Bratislava, Slovakia

Since we were going to be near water in Vienna, I was determined to go on a boat. Then we discovered that there are regular boats between Vienna and Bratislava… and Jan had never been to Slovakia (I’m pretty sure I was there with my grandparents on a European tour as a teenager, but it was only a stop for lunch and I remember literally nothing!).

On the advice of Steven, who had coincidentally been in Bratislava the day we met up with him, we decided to take the train there and the boat back. He also recommended a free walking tour (the kind where you give tips at the end), which he had taken and enjoyed. The tour was at 11 and we wanted to buy tickets for the boat back first so we decided to get the train at 8:20 a.m.! The train journey takes roughly an hour and, unsurprisingly, I slept most of the way! On arrival in Bratislava, the first thing we did was take a bus into town (public transport was included with our train ticket). It was immediately apparant that we weren’t in Austria any more:

Bratislava

To be fair to Bratislava, we did see some more modern looking buses driving around, but we managed to get on one of the old, shabby ones 😉 It turned out we could have actually walked into town from the station, but whatever. We were there now, and it gave us plenty of time to find a bank, get some money out, purchase boat tickets and then find the square where the guide was supposed to be waiting. The tour was very interesting, but loooong (a little over 2 hours), especially in the hot sunshine. I tried to stand in the shade whenever I could, but it wasn’t always possible and I ended up sunburnt. *Sigh* On that same day, it was actually raining in Vienna 😉 Here are some random photos I took on our walk around the city. The first few are from before we met our guide and the rest were taken during the walk (the statue of Hviezdoslav was the meeting point for the tour).

The second to last stop on the tour was my favourite! Apparantly the guides like to take groups there because otherwise no tourist will ever find it! Our guide kept telling us she was taking us the “the blue church”, and once we arrived we understood why:

She wasn’t lying about the blue! It’s real name is the Church of St Elisabeth (Kostol svätej Alžbety in Slovakian), and even though it looks like it might be Russian Orthodox, it isn’t (we asked). It’s actually a Catholic church, built in the Hungarian Art Noveau style. Next to it is a secondary school built in the same style (designed by the same architect)… our guide assured us that most schools in Slovakia, don’t like that, but more like the abandoned communist era hospital opposite the church… a horrid, spooky-looking concrete monstrosity (sorry, no picture).

I wish my school had looked like this!
I wish my school had looked like this!

After the walk, we wanted to go for lunch (and I desperately needed a drink, having finished my bottle of water about an hour earlier!). The tour guide had recommended a place along the route that was toruisty but inexpensive and with good food, so we and another German guy from the tour (who it turned out lives just down the road from Karlsruhe!) decided to go there. We were told to try Bryndzové Halušky, a type of potato dumpling with sheep’s cheese and bacon. Jan and I went for a sharing platter which included that, a dish with the same kind of potato dumpling but served in a cheesy Sauerkraut mixture and Bryndzové pirohy, semi-circular dough pockets filled with the same sheep’s cheese. All very delicious! The bacon was extremely crispy, but also melted on the tongue.

Bratislava
It may not look like much for two people, but it was extremely filling!

By the time we’d found the restaurant again (we’d walked quite a bit after passing it), ordered and eaten our food, and paid the bill, time was getting on a bit, so we ended up heading straight for the boat without heading up to the castle or seeing the cathedral. According to our tour guide, we didn’t miss much not seeing the castle itself (apparantly it’s empty inside), but the view from up there is good. Oh well, some other time…
Our boat left Bratislava at 4 and took an hour and a half, leaving us with plenty of time to head back to the hotel, drop things off, grab the concert tickets and head out to see Pearl Jam…

**I am counting Vienna and Bratislava as my June 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge.**

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Ireland, days 8-9: Exploring Kerry and hiking in the rain

Although our apartment was in Killarney, we didn’t really see much of the town (other than Tesco and the route to the Tourist Information office), so I won’t be giving any information about it in this post. Here’s what we did instead of exploring Killarney town…

On Saturday we were up surprisingly early considering how late we’d gone to bed the night before!
After a breakfast of porridge (made by the Scottish member of the group – of course!) it was off for a drive around the Dingle Peninsular.

The first place we stopped was Inch Beach, but not for long because OMG was it windy!! I seriously thought I might be blown away! There were loads of surfers out though – perfect weather for them!

Inch Beach
Inch Beach

Next we drove through the town of Dingle, which looked really pretty (but touristy). We didn’t stop though, so I have zero photos. Instead, we drove round to the other side of the bay and up the hill. The plan was to go to Esk Tower for a view over Dingle Bay, but the farmer whose field you had to walk to to reach the tower was charging people €3 for the privilege! Errr, I think not!! So no Esk Tower. I did point my camera between two houses on the hill we were parked on, so here’s a view of Dingle Bay from above with the town of Dingle in the background:

That *should* be Dingle across the water
That *should* be Dingle across the water

We then stopped at another beach – I’m not sure what it was called – and enjoyed the fact that the sun had come out and the wind had died down.

Look . blue sky!!
Look . blue sky!!
View from on the beach
View from on the beach

We stopped one more time when the Blasket Islands came into view and took some photos of them and the water, as well as a seagull that seemed more than happy to pose for our cameras.

Some of the Blasket Islands
Some of the Blasket Islands
Our friend the seagull
Our friend the seagull

Then it was on to Dunquin – the westernmost town in Ireland! We were searching for Kruger’s Inn, where CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) was founded. My dad is a huge fan of real ales and a member of CAMRA, so I wanted to get a photo for him. We also planned to eat lunch there.

Disappointing pub...
Disappointing pub…

Sadly, what we found at Kruger’s was disappointing. Despite all the positive reviews and claims that it’s a “popular bar”, there were precisely 3 people inside, all hovering at the corner of the bar. One appeared to be working while the other two had come in to chat with her. When we asked about food, we were told they do not serve food (despite there being a blackboard in the middle of the room with “soup, sandwiches, tea, coffee” written on it!!) and offered Guinness instead. Err… what?! My guess is it’s been sold and the new owners have changed things… So we headed back to a café/pottery we had driven past on the way to Kruger’s. My chicken pie was very nice, although not worth the price, but then what you were really paying for at that place was the view:

View from the cafe window
View from the cafe window

After lunch, the general consensus was that, although the Dingle peninsular seemed nice enough, we should head back and take in the (apparantly) even more beautiful Ring of Kerry. So we drove back the way we had came until we reached Killorglin then followed the ring from there. Presumable because it was evening by then, the ring wasn’t as crowded as I’d been told and we only spotted two coaches the whole way round!

The first part of the Ring of Kerry wasn’t all that spectacular. We noticed a couple of nice views, but with no places nearby to stop and admire, and drove through a few cute looking villages but for the most part all there was to see was hedge. We made our first stop on the Ring in Waterville, where we took some photos of the beach.

The beach at Waterville
The beach at Waterville
Waterville
Waterville

Waterville’s claim to fame is that Charlie Chaplin liked to take holidays there. The village now hosts as Chaplin festival every year and there’s a statue of him there too – we drove past the statue but didn’t stop for a photo.

We then drove on, passing through the village of Sneem (I love the name!), which is supposed to be very pretty. All I saw of it from the car window was this:

Sneem
Sneem

Our next stop was at Moll’s Gap, which is between Kenmare and Killarney. Apparantly the panoramic stop (where we parked) and its shop are visited by thousands of tourists each year. Well, by the time we got there the shop had already closed and the only creatures we met were some sheep, who we proceeded to have a Meeeaahhh off with (that’s my attempt to spell the sound a sheep makes – because these ones were not saying baaa by any stretch of the imagination! It definitely started with an m and had an eh sound in it!). Oh, and I took some photos too:

At Moll's Gap
At Moll’s Gap

After Moll’s Gap, we moved on to Ladies’ View. We had been looking forward to this, having heard that it’s possibly the most stunning view on the whole Ring of Kerry, and it did not disappoint. We arrived just in time for sunset, and even my crappy camera managed to get some decent shots (still nothing like as wonderful as the real thing though!)

Ladies View
Ladies View
Same again...
Same again…
Looking the other way - no sun in this direction!
Looking the other way – no sun in this direction!

Less fun was the part where we were eaten alive by midgies. I’ve seriously never seen so many of the evil beasts in one place! At one point, I put out my hand and saw literally about 10 little black insects sitting on it!! Eeew, eew, eew! Then, while posing for a photo, one went up my nose. Aarghh! And just to make things more annoying, the boys were barely pestered at all while us girls were literally covered in evil midge-beasts! Two German girls who arrived shortly after us were waving their hands about and screaming as well though, so I’m clearly not crazy… the evil beasts from insect hell were actually there!

It was laaaate by this time, so we decided to skip Torc Waterfall, although I had heard it’s amazing, and head to Tesco instead, where we purchased food for that night and also the next day. Back at the apartment, I made a sauce using the left-over chicken, courgette and tinned tomatoes and we served it with pasta. We ate late again, but at least this time the food was ready before midnight! Then we spent some time planning the next day (hiking day!) and trying to find a tour that didn’t make us book it 24 hours in advance, which obviously was no longer possible…

Day 9, Sunday, had been set aside for hiking. We were getting picked up at Killarney Tourist Information office at 10 a.m. and needed to walk there, so an early start was required! Jan made sandwiches for the hike while the two girls  made breakfast, which consisted of porridge, potato farls (an Irish version of potato scones) and scrambled eggs. Then we were on our way! The mini bus was late picking us up, which resulted in the nice lady at the tourist office phoning the company for us, but eventually a mini bus arrived (with only one other person in it) and we were off! On our way through Killarney, the driver told us a little about the things we were passing (not that I remember anything), then we were dropped off at Kate Kearney’s cottage, which marks the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe.

Typically, the day we had set aside for hiking was the day it rained literally ALL day!! The Gap of Dunloe was still pretty impressive, but I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I would have if I hadn’t been busy getting drenched! Also, my hiking trouser are water resistant but not waterproof, so after about my mile 3 of 7 my legs were soaked! As were my feet… stupid hiking shoes started leaking! Nevertheless, it was a nice enough hike and I felt very virtuous getting my exercise despite the rain 😉

In the Gap of Dunloe
In the Gap of Dunloe
"Yes, up there is where you're walking to next..."
“Yes, up there is where you’re walking to next…”
I LOVED this ruined house we walked past in the Gap
I LOVED this ruined house we walked past in the Gap
Nearly there! This was about 2 minutes away from Lord Brandon's Cottage.
Nearly there! This was about 2 minutes away from Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

It doesn’t look nearly as wet in the photos as it did in real life!
Our hike took us to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, where we all had a nice hot drink while we waited for a our boat. Yes, you did read that correctly! The tour we had booked involved being brought to the Gap by bus, hiking or pony trapping our way down to Lord Brandon’s Cottage then being taken by boat from there to Ross Castle, where the bus would be waiting to take us home. I barely took any photos on the boat ride because it was freezing and I was terrified of dropping my camera in the water, but here’s one I took just to prove we actually were on a boat!

On the boat
On the boat

The driver/guide stopped occasionally to tell us interesting little facts. As we passed under the Wishing Bridge, he said that any ladies wanting to get married should make a wish as we went under it, and he guaranteed he would see them again within a year with a ring on their finger. One woman on the boat then asked if he could go back so she could have another go! Wish granter or not, the bridge looks very cool!

The Wishing Bridge
The Wishing Bridge

We also passed by the Ladies’ View – where we had been the night before – this time from below. An hour later, we were at Ross Castle where our nice warm bus was waiting for us! And instead of taking us back to the Tourist Information office, the driver asked us where we were staying and took us right to our front door! More Irish friendliness (or maybe he just felt sorry for us in our drowned-rat state?). Next on the agenda was warm showers, dry clothes and hot tea all round! Then we took the opportunity to do some laundry before  spending the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Jan and I even went for a nap (which turned into a longer sleep when he forgot to actually set the alarm!). We were woken up at around 8 p.m. with the information that food was nearly ready – steak and gravy pie with the remaining potatoes. Yum yum!! Some people had thought about maybe going to the Torc Waterfall or to have a look at Killarney itself that evening, but it was still raining so we decided against it and had a quiet evening in. There was packing to be done anyway, ready to move on to our final stop the next day…

Ross Castle... and there's our bus driver waiting for us!
Ross Castle… and there’s our bus driver waiting for us!

And they sailed away for a year and a day…

In the course of my wanderings through the blogosphere I’ve come across some great people. Amazing, funny, crazy and daring people. People who write brilliant blogs, make me laugh and make me think. People who inspire me and make me believe that anything is possible.

One of these people is the hilariously funny Home Office Mum, whose blog you can read here.
Now, Home Office Mum is the mother of two small and rather boisterous boys. She also runs her very own business. She combines the running of her very own business with taking care of the aforementioned small and boisterous boys. You’d think with all that going on life would be challenging enough – I mean, I can barely look after myself never mind two small boys and a business. But no. Home Office Mum has decided to take on a new challenge. Something ambitious. Something awe-inspiring.  Something exciting. Something, quite possibly, insane. She’s only gone and signed up to take part in the Clipper Round the World Race. So come September she’ll be setting sail from England to Brazil in a boat that’s probably neither pea-green nor beautiful.

The thing is, in order to complete this ocean adventure she’s going to need your help. First of all you need to head on over to her new blog, moretolifethanlaundry.com and give her as much encouragement as you possibly can. That shouldn’t be too difficult – after all, it is a fairly incredibly thing she’s doing. While you’re over there it would be fabulously wonderful if you could hit the donate button on the right hand side and give her a hand with the raising of the funds. ‘Cause taking part in a challenge like this doesn’t come cheap. She’s not asking for much – just 2 tiny little English pounds for each mile she sails, and one of those pounds shall be donated to charity so you’ll even be doing your bit to help sick and disabled children. Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? So what are you still doing here? Get on over to More to Life Than Laundry and help a blogger out…