When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. ~Susan Heller

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I read many travel quotes looking for a suitable opening to my blog. A line or two that would aptly describe my penchant for (mostly European) travel.  There were some extremely interesting and thought-provoking quotes although none really described my thoughts or feelings. That was until I came across the above quotation  by Susan Heller.  I follow the words of the quote to the letter, I lay out clothing, toiletries, shoes, pack and unpack several times yet still manage to have my luggage right on the baggage limit at the airport weigh in counter.  As my favourite pastimes are travel and shopping weighing in at the limit before I leave home is a very frustrating indeed.

This blog is about my travels, it may touch on shopping, on the odd occasion, but will mainly document my travel as I work my way through my bucket list (more like a my barrel list), I have kept family and friends entertained and informed through email on my various trips over the past 12 years and felt that a blog was the next level.  Time to step up my technical ability, it’s also easier to keep everyone informed with a blog, no more long email lists, less chance of forgetting to add my sister or a  friend to an email list.  Although given it’s up to me to grant access there’s still potential for upsetting someone!!!!

Enough prattle it’s time to let the journey begin……….

RCA Studio B, Ryman, a Smash Hit but no Line Dancing in Nashville.

On our last day in New York we picked up our rental car for the next part of our trip. A little shock was in store for us, we knew about the cost of the one way rental (pick NY drop off LA) and accepted that. However, neither of us were aware we may be charged a pricey sum for an auto toll tag in the car. No information existed on the company’s website that we rented the car through either. It listed all sorts of other things but not the toll tag – the previous car we rented from another company didn’t charge, or ask if we wanted, any toll tag. We’ve hired cars in US for long drives and never been charged for tolls in advance like this. It’s a rort, another way to fleece unsuspecting foreign drivers. Of course it was easy to find articles on this practise after the event, which I did, and found car rental companies charge this at different daily rates but their desk staff don’t ask you if you would like to opt out. I found an article on line when Ty showed me the updated contract and the charge that Dollar Car Rental company applied. This article, although helpful, was too late for us. Lesson learned and anyone reading this thinking about a long drive through several States of US in a hire car should ask the question of their car rental company and then do as the article suggested – purchase your own tag when you arrive in the States. Given the small number of toll roads we travelled on we would have saved several hundred dollars having our own tag.

Anyway, that’s my lesson for the day! Much more fun things to talk about than Dollar Rental Car.

The drive from New York to Nashville was just over 13 hours drive so we decide to do it in two stints…Ty would have driven straight through in a day but I wasn’t sharing the driving……when I’d say I’ll do some driving to give you a break….I’d receive the same reply ‘ “I find driving relaxing so you just sit back and watch the scenery” so I am the fidgety passenger/photographer on our trip. I’ve become quite adept at taking photos without blur at 60 or more mph (yes, mph not kph for my Aus/Europe readers).

After driving 8 hours we turned off the Interstate to find accommodation in a town called Roanoke/Hollis. Nowadays we will look for a Hampton Inn when taking an overnight break. Why? Not because other brands are not up to standard (most are) but we know what to expect from the Hampton Inns. Settled into our room it was time to find somewhere for dinner. This town was quite large which meant we had a number of options. We drove around the main street to find something that interested us and we came across a seafood restaurant…..the Harbor Inn. The place was very busy which, to me, is always a good sign. The waitress gave us the menus which had a large number of choices. As always I wanted a small meal, I don’t eat much, so I thought the fish with shrimp would be a good choice. Ty ordered the same. This dish turned out not to be a good choice…..the plate was overflowing and the shrimp was piled high! The fish and the shrimp were both very good but so much of it….we should’ve shared. In fact four of us could have shared one plate. Also on our plate we’re a couple of items they called ‘hush puppies’. Ty really liked them, I reserve my decision.

We asked the waitress why they’re called ‘hush puppies’ and an elderly gentleman at the table in front turned to face us and explained why. Below is his explanation:

” Many years ago Southern women cooked outside where the hunting dogs sat, so they rolled up cornmeal, fried it then threw it to the hunting dogs to keep them quite whilst they cooked”. He didn’t tell me how these ‘hush puppies’ transitioned to become a side dish for humans. Personally, to me, they looked like little frankfurts in shape (not colour) or the little packages of drugs couriers tend to swallow…..you know…the ones they show on those customs airport shows!

Anyway, time to move on….I won’t mention the interesting people having dinner in the restaurant or some different styles of dress…only to say. In my opinion, knee length multi coloured striped socks don’t look good with sandals and shorts on a very thin 60 something waitress.

Before reaching Nashville we needed fuel so we turned off the Interstate and drove into town called Bristol. The were signs welcoming the motor vehicle enthusiasts. I asked Ty what this was about and he looked at the signs and banners then said ‘Bristol Motor Speedway must be on this weekend’. He was more than a little disappointed because if he had known we would have added this to our trip. I had told him to check if any speedways were on through our trip….he hadn’t and we already had tickets to the NFL.

We arrived at the Clarion Hotel Nashville a couple of hours before the NFL pre season game between Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots. Not enough time to unpack and go across to The Broadway. It had been tough trying to decide the best accommodation for us in Nashville. There are any number of hotels to choose from but we had a few factors to consider: cleanliness, ambiance, price of accommodation, cost of parking for 4 nights, being too close to Broadway would be too noisy – till at least 2am, ability to walk back to hotel when shuttle ceases daily operation and reviews. We’ve stayed in Nashville previously and chose a hotel close to Grand Ole Opry…even though it offered a shuttle service to the main streets of Nashville we found it quite restrictive and the hotel was too far from the ‘action’.

The Clarion is across the river from the ‘action’ but not far enough to be hard to get to. The hotel appeared to be quite new, the rooms were a very good size, staff fabulous and the bar area was a great place to meet fellow travellers. A very bright, airy hotel. The hotel is 10-15 minutes walk to the Titans Stadium…so very popular for game days!

Ty likes baseball (Yankees) and NFL games so, a couple of months ago, I checked to see if any games were on anywhere we would be…..found a pre season night game between Titans and Patriots for the day we arrived in Nashville. I’d seen a few snippets of NFL games and didn’t understand it at all but, couldn’t work out why the teams moved their players on and off the field throughout the game! I had heard of the Patriots and Tom Brady. So we booked tickets for the game and were very happy when we found we didn’t have to drive and find parking to the match.

Before the match we had a drink at the hotel bar and met Patriot supporters and Titans supporters…all seemed to agree the Patriots would win. They did and, do I know more about NFL now? Yes, I do …. they have an offence and defence section and specialists too. By the last quarter I had a handle on the game! Of course, people did say the pre season games are not the best to see how the game is played or the most exciting…but it probably helped me understand the game. I prefer baseball..it’s faster. A fast game is a good game as far as I’m concerned. I did enjoy the night even though we had the sun blazing on us for the first hour and a half……there was so much entertainment going on at every break….hard to keep track.

It was amusing and interesting to find that many groups of people go to the game but don’t go into the game……confused? Well, let me explain……along the way to the stadium from our hotel we saw groups of people in fenced of areas, on vacant pieces of land, setting up their barbecue or meat smoker, some had a television set, a gazebo and all had chairs. Many were wearing their team colours, had NFL flags flying and cars decorated. They were having a night at the game outside the game in the main stadium….it was an amazing site and fascinating that people would travel to Nashville to watch their team play on a television set 250 metres from the main stadium…not all groups had a television so I guess they were listening to it on radio or the stadium commentary.

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Up early this morning, time to take the shuttle across the bridge and start the bar crawl!! Weather forecast today is 99 degrees and high humidity….a day to drink lots of water!! First stop was Nudie’s Bar… I’m sure ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ (quoting Jimmy Buffet song line). We stepped in because the band sounded great from the street…..ok so what to drink. Most of the bars don’t serve wine and I really didn’t want a soft drink (Soda). ‘I’d like a vodka and soda please’ Ty ordered our drinks which duly arrived……not so sure about the vodka and tap water I received though! Yuk……

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Lunch at Margaritaville …. love the ambiance of these places and wherever we are, if there’s a Margaritaville I have to go. My favourite one is Montego Bay Jamaica…..great waterfront dining area…..if you’re in Jamaica drop in even if it’s just for a drink you won’t be disappointed. Just a bloody long name to have to write! Lunch over it’s time to walk the Broadway, stepped in to more of the bars to listen to the music, some places we just stood outside. Many have the bands playing in the window which is a great idea. They all play for tips…. after dinner we decided on Roberts Honky Tonk, one of the oldest bars in Nashville. Small, cramped bar with limited seating and just as limited standing room but the band was fabulous so we spent the rest of the night here. Which meant we missed the last shuttle although it was still extremely hot we walked back to the hotel. Could’ve taken an Uber for $7 but the 25 minute walk was very pleasant.

I was keen to try a few line dancing lessons whilst in Nashville and the Wildhorse Saloon was the place to go. They had line dancing between 12 and 2pm. However when we went there the saloon was closed for a private function…try again tomorrow.

Oh well, more bands to listen to in many bars and plenty of shops to check out.

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Bars aside Nashville also has an interesting music history so today we’re visiting Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B.

The Ryman Auditorium is still a working venue as well as an iconic museum. The Ryman contains a variety of artifacts, anecdotes and one of a kind exhibits. There is a recording booth available to record a song and you can have a photo taken on the stage. There is also a fabulous photo and print gallery. Backstage tours are also available, lots of insider stories too.

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Take a trip through Country Music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and see exhibits of classic artists and current country music artists. See their stories, their instruments such as Hank Williams MARTIN guitar, Elvis’ custom Cadillac with gold accessories, scraps of paper the ideas of a song were scribbled from artists such as Kris Kristofferson. The museum has more than eight hundred stage costumes from various artists, six hundred instruments and other memorabilia important to the Country Music scene through inception to this day. The price of the ticket allows access for a visit over 2 days – which you will need.

 

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RCA Studio B opened in 1957 and is known as ‘the home of 1,000 hits. In the 1960’s this studio became important to the development of the production style and technique known as the Nashville Sound.   This style was characterised by background vocals and strings and revived the popularity of country music, which, in turn aided the reputation of Nashville as a centre for international recording.  The studio closed in 1977. Elvis Presley recorded more than 250 songs here, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton are just some of the names that have recorded in Studio B. The studio is made up of several parts, the smaller studio lined with rounded timbers was used for adding. Vocals or music tracks. The different timbers and their shapes helped with the acoustics.  The Studio is listed on the US Register of Historic Places.

RCA Studio B –  x marks the spot for the best acoustics  – all recording artists stood on this spot.

Ironically Studio B closed down the day after Elvis died….pure coincidence though – the Studio was scheduled for closure on 17th August 1977.

I also recorded a hit outside RCA Studio B – unfortunately not one that I wanted or anyone really wants to hear about! I hit the deck! We stepped outside into the car park and Ty was talking to another member of the tour group as I stood patiently by. When we started to walk towards the bus I hadn’t realised I was standing next to those small concrete barriers they have at each parking space. As I put my foot forward my sandal caught on the concrete barrier and I started to overbalance, I tried to regain my balance but only made it worse by trying to step to the side. Over I went crashing heavily to the concrete. I cut my toe on my right foot badly, skinned my left ankle, grazed my left leg just below the knee and a massive black bruise appeared on my left thigh. When I fell I landed on my left arm, thought I’d broken something, still holding my tote bag! So very lucky I didn’t hit my head on the concrete. Ty saw what was happening but couldn’t grab me in time and threw his camera away on the concrete so he could help me up. The tour guide said I fell so gracefully, like a ballerina…I certainly didn’t feel graceful and I’ve never done ballet so I can’t agree or disagree. It was similar to a line in the song ‘tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree’. Instead of the whole damn bus was cheering it was ‘the whole dam bus was watching’. How bloody embarrassing. I hadn’t had a drink so I can’t use that as an excuse! My followers and regular blog readers will know I seem to be accident prone when travelling….. I was trying to be so careful this trip but a lapse of checking what was next to me brought me down. Needless to say the damage to my arm was more severe than first thought but I didn’t want to waste time going to a hospital or doctors……getting a simple prescription took over 2 hours last time…imagine how long organising an X-ray would take……will just put up with it till I get home.

The tour guide and the security staff at the Country Hall of Fame Museum wanted to do first aid on my injuries, I was reluctant but they were insistent so around to their office in the bowels of the building we went. Apparently I was their first case requiring first aid..’did I need an ambulance to take you to the medical centre?” one lady asked. ‘No’ “I’ll be fine thanks” was my forceful reply. So there were 3 people all deciding what was best to do…luckily Ty took charge as they opened their first aid kits and let him decide what he should use on my wounds. They also gave us more band aids and antiseptic cream to take away. They were all very kind and we were most appreciate.

Once I was all patched up and Ty had given our details to the security and first aid persons we walked across the road and waited for the hop on hop off bus to continue our tour of Nashville. We’re on holiday we have to carry on with the tour and the trip. No time for sitting around feeling sorry for myself plus, as many of my readers know, I tend to be prone to a tumble or 2!!

We met a couple from Ohio at the hotel bar tonight. Jeff and Lisa we’re celebrating their wedding anniversary with a trip to Bristol Speedway and a few days in Nashville. Jeff was retired and Lisa worked in Child Protection Services.

We visited Honky Tonk Central, again on the look out for any line dancing…but regardless of all the things I’d read about these bars, there was no line dancing to be found anywhere! Honky Tonk Central has 3 levels with a band on each level….we checked out the level 1 and level 2 bands, they were ok, but level 3 band was much better. We went in and found ourselves a table with a balcony overlooking the street and enough space between us and the band we could still chat. During a break the singer came over to the balcony for a cigarette, he and Ty started chatting about music, one thing led to another, he told singer he was a drummer……so when singer went back to the stage he said to audience, ‘we have a drummer here from Australia and I’m asking him to come up and play with the band’.  Ty got to play drums with a band on a stage in Nashville. He was very chuffed.

There were more bars to visit so we said farewell to the band and moved on to Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk. Before we moved on the singer asked where we were off to next. ‘New Orleans’ was our reply….’be careful’ he said,’ there’s a few dodgy operators down there’. ‘We’re generally very careful’ was our reply.

Kids Rock’s Honky Tonk was very busy but the music flowing onto the street was definitely not country…. I don’t know a lot about country music but as far as I’m aware Nirvana was not a country band…. we went in anyway. The band was made up of 2 twenty girls and 3 guys….all appeared to be early twenties. Occasionally someone in the audience would request a country song, if they knew it they’d play it. All the bands in the bars played for tips.

 

I wasn’t too fussed on the music at Kid Rock’s, I personally think, if Nashville is renowned for country music, the bands should play country music to keep that vibe going. The bathrooms did have great mirrors though, a guitar and drums graced the wall above the sinks.

Went to the Wildhorse saloon again in time for line dancing but, once again, they were closing early for a private function! I was not destined to try out what little line dancing skills I have in Nashville….very disappointing.

For a quiet meal in Nashville Demo’s is very good, large choice of menu items and pleasant wait staff. We ate there twice. Ty loved their spaghetti and meatballs. Their 7oz steak with an Idaho potato and sour cream wasn’t too bad either!

The weather for our stay in the Country Music Capital was hot, hot and hotter. High 90’s to 102 degrees f (high 30’s to 40s C).

We drove out of Nashville at 8.50 am heading for New Orleans…….

Yellowstone (or should that be Jellystone) via Badlands and Sturgis – Part two

There were two options to drive from Billings Montana to Yellowstone National Park….we opted for the scenic route over the Beartooth Mountains which are located in south central Montana and north west Wyoming. History books tell us the mountains are part of more than 382,023 hectares of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness situated in 3 state forests. On our trek we’ll probably pass through all three, Custer, Shoshone and Gallatin at some stage of our journey.

Travelling over the mountains we drive through a number of, perhaps, outposts, is the right word…towns they weren’t, villages possibly. One such place was Busby which is located in Big Horn County Montana. Not a lot to see in Busby by way of shops, food outlets….the population is around 700. We came across Custer’s last camp and stand at Little Big Horn Battlefield. We thought we’d pop in and have a look at the memorial plaque, the park was due to close shortly so we would only be quick….however the fee to enter the park was $25 and we thought that was a bit much for a look at the monument. I understand the funds go to the upkeep of the memorials but preferred not to enter the park. We knew the story of Little Big Horn and the outcome….the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota Indian tribes killed Custer, other members of his family and a large number of his soldiers.

We ventured over to cafe and gift shop instead and spent our money there instead.

Time to continue on up and over Beartooth Highway….. has been called the most beautiful drive in America. We joined Beartooth Highway at Red Lodge Montana…not far from Billings and we’d travel this road until we reached the entrance to Yellowstone National Park Silver Gate Montana.

This mountain range grew in front of us and seemingly reached the sky…snow covered peaks at its highest looked like icing dripping down a cake. The scenery was pine trees and a few towns or houses dotted here and then but as we climbed the road became very windy, lots of sharp turns and very dramatic drops below us. A little on the scary side when the drop was on the passenger side of the car. As usual I kept taking photos as the scenery changed from trees to sheer rock faces. The higher we climbed the closer those rock faces became. Ok, I need a break, getting a little nervous so time for a wee break. Luckily the next viewing point was just around the need lot of tight bends! Time to give my knuckles a break……

Even though we had climbed a long way and could see the snow not too far above us it wasn’t too cold up here. There were chipmunks scooting around, zipping in and out of the stone work, checking out the travellers to see who had food. We didn’t have food and when I tried to photograph one it came right up to my camera lens to see if it might contain food, sadly, he scooted off when it didn’t. Then I remembered the M&Ms my husband had in the car….they were peanuts but choc coated so I asked him to bite of the hard toffee shell and some chocolate and we’ll give the peanut to the chipmunk. I know, sounds gross to feed a used and mangled peanut to the poor thing but he wouldn’t mind and I didn’t have anything else to entice him to me for a better photo.

We put the slightly chewed, still covered in some chocolate, peanut down on the stone and waited. Sure enough a chipmunk scooted over to check it out but didn’t pick it up and continued on to other people. Disappointed I went to the restrooms because we didn’t have more time to waste on the chipmunk. The peanut was still there but as I stepped up into the car and closed the door I looked over where the peanut was and a group of men were laughing and taking photos up close of this chipmunk EATING OUR PEANUT!! How rude……

On the road again climbing higher as we twist and turn on this mountain. Suddenly we’re level with the top of the snow covered peaks……an incredible sight. There is a sign with the feet above sea level…..10,947 feet (3336.65metres). However, as we all know, what goes up must come down !

The downward journey was a little less dramatic – in scenery and in white knuckles.

Beartooth Highway is only open between May and October so if you want to do this magnificent drive don’t plan it in the winter months!

We arrived at the North eastern entrance outside Yellowstone National park at town of Silver Gate….GPS said we were 3 minutes from the park! Then we stopped, not because we wanted to, because of a long line of traffic. The hold up? An animal or slow traffic, no, a line marking truck repainting lines on the side of the road. Delayed our journey by 20 minutes. These guys could learn something from our road workers…..who complete line marking on NSW roads overnight when there is considerable less traffic.

Eventually we all drove on and we decided to drive to Mammoth Springs. Not too far along traffic on both sides of the road slowed again. Not more line marking, I said , as we crawled slowly along the mountain road. No road workers this time…a black bear was casually walking down the road seemingly oblivious to the traffic jam he was causing. What a beautiful sight and surprise….I suppose he was used to these mechanical monsters with humans hanging out the windows taking photos, invading his territory.

Our accommodation for 2 nights was in Island Park on the western fringe of Yellowstone and we had to check in before 7pm. So we chose our sightseeing to ensure we spent most of the day seeing sights heading towards the western edge. Yellowstone sits on top of a volcanic hotspot across 3 states….Idaho, Montana and Wyoming…most of the park is in Wyoming.

Old Faithful was our first stop….the most famous geyser in the park. For my English readers amongst you that’s not a geyser (man) as in some English TV shows but a “hot spring in which water intermittently boils sending a tall column of water and steam into the air” *. Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the world and so named in 1870. It is very predictable and erupts every 90 minutes or so. Day to day the park lists the approximate times the geyser will erupt so they have long timber seats in sets of 3 behind each other in an arc. The seating area is situated a few hundred metres away to ensure no one gets burned by the boiling steam or water. Not like the early days when people would walk up very close the Old Faithful.

We found a seat and sat down, waited and watched the Old Faithful crater, waited and watched, more people filed in and found places to sit, we all waited and watched that mound and crater intently. Eventually a small pall of white steam made it’s way to the top…all quiet again, ‘no, wait, it’s going to blow’ someone in the crowd said. Another puff of steam then quiet again. This went on several times, the geysers over the back of Old Faithful were having a grand old time erupting continually, perhaps not as high as we expect Old Faithful to spew into the air but they were still impressive. Eventually a few smaller puffs of steam escaped from Old Faithful then what everyone was waiting for, the main eruption. It started off slowly then the steam and water reached higher, subsided, then up she came again a little higher and much more force this time. Hundreds of cameras were clicking in unison all hoping/trying to take that perfect photo of the old geyser. We were amongst them, of course.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful spews between 3,700 gallons in a one and a half minute eruption to 8,400 gallons for 4.5 minutes and the water temperature is said to be around 95 degrees C (204 degrees F)**. The steam temperature has been measured at 177 degrees Celsius (350 degrees F). How crazy were those early pioneers to step up close to these geysers in ground that was more crust then solid earth. I’m sure there would have been many deaths when the geyser erupted.

After crossing this off the bucket list it was time for lunch and as we were inside the park – a very expensive lunch of 1 roll with ham, cheese and egg and a croissant with a bottle of water was almost $20 before tax was added. Exactly the reason we chose to stay outside the park, accommodation and food is quiet expensive. As this cafeteria was the only food place open it was crowded so we went to the car and ate our lunch.

Moving on to Mammoth Springs we totally underestimated the driving time to each section. Yellowstone is a massive park and the sights are not contained in one area….the roads are also mountain roads with many twists and turns. Of course with each turn there is another incredible view and slow traffic.

Arriving at Mammoth Springs there were cars going every which way trying to find a parking spot in the little village area, we decide to drive on over the hill and found a parking spot without too much waiting. The smell of sulphur was quite strongest we stepped out of the car. We were certainly getting our exercise today – a very long boardwalk wove it’s way around the hot springs. The colours of the Springs were quite incredible. These hot springs are different to the other thermal springs. This is due to these springs being of limestone rock making the dramatic formations. It has been said these formations resemble an inside out cave. We are constantly reminded to stay on the boardwalk and designated pathways due to the heat on the unstable ground….which looks like chalk. There are upper terraces and lower terraces and the boardwalk enables the visitor to move between the two easily. The hot springs are trailing down over the steps….like travertine steps leading to a spa. A beautiful and surprising sight.

As we walked back to the car a deer was on the hot, chalky ground foraging for food unperturbed by the heat under it’s feet. We assumed it had adapted to this harsh environment.

Next stop was the Prismatic Spring and surrounding geysers and springs. These springs had the brightest blue boiling water….so much steam though it made it hard to see the spring in it’s full glory. Each spring has a brown edge around it….this is a form of bacteria that lives within the hot spring. Once we knew this was bacteria and algae we looked more closely and you could make out the bacteria. Fascinating stuff!!

After viewing the Prismatic Spring and surrounds we wandered along another walkway to the paint pots and past scorched pine trees…..the walk is a loop and the landscapes are dramatic and different. The paint pots are so called because because the mud bubbles and plops due to gas rising to the surface, the pastel colours are made by iron oxide. Luckily when we were viewing them the paint pots were well behaved and didn’t blow their tops…when they do they can shoot as much as 4 metres in the air. Don’t think I’d like to be too close when that happens.

We continued our walk around the loop and found the strangest landscape I think I’ve ever seen. Small geysers spraying out steam and water very regularly surrounded by a background of stark, white, hot, chalky ground with dead trees that looked like they’d been turned to ash but, defiantly, still holding their shape.

Great Prismatic Geyser

Lower Geyser Basin

It was hard to move on – the sight had me mesmerised….only Ty telling me we have to make our way back to the car forced me away. I could’ve pulled up a chair (if there had been room) and sat there surveying the scenery for hours.

It was time to move on to Drifter Joes fishing lodge, Island Park, Idaho where we will spend the next 2 nights in a cabin. Our very little cabin as it turns out!

As it was getting close to our check in time and we were caught in roadworks and heavy traffic I thought it best to call the lodge to let them know we’ll be late. I tried a few times then realised we had no service on these mountains so had to keep checking for service. Finally contacted the lodge reception and told them ‘we have a booking however the trip out of Jellystone’ pause as I realise what I said..’ oh (laughing) ‘sorry Yellowstone, the traffic is very slow so we may be a little late’. He laughed and said ‘that’s what we call it too!’ How embarrassing….we hadn’t even seen Yogi and Boo Boo but we’d seen a few rangers!

If we’re out bush we may as well go the whole hog and stay in a bush cabin. The bedroom, wardrobe and kitchenette were in the one small room. I could reach the kitchen bench from the bed and the bathroom was ‘compact’. When I stepped into the shower and closed the curtain a good memory was helpful as the shower curtain shut out any possible light. I think we knew this was going to be an interesting place to stay…..it didn’t disappoint..lol. It was also on the main road and as luck would have it….we had a cabin close to the road….the trucks roared past in the early hours so we were up early on the 3rd morning for our drive back to Denver.

Decided to travel over the Tetons on the return journey….may as well travel as many winding mountain roads as possible this trip!! The Grand Teton Mountains are a desolate place, not many towns, petrol stations on this route. We thought we’d stop for breakfast on the way out of Island Park however we were on back roads and there were no off ramps with food and fuel. Continued on over the Tetons, travelling through several ski resorts, still nothing open. Then we arrived on the outskirts of Jackson. ‘This is a big town, we should find food options and fuel along this road” Ty said. So we didn’t go into Jackson itself but continued in the Highway. Not a good idea…still no food options and we would need fuel soon.

Finally, we came across a place on this pine tree laden mountain, a service station with a cafe. ‘We’ll pull in here and see what there is for breakfast, I’m starving’. Ty is always starving but it had been a long while since dinner the night before.

As we walked towards the door of the cafe I noticed a sing on the door NO RESTROOMS AVAILABLE. Great… Oh well at least we can get food and coffee. Yes, we could get coffee and not much else. So we settled on coffee and a slice of lemon cake and. Slice of chocolate cake…..a very healthy breakfast. Obviously truckies do not come this way very often. As we were leaving Ty said we should go to loo because we don’t know how long it will be before we come across another service station. I told him about the sign. He asked the woman who served us ‘Do you are restrooms here?’ ‘No, you’ll find restrooms about 20 mile further on’ she replied. I had noticed the door leading to the restrooms was roped off. Perhaps she didn’t want the trouble of cleaning them. Who knows!

As we were approaching our car with our nutritious breakfast a biker couple pulled in and she jumped off her bike and rushed to the door, stopped when she read the sign and came back to her partner, who, by now was chatting to Ty. She told him about the sign…we said it’s true…no toilets for travellers to use here they’re 10 miles down the road.

We ate our cake as we drove on……finally reaching a small town called Pinedale with restrooms available! I was washing my hands when a lady also at the basin asked if I was from around here. ‘No’ I replied. She continued to tell me she was from Oregon and was travelling back from Denver where she lived as a child. Then asked where I was from. ‘Australia’ I answered. ‘That’s a long ways’ was her reply.

We arrived back in Denver late in the evening. Met up with our friend, Stuart, the next day for lunch at Nick & Jim’s bbq. Both Ty and Stuart were amused when I ordered the potato with bacon and sour cream for my lunch, as usual I thought it would be small, but Idaho potatoes are giants and my lunch ended up a lot bigger then their bbq feast!! In the evening we had dinner with CA and Jerry. Great to spend time with good friends now it’s time to move on from Denver.

* Wikipedia dictionary

** Article by E Kwak- Heffernan July 19

Yellowstone (or should that be Jellystone) via Badlands and Sturgis Part One

First stop on this 5 day trip round trip from Denver was Mt Rushmore with an overnight stop at Rapid City. Our plan was not to leave Denver too early, however, Ty woke early and at 3.30 woke me to say let’s get up and go….I’m wide awake. ‘No’ was my reply, “I’m not getting up at 3.30 am go back to sleep”. At 4.00 am Ty nudged me again…”I’m still awake, we may as well get going”. I resisted till 4.30 am but by then I was also awake. I dragged myself out of bed, showered and packed my bag. We left the hotel at 5.20am.

By 6.30am we were very hungry and decided we’d stop for breakfast when we see a billboard with Denny’s listed. At least we would get a good breakfast for a reasonable price at Denny’s. Around 7 am, at exit 7, we were in luck and pulled into Denny’s car park in Cheyenne. Our breakfast of bacon, eggs, 2 pancakes and toast plus tea and coffee cost $25.57 including taxes! Have to say including taxes because everywhere in the US no matter what you purchase has tax added on to the advertised price. I prefer our model with the taxes included in the price you see…..much easier to budget.

Our stomachs now full it was time to get back on the road. The scenery varied from very flat lands with very few trees to forests of pine trees and other assorted trees.

Part way through our drive Ty needed a break from driving so he pulled off onto what we thought was a layby but was, in fact, another way back to the motorway. Just outside a place called Edgemont. We were far enough off the road so as not to cause any issues with other traffic. Ty took a wander up the road and I stayed by the car. Several cars went by us and then a motorcyclist on a red Harley flying the American Flag came our way and pulled up behind our car. Ty was still on his walk when the motorcyclist asked ‘Are you ok, do you need any help’. ‘No’ I replied and explained why we were parked here. He asked where we were going and I said ‘Rapid City, a look at the rally in Sturgis and Yellowstone before returning to Denver’. At that point Ty came back. The motorcyclist introduced himself as Brian and said he was from Colorado Springs. Further conversation around bikes had him mention he was a riding instructor in Colorado Springs. We said ‘One of our friends is also a riding instructor in Denver’.

We chatted a little more about Australia and our trip. Eventually it was time for both of us to move on. Before we parted company Brian told us to make sure we visit the The Badlands…..this was on my list however wasn’t sure we would fit it in. He said we must!!

We arrived at Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills of Sth Dakota mid morning, glad we did, it was already very busy although we managed to park in the underground car park in the cool.

A couple of flights of stairs and a short walk found us facing the massive rock carving that is Mt Rushmore. We were disappointed to find fencing with black plastic stretched across the closer viewing area for Abraham, George, Thomas and Teddy. This made it a little difficult to take selfies….well for some..namely us. We haven’t managed to master that ‘art’ yet and should probably give up trying! As happens when we visit most monuments or places of interest there is always someone who offers to take a photo or we take theirs and they reciprocate……no need for selfies really. On selfies, I’m always amazed how our millennials manage to take their selfies with brilliant smiles or trying to look seductively at their phone – I have enough trouble positioning the camera or phone on us and the background subject to even think about smiling, as for looking seductive……….. I’m happy to stay behind the camera or, if I have to, have someone else take a very unflattering photo of me.

Sturgis bike rally was on during our visit to this area, needless to say, the majority of visitors to the monument this morning were bikers. An interesting mix of individuals. The town of Keystone was on the way to Mt Rushmore and it looked like a beautiful little town with colourful buildings and old saloons but absolutely no parking available so we had to keep going.

After photographing the presidents from all angles it was time to visit the gift shop and make our usual purchases….fridge magnets, baseball cap, depending on price, and a patch. Don’t even ask what we do with them, the fact I’ve told you we purchase these items is more than enough information. Years ago the purchases from my travels were shot glasses…..not just one for me from the places I visited but one for several close friends as well. No wonder my luggage was always over the limit!! I gave up shot glass souvenirs when it became onerous trying to ensure they were packed securely for their trip back to Aus.

Arrived at our hotel in Rapid City to find we had been given an accessible room. I certainly didn’t book an accessible room but, well I’m sure I didn’t. When I checked in the man at the desk said ‘Ah yes, the accessible room’. He was talking to himself as he shuffled through the guest room documents so I didn’t reply. Ty was quite happy to have it when it looked like there was no lift in the 3 storey hotel. The room was very large and, as you’d expect, so was the bathroom. Although the bathroom was lacking shelf space but for one night perfectly adequate for us.

Took a drive to Sturgis this afternoon. The 79th Sturgis Bike Rally is on at the moment. The rally runs for 2 weeks in July/August each year. We had never seen so many bikes in one place in all our lives. There were also hundreds of bikers on the roads around the other towns we visited and the national monuments. I remarked to Ty ‘At least they’re out and about visiting other places not just sitting around drinking from morning till night’. Although I’m sure there would be many that go to catch up with mates and drink from morning to night…….whatever leads the masses of bikers to Sturgis it looks like a lot of fun. No colours are allowed which makes it even better for the casual motorbike enthusiast.

So many different types and colours of bikes, bikes with trailers attached, bikes packed up with luggage and the US flag flying on top. There was a multitude of trikes, ones with 2 front wheels such as can am spyder and the Harley with 2 back wheels. Ty commented that he had never seen so many trikes. We see an occasional one at home but nothing like the numbers in and around Sturgis

Homeowners had signs up renting rooms in their houses so we saw bikers sitting around in homeowners yards drink in hand having a good time. We were amused at other homeowners and family who had set up their camp chairs on their front lawns to watch the constant parade of bikes go through.

We found a parking spot and walked back to the main streets where the tents of food, bars, souvenirs, rally t shirts and leather goods were set up. The bars were teaming with people hanging over balconies, lots of rock music flowing from all the venues. A very interesting spectacle.

We also made an observation that the majority of bikers we saw or met along the way were in their 50’s or older!

We went out for dinner and on the way back I remembered we could need aeroguard for our visit to Yellowstone so we called into Walmart…..worker told us ‘aisle 5…if there’s any left’. Went to aisle 5….shelf was empty! I started to laugh at the thought of bikers buying up all the insect repellent to rub, spray or dab it in their face, around their nose and on their lips. Told Ty what I was thinking, he laughed as well. Bikers in US do not have to wear helmets, full face or just the helmet. Many of them also don’t have a bandana covering their mouth and nose. So the idea they would buy up all the repellent had me thinking about those pesky bugs that crash into our windscreen or attach themselves to the front fender. The movie Wild Hogs came to mind. If the insects are flying at a bikers’ face and he’s wearing insect repellent do the bugs scream/swear, put their brakes on and try to do a rapid back pedal mid air to fly around the bikers face? Would they have time or would they continue to fly into one or other orifice? The bugs hit the windscreen at speed and the thought of one splattering onto my face, in my mouth, up my nose or in an ear is cause enough for me not to be on a bike without a full helmet and visor on the bike…..in fact I’d also prefer a canopy on my bike as well! Better still I’ll stick to a car…

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With The Badlands now factored in we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow before we’d reach Billings.

We were up early so, after breakfast we packed the car and bid farewell to Rapid City and headed for the Badlands National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Black Hills are so called because of the thickness of the tree population covering the hills making the hillside look black.

The Badlands or ‘mako spica’ meaning ‘land bad’ was named by the Lakota people. The land was deemed bad because of the lack of water, extreme temperatures in summer and winter and the rugged terrain. The 240,000 or so acres of desolation makes for a very beautiful, eerie landscape. No civilisation within the park at all….except for the visitors who are surprised by the different landscapes within the park. Amazing what volcanos have produced for our enjoyment!

The first section we visited was similar to the Grand Canyon except with mostly an ash coloured rock with some interesting rock formations. So I thought at this point ‘yes, it is striking for the consistent colours but I wasn’t in awe of the scene. We walked back to the car and drive further around and passed through high rock formations of either side of the car. These formations were a more rounded shape and had a little more ochre colour in them then the road climbed a little and we saw rock formations below us appeared to be multicoloured …. like a rainbow. I’ve not seen anything like this before. We stopped in several places to view this stunning scenery – so hard to drag our eyes away or to stop taking photos. At first you think your eyes are playing tricks or it’s the sun shining on the rocks changing the colours but they weren’t and it wasn’t.

Thank you Brian for being adamant we must not miss this park….so pleased we took your advice and we spent way too much time here because areas of the park were so different. However it’s not a place I’d like to find myself in the dead of night. They do have a camping ground for those RV travellers and other avid campers who fancy being totally off the grid when camping.

If you get a chance to visit this beautiful place you’ll be pleased you did.

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Sections of Badlands National Park

On the way back from The Badlands we decided to stop for lunch at Wall…..we didn’t need to think too much about where we should stop couldn’t miss this town! There were billboards advertising Wall drug store for miles before we got anywhere near the Badlands. Wall had everything, according to the billboards, from pharmacy products to food, shakes, souvenirs….you name it they had it! And they did…..Wall drug store was originally a drug store a hundred or so years ago but over time it had transformed into a number of different shops under ‘one roof’ owned by one family. This drug store stretched along one side of the Main Street….the ‘drugstore’ was so big and obviously so popular in this little town they needed a large car park at the back of the Main Street.

Wall was flooded with bikers, families on school holidays and RV travellers so there was no point looking for parking in the Main Street…..we went straight to the massive parking area behind the Main Street. This small town overflowed with people.

The eatery inside the ‘drug store’ was huge, it seated 530 people, with a wide range of food choices. We chose basic sandwiches, due to this options having no line up!

We needed to move on towards Billings and we still had Devils Tower to detour to. We didn’t spend too much time over lunch…places to be!

Devil’s Tower is America’s first national monument established in 1906 and stands at 265 metres from bottom to top. Some of the names the Native Americans call it are Bear’s Tipi or Home of the Bears or Tree Rock depending on the tribe.

Arriving at the Devil’s Tower Wyoming we came across more bike riders heading back towards Sturgis. We read the historical information about the rock formation then proceeded to cross the road to take photos. As we crossed a couple on a white Harley three wheeler, nice looking trike, pulled up to have a cigarette and take photos. We had a conversation with them and Ty explained I don’t like motor bikes and she said ‘ hop on and sit in my seat and see how comfortable it is’. ‘It’s easier being a passenger on a three wheeler than a motorbike plus we have lots more storage room” she continued. I dutifully sat in the passenger seat and I agreed it was comfortable to a degree…’not keen on the arms being back so far’ I commented. I get fidgety and uncomfortable in a car on a long trip so I couldn’t imagine taking a long ride on the back of one of these….perhaps a half hour or an hour would be ok. Plus I’d have helmet hair and my hair is thin enough without pressing it to my head.

Time to move on…..we pulled out of the layby and drove down the road – I put my camera away and looked up – a white bus was coming straight at us. Panic stations….Ty had turned immediate left instead of across the lane and left. Neither of us noticed until I saw the bus….there was no time to move to the right side of the road. Ty could only pull over to the left shoulder giving the bus room to go around us. This was an unusual mistake for Ty who has managed for years to drive on the opposite side of the road when we’re in US or Europe. Just one of those brief lapses we can have but I saw the bus and alerted Ty (loudly) and incident averted.

As we reached the Montana/Wyoming State Line there were more and more bikes zipping past us…..’where have they been’ I wondered aloud. A few miles after the state line we made a right turn and there were flashing lights – police cars – I turned to Ty to check the speed we were doing when I saw why the police were in the area. Across from the police cars was a bar Stoneville Saloon….a true Wild West saloon teeming with bikers and bikes…..damn worrying about our speed I missed a perfect photo opportunity. Isn’t that always the way? We couldn’t exactly make a u turn and go back with 6 or more police cars and sheriffs cars sitting around waiting for something to happen.

After an overnight stop in Billings we commenced the drive to our final destination on this little round trip from Denver – Yellowstone National Park.

End of Part One! Why? Because getting to the destination and the destination itself deserves it’s own part…..

Likes and dislikes for this trip will likely be on a special blog as part one and part two of this trip are lengthy!!

A Mile High with Slight Altitude Sickness

Another 5 weeks in the US and the first part is a 9 day round trip starting and ending in Denver.  The start of the trip was not the best…for a variety of reasons. We also don’t normally take internal flights in US but this year was an exception.  There is a lot to cover in these 5 weeks.

Unfortunately our flight was delayed in Sydney by an hour due to traffic congestion on the runway.  That, combined with what we knew would be a long entry process in Dallas, meant we would not make our connection to Denver.  Qantas staff rearranged our Dallas to Denver flight whilst we were in the air.  We now had a 5 hours layover in Dallas airport so instead of arriving in Denver at 3.50 pm we would now arrive around 9pm.

We picked up our hire car at Denver airport, checked into our hotel in Cherry Creek, showered then found somewhere close to hotel to eat before falling into bed. I didn’t get much sleep on the 16 hour flight…I don’t sleep well in economy lol.  We’ve flown business class or premium economy for the past several years (mostly business class) and it’s very easy to get used to travelling that way.  I have decided (Ty agrees) this is the last economy flight overseas we will take. We will just have to be frugal in other ways to achieve this but achieve it we will!!

Our first day in Denver was spent meeting with friends, CA, Randy and his wife Sandy, for lunch and then shopping.  You all know I love my outlet shopping and CA also knows this.  We spent the afternoon at Castle Rock outlet centre.  I was, however, very careful to keep my hands in my pockets ….we had an internal flight to New York and our baggage allowance was 23 kgs …mine was 18kg leaving Aus.  I did very well….very proud of myself ….my purchases included a pair of Skechers and several items from the Jockey shop.

Saturday evening we had dinner with our other friends, Jackie and Chuck. So good to catch up with them.

The lovely CA picked us up again Sunday morning and we took a drive to Georgetown and Breckenridge.  Georgetown is 2,600 metres above sea level (8,530 feet) and this picturesque little town is in the Clear Creek valley.

This was a silver mining town and a camp was established in 1859.

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Today historic Georgetown is a popular tourist town…..in summer months!  Not sure I’d like to visit in the winter…it would be beautiful but so cold.

After an ice cream and a little bit of people watching it was time to move on the Breckenridge. A further 300 metres higher than Georgetown at 2,900 metres (9,600 ft) above sea level. Altitude sickness was starting to kick in, sore ears, very dry throat and nose, a slight headache and a feeling of pressure and a little short of breath.  The air was very dry.  It can take 2 or  3 days to adjust to the higher altitude in Colorado… I learnt on a previous trip when we travelled to Pike’s Peak that I can’t walk as fast as I normally do or I’ll run out of oxygen and fall over at these altitudes…..without partaking in a glass of wine.  Actually you also feel the effects of just one small glass of alcohol faster at this level too.

Back to Breckenridge…this town is a very busy ski resort in the winter. When our friend, Gorging Gonz, heard where we were he told us he learnt to ski here…..many years ago.

Not surprisingly there is an oxygen bar in Breckenridge – as I mentioned above the base elevation is 2,900 metres however there is a summit elevation of almost 4000 metres (13,000 ft). I should think the oxygen bar would be very popular.  If skiing isn’t enough thrill for you there is an Alpine Coaster ride.  It has 2,500 feet of track on which a 2 seater car twists and turns around the ski slopes and through the forest. It’s open all year round.

The town was extremely busy but luckily we didn’t need to find a restaurant for lunch just a vacant park bench which, surprisingly, we found quite easily. CA had come prepared with all sorts of food for a picnic. The simplest things in life often make the best memories and this was no exception.

Why was I affected by altitude sickness? Well, our little town sits on the edge of Lake Macquarie and is listed as being 5 metres (16.4 ft) above sea level so that could have something to do with it!!

After a walk around town and a visit to the souvenir shops it was time to take the drive back to Denver via a winding mountain road where we reached 3517 metres (11,539 feet) above sea level.

Dinner in Denver tonight with CA and Jerry before we start our round trip to Rapid City, Mt Rushmore, Billings, Yellowstone National Park….or should that be Jellystone?? and back to Denver.

The mountains surrounding Denver still had snow visible on their peaks. Colorado is such a State of extremes… I found it odd that the temperature was almost 37 degrees (98) in Denver and there was still snow on those mountains. It was quite a warm day in Breckenridge as well.

Breckenridge

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We had an early start this morning…Ty woke at 2.30am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Around 3.30 he suggested we should get up and get on the road. You can guess what my reaction was can’t you? We finally left the hotel at 5.20 am precisely.

 

For those readers that prefer to see likes/dislikes list here it is…..

What I liked:

  • Gina from Elite Private Transfers who transported us to our airport hotel
  • Qantas rep who redid our seat allocation for us and suggested seats in the centre where the exit rows were on either side. A little extra leg room
  • catching up with good friends in Denver over lunches and dinners
  • CA for chauffeuring us around – again
  • beautiful scenery around Colorado – snow on the tops of the mountains and high 90’s below
  • Applebee’s margaritas

 

What I didn’t like or found disappointing:

  • on printing our boarding passes at the airport we found our pre-booked seats had been changed and we were no longer sitting together
  • flight delays
  • didn’t receive our requested upgrade to either business or premium economy
  • the family behind us with 2 children under 7 who thought it was a fun game to play chasing through our seats…stepping on our feet or jumping over our legs. I eventually became the grumpy woman and told them to stop.
  • long delays getting through customs and immigration at US airports
  • being affected by altitude sickness….very annoying
  • getting up early for the drive to Mt Rushmore

 

 

 

 

 

Bosnia Herzegovina, I’m not so sure this is a good idea, darling……

( firstly I need to apologise to my readers and followers for my absence from blogging. Life has been very busy completing studies in travel and starting my very own travel business…but I’m back now!)

Or words to that effect came from my husband when I mentioned our travel plans included a visit to Bosnia. He always includes a “darling” at the end when he really wants to say ‘this is a silly idea, forget it as I don’t think Bosnia will be safe”.  Mostar was intended place and the Stari Most (old bridge) that crosses the River Neretva was what I wanted to see.   It’s been on my barrel (bucket list is too small for me) list of places to visit for many years and given we were travelling to Croatia again I thought we should add Mostar to the trip.

I was well aware that the main feature of Mostar (the bridge) had been totally destroyed in November 1993 by the Croatian forces and what we see today is a reconstruction of the bridge…no matter….. the place still has plenty of history.   The hump-backed bridge has connected both sides of the city since the 16th century and history tells us it has straddled the river majestically for 427 years.  More about the bridge later.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, I caused Ty further alarm when I mentioned there were no direct flights from Athens to Dubrovnik but  mentioned we could drive via Albania.  However, a flight directly to Belgrade, Serbia was the best option. I was now changing our plans to suit the flight path! Ok, throw away the previous plan and start the second part of the trip again.  I ignored any reservations I might have about the trip and heard ‘blah blah blah’ whenever Ty mentioned the possible dangers of a trip through Serbia and Bosnia. I started researching the drive, I  looked up reviews of anyone who’d completed the drive taking note of any useful information.  I read road reports including reports about unexploded incendiary devices and how these had moved during the floods they’d had a year earlier.  There were warnings to heed such as – do not turn off the main roads or refrain from stopping off on the side of the road and getting out of the car to take a stroll in the countryside. I came to the conclusion that we would be fine as long as we drove on the main roads and stopped for loo breaks in a town…no squatting behind a tree for me….haven’t attempted that since I almost backed into a large spiderweb containing a very large and unattractive spider. Given my extreme fear of spiders it was  enough to make me hold in any urge to wee in the bush from that time on…..I, for one, would not be in any danger of stepping on any unexploded devices!

Destination problem solved, we would fly to Serbia, pick up a car at the end of our couple of days in Belgrade and drive to Croatia via Bosnia.  Our danger lurked within……there were 4 of us on the trip and one was an Australian born of Croatian parents.  We just had to keep Frank under control in Serbia and Bosnia….lol.

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Our disembarkation from the Greek Island cruise and the flight to Belgrade did not match up for the same day…there was only one daily flight to Belgrade from Athens at 9 am and the ship didn’t dock till 7.30am. We were on Greek time so I didn’t want to tempt fate so an overnight stay at a resort on the coast would be welcome before the next leg of the trip.  I chose the  Aquis Mare Nostrum resort away from Athens so the temptation to shop has been removed and forced relaxation would be the order of the day!! I had booked a hire car to pick us up from the port and deliver us to the resort.  Our driver, Zios, was very friendly and chatted away freely on the drive.  Frank took the front seat on this drive so he interacted more with Zios than we did. The resort was definitely out of Athens, as we drove further into the country and we encountered many country lanes, sadly, I knew there would be absolutely no chance of  shopping……I was now beginning to doubt this idea of a self imposed rest day. Oh well, as Ty would say, suck it up princess!

As we drove down yet another country lane  a tractor driven by an elderly man with trailer in tow was coming towards us.  Nothing unusual about that you’re thinking, we’re driving down a country lane surrounded by farms, and you would be right, except for what the trailer was carrying.  Perhaps a pig, maybe a cow, no, there at the front of the trailer stood a plump elderly woman dressed in a blue dress holding onto the wire of the trailer cage with one hand and her fabulous white hat with the other.  The brim of her hat was blowing about her head as the tractor moved along at top speed.  Did I get a photo, no, ‘cos by the time our brains registered what our eyes saw, it was too late.  When I finally stopped  laughing I wanted to go back and take a photo but we couldn’t – we were in a hire car and we couldn’t ask the driver to follow that tractor please!  If Ty had been driving we certainly would have taken that photo and it would be part of our photo gallery at home.  What a fabulous, and funny, sight.  Priceless to us but probably a normal sight to this farming area outside Athens.

Arriving at the resort I note how large this place is, a lot larger than I had expected.  Our bungalow was advertised as a beach bungalow but it was not close to the beach at all, in fact it was a 10 minute walk down to the pool area, so the advertising on this one was embellished a little.  A little disappointing but we could live with it. It’s just an overnight stop!  There were several bungalows close to the pool area but not overlooking it. A little further on past the bungalows and on the other side of a fenced off area, with a gate housing a security guard, was the sandy area of the beach. There was a small roadway and a grassed area between the bungalows and the fence. So beware if you’re booking the resort – no bungalows are on or close to the beach nor do you have a view of the beach as they are ground level. Looks great in the brochure and online.  The guest entry area and hotel rooms are on several levels in the main building set at the very back of the resort.

After checking in we  went to our respective rooms, the 2 boys up in the lifts, their rooms were in the main hotel, and we,on a golf cart with our luggage, were driven to our unit. Definitely not a bungalow but a unit in a small complex.

We met up again to have coffee and find a place to park our bodies on beach chairs near the pool.  Parking of bodies was at a premium with all spaces taken around the pool area and out on the beach so we had to avail ourselves of a couple of sun lounges in a grassy area under the trees. We were fine, it was a very hot day so the shade was welcome.  When we picked up the beach towels Troy commented that ‘they were warmer than some of our brekkies on the ship’! Love our Lord Lunchalot…very witty individual.

I managed to get through the day lazing around, a little bit of blog writing, a little bit of reading and a little bit of eating helped pass the time. This is not something I could do all the time or even 2 days in a row…I’m easily bored. If  I can’t shop and I’m tired of reading or writing I have to eat….

The afternoon was drawing to a close and soon our conversation turned to dinner…’what were our plans’ asked Troy. ‘Well, we are in a resort with nothing in close proximity’ I replied.  ‘Perhaps we could try escaping and walking to the nearest town but I’m not sure of the direction’ ‘We could call a taxi’ our Uber loving friend replied. ‘Hmm, I think it’s dinner here in the restaurant’ was my comeback. And so it was that we went back to our respective rooms, us to the bungalow that wasn’t a bungalow, Frank and Troy to their hotel rooms with agreement to meet in the lobby in an hour and a half (at 6.30).

When we enter the lobby at 6.25pm Troy is waiting however 20 minutes later Frank still hasn’t arrived.  As we have to walk back past the lifts we contemplate heading to the restaurant hoping Frank will step out of the lift as we pass. We tried calling his room earlier but there was no reply so we assume he is on his way or possibly ignoring us. Given the amount of time that passed he’s probably ignoring us…

The restaurant was a buffet. “Oh no” from me.  I’m not keen on buffets, very often there’s too many children, and adults for that matter, touching the food.  The buffet was 22 euros and included unlimited soft drinks and beer.  The food on offer was actually very good and a large proportion of the food was being freshly cooked as you ordered. I was impressed with the fabulous waitress making the profiteroles.  Yes, dessert is my favourite part of the meal!  The boys (well, we still call them boys don’t we ladies?) were very happy with the food on offer, beef was tender and they found 4 different flavours of ice cream on offer.

We all agreed the food was fabulous but then we weren’t sure whether it was because the food on the ship had been unappetising.  Perhaps we’d prefer to think the former.

We couldn’t help but notice the diverse range of ages, body shapes and sizes in budgie smugglers and bikinis.  I love the Europeans for the way they ignore the perception of what constitutes a beautiful body and/or embarrassment around body image – they just wear what they themselves are comfortable in.

After dinner we found there was nothing much happening in the resort so we sat in the lounge area with a coffee chatting before retiring.  I often have a thought that it would be lovely and relaxing to stay in a resort in the middle of nowhere….I’ve since removed that line of thinking.  I need to be occupied for a good part of the day and evening…reading a book every night does not fill me with excitement nor does watching television in a foreign country….there’s only so much of CBC and BBC world I can digest.

This morning we have an early flight to Belgrade.  We rose at 5am and when we went to check out found the hotel opened to allow early leavers to have breakfast. Another point in their favour.

The flight to Belgrade was uneventful…we left Athens on time and arrived at Belgrade at 9.10am.  Our hotel was in the centre of town, Hotel Moskva, however we were too early to check in so we left our luggage and wandered around taking in our surroundings.  We changed currencies, 370 Serbian Dinar (RSD) = 3 euros.  Cake  480 dinar and coffee 370 dinar so a total of 850 dinar just under 7 euros.

First impressions of Belgrade, have to say, very similar to other Eastern European countries, very wide streets, grey – buildings and weather.  No awnings so when it rains there’s no chance of cover.  We’d walked for a bit, skies were bleak and it was now time for food.  Lord Lunchalot is our food/drinks timepiece….you can be sure he’ll remind us it’s coffee time or eating time.  We lunched at Le Moliere cafe.

The rain had started whilst we were enjoying our lunch.  Unfortunately it was still raining when we finished our lunch so we had to step out into the rain and walk the 800 metres to the hotel without cover.  Damn, I had washed my hair that morning and I’m sure Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz (Frank, for those of you new to my blogs) had placed styling product in their hair as well.  Ty was not affected by the rain!

It was now time to check into the hotel……and this in itself is another story and a lesson in checking bookings for accuracy.

Hotel Moskva

We stepped up to the desk beside 2 dishevelled men who were being told, quite bluntly, that they could go across the road to another hotel as they didn’t have a reservation.  Obviously the hotel was fully booked.  Luckily we had booked almost 12 months prior…..or had we?

It was now our turn….’Yes, we have a booking for Starr and Littleton but we have no booking for Anderson”.  “That’s not possible, there should be 3 bookings, 2 were made together and the 3rd made a month or 2 later” I said. “No, no booking for Anderson and no rooms available” “But we had made a booking” I was adamant.  I had booked ours and Troy’s but not Frank’s as he wasn’t there at the time. I helped book the 3rd room a couple of months later.  The reception staff checked the reservations system and found Frank’s booking…but it was for 9th May (09/05/) not 5th Sept (05/09).  European dates for reservations are completed month first whereas ours are day first.  Knowing this I’m always careful to double check I have it correct.  In this case I did not have a copy of the accommodation confirmation so I couldn’t check it for accuracy as it went to Frank. When the receptionist gave us the information Frank remembered being charged for the room back in May but when he told me back in May we didn’t think anything of it….hotels sometimes do take the full amount months before guests arrive.  The hotel said the only option was for Frank to go across the road to the other hotel.  This was not a suitable option for us and, as you would expect, Frank was not a happy chappy, nor was I, and the Croat/Serbian hostilities might just start up again so we had to quickly dissolve this unfortunate error that neither of us picked up.  The staff were not at all helpful and were a little terse. Luckily or unluckily, whichever way you choose to look at it, I had booked a duplex room to see what it was like.  I try to choose different options when staying at hotels so I can report back on what, other than standard rooms, are available.  So, I can tell you dear reader, that a duplex room at the Moskva Hotel in Belgrade sleeps 4 people, has 2 toilets but unfortunately, only one bathroom on the small upper level bedroom area.  Needless to say the 2 nights spent in Belgrade were not the happiest or most relaxed experience for everyone but we got through it…..

After taking our luggage to our rooms we met in the lobby to discuss our plan of action.  We decided a city tour might be worthwhile so we walked back to the shopping area  looking for the visitor information centre.  Found it!  Enquired about city tours or any other recommended tour that might be available.  Unfortunately we were too late to book a tour for today but booked a half day city tour and Castle visit for tomorrow morning.  As it was now quite late in the afternoon we thought it time for a relaxing drink.

During the early hours of Sunday morning I was woken by car doors slamming and lots of voices  in the street below.  Our room overlooked a park behind the hotel.  I looked out and saw taxis dropping people off in the park.  Men, women and children some with pieces of luggage but mostly plastic bags.  I gathered that they were some of the refugees making their way from the Greek Islands through Macedonia and Albania to Serbia.  There was perhaps 30 or so people that had arrived.  They were still sitting/standing around the park when we left the hotel mid morning but when we returned at 2pm they had gone.

As with most of Europe Sunday’s a non event with most shops closed.  I came to the conclusion that Sundays in Belgrade lend themselves to dog walking and the large cafe culture.  Not a bad thing really.   Not having a dog to walk we decide to take a walking tour of Belgrade ending with a visit to the Castle.  This was a prebooked walking tour, we reached our meeting point 15 minutes earlier than the starting time of 11am and patiently waited for our guide.  We waited, we wandered up and down looking at the buildings, we waited watching people walk by…not many people walked by so each time we saw a man heading our way we thought it must be our guide….no they walked by.  we continued to wait, kicked a few rocks around, sat on a bench, got up again, had another discussion on how long we would wait, stood around and eventually said…”Obviously the guide has decided to walk his dog or sit at an outdoor cafe and enjoy a coffee and the sunshine!” So we unanimously agreed to head to the Castle ourselves and take our own tour.

The castle was impressive with great views.  The garden has some magnificent trees with thick foliage forming a bower and reaching the ground.  IMG_6670Made for some fun photos. There were rows of military vehicles and canons on show from the earlier conflicts with Bosnia.

Nearing the end of our castle wandering Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz reminded us it was past their lunch time.  Lunch for me was a small ‘vitamin’ salad.  Not sure why it was so called…it consisted of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, carrots and cost 450 dinar.

Later in the afternoon the weather was becoming cold and the skies were starting to darken and a sensible decision was made to go to our hotel and sit on the terrace and partake in afternoon tea. A hot chocolate for me – it really was hot chocolate.  A block of chocolate melted!  It was so thick it was hard to drink but it was yummy.

Hot Chocolate

My block of chocolate melted and placed in a cup!

 

 

 

Ty and I dined in the hotel restaurant this evening, food was very good.

Whilst in Serbia, sitting around a table sipping wine and talking rubbish (as you do) Ty and I told Gorging Gonz and Lord Lunchalot about our plan to ensure we would not unwittingly come across unexploded IEDs which may have slipped towards the road during recent heavy rains.   We had devised a dance, similar to The Stomp, they could perform a few feet in front of the car as we drove through Serbia to Bosnia to check for unexploded devices. One step forward, one step to the left, one to the right, stamp both feet on the spot,  1 step forward ………..

 

 

 

 

 

Outa here, Goat Yoga and a Beer!

We’re off again on another exciting journey visiting a number of places we’ve not visited before with one exception. I am looking forward to exploring ancient sites and monuments, seeing very colourful buildings and many very old cars. Not so sure I’m looking forward to the food though. Hot, as in spicy, is not my flavour of choice, in fact, I’m not a fan at all so we’ll see how I manage.

‘Well, where are you going?’ you’re thinking. Hmm, I might just keep you in suspense a little longer…..

Yesterday was my birthday…ah, now, a lady doesn’t divulge her age…although ask my husband and he’ll eagerly impart that information, in fact, you don’t even need to ask he just tells anyone around whether they care or not. It’s interesting meeting his friends or work colleagues for the first time…they have advance knowledge of my age and more. I can tell by the way they look at me when I’m introduced! No amount of me telling him not to discuss my age helps, he ignores me using the excuse ‘you should be very proud of your age’ then ‘you certainly don’t look your age, darling’. So that’s supposed to make everything ok and curb my annoyance. It doesn’t.

Moving on, we don’t normally fly overseas on Saturdays as I much prefer Thursday or Friday flights because flying those days tend to extend the holiday a little – especially when you’re a full time worker. However, I didn’t want to be in the air on my birthday. This trip we’ve had to curb our spendings and be frugal. It’s the horrid ‘f’ word that has started to infiltrate my vocabulary on a regular basis. We also didn’t have enough frequent flyer points to upgrade…..I’d like to think you all feel sad for me…..but I doubt that.

After meeting Lord Lunchalot (regular readers will know him from previous blogs) for a late afternoon sitting of wines served with a cheese & fruit platter I met Ty for my birthday dinner at Cafe Sydney. A restaurant in Customs House with a direct view of the fabulous Sydney Harbour…well worth a visit for the view alone. After which Ty and I adjourned to our airport hotel – so much better and less stressful than being caught in Sydney airport traffic the next morning.

Next morning it was a five minute walk to the terminal and the formalities of check in and customs was completed in less than 30 minutes. We now had plenty of shopping time and some price checking to do. Ted and dog, my travelling companions of 10 years, were lost in Amsterdam last year and it wasn’t till I saw a couple with their teddy companion that I realised how much I would miss them. I now have a new buddy called Gwandy joining me…

Time to board the plane, this time, first time in several years, we walk through business to our seats. One of the cabin crew is there to greet us. Very friendly, chatty woman. Ty mentioned we travelled business class on our previous US trip, so on and so forth, as he does, and she said ‘We’ll, I’m only here to help people find their seats after which I’m in business and first class so I’ll bring you up a couple of glasses of wine we serve in first class later in the flight and my name is Jules’. ‘What would you prefer…red, white or champagne’? That was very nice of her so I say Sauvignon Blanc please. Yes, I know, you thought I’d say champagne however Tattinger is ok but a little dry for my taste and I doubt they’d serve Moët Ice. We settled in and soon we were up and away……hmmm sounds like part of an old advert for TAA or Ansett. Oops, showing a hint of age here!!!

Lunch had been served and 2 hours later Jules came to us and whispered are you ready for a glass of wine? ‘That would be lovely’ I said, 10 minutes later we each received a glass of a Margaret River 2012 Sauvignon Blanc…..a very light wine. Very easy to drink! As we were leaving the plane Jules was at the exit and said ‘I came back a couple of hours later with more wine but you were both asleep’ ‘You should’ve tapped me or spoken to me because I wasn’t sleeping’ I replied. We probably didn’t need another glass of wine! Although I’m sure Lord Lunchalot would not have missed out….oh wait, how silly of me….he wouldn’t be seated in premium economy or economy.

Ok, where are we going? I think I gave it away a little in the first paragraph…

Dallas/Fort Worth again…..

Mexico City

Havana

Caribbean cruise visiting Montego Bay, Georgetown and Cozumel

Havana

Dallas/Fort Worth and home.

On this trip the only place we have visited before is Dallas/Fort Worth all other places are new to us….Cuba has been on my list for many years as has Montego Bay so I’m excited at visiting Havana, touring in an old convertible, possibly sitting at a rooftop bar taking a puff on a cigar whilst sipping a Cuban rum…..I don’t smoke but whilst in Cuba…… and I don’t drink Cuban rum however I’ve had a couple of Havana Club and cokes to ease me into the traditional drink.

Having to fly from US to Mexico before we’re able to fly to Cuba wasn’t a bother as we get to spend three days in Mexico City as a bonus with tours included.

Our flight was uneventful and we touched down in DFW 30 minutes early….

Getting through Fort Worth customs was tedious…

Since our previous visit DFW airport has put in electronic passport readers which should speed up the exit time, it does at home. However, almost every passenger on our plane, except for US citizens and a few others, was required to stand in line for a customs officer to speak to them even though we had all completed the electronic entry system. This included scanning fingers and thumb on our right hand. When our entry document printed out it had a big cross through the middle so we had to go to a customs officer. Not too much of an issue, we thought, except the A380 holds over 400 passengers and at least 300 were required to go to a customs officer and at this point in time there were 2 working. We noticed that they were asking people to scan their left had as well. We eventually moved to the front of the line and were requested to scan fingers/thumbs on both hands. That was it! A little strange why we were herded to the electronic booths if they knew they wouldn’t work for us…..no, I didn’t ask the customs officer as they’re pleasant but not open to those types of questions. Best just to move on. At least standing in the queue for over an hour and a half gave the baggage handlers time to get our luggage off which meant our luggage was happily doing circles on the carousel when we made it to the baggage hall.

The last process was to pick up the rental car and we’d be on our way.From the time we stepped off the plane till leaving the terminal to go to the car rental pick up took 2 hours. This topped Charles De Gaulle airport. We understand the strict security….however it didn’t appear to be because of security but technology not designed for international travellers.

As I mentioned above I’m practising a little frugality therefore we’re staying at the new Hampton Inn and Suites in Fort Worth with complimentary breakfast. It’s a relatively new hotel with spacious rooms and overall decor is very good. We generally find enough items in complimentary hotel breakfasts to sustain us till lunch.

Thank goodness our room was ready and after a hot shower and change of clothes we headed out for a very late lunch. We wandered around the downtown area and decided on Risky’s BBQ for lunch. Ty had the ribs and I the shrimp. The weather was hot and dry….just the way I like it. The prawns (shrimp) weren’t bad either!

Of course, Saturday night it was off to Billy Bob’s to listen to the house band and watch the rodeo. Before stepping in to Billy Bob’s we wandered around The Stockyards and came across the following sign….what is goat yoga? How do we know goats, like the little fellow in the picture, want to do yoga?

I had my first beer ever! As Billy Bob’s not serving wine my husband decided it was time I became his drinking buddy so he bought me a lime infused beer….no glass, no straw just the bottle. Ty’s reason for not bringing a glass was twofold – they only had plastic cups and other women were drinking out of the bottle. Due to thirst I drank three quarters of the bottle. After listening to the house band for a while we headed around to the rodeo ring to watch the 10pm bull riding event. Not sure why but I like the bull riding….

It was now 11pm and the last food we ate was around 4pm, as well as jet lag now creeping in it was also time to eat something. A Wendy’s salad would do so off we went in search of a Wendy’s on the way to our hotel. Unfortunately all the Wendy’s outlets were closed – In/Out burger was only place open… I was pleasantly surprised to find they peeled and cut the potatoes to make their own fries.

Sunday we went into Dallas Galleria for a few hours and had dinner at Applebee’s. I opted for a Margarita and requested it in a small cocktail glass, instead of the very large round glass they served them in. Glass duly arrived along with the full cocktail shaker – for US $8 I drank 3 Margaritas with probably a fourth still in the shaker……very good value!!

Monday we decided to take a drive to Austin and, on the way, visit a factory outlet near Georgetown. We stopped at the outlet first and I’m sure you can guess the rest. We were only 26 miles from Austin……could have been 100….we never made it those 26 miles. I’m sure someone must have written a country song about being 26 miles from Austin.

We also discovered the Water Garden Park not far from our hotel….it’s well worth a visit, it has beautiful gardens around serene water pools and an amazing waterfall which is the main feature. If you’re in the downtown area of Fort Worth make sure you visit it….take your lunch and sit amongst the water and the gardens.

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Ty had heard the Yankees were in town to play 3 games against the Texas Rangers. There just happened to be a Texas Rangers store downtown FW. Two tickets were purchased for the baseball Tuesday evening. Nine innings took around 4 hours including the breaks between. It was a warm night with a light breeze so not too bad really.

Ty wouldn’t let me finish this post without adding the score – rangers at home 6-4 over the Yankees….

Wednesday dinner will be in Mexico City.

A busy day on the Wild Atlantic Way

 

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As has become the norm for most of my prattle I’m starting this blog with little pieces of information about The Wild Atlantic Way.

This coastal road in the Republic of Ireland is listed as the longest signed coastal route in the world.  It is 2,750 km or, for those using imperial measure, 1,700 miles in length. The scenery varies with huge cliffs, sandy beaches, big surf, emerald coloured mountain ranges and pretty towns.  The Wild Atlantic Way starts at the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and traverses seven counties before it ends in Kinsale, County Cork.

I had already travelled part of this route on previous trips to Ireland, including the Ring of Kerry, The Burren and West Clare (taking in Galway), the Dingle Peninsula and Connemara.  Hmm, now that I’ve listed the places here  I realise I’ve completed quite a large chunk of the middle and, given I’ve spent a bit of time in Cork, I may have even completed the end of the trail.  So this time I’m at the beginning of the trail!  Like eating an ice cream in a cone from the bottom up…….

It’s Sunday and Sundays are always quiet in small towns and very often the shops don’t open so it’s a good day to follow the tourist trails.  Today the plan is to visit Sligo, Bundoran and Slieve League.  Of course Donegal sits in the middle of these place – Sligo was south and Slieve League was an hour from Donegal in a northern direction.  Our ‘lady of the house’ asked us what our plans were for today and when we told her she was a little surprised and pointed out that Sligo and Slieve League were in totally different directions…’that’s fine with us, we’re used to travelling distances’ at which she laughed shaking her head at these mad Aussies at the same time asking if we’d like more tea or coffee.

No thank you” was our reply, in unison!  The tea was very strong and quite bitter – not at all the English Breakfast tea I was used to.  Not that I’m in any way a tea connoisseur, not at all, I only drink tea, without milk, if I’m feeling unwell or travelling in some parts of Europe when the coffee is strong and bitter and the milk plays havoc with my stomach.

We left the breakfast room, bidding Sheila and her kitchen helper a good day, and headed back to our rooms to get ready for the day ahead.

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Sligo in bloom

 

Sligo and Yeats’s country was our first stop this morning. The drive to Sligo was picturesque with many houses having colourful displays of spring flowers in pots on the ground or hanging from the walls with beautifully manicured  emerald green lawns.  So pretty.  Sligo is a much larger town than Donegal and is the capital of the northwest region. A very quiet town this morning…we drove around the ancient streets a couple of times, eventually parked the car and went walking.  Sligo is best known for the poet William B Yeats who is buried in Drumcliffe cemetery.  The magnificent mountain Benbulben, part of the King Mountain range, is identified with Sligo throughout the world. Benbulben is an amazing sight which you see from several different angles as you drive towards Sligo and it towers over every part of the region.

Sligo is also known as the shopping capital of this region and boasts 4 shopping centres…unfortunately, or fortunately, these weren’t open this morning!  Many shops actually opened on Sundays but not until 12 noon. We’d be on our way to Bundoran before then.  No time to dawdle today, places to go, mountains to climb!

Tourist buses started to arrive in town so we took this as a sign we should now move on….we’d been very lucky to wander the streets and cross bridges over the river that were covered in spectacular blooms with no other tourists in our photos.  We  had morning tea to sustain us for the next part of the drive.

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Benbulben

On our way back north towards Bundoran I could see a castle standing out on a cliff to our left and decided to head off the main road towards it. It was still too far away  to take a good photo of the castle so we drove further along the narrow twisting road eventually coming to a section of road that allowed a clear view of it.  We took several photos as quickly as possible so we didn’t hold up the traffic on this backroad….it was a busy back road! We needed to find a turning place but then we saw the sign…  Mulloghmore.  Mulloghmore is a holiday destination situated on the Mulloghmore Peninsula.   “Let’s drive on and see what the town is like”  I said to Ty ‘We’re not in a hurry to be anywhere”.  It was summer time (so they said) and daylight saving meant it would be light until 8pm or 9pm.   So we drove a little further and thinking we might be able to get closer again to the castle Ty drove up a very narrow lane which was shared with walkers and cyclists.  No, that wasn’t going to work so instead of a left turn we took a right turn.    The lane followed the cliffs in an arc and as we drove further around the cliffs the lane became a track for a couple of kilometres before becoming a lane again. Fabulous views of the Atlantic and islands beyond although there was no room to stop the car.  A family in a campervan had stopped ahead of us and we had to negotiate the little piece of road to go round the van.  We continued on, we rounded a corner and the little lane widened as it sloped to the bottom of the hill.  A sharp right turn at the bottom took us to the tiny village below.   The main village consisted of a pub or maybe 2, a general store and a number of B&B’s.

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Mulloghmore

A lovely park across the road overlooked the beach and the wild sea. It was rainy,  the wind was strong and the black clouds were circling…not a day for being in the surf or wandering along the beach. The view was quite spectacular but would have been much better had the sky afforded us just a smidgen of blue.  A great place for contemplation on a fine sunny day! To my surprise there were surfers out in the sea even though the waves were minimal – the land temperature was around 12c so the water would have been 7 or 8 Celsius.  The  surfers and swimmers all wearing wetsuits or steamers but Ty said that still wouldn’t keep the body warm.  They were obviously locals!!

The wind was picking up and the drizzle was turning to rain, it was also freezing, so it was time to move on but before doing so we headed to the general store to purchase the obligatory postcards and fridge magnets…we found postcards only.  We also found ice creams…..

On to Bundoran!  This is the most southern town in Donegal County and is a well known surfing town.  Given Ty loved the surf I thought it appropriate that we should visit and my hope was he would take the opportunity to go in the surf….even for a short spell.

I had read about Bundoran’s surfing history and so assumed a village something like Mullaghmore but twice as large.  How wrong I was…..Bundoran is a large town that I liken to Blackpool (right or wrong).  I may get howls of protests about this statement! The main road through Bundoran was crowded with cars parked on either side and people on the footpath.  Majority of people on the footpath had an ice cream cone in their hand. Not hard to notice Ireland and England have a large ice cream culture in the summer time… seems it’s a staple.  Almost every second shop was an ice creamery and every third shop was a souvenir shop.  A few souvenir shops also doubled as an ice creamery.  No, I didn’t mention pubs in the above sentence – it is Ireland so I didn’t feel it necessary … we all know it wouldn’t be an Irish town without a local or two or four.  For those who don’t know –  A ‘local’ in this context is not someone who lives locally but what we in Australia call a pub or club the inhabitants of a town visit on a very regular basis.  It’s their local drinking place.

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Bundoran

We drove through the town and down towards the sea.  We ended up at a large golf resort and an equally large trailer village across the road. There was a  fairground/amusement park,  bingo halls, cinema, a swimming centre for the kids as well as every pub seemed to have entertainers booked.  There was lots to keep all the holidaymakers happy in any weather. I could go on but I’ll stop here in case you’re planning a trip to Bundoran and I spoil it for you!

We drove slowly along the Main Street again looking for an interesting pub to have lunch and somewhere to park the car.   I spied  Bundoran Surf World store and I said to Ty “here’s the store I told you about where we can rent the steamers and body board for you to take a dip”.  He looked at me for awhile and then said “It’s freezing out there, I might be silly but I’m not stupid”.  “But I thought you would like to have your photo taken in the surf at Bundoran…I’d put the picture up on the wall” I  said trying to appeal to his sense of bravado.  “There is no way I’m going out in freezing water for anything… perhaps if I were 20 years younger I might have considered it!”  Well, I wasn’t able to turn the clock back 20 years and I couldn’t get my husband to get in the water no matter how much I begged or cajoled, I was even quite willing to pay for the rental of the board and the suit!  No, it was no go….the opportunity and his bragging rights had been lost forever.

Yes, body board not surfboard – Ty had been a avid surfer until he developed knee problems a few years ago which forced him to body board instead these days.

There was no parking to be had anywhere in this town, Ty wasn’t going in the water so I lost interest in a very touristy Bundoran.  “Ok, let’s move on” I said.

“Where to next my sweet” Ty asked.

I thought for awhile and replied “What about Rossnowlagh?”  “Ok”

Rossnowlagh is not far from Bundoran and a little closer to Donegal.  The beach here is 3 kilometres long.  I hoped that it would not be as busy and touristy as Bundoran. It was more ‘out of the way’ or ‘off the beaten track’ than  Bundoran and the road was fairly quiet…that seemed hopeful.

Arriving at Rossnowlagh we followed the signs to the beach and were pleasantly surprised to find lots of parking spaces available.  The weather was still very chilly and windy but not as cold as Mullaghmore had been.  We parked facing the beach and took in the views in front of us.  A few keen surfers waiting for a wave, same amount of swimmers and others walking along the beach with their dogs, kids or partners.

We also noticed something else…..there were ice cream vans and other food vans parked on the beach.  Then one other picture came into view….that of cars driving on the sand, parked on the sand and rally driving along the sand.  We watched a white jaguar speed across the beach several times.  Ty commented that the sand looked hard packed as no cars were sinking at all and some were quite close to the water.  We looked at each other and I think we both had the same thought…. I said “why don’t we drive onto the beach as well and have lunch like everyone else”  So we did.  I know, it’s the simple things  we enjoy …. to a point of course!

We reversed out of the car park and took the little beach access road.  The sand was not soft at all but very hard and driving wasn’t a problem in our Audi A4 rental car.  Driving over the masses of kelp was a different matter.  Ty took us on a drive along the beach a couple of times and each time we drove over a clump of the kelp it popped and squelched as the tyres hit it. Not the best sound in the world.

Finally it was time to remind him we were hungry…so he parked up close by the food vans….the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain again.  Typical, just as we need to get out of the car to order lunch… disappointingly no one came over to take our orders so we had to get out in the rain.  Hmmm, think lunch will be a little soggy!

Choices were not grand it was a food van.  Darelle chose a sausage on a roll,  I chose a hot dog and Ty opted for the very British lunch of fish and chips.  So let’s take some time here to discuss the exquisite meal prepared by the tattooed Brutus and his son (I suppose you’d call them the typical chippy van men).  We could pay them in either pounds or euros…they weren’t fussy! Not sure how the conversion rate worked as we had euros.  The van was equipped with all mod cons…gas stove, deep fryers by 2 or 3, a bar b que grill and an urn for making coffees and teas.  A paint scrapper, or what we know to be used as a paint scraper in Aus,  was used to flip the burgers and turn the sausages.  The buns were heated up on the bar b que grill – deep fried in butter.  The safe food handling certificates were displayed but it was hard to determine the year and not sure how they’d read it due to fat build up on the certificates but I’m sure we’ll survive the lunch.  Don’t they say we need a little bad bacteria for our well being?  We were having ours  today.

So, dear reader, let’s break down this whole process of ordering lunch to eating it.

We placed our orders, then huddled under the awning of the van at a vain attempt to stay dry and keep warm as the wind blew directly in our faces.  Every so often I opted for a spell in the warmth of the car, then I’d go back to join them in the cold. I soon decided this was not sensible and it was best if I just stayed in the car!!

Finally, Darelle and Ty came back to the car with the food….food and serviettes were handed out and we got into position to eat in the car….not something we do often…in fact we probably won’t do it again!  It’s not the most comfortable way to eat but when the wind is howling and the rain is heavy it’s the only way to have lunch at the beach.  Indigestion here you come….

My hot dog was not your usual boiled Frankfurt but a deep fried sausage of some sort in the hot dog bun with copious amounts of tomato sauce.  It wasn’t bad at all.  Darelle’s sausage bap was in fact 2 sausages on a bap (bap is a soft bread roll with flour dusted on top) and Ty had the fish and chips, the fish was not fresh fish but frozen fish that had soaked up a lot of oil in the cooking process….assume the oil was not hot enough.  The chips, Ty reported, were good and just as well because there was a lot of them!  So we were sitting on an Atlantic Ocean beach and the fish served up was frozen …surely fresh fish would be easy to come by in this place.  I wasn’t getting out in the rain to discuss this with Brutus plus he didn’t look like he would take kindly to that sort of question.

There were a few interesting people wandering by the car, one family consisted of mum, dad and the 4 children.  They were all wearing tank tops, this fact gave me goosebumps (it was not a day for tank tops), mum had tattoos covering all her arms and walked along sipping from a pint of Guinness, dad was sipping his coffee purchased from the van man. I abstained from coffee or tea….didn’t fancy a coffee made with water from an urn… ordinary coffee .. perish the thought!! I like my latte’s and this was not the place to ask  for a latte.

Further down the beach Darelle pointed out a Range Rover at the edge of the water started towing a child on a body board attached to the tow bar up the beach and in an arc.  I also noticed the car next to us had the motor running the whole time we had been there but no one was in or near the car.  Whilst we were discussing this fact an old mobile home/camper van muscled it’s way in between the food vans and us effectively  blocking our view of the right side of the beach.  “How rude of them” I said ” we can’t see any of the goings on”.  Not that there was much going on…..  Ty started the car and moved us forward and our view was back…all was well again!!

We sat for a while after lunch watching the swimmers and surfers but the tide was starting to come in slowly at first but them a little more rapidly so we thought it time to head back up to dry land.  Some people, who had parked their cars very close to the waters edge, were moving their cars now as the tide flowed in very fast.  A few lonely cars were still sitting there with no owners in sight…and the water was getting dangerously close to the front tyres.  Even though it would have been interesting to watch any mayhem we had places to go!!

Our next place of interest was Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) …we had to pass through Donegal on the way so we decided to call into the B&B and collect our coats and heavier jackets.  When we told our ‘lady of the B&B house’ where we’d had lunch Sheila told us the story about a group of wedding party guests who, due to lack of parking near the venue, parked their cars on the beach.  Whether the guests were from out of town and not aware how quickly the tide comes in or they were enjoying themselves way too much and forgot about their cars – no one really knows.  However when the tide rushed in 5 of the guests cars were taken back out to sea and then washed up on the beach.  Nothing new to have cars  and four wheel drives being washed away or inundated with water from crashing waves.  It happens at least once each summer as many of the locals flock to the beach and park their cars on the hard sand. There are plenty of warnings about not going too close to the edge but time and again beachgoers ignore the warnings.  The council has tried to ban people parking on the beach but the motion was rejected as locals believe this is what very often brings visitors to Rossnowlagh in the summer.

After changing shoes and picking up our heavier coats and scarfs we were back in the car for the drive to Slieve League.  Approximately an hours’ drive which would allow for the drizzling rain to move away and bother someone else.

As we drove on we thought afternoon tea might be nice but we hadn’t come across any villages where that looked likely.  Oh well, we’d eaten so much in the last 4 weeks I’m sure we didn’t need another piece of cake or slice.  Just when we’d agreed that it was best we rounded a corner and up on the rise was a lookout and a little coffee van.  Well, we had to stop….there’d been no decent coffee on offer at the chippy van – unless you liked thick, black and bitter coffee.

The coffee van had a few customers although I suspect it was secondary for some because the view from the lookout was very picturesque.  We spent time at the lookout eventually turning our attention to the little shiny coffee van.  “A latte please Ty” I called to him as he made his way to the van.  He called us over and pointed to the menu at the same time asking if we’d like something to eat. We saw the coffee menu which had much more variety than just plain coffee.  Darelle and I spied the mint hot chocolate…. Darelle licked her lips as she said “Ooh, that looks good I’ll have a mint hot chocolate” “I will too, but a small one” I said to Ty as he was placed the order.  The first sip hit the spot…just the drink for a cold, windy day heading for the cliffs of Slieve League!  Chocolate and mint go so well together and this drink tasted just like a hot Peppermint Crisp.  For those not familiar a Peppermint Crisp is mint flavoured crispy toffee like pieces covered in milk chocolate…

Finally reaching the base parking area for Slieve League we noticed that there was a gate  and beyond the gate were goats and sheep so we were unsure whether we were able to drive through the gate so opted to park in the car park.  We also naively thought the top of the cliffs was at the top of the hill in front of us.  I didn’t do enough research on this little jaunt.

Slieve League is 601 metres high, almost 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher, but not as well known. We reached Slieve League through Carrick, a very pretty town, which I should think would be freezing in the winter.  Actually all these places along the Wild Atlantic Way would be freezing in winter….I wouldn’t leave the house for 3 or 4 months if I live here.

The little town of Teelin is the gateway to the mountains. We parked the car and opened the gate to start the walk to the top of the hill.  It was almost a vertical walk and I’m sure the goats were laughing at us as we struggled up the step winding road.  A car came up behind us…”we could’ve driven” I said through heavy breathing.  “Do you want me to go and get the car?” Asked Ty.  “No, a little walk will do us good and it looks like it’s just up here” I proffered.  A young couple were walking back down the hill and as they reached us we asked how much further did we have to go to reach the top.  “45 minutes” came their reply. “45 Minutes” we echoed. Probably due to the distressed look on our faces they both said “no, it’s about 10 minutes”.  “Oh, ok, we can manage that without the car” and on we walked with a bit more spring in the step knowing we were close.  That spring soon waned to a slow laboured step when, after 10 minutes, we rounded yet another corner and we still couldn’t see the viewing area.  We could, however, see the small road winding  it’s way ever further up the mountain.

More cars drove past us in either direction and at this point Ty said “That’s it, I’m going back for the car you girls wait here or walk on and I’ll pick you up”.  This time we didn’t argue…we still didn’t know how far we had to walk and we realised we’d have to walk back down again. The mist was also starting to roll in ever so slowly but still coming in. I gave Ty a kiss and he turned to go back down the mountain as we turned to carry on up the mountain.

Every corner in the road we turned we were sure the lookout would be there but we were disappointed.  We also had to continue to dodge cars driving along the same little road.  No footpaths up here it was sharing the road with the cars or walking on the edge trying to dodge the rabbit, goat and sheep poo or stepping on a loose rock and falling down the steep cliffs.  Some parts of the road had hardly any edge to allow us to jump out of the way of cars. Onward and upward we walked and still no sign of Ty in the car or the lookout. “We’ll beat him to the top at this rate” I commented to  Darelle as we negotiated another tight corner with cars heading for us!

Finally, 45 minutes or so after starting the trek, we reached the main viewing area at Bunglass but Ty and the car were nowhere to be seen.  The wind had picked up and the mist continued to roll in. Ty still hadn’t arrived….”oh well, rather than sit around waiting let’s wander around the edge and take our photos before we loose too much more to the mist” I said to Darelle.

We noticed people still trekking further up the trail heading to the top of the mountain.  There are 2 paths to the top, One Man’s Path and Pilgrim’s Path.  Dogs are not permitted on these paths but we saw a number of families with their dogs in tow.  We decided against taking this precipitous walk for a couple of reasons; I’m  not that energetic today plus, with my luck, the mist would roll in even faster and I’d probably tumble down the cliffs.  So far this trip I’ve managed to steer clear of any trips and falls so there is no way I’m going to jinx myself on the last leg of the journey!

The views from Bunglass, where we stood, were still amazing as we stood mesmerised by the waves crashing into the base of the rugged cliff face..although we weren’t mesmerised for too long because the force of the wind had increased blowing my hair into my mouth and eyes.  At one point I turned out of the wind, pushed my hair back and pulled  my scarf up over my hair to keep it in place.  I turned back to face the cliffs but it didn’t matter how tightly I held the scarf the wind was determined to push it off my head and once again my hair swirled into my mouth and eyes.

‘That’s it” I said to Darelle ”this wind is annoying me now I’m going to the cliff facing the other side.”  Sorry reader I’d love to say the north side or the east side and sound like I know my compass points but unless I know I’m facing a certain direction, such as  north, I have no idea where north is.  It’s similar to me having to read a map for directions…I turn the map around.  Not that we have to worry about map reading these days as our GPS or Google maps tells us exactly where to go!!  I’ve been travelling since the days of the large maps that almost took up the whole of the car when, as navigator, I would have to determine which direction we were headed.  For all of you who also remember those days it was hell wasn’t it? Although we may not have ended the journey on good terms with the driver we did get to our destination!

Speaking of drivers, as I started the walk back across the car park to the other side of Slieve League Ty arrived.  Of course we’d been here for some 20 minutes or so before his arrival and had completed our viewing.  The two of us also decided we’d leave the wind to her mountain as she was obviously tired of the amount of visitors today and was determined to rid her friend, the mountain, of these pesky people.

I walked with Ty to the viewing deck on this section of the cliffs, encouraged him to purchase a scarf from the scarf and hat seller on the way.  The hat seller made a comment about how bad the wind and the cold was becoming so he was packing up and heading down to somewhere warm. Sensible man – we should do the same now.  Not before taking photos of a Napoleonic Tower built, by the English, on the side of a cliff in the early 19th century…..in case of a French invasion.  England still ruled Ireland at that time.

Ardent walkers and climbers would enjoy trekking this magnificent part of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland.  Just ensure you start early and return to the viewing point before the mist rolls in….there are very few fences along the track to keep you from falling .  A head for heights is also a must….

Ahh, so good to be in the car and out of the cold wind for the drive back down the mountain. Of course I was elected to open and close the gate at the base so the goats and sheep wouldn’t escape!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donegal at last….

Donegal and Sligo had been on my list of places to visit for many years. I’ve visited Ireland at least 7 times and never ventured further than Galway and the Aran Islands on the west side so this holiday I was determined that we would visit Donegal. We by passed Dublin altogether

My sister wanted to visit her uncle in law, Billy, in Belfast again so that fitted in easily to our little touch of Ireland trip. We could fly across from Paris, spend a couple of days in Donegal and surrounding areas, then drive on to Belfast for a couple of days and that was the plan. However, Darelle wanted to go to Waterford to purchase Waterford Crystal from the factory shop…..I suggested that our retailers, Myers and David Jones sold Waterford Crystal at home but her reply was “No, I want to purchase the figurines from the factory shop in Waterford”. “Why?” I asked “So the recipients of the gifts know I went to Waterford and purchased them”. “Ok, I’ll look at that option” I said.

The plan was now to go from Paris to Donegal via Waterford. We flew from Charles De Gaulle to Cork, picked up a hire car and drove to Waterford where we stayed overnight. The factory store opened at 9am but not wanting to look desperate we arrived at the store about 9.30am. We spent an hour in the store…the array of crystal items was amazing and many items were 1000 euros plus…so don’t pick up the items and look very carefully and don’t swing that handbag around too quickly. Many of the pieces were very extravagant and the champagne and wine glass offerings were beautiful. I was tempted but resisted due to price mainly. Darelle found the necessary figurines and, unfortunately, I also found an item I rather liked….a crystal vase shaped a little different to others and perfect for holding my roses….. Did I say ‘a’ vase? Well, I couldn’t buy just one, could I? I had to have a matching pair – well, what if I had enough roses in my garden to fill 2 vases? Ty also fell in love with a figurine of a teddy bear so I threw that in as well. God knows where we’ll put it…but I’m sure we’ll find a place! So several hundred dollars later and the goods organised to be shipped by Waterford we left the store.

Amazingly the amount spent doesn’t seem too bad when you walk out without the goods in your possession…easy to forget you’ve spent any money at all!!!

It was 10.30 and time to leave Waterford for the 5 hour drive to Donegal. We were literally crossing Ireland in a diagonal from east to west and hoping the weather would improve as we drove further west. We weren’t being at all realistic because everyone knows the West Coast of Ireland can be extremely wild and mostly has every season within a day. The weather in this part of Ireland shows no regard for the seasons, actually the weather in most of Ireland shows no regard for the seasons.

Our rental car for this part of the journey was an Audi A4 – we had been given an upgrade as Hertz couldn’t find the rental car we had booked. Unfortunately, although they appeared to be quite generous they did find it necessary to place a hold of 2,500 euros in case we damaged the car. Given we have already paid an insurance that covered an excess of $2,800 this extra hold charge was unexpected and, in all the years of hiring cars in Europe, has never happened before. Anyway, not much we could do about it…the rental for the week was 406 euros. Moving on!!

Ty was enjoying driving the car so much so that on the road between Enniskillen and Donegal he thought he was in a rally! We stopped at a small town for a quick lunch and continued on our way.

The weather, well, what can I say – rain, sun, drizzle, sun, rain, sun, overcast, rain, sun, drizzle, torrential rain, sun and so on. The temperature was about the same as the weather, temperature up, temperature down by 3 degrees, temperature up by 2 degrees, then down again and this continued for the whole trip. Ah, I forgot to mention the wind and the mist which also rolled in when we crossed a mountain and disappeared as we drove down the other side.

At this time of year the flowers in the gardens and hanging baskets are quite beautiful, multiple colours are used to make spectacular displays. Some houses had flower gardens and baskets to match the colour of the trim around windows and doors. So much thought and care goes into these displays and it isn’t just one house but practically every house in every town. The towns also have their displays in the parks, hanging from lamp posts and in large pots in the main squares around town. I would love to have those displays in my garden in spring and summer but the heat and my forgetfulness to water the blooms would be the downfall. So I tend to take hundreds of photos of the floral spectaculars that I see on our journey and dream about being able to have our home looking this good.

 

 

When I booked our accommodation in Donegal several preferred hotels were booked out, in fact most of the places in Donegal town were booked out. I didn’t want to place us too far out of town because we prefer to park the car at our accommodation and wander around the town, walk to dinner or different pubs for a drink. You can’t explore a place if you need to drive everywhere! So, back to the accommodation, the only choices we had was for a B&B or a couple of hostels. I am not a hostel person even in my younger years hostels were not for me even if they promised en suite rooms. The lodges and B&B’s were an ‘eny, meny miney mo’ exercise……..a few review reads and working out distance to town I settled on the Railway Lodge. It looked ok on the web page and reviews said it was a short walk to the centre of town so I booked it.

Driving into town was a little slow, there was a slight traffic jam – nothing compared to our traffic jams of course.  Donegal is a very old town and Donegal Castle is in a very central position in the town. Donegal Castle on one side of the road, a Church of Ireland on the other side with the Old Castle Pub sitting strategically in front of  the church.  A pretty town with a central square…….all the shops and pubs border the square on 3 sides.

We drove along one side of the central square continuing on past the castle and the church across the bridge and started to head out of town.  We rounded a slight corner and saw the railway station ahead as it came into view we saw the sign for the Railway Lodge on our left.  As we drove into the parking area I thought it a little less impressive than the website photos but isn’t that often the case?  At this moment, as I took in the 3 storey residence, a horrible feeling came over me.  “What’s the bet we’ll be on the top floor with no lift” I thought to myself not game to mention my thoughts out loud at this point.

Ty turned the ignition off and we sat there for what seemed like minutes but was only a second or two then he said “So you’ve booked us into an attic room with no lift have you?” I looked over at him and at the house and said “I hope not, I didn’t have much choice of accommodation in town”.  “Hopefully we’re not in the roof” I added.

“We’ll, you had better go to check in and see where our rooms are whilst I unload the bags” Ty replied.

Darelle and I went in and, the lady of the house, Sheila, met us as we stepped into the hallway.  Sheila welcomed us warmly and then said, apologetically, your rooms are on the very top floor.  “Really” I said trying to sound jovial even though I was not happy.  Sheila apologised again probably my face showed my disappointment or because Sheila realised we weren’t young people here for the championship regatta being held in Donegal.  We had no idea what was on just that the town and surrounding area was fully booked. Sheila asked if we had much luggage…”we’re on a 5 week holiday we have lots of luggage” I replied with a smile (I hope).

I went outside to give Ty the good news and help with the luggage.  My poor husband was not happy as he knew he was the one to carry all the bags up all the flights of stairs.  Each of our bigger bags weighed over 20 kilos each and we also had hand luggage! There were 3 sets of stairs each containing 8 steps there was also 2 landings.  Ty had to navigate these stairs 6 times (3 up 3 down).  At least he’d reach his 10,000 steps easily today so there was a positive.

As he stepped inside with the last piece of luggage the lady of the house apologised again that we had rooms up in the roof cavity. I guess with B&B’s it doesn’t matter when you book as to what rooms you are given but when you arrive.  We were the last to arrive that day so we were relegated…lol.  Oh well, we’d enjoyed 3 weeks of 4 and 5 star it was time we came back down to earth I suppose….

Ty eventually got all the luggage up to the rooms…he wouldn’t let us help..that was his job he said. Well once we got the bags in the rooms there was not much room for anything else.  Darelle had a single room and it was indeed a single room….very small and cramped.  Ours was a little better but the double bed was up against one wall so one of us would have to climb in and out….that someone was Ty ….it was his side of the bed.

We all had a very sleepless night and the next morning, before we went down for breakfast, we told Darelle we were going to find somewhere else to stay tonight as we couldn’t stay in this room and she couldn’t be squashed in her room again either.  She agreed.  At breakfast Sheila asked how we’d slept … I said not very well as the rooms were a little uncomfortable….I also mentioned the fact Darelle could hardly get into the shower in her room because the cubicle and the shower screen door opening was so small. We did laugh mainly because the vision of my sister (who is not a big person) trying to squeeze herself sideways into the small shower cubicle with great difficulty was amusing.  I did not mention to Sheila that Ty had trouble crawling down and out of bed in the middle of the night for a loo break.  My husband is not the most agile person so this exercise took some time for him to manoeuvre his frame to the end of the bed.  All the while he would have been trying not to disturb me…such a thoughtful man.

We did laugh at our plight when speaking with Sheila – we made it a lighthearted conversation but we also had to be honest.  Sheila went back to the kitchen and when she returned a couple of minutes later she offered us other rooms on the floor below.  People were leaving today and she was happy to move us to a bigger more pleasant room.  I asked if Darelle could be moved to our room because that room, although not good for 2, would be ideal size for a single.  Sheila said she would move Darelle downstairs as well next to us later in the day. We thought that a fair and reasonable offer so we agreed.

Before heading out for the day we went up to our room to complete packing our bags so we would be ready for the move.

Today we’re taking a drive to Sligo, Bundoran and Slieve League along the Wild Atlantic Way…..

Too Young for River Cruising or …… so I Thought!

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Avalon Felicity

My perception of river cruising through Europe was that this form of holiday best suited the much older traveller or for people who had low activity levels so when my sister mentioned she’d like to take a river cruise down the Rhine River my immediate response was “We’re not old enough yet” and “I’ll be bored sitting in my room or the bar whilst floating slowly down a river for 8 days”. We continued to discuss the pros and cons of a river cruise…even though we’d never known anyone who had taken a river cruise ….eventually I said ‘Ok, we’ll go with you”. I’m sure I had been sipping on a glass of wine when I uttered those words but the conversation very quickly moved to dates. Before I knew it we were all going on a river cruise in July 2017…all I had to do was find the cruise that fitted Darelle’s annual leave dates.

I spent quite some time researching various river cruise options, weighing up value for money, inclusions and what was really important to have and what wasn’t – I chose an Avalon Waterways 7 day Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel. Avalon also fitted in with the dates perfectly. A couple of other friends decided to join us as well….the more the merrier!!

Excursions and alcohol, at mealtimes, was included and outsized of mealtimes we had to pay for our drinks but that wasn’t an issue for us as we weren’t big drinkers so a couple of drinks in the lounge of an evening wasn’t going to break the bank. Ty and I also don’t take holidays then worry about every extra item we might have to pay for … that would make for a miserable holiday if we did. I also didn’t think paying a thousand dollars extra with a different cruise company to have unlimited alcohol was a sensible option. Granted the higher priced river cruise ship could possibly have larger staterooms, a 24 hour butler service and more dining options but your stateroom is for sleeping so you’re very rarely in it. Avalon also had waived the single supplement and when you have several single people in the party that is a very big saving. If we like this type of holiday I’m sure, at some stage, we’ll try a different brand for comparison. I read reviews on various companies, some friends knew people who had toured with Avalon previously – some customers were happy some weren’t. I read reviews and listened to the relayed experience of others then weighed up the pros and cons to make my own decision. My only concern was the water levels…a friend had travelled several years prior and the water levels were extremely low so they spent more time being bused from one town to the next and spent very little time on the ship. Water levels were not something that could be controlled…we had to hope that this would be a good year for the rivers.

The day of embarkation arrived and cruise check in was at the Movenpick Hotel. We weren’t sure where the Movenpick was in relation to our hotel so we booked a taxi to take us and our luggage from our hotel. The cost from the Hilton to the Movenpick was around €12 so the distance between both hotels was not great. Cruise ship embarkation time was 4pm so we had an hour to wait before the coach would pick us up to deliver us to our river cruise ship. Beer, soft drinks, tea and coffee was on offer in the large meeting room during the wait.

The bus duly arrived and we were driven to the pier…..it was an extremely short ride. The pier was just over a small bridge from the Movenpick. Not even a 10 minute bus ride….it took longer to get in the bus than it did to reach the pier. After boarding the ship and being given our cabin keys Ty and I decided to walk back to Central Station to a pharmacy, it was then we discovered if we had walked under the rail bridge, less than 100 metres from the Hilton, at any time during our stay we’d have realised the Pier was just a 10 minute walk away. We could’ve easily wandered down with our bags however Lesley has a damaged knee so walking can be difficult for her. She would not have managed the walk pulling her luggage along. Taxi was right thing to do. We still laughed when we saw how close we were.

We’d already been in Amsterdam for 3 days but we get an extra day and night in Amsterdam as the ship does not sail until Monday night. We knew our river cruise itinerary included a canal cruise so we didn’t worry about about taking one during our 3 days. Seemed a waste of time to do the same cruise twice.

Our ship was the Felicity and we had a panorama cabin on deck 3 one cabin down from a suite. Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and there were no balconies – we had a sliding door. Perhaps the later models have the balcony with chairs. Nonetheless it wasn’t a deal breaker just a little disappointing. It was also a rarity to be able to leave the door or curtains open overnight due to other ships docking right up close and personal – window to window at each town. So if you jumped out of bed in the morning to see where you where and check out the view the only view you saw was another ship’s cabin window. If the people in that cabin had their curtains open and were looking out at the same time they’d get a very nasty shock to see a naked man or woman looking back at them! Not a very pretty sight at all and we’re not in Amsterdam where people choose to go to see and visit the special windows so best to keep those curtains firmly closed overnight and don’t open them till you’re fully clothed.

 

  • Food was excellent and well presented
  • More intimate with only 130 guests on board
  • Staff were very welcoming
  • Personal service
  • Cleanliness of staterooms and common areas was excellent
  • Dining staff who always enjoyed a joke and had a smile
  • Number of excursions included in the price
  • Ship was in good condition overall

Dislikes:

  • Morning excursions commenced at 8.30am….we didn’t have to take them and could’ve rested but, you know how it is, we didn’t want to miss out on anything…lol
  • Weather….it was chilly bordering on cold some days and rainy…yes, I hear you saying “suck it up princess” but it is the European summer!
  • Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and no balcony. Photos shown were of newer ships in the fleet.
  • Pace of excursions were frustrating when less mobile people joined the active group instead of their group.

Would we take another river cruise……we’re already talking about it!! Only problem is there are so many to choose from…should we cruise Portugal, the French waterways or Russia and the Black Sea area? I’ve already cruised the Russian waterways, Ty hasn’t, but I’d do it again……….

Planning our next European vacation 2017

The Beginning:

About 18 months ago we were sitting around the dining table with one of my sisters and the talk turned to travel….as it invariably does when I’m around…..and where we’d like to visit next in Europe. We started with Romania and Poland then somehow the conversation moved to the Black Forest and parts of Germany. My sister, Darelle, fancied a river cruise through Germany taking in the Black Forest. ‘Hmm, not so sure I’m old enough for a river cruise’ I said and Ty chipped in ‘and if she isn’t old enough I’m certainly not river cruise material!’ I’d been to a number of the towns the cruise visited previously but perhaps relaxing on a river cruise would be good for us. Darelle had never been to Paris either so we agreed that for the year of her ‘big’ birthday we’d take a river cruise, spend some time in Paris, revisit Belfast as well as catch up with family and friends in the Midlands UK. I also had an idea for a small group tour I wanted to trial.

The Planning:

The planning stage had began the minute we agreed on the river cruise and my mind went into overdrive, some people take drugs or alcohol to excess, gamble or have a mania for exercise to get the adrenalin flowing….for me I just need to plan a trip!! Unfortunately for Ty it’s a little more stressful as my trip planning affects our household budget and he can be prone to the odd panic attack. At those times I reassure him that I’m not overspending, we’re fine and, to make him feel more at ease, I keep the costing spreadsheet firmly hidden.

As well as wanting to ensure Darelle sees the places on her dream list it was only fair to include some of the places on my bucket list not just revisit places. There are a couple of towns on the Rhine river I’ve not visited yet, Colmar is one such town, and there are others. There are also a couple I’ve visited twice previously but I’m good to visit again. It’s easy to miss some little quirky item or piece of information when we’re touring on our own so a guided tour often gives up some secrets. On the other end there is Donegal and Sligo in Ireland….on my list every visit to Ireland I’ve done over the past 40 years…..finally I’ll make it.

Once we decided on the river cruise that suited us I then looked at the other places and put them into the spreadsheet. Placing these ideas into chronological order could have been challenging luckily, however, the cruise companies advertise the dates of the European river cruises 12 to 18 months ahead so I used that as my starting point. The spreadsheet quickly took shape and after a little more juggling the plan was in place.

For me planning where to go is the easiest part of any holiday….accommodation can be more difficult with so many hotel choices, reviewing websites, pricing and our expectations. This is often the longest stage of organising any trip.

The Base Itinerary

As you can imagine, with 5 travellers, our itineraries are varied….. we’ve commenced the journey together but as the tour progresses several will branch off to other areas.

  1. Day one arrive Amsterdam for 3 days
  2. Embark Avalon Felicity for a 7 night river cruise to Basel Switzerland.
  3. Paris 2 nights
  4. 7 night Chateau and Champagne tour returning to Paris for a further 3 nights
  5. Ireland, Northern Ireland and U.K. will be the final 2 weeks of our

The Duration:

I know what you’re thinking, ‘how strange to place the duration or length of the trip this far down in the organisation cycle’. All I can tell you is that I’m a little different to most people organising a holiday. The ‘where I’m going’ is most important and I do have a timeframe in my mind but it’s not listed on the spreadsheet and it’s not agreed to at the beginning. I let the places and distances help me work that out. When it goes over the time that I know to be reasonable
“How do I know what’s reasonable” you’re thinking….WELL when Ty asks how long this holiday will be and he goes into meltdown when I give him my calculations I know I need to look at condensing!!

We’re away from home for 38 days in total…just over 5 weeks. I don’t think 38 days sounds as long as 5 weeks…what do you think?

Who has joined us and who hasn’t:

In the beginning we were 4 travellers, Ty, myself, Darelle and Troy (aka Lord Lunchalot in previous blogs). Several months later we became. A party of 6 with Lesley and Jacinta joining the trip. However, Lord Lunchalot felt he couldn’t make the trip due to work commitments and dropped out so we became 5. We were a little disappointed when Lord Lunchalot dropped out but I have no doubt we’ll cope.

As mentioned above we start this European holiday in Amsterdam via Guangzhou flying with China Southern. We’ve flown with this airline to Europe previously. Darelle is not keen on flying at all but is improving. Four of us are flying business class with China Southern with our 5th companion flying Qantas with an upgrade request in place ….. at the time we left there was no word on her upgrade. We have our fingers crossed for her. Flying on different carriers also means we arrive early morning and Jacinta arrives at the hotel late afternoon.

We’re doing this one in style, although, as you know, dear reader, I try to do all my trips in some sort of style! The limousine picked us up from our home for the 2 hour drive to the airport hotel….no early morning rush for us just a nice leisurely evening before a very short walk to the international terminal.

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The Flight

Departing passengers no longer need to complete the departure card and electronic gates have replaced customs officers in booths which makes things a little easier. It also helped that we received express path cards from the check in desk. Three of us passed through baggage and body screening with relative ease however Lesley was stopped for a body search as she has had a knee reconstruction and the scanner picks up the metal. Lesley did tell the officer about this, however the woman continued to pat down her legs and when Lesley complained of her hurting the leg another officer told a her to place Lesley in the body scanner but the officer ignored him, he tried again several times to tell her to place the traveller in the scanner but she continued to carry on her frisk search. Eventually she let Lesley through and we carried on to the Skyteam Lounge for breakfast.

The flight was uneventful and on time. However, Guangzhou airport is a little disjointed as many international flights arrive and then taxi to an area away from the main terminal. Passengers are bused from this outside area to the terminal building with business class passengers being transferred in a mini bus. This was not the most comfortable ride …. we had to place our handbag and hand luggage on our laps. The airport is very big and very spread out but given they’re now a hub for passengers transferring to/from Europe the airport should be upgraded to allow more planes access to an aero bridge making a better customer experience.

Transferring to your next flight is not that much fun either. Our flight left from terminal 4 but it didn’t actually taxi out from terminal 4. Terminal 4 is down a set of escalators that didn’t actually work so we walked down the non moving escalators carrying our cabin baggage. Didn’t bother us as we didn’t have a lot but some passengers had several bags. There was a lift which was extremely slow because of the number of bags many people had which didn’t allow for large numbers to ride the lift at any one time. This area is more like a basement and certainly does not have enough seating for the number of flights leaving from this transit lounge. China still needs to work on this area to have all international flights able to connect to an aerobridge. I know busing your customers back and forth to planes sitting out in various holding areas creates lots of employment but it certainly doesn’t add to the customer experience at all. When our flight number was called we were taken to buses for the ride out to the plane.

We had a 5 hour layover which was mostly spent in the VIP lounge where we had the time to shower and change into more comfortable clothing for the overnight leg. I booked in a time for my shower as had a number of other people. The attendant on her way to collect the next people in line when a man, who had just walked into the lounge, stopped her and said he wanted to take a shower now. He was quite angry when told there were others waiting before him and he raised his voice at the young lady. Everyone in the lounge was looking at him…

Darelle and Lesley both had a meal at 1am after leaving Guangzhou for AMS. Lesley all 5 courses, Darelle just the main. We opted out and went to sleep – we couldn’t eat another thing… When I went to see them after breakfast Darelle is munching on chocolates – the snack and drinks bar was in their little section and ‘it’s lunchtime at home’ was her excuse!! Glad we didn’t have a snack bar in our section Ty would have wanted the seat opposite.

I had prearranged a transfer to our hotel in Amsterdam so when we arrived we were expecting to see as person holding a sign with our name on it….no, no sign to be seen. I looked at the voucher and read that we needed to be at a meeting point, a red and white square, we could see signs to meeting point and headed that way as Ty wandered off in the other direction to find the driver. He was much more successful than us and came back weigh him just as Darelle and Lesley decided to go in the opposite direction to find the meeting point. A little like a group of sheep being herded. The driver then had to find the rest of the herd whilst telling us to stay exactly we here we were…’we could go and find them as we know what they look like’ I said. ‘No, tell me what they’re wearing I will find them’ and he did! That sorted we headed to the car.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and straight to our rooms. Time for a shower, unpack a little and head to the executive lounge for morning tea. Well, morning tea for Ty and I but I suspect Darelle and Lesley will opt for a second breakfast.

Let the holiday begin…………..