Delémont, Switzerland

After a very few hot days, July 31st promised to be a lot cooler, so Jan and I decided to go hiking… just in time for me to sneak it in for July’s contribution to take 12 trips ;-). Jan suggested heading bit further afield than we had on previous hikes and mentioned Delémont, so I looked for a hike that started there and found one that took roughly 2 hours and went up the hill beside the town. We were supposed to come past the Chapelle du Vorbourg and the ruins of Vorbourg castle, but the route description wasn’t very good and somehow we missed them. Oh well.

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As you can see from the photo above, it was chucking it down when we arrived in Delémont. It was also thundering, but we decided to continue with our hike anyway and see how things went. After all, skin is waterproof…

It wasn’t long before we saw the Jura coat of arms in the side of the mountain… just in case we hadn’t realised which canton we were in 😉

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The first part of the hike took us around the outskirts of town, past housing estates along paved roads. By the time we reached the part where we were to enter the woods, the thunder had stopped and the rain had died down, so we decided it would be safe enough to enter the trees…

Having difficulty following the instructions I had printed, we decided that the place where we were must have been where it wanted us to start heading up through the trees. In hindsight, we were wrong since we never did come across any chapel! We did, however, eventually find a break in the trees from where we could look down on the town.

Just up the hill from there was a proper viewing platform, so I had shoved my way into the gap between the trees for nothing!

With all the rain, the snails were out in full force. We had to be careful not to tread on the ones that were hanging out in the middle of the path!

How pretty is that shell though?

After admiring the view, we headed back down the mountain and towards the old town. Pretty much as soon as we were away from the woods the sun came out!

The whole old town was full of flag bunting. I’m not sure whether it’s always there or they had hung it up specially because the next day was the national holiday. I only recognised two of the coats of arms – the one for Jura and the one for Delémont town. You can see both of those on the first picture below. The others are presumably from the other towns that belong to Delémont district?

The old town of Delémont is small but very pretty and we had a nice wander round in the sunshine.

Too soon it was time to head back to the train station – we were meeting people to watch the fireworks and wanted to shower first. We grabbed some tasty food from the station café and a beer from the little Coop supermarket at the station and ate and drank those while waiting for the train.

This is a nice little hike for a day that you don’t have time for a longer one (just make sure not to miss the chapel and castle like we did!) and Delémont old town is worth a look at, although it’s so small that I wouldn’t make that the entire itinerary for your day trip!

Monday Escapes has been revived with new hosts, so I’m linking up with Travel Loving Family, Extraordinary Chaos, Tin Box Traveller and Mini Travellers for that. And of course I’ve already mentioned that this was my July trip for #Take12Trips, which was originally the brainchild of Clare at Need Another Holiday.Travel Loving Family

Graubünden – June 2016

I’m slowly catching up on blogging my Take 12 Trips adventures for 2016. With this post, I’m only two months behind!

At the beginning of June, a colleague of Jan’s was playing at an accordion festival in Disentis Abbey. Disentis is in the canton of Graubünden (of Grisons in French), which we had herd was a beautiful area with lots of amazing scenery and many hiking opportunities, so we decided we would go down there for a weekend, watch the colleague perform on the Saturday and then spend the Sunday hiking before returning home, ready for work on Monday. We booked a hotel in Breils or Brigels (Graubünden is trilingual canton!) and set off bright and early on Saturday morning. The plan was to walk from Brigels train station to the hotel, but it turned out to be at least an hour’s walk up the mountain, so instead we took the Postauto (bus run by Swiss Post). Brigels is a cute little town that probably has a beautiful view on clear days… I wouldn’t know, we had clouds 😉 After checking in to our hotel, we bought a sandwich from the supermarket and ate it on a bench overlooking the town. Here are some photos from Brigels:

After we had eaten, we took the bus back down to the train station. After checking what time the last bus back to Brigels would be (pretty early!), we took the train to Disentis and went in search of the accordion festival. The festival was also part festival, so we watched a number of groups play the same pieces before Jan’s colleague’s group took to the stage. This group was more professional than the others and was taking part non-competitively so they could just play without worrying about points. Even non-musical me noticed that they were much better than the others! We decided not to stay for the rest of the competition and went for a quick walk around Disentis. It turned out there wasn’t much to see and I took a grand total of four photos there!

Soon it was time to head back to the train station so we could catch the bus back to Brigels. Once up there, we walked around for a bit (but I took no photos because I had forgotten my memory card and had only the memory on the camera itself, meaning I was limited in how many I could take!) then had a delicious dinner at the hotel before getting an early night. We wanted to be up early the next day to fit in a nice hike before we had to go home!

After breakfast the next day we headed out to catch the bus back down to the train station and from there took a train to a station called Oberalppasshöhe on the Operalp Pass, a pass high up in the mountains. We wanted to hike to the source of the Rhine, which is considered to be at the Tomasee (Lag da Toma, or Toma Lake), but the hiking paths weren’t officially open yet and there was still some snow around so we didn’t quite make it. We could see that some people had already crossed the snow and presumably gone all the way up, but my shoes weren’t quite good enough and I was scared to cross the largest expanses of snow! We had a lovely hike anyway though and ended up walking around for roughly 3.5 hours, which isn’t bad (especially since it rained part of the time)! I’ve promised Jan I will go back with him when the weather is better and actually go all the way to the lake.

The Rhine ends in Rotterdam, where it flows into the North Sea, so near where the train stops at the start of the hiking trail there is a lighthouse, a smaller replica of one in Rotterdam. Apparently the replica at the Oberalp Pass is the highest lighthouse in the world. But enough rambling, I’m sure what you really want is photos!

 

A second gallery… too many photos for one! (As always, click photos to enlarge)

The staff at a restaurant  near the train station had kindly agreed to look after our luggage for us, so when we went to pick it up we decided we deserved a treat after all that hiking in the snow. Beer and Bünder Gerstensuppe (barley soup). We also had cake but I scoffed that too quickly for a photo 😉

Finally it was time to be on our way. The train home took us on a beautiful route, over a gorge and then around the other side of Lake Lucerne, through Schywz (a tiny canton, but the one that gives Switzerland its name). Two train changes later, we were finally home where we went straight to bed ready for a week of work starting the next day!

This first trip to Graubünden was incredibly short, but it’s okay – it definitely won’t be our last!

Linking up with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey for Monday Escapes.

Travel Monkey

Hike from Sommerau to Läufelfingen

Hey guys! There have already been some great guesses for round two of What Am I Stitching. I’ll move on to round three soon, but in the meantime click the link if you still want to guess. For now, I’m going to tell you about a hike we went on in May. Yes, I’m slightly behind with my travel blogging…

We hadn’t been hiking for a while and we decided that May would be a good time to do it, before it got too hot (although the summer has also been mostly chilly so far, with the odd very hot day!). I got online – I like to use http://wanderungen.ch/ – and found a promising looking hike that wasn’t too far away, a discovery trail from Sommerau, along a small stream to a waterfall, then up the hill to a viewing tower on top of the Wisenberg mountain. From Basel SBB, we took the train, changed once in Sissach and arrived in Sommerau at 10:17 a.m.

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The start of the hike, near the train station in Sommerau

We walked along the little stream – called Chrindelbach – for about half an hour before reaching the Giessen waterfall; an appropriate name as giessen means “to pour”. The 18 km high waterfall marks the end of the valley – from there, it’s all uphill!

After the waterfall, the route leads out of the woods for a short while, past farms and fields of dandelions. One farm had set up a little refreshment stand with a coffee machine and some other drinks. So cute!

After the dandelions, the path led back into the woods for a short distance, and in the middle of the trees we found the Wisenberg viewing tower. At around 25m tall, the top of viewing platform provides an amazing view over the trees. You can even see the Alps! (Although they were hard to capture with my camera. I did my best!).

Back down from the tower, we left the woods again and walked past another farm. This next photo is the most Swiss thing ever…. green field, cows, Alps. All that’s missing is a bar of chocolate 😉

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From there, we hiked past more farms, pretty flowers, lots of green and a few more animals until we reached Läufelfingen train station, where we had a beer (which I didn’t photograph) before taking the train back to Basel. Here are some photos from the last stage of our hike:

Now the tourist information part: the total hiking time was roughly 3 hours and 40 minutes. We took just over 4 hours from start to finish, including all the photo stops. You can also take a bus to Wisen and walk up to the tower from there, which will take about an hour.

This was my May 2016 trip for  Take 12 Trips 2016.

Hiking from Sissach to Liestal

I will get Saturday’s photo an hour post up soon, but first it’s time for another Monday Escape with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey

Jan has been determined to go hiking since we arrived in Basel, so a few weekends ago we did just that. I found a route that started in Sissach (about 20 minutes train ride away) and ended in Liestal, the capital of the half canton Basellandschaft (the capital of Basel-Stadt is, of course, Basel itself). Warning: another long, photo-heavy post ahead… the scenery is just too beautiful to resist!

The first part of the route took us from Sissach train station up to the Sissacher Fluh (a Fluh, sometimes spelled Flüh or Flue, is a rock face or cliff). That part was the steepest climb and took us about an hour.

The view from the top was well worth the climb!

You could even see Basel from up there (you can tell it’s Basel by the wedge-shaped building):

There’s a restaurant at the top, also named Sissacher Fluh. We stopped there for a cool drink and some lunch, and decided to share the Fluh platter which looked like this:

Sissacher FluhIt also came with delicious bread.

After lunch, it was time to head back down the other side of the hill. There was a kind of sculpture trail set up on the hillside, which was mostly weird and a bit pointless, but there was on sculpture I really liked:

Those of you who are connected with Confuzzledom on Facebook may have noticed that one of the moles is the new profile picture for the page. The title of the sculpture was something about politicians and looking to the future (obviously a play on the fact that moles are practically blind and can’t see very far).

This part of the route led from the Sissacher Fluh to the village of Hersberg, past another village called Nusshof. Have some more pictures:

In Hersberg, we saw some horses and stopped to refill our water bottle.

Next it was on through the woods and up the hill to Schleifenberg, which meant another hour of hiking.

Finally, we reached the top of the Schleifenberg, where there’s a viewing tower. The tower is 30m high, and after climbing up the first few levels you find yourself coming out of the trees to spectacular views. It costs 50 rappen to get into the tower and no change is given so make sure you have a 1/2 franc piece on you! Trust me, you are not going to want to miss these views! My camera could not do it justice at all – partly because it can’t cope with clouds, but mostly because it just can’t see as far as my eyes can!

Directly below us, at the base of the Schleifenberg, we could see our destination – Liestal. We still had just under an hour of walking to go before we got there though, so we decided to stop for a quick drink. We had a beer each and watched some bug (beetle?) that was crawling around the picnic bench.

On the way back down to Liestal, we came across more wildlife: hornets, a snake and a lizard (who I didn’t manage to get a photo of before he ran away):

Jan took the final hornet picture here – I wasn’t willing to get that close!

Finally, just as we were about to leave the woods and enter Liestal, we spotted a very interesting looking tree…

LiestalI don’t know how well you can see, but the roots form a kind of cave under the earth above. I actually had my photo taken inside, but it’s on Jan’s phone so I can’t access it now.
Then, just after seeing the tree, we finally reached the outskirts of Liestal.

First glimpse of Liestal
First glimpse of Liestal

With a population of just over 14,000, although it’s the capital of Basellandschaft, Liestal is not exactly large. It’s an industrial town, but it has a very pretty old town centre, which we walked around for a while.

There are three museums in Liestal (the cantonal museum for Basellandschaft, a town museum for Liestal and an organ museum), but being late afternoon on a Saturday in a small town, all of them were closed – as were the shops. By that time we were tired out from our long hike (13 km, in case anyone was wondering) so we left Liestal and took the train back home. My leg muscles hated me the next morning, but it was worth it for the gorgeous we saw along the way. I still can’t believe all of this is literally on my doorstep!

My Travel Monkey

Hiking in Taroko National Park

Our second to last day in Taiwan was spent hiking in Taroko National Park/Taroko Gorge. First, we stopped at the visitor centre to see which trails were open that day and (more importantly) which were most suitable for our very unfit selves. We decided to start with the Shakadang Trail, as it was right next to the visitor’s centre. Unfortunately, only 1.4 km of the trail was open on that day due to a rockfall further down. What we were able to see of the trail was beautiful though, and the shortish walk was a good introduction to the day.

Having finished the part of the Shakadang Trail that we were allowed on, we headed back to the car and drove on to Bulouwan Recreation Area, where we stopped for lunch. There were three different set menus, each being served with soup, rice, tofu and some other vegetables. Jan went for a beef stew with ginger while I chose the pork ribs (I had originally wanted another pork dish, but there was none left). I didn’t take any photos unfortunately, but the food was delicious. And I even managed to eat my ribs with chop sticks – not easy I can tell you! Once we’d eaten, we headed up to the upper terrace (the restaurant is on the lower terrace) where there’s a short walk called the Bamboo Trail. The walk itself is fairly boring to be honest, but there were tonnes of butterflies so that was nice.

Butterflies at Buluowan
Butterflies at Buluowan

Next, we decided to do the Swallow Grotto trail, as it’s supposed to be one of the most impressive in the National Park (the Nine Tunnels trail is even better according to the visitor information but was closed on that day). You’re supposed to wear a helmet on this trail in case of rockfalls, but we only figured out after we had walked the trail where you’re supposed to get them from! Lots of people were walking through bare-headed though – only the people from tour buses actually had helmets! I spent half the walk nervously staring at the cliffs towering above me praying nothing would fall down, but the views made it all worth it.

By the way, there are actually swallows in the grotto – it’s not just a name! They’re way too fast to photograph though, so I took one of this guy instead 😉

Taiwan

We ended our day of hiking with a visit to the Changchun Shrine/Eternal Spring Shrine, which was on the way back to Hualien. This is the shrine:

Eternal Spring Shrine
Eternal Spring Shrine

And again from closer up:

Eternal Spring Shrine
Eternal Spring Shrine

There wasn’t all that much water when we were there, but it still looked beautiful. I can only imagine how impressive it must be after a lot of rain! Behind the shrine, there’s the start of a trail that leads from the shrine to the Changuang Temple. The entire loop takes 50 minutes to walk, but we only went as far as the bell tower (the highest point) then decided to come back down before it got dark. There are a lot of stairs to climb on this trail – it was certainly the most strenuous of all our walks that day! – but once again the views from the top are well worth it. The bell tower was built to comemorate all the people who died while building the highway through the gorge (it’s pretty dangerous down there – there are signs everywhere telling you to watch out for rock falls!)

Once we were done with our hike, we drove back to Hualien, stopping briefly another walk around the market where we each bought a cold drink made with fruit and milk. There were hundreds of varieties to choose from, but not being able to read Chinese we went with some of the fruits that were on display because we could simply point at those 😉 I chose Mango and Guava. Jan’s drink also contained mango and I don’t remember what his second fruit was. While we were there, I finally managed to get photographic evidence of the duck heads that were on sale everywhere 😉

We were both tired after our long day of hiking in the sunshine, so after a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up we decided to be proper tourists and head to the Steakhouse immediately next door for dinner. I know… eating Western food in Asia. Terrible! We had tried a lot of Asian food by this point though. Jan had quite a lot of Taiwanese money to get rid of, so he said I could order anything I wanted. We each chose the set menu, which consisted of a salad (I had potato salad), a Taiwanese style soup, a bowl of what I am convinced was Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup, the steak itself and a desert. I think that’s everything – there were a lot of courses! Iced tea was also served throughout the meal with numerous refills and at the end we could choose another drink – I went for lavender tea because it sounded so interesting! Here’s my steak dish before I gave my fried egg to Jan:

Taiwan

We were absolutely stuffed after all that food! Luckily, as I mentioned, the hotel was right next door, so we didn’t have far to go before we could collapse on our bed, with full stomachs and aching legs!

We’re almost at the end of my adventure now. All that’s left is to tell you about our drive up the East coast from Hualien back to Taipei (more stunningly gorgeous views!) and our final meal in Taiwan before returning to the airport for our 11 p.m. flight.

~ I am counting my week in Taiwan as my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge with Clare from Need Another Holiday. This trip also counts towards my 35 Before 35, item: Visit a continent I’ve never been to before ~

Beginning with the bad…

I don’t want to end my posts about Madeira on a low note, so I’m going to begin at the end and tell you about the last day of our holiday first…

It was 8 a.m. We had got ourselves up and showered super early ready to drive into town for our pick up for the jeep safari. A mere five minutes into the drive, the front window steamed up badly and Jan stopped paying attention to the road and fiddling with the ventilation system. Suddenly, the mountain loomed up in front of us, so quickly that I didn’t even have time to say anything (“watch out” was on the tip of my tongue, but the words never made it out). Fortunately, Jan was actually slowing down at the time, but we still hit the mountain with a rather loud bang! We were lucky… if we hadn’t been turning towards the mountain we may well have gone sailing off the side of it! The poor rental car ended up with a slit tyre and a bit of a bash to its left front side though…

Needless to state, the jeep safari was off. Jan managed to drive the car back up to the hotel, where there was actual mobile phone reception – luckily we hadn’t gone too far! We contacted the rental car company, who gave us the number to call the breakdown service and while Jan called I removed everything from the car. The breakfast waitress actually ended up speaking the the recovery person for us because he spoke very little English then, while we waited for him to arrive, we sat down for breakfast (initially we had planned to leave before the breakfast room opened). 45 minutes later, a man with a tow truck arrived to take us to the airport, where we were to pick up our new car. He even stopped partway down the mountain for us to take a photo of the view, which I did purely because he was being so nice:

The view from the tow truck...
The view from the tow truck…

Luckily Jan had taken out the full insurance policy that the rental car company offered, so we were completely covered. All he had to do was write a description of the accident and circle where the damage was on a picture of a car. After that, we received a new rental contract for the second car along with the keys and documets, then we were free to go. Obviously we were far too late for the jeep safari, but it was still early enough for us to enjoy our last day on the island. We decided to drive East, as that’s the direction we would have been going on the tour. Jan drove as far East as possible, to a carpark at the start of a trail, then we got out and started hiking Ponta de São Lourenço, the easternmost part of the island. During the hike, we had views of the Islas Desertas (uninhabited islands), Porto Santa and, once we reached the end, the ilhéu do Farol, the islet that marks the very easternmost point of the island (obviously you can’t walk to there…). It was a nice enough hike, but for my tastes it was hot! Jan claims we were “lucky” it was “such a mild day”, but personally I felt like I was being roasted alive every time the wind died down! I made it all the way to the end and back though, and was treated to an ice cream for my efforts once we got back to the car 😀 And despite my complaints, the scenery really was magnificent and the views well worth all the walking! Here, have some photos:

That isn’t even half of the photos I took during the hike, but I didn’t want to add too many. It actually took quite a lot of will power to stick to just those eight!
Once we’d walked back to the car and eaten our ice creams, we set off for Santana to look for some traditional Portuguese houses. Most of the ones we spotted driving along were unpainted and appeared to be used for storage rather than as homes (they were all in people’s back gardens/fields), then we came across the ones that had been set up purely for the tourist. I still had to take pictures though… touristy they might be, but that doesn’t make them any less adorable!

Then, as we were leaving Santana, we spotted a genuine building of the same type! Jan pulled over and I jumped out to get a photo… what you can’t see from the picture is that, round the back, the house actually had two stories. It was built on the side of a mountain, with the front entrance higher up than the back one. I didn’t dare take a photo of the back of the house though… an old lady was standing on the back doorstep with a bucket of weeds glaring at me! And I’m a wimp when it comes to glaring old ladies…

A genuine traditional Portuguese building!
A genuine traditional Portuguese building!

And that was it for Friday. After visiting Santana, we drove back to our hotel via a new road that lead straight across the mountains. It may sound like we didn’t do much that day, but bear in mind the car thing took a few hours and then we were hiking for another three! Also, our flight the next morning was at 7:05 a.m. and we still needed to pack..

Tomorrow, I’ll go all the way back to the beginning of our holiday and tell you about Funchal, the capital of Madeira.

~ I am including this holiday as my January 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challange, even though it was December for part of our time in Madeira! ~

Ireland, days 11-12: The Cliffs of Moher and Connemara National Park

For some reason, all of us had failed to realise that this hotel came without breakfast when we did the booking, so the next morning our first stop was the shopping centre close to the hotel where we bought meal deals from Tesco. A pretty decent sandwich, drink and snack for €3 is pretty good value!! I picked up two meal deals… one for breakfast and one for lunch. Jan chose to get his breakfast from the place next door – The Gourmet Tart Co. Then we were on our way.

We stopped at Dunguaire Castle, on the south-eastern shore of Galway Bay for photos. Apparantly this castle is thought to be among the most photographed in Ireland.

Dunguaire Castle
Dunguaire Castle
Galway Bay, viewed from beside the castle
Galway Bay, viewed from beside the castle

Opposite the castle, we found a ruined cottage that nature was doing it’s best to take over. Much more interesting to me than yet another castle 😉

OK, the picture doesn't look like much... but inside was cool!
OK, the picture doesn’t look like much… but inside was cool!

Then it was on to the Cliffs of Moher! This is where we encountered the only true unfriendliness of our time in Ireland… pulling into the carpark, we noticed a sign saying it cost €6… which seemed a lot just to park! When we got to the ticket window, the woman told us it would be €6 admission per person! We asked what it would cost just to park and were again told “the admission fee is six euro per person.” Well yes, but what if we just want to park? “The admission fee is six euro per person.” Were we dealing with a robot or what?! After being told a third time that the admission was €6 per person (but not whether it was even possible to just park) we decided to just pay up. We then got leaflets that actually told us what the admission was for (the visitor’s centre mainly). Then finally we were allowed to park and go look at the cliffs!

The Cliffs of Moher "experience"... this is what we payed 6 euros for.
The Cliffs of Moher “experience”… this is what we payed 6 euros for.

The cliffs were definitely just as amazing as I’d been told! If you walk to the right, there’s a little tower (which you have to pay another €2 to climb. HA! As if!) and a field of cows. To the left there are more fields. And, of course, at both sides there are cliffs. We went to the right first, took photos of the view and the tower, and us girls saw a puffin!! jan saw it too, but not clearly enough to see that it really was a puffin so he just has to take our word for it. I know it was 100% a puffin though… I saw its beak!

Cliffs
Cliffs
Cliffs and dandelions... me trying to be "artistic"
Cliffs and dandelions… me trying to be “artistic”
The tower that we did NOT pay €2 to climb...
The tower that we did NOT pay €2 to climb…

Apparantly one of the Harry Potter films was filmed here, but it’s one I haven’t seen so no idea. We were also told a few days later that the Cliffs of Moher were used in the Princess Bride, but I didn’t recognise anything so clearly it’s been tooo long since I last saw that film and I desperately need to watch it again!
Jan, K and I then walked back down to where we’d started and took the path to the left. Once you reach the end of the visitor’s area, there are signs warning you that the cliff walk could be dangerous… there are no fences out there to make sure you don’t fall off! But we were pretty sure we could take care of ourselves,  so out we went 😉

Cliffs of Moher 3

Charlie enjoyed the cliffs too...
Charlie enjoyed the cliffs too…

We had a lovely walk, saw plenty of seagulls and also what may have been more puffins – they were quite far down so it’s difficult to tell. Jan said they were like flying penguins, which is actually a pretty perfect description! Whether what we saw were puffins or some toher black and white sea bird, they were fascinating to watch!

That rock on the very left is where the birds like to nest
That rock on the very left is where the birds like to nest

After walking for quiiite a while, we turned back to find the other two guys and get our lunch from the car. We enjoyed our meal deals sitting outside the visitor’s centre, then went in for a look at the gift shop and exhibition. I bought my grandma a gift, purchased a few postcards and tried to get stamps, but they had sold out (the second place – I’d asked at the gift shop in Adare as well and they also said they’d run out!). The exhibition wasn’t that brilliant – none of the buttons you could press actually worked and there was waaaay too much to read! The wildlife photos that were displayed around the walls were good though.

After leaving the cliffs, we tried to visit Caherconnell Stone Fort, but they were just closing for the day as we arrived (and had also run out of stamps!!) so we moved on to Poulnabrone dolmen, a portaltomb that probably dates back to between 4200 BCE and 2900 BCE. That is old!! The two photos below were taken by Jan as my camera battery had run out on the cliffs…

The dolmen
The dolmen
Some of the cool limestone surrounding the dolmen
Some of the cool limestone surrounding the dolmen

Once we’d finished taking photos of the Dolmen, we got back in the car and drove back to Galway, where we parked in town and went to find food. We had already agreed that tonight would be pie night, so to The Pie Maker we went… and had an amazing meal for only €9!! LESS than the night before and much, much tastier! Here is my pie which has a filling of sausage in veal gravy. Soooo good!

Pie, glorious pie!
Pie, glorious pie!

I took the photo using my friends camera.
And, in case delicious pies aren’t enough to convince you, here’s the ceiling decoration at The Pie Maker:

Inside The Pie Maker
Inside The Pie Maker

If you are ever in Galway, go here!!!! (If you think I’m enthusiastic now, you should have heard us advertising to everyone who came in after us! Some pies had run out after we ordered and she’d put a new batch in the oven, so she was telling people it would be about a 20 minute wait. We were sitting there saying “It’s totally worth the wait! Definitely hang around!!”. Haha). For dessert, Jan, K and I shared the rhubabrb and ginger pie, which was YUM!! I would have loved to trie the pistacio fudge pie, but I couldn’t have managed a whole one so we decided to share and went with one of the “safe” options (too much lactose in a fudge pie).

After our delicious pies, it was off to another pub – Sehan Ua Neachtain. I have no idea what that means or how it’s supposed to be pronounced, but the pub is just fabulous! You go in and it just looks like a small bar, but then round the corner is another seating area, then there’s another bar, and near the toilets are little individual booths where you can sit privately with your group. My words cannot do it justice and unfortunately my camera battery was still dead so no photos. There also seemed to be a decent mix of tourists and locals in there, and they did a decent range of beers as well. I had a local beer (Nimmo’s) and then tried an Irish cider, produced in Cork. After our drinks, we went and picked up the car then drove back to our hotel.

The next day, after picking up our meal deals from Tesco, we drove north of Galway to the Connemara National Park. It was another hinking day, but this time not in the rain.

Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park

We did the blue trail (easy) then the red trail, which involved climbin Diamond Hill…. and in some places it literally was “climbing”… up a staircase of stones! It was a sunny day as well, and I was very glad of my suncream! Annoyingly, the sun kept coming at me from the side and below, rendering my hat useless. Every time the breeze was blocked by part of the hill I thought I might die from the heat, but eventually we made it to the top (“we” being the girls – the three guys had raced on ahead!). The views from the top were worth the climb:

The view from the top
The view from the top – I have no idea why all my pictures are so cloudy… I swear there was sun!!
More of the view... the building you can see across the water is Kylemore Abbey
More of the view… the building you can see across the water is Kylemore Abbey
Of course there had to be a CHarlie photo at the top...
Of course there had to be a CHarlie photo at the top…

We also saw this adorable puppy up there, and the equally as adorable little boy who was accompanying him. (Oh, and there was also an adult with them of course ;-))

Gorgeous puppy!
Gorgeous puppy!

Later, we saw the puppy tied up outside the visitor’s centre crying for his owners. Awww! Naturally I had to go over and give him a stroke.

The visitor’s centre was interesting. We found out that peat had been formed from people burning charcoal for fuel… and that peat itself is now endangered due to its being used as fuel itself!

The guys wanted to go for some more hiking at Killary Harbour, one of only three glacial fjords in Ireland, but I decided I’d already had enough hiking in the sun for one day and K didn’t want to hike up a mountain, so we split up. Jan stayed with us girls, which surprised me as I thought he would have wanted to hike…
We parked the care in Leenaun (also known as Leenane), a village on the shore of Killary Harbour.

The harbour
The harbour – see, I told you there was sun that day!

We had parked the car in the carpark of a hotel (with permission!) and decided to go inside the hotel for a cup of tea. We were told we could sit in the loungee (I wish I’d taken a photo… comfy sofas, old books and a real fireplace!!) and she brough our tea to us… with biscuits! Hob Nobs and Chocolate Digestives! So much better than more hiking! It was nice to just sit, have a cup of tea and chat for a while… and the tea ended up being surprisingly cheap as well! So if you’re in the area and fancy a cuppa, Leenane Hotel is the place to go! (Don’t ask me if the hotel part is any good though… we were only in the lounge!).

Once the rest of our party came back, we drove around for a while trying to get to the shore of a lake but only ending up in the driveways of farmhouses, which I found highl entertaining, so eventually we gave up and drove back to Galway. We parked in the town centre again and went in search of food, deciding that as it was pretty much the end of the holiday we would splurge a bit and pick a decet restaurant. We ended up at a place called Ard Bia on Nimmo’s Pier, where we were very lucky to get a place – they said the table was actually reserved that evening but if we could finish our meal in 40 minutes we were welcome to use it until the next group came.

I LOVED the decor… such cute jugs for the flowers, and all the adorable teapots everywhere…

Ard Bia table decorations
Ard Bia table decorations
Teapots at Ard Bia
Teapots at Ard Bia

The food was also really good. I had a starter of courgette and warm haloumi salad, which came with the most delicious bread:

Halloumi and courgette salad
Halloumi and courgette salad

Then I ordered lamb for main, while Jan went for the sea trout. There was a bit of a mix-up with the mains, with the wiatress having written down 3 trout and two lamb rather than vice versa, so my meal was a little late coming. The waitress came over and apologised profusely though, and was so, so nice that I didn’t mind the wait. I forgot to take a photo of my lamb, so here’s one of Jan’s fish instead:

Sea trout
Sea trout

For desert, I had lemon posset topped with raspberries and strawberries. Even though I was technically full, this stuff was so smooth is just slid down my throat. Sooooooooooo tasty! I also tried a bit of K’s raspberry and rose sorbet, which was OMG amazing!! Droooool! This is my dessert:

Lemon posset
Lemon posset

We finished just in time! The people who had reserved our table were just arriving as we paid the bill.
Aaand that was our final night in Galway! We were all too full to even think about fitting any drinks in, so instead we picked up the car and drove to Tesco, which is where I went shopping for the stash I showed you in a previous post.

The next day, we drove back to Dublin to drop the car of and then had one final night in Ireland before flying home… but that’s a story for my next blog post.

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!

Things I learned over the weekend

  • This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.
    Lemons… becasue Zemanta has no pictures of Lemsip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    I am not as unfit as I think I am! And I can walk up hills if I have to.

  • If you go hiking with a blocked nose, after a while it will start to run instead.
  • However, within a couple of hours of returning from the hike, your cold will return with a vengeance.
  • Lemsip is amazing!! Actually, I knew that already but it bears repeating.
  • The pain from blisters is much worse than post-hike muscle ache!
  • Chocolate and cherry brownies are DELICIOUS! (Recipe to come)
  • The people I come in to contact with have no idea how I feel when meeting new people. Which I guess means I do a good enough job of acting “normal” (whatever that is…).

I have to go to the Irish pub now to see the owner – he asked us to come in some time this week, I assume to get some Ireland tips – so that’s all you’re getting today. Next post will be longer, promise!

Baden-Baden Panoramaweg

View from the old castle, Baden-Baden
View from the old castle, Baden-Baden

It seems like we’re going to be doing a lot of hiking during our trip to Ireland, so yesterday Jan and I decided to get a short practice hike in before we leave. However, Jan also wanted to be back in time to watch the Champion’s League final in football, so we needed to pick somewhere fairly close. Being only about a 30 minute drive from Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden seemed like the perfect choice.

I’ve been to Baden-Baden a few times before, sometimes for events (I saw the musical Evita there), occasionally passing through to catch a flight (Karlsruhe-Baden Airpark is around 12 km west of Baden-Baden) and once, while I was a language assistant, all the teachers went on a daytrip to Baden-Baden, taking in the old castle ruins (pictured above) and an exhibition of Marc Chagall’s work at the Frieder Burda Museum.

The Evangelische Stadtkirche, with a fountain in front of it
The Evangelische Stadtkirche, with a fountain in front of it

For our hike, we decided to do part of the Panoramaweg (Panorama Route) – a hiking trail that goes all the way around the town of Baden-Baden and down into the Geroldauer Tal (valley). It was “Trail of the Year” in 2004 and is considered to be one of the finest footpaths in Germany.  The entire route is 42 km, but for those who don’t have 10-12 hours to spare (or just aren’t fit enough… the latter would be me!!), it’s subdivided into 5 different stretches. You can see the entire route here: http://www.naturparkscout.de/mapbender/frames/index.php?PHPSESSID=26c33f0978997e0137d85ee9839fe707&gui_id=npscout_schwarzwald_public

The individual sub-rotes are:

1. Bernharduskirche – valley station of the Merkurbergbahn funicular railway, 6 Kilometer
2. Merkurbergbahn valley station – Forellenhof / Fischkultur, 8 Kilometer
3. Forellenhof / Fischkultur – Waldparkplatz (forest car park) Malschbach, 10 Kilometer
4. Waldparkplatz Malschbach – Tiergarten, 13 Kilometer
5. Tiergarten – Bernharduskirche, 5 Kilometer

We did roughly the last 3 stretches, although we didn’t actually start at the Forellenhof.

From Karlsruhe, we took the train to Baden-Baden – it was an IRE (Interregio Express), so Baden-Baden was the second stop. From there, we took a bus to Lichtental (see the map I linked to above). It should have been Oberbeueren, but for some reason the bus we took ended at Lichtental so we began our hike there, walking through Lichtental (a district of Baden-Baden) until we found the first sign directing us on to the Panoramaweg.

This way to the Panoramaweg!
This way to the Panoramaweg!

As you can see, the sun was shining, for the first time all week! I was expecting to have to hike in the rain (which admittedly may have been good practice for Ireland!) but we got lucky. About two hours before we finished our hike, it started raining a little, but it stopped after around 20 minutes. Despite the sunshine, it wasn’t the warmest of days (highs of around 12°C), but to be honest I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any warmer! All that exercise generates enough heat of its own…

Oberbeuern and a lot of trees
Oberbeuern and a lot of trees

Most of the route takes you through the woods, occasionally guiding you through a field or a small village.

In the woods
In the woods

The first leg of our hike took us in a circle around Oberbeuern and down into the Geroldsauer Valley, with its gorge, stream and waterfall.

Geroldsau
Geroldsau
Down by the Grobbach stream
Down by the Grobbach stream
The Grobbach
The Grobbach
Geroldsau Waterfall
Geroldsau Waterfall

The waterfall is 9 metres high and looked very pretty with the sun shining on the top of it.

After viewing the waterfall, the route took us through part of Geroldsau, up the hill and back into the woods. A short time later, we reached the Malschbach carpark – part one of the hike done!

Looking down on Geroldsau
Looking down on Geroldsau

Back in the woods, we sptted this pretty looking bird. Anyone know what it is? We didn’t! (Click on the photo for a bigger version if you can’t see the bird among the leaves)

Pretty bird
Pretty bird

The next point of interest was the Louisfelsenhütte – a hut on the Louisfelse, a Felse being a crag and Louis presumably the person said crag was named after.

Louisfelsenhütte
Louisfelsenhütte

I love the slightly overgrown stone steps leading up the the hut! From the top, we had a really nice view of Baden-Baden. This was about 5 minutes before the rain started, so the sky is rather more grey than in previous photos…

Looking down on Baden-Baden
Looking down on Baden-Baden

Three hours later, we were finally back to civilisation!

Welcome to Baden Baden!
Welcome to Baden Baden!

From there, it wasn’t far to our final destination, the Bernharduskirche.

Hurray, we made it!
Hurray, we made it!

From there, it was just a short bus ride back to the train station, with aching legs but a real sense of achievement!

All in all, we walked 27 km (roughly 17 miles) and were on the trail for 7 and a half hours. If Jan’s GPS tracker is to be trusted, 4 of those hours we spent actually on the move, while the rest was stopping to take photos, look at butterflies and eat muesli bars.

The entire route is excellently sign posted, making it almost impossible to get lost. Just look out for the green circles:

Look out for this symbol
Look out for this symbol

Where there’s a fork in the road, the sign also has a little black arrow in the bottom corner telling you where you need to go. And if it’s really confusing, a few metres further along, another green circle lets you know that you did take the right path.

All the start and end points of the individual sub-trails can easily be reached by public transport (if it had been raining heavily, we could have stopped after the first 11 km and taken a bus back to town from the Malschbach carpark). Facilities are hard to come by along the route (although there would have been a small restaurant close to the waterfall), so if you’re squeamish about peeing in the woods, make sure you go before you leave! Decent, waterproof shoes are a must – especially if it’s rained recently (some parts of the trail were very muddy!) And remember, no matter how much your muscles are aching, unless you’ve actually injured yourself, you can keep on walking if you have to! Personally, I would have liked to stop at least an hour before we actually did, but with no choice but to continue, I kept placing one foot in front of the other and surprised myself by making it all the way back to the church. Today, I’m aching all over and walking like an old woman, but it was definitely worth it! Gap of Dunloe, here we come!