Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interactive Map

Wow, did not know this until today, but you can create your own custom maps in google maps. I feel foolish, because this was available in September of 2007, and I'm just finding out now. It's really, really, really easy. Anyways, this is a work in progress and I'll be updating it more and adding photos to it. I might even go back and do it for our other trip because it's pretty neat.

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Knowle to Salmon Arm

After having a great dinner at Caleigh and Tom's place we went to bed, very tired. Monday me and Cara drove out to Stonehenge. We were surprised to find it free (because of our heritage passes). So that was a bonus and it was also the summer solstice so there were some crazy druids there dressed in white. So that was a bonus too, because they only come once a year. They may hold ceremonies at the other solstices, but the summer on is the major event. We then headed back to Knowle and tried to find a grocery store in vain, so we headed back to the house and googled it. We found them and we went to the european walmart known as ASDA. We bought a bunch of stuff for diner. We also bought some stuff to take home, like coffee, tea and Marmite. Then we went back to the house and made dinner for Caleigh and Tom. Tuesday was our last day in the UK and we did absolutely nothing, haha. We did some laundry and went to the park to read in the sunny weather. It was pretty good and to tell the truth we were a bit tired of sight seeing, so doing nothing was good. Plus I'm sure we'll be back to see Caleigh and Tom sometime again, so we need to leave so stuff to discover over there. After Caleigh and Tom got home, we went to a pub for some food in their old neighborhood in Gosport. Good food although the service was pretty crappy and they made me remove my cap for "security reasons".

Wednesday was going to be busy, we got up at 5:45am and had a quick bite and hit the road. 2 hours later we were returning our rental and checking in for our flight. We asked again to get reclining seat but they guy told us it's automatic and he couldn't do anything (liar). We then did some duty free shopping and waited for our flight. To our relief, we did have reclining seats. The flight sucked, Gatwick-Dublin-Calgary-Vancouver. 13hrs is a plane seat. The food sucked again and they had a problem with the movie system so nobody got to watch mall cop or charlie and the chocolate factory on the old school tv's. Good thing my book was good. I managed to sleep for about an hour though. In Vancouver we took the bus to my Uncle's place and got our car. We decided to try and make it home so we could work the next day since we had made decent time and were leaving the city before 6. Then we drove to Abbotsford where we got some food at Tim Horton's and ran into my cousin Jamie making a call on the pay phone (random). The rest of the drive was uneventful. Although the coffee soon wore off and I had to make Cara drive from outside Kamloops on. But she only lasted about a half hour and then I had to drive again, but I had caught about 10min of sleep, so I made it the rest of the way. Then we slept the night away in our very own bed...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

St. David to Knowles Village

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We left the campground early after making breakfast. We went for a hike in St. David and then went to the cathedral in town. It was old and the floors and walls were at odd angles (build on a bog), but still impressive. Then we hit the road again. This time it was mostly motor ways, so it went faster, but we still needed a pit stop, so we went to a National Trust site along the way. It was an old tin plant and had a cool waterall and waterwheel. More driving and we finally are here at Caleigh and Tom's. Tomorrow we plan to visit Stonehenge.

Caernaforn to St David

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We got up early with another big day and some driving ahead. We hit the Caernaforn castle which was really good and impressive. After the Castle we decided to get on the road since it was already past 1pm. We left and Cara found a good stop along the way at CAT (center for alternative technology). It was founded in the 1970's by some (lets face it) hippies. The compount is built on an old slate mine. There whole compound uses water (water powered funicular), wind, solar and wood burning energy. It was pretty interesting and the exibits really ask good questions about the futur. Some of the things were a litte bizarre though. They use wood pellets for heating (easy yes, but most environmentally friendly, no). Also they use wool insulation in most of the buildings. I can't imagine that wool is more environmentally friendly to produce than other insulating materials. But it was cool, and I have some things to research when I get home. We left the center at around 6 and made our way to St. Davids. We got into town around 8 and hit the local pub, the Farmer's Arms (awesome), for a pint and dinner. Both were excellent and they even had a beer garden out back (garden where you can drink beer). The town only has 1800 people living there, but everyone enjoys this pub. Too bad Canadian liquor laws wouldn't let a place like this exist. After dinner we drove out to the campground. Paying for camping is still against my nature, but sometimes you want to have running water.

York to Caernaforn

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Thursday was a busy day. I got up at 6:30 and hit the minster. It was quite impressive and I was able to have a field day with photography of York. I went back to the B&B and got Cara for breakfast. Next we left and hit Fountains Abbey that we missed. It was a bit out of the way, but I'm glad we did it, it was really interesting and very photogenic. We picked our way into Whales and took a nice scenic route into Caernaforn through the mountains of Snowdonia. We didn't get into town till a bit late and just had enough time to find a spot to camp. We drove out along the ocean, and found a good spot to pitch a tent, but I only looked up the rules for Scotland and wasn't familiar with Whales. So I asked at a boat yark near by. The guy was really friendly, but said that he wouldn't pitch his tent there due to the boy racers occasionally on the road. But he directed us to a great spot nearby. We pitched our tents out in Dinas Dinlle.

Jedburgh to York

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Wenesday we got up early, packed our stuff and hit the road. We visited a few places and drove along Hadrians wall. Hadrian, one of the most famous Roman Emperors, decided that is was too dificult to conquer Scotland, so he built a massive wall to keep them out. 84 miles long and build in 3 years with a fort or tower at every mile. 3 legions built it (roughly 15000 men). Unfortunately we took too long and were quite disapointed because we ddin't get to Fountain's Abbey in time. Also the camping place we phoned in York was rude to us, so we booked a cheap B&B near downtown. It ended up being just what we needed and with breakfast included, it's a good deal.

York is acutally a really cool place, the history is amazing. York was founded in Roman times and remains mostly intact today. The city still has about 75% of the walls intact as well. York Minster is very impressive as well and York is very walkable and the shops are cool. First night we went out and had some hearty food at a pud down the road. We also took a peak at York Minster.

Tuesday we hit the museums in town and according to our guide book the minster was free after 5:30. At 5:45 there was no sign of free time, so I asked and was told it was not like that anymore. So the lady told us that if we just wanted to walk around we would have to come for a service or show up before 9am. Cara wasn't interested, but I panned to come back the next morning before we left town. Next we tried to catch the volunteer walking tours. But it was raining again so there was no walking tour this day. So instead we went grocery shopping and got some gas and had a night in.

Edingburgh to Jedburgh

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After arriving and Christina's we chatted for a bit and then walked downtown for a beer at a pub and met up with some of Christina's friends at a club. We headed home after a while. Sunday me and Cara went downtown again to check out the sights and take the free walking tour with New Europe. It wasn't nearly as good as some of the other cities we went too, but it was still alright. It poured rain for a bit, so after a while we headed back to Christina's, but we picked up some food to make dinner. They weren't able to make it back in time due to some flooding outside the city, but they enjoyed the left overs. We were going to head out Monday, but we didn't get enough of Edinburgh, so we decided to stay another day. So Monday we hiked up Kind Arthur's seat and went to that tartan factory. We did some other things and hid from the rain again. Then we met up for a ghost tour with Christina and her sister. The tour was well done athough, for me totally hokie, but I still enjoyed it. Then we headed out for a drink and went back to the appartment and made dinner.

Tuesday we left Edinburgh, and visited Stirling before heading South. 'To hold Stirling was to control Scotland' is what they used to say. A very strategic point and a formitable fortress too. It was quite a bit out of our way though, but nevertheless we tried to hit the border abbeys as well. The border abbeys are a cluster of abbeys near the Scottish border, they were disolved with the other abbeys in England by King Henry VIII. But still very impressive and spectacularly ruined. Camping in Jedburgh was expensive, so we ended up camping out of town just off the road.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Aberdeen to Edinburgh

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We stayed with Chris 2 nights. The day after Chris took us sight seeing. We went out to see the golf course that the Trump is building just north. It's still in the early stages of development, but the coast is really cool with sand dunes. Then we went to Dunnottar castle in Stonehaven. It was ruined, but really cool, because the castle was left alone so it isn't just the keep, but the stables, smithy and residence. We all enjoyed it and then had a really good seafood dinner at the pub in Stonehaven. Then we went back to Aberdeen and hung out while we waited for the Stanley Cup final to begin (at 1am !!). We didn't make it to the end of the game unfortunately.

The next day we tried to get away early, but 1pm doesn't really count as early in by books. We got to one interesting castle, but found out that our 7 day familly pass bought at Culloden wasn't any 7 days, but consecutive and didn't work for national trust of England and Wales, contrary to what we were told when we bought it. So we had a little tiff with the staff, but in the end we upgraded to a year membership for some more money, but will work for England and Wales and appearantly Canada, although I'm not so sure. After that we tried to see another closed castle and missed the last tour for a distillery. I'm sad that the only tour we're doing is Glenfidich, but Glenfidich actually has a good tour.

We got into Edinburgh later than expected, but found Christina's place easily and we went out for a drink down town promptly. We even dipped into a club to see Christina's friend.

Inverness to Aberdeen

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Another busy day on the way to Aberdeen to see Chris. We did the battlefield of Culloden, which is where the battle with the English and the bonnie prince (last Scottish uprising) took place. It was pretty interesting and the visitor center was well done. On the rest of the drive we had 3 castles and a whisky (Scotch) distillery to see. We drove past 1 castle due to some miss navigation and 1 castle was closed (but still viewable) and the other was completely covered in scafolding. We made it to the last (free! yay) whiskey tour at Glenfidich. It was excellent and made up for the disappointment of the castles. We made it to Aberdeen in time to see Chris and have a night out on the town.

Kinlochewe to Inverness

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We fought some midges on our way out of the tent in the morning, but got all packed up and left the campground. We drove to the west coast and then North, taking the long way to Inverness. The drive was great though and very scenic. We stopped for a hike at a waterfall and lots of other stops for pictures. Cara said she didn't mind though because she was reading a good book. We got to Inverness early though, because we had decided to splurge on an expensive guest house. It was very highly recommended, and rightly so, because it was very posh. We did take a peek at Loch Ness before checking in. Really it's just a lake though, so we found a good spot and pretended to spot nessy. We settled in (felt a little bummy in our camping gear showing up) and hit downtown for dinner. After a good (slightly expensive) indian dinner, we went for a walk along the river. After that we hit our room for free DVDs and a king size bed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Portree to Kinlochewe

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A busy day lay ahead. We looped through Skye doing a good hike, although steep and Cara wasn't happy about getting so high up. Skye is a beautiful island with lots to see including sea stacks, castles and a great outdoor museum on island life. We finished the loop around 4pm, but we kept driving to Elgol to get a good look at some moutains. Then we back tracked and took the Skye bridge to the mainland and made it to the castle we wanted to see, but it was closed. But that was fine because the grounds were open and free (usually you have to pay, but we didn't want to go inside anyway). The sun was going down and the lighting was good too. Then we high tailed it to Kinlochewe, where there was a free camp ground set up for hikers. We were the only ones there, and cara though the bathrooms were spooky.

Mallaig to Eigg to Portree

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We woke up after camping and the midges were horrid. Midges are horrible bugs. So tiny you can't even really swat at them. Even though they're tiny they bite and it isn't pleasant. So next time we won't be camping in a boggy area. We got up to catch the first ferry to the island of Eigg, which had some good hiking. We also booked tickets to Skye on the ferry after we got back.

On Eigg we hiked an awesome cliff and went in a creepy sea cave. The sea cave had a tiny entrance (hands and knees) but opened up way back and was large inside. 400 people hid in this cave to escape raiders from the Isle of Skye in the 1700's, but the raiders found them and killed them all by building a fire in the entrance and suffocating them.

We got back to Mallaig and then took the car to Skye and drove to Portree. We camped just outside Portree, but we paid for camping because we wanted a shower.

Glasgow to Mallaig

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Sunday we hit byres street and bought a SIM card for the GSM cell phone that we brought with us (thanks Jack). Carphone Warehouse is an awesome store. Cell phones work a bit different here and pretty much all plans are pay as you go, so for 10£ we got a card and 50 minutes calling anywhere in the UK, free incoming text and calls as well. We also bought a couple books for reading.

Then we hit the road with the intention of going to the Isle of Skye. The drive was awesome with excellent scenery. We took our time and it was great to have a car and stop wherever we wanted. The driving was ok, but I was still getting used to it, coming out of Glasgow was a bit hectic, and some stretched of road were really really narrow, barely enough room for two cars. I just wasn't used to being that close to the shoulder and passing oncoming traffic so close.

We stop at a few interesting spots passing through Fort William and on the way to Mallaig. We saw the train bridge from Harry Potter which was cool. We made it to Mallaig but not in enough time to get the ferry to Skye, so we had an excellent dinner at a seafood restaurante right on the warf. Then we wild camped in the hills. Wild camping is allowed anywhere in Scottland. Technically you could camp on someone's front yard as long as you aren't disrupting them and you take out all garbage. So camping is allowed anywhere, but usually it means you pull off the road and hike into the hills.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salmon Arm to Glasgow

We did the usual drive to Vancouver around 1pm on Thursday and after a quick stop at MEC, had a deliciouse dinner with at my Aunt and Uncle's house in down town Vancouver (thanks again Jim). They were also good enough to drive us to the airport the next morning.

The flight was uneventfull, there wasn't even that much turbulence (so Cara was happy). The budget flight didn't give us too much food though and we arrived hungry in Glasgow.

Now for the interesting part of our vacation... Driving. We had some hassle getting a rental car, but after a bit we got our Ford Focus (upgraded from whatever mini thing I booked). Everything was backwards and shifting with my left hand was a bit weird at first. The drive through the middle of town was stressful and by the time we finally got to the hotel I didn't want to drive anymore. So we walked and got some groceries and then had a DIY meal in the room.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vernon and Vancouver

The rest of the flight went pretty smoothly although the with a 747 there is a lot of luggage to come off and with all the people the customs/immigration lines are long too. Also my Dad and Uncle Jim were waiting at the airport and had been for a couple hours, although they didn't seem too put out as they spent most of it in the airport pub. So I got my first taste of driving again and on a stick too. I don't know when the last time I drove a stick was, must be two years or more. No problems though. It was now almost 9pm and we had a late, yet very delicious, rib dinner back at Uncle Jim's place. Then after chatting for a bit I started struggling to keep my eyes open. Of course I'd been awake for 24 hours at this point. So me and Cara said goodnight around 11pm and went to bed.

Getting over jet lag sucks and I was awake at 5am. I forced myself back to sleep though and got up at a more regular 7:30. After some breakfast we all hit the road, but stopped in a MEC for a little pit stop. A couple of my merino wool garments had developed some tiny holes in them, and as they were quite expensive, I exchanged them for new ones. Cara also bought a new backpack for cycling, as she's hoping to cycle to work for the summer. After the short stop we really hit the road and started driving back to the Okanagan. We stopped for lunch in Merritt and Cara and I were relieved to see Canadian pricing again. Traffic in Kelowna was horrid, as usual and even with the new bridge up and running, getting through town is a pain. Back in Vernon we received a warm welcome from my Mom and Sikko.

We're finally home now and it feels good. I'm sure we'll eventually wish we were back traveling again, but for now we're just happy to have things like washing machines and large showers at our finger tips. For right now we're staying a few days at my parents house so we can catch up with all the people that want to see us safe and sound with their own eyes. So when we get back to our house in Salmon Arm we'll be even more impressed with things like a closet full of clean clothes and a selection of shoes to wear. It's all the little things you miss, like having a fridge where you don't have to label your food.

So I hope everyone enjoyed the Blog! I did it for ourselves of course too, so we can look back and read about all the stuff we forgot about too, but I wouldn't mind knowing who found it interesting. So if you did read it please leave a comment with your name and any suggestions for future blogs. Too much info, not enough info, less boring pictures of stuff and more people pictures? I was thinking about making an abridged version for people who thought it too lengthy. Anything you might think will make it better. Thanks for reading,

Nathan and Cara

London at Long Last

Finally in London and we were about 45 minutes late. Caleigh and Tom were there at the airport though and so that was nice, again the friendly face is nice to see. We didn't have too much time to waste though so we all got on a train and then took metro to London proper. We checked into the hostel and dropped our bags in the room before going deeper into London. I thought taking the London Eye would be a cool experience that we could all do together. I wasn't aware of Tom's uneasiness with heights though, but he had agreed before I found out - what a good sport. I also didn't know it was so expensive, at 15 pounds each (30 CAD) it cost a dollar a minute to experience the view. Oh well the ride was pretty good actually and neither Tom nor Cara seemed to have a problem with it. It was good times, but before we knew it, it was time to think about heading back, because Caleigh and Tom had a 2 hour train ride back to Portsmouth. So we found a place to eat in the train station so they could run off when their train was ready to depart. Dinner was ok and reasonably priced, the company was much better and we got to catch up. Soon they had to leave, but it was no tearful goodbye as they are coming to Canada in August for a vacation.

Cara and I remained at the pub while Cara finished her meal and afterwards we caught the metro back to our hostel. We were actually surprised when we checked in and saw an X-Box and a TV and DVD player in the room. Also they have free loaner DVDs in the office, so we were looking forward to relaxing and just watching a movie, but alas both the X-Box and DVD player were broken, so we settled for some British programming, "Nevermind the Buzzcocks" - hilarious! Along with the broken DVD players, I wasn't impressed with the place. It obviously hadn't been vaccumed or swept in ages and the free barbeque was nowhere to be found. Even the common area only consisted of a shabby picnic table in a rundown backyard.

Monday morning we got up early and had our free breakfast sitting on bean bag chairs in the office watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Pretty random, but good nonetheless. After breakfast we headed out on the town not really sure what to do. It was raining so we thought a museum or two were in order. All the major museums in London are free and the Natural History Museum was pretty good and covered all sorts of biology and geology. It was huge though and by the time we were done there we had no time to do another museum. After the museum we headed out and had some really excellent Asian food at a place recommended in our guide book. Still can't get over the prices, but it's near the end so suck it up I suppose. After an early dinner, we took the tube to the mega store that is Harrod's. 5 floors of everyting you could want. We looked in on lots of it, but the huge toy department and the map room stuck out. The map room had original antique maps, some selling for 10,000 pounds (20,000 CAD). After Harrod's we took the tube to King's Cross and checked out platform 9 3/4 (from Harry Potter fame). Only recently they put up a sign as well as the half stuck trolly. After snapping a few pictures we got back on the tube and headed down to visit London Bridge. Nothing special there, but we also walked around the Tower Bridge, which is special. The most photographed sight in London it would be hard to take a unique picture of it, but I still took a couple. After that we tubed it back to the hostel so Cara could phone Nan and set up dinner for Wednesday. We were originally planning on going to Legoland with her, but we realized our flight is at 5 and not 9, so no time for that. I'm bummed but we've decided to do a 1-2 week trip to the UK at a later date, so we'll have to do that and all the museums we missed then. After getting things organized we headed for bed again.

Tuesday morning we got up early and went in search of a special souvenir. It turned out to be a wild goose chase, but in the end we found a goose. It all started at Harrod's the night before and after not finding it there they recommended a place that we now were trying. Not there either so we got referred to another place nearby. So after 3 stores and a lot of walking and metro I finally got that all important souvenir. We were also planning on taking a final free walking tour and so we rushed off to join up with that. The walking tour wasn't as good as the other ones, but it was still pretty good. Apparently London is the least desireable place to work for the tour company, because it's the most expensive to live, so the guides are a bit sub-par. But we actually saw the Queen, which is highly unusual. Granted she whizzed by in a car and so we didn't really see her that well, but a sighting nonetheless. The changing of the guard was cool too and the horse guard even cooler. After the walking tour we circled back around and went to St. James' Park. A czar gifted a flock of pelicans to the city/royals about 300 years ago and the descendants are still there, but just recently they've developed a bizarre habit in which they eat pigeons whole. We didn't see this happen though. After the park we went back to the Tower Bridge area and walked across the Millenium Bridge and looked at some of the sights in the area. Then we met up with Cara's friend Ross from Edinburgh for a beer at a local pub. Scottish Ross had some gossip to fill Cara in on and we had a good chat about other topics as well. After having a few pints we headed back to the hostel and headed for the supermarket to pick up a last few items, such as high quality tea. With that finished we headed back to the room and grabbed a Subway sandwich on the way. For 4 pounds it would have been difficult to buy the ingredients and we didn't need leftovers at this point. Back at the hostel we found a bunch of Canadians, a Spanish girl and a New Zealand guy out in the rundown courtyard and had a couple beers and ate our sandwich. A few of them headed to the pub afterwards, but we weren't really enjoying their company all that much, so we headed to bed.

Wednesday morning (the day of our flight back home) we got up early and checked out of the hostel. The baggage room was pathetic, but we left our bags there anyway. Then we hopped the tube back out to the Camden open air market. We didn't really know where we were going, but I was looking for a particular t-shirt and stopped in at the first shop I saw. A sketchy shop with some shady looking attendants. I looked but didn't see much and when I went to leave they started pressuring me a lot to buy something. I declined and went to leave again but the guy insisted I take a look downstairs. I didn't have a good feeling about it, but I went down anyway, because honestly, what could happen? Downstairs was nothing, a basement with some second hand coats. Then he got really sketchy and blocked our way upstairs. I agreed to buy a shirt for 15 pounds, and he let us back upstairs. We paid and left, with a decent shirt and a special London experience. I wasn't worried that something might happen down in the basement, but the guy was definately making it seem as if something might, so I can't help but wonder how many people have fell victim to his act. We had to pay in Visa because we were short of cash, so we'll have to watch our accounts, because I definately wouldn't trust those guys as far as I could throw them. T-shirt in hand, we finally found the real Camden market and it was huge and the shops that were open, were really cool.

Unfortunately before we knew it, it was time to make our way back and meet up with Nan for lunch. We tubed it back to the hostel and then tubed it to a train station and then caught the train to Gerrard's Cross. We arrived early (and in an e-mail we read later, found that that was the time we were supposed to be there, so that was lucky) and met Nan for lunch at a restaurant nearby. It was excellent food and very nice of Nan to treat us to a final meal in Europe. Then after she was nice enough to give us a lift to Heathrow, we said our goodbyes. Check in was so easy and security was a breeze. We were thinking maybe Terminal 5 had all the kinks worked out. We did some duty free shopping and, after waiting around for a couple hours, boarded our flight with an expected delay of 20 minutes. Apparently we needed to wait for some connecting passengers and their baggage. After the delay turned into an hour we finally made our way out onto the runway, only to turn around due to a 'baggage discrepancy.' After the delay was over 2 hours we finally took off. Should have just left those late passengers in London. To fight jet lag, we're planning on staying up until Vancouver. So we've just watched our 3rd movie and our dealing with a grumpy flight attendant, because we ordered special meals (sorrrrry). Hopefully my Dad got the news about our delay and isn't waiting for us for ever.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Double Dose of Dublin

We arrived back in Dublin late, but caught a bus to our Hostel. The reception was closed for a staff changeover and after a half hour we finally got our room. We received a bit of surprise when we found out we booked a dorm room. I remembered why we did that when I saw that private rooms where almost twice that of dorms. We were tired and weren't looking forward to the 8-bed dorm. We got to the room and everyone was already in bed (at 10:30pm) so we did the same. The most annoying part about dorms is tiptoeing around while people sleep.

Saturday morning we got woken up by some early risers catching a train and a few hours later we snuck out to have breakfast. By the time we returned around 10am, people were still sleeping so we tiptoed again and got ready for a day out. Right away we headed out to take in a couple of the free museums. The National Gallery was pretty good and Cara got her painting fill for the day. After the Gallery we went to the National Museum. I thought it was pretty interesting and got my museum fill for the day, but we rushed through the last half because we wanted to visit the Kilmainham Gaol. It was all the way across town though and took a good walk to get to. We got there eventually and had just enough time before closing to take the last tour. It was really excellent and gave a good view into Ireland's turbulent past and struggle for independence in the early 20th century. After the jail closed we walked to the Guinness brewery, guiding some lost Americans along the way. At the factory we showed the ticket checkers our used stubs and said we just wanted to visit the gift shop. We did that and bought a lot of product. I still think they should give me the stuff for free if I'm going to walk around with a brand name on my chest, but since they weren't having that, I paid for the stuff. Then we went into the museum, even though we weren't supposed to, but we already paid once. We tried to buy a Guinness at the bars upstairs, because it really did taste better than anywhere else, but they were closed so we ducked into the tasting room for a little thirst quencher. Then we walked back to our hostel and it poured rain the whole way. Back at the hostel we finally had the room to ourselves and got cleaned up before heading out for the night. We ate some awesome Korean food and walked into the heart of the night life in Dublin. We looked into a couple of live music places until we found one we liked. It was perfect although a bit crowded. After the first act finished it cleared out a bit and a stagette party took up the seats next to us. We had a good chat with one of them and found out that Dublin is a pretty popular destination for Brits on a bender. We saw lots of stagette party groups around town too. After a couple pints we made the walk home. Back at the hostel we headed for bed around 2am. Next morning we were up at a decent hour and had breakfast before hopping a bus to the airport around 9am. At Dublin airport the lines were non-existent and everything ran smoothly. The only thing that didn't go smooth was that I realized I also lost my Visa. Now I was completely without any plastic, since I lost my bank card back in Croatia. With 3 days left though it wasn't devastating. I tried to phone Visa, but after 15 minutes of holding I got disconnected. After that we went through security and spent our last Euros on some food. The plane departed a half hour late and that makes the total for on time Ryan air flights 1 for 3. So far the flight has been uneventful and we hope Caleigh and Tom don't show up too early to meet us, because we'll be late.

Green Grass in Galway

The trains in Ireland are a bit old but that isn't a problem, still much better than Croatia. We caught a bit of sleep and got into Galway at a decent hour. We walked to our hostel, halfway across town, and it only took us 10 minutes. We checked in and checked out our sweet digs. It is actually an apartment that they rent out to students in the slow season, but now, when things are busy, they use it as private rooms for the hostel. It had a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom shared between us and another couple of people. The kitchen wasn't equipped so we used the main one in the hostel. So first order of business was to get some food, so we hit the conveniently close grocery store and bought some stuff to make stirfry and some breatkfast, and a bit of Irish beer. We went back and made use of the hostel's giant kitchen: 3 stoves, 2 fridges and 2 sinks. It was great and had all the equipment and dishes you needed. After that we got down and did some internetting. And then we got ready for bed. Before bed we decided we would use the washing machine in the apartment common space to do some needed laundry. BIG mistake. The front door on the machine leaked and water went everywhere, and for some reason the water was brown. Luckily Cara was scared we might get caught using the machine and went to check it out, so it only leaked for 5 minutes. That was enough to get the comon room pretty wet. So we spent the next half hour soaking up all the water with our shirts and wringing them out in the sink. Then I went down and asked to use their pay machines to finish our already soaking laundry, but it was closed for the night, so we had to let it sit on the balcony all night. Not a great start. Next we went to have some showers and someone had used all the hot water and we both had a couple of freezing cold showers.

Thursday morning we woke up early, too early. I had forgot to change the time on my tablet and the alarm went off an hour early (the UK is an hour behind continental Europe). Didn't get much sleep for the next hour, until we were actually supposed to get up. Thursday was dedicated to taking a bus tour out to the Cliffs of Moher. There were lots of sights on the way to the cliffs and one of my favorites was the Dunguaire Castle. We also stopped in a little town to grab some lunch. Me and Cara both had some seafood cowder and it was delicious. After the lunch stop we made our way to the cliffs taking in some more sights along the way. I loved the scenery. Ireland is a really rocky place, really rocky. So before the land can be farmed the farmers had to clear it of any stones. What to do with thousands of stones? Build fences, beats piling them up in piles. It really adds to the scenery. Also in this part of Ireland, because it's so close to the sea, the farmers would haul wagons of seaweed up to add material and fertilizer to help the plants grow better. We also caught some background on the potatoe famine. Back around 1845 there were actually almost twice as many Irish living in Ireland as there are now. After 1850 there were about half there are now (from 8 million to 2 to the current 4). For three years the famine lasted and all because of a fungus that attacked potatoes. Back then there were no world organizations and the British actually made the Irish work in work camps in exchange for food. Most people immigrated to the US, but a many died too. All interesting stuff, if a bit sad, but before we knew it we were at the cliffs. The cliffs were cool in their own right: sheer drops to the sea below, some over 200 meters high. There are puffins that nest on the cliffs as well, but the park is fenced off and everyone is kept on paths, so the only viewing point was too far away even for my zoom to really get a good shot of them. At the far end of the park though, the path ends and there is a huge sign saying "Private property don't go beyond this point". But everyone was, and even the Rangers didn't seem to care. We joined in, although you could see a few more ethical people glaring. We were borderline, but decided to go because the stop was 2 hours and we'd already walked most of the park. It was much more what I was expecting and you could get right up close to the cliffs. Apparently, this is what the park used to be like, until they changed it because of too many accidents (people were falling off the cliffs into the sea). So I think that's why the Rangers didn't care, because they don't, as long as no one gets hurt inside the actual park, they aren't liable. It was spectacular and after we had our fill we visited the visitor center and watched a lame 3D movie and read some boring geological stuff (sorry Adam). Then the tour was off again and we took in some more Ireland scenery, including a 6000 year old burial site. There were people on the tour who needed to catch a train at 6 and we made it with only 10 minutes to spare. We both know that feeling. We got off at the train station too, just to walk through town again. We stopped at a mall and Cara found the "most amazing store". It was pretty good though and I even bought something. We're going to be trying hard to make weight on Ryan Air, but our allowance jumps 8kgs on British, so that's good.

Back at the hostel we went to make dinner. Luckily we only had to make rice because we had leftover stirfry. There was some Australian field trip in the kitchen trying to feed 40 kids. Way too many cooks in the kitchen and they had comandeered almost all the cutlery, dishes, and even the tables. Pretty annoying, but we managed to squeeze into a corner and get our dinner made. There were some really anoying Americans sitting next to us saying stuff like "you're American first and formost, before even human" and talking about some fat German girl (like she might not understand English and that Americans aren't the fattest nation on earth). We also noticed that they labeled their food in the fridge "America F@#% Yeah". Funny how Amercians think that movie is awesome and not poking fun at them. I felt like telling them that I've always heard people like them existed (the "ugly American") but until now haven't seen such a prime example, most of the Americans we've met on our trip have been pretty good.

After getting over our annoying American experience we headed out into the town of Galway for a taste of a traditional pub. We got to a packed local pub and found some standing room at the back. It was pretty cool and the music was great, although they threw in some CCR and the like now and again. After a pint of Guiness we decided to check out a different bar. We liked the second bar too, but it was even more crowded and that made us try another place. The last stop on our self made pub crawl was more party and less traditional. Galway is actually comprised of 1/3 university students, so that added to the tourists, makes it a pretty big party town. I recognized most people from the hostel. Suddenly we realized (by eavesdropping) that it was July 3rd and at midnight July 4th would be upon us, so we got the heck out of dodge, before the annoying Americans got going. Back at the hostel we packed up a bit and went to bed.

Friday morning we got up early again, ate breakfast and checked out of the hostel. We felt like there wasn't much else we wanted to do in Galway so we decided to take the second bus tour out to the countryside of Connemara before taking a bus to Dublin. We were a bit nervous after the close call of yesterday and made it clear to the bus driver we were catching the train. The second tour was really good too, but the Driver was not quite as funny, but once you caught on to his humour, still pretty good. We stopped at very cool, secluded, and delapitaded friary, called 'Ross Errily Friary'. That was really the highlight until we reached Kylemore Abby and Gardens. Kylemore didn't always used to be an Abby it was actually a gift by some super rich guy in the late 1800's to his wife, who liked the area while on vacation. After the guy had a bit of bad luck and two deaths in the family, he moved back to Manchester and sold the place. It sat for a number of years until a group of nuns, looking for an Abby bought it. Since them and until 2012 it will be a nunnery, but after 2012 it will be 100% a tourist destination. Currently half is roped off for tourists. A cool stop, but a bit rushed. After we got back on the bus we started back to Galway, catching a couple more sights along the way. We got dropped off at the train station a full 20 minutes early, so that was good. When we got to the train station we were a bit puzzled by the strange setup they had going on, and we had to ask a couple people before we realized there was a huge snaking line to get on the train. We had a chat with a nice Irish fellow, who quelled our fears about the train getting too full. After a few delays we got on the train and found a seat in first class no problem, but left a full half hour late.

So here we sit on a train to Dublin. Our very brief encounter with western Ireland was really good and, althought we had to join in with the true blue tourists to see the country side, it was all worth it. We especially enjoyed the Cliffs of Moher and the traditional pubs. Hopefully we can take in some more pubs while in Dublin.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Paris Pitstop

The ride to Paris was pretty packed and our first class tickets paid off again, as people in second class were standing in the aisles. Once in Brussels we tried to phone Manon with our 40 minute layover. The phone call ended up costing 5 euro because the phone card we bought in Brussels only lasted a few minutes. It really puts things in perspective when you pass up a dinner or museum because it's a bit expensive when you can easily pay 5 euro for a 4 minute phone call to a place that is really only 300 km away. Oh well we got through and got the info we needed, so we waited for and then boarded a train heading to Paris, complete with gourmet lunch. We got into Paris at just past 1:30 and were due to meet Manon in La Defense at 2:15. So we went straight to the metro and with all our bags went to La Defence. The metro was totally packed and not a pleasant ride. We arrived about 5 minutes late. After an iced coffee at a nearby cafe, Manon needed to get back to work, so we said goodbye and took the 45 minute ride back to the east side of Paris. We found our cosy hotel, called Hotel Cozy, without difficulty and dropped our bags off. We then rushed out and tried to get to the Catacombs before they closed at 5pm. It was now 4:30 and wasn't looking good timewise. There was a closure on the metro as well so we scrapped the plan and scoped out the arena where Iron Maiden was playing and bought some shirts, before heading back to the hotel, where we got ready for the concert. We rode the metro back to the venue and found a huge lineup and started waiting in line. I even checked with a couple people in line to make sure it was the right one, of course a guy came by about a half hour later and yelled out in French that we needed to go to the other side. We waited in a much shorter line and got in no problem and found some decent seats, which made me wonder what kind of seats I could have gotten had we found the right entrance off the bat. The long line was for standing room on the arena floor. We watched an Irish heavy metal band preform and then Avenged Sevenfold came on. The people in Paris did not like them and booed them a couple of times. Might have been because he said something to the effect of "we're Avenged Sevenfold and we're from the #%*&ing United Stated of America". And also they didn't even know how to say "hello" in French, or didn't want to, I'm not sure which. Anyway, I liked it, but I don't think they were giving it their best. But that's ok, because Maiden came on shortly after and they were awesome, again. I particularly liked the 'Fear of the Dark', the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and, one of my favorites, 'Wasted Years'. Of course 'Run to the Hills' and 'Number of the Beast' are always a crowd pleasers. We walked away sweaty and happy, especially myself. After the concert we had to unfortunately get to bed, and that happened around 2 minutes to midnight... Zing!

Wednesday morning we got up really really early: 5:15. Then took metro and then a bus to the Beauvais Airport. Typical Ryan Air, complete with 70 minute bus ride. We got to the airport and waited in a ridiculous line to check in and then avoided a monster line by asking a securtiy person where we should line up. So we got the express security line which was good, because we only had a half hour to takeoff by this point. The flight was uneventful and we touched down in Dublin on time. We paid for an express shuttle to the train station, but still missed the train to Galway by 5 minutes. Too bad and now we had 3 hours to kill. Hmmm... what to do with 3 hours in Dublin... I know: Guinness Tour. We had a breakfast at 11am of 50 euro cent french fries and then hit the Guinness tour. It was pretty good and even with 3 hours we didn't get through it all, but we made sure to save time to get our free pint of Guinness. So we'll be heading back to the gift shop on our way back through Dublin in a few days. After visiting the happiest place on earth, we sped-walked our way back to the train station and caught the train to Galway.

Now we're making our way across the Emerald Isle to the west coast. Galway should provide a convenient and different look on Ireland from Dublin. To really get a feel for Western Ireland you need to get more off the tourist track than Galway, but with only 4 days, we didn't want to spend too much time on the rails getting away from the crowds. Hopefully weather permitting we'll rent some bikes and see some countryside tomorrow, but right now we're feeling pretty tired and are going to try and catch up on some sleep.

Alternative Amsterdam

The train ride from Berlin to Amsterdam took around 5 hours and we changed trains just outside Amsterdam, in order to go all the way to the central station. We had planned on making reservations to Paris before heading out, but once we got off the train it slipped our minds. Instead we concentrated on finding our hostel. The directions were good and after a 10 minute tram ride and a couple minutes walk we were there. The hostel was highly rated and well run, although we think we must have gotten a trainee because she told us we needed to sleep in separate bunk beds (as in each of us on a bottom bunk, sharing the bunk with a stranger). Once in the room we saw that one bunk was completely empty and we asked to change beds and a different lady didn't see any reason why not. We made our beds and settled in. Then we headed out and started getting familiar with the city. We walked to the center and got some falafel at a place recomended in our guide book. As long as you don't eat all your dish (the pita) you get endless salad bar. So we filled up on cous-cous, salad and various vegtables. It was pretty good and cheap too. Then we made our way back to the train station because that is where the tour of the redlight district started from. We have really like the New Europe guides so far and this time we decided to take one of their paid tours. Those Australian party dudes made the red light district seem shady and not safe, so we opted for the guided tour. The guided tour was interesting but somewhat less so than we thought. I guess I was expecting to see some sort of Las Vegas or taboos or something. But it was pretty tame with the Redlight District being just another section of town with red lights and very small 'offices' for rent. Basically a tiny room with a bed and a sink and a 'sex worker' inside. We were told that several companies own the spaces and the girls rent the rooms for about 120 euro for an eight hour shift. Each girl is self-employed and according to our guide made lots of money. Since it was the Euro Cup finale that night, the tour group was small and the Redlight District was fairly dead. We were assured though that if we came back later after the game it would be without a doubt alive. There were some interesting stops on the tour, including a Prostitue Information Center (PIC) and a daycare situated in the heart of the red light. Apparently a film crew interviewed some of the kids and they think the girls are selling kisses. We also saw the Catholic church that sold more 'indulgences' than any other in the world at one point. Indulgences are piece of paper sold by the Catholic church at one point that absolved your sins, but it cost ya.

The tour ended at a bar with a free shot of Jagermeister and 2 for 1 beers. We finished watching the game there and made a friend from Brazil, who seemed to be getting a little tipsy. She was staying at a hotel near our so we decided to walk back together. On the way back she saw a coffee shop and insisted we stop. In case anyone isn't aware, 'coffee' shops are where they sell marijuana. Mostly to tourists though, because less than 10% of Dutch people indulge. We didn't really want to leave Amsterdam without seeing one, so we agreed to acompany her inside. After she got what she came for, she proceeded to act very strange and became pretty pale. This was a headache we weren't really excited to have. We managed to find out where her hotel was and we took her in a taxi back to her hotel. After ensuring she would be ok, we went back to our hostel, swearing not to accompany another stranger on an adventure like that again.

Next morning we woke up and got the free breakfast included in the price. It was pretty good and after we headed out and found some internet so Cara could e-mail her friend Manon in Paris. Then we met up with New Europe again, this time for the free walking tour. We got a good look at the town this time and saw historical stuff. All in all it turned out better than the Redlight tour and for less money (see smallest house in Amsterdam to the left). After the tour we tried to rent some bikes, but we were leaving too early in the morning to return them and nothing we said could convince them to let us drop them off. So we went bikeless and walked to the Central station. Here we waited in line for an hour before being able to book tickets to Paris. All trains were full going direct and we needed to connect through Brussels for a hefty price. We aren't flexible anymore though, so we paid. After that craziness we got some Thai food at a place recommended by our tour guide. Excellent food and decent prices. We were planning on biking out of town to see some windmills, but with that option gone we took a tram to one in town instead. It was still cool to see, but it didn't have the sweeping farmlands in the background that I wanted. It was getting late though and we needed to be up early. So we caught a tram back to our hostel and got some internet before heading to bed.

Tuesday morning we woke up early and quietly cleared our room. We were at breakfast a half hour early and convinced the ladies setting up to let us in early. There wasn't the great spread we had yesterday, but it was some free food to have before we left on a train. After breakfast we caught a tram to the Central station and then boarded a train heading for Brussels. Here we sit and I am very anxious for the Iron Maiden concert tonight. Then it's up early for our flight to Dublin. Hopefully making our way to the airport isn't a problem by train.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Back to Berlin

We got off the ship in Stockholm way too early (woken up at 5:30 by the crew). Then we paid for the bus to the train station and used the last of our Swedish money to pay for a locker. Once this was done we just sat in the train station for an hour waiting for the grocery stores to open. At 7:45 we hit the supermarket and bought some breakfast and ate it in a nearby park. Then we played the waiting game again for the museums. It would have been all so much simper had the boat just arrived at a normal time. Anyway, we got to the museum and had a nasty surprise when we discovered that museums are no longer free in Stockholm. I guess the government has changed since the Lonely Planet was published. I never did, but I'm sure the Lonley Planet has an updates section on their website that you should really check out before leaving. Luckily the fare wasn't too bad and we paid on VISA (Swedish money all spent). After looking through the museum with it's Viking sections, we headed out to get some lunch. Lunch happened at a basement fish market underneath a mall. Sounds funny, but it was great and the seafood was fresh, but it was a strange mix of fresh seafood vendors and eating stalls. After a delicious lunch we headed to the library to see about getting a bit of internet. The national library didn't have internet but they directed us to the city library. There we got some free internet and had a long walk to get there. After the library we tried our luck at a couple other museums. One was actually free, the other we skipped because it didn't look to be worth it. The free one however was tiny and didn't have anything authentic, because the real location is under renovations, but they lent us a book displaying the old museum... yay. By now it was getting close to game time and so we made our way to the train station. It was fully packed though, and we just sat in the train station instead. Beer at the bars in Stockholm is not cheap and we each had a magazine we wanted to read. Cara is reading a wedding magazine and I bought a photography one.

By the time our train left Spain was winning 1-0. A sleeper car to Malmo provided a bit more rest than usual, but still not a great sleep. We woke up outside Malmo and once in Malmo missed the first train to Copenhagen by about 2 minutes. We caught the next train (20 minutes later) and then missed the train to Berlin by 2 minutes (because our train was late). Ok so now we had a 2 hour layover. We had to go make reservations for the later train to Hamburg and were disappointed to find Denmark train really doesn't accept VISA without a pin code. Why I have no idea, but we weren't pleased, because everywhere else in Denmark does. So we paid in Euro, but when we tried to give the lady exact change, she wouldn't accept any coins, so we paid in bills and got some nice shiny souvenirs. I tossed the useless stuff on the ground outside, due to lack of sleep and being a little angry at missing 2 trains in a row. We read our magazines and killed an hour and half before our train showed up... you guessed it, late. If only the train we missed was late, we might have caught it. The reservation lady didn't give us great seating either, we were across the aisle from each other and each had our own old man in a suit to share leg room with. The train boarded a ferry again, which was still cool, but much less cool now that we were tired and grumpy. It was raining too, so we didn't bother going outside. Once in Hamburg we waited 45 minutes for our train to Berlin and were glad we paid for reservations even though we didn't need them, because the train was pretty packed and saw lots of other people getting displaced.

Finally back in Berlin we were feeling a lot better. Away from the Scandinavian prices and back in Germany where trains are fast and frequent. We spent a bit of time finding out about metro and found that our Eurail is good for all S-Bahn, even though the booklet says different. So we rode the S-Bahn to near Anna's house and found the bar where she had left us the keys. Keys in hand, we found the apartment and settled in. We were so beat we decided not to try and squeeze any sightseeing in that night. We went to the supermarket and got some food and then cooked some dinner. Then it was a full 3 hours of relaxing before going to bed.

Saturday monring we woke up around 9 and got off to a slow start where we didn't get out and about until noon. Once out though we rode the metro and found the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km stretch of Berlin Wall that was painted in 1990 by artists from all over the world. It was neat for sure and many of the paintings are crumbling, but some have been renewed or new ones painted. Cool stuff, and after walking the length of it, we rode some more metro and when to the best wurst stand in Berlin. It was crowded with tourists as I guess it's in everyones guide book. But the wurst was great and after filling our bellies we hit the Jewish museum. It was huge, in my opinion too huge. In 5 hours we didn't see even half of the stuff and skipped 30 entries in our audio guide, and forget the temporary exhibit we paid for. If I found it a bit boring, Cara found it very interesting and couldn't get enough of it. The museum was focused on the history of Jewish people in Germany, but oddly enough had not as much in the sections covering the last 70 years as in the section covering, say, the 1800's. Anyway we left there around 8pm and headed back to the apartment. By the time we got back Anna's roomate Anna was home (Anna is a popular name in Germany) and we had a good chat with her and found out how to connect to their wi-fi. After that we had some beer and made dinner and around then roomate Anna's friends showed up and for a little while we listened to music while getting ready for bed. They left for the bar around midnight, but we didn't join them because our train left early the next morning for Amsterdam.

Sunday morning we woke up early and got packed up and ready to leave. We caught the 3 connection metro ride to Berlin's main station. We left ourselves an hour to get there and by then end only had 20 minutes left. We mailed the last of the postcards and waited for our train. Our train showed up on time and left on time and we are now making our way to the Netherlands. We have 2 nights in Amsterdam and 1 in Paris before we say goodbye to continental Europe and hit the UK. It's a strange feeling; we are happy to go home, but sad to leave it all behind as well.