These are Eric’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.
What can I say? Today is a long day, with lots of flying... We are awake early (before six) but have to wait for our AirBnb host to prepare breakfast. It is a great breakfast, and definitely worth waiting for, but today it's hard to have the patience. Our vacation is over, and after three and a half weeks we're ready to go home again.
We drop off the rental car, take our stuff and are ready to check in. Because our flight doesn't leave until two, we have to wait for the check-in counters to open. But when they do, we're in line, get our boarding passes, and go through security.
It turns out that our flight is delayed, the plane arrives an hour late, but finally it's there. The plane to Reykjavik is called "Eyjafjallajökull" after the volcano that erupted in 2010. For the flights back I was able to reserve a window seat, but it wasn't much use because it seems most of the Northern hemisphere is covered in clouds today. On the plus side, Iceland Air seems to have a little bit more legroom than United had on our flight to Dublin
When we land on Iceland, it's raining, and we have to leave the airplane by stairs. It's cold! We have to hurry because we're arriving late so we don't have a lot of time to make our connecting flight, but we do make it. This plane is named for a crater. By the time we take off, the sun started to come through and we leave with a rainbow.
Again it's mostly clouds as we fly to Washington, although we do see something of Canada. Unfortunately, the GPS stops recording halfway through the flight. By now the flying is getting tedious, and even the slightly larger legroom is starting to feel cramped. Eventually we do arrive on time in Dulles, and have the pleasure of standing in line forever to get through immigration. Only three counters open with all the international flights arriving. I don't know why this is always such a big issue in the U.S.; all the other countries I've visited are much, much faster. The only country I can compare the U.S. to is the Communist East Germany, when it still existed in the 1980s. Going through immigration in Dublin was a matter of minutes, and last time we flew to Amsterdam it also took almost no time.
We landed at 7:05; it took us until 8:20 to get to the terminal, through immigration and customs, and outside in front of the arrivals building where we had a shuttle to the Doubletree hotel where our car was parked. We had decided not to get something to eat on the airport but to get the car first and then find a McDonald.
Which we did - got the car, got something to eat, and drove home. We were home at 10:40 and, after a quick shower, in bed by 11. It had been a twenty-three hour day, but it was nice to be back in our own bed!
We go to the shopping center, where we have coffee and a "filled cookie" ("gevulde koek" in Dutch). Nicoline's father and I stay behind while Nicoline and her mother go shopping: Nicoline for things we want to take with us to the U.S. and her mother to do her regular groceries.
For lunch we don't have cake for a change, but a regular Dutch meal of Cauliflower, boiled potatoes and meat balls. We're starting to go back to normal! In the afternoon, Nicoline and I go back to the AirBnb room we have for one more night. Nicoline packs the suitcases (a job for which you don't want two people getting in each other's way) while I go back to her parents.
Today (Sunday) is the second day with the whole family in Centerparcs. We start out at a quarter to eight with breakfast. Everyone but Nicoline, Frank, Mark and I elects to go to a church in Haarlem together, giving us non-religious people a morning by ourselves.
After the coffee, we take a family photo. In fact, the photo here is only one of a couple I took; some people look better in one or the other but there is no photo where everyone looks as good as possible, so I'll still have some editing to do. I also take a photo of the bride and groom with their children and one with their grand-children.
My sister in law arrived early this morning so now the whole crew is complete. We didn't actually see most of the children at all today; they were swimming or doing other things. The weather was nice enough today, lower seventies, although there were some clouds.
Nicoline and I went for a walk along the beach in the afternoon. Most of the Dutch Northsea coast has beautiful sand beaches, which are augmented (sand added) regularly to keep them nice and wide for the tourists. The beaches are pretty clean, although there are some spots where shells and little crabs seem to wash on the shore - and the seagulls come to feed. In some spots people had made a "castle" or a still-life display.
The sand beach lies in front of the dunes, which protect the land behind them from the sea. We climbed the stairs to the top of the dunes, where we sat down at a snack bar, me having a soft ice and Nicoline a "chocomel." The sparrows weren't shy, searching for crumbs that were left over. Some of them even went all the way into the vending cart.
For dinner we went with everyone to the "Holly Wok" in Hoofddorp, which is like an all-you-can-eat buffet so everyone can figure out their own meal. Although it is really Dutch: they have signs that you should only get what you're actually going to eat, if you don't finish your plate, you have to pay a fine.
We enjoyed our breakfast that the landlady at the AirBnb provided for us this morning, then headed out to Nicoline's parents. After a cup of coffee we went to Enkhuizen to do some shopping and stuff in preparation of heading out.
We will be here this weekend with 17 people: Nicoline's parents (2), Nicoline and I with our two sons Frank and Mark (4), Nicoline's sister Catry with her husband Peter, three kids Michelle, David and Nathan, and boyfriend Remco of their eldest daughter (6), and Nicoline's brother Rudo with his wife Anneke and three children Anne-Roos, Jasmijn and Luuk (5). Everyone was already there when we arrived, except for Anneke, who won't be able to join us until later tomorrow.
Today, September 25th, my in-laws have been married for 50 years. The timing for our trip to Holland was organized around us being with them today, and around the coming weekend with the whole family (Nicoline and her siblings, and all our children) going to an as-of-yet-undisclosed location.
Our day started out with a bit of a blunder, in that we hadn't realized that our landlady in the AirBnb where we are would be providing breakfast. So we had stayed in our rooms, finishing up yesterday's diary and stuff, and when we were ready to leave, we found a nice breakfast waiting for us in the hallway. So Nicoline had to apologize since by now we were late and had to run.
We went to the shopping center (practically next door) where we bought flowers, a cake and four pastries, then went to my in-laws. The flowers were for a vase that we had engraved with the date and occasion.
We started out with a pastries breakfast, before others would come. We actually had not much of an idea of what to expect in the form of visit, given that my in-laws have lived in the same village for over 40 years and know a lot of people.
A number of people did come in over the day, including aunts and uncles of Nicoline; others would just bring flowers or a card and not come in. We ended up with more than enough cake, but I'm sure we'll be finishing that off tomorrow with the grand-children.
Today we start out with Frank giving us a tour of the University of Twente, where he started studying just a few weeks ago. It is supposedly the only university in The Netherlands that has an American-style campus, and there is clearly a lot of American influence to the university. The sign with the university's name at the entrance is in English rather than Dutch. There is student housing on campus, and even a baseball field. But then, there are the ubiquitous bikes which makes it really Dutch. And the parking spaces are tiny!
After the tour on the UT campus we went on our way to Bovenkarspel, where Nicoline's parents live. In Enkhuizen we passed under the "Naviduct" right when a boat was passing overhead. Then we arrived with Nicoline's parents. After catching up for a little bit, we went out to the AirBnb where we have booked a room to drop off our suitcases, and then on to do some shopping. Nicoline got drenched helping a lady whose taxi wasn't coming, and had to change into her mother's PJs while her clothes were drying. But then we could have a drink together.
Today we have agreed to be in Enschede at two to meet Nicoline's cousin Ineke and later to have dinner with more of her family, but that is not much more than a hour's drive so we have time to take it leisurely and enjoy the breakfast the hotel is providing.
Ineke had suggested a route over secondary roads, which is what we followed. We did stop in the town of Groenlo, where we will have dinner tonight, and look around the town. First order of business: buy a bag of "drop" (sweet and salty licorice), which is also our lunch. Since both Nicoline and I are drop addicts, and since only in Holland you have a proper selection of a dozen or more varieties in the stores, this is one of the first things we tend to go for whenever we come to Holland.
Groenlo is a nice little village with a pedestrian center. It is the town where the Dutch beer of Grolsch originated (nowadays they have their brewery next to the highway in Enschede), with both a Catholic and a protestant church (both named after St. Calixtus, confusingly).
When we continue towards Enschede, Nicoline notices a sign for "automowers". We stop and ask in the store, and sure enough, these are distant cousins of Eduard, our lawn bott. The store is nice enough to let us take a couple of pictures.
We meet up with Nicoline's cousin Ineke and she takes us to Lutterzand where we take a walk. It should have been a 3 km (2 mile) walk but we're done is just about 30 minutes, so we must have taken a shortcut somewhere. There is no way we were doing six kilometers an hour!
Then we go to Ineke's house for a cup of coffee, back to Enschede to pick up Frank and on to Groenlo for dinner. A whole group of Nicoline's aunts, cousins and nephews were there. Nicoline hadn't seen them for probably 25 years or more, Frank and I hadn't met most of them ever. But it was a fun dinner and the food was good as well.
We concluded the evening at Frank's new apartment, where he only moved in on Sunday and since he had classes all day yesterday and today, he didn't finish unpacking yet. So yes, he warned us it would be a bit of a mess -- and it was.
Did I mention that our host brews beer? He has a number of barrels in his living room, which are presumably in the progress of producing beer. "Mad Yeast" is the name, at madyeast.com. I think Nicoline liked it (I'm not a beer drinker).
We have been happy with our "AirBnb" locations so far (Dublin, London and now in Brussels). It is definitely different from a hotel, not only in that you don't have your room cleaned every day and have to share the bathroom with the owners of the apartment (which I don't feel is a problem), but also because you can leave your stuff in the room and don't have to worry about a lot of people having access to it. I feel that the hosts are trusting us with their whole house and all their stuff, so I don't feel worried leaving my electronics, passports and stuff behind in the room. I wouldn't do that in a hotel.
Another advantage is that you are in a regular residential neighborhood, not in a tourist area. You get a better feel of how people actually live in the country, use their public transportation, and are not always running around as a part of a pack of tourists. Like here in Brussels, we used the "pattiserie" (bakery) on the corner for our breakfast, which is what people here do (or at least, used to do).
We started the day early, I got up at seven thirty (Nicoline was already up, of course), had coffee and finished our packing and stuff, then took the tram back to the train station where we picked up our rental car. We found a deal where we could pick the car up in Brussels and drop it off at Amsterdam airport when we leave next Tuesday, which is very convenient.
After getting our suitcases from the apartment, we drive in the direction of St. Symphorien, which has a military cemetery that includes both German and English soldiers. This is because when the German occupying force wanted to build a cemetery in 1916, a local landowner agreed that his site could be used at no cost, "provided that the dead of both sides were commemorated with honour."
After the war cemetery we continue driving through the Belgian landscape along roads that have a green border on the map, indicating they are particularly beautiful. Not much in the form of pictures here, just some ideas
We reach the Maas (Meuse) river at Dinant and start following that river downstream, towards Maastricht. We actually do not cross into Holland at Maastricht, but continue up along the side of Limburg in Belgium.
When we finally cross into The Netherlands, it is at the village of Thorn, and it's time to get something to eat. With some difficulty we find a place where we can park the car and then find a pancake restaurant. Nicoline has a complicated pancake, which includes beer; I have a simple cheese and pineapple one. But they have a lot of choice; I included a photo of the menu page for just the pancakes with bacon.
We continue up into Holland and a little bit further come across a panoramic view of the Maas. I have to stop, of course, to take photos. After that, we continue to Arnhem where, after some searching, we manage to find a hotel for the night.
Twice a year Brussels has a day when all car traffic is banned in the city. People get around by public transportation (which is free on those days), bicycles or by foot. Everyone's walking on the street, only having to watch out for the trams, buses, taxis and police cars. Today was one of such days. I have to say I think it is a great idea!
Anyway, we start the day with breakfast fresh from the corner store. We wait out much of the morning, as we were having the first rain of our vacation this morning, and the expectation was for the weather to clear up later in the day. The rain was only a drizzle, though, so we headed out by eleven-thirty and around noon the rain has stopped completely. It wasn't as warm as it has been, though, only mid to upper sixties.
We got off the metro at the Palais de Justice where we immediately ran into a monument to the 1914-18 war. The square was turned into some kind of a beach area, probably part of today's celebrations. It turns out that this looks out over much of the city, so we stopped to enjoy the view.
We did find the statue of the Counts of Egmont and Hoorne, who played such an important role in the Dutch uprising. Looking around the park Kleine Zwavel where we found the statue, I noticed interesting bronze statues around the edge of the park. According to Wikipedia (Dutch), these are 48 statues representing the Brussels guilds, of which I took some pictures as examples. Inside the park, more statues, about which Nicoline has some more details.
We continued walking to the Brussels Park, where there was another event going on, with a lot of booths with locally produced food and, in the fountain area, all kinds of local craft beers. From there we took the subway again towards the army museum.
In the army museum, we particularly wanted to the the 1914-18 exhibition, and it turned out to be a very well-done exhibition, more focused on the personal stories of the war than the strategic army movements and such. Well worth the entrance fee.
The army museum is located in the Jubilee Park, so named because it was created to celebrate the 50 years of independence from Holland in 1880. It was also the site of the 1880 "World Fair". The arches were added in 1905, at the 75-year independence celebration.
From the army museum we went back to the center of town and walked around there a bit. We came across a pretty rude version of Manneke Pis; the sign above the shop said "Good boys go to heaven, bad boys to Brussels!" so I guess that explains it. We also found a souvenir, a companion to Aapje Interstate.
Today we start out by tracing back our steps from last night, to the main market square ("Grote Markt") and the tourist information there. We take tram and bus to get there, and with it now being light, get to see a bit more of the town.
Getting out of the bus, we see a sign for Manneke Pis, so we take a detour seeking out this famous monument of a naked little boy peeing. You can say what you want, but at least the Belgians aren't as prudish as Americans! The monument was dressed up today and there were throngs of tourists around, so we couldn’t really get a close look, but conveniently the waffle stand next door had a more-than-life-size replica. And a delicious waffle :-).
Continuing on to the market square, there is a group singing on the platform and we listen for a moment before checking out the tourist information, where we learned where we could buy road maps for the next part of our vacation, by car. After taking a picture of the restaurant 't Kelderke where we ate yesterday, we head out.
We don't make it off the square yet, though, as we stumble on the "Maison du Roi", the museum of the city of Brussels. It has a specific exhibition on Brussels in the first world war, and this weekend is "monument weekend" at which there is no entrance fee to many museums, so how could we resist... An exhibition on Brussels craft with wood cuts, paintings, chinaware and more precedes the WW-I exhibition.
The exhibition on Brussels in the first World War shows many artifacts of how the people in Brussels coped with the occupation, including (illegal) cartoons, games, proclamations and more. One paper warns, in German, that Belgium would be the British "deployment zone" and includes a picture of a channel tunnel. This shows one of the reasons why the channel tunnel, which was proposed over two hundred years ago, did not actually get built until the 1990s (construction stated in 1988).
Finally we do get to leave the market square, and by now it's lunch time. We get a bag of fries ("friet") with mayonnaise (yes, this is considered a meal in Holland and Belgium) which we eat in front of the Koninklijke Muntschouwburg. We then succeed in buying the road map we were looking for and find a bus to take us to the Atomium. The bus driver must have been a rookie; he cut three corners, stopped to talk with another bus driver, and had to back up on a busy square, supposedly because he forgot he had to turn left there.
My father has been to the 1958 World Fair, for which the Atomium was built. He used to have a little souvenir model of the Atomium on his desk. Having seen that model for 50+ years, I've always wanted to visit the display of an iron crystal. On the right is one of my father's photos from 1958.
We first visit the exhibition of the 1958 World Fair, using escalators and stairs. This exhibition has some of the same original artifacts my father must have seen, then get in line to the elevator to the top "atom" with the panoramic view and restaurant.
Back down we walk back to the metro station, passing some of the buildings still there from the 1935 Expo, which celebrated Belgium's 100 years of independence from Holland. We try to find the statue of the Duke of Egmont, but it later turns out we were looking in the wrong place. Silly us, expecting the Egmont statue in the Egmont park... We do come across some other, weird, statue.
From here it's the tram back to the apartment, after stopping by a super market to get some dinner (baguette & cheese).
Our host is leaving for work when we're having breakfast and we congratulate him on the Scottish "No" vote yesterday: he is a Scot and he was joking (or was he joking?) yesterday that if the Scots would vote for independence, he would have to apply for a work permit. We did not see much of the whole Scottish independence thing, except the demonstration we ran into the first day, but it is still something that clearly has everyone talking around here.
We are way to early at the railway stations, which we knew, since our train doesn't leave until one. We start out at Kings Cross station, where we have a look at "Platform 9 3/4" which they have for the Harry Potter fans. It is remarkable that we see a lot of police at Kings Cross, with semi-automatics, not just slung around the shoulder but in their hands. I don't know if there was some kind of a terrorist alert or something, or if they are always this paranoid at King's Cross.
We then cross the street to St. Pancras station next door, from where our train will be departing. There still is plenty of police visible, but not with semi-automatic weapons drawn. Anyway, we plant ourselves in some seats and take turns exploring the station while the other watches the luggage. We also spent most of our remaining coins on various lunch items to eat in the train.
I thought we would check our suitcases, but we have to taken them on board ourselves and put them into the luggage rack. The train is very cramped, even more so than your average plane. I have only a few inches of window because there's an extra-wide separation between the windows right at our seat. So not much in the form of pictures.
The train ride itself is quick enough. Just over two hours, including a couple of stops. The passing through the channel tunnel is uneventful (of course), not different from the tunnels under London we go through. It was all over much more quickly than I thought it would be, and then we were riding through the French countryside.
We arrive at Brussels South station (Bruxelles Midi in French) exactly on time and go search for a place where we can buy tram tickets. Eventually we find a kiosk for public transportation and we buy 3-day unlimited travel for 17 euros each. That's the kind of ticket I like!
With tickets in hand, finding the right tram is easy. Following the instructions we get off at the correct stop, and find the large buildings, but then get confused. It takes ten minutes of wandering around before I manage to see the numbers on the buildings and get into the right entrance. Our host picks us up and shows us the apartment on the second floor (third floor in the U.S.).
After a little bit of rest, we head back into town - without the suitcases it is a lot easier. We take the same tram back to the station, where we don't find a tourist information (no signs with the "i" symbol or anything similar to be found) but we do manage to buy a guide book with a map of the center of Brussels. So we start walking, along the Stalingrad Lane as it happens. Not sure what the Brussels city planners were thinking with having Stalingrad line off of Constitution Square, but there it is.
The town has a totally different feel from London (all business) or Dublin (all new). It still has quaint little streets with quaint little shops, and a large central square ("Grote Markt") with magnificent old buildings.
We have dinner at the square. Well, that is, we decide to go with an appetizer ("kaas kroketten") and desert (crepes for me, a cheese platter for Nicoline) instead of a full meal. But they taste well and by the time we're done it's getting dark. We manage to find a bus and tram back to the apartment.
The third whole day we are in London starts out with domestic chores. Nicoline starts out doing the laundry (which takes time to dry since there is a washer, not a dryer) while I work on making sure we have a backup of all our photos on our home server. The backup is up-to-date up to yesterday now.
It is around one when we leave the apartment On the way to the bus station we passed by a two-level bicycle stand. Now, we used to have two levels to store bicycles at our school, and you had to lift your bike to put it on the second level. Not here! The second level slides out and forms a ramp so you can roll your bike on! Very nifty.
At the bus station we take the bus to Brixton, where we find our lunch at an outdoor stall. We continue walking around the market and neighborhood, past a T.J. Maxx (called T.K. Maxx here, to avoid confusion with another brand that start with "T.J."). We see what's called a "CCTV spy car" which is used for parking regulation enforcement, and which seems to have caused a huge uproar about the government driving around spying on everyone. Eventually we end up in a "99p store" (like a dollar store, but then in pounds, and tax is of course included in the 99 pence maximum price) before taking the bus again.
Next stop is Hyde Park, where we get off at the "Marble Arch" which is at the corner of Hyde Park where also the Speakers Corner is - an area famous for people bringing a soap box and starting to talk. Nobody was talking when we were there, so we sat down on the lawn (in the shade!) to relax. The idea was to read a bit, but it turned out that my e-book reader was out of battery (maybe buttons got pressed with it sitting in my backpack) so we just sat and looked at the people. And at the weird statue of a horse's head that placed just outside of Hyde Park.
From Hyde Park we hop on a bus again to go to the British Library, where we see some of the permanent exhibitions, including the Magna Charta and a Dutch-language edition of The Book of the City of Ladies. Of course photography is not allowed inside the exhibitions, but I do have some photos of the library.
It's time to find something to eat. We walk past St. Pancras station (where we will be taking the train tomorrow) and Kings Cross station until we find a place that serves both Indian food and fish-and-chips. I've never had fish-and-chips, so I wanted to make sure I'd have some while in London, while Nicoline was looking forward to the opportunity to have a real London Indian meal.
We start the day with breakfast and working on yesterday's blog, and then have to run (figuratively speaking, but we did do a brisk walk) to get to the London Eye in time for our 10:00am timed tickets. We made it in time and Nicoline picked up the tickets while I looked at the contraption. I hadn't realized before that the pods in which the people are actually rotate themselves counter to the rotation of the big wheel (which takes about 30 minutes for one full turn), so that their floors keep horizontal.
We shared our pod with only one other couple. The windows of the pod were dirty, and added to the fog, the view was a bit disappointing. The next set of photos were all processed to be enhanced, but you can see how foggy it was in the photo of the inside of the pod.
The Cabinet War Rooms are the secret location from where the British government operated during the war. Constructed in the basement of the Treasury building, it was protected by a concrete slab that was secretively added between the basement and the first floor. It is unlikely, though, that the slab would have really protected the complex from a direct hit.
From here, the War Cabinet and the top military would work closely together throughout the war. They were effective because the War Cabinet only consisted of a handful of ministers, making it possible to make quick decisions.
We looked into Fortnum & Mason, which has great stuff but oh so expensive. We then went on to Waterstones Book Shop, supposedly the largest book store in Europe. Here we had lunch, and then Nicoline and I went to different floors to browse and read. I ended up going through most of a book on the flash that I have, reminding me of some of the features that might be useful.
On we went to Leicester Square, which also seems to be called the "Swiss Court". We went into the M&M's World store, which inspired me to buy a bag of M&Ms for snack—but at the "Off License" store, a corner store a block away, rather than at the M&M store. It was still pretty expensive, but not quite as ridiculous.
Then it was time to go to the theater, to see the "King Charles III" show we had tickets for. It was a very interesting take on what could happen when Prince Charles would become king. Not that there seems to be much chance of that, the way the current queen is going.
The Imperial War Museum has various exhibitions on the First and Second World War, and probably other wars as well. Nicoline particularly wanted to see the part on WW-I. But we look through some of the other parts as well. Interesting things like the individual bomb shelter from WW-II, or the Smith gun, which would be rolled to the desired place, put on its side, and then the bottom wheel would be come the platform on which it rotates and the top wheel would provide some shelter.
The entrance to the World War I exhibition was through a timed ticket (although still free), presumably because there is a lot of interest in that exhibition this year. Some of the posters from around the British empire, encouraging people to join the army, and one from just after the sinking of the Lusitania, showing a mother with a baby in her arms sinking to the bottom of the sea. And a copy of the Zimmermann Telegram.
We spend two and a half hours in the museum before we have enough and emerge onto the streets again. We find an ATM (called "bank machine" here) and a convenience store where we get some sandwiches for lunch, then walk on to the London Bridge. It is nice weather (21 degrees centigrade, low seventies) so it's not so much of a chore to walk the mile or so.
Like probably so many tourists, we confuse the London Bridge with the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is the old one with the two iconic towers, the London Bridge is a pretty new one (presumably because it keeps falling down?) On the way, we pass the Borough Market.
Also, it turns out I was totally confused about the Tower of London. When I hear "Tower of London" I've always seen in my mind the image of the Tower Bridge. Anyone who's been to London knows that this is totally wrong: the Tower of London is actually a complete castle (and functioning royal palace) located in the neighborhood of the Tower Bridge, but quite separate. This photo is of the whole Tower complex, with the City of London behind it.
Fortunately there is no limit to the number of people they admit, so even though it's already close to three in the afternoon, we get tickets and line up for the one-hour walking tour. Thank you to Andrea for recommending this!
As a remembrance of the first World War, there are almost a million ceramic poppies placed in what used to be the moat of the Tower. We also see some metal sculptures on the walls, representing guardsmen.
Throughout the complex we see displays of animals, to remember the exotic animals that used to be kept here (animals given to the English kinds and queens by foreign rulers) until they were moved to the zoo.
We reserved tickets for a show we're going to see tomorrow evening. From Leicester Square we took the Tube to Harrods, where we walked around. The jewelry department alone is huge, and very different from any other department store. It's clear that the clientele here has money!
The hostel room last night had a bunk bed, with a single on top and a queens-size bed on the bottom. This gave Marching Monkey a whole bed of his own at the top, but it also meant that I couldn't read my book, because there was no light on my side of the bottom bed. Well, there was something to be done about that—I "opened the roof" by sliding the top mattress away. Worked perfectly, and Marching Monkey didn't mind!
We had to get up early this morning to catch the 7:15 express bus to the ferry terminal. We did have a few moments to check email in the lobby (there is no WiFi in the room, just in the lobby of the hostel) and I received an email from our host for tonight, confirming that we can come straight to the apartment and don't have to pick up the keys elsewhere first. That's a lot more convenient with the two large suitcases we're lugging around. We were of course plenty on time at the bus stop, and could see the sky over Dublin starting to color with sunrise.
There is not a whole lot to say about the ferry and train trip. I spend a lot of the time restoring the local photo archive; somehow, the hard drive of the laptop managed to get corrupt and the Windows restore function lost a bunch of the photos. I've learned a while ago not to take the photos off of the cards until I have another backup, so I was able to go back to the cards and copy them to the laptop again. I then found that my email also seems to have been corrupted, and possibly other things on the hard drive.
Also, the train doesn't seem to be copacetic with the GPS system. For some reason, even holding the GPS receiver at the window for five minutes doesn't result in getting a fix. So we don't have much of a map of our travels today, just a couple of straight lines. We'll probably have some of that in the next few days as well as we take the metro ("underground" or "tube" in London) to get around the town.
Having arrived in London, we made our way by subway to the Oval, from where it was a couple of hundred meters walk to our host's apartment. Our host was there to show us our room and give us our keys, then we took a little break since even though it was only a couple of hundred meters, dragging the suitcases over the pavement was still tough enough.
Before we knew it we came to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, which were surprisingly yellow compared to all the gray buildings around it. I never realized they were colored so differently from their surroundings, but I guess that is because you rarely see them together with other buildings.
We walked on, past Downing Street (which is closed off nowadays) and the parade ground of the Horse Guards to Trafalgar Square. There was a demonstration going on encouraging people to vote "No" in the referendum on Scottish independence, which Marching Monkey got to join.
We had dinner in a place just off of Trafalgar Square which promised "authentic British food" although it was a bit of a fast-food place (with sit-down restaurant prices), but not altogether bad. After dinner we walked past the London Eye, and back past the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben to our apartment. I'm glad to say that I did manage to capture some decent dusk photos, even though I didn't have a good tripod with me.
We were picked up by a taxi to bring us with our suitcases to the station, which would otherwise have been within walking distance. We had the first train of the day (at 11:17, but then, it is a Sunday) which took the scenic route along the coast to Dublin. Who knew the Irish trains would have a bicycle rack inside?
In Dublin, we went to the youth hostel "Jacob's Inn" where we have a room (for ourselves) for the night. We feel distinctly out of place among all these young people! After settling in, Nicoline starts working on the laundry that has piled up over the past week while I take a bus to the ferry terminal to pick up our railway tickets for the train trip tomorrow.
Back at the hostel, I upload yesterday's blog to the public site, as well as a backup of some of our photos, before we head out into Dublin. Nicoline wanted to see the "Garden of Remembrance" which is dedicated to the various Irish uprisings. After that, we go to dinner at Toddy's Bar and Brasserie, part of the Gresham hotel, pick up some snacks and breakfast at an Aldi, and go back to the hostel.
In Glendalough we picked up the Wicklow Way where we left it off, and started out over the "Green Road" past the Monastic City we visited yesterday on to the Glendalough lower and upper lakes. This Green Road is actually a very old road, which supposedly was there already in medieval times.
The lakes are amazing! The photo next to this paragraph is the Glendalough upper lake, the five photos below form a panorama of the Glendalough lower lake. The water was very still, making for an almost perfect reflection of the mountains.
After the lakes, we start climbing along the Poulanass waterfall. Here my monopod hiking stick breaks (it had already torn on the first hike we did, I must have been leaning too much on it). Fortunately today's hike was not as strenuous as before, so I was able to use Nicoline's hiking stick and she was able to get by without any.
There was a "Beast of the East" triathlon going on today, with a 10 km run through the hills (where we had a hard enough time just hiking), 47 km bicycling through the same, and a 1500 meter swim through Glendalough upper lake. Anyway, we share the trail with runners for about a kilometer and a half, with a runner or two passing us every minute or so. I guess that's what I get for saying how we were going about as fast on the trail as the other hikers...
We left the triathlon runners but were still going up, up, up. Of course there were sheep wherever there was a bit of grass, including in clear-cut areas. We also met a couple of bicyclists (not part of the triathlon) racing down the gravel path. When we got to approximately the half-way point, there was a conveniently placed log for us to sit on having lunch.
After lunch we continued, mostly uphill (except for the downhill parts). We're going through another area with peat, with another amazing view over the hills of Ireland. I'm not able to do any justice to this view in the photos.
At the end of the peat area we start going down - a very steep stairway made of big rocks. It was scary even with it being totally dry, I don't know what this would look like when it's raining. In fact, we have been extremely lucky with the weather—three gorgeous days while we were hiking. Who would have expected that we'd be getting sunburn in September in Ireland?
Further down the path we encounter another trail shelter and then it's mostly horizontal over a wide gravel road until we get to a last steep trail down to the public road. And guess what? Just before reaching the public road, the four young guys that we saw a couple of times yesterday were sitting taking a rest. We caught up with them after all!
We finish up at Glenmalure Lodge, where we have a large drink (Nicoline a beer and I have two Cokes) to celebrate the end of the hike. Nicoline shows the bag of trash she collected on today's hike, and Eric has his broken hiking stick.
A taxi takes us to our B&B in Rathdrum, the Stirabout Lane Bed and Breakfast. After a shower and a little bit of rest we go out to a fish-and-chips shop and get ourselves some take-home food. We don't feel like having and extensive dinner today.
All in all I'm feeling really accomplished, having done these three days of serious hiking. The first day was tough, but that didn't get us down and we still had fun continuing on the second and third day. We've seen a lot of beautiful sights, much more than ever can be captured on these photos. We enjoyed the outside and were luck with the best possible weather. What more can one ask?
Today was a lot better than yesterday! Of course, the hike was "only" 10 km (just over 6 miles), so it was half the distance we did yesterday. Also, it was not as much up-and-down, although there were still a couple of decent climbs and descends in there.
We picked up the Wicklow Way right outside of the B&B where we were staying. It was foggy when we got up, got even more foggy over breakfast, but started to clear when, by 10:30, we finally got on our way. The first two kilometers were along the road and it was yet another reminder why Ireland (like the South of England) is not a great area for a vacation by car: many of the country roads are sunken into the landscape, so if you're in a car it feels like driving through a green tunnel. Which gets boring pretty quickly.
Soon enough we turned into a gravel farm road, and started going over styles and stuff. These roads give a much better view of the surroundings. One farmer even providing a tap with drinking water for hikers. This is something we should have had yesterday, when we were severely limiting the amount of water we could drink (we should have taken at least another 2 liters).
There were two groups of other hikers we kept running into. One, a boy and girl who sounded as if they came from Germany, kept passing us, then we would pass them when they'd be resting. They first passed us less than 10 minutes into the hike and we arrived at Glendalough almost at the same time. The other, a group of four who seemed to speak French, seemed to be sitting next to the road every half hour or so, but we didn't see them anymore after lunch. It was good to see, though, that us old people more or less took the same time hiking this trail as the young ones did.
The hike turned through fields of heather again, and fields of ferns - some of it turning a golden brown color. Every couple of hundred yards the view would change so we never had much of a chance to get bored. We also passed one of the shelters that can be found along the trail, much like the Appalachian Trail shelters. And Marching Monkey remains our faithful travel companion.
Lunch consists of sandwiches, an apple, and a fruit juice, packed by the lady of the Bed and Breakfast. We take a break in Laragh, at the bank of the River Glenmacness. We're more than half way by now and feeling good about today's hike.
After lunch it's onwards again, through a green forest where you'd expect a leprechaun to jump out at you at any moment, through a dark forest where Nicoline had to change from sunglasses to regular glasses, over rock, until we're rewarded with a view of the two lakes of Glendalough.
In Glendalough our official hike for today ends, but we're not done yet. We still have a 1.2 km hike up to the Bed and Breakfast where we will be staying, and before that we want to see Glendalough itself. There is a large parking lot with many tour buses and people around us speak German, French, and other languages. Glendalough is a famous tourist spot because of its ruins of a medieval monastery.
In the visitor center, they were running the German version of the presentation when we arrived, so we watched that one rather than wait for the English one. And I'm pleased to say that I had barely any trouble following it! After reviewing the exhibits, including a model of what the monastery had looked like, we went out to look at the real thing. It seems that much of the former monastery area has been taken over by a grave yard, there are grave markers by and between all the ruins.
Now we continue to the Riversdale House B&B, which is reached through a series of stepping stones to cross the river. Here we take a shower and rest, before arranging for a courtesy pickup by the Wicklow Heather, a restaurant back in Laragh (the village where we had lunch). The dinner there was wonderful but I was glad for the ride.
PS: we didn't take Nicoline's tablet to the restaurant, so that part doesn't show up on the map above.
Today we hiked our first section of the Wicklow Way. I have to admit that I overestimated myself or underestimated the hike, because it was a tough one. Almost 19 km (just a little bit under 12 miles) and it went quite a bit up and down.
It started out innocently enough with a breakfast at the B&B we were staying. By 9:15 we were outside with our suitcases, and the driver was there to pick us up to bring us to the starting point of today's hike, the Crone carpark in Lackandarragh. From there, the trail was a wide gravel road going slightly up and the whole thing looked perfectly doable.
Next we come to the "boardwalk" section of the trail. For many kilometers, the trail continues over railroad ties which are spiked with staples and chicken wire to prevent them from becoming too slippery when whet.
Finally at a quarter past one we reach the halfway point of today's hike, a memorial to J.B. Malone, the "father" of the Wicklow Way. We decided to have lunch here, and it feels good to take of the pack and lie down for a little bit! This point has a nice view over Lough Tray.
We're only half way, so we have to get up and continue. Next is a section that has been clear cut, and new trees have been planted. Then another "raised track" this time through a forest, before we reach a road. Here we run into the "Ireland Rally" of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club. One old Rolls Royce after the other passing us on the road.
The trail turns back off the road and by now the going is getting really tough. Sometimes wide but mostly narrow paths, going up and down steep hills, over styles and through fields. We pass forests (where the forrest floor is all green, covered in moss) and clear-cut areas. By this time, my feet are killing me, I have to step carefully to make sure I don't fall, and I'm really ready to be done.
By four thirty we finally reach the Wicklow Way Lodge, the bed and breakfast where we will be spending the night. The room is really nice, and after a shower and a break, we feel better. Nicoline goes out to pick up Chinese while I start working on the photos.
Today is the start of our Wicklow Way adventure. We are picked up in Dublin after breakfast and brought to our first bed and breakfast, the Ferndale B&B in Enniskerry. Here we arrive around noon and we receive the detailed instructions for our upcoming three day hikes. We also get a phone (which should have signal along most of the route) and other information.
Enniskerry is a little village that started out as a place for the personnel of the Powerscourt estate. Contrary to most such villages, it has not changed much and has more or less the same houses now as it had a hundred or more years ago.
Since the "real" Wicklow Way hiking doesn't start until tomorrow, we did some hiking around Enniskerry to get ourselves into the mood. First we went up the trail to the Bog Meadow and the Knocksink Wood Nature Reserve. The entrance to the Bog Meadow sports fields had a height limit of 1.90m, so I was only just OK with my 1.86m length.
After nature reserve, we hiked the other way to the Powerscourt estate, now a hotel. The view on the way up was spectacular! We did not visit its famous gardens, but instead had a cup of tea in its fancy restaurant. We felt distinctly under-dressed, in our hiking outfits, but fortunately Marching Monkey stole the show, with two of the waiters commenting on how cute he was! And they had the most remarkable tea bags.
Today is our third day in Dublin, the second full day. Since the tour bus ticket we got on Sunday was valid for two days, we'll have to do everything on foot today. So after having coffee at the apartment, we start walking towards downtown and soon come up to "Becky Morgans" which promises "traditional home cooked food served 7 days a week." Sounds like a perfect place for breakfast!
Having filled our bellies with enough to last us the rest of the day, we continue North, crossing the river on the Samuel Beckett Bridge, which reminds us of the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam. It is no small irony that we come across the Famine Memorial. This memorial remembers the Great Famine from 1845 to 1852, in which a million Irish died and another million emigrated.
We walk past the Jacobs Inn, the hostel where we will be staying after our hike on the Wicklow Way and before taking the ferry to England. Interestingly, there is an Isaac Hostel on the other side of the same block. We continue a little bit further until O'Connell Street, where we cross the Liffey again and head to Trinity College.
Trinity College in Dublin of course has a lot of reason for fame. What strikes me most is in how many places old buildings seem to have been replaced by new ones, even in such a historic area as Trinity College. It actually reminds us of Howard Community College!
What we really come for is the library, which houses the Book of Kells. They make a big thing of exhibiting this book, and it is definitely a beautiful work. But the display is crowded and the exhibition that leads up to it is confusing. But the library! You leave the Book of Kells display through the Trinity College library, and that is an amazing place! We sit on one of the benches and just look around for ten minutes. Fortunately, you can take photos here (just no flash), so I take a few...
After visiting the college we continue hiking through the city, and are amazed at how many people there are. We figured that in September the biggest crowds would be gone, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all. Anyway, we end up at St. Patrick Cathedral, where we sit in the park and enjoy an ice cream snack. We don't go into the cathedral itself, as it charges a fee.
Finally we walk to St. Stephen's Green, another park in the city, where we sit down and read a book a bit. Here, we see a heron, pigeons and other birds, as well as an Asian wedding party taking photos in the park.
Today is our second day in the Irish capital. We started out sleeping late, didn't get up until about 8:00. Nicoline made us coffee and we took our time getting out of bed, checking all our devices were charged, and getting ready for the day.
The place where we're staying is right next to the Google European headquarters. We passed by the entrance on our way to the little coffee shop in the Spar supermarket, where we had our breakfast. There are Spar stores everywhere here, sometimes two or three within a few hundred feet!
After breakfast we walk to downtown, with our first destination Merrion Square Park, where there is a very nice playground for little kids. We stop at the statue of Oscar Wilde, who is reclining on a rock.
At Merrion Square, we hop on the tour bus again (our ticket was valid for two days) to take us to Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) where we stand in line patiently to buy tickets for the tour. We do get to see the museum while waiting for our tour to start.
Next stop: Phoenix Park , the city park with is three times as big as Central Park in New York. The park contains, among others, the Dublin Zoo, the residence of the Irish president, and the residence of the American ambassador.
The last stretch with the tour bus takes us back into the city, to O'Connell Street, in the middle of which is a Jesus statue with a plaque reading (including the incorrect use of apostrophes) "May God bless the taxi driver's, keep them safe and watch over them on their journey's in Memory of Eugene Lawlor Rank Organizer R.I.P."
We actually go into the General Post Office (which featured prominently in the 1916 Easter Rising) to buy stamps and send post cards. In one of the shop windows, we see shoes that would be perfect for the traditional High Heel Race part of Baltimore Pride, before crossing the Ha'Penny Bridge to the Temple Bar district.
After our meal, we continue and run into an umbrella dispenser. Ireland is really a country with a lot of rain; yesterday someone joked that often it rains twice a week, first for four days and then for three days. Although I have to say that we are really lucky, and the outlook for the next few days is also sunny, maybe some clouds, but no expectation of rain.
The apartment where we're staying is part of the "Gasworks complex," an area in Dublin that used to house a huge gas processing facility. The area was a major "brownfield" (polluted area) which has been cleaned up and turned into a residential and office area. The skeleton of one of the old gas storage tanks still stands as part of a luxury apartment building. To be clear: we're in a different apartment building on the complex.
The flight over the Atlantic was as tedious as ever, even though it is only six hours from Washington to Dublin, compared to closer to eight hours to Amsterdam. The flight went fine, except for the stewardess spilling milk over my sweater. We had to walk for miles and miles on the Dublin airport, it seemed like we were parked at the furthest gate ever, but after sitting for 6+ hours that wasn't such a hardship.
By the way, it seems that the GPS picked up some satellites during our flight, so today's map has a bit of a large scale. You may want to zoom in to the Dublin area to see more of what we walked there.
According to the instructions from our host, we were to take an "air coach" into town, and then walk from the bus stop to their house. The air coach worked fine, but then we took off in the wrong direction. We definitely did more walking than we should have, and the suitcases got to be a lot heavier in the end.
Because we couldn't arrive at our AirBnB location before two in the afternoon, we stopped at a pub to have lunch (and to rest). When we finally made it to where we would be sleeping, which turned out to be right next to Google's European headquarters!
After meeting our hosts, Nadia and Marius, we left our suitcases and most of the backpack there and walked into Dublin. We did figure, though, that a guided tour on one of the "hop on - hop off" buses would be much better, giving us an overview of what's there to see in the town while sitting on our behind. After the tour, we went back to the AirBnB, bought some bread and cheese at the Spar downstairs and went to bed really early (around seven).
We're ready to go today! Our suitcases have been packed, our backpacks filled, and everything else done. What's left now is mostly to wait, wait until we can pack our stuff in the car and leave for the airport.
The flight from Dulles leaves late, scheduled at 10:30 tonight. We've reserved a place to park our car at one of the hotels near the airport, for half of what it costs to park at the airport (which is an important difference when you have a 25-day trip). We looked at getting one of those shuttles, but those have become very expensive lately, so this turns out to be a more economic option.
Well, everything went according to plan. We left home early (couldn't stand waiting any longer), found the place to park the car without problem, and were at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight was just about totally full, so not much opportunity to stretch. By the way, this photo is not our plane, but another view of Dulles Airport.
There is a new feature on our vacation website this year: a map! We figured out a way to have Nicoline's tablet double as a GPS logger. This means that we are running an app on the tablet that uses the built-in GPS to keep track of where the device is. And save this information in a file that can be copied to other computers.
I then created a little script that will turn the information into a map, using the wonderful Google API. Finally, I modified the diary pages to automatically display this map if it is present.
Today, we took Nicoline's tablet on our errands and the result should be shown next to the calendar on the Trip Diary and Photos page for September 2nd. I have to warn you all, though, that the GPS is not always terribly accurate, especially not if it's in the back of a car, under other stuff. And sometimes it can't determine its position for a while, resulting in weird cross-terrain lines... But it's better than no map at all!
The goal is to have this little map for every day of our trip. I'm curious to see how this will work out!
Continuing with the vacation preparations, today I'm working on setting up the laptop we'll be taking with us on vacation.
We have two laptops, one (larger and heavier) that I normally use and one (smaller and lighter) that Nicoline normally uses. On our roadtrip vacations, we usually each take our own laptop with us, but for this trip, where we will be lugging our luggage through multiple modes of transportation and up and down numerous stairs, we decided to take only the small laptop.
I started a couple of weeks ago preparing Nicoline's laptop with Linux installed on it, and getting Nicoline used to that operating system. I've installed a copy of the photo system, and today I'm working on installing the other tools that I need, including a copy of the vacation website.
The way it will work is that we enter our trip diary entries on the laptop, which allows us to grab photos from the photo archive. We then synchronize the laptop's database with the database on the public system, and voila, everyone can see them...
When I got home tonight, I said to Nicoline that we need to take profile photos for the vacation website. At which she suggested to do this at the Union Jack's restaurant/pub in Columbia.
So we went to the pub and took some photos. And had dinner, and took some more photos. This was our first time at this restaurant, just outside of the Mall in Columbia, and I was pleasantly surprised. Definitely a place to keep in mind in the future!
We have been planning our 2014 vacation for months and months. Starting out with my inlaws' 50th anniversary celebration at the end of September, we worked backwards for three and a half week trip to different parts of Europe.
We will start out in Ireland, first by exploring Dublin, then with a walking tour along the Wicklow Way.
From Ireland, we will take a ferry and train to London, where we will spend a few days.
Next, we will take the "chunnel" (Channel Tunnel) train to Brussels, where we'll also have a few days to explore.
Finally, we're renting a car to see some more of Belgium and then meet family in Holland.