- Temple Bar Pub in Temple Bar area with live music and Guinness beer;
- Getting lost on the South Circular Road amongst houses with colourful doors;
- The view from the Gravity Bar of Guinness Storehouse;
- Wandering the world of the Vikings and the Medieval era inhabitants of Dublin in Dublinia;
- Leprechauns and fairies stories in Leprechauns Museum;
- Whisky tasting in Jameson Distillery;
- The Emerald green you find all around Dublin and especially the Aran wool knitted clothing;
- The Double Decker buses;
- O’Neill’s Pub and their big plates of Irish food;
- El Bahia restaurant near Grafton Street.
“I’ve been a wild rover for many a year /And I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,/And now I’m returning with gold in great store/ And I never will play the wild rover no more/And it’s no, nay, never,/No nay never no more,/Will I play the wild rover/No never no more.”, the Dubliners sing this so well with that typical Irish accent https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJwC9jPhuY4 to make one sit for just one more beer and one more gossip with friends in one of those traditional pubs spread all across Dublin.
Founded as a Viking settlement Dublin is the capital of the Emerald Isle better known as Ireland or the place of the green Shamrock, leprechauns, Irish Gaelic language, Irish music, pubs, Guinness beer, incredible landscapes and for us, Romanians, the home of Bram Stoker that guy that wrote Count Dracula and made us famous without even visiting our country. Ah yes, and the place of redheads…although statistics say only 9% of the Irish population are natural redheads :p.
Arseways, too much talking let’s carry on with the trip.
What we did
Temple Bar and Trinity College
The lively part of Dublin resides in the areas of College Green and Temple Bar. Pubs, restaurants, museums, shops, souvenirs, the Irish House of Parliament, Trinity College, the loved Temple Bar Pub with live music, Auld Dubliner, O’Neill’s with their huge plates of Irish food, Quay Pub and so many more.
The seat of UK’s administration in Ireland until 1922 is considered now a major Irish government complex. Not too many rooms but stylishly decorated and if you add the Christmas trees magic it’s worth a visit. Not to mention that is also a filming venue including for the Tudors (if you guys are fans).
I’m sure you all know Guinness beer with that brown colour and distinct burnt flavour. Well, the father of Guinness beer, Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin. Today over 850 million litres of Guinness are sold annually and the beer is brewed in almost 60 countries.
The Storehouse that used to be a fermentation plant for Guinness covers seven floors surrounding a glass atrium shaped in the form of a pint of Guinness and takes visitors through the history of Guinness; you even get to pour your own Guinness and have a free glass in the Gravity Bar with view over Dublin. Ah, not to forget, the lease for St. James Gate Brewery (where Guinness Storehouse is also located) was signed by Arthur Guinness himself for a period of 9,000 years for an annual rent of £45. What a visionary right?
Dublinia and Christ Church
Dublinia recreates life in Dublin in the Viking and Medieval period. It takes visitors to a cruise around Viking houses and day-to-day life, medieval fairs, warfare, crime and punishment, disease and primitive cures. It is interactive and educative with all types of games and questions to make the visit more fun.
Christ Church Cathedral built sometime around 1028 well renovated with a welcoming interior and an underground opened for visits. It is also famous for its choir.
Old Jameson Distillery
The Old Jameson Distillery is the original site where Jameson Irish Whiskey was distilled until 1971. John Jameson, a Scottish lawyer, and his son (also John Jameson) started the history of Jameson Whisky in 1810 after taking over ownership of the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin from his wife’s cousins. By 1866 the Jameson Distillery was so spread that it was called a “city within the city”.
Old Jameson Distillery will offer an inside story on how whisky is made and finish with a whisky tasting session.
A leprechaun is a type of fairy in Irish folklore. Leprechauns are one third the size of a usual man, wear a beard, coat and hat, they are solitary creatures spending their time making and mending shoes for fairies and hiding their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Walt Disney seems to be responsible for the green colour of today’s leprechaun’s costume (earlier it was brown) when he dressed their king in green to distinguish him from the rest in “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. Incidentally the same movie released in 1959 brought Sean Connery the role in James Bond – small world.
Where we ate
We tried to experience a variety of place while in Dublin so we went eating Irish food, Spanish food, Moroccan food. Our favourite places for eating where Boxty House, El Bahia and Auld Dubliner. For more details on where and what we ate click here.
Where we stayed
We stayed in two places in Dublin since we split our trip with a 2 days trip to Belfast. First hotel was Arlington O’Connell Bridge (www.arlington.ie/ ) – well located right across Temple Bar and near the Connelly Train Station, spacious room, clean. The second hotel was Maldron Hotel on Pearse Street (www.maldronhotels.com )– although is more near the Docklands and is a 15 minutes walk to Trinity Street there are busses to take you straight to Trinity College, the rooms are very spacious and recently renovated and there’s a supermarket 1 minute away opened until late.
What we think about the Irish
We felt the Irish as being nice people thanking the bus driver, handsome, most of them young (maybe this is why statistics say 50% of the Dubliners are under 30), most of the time surrounded by friends or family, proud of their roots, beer funs enjoying a good time in their traditional pubs singing out loud to Irish traditional folk, rather smiley shinny people despite or the rainy all year long weather.
Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Dublin.
Click here for our Top 10 experiences in Dublin.
For more photos of Dublin just click here for our Facebook page.
You are standing on the shore of a canal surrounded by medieval buildings all brown stone and red painted window frames, the May sun is warming you up and it smells like spring, there are yellow flowers in pots around you on walls and wood fences, you can hear the distinct sound of horses on the cobblestone streets around and the engine of the boat getting closer and closer to the shore. Are you ready to board a trip through fairytale land?
Where are we going?
There’s this magic place in Northwest Belgium with not more than 120k inhabitants which is said to have been founded in the 9th century by the Vikings and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site with medieval buildings, romantic canals, cobblestone streets, beer, lace and swans. The place is Bruges and the name might very well derive from the old-Scandinavian word “Brygga” which means “harbour, or mooring place”. Curious? Than just sit down in the boat and let’s get lost In Bruges.
What to do
Markt and Burg
Markt and Burg are the most important squares in Bruges. Markt is located in the heart of the city and is a large square surrounded by historical buildings like the Belfry Tower (83 meter high) and Provincial Court and medieval looking houses (many of the houses are just modern reconstructions of the medieval styles).
The Markt was freed from traffic in 1996 and is the place where the carriage rides around Bruges also start.
If Markt was the commercial heart of medieval Bruges Burg was the administrative heart. The Burg square is the house of the Town Hall (House de Ville) and of the Chapel of the Holy Blood. The last one seems to be the more famous one being the house of the bottle of rock crystal containing Christ’s blood and the place of the yearly Procession of the Holy Blood.
If you are taking a train to Bruges what you will most likely notice first while walking towards the city centre is Minnewater or the lake of love (the Dutch word “Minne” meaning love). Minnewater is a canalized lake with plenty of swans. The legend says that in 1488 the people of Bruges had executed one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria called Pieter Lanchals (long neck). Maximilian punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep swans on their lakes and canals till eternity.
Right there next to Minnewater lies Beguinage De Wijngaard (the Vineyard). A group of houses around a garden with large trees and flowers which became a monastery and the home for the Benedictine sisters since 1937 until today.
In the 13th century a mystical form of religion was born as reaction to the growing material and formal aspirations of the regular clergy, one that apostle poverty, simplicity and preaching. The female followers of such movement were tolerated in the form of the Beguine movement and were allowed to live in separate parts of the cities called Beguinages. The beguines lived like regular nuns but with less stringent vows than the regular ones. Although most of them made the vows of obedience and chastity they did not make the vow of poverty and they could break their vows at any time and leave the beguine community.
In the Middle Ages, the canals in Bruges were used by ships to deliver goods to the city and to take exports from local merchants. Today the canals are exclusively used for tourist boats. There are five families that are allowed to organize tourist boat rides on the canals with 4 boats for each family. The boat ride takes around 30 minutes and offers a great view of the city, with medieval buildings on the shores, small bridges, nice gardens and swans swimming all around.
Central Bruges has a couple of shops where you can rent a bike for an hour or more to wander around the city. If you have more time and you start in the morning you can even take a bicycle and ride to the windmills, the nearby Flemish countryside, the North Sea or even go to the Netherlands. We choose the streets and parks of Bruges and it was all worth it. For the trip from Bruges to the Netherlands check out the stories from Avem Diacritice.
The streets of Bruges have plenty to offer. From small hidden streets along canals, to private gardens along the shores, medieval look like houses..
colourful doors, souvenir shops, lace shops, parks with colourful tulips and open air concerts, carriage rides, windmills…
Where to crush
We stayed in Lybeer Hostel Bruges just 10 minutes away from the city centre and easy to reach from the train station. Great private room with private bathroom, good prices and very nice staff. The hostel has also a shared area downstairs with a bar and a piano.
What are people in Bruges famous for?
The Bobbin Lace, a very expensive type of lace to make, is a speciality of Bruges and is a technique that requires that each thread is wound around a separate wooden bobbins. Lacemaking is an industry which nowadays employs in Belgium about one thousand lace works, all of them ladies aged between fifty and ninety years of age.
Click here for our Top 10 experiences in Bruges.
For more photos from Bruges just click here for our Facebook page.
For what to experience in the close neighbouring city of Brussels, waffles, frites and Belgian beer check out our post on What do Manneken Pis, exquisite chocolates, French fries, dark beer and BDs have in common?
Top 10 Bruges
- Charming houses and colourful doors;
- Canal rides;
- Bicycle rides on the streets of Bruges;
- Belgian beer;
- Chocolate and bananas Belgian waffles;
- Breakfast time in a restaurant in Markt;
- Minnewater and especially the swans;
- Open air concerts in a park in Bruges;
- Chilling beside the windmills.
There is water and vegetation everywhere the eye can see. The boat moves further and further into the heart of Tonlé Sap Lake towards the floating villages carrying with it our curiosity for life on water and flashbacks of the troubled Vietnamese and Cambodian history.
Tonlé Sap lake is definitely special; it is not only the largest fresh water in South East Asia with a flow changing its direction twice a year but is also home to many ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities living in floating villages around the lake. More than 3 million people live around the bank of the lake 90% of which earn their living through fish catching and agriculture.
The village we are in is home to 1,280 people most of which live under the poverty limit. The floating houses are small usually with one or two rooms. Three rooms are an exception. Bamboo pillars support the floating houses and make it easy for the house to be moved from one area to another during the rainy season.
There is a sense of community in the floating villages. You can find the usual Asian floating markets with boats going from one house to the other carrying all types of supplies for the people in the floating houses, small floating shops, floating Catholic church, floating school and some bigger platforms with serving tables and snacks for the tourists. Although some floating houses are connected to electricity most of them have no electricity and use power batteries. You can even find floating platforms to charge batteries.
People on the lake usually don’t pay taxes and eat what they can catch or grow. Crocodile and fish industry is developing as the people raise them around the floating houses to make money to survive. Tourist scams are also a way of making money.
The water in the lake is used for drinking and cooking as well as for washing or sewage. Bottled water is a luxury.
Life expectancy on the lake is short; 54 years or so. There is no doctor in the floating villages and only very limite medical care. Child birth is high but more than 12% of the children die before the age of 5 and many of them drown afterwards on their way to school when their small row boats capsize.
Moving to the city is hard if not close to impossible since this people lack money or even citizenship to allow them to be properly integrated into society. Most of the people in the floating villages are stateless Vietnamese with no papers to account for their names or their origins. Targets of mass genocide during the Khmer Republic and Khmer Rouge governments like so many other Cambodian people, expelled from the country in the 1970s just to later return to a home that no longer had room for them, the story of the people around the Tonlé Sap Lake is not an easy one.
Sitting on the terrace of one of the floating houses tasting for the first time snake soup two small boys approach us to show off with their plastic toy guns. Innocent, playful and full of life just like the kids back home. Just that these ones live on small boat houses, learn how to row a boat before learning how to write, have no drinkable water or medical care, have crocodiles as house pets and are destined to live a nomad life floating on water.
As our boat takes us into the sunset to Siem Reap leaving behind the floating villages we carry with us the small happy faces of the two little boys. We repeat in our minds that less is more, we dream of better times for these kids and pray for the lake to keep them safe and their inner happiness to provide shelter in the darkest of the storms.
More picture from Cambodia on our Facebook page.
More on the history of the Vietnamese Cambodian people in this touching article Hope Floats.
“You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win”. This is what Ho Chi Minh was saying to the French in the late 1940s.
It was our first day in Ho Chi Minh City (better known to us as Saigon) and we were off to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were located some 65 km away from Ho Chi Minh City and their construction started somewhere in the late 1940s during the war against the French. The tunnels were dug by hand or with rudimentary tools and were gradually expanded by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong troops (supporters of the communists in South Vietnam) in the early 1960s as the United States increased their presence in Vietnam. It is said that the tunnels had around 250 km running from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border.
The tunnels were divided in 3 levels going up to 12 meters in the underground. Some complexes had even four different levels with secret trapdoors separating them. The different levels held headquarters, kitchens, storage areas, living areas, hospitals, meeting rooms, rooms for making weapons or traps.
Hospitals were actually small spaces (the size of half a room in a flat) were wounds were treated superficially due to the lack of medicines and proper operating areas. In the sleeping areas people were usually sleeping in hammocks to avoid the humid and warm soil and the vibrations from the continuous bombing. In the kitchens meat and vegetables were cooked; most often, due to the lack of food, people in the tunnels were eating tapioca (sweet potato) which was nourishing and easy to cook. The air in the kitchen was taken out through special air tunnels meters away from the actual kitchen in order to lead the enemy away from the actual tunnel entrances.
An old Vietnamese adage says: “When the enemy is at the gate, the woman goes out fighting”. We learn from our guide that women were of crucial importance to the war. In the tunnels women were mainly in charge with cooking, preparing the maps of the tunnels and guiding the fighters. Outside the tunnels they were fighting alongside men. During the war women learned to fire weapons, lay traps, serve as village patrol guards and intelligence agents, recruit people or keep the supply lines flowing.
While visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels we got to go through the small entrance doors of the tunnels (spider wholes), squeezed through 20 meters of dark, humid and warm tunnel, visited hospital rooms, meetings rooms, eating areas, were presented with all kinds of traps and fired guns with live ammunition in the firing area; all this with a sound of automatic guns and bombs around.
The tunnels that are part of the visit were enlarged to fit the tourist; the initially tunnels and entrance doors were smaller since the Vietnamese people could easily fit whilst the enemy could get stuck. Tunnels were so small that they only went one way; once you were in the tunnel you couldn’t go back just straight up to the next door or level.
The Cu Chi tunnels did not go unnoticed by the United States. Several major campaigns were launched to search out and destroy the tunnel system of the Viet Cong including dropping bombs, flushing the entrance of the tunnels with gas, water or hot tar, tossing grenades down the holes to crimp the opening, training the so called Tunnel Rats to enter the tunnels and fight inside. Towards the end of the war the tunnels were so heavily bombed that became hard to use. But by that time they have served their purpose – that of protecting the North Vietnamese units and allowing them more time to fight, prolonging the war and increasing the American costs and casualties until their withdrawal towards 1975. It is said that around 45,000 people died defending the tunnels.
As we are driving away from Cu Chi tunnels I can’t stop thinking of those times of war that we had a glimpse of and the strength a person has to have to fight a war, to protect his/her family, to survive while leaving underground for weeks or months at a time of non-stop bombing and countless deaths of close ones. Maybe it all comes down to what you believe you can do and how long you can keep the hope alive. Ho Chi Minh warned that if the Americans “want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea”. Incidentally, the Vietnam War lasted for 19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day.
You can read more technicalities about the Cu Chi Tunnels here http://web.mst.edu/~rogersda/umrcourses/ge342/Cu%20Chi%20Tunnels-revised.pdf
You can find here our Tips & Tricks.
When visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels keep in mind some tips from our own experiences. As always, feel free to jump in and add any advice to the below:
- wear clothes and shoes that are appropriate for walking on soil and knelling through the tunnels;
- before going inside the spider wholes estimate whether you can actually fit and be prepared to use some strength to push yourself up when is time to go out;
- if you have difficulties with closed or dark places skip the spider wholes and the tunnel walk; tunnels are dark, narrow, not that high and warm;
- choose carefully the length you want to visit in the tunnels; we went inside the tunnels for about 20 meters and exited (there are exits along the tunnel); the part we did was narrow but you only had to kneel to be able to walk through the tunnel; other parts of the tunnel require you to actually crawl in order to be able to advance and there is no turning back once you entered the tunnel;
- although we couldn’t say we would try this again, consider trying the firing area for the experience; it was our first time firing a gun and we tried the M-16; the firing area is noisy (even with the protective earphones), no explanations are provided just a man putting it’s hand behind your shoulder and screaming “fire”; it’s all done in less than 30 seconds but the experience it’s sure to stick with you forever;
- try the tapioca (sweet potato); we loved it.
Fact: the largest kite ever flown is 25,475 m long and 40 m wide. Curiosity: there is at least one Kite Festival every weekend of the year in some part of the world.
First day in Jaipur at the end of 2014 started with my first experience of flying kites.
Up we were on the rooftop of my friends’ home which happened to be also the tallest house in the neighborhood. There is no age or gender for flying kites; everyone can do it. And on that particular sunny Sunday of the last week of December the entire neighborhood was out on the rooftops; parents, grandparents, children relaxing in the sun, watching the kites or indulging in the game of flying kites.
It was a good time to practice for the biggest Kite Festival in Jaipur happening on 14 January. On the Festival of Mankar Sankranti the Pink City turns all colorful with beautiful kites in the sky and people pray to the sun god to bless them with good health, wealth and good crops. Before the Kite Festival the market place of Jaipur is filled with kite makers and sellers. The kites are available and named according to different colors and size some of the common names being aadi, guddi, tukkal, addha, pauna, panni, etc.
Kites of all colors and shapes were flying all around (even kites with Bollywood actors J) while everyone was trying to catch the kites around his/her kite. My friends tell me that the point of the game is too fly your kite and cut the kites of the others around and catch them. Whoever cuts the kite of another has the right to take the cut kite. But see, here is another trick, you have to be able to reach the kite that you cut. You can see kids running around the houses picking-up the fallen kites or even people on rooftops with eagle eyes spotting the thread of the cut kite and just catching the kite either by hand or by using a wooden pole.
Hmmm…now I wanted to get into this game and learn how to play right? The kites we were flying were the size of 2 A4 papers. The thread holding the kite is rolled on a wooden spool with handles on both sides. What you have to do? Pull the thread to one side or the other, roll it on the wooden spool or unroll it and just direct your kite up in the sky. All of this while paying attention to the other kites around you not to cut your kite and trying (of course J) to cut the kites of the others.
I have to admit I am still very much of a beginner at flying kites but damn it was so fun. And watching a colorful sky makes a perfect day of any day.
More kites facts:
- the traditions of kite flying in Jaipur seem to date back to the times of Maharaja Ram Singh II (1835 – 1880), who was an ardent lover of flying kites;
- the thread used for flying kites is known as “Manja” which is rolled into a wooden spool with handles on both sides called “Charkhi”; the thread is made of fine cotton which is then sharpened using very fine grinned glass powder coating, colors and chemicals;
- the thread of the kites is actually very dangerous as it can easily slit even the neck of a person; birds are injured and sometimes even people if not enough attention is paid while flying kites;
- there is a variety of kites or all colors, shapes and sizes; we’ve seen small kites in Jaipur and huge kites in Bali; just google Kite Festival if you are curious to see some designs; we promise you will be amazed by the imagination used to make kites;
- more adults in the world fly kites than children;
- large kites were banned in East Germany because of the possibility of man lifting over the Berlin Wall;
- the world record for the longest ‘kite fly’ is 180 hours;
- some Japanese kites weigh over 2 tons.
“Everybody stand up!!!!” Horace is screaming with a happy face while our boat is running down the Ayung River in Bali, Indonesia. Stones and water and an inflatable boat jumping here and there. This would be the right time to feel kind of scared. But we don’t; the adrenaline is rushing through our veins and we stand up with our paddles in the air screaming and laughing. We are wet to our bones, the hot sun is up in the sky, we have no idea where the boat will take us but we don’t care we just go with the flow.
One of the attractions of Bali is water sports and one of the water sports we decided to try for the first time while in Bali was water rafting. Packed in a car we are driven to the meeting point somewhere in a village near Ubud. Hidden by all these vegetation there’s a small reception where we pay for the ride, we get equipped with lifejackets, helmets and paddles and we are ready.
The water rafting experience starts with a series of stairs going down to the shore of Ayung River. Our guide/boat leader is named Horace. A bit shorter than us, with one of those smiles where one shows all his/her teeth, talkative and in a joking mood we know from the start this will be a fun ride.
The training takes less than 5 minutes during which Horace explains the forward and backward paddling, “bum bum” and how to take a person out of the water and back in the boat (if need arises, of course). Now I am sure you guys want to know what’s a “bum bum” right? As Horace said when we hear the words we should stop paddling, keep our paddles vertical and lean in front. Easy right? Now, if one of us is to fall over the others should pull the poor bastard back in the boat not by taking the person by the hand, hair, neck or [you feel in the blanks :p] but by the lifejacket.
Once the training is done we push the boat in the water, jump in and off we go. The ride is smooth at the beginning and starts to get bumpier on some sectors with the boat twisting and turning and hitting rocks on the way. On both sides there’s an impressive view with trees, rocks, vegetation, luxurious hotels.
Horace is making jokes, laughing and in the same time directing us. We can hear a combination of backward, forward, backward, backward, bum-bum, forward, bum-bum, everybody stand up and we paddle and stand up and paddle and paddle and stand up. At some point we even teach Horace how to say forward in Romanian “înainte” so the screaming gains a new word familiar to us “înainte”.
As we move forward on the river we are getting better and better at paddling and the boat slides through the rocks. When we get stuck Horace instructs us to slide on our seats but Phillipe (the Belgian guy with us on the boat) jumps instead of sliding and brings more laughter in the boat.
Midway into the boat ride we stop on a small shore together with other boats for beer and for the most courageous jumping from a cliff. Of course my courageous Gabi is jumping into the water while I enjoy my beer and click pictures.
The ride starts again and we paddle as we sing a Romanian song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WhrWZ1jeD8) and Phillipe sings a Belgium song. Once we reach a waterfall we are meeting up with another boat with some other tourists. We all jump in the water and enjoy a bath under the waterfall with lifejackets and helmets and clothes on.
And we are back in the boat and we paddle and gossip and paddle and laugh and paddle some more. After about 1:30 – 2 hours we reach the end point of our boat ride. We feel like we want more. As we walk up and more up on the stairs we are surrounded by impressive views and we can still feel the rush of adrenaline in our veins and the words of Horace “Everybody stand up!”.
For Tips & Tricks on water rafting in Bali click here Tips&Tricks water rafting Bali.
Below are some tips from our own experience water rafting on Ayung River. Feel free to jump in and add any advice to the below :p:
- we paid around 35 USD per person for the ride (possible to find even lower prices); this price included a person picking us up from the hotel and back, the boat ride and something to eat after the boat ride; beer is available for buying during the boat ride at a stop on the way and at the end of the boat ride;
- you can take a shower at the end of the boat ride; they give you a towel or you can bring your own;
- wear a bathing suit and some comfortable clothes like short pants and a t-shirt; you will get wet, very wet;
- flip flops are a good choice; in the boat you will be barefoot and your shoes (or flip flops :p) will go into the bag of the boat leader;
- phones, cameras, money – take as less as possible; whatever you carry will go into the waterproof bag of the boat leader; you can’t keep it with you in the boat since you will get wet – yeah we said that before :);
- we took pictures and filmed with a GoPro camera;
- listen carefully to the instructions of the boat leader/guide and do as he says during your trip if you want to have a safe ride;
- go with the flow, be carried away, enjoy the ride!