australians showed up, and had liberated the village by morning.

Day 25

Which means that the 25th of April is just as important, if not more important, to the people of this area, as it is to the Australians. Anzac Day is the anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings, and is Australia’s biggest national holiday. But it’s still just one day. In Villers-Bretonneux they celebrate Australian Week.

image
The entrance to the cemetery.

But that’s what brought me to this village. The Anzac Day Dawn Service. Honoring the Australian soldiers who fell on the Western Front, many of whom were buried just metres away. It was cold, I was tired, but I’d do it all again. An incredibly moving service. Thousands of Australians were in attendance, and for just one day, it felt like home.

Day 26

Another travel day, from Amiens to Bayeux, via Paris and Rouen. I stopped over in Rouen for a few hours, to see a couple of churches, and most importantly, the place where Joan of Arc was burned (and I spent an hour or two at the Joan of Arc museum).

Day 27

I shelled out and paid for a tour today. I had pre-ordered it, so don’t think you can just show up and find your way onto a tour of the D-Day Beaches. I mean, you probably can, but don’t risk it.

The tourguide was great, we saw St Mere Eglise, where two paratroopers famously were caught on the local church, and were hanging there for hours.

We saw the immense German cemetary, where some 20,000 bodies are buried, in comparison to the American cemetary, which is four times the size, with half the bodies.

image
American War Memorial and Cemetery, Normandy

We walked on Utah and Omaha Beaches, and saw the landscape at Point Du Hoc in between, where the craters left by the shelling were never filled in.

Day 28

Another day trip, this time to the world-famous Mont-St-Michel, one of my must-sees for France.

It was a little surreal when my bus crested the hill, and all of a sudden, there was this little island off in the distance, with a huge monastary on top, surrounded by a village. And as I got closer, it just seemed more fantastic. Like something from a book.

Unfortunately, I got there near low tide, and didn’t get to see the island fully surrounded by water. High tide was scheduled late that night, so I’d never have made it.

image
Mont-St-Michel

Day 29

Today I got to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which is more than a little mind-boggling. The detail in the near-millenia old stitching is great, their use of colour and different stitching to create movement and depth, as they basically create a massive comic book is brilliant.

No photography is allowed, of course, but an audioguide is part of the visit, taking you through the story of William the Conquerer step by step as you look at the tapestry.

I caught an afternoon train back to Paris, where I got on an overnight to Milan.

Day 30

‘Sleeper train’ is a misleading name. It’s very hard to sleep for a myriad of reasons. The noise, the movement, and of course the worry that you’re going to miss your stop, or that something is going to happen to your passport while the train staff have it.

But it was a roof over my head for a night, and I can’t complain about that. Cheaper than the combination of transport and accomodation too. I managed to snag a cabin to myself too.

Speaking of getting lucky. Today I found out that you need a reservation to see The Last Supper, and that people book months in advance. Considering up until a few weeks ago, I thought The Last Supper was in The Louvre, that was never going to happen for me. However, at 8.15am they sell off the cancelled bookings. Fortunately, I had arrived at my hostel by around 6am, and was in the line before 8. I managed to get into the 3.30pm session. I can’t imagine there were many tickets left after that, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did.

image
And you wouldn't want to miss this.

Of course, that meant I had the rest of the day to kill. So I went and checked out some churches (Santa Maria del Grazie, which is the church The Last Supper is at, although the two are separate, and the Monastry of Saint Maurice), as well as checking out Sforzesco Castle, which is immense, and just in the middle of the city, moat and all.

Day 31

Today it rained. All day. Which is why I’m here writing this.

I didn’t waste a day though, I braved the weather to go see the Duomo, which is one of the oldest cathedrals in Italy, and seems to be the biggest I’ve ever seen, at least from inside (Wikipedia confirms this, it’s the fifth biggest church in the world).

Nearby is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a huge shopping arcade, with a massive glass dome in the middle, with works of art inside. On the floor in the middle is a huge mosaic, part of which is the Turin coat of arms, a rearing bull. Legend has it if you place your heel on the bull’s testicles and spin around three times, it will bring you luck. I did it, just to be safe, but I don’t feel any luckier.

So that’s where I’m at. Tomorrow I’m going to the Cinque Terre for a few days, and after that, Florence.

Travel Diary 21/4/16

Here we go, another update on just what I’ve been up to the past… nine days. I promise I’ll start doing these more often.

Day 13
My first full day in Amsterdam, and what a day it was. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and preservation laws keep it that way, property owners cannot change the facade of their building without express permission from governing bodies, keeping a vast majority of the buildings in the central area looking almost exactly like they did centuries ago.

I went to my number one Amsterdam sight first. The Anne Frank House. They don’t allow photos, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have taken any out of respect, so I can’t share it with you. Suffice to say, it is a very moving experience. Well worth waiting in line for an hour.

image
Night Watch, Rembrant

I then walked to the Rijksmuseum, which I honestly found a little underwhelming. For the price, I was expecting a multiple-hour experience like the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay. Instead, I was through in just over an hour. Sure, there are masterpieces there, Rembrant’s Night Watch, a Van Gogh Self Portrait or two, Vermeer’s Milkmaid, but a lot of the art just gets kind of same-y. When you’ve seen one portrait of a minor Dutch nobleman, you’ve seen them all.

Day 14
I started late today, and found myself at yet another slightly disappointing gallery. This time the Van Gogh Museum. I wouldn’t be so mad about it if they didn’t charge so much, to basically see three paintings. All of Van Gogh’s major works are in other museums, Musee d’Orsay, New York Museum of Modern Art, Rijksmuseum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, to name a few. The Van Gogh Museum has everything else.

That night, I met up with my friends from Paris and together we checked out the infamous Red Light District. We basically pubcrawled until we found a cheap place. But along the way, we saw exactly what the Red Light District is famous for, and, quite frankly, it’s pretty weird.

So basically, there are these glass doors facing out into the street. Standing in the windows are prostitutes, in their underwear, tapping on the glass to get your attention. Every now and then you see a guy approach, ask how much, and go into the room, where a curtain is drawn and… well, I don’t have to paint a picture.

I’m all for women doing whatever they want with their bodies, it’s their right, but it just seems incredibly demeaning to me. Standing in a window like a literal product… It’s just creepy.

Day 15
This day, my mate and I decided to check out some of the seedier museums in Amsterdam. We started out at the Sex Museum, went on to the Museum of Erotica and finished up with the Museum of Prostitution.

To be perfectly honest, the first two were kind of boring. You can giggle at the art, the mannequins and whatnot, but eventually the novelty wears off.

The Museum of Prostitution is actually interesting. It’s a proper museum, with information, recreations of the rooms behind the window, first-hand experiences and the history of the industry in the district.

Not-so-fun Fact: It is estimated that between 10 and 90 percent of the prostitution in Amsterdam is forced. Which basically means authorities said “Stuffed if I know, it definitely happens, but I’m pretty sure some of them are willing”. They do have a hotline to call if you suspect your prostitute is being forced into it though.

Ended the day with a canal cruise, combining my three favourite things: sightseeing, dinner and drinks. One of the cruise companies runs a pizza cruise together with Heineken. So you basically get a full 90-minute tour of the city, eat a personal pizza, and drink bottomless beer and wine.

image
Canals of Amsterdam

Day 16
Day 16 was a bit of a cruisy one for me. I wandered around the city on foot, got a closer look at some of the places I saw on the cruise the previous night, and just enjoyed my surroundings.

Day 17
Day 17 I took a day trip out to The Hague, the centre of The Netherlands’ government (Amsterdam is the official capital, but all the government buildings are at The Hague).

I walked around the city centre for a while, and looked at all the 17th century buildings, but the main reason I made the trip out was for one special lady, Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, which is housed at the Mauritshuis Museum, along with a number of paintings by the Dutch Masters.

image
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrant

Day 18
This one was a travel day, as I caught an early train to Rotterdam. I did manage to get a bit of sightseeing done, not that there are too many big-ticket items within Rotterdam, it was just nice to walk around and look at a city, without having any expectations.

Day 19
The one must-see item around Rotterdam is the Kinderdijk. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed, and is really quite impressive. The series of windmills, reservoirs and dams is part of the massive, nationwide effort to keep the country’s vast swaths of land that is below sea level, dry.

image
One of Kinderdijk's many windmills. Also, some cows.

Day 20
And that brings us to today. It was a travel day today, I’m now back in Belgium, but this time in Antwerp. I had a quick walk around, but tomorrow will be my main sightseeing day.