Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Dublin Saunter

Well, it has been a while since our last blog post and due to popular demand Michael thought it was time for an update on our life in Dublin (actually not one single person has commented on our lack of updates however I won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story).

Michael is enjoying work and has undertaken a few business trips to Shannon, Edinburgh and London.  He even came within a whisker of meeting the Princess Royal as she was presenting a business award at the hotel where he was staying.
Phoenix Park only 5 km away with 2 herds of Deer


Dublin continues to treat us very well and we have settled into a relaxed rhythm of life.  It has been interesting to watch the city change with the seasons –not just the weather but also the people.  During the summer, it is difficult to walk the streets due to the hordes of tourists who converge by the bus load into the city centre.  The numbers ever so slowly dwindle over the autumn until by November, almost overnight, the streets are empty. 

The weather is a topic that is constantly on the lips of the Irish people.  When it is discovered that Michael and I are living here, people are incredulous that we would leave the Australian sunshine behind and settle here, albeit for a short time.  Every single shopkeeper, without exception, will comment on the weather of the day, usually along the lines of “freezing today” or “shocking weather we be having”.  It is wonderful to hear them say how “grand” the weather is when the temperature rises above 15 degrees.  Actually, the weather doesn’t bother us much.  The cold is not unpleasant (when you have lived in Canada, the Irish cold barely raises a shiver).  The rain is manageable, although at the moment we are having one storm after another, which is causing havoc in the west of the country and terrible flooding in England.  The wind is what I dislike the most, as the gusts can be so strong that they almost blow you off your feet.  I always laugh when I see people battling with umbrellas, half expecting them to take off like Mary Poppins.   All I do when the winds are up is pull by hair back with a Limerick facelift, tuck my neck down into my shoulders and stride purposefully to where I am going.  Luckily the wind seems to only come for a day or two and then the rest of the time it will be nice and calm.

Michael managed to get in a number of dives over the summer including a deep dive on the MVS Leinster.  The Leinster was a Dublin Steam Packet vessel, carrying 796 passengers, 501 of whom were lost after the ship was struck by two torpedoes, 14 knots from Dublin only one month prior to the end of WW1.  The dive season ends early in Ireland as not only does the temperature drop but the water becomes very choppy and unpredictable.


Te Dejo Madrid

One of the things that we most want to do whilst living in Ireland is to take advantage of the closeness of some of the major European cities. In September we headed to Madrid for four days soaking in the sunshine and 30c temperatures. On the first day we were trying to find the famous Mercado de San Miguel however we somehow ended up the Mercado San Anton instead. We wanted to try the tapas for lunch however with our Spanish not being very good, we ended up with 5 full meals instead of the smaller tapas dishes. They were all lovely but far too much - even for Michael!
The city is absolutely wonderful with grand building and boulevards.  It was particularly lovely to see huge banners strung across a number of public buildings welcoming refugees.  This was a stark contrast to Australia’s policy on refugees.
We finally found the Mercado San Miguel, which held stall after stall selling many different varieties of fresh tapas and seafood.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many jamons hanging, all of them glistening with oil.  The idea is to grab a plate or two with a glass of wine and enjoy grazing and people watching.  This is a very pleasant way to pass an hour or two.

One of the main reasons for our visit to Madrid was to see the Prado Museum and the work of one of our favourite artists, Hieronymus Bosch.  The Garden of Earthly Delights is possibly his most famous work and it was lovely to view it up close before the tourists arrived.  The museum also houses a number of works by El Greco and Goya and of course many other artists. The museum itself is very attractive and is well laid out.
Every Sunday the El Rastro streets are turned into a market place and the area transforms into a huge flea market, crammed with quality crafts.  The crowds flock there and the vibe is very happy and bustling.
We found plenty of little bars that served the traditional tapas with wine and beer and overall the people were very friendly and welcoming.  I think that Madrid was Michael’s favourite city that we have visited.


Twas Within A Mile o’ Edinburgh Town

In October we headed to Edinburgh for a weekend. I had visited there over 30 years ago and had always wanted to return. Michael had been for business however he did not have a chance to see the city. We could not have chosen a better weekend as the weather was a glorious sunny 15 c.  Naturally we walked the Royal Mile and up to the castle and generally wandered the entire city taking in all the sites including the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. The only downside was going to the World’s End Pub to watch the World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand. We were a bit concerned when we walked into bar and there was a sign stating that Referee Joubert was barred!  We did our best to keep a low profile however the Scots, whilst polite, were not sorry to see Australia lose. That evening was Halloween and there was an enormous street party that was completely packed out. We saw some amusing costumes, the best of which was a gentleman dressed as King Arthur pretending to gallop down the street whilst his friend jogged behind making horse clopping sounds with two coconut shells a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We tried some Haggis in a number of places and I have to say that it was very pleasant.  I finally was able to taste an Irn Bru (pronounced Iron Brew), which is often described as Scotland’s other national drink.  It was very tasty.
Michael and I managed to take part in a whisky tasting in a lovely store just off the Royal Mile in Jeffery Street.  A very knowledgeable gentleman took us through the history of whisky, and then we sampled various types. The only pain with carry on luggage is you cannot have any liquids over 100ml so that ruled out buying any bottles.
We had a great weekend and look forward to exploring more of Scotland.

From Dublin With Love

In November we were lucky enough to watch the International Rules match between Ireland and Australia.  I was very excited, as there were 5 champion players as well as the coach from the all conquering, triple premiership winning team – the mighty, fighting Hawks.  It was an interesting match although our skills with the round ball left a lot to be desired.  We staged a late come back however it wasn’t to be our night.  It was thrilling to feel the roar of the crowd once again.  It was also a special night as it was the 95th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre at Croke Park and a memorial service was conducted and flames on Hill 16 were lit representing the 14 people murdered.

We have had a bit of fun doing a few touristy things now that it is the offseason.  We visited the wax museum, which was a bit of a hoot (Madame Tussaud’s it isn’t).  In fact, if the models hadn’t been labeled, we would have struggled to identify who they were supposed to be.  Michael and I also visited the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum Experience, which has recently opened.  We had the guide all to ourselves and he took us on a fascinating journey through Ireland’s rich rock and roll past.  The museum is crammed with memorabilia and it would be good to return there another day to just wander around and look at it all properly.  There was even an opportunity for us to dress up and play musical instruments, which we politely declined.
Continuing the rock and roll theme, one of the highlights of our year was attending a U2 concert.  Michael and I first saw them play at the Sydney Entertainment Centre just after it had opened 32 years ago (I believe that the Entertainment Centre is now to be demolished).  The chance to see the band play in their home town was too good an opportunity to be missed, so Michael booked tickets to one of their sell out shows as soon as the tickets went on sale.  It was an amazing night with a high tech stage that moved about and giant video screens so that you could see everything.  Bono and The Edge were in fine showmanship form and the crowd knew every word to every song and sang loud and clear.  They played all their old hits and some of their newer music and by the time the concert was over you felt well and truly entertained.  It was a fantastic night.

The Strasbourg Clock
Best picture in Munich

Just before Christmas we headed off to Munich and Strasbourg for four days to see the Christmas Markets. We had been in Munich around this time 3 years ago and it was covered in thick snow and was very cold and you needed the mulled wine just to warm up. This time it was 15c and no snow to be seen anywhere. The markets were still great and easy to get around.
Once again we visited Wirsthaus Zum Straubinger so that Michael could have his schweinhaxe and beer.  Michael ordered the whole schweinhaxe and the waiter did a double take and asked Michael if he was very hungry.  Michael responded that yes, he was very hungry.  The look on the waiter’s face was priceless when he came to collect Michael’s completely empty plate at the end of the meal. I don’t think that many people order and eat a whole schweinhaxe.
I had wanted to see the Christmas markets in Strasbourg as I had read that they were the best in Europe.  We caught a train and then a bus to Strasbourg and once again it was a very comfortable journey.  There was no snow however it was nice and sunny and so perfect to wander around. There were 12 markets of varying size in the old town all set up in old style and selling beautiful handmade decorations, chocolates and various other items and souvenirs. The street lighting was fantastic and finally I have found a city that rivals London for the best Christmas lights.  They were absolutely spectacular and the Christmas tree was gorgeous. Even with the lack of snow you felt you were in a wonderful place that could only be European.  Strasbourg has to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Another bus and train journey back to Munich to relax and continue our travels. It was strange to see all the shops shut the Sunday before Christmas. In Australia people would accuse the Government of killing competition, but there they don’t have the Christmas hype and people were enjoying the decorations and markets that were on offer.

Nollaig Shona

Dublin city looked very pretty in the lead up to Christmas.  The streets were decorated with beautiful Christmas lights and we went the official “turning on” ceremony, which was fun.  Many of the stores decorated their windows with Brown Thomas going all out with exquisite decorations throughout the store.  Christmas music could be heard throughout the city which adding to the festive feeling.  There was even a Christmas market close to where we live.  Unfortunately the market was in danger of being blown away by the high winds that buffeted the area.  It was only the second year that Dublin has run a Christmas market and they plan to grow it to rival the big European ones.

Michael and I had a very quiet Christmas in Dublin with a nice lunch at the Radisson Blu. It was a cold 9c and the rain came down in buckets.  Still, we managed to enjoy ourselves and even had a chuckle at the waiter who served our red wine in an ice bucket!  The food was very good and it was a nice place to enjoy our 4th Christmas away from home. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Rocky Road to Dublin

Well, we managed to get through immigration, despite the fact that Michael’s work permit had not arrived.  The friendly immigration official stamped our passports with a 3 months visitor visa, as he was sure that our documents would be coming.  He told us that we would then have to attend the immigration office with Michael’s work permit when it arrived and then we would be issued with our 1 year visas.  We checked into our hotel and then set out to try and find somewhere permanent to live.

I was tasked with the job of finding an apartment for us, as Michael had to start back at work immediately.  I found a suitable apartment in the docklands area of Dublin. The apartment is a very nice 2 bedroom, 2 bathrooms affair in a reasonably quiet location.  We have spent the past week buying bits and pieces as although it is furnished, we have to provide the linen, towels, cleaning products etc .  It is starting to look like home and I think we will be happy here.
The work permit finally arrived and off we trotted to immigration where we waited for 2 hours to finally receive the precious stamps.  We went to dinner to celebrate and it wasn’t until the next morning that Michael realised that he had the wrong stamp in his passport.  The stamp he had been given specifically stated that he was not to work whilst in the country.  Not happy!  Back to immigration where the gentleman just giggled and put the correct stamp in Michael’s passport.  There were a few other glitches along the way however I mustn’t complain.

London in July

Michael’s brother, Matthew, and his family are holidaying in England so we thought it would be a great idea to fly over and spend the weekend with them.  Michael researched the flights and accommodation and chose a flight landing at London Airport on Friday night and selected a hotel that was only 10 minutes by DLR from the airport.  Unfortunately, Michael received a text message from British Airways at lunch time on Friday informing him that our flight had been cancelled however they had booked us on another flight leaving half an hour earlier but landing at Heathrow Airport instead.  Oh well, not much we could do about it.

The next morning we were greeted by a lovely sunny London.  Michael and I headed to the Borough Market for breakfast and it was almost deserted.  We had a great time looking at the different stalls and it was blissful not having to push our way through the crowds.  Michael then left to meet Matthew and family at Greenwich.  I did not join them as they planned to visit the Maritime Museum and I had already been there twice.  There are many galleries and museums in London that I would happily visit many times over, however the Maritime Museum is not one of them.

I walked across an almost deserted London Bridge and wended my way through the quiet streets until I reached St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was here that I began to seriously wonder if something had happened, as there were only a handful of tourists about and absolutely no one was sitting on the cathedral steps.  It wasn’t until I reached Trafalgar Square that the crowds began to build.  I spent a lovely day visiting my favourite haunts.  There was an exhibition of El Greco at the National Gallery. I had never seen his artwork before and now I am inspired to visit Spain to see more.  The National Gallery was a bit too crowded and the day was so lovely, that I decided to once again walk along the Thames, crossing Westminster Bridge and then back along Lambeth Bridge.  I wonder if Londoners know how lucky they are to live in such a fabulous city.

I finally caught up with the others at the M & M store.  We chose what we wanted and Michael took our purchase up to the counter where the cashier took one look at Michael and shrieked.  We stared open mouthed at her whilst she apologised saying that she had a great fear of foxes.  Michael was wearing a t-shirt with a giant fox on the front, which I had bought him for Christmas.  The cashier then continued to serve Michael, all the while avoiding looking at him.  It was quite bizarre.  We then had a lovely meal in Chinatown and it was great hearing about Matthew and Kate’s travels and the places they have visited.
The next day we met Matthew, Kate and Olivia and headed to the Columbia Road Flower Market for breakfast.  It was another lovely day and it was very relaxing walking around and once again we found it no where near as crowded as our previous visits.  We walked from there to Brick Lane to view the graffiti and the markets and I was actually able to see inside some of the shops, as Olivia wanted to see the vintage clothing on sale.  Then it was over to Spitalfields Market followed by a pub lunch with Pimms.  It doesn’t get better than that.  A walk through Covent Garden to the Seven Dials and then it was time to say goodbye so that we could head off to the airport.  It was strange saying goodbye, as we don’t know when we will see them again.  Hopefully they will come and visit us in Dublin. 


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Oh, Vienna

A short train journey on a fabulous German train took us to Vienna.  We dropped our bags off at the hotel and headed straight to the old town to Café Diglas where Michael was once again able to have his Scheiterhaufen (a magnificent bread pudding topped with six inches of meringue).  He has talked about that cake for nearly 3 years. 


 We then spent the rest of the day wandering around the city and enjoying the sunshine.  It was very different from our last visit when all of the streets and parks were covered with snow.  This time, there were many outdoor seating areas at the restaurants and all of the city fountains were running. 


We found a lovely wine bar and tried some different Austrian wines followed by dinner at a restaurant recommended by the proprietor – Drei Hacken.  I naturally ordered the schnitzel, which actually turned out to be 2 of the most enormous schnitzels you have ever seen. We struck up a conversation with an American couple seated next to us and they told us about their travel plans.  Michael told them about our travels and how we sold our house and initially left Australia for 6 months and how, nearly 3 years later, we are still travelling.  They declared that we were the first homeless people they had ever met that they didn’t feel sorry for!

The next morning we headed to the Naschmarkt for breakfast.  The market has existed since the 16th century and is approximately 1.5 km long and filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, bakeries and restaurants.  It is probably one of the best markets we have been to – up there with Viktualienmarkt in Munich and the Borough Market in London.

It was then time to resume being culture vultures, so we set of for the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, as I wanted to revisit the Last Judgement triptych by Hieronymus Bosch. We arrived as the gallery opened, as I wanted to beat the hordes of people I expected would be there.  Michael and I had the gallery to ourselves and we were able to spend ages examining the triptych up close.  It is a fascinating piece of work.  We also took our time looking at the other artworks on display including several by Rubens.

Michael wanted to see the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt again, so we walked over to the Secession Building.  Renovations were taking place however we were still able to view the frieze.  I must admit that I am slowly warming to Klimt’s works.

Next stop was the Albertina to revisit Albrecht Durer’s Hare.  The detail on this piece of artwork is extraordinary and it was lovely to once again see it up close.  Naturally we wandered around the rest of the gallery admiring the other artworks as well as the beautifully decorated rooms.
We spent the afternoon wandering the city and admiring the architecture.  Then it was time for another Scheiterhaufen followed by a beer in a leafy beer garden in Karlsplatz.  Vienna is such a beautiful and relaxing city.
The Belvedere was next on our list of museums so that Michael could revisit the artworks of Klimt.  We were especially lucky as there was a special exhibition of more of his works in addition to the ones that are on permanent display.  They are beautiful buildings to walk around and it was especially nice to walk in the gardens as the fountains put on a spectacular display.
One of the quirky things that we noticed when walking around Vienna are the traffic lights.  Some of the standard red and green men at the pedestrian crossings have been replaced to show support for same sex relationships.  Now there are two women holding hands, two men holding hands and just so that the heterosexuals don’t get upset, there are a man and a woman holding hands.  I wonder what Tony Abbott would think?

It was sad to say goodbye to Vienna as we had enjoyed our visit so much.  It really is a city that one should visit in both the winter and the summer, as there is a definite change in the city in the two seasons.  I really hope that we can return to Vienna and I would love to see more of Austria as well.
Michael and I took the fabulous airport train from the heart of Vienna to the airport.  The train takes just 16 minutes and the it looks brand new and is spotlessly clean.  I think it is even better that the Heathrow Express.  We boarded our Aer Lingus flight and touched down in Dublin, our home for the next two years.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Dream in Sighisoara

A quick and comfortable train journey took us back to Bucharest where we had a 2 and a half hour wait for our connecting train.  When we boarded our train at Bucharest, who should we see but our bogus charity collector from our previous journey.  He obviously didn’t recognise Michael and when he approached, Michael looked him right in the eye and said “hello again”.  Recognition dawned on his face and he abruptly turned and walked briskly in the opposite direction.  No help with our luggage this time.

We arrived late at night in the lovely mediaeval city of Sighisoara.  Our hotel was situated opposite the station so we didn’t have far to drag our bags.  Our room was in the attic and I managed to crack my head 3 times during our stay whilst Michael, remarkably, didn’t hit his head once.
The Lonely Planet describes Sighisoara as being so pretty it should be arrested and for once, this city lived up to its hype.  The city sits atop a hillock and is fortified with a 14th century wall with 9 of its original towers intact.  It is like stepping into a fairy tale with narrow cobblestone roads wending their way through beautifully preserved 16th century houses.  The Gothic Church on the Hill sits on the town’s highest point and dates back to 1345.  The church itself is magnificent and is surrounded by a fabulous old German cemetery, which was lovely walking around and watching the squirrels scampering from branch to branch.  An amazing covered stairway with 172 steps takes you up the hill to the church.

We explored the massive clock tower and Michael climbed to the top to admire the view.  The clock dates back to 1648 with wooden figurines representing characters from Greek and Roman times.  The roof is covered with multi coloured tiles and it looks very impressive when the sun is reflected. 
We dined at Casa Dracula, which is situated in the house that Vlad the Impaler was born.  We paid our 5 lei each or 10 lei for 2 people as our dead-pan waiter informed us so that we could see the actual room where he was born.  We climbed the narrow staircase, which led to a darkened room lit only by a single candelabrum.  Dramatic, atmospheric music played and there, behold, was an open satin lined coffin! It was pretty hard to keep a straight face nevertheless we enjoyed wandering around the room and the adjoining dining room as well.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, served by our humourless waiter and we were delighted to find papanasi on the menu for dessert.  The papanasi arrived and Michael had just commented that they were very hard, when I heard a loud snapping sound and looked up to discover Michael sitting there covered in jam and cream and holding half a knife.  We sat there, roaring with laughter until Michael signalled to our waiter and requested another knife.  The waiter, upon seeing Michael’s knife snapped in two, cracked his first smile of the evening and declared that Michael was too strong.

Go Back to Where You Came From

It was time to start wending our way back again and unfortunately we needed to retrace our journey to allow ourselves enough time.   A 7hour train trip took us back to Cluj Napoca.  Michael had booked us into a different hotel this time so that we wouldn’t have to drag our bags through the road-works.  How thoughtful, I thought to myself.  What he neglected to tell me was, that this time our hotel was halfway up a near vertical hill.  Not happy.  My good humour returned though when I discovered how nice our room was as also how friendly the owners were.  They recommended a lovely Romanian restaurant for our dinner and a few extra sights that we had missed on our first visit.  One of these sights was the mirror street of Iuliu Maniu Street.  The buildings in this street are the exact mirror image of each other.
I am very glad that we were able to see more of Romania than just the capital of Bucharest.  It is a beautiful country and the people we met were very welcoming.  We would definitely like to return, as there is still much more to see including Sibiu and the wine region.  

Another long train ride of 7 and half hours took us back to Budapest.  At last we could do our washing as we found out the hard way that Romania does not have laundrettes.  We dropped our washing off and were then able to enjoy our dinner followed by a drink in a ruin bar.  Early to bed for us, as you would be surprised at how tired you get sitting and doing nothing all day.