Ireland At Last

May 9, 2010

Finally on our way to Ireland on the Irish Ferry, The Oscar Wilde, a large ferry that had about 1350 people on board, some of which slept in the corridors outside the restaurants or in the bar area.  Everyone was trying to get home to Ireland.  After watching the Normandy coast line disappear we decided to go for a walk around the ferry.  We got to the main bar area and ran into Con and Angela who had set themselves up in a large corner for the night.   They had not been able to get a cabin or a reserved seat.  Luckily for them a couple that they met at the Hotel Ibis in Cherbourg had a cabin with four bunks and offered them a room for the night.  The Irish are a very caring and considerate people.  We had a drink with them and then set off to see the rest of the ferry.  We walked all the outside deck areas and covered most of the interior.  Then it was time to catch some sleep.  We returned to our cabin on Level 6 cabin 108.  A nice size cabin with two single beds, a desk area and a small ensuite.  We watched CNN News and called it a night.

Woke up in the morning to a beautiful sunrise and wandered down for some breakfast.  We ran into Con and Angela again in the cafe line.  We got some breakfast and sat chatting to them for a bit before Wandering around the outside decks taking some photos for a while.  It was lovely outside but the breeze was bone-chilling. We sought shelter from it and chatted with a guy who offered to take us to Dublin to get our car when we docked in Rosslare.  But we had already made some plans.  Before long it was lunch time so we went into the bistro.  Chris ordered the beef stroganoff and I ordered the tikka chicken.  The meals weren’t that good, they were too dry and chewy but hey it was nice and hot.  We went back up to our room to pack up our things before we had to depart the ferry.

It took us almost 40 minutes to get off the ferry.  When we got to Customs, they stopped us and took our passports, not sure why, then bought them back again after about 5 minutes.  The train that we were supposed to catch to Rathdrum had left at 2.20pm.  As we came down the ramp into the arrivals area we noticed that there was a Budget Car Rental place so we wandered over and asked if we could pick up our car that we were supposed to get in Dublin from here.  They said we could and to cut a long story short it cost us extra [40 euro per week and a 70 euro fee for changing dropoff city]. To top everything off, the car [a Volkswagon Golf] wouldn’t start.  Back to the counter again and, after checking themselves that the car wouldn’t start, they gave us a free upgrade to a Ford Focus diesel.  Gutsy little car and even fitted both our suitcases into the boot.

We headed off to Avoca to finally start our holiday in the first cottage we had booked.  Heather had told us that a good place to pick up some groceries was at Tesco in Arklow.  We did the grocery shop thing, which is the last thing we wanted to do but had to be done.  Took us a little bit of time to find the cottage but finally pulled up outside with Heather Lawson there to meet us with a tray of small cakes. We unpacked all our things and then cooked some dinner.  Very long day so off to bed early.


Around Cherbourg

April 29, 2010

We woke up fairly early despite our long trip to Cherbourg and headed down to breakfast.  The breakfast at the hotel was fairly standard fare but included soft cheeses and a Normandie speciality that neither Glenda or I was game to try.  After breakfast we decided to see how far it was to the ferry port, so we set off.  The port ended up being quite a hike and we felt for those that had done the distance with all their luggage. We checked our booking at the Irish Ferries desk and made some enquiries re the best time to check in before our ferry departure.  After a quick tour of the ferry port, we headed back into town looking for a McDonalds which we had seen from the train station, but we couldn’t find it.  Walked the streets taking photos in particular of the church and generally just soaking up the town’s ambience.

We stopped for an early lunch but after being told in French that what we wanted was not available until midday [at least that’s what it sounded like], we had just a coffee and a pot of tea. Walked the streets a little more before we both hit the wall and decided to grab a taxi back to our hotel. Once back at the hotel we found out that there was a cafe across the road at the Cite de la Mer [City of the Sea], a combination museum, aquarium and experiential learning centre devoted to the marine environment. So we wandered over for lunch and a quick look around.  The Cite de la Mer is located in an old departure hall for the transatlantic liners such as the Queen Mary that used to ply the Atlantic between France and the USA.  After lunch we wandered down to see the Redoubtable a former French nuclear submarine, now included as part of the Cite de la Mer. While there, we noticed our ferry was docking so we wandered along the pier and took some photos before slowly making our way back towards the hotel.  Spent some time just sitting in the sun on the harbour walls and watching life go by before returning to our room.  We watched a little TV and had a well deserved nap, before heading down for dinner and an early night.

The next day, we had a late breakfast, packed up our luggage and then decided to go to the Cite de la Mer and pay to go in. 18 euros each and we were in.  First up we decided to get a closer look at the Redoubtable.  Grabbing an audio unit we made our way through to the entrance at the stern of the submarine. We made our way slowly through the submarine and marvelled at those that lived in the quite cramped environment for months at a time.  The nuclear power unit had been removed for safety reasons, but the rest of the submarine was pretty much as it was when operational.  Once the tour was over we wandered amongst the aquariums for a while and then amongst the exhibits devoted to the oceans before heading across to the experiential area for a virtual trip under the seas.  We joined a group of about 40 people doing the same thing and were split into 4 groups for the tour. Those of us that spoke English were issued with an English audio unit so that we could listen in English. First up was an introductory video hosted by a futuristic French woman who was dressed in a very 60s style outfit.  Then we moved through a series of ‘training exercises’ designed to introduce us to the different aspects of the voyage ahead.  After learning various hand signals for scuba training, being subjected to the darkness of the deep [accompanied by a little UV light for dramatic effect] and standing in a room that moved and tilted slowly to test our balance, we were sheperded into our submersible.  Like a sideshow alley ride, we were dropped into the ocean and came across sperm whales, giant squid, lantern fish and various other deep sea life before returning to the surface.  Leaving the submersible, we were besieged by virtual reporters eager to hear the story of our trip.  They then replayed our journey back through a “news report”  including lots of footage taken of us by hidden cameras as we made our way through the exhibit.  All a bit twee but good fun.

By the time we had finished the mission it was time to head for the ferry, so we returned to the hotel for our luggage and grabbed a cab to the ferry port.  We joined a lot of other travellers waiting for the ferry gates to open.  After sitting in the cafe for a bit, we joined the queue and got to talking to the couple behind us.  They [Con and Angela] had been caught in Spain by the volcano disruption.  Once the gates opened we went through immigration, onto the ferry bus, up the lift and then onto the ferry.  Our cabin on deck six was comfortable with two single beds, an ensuite and a small built-in table.  We dropped our bags off and went to have a look around the ferry.  It had 2 bars, 2 cinemas, a shop, 3 restaurants and a bistro.  We spent some time out on deck waiting for the`ferry to leave, but it was too cold so we went back inside for a drink.  When we got to the bar, we ran into Con and Angela who introduced us to two other couples also on their way back to Ireland after being caught by the flight disruptions.

When the ferry did eventually leave, we went back up to the outside decks to watch it leave the Cherbourg harbour and to watch the sunset.  Ironically for us, as we negotiated the outer harbour and were finally on our way to Ireland, we were farewelled by the sight of jet trails overhead.


More Accommodation

February 27, 2010

Some time ago I outlined details of our Irish accommodation so thought I’d better outline details of the remainder of the accommodation we have booked.

The list  falls into four main parts : London, Paris, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

London

108 StreathbourneFor London, we have chosen 108 Streathbourne, a B&B a little way out of central London.  This B&B has been recommended by Trip Advisor as the 2nd best B&B in London.  Its run by an English/Australian couple and is close by the underground [Tooting Bec on the Northern line is the closest station], yet far enough out of central London to be relaxing.  We are looking forward to staying there.

Paris

10 rue Fontaine ParisOur Paris accommodation will be at 10 rue Fontaine.  Located in the heart of one of Paris’ liveliest neighborhoods, this one-bedroom 4th floor apartment is just steps away from the Moulin Rouge, Montmartre and Sacré Coeur.  We are renting this apartment from Frenchy Rentals, a small property management group who rent out apartments for the owners.  We found this apartment via vrbo.com [Vacation Rentals by Owner] but booked it directly through Frenchy Rentals.

Switzerland

We are staying in five different locations in Switzerland ranging from the capital city to a mountain resort.  Accommodation in Switzerland is quite expensive despite the very good Australian dollar to Swiss Franc exchange rate, so we have had to economise a little.

Bern

For our two nights in Berne, we are staying at the Bern Backpackers [Hotel Glocke], booked through hostels.com, in a Twin Private room with a shared bathroom.  Located in an historic building which is part of the city’s UNESCO world heritage area, the hostel is centrally located and close to the train station.

Wengen

For our two nights in Wengen, a Swiss ski resort, we are staying at the Hotel Belvedere.  Wengen is a no-car zone, so we chose the Belvedere because it is within walking distance of the Wengen station and because it was the best looking hotel in Wengen.  The hotel is a traditional art nouveau-style chalet hotel overlooking the Alps.  We’ve chosen a double room plus breakfast.

Zermatt

For our two nights in Zermatt, a small village close to the Matterhorn, we are staying in Le Petit Hôtel, a fairly modern hotel.  Being a very popular tourist destination, and at one end of the famous Glacier Express train trip [more on that in a future post], accommodation in Zermatt was hard to come by and I think we were lucky to get a place to stay, despite booking 6 months in advance.

Luzern

For our two nights in Luzern, we have chosen a budget hotel imaginatively named the Tourist Hotel.  This hotel is located on the Reuss River and is close by the main railway station and is just a couple of minutes walk from the streets of the old town of Luzern.  Despite being classified as a two-star hotel and being closer to a hostel than a hotel, it  received fairly good reviews from TripAdvisor.com.

Zurich

For our three nights in Zurich, we have splurged a little [within our budget, at least] and have booked into the Hotel Continental. Built in the 1960s, the Hotel features Swiss chalet-style interiors and is centrally situated, 500 metres from the downtown area and the main train station.  It also received very good reviews on TripAdvisor.com.  The exterior of the hotel, in the photos I’ve seen, looks to be your typical bland 60’s architecture, but the interior photos belie the drab exterior.

Hong Kong

We are staying in Hong Kong for 3 nights on our way back to Australia.  We have chosen a harbour view room at The Salisbury – YMCA in the Tsim Sha Tsui part of the city.  Reasonably central, this hotel came recommended by a couple of friends which was good enough for us.



Training through Europe

December 28, 2009

Been spending a lot of time looking at train options for our trip.

We have 3 main train components in our plans. The first is from London to Paris. Second is Paris to Berne and lastly the train journeys through Switzerland.

The rail networks throughout Europe are quite extensive [for example, here is Switzerland’s] and very well run and maintained. They also compare very favourably to air travel. A vast difference to the Australian rail network which is abysmal by comparison. Once you start looking at train options, there is a wealth of information of varying usefulness out there. Many sites are just fronts for travel agents or ticket agencies and don’t give to a lot of pricing information unless you go through their booking process.

The official rail websites for France and Switzerland [www.sbb.ch] on the other hand were very useful for getting timetable and ticket price information. The Swiss one in particular was extremely good. Give it your starting point and your destination and it will tell you all the connecting journeys required as well as produce a map of your journey. Very useful but a little dry on useful details on the best options.

By far the best site I found was an independent site called The Man in Seat 61 [www.seat61.com]. Started as a hobby this site is amazingly full of detail. He discusses the best options for travelling by train, including when and how to buy your tickets, details of what you will see on each train journey, photos of the trains, inside the trains and the stations, when and where to change trains, whether to get a rail pass or not, seat maps on some services and details of the food and other services available. Full of links to the various official train sites and ticketing agents. I used this site extensively to get up to speed with the options available to us and recommend it as a first point to visit for anything to do with train travel in Europe.