Dublin up: Having the craic for St Paddy’s Day

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So I recently returned from my second trip to Dublin so I thought it was about time I tell you about the awesome time I had there earlier this year for St Patrick’s Day.

This year St Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday so I felt it was necessary to make the trip to Ireland and celebrate with those who know how to do it best. I booked onto a three-day Paddywagon tour which picked us up nice and early on Friday morning from Kilburn station in London at 6:30am including a bus ride through Wales and the ferry to Dublin.

The green Paddywagon bus

I hit it off with my next door neighbour on the bus, the gorgeous Laura (now one of my faves in London) and we knew we were in for a epic weekend. We met some of our fellow passengers on the ferry ride and made friends playing drinking games – perfect way to get warmed up for a weekend in Dublin for Paddy’s Day.

We scored an upgrade for our accommodation as they didn’t have room in the hostel in town so we were put up in a hotel near the airport (nice!) After a   quick freshen up after the long bus trip we were ready and hit the town. A quick meal and then it was on a to Messrs Macguire, a great pub right near O’Connell Bridge on the banks of the Liffey. They were playing the best cheesy music and the dance floor was the place to be. We couldn’t go too crazy though coz the next day was the big one and we had to be in fine form.

Making friends at Messrs Maguire with Frenchy and Papa

We had a relatively early start, getting all done up in our green to take our places for the St Patrick’s Day parade, the world’s biggest non-military parade with 250,000 participants.  Unfortunately the typical Irish weather arrived and with limited views of the parade we decided to take cover in a nearby pub, really that’s what St Paddy’s day is all about right! Many a drink was had, including a couple of Guinness and we got to experience some traditional Irish music and dancing. We also checked out a bar in Temple Bar, one of the only areas in central Dublin to have maintained it’s medieval appearance with cobblestoned lanes  and is now the main location for Dublin’s nightlife.

Kiss me I’m Irish!

The first Guinness of the day

With two of my absolute favourites – Laura and Sal

Later we ended up back at Messrs Maguire for another evening on the dance floor and mingling with locals and tourists alike. A fantastic day! Those Irish sure know how to party!

On the final day of the tour we had the chance to stroll around Dublin before we made a short trip to the beautiful area of Glendalough (apparently the setting for many Irish films including P.S I Love You) where we took in some fresh air and wandered around amongst the green hills and icy lakes – experiencing the real Ireland.

The Liffey river in Dublin

A babbling brook in Glendalough

In  the afternoon it was back to Dublin for a visit to the famous Guinness brewery where we learned about the Guinness family, how the black beer is made and of course how to drink it. It’s not quite my cup of tea but I forced myself to drink a few – when in Dublin do as the Irish do and drink!

Laura and I in Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness brewery

Then it was a sleepy overnight ride back to London and the end of what had been an amazing weekend making great new friends, catching up with my favourite Aussie and having great craic!

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Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath

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In March I had a bit of time up my sleeve in between jobs so I decided I ‘d use it to undertake a few tourist activities within England. While I’ve travelled to a number of places in Europe I hadn’t really left London to see other parts of the country.

I was really keen to see Stonehenge and many people had told me that Bath was really nice so I booked onto a tour with Evan Evans tours that went to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath all in a day. Sounds a bit rushed I know, but I thought if there was anywhere I particularly liked I could always come back. That’s the beauty of England, everything is relatively close.

The Evan Evans Tour bus

I jumped on the bus at Victoria station where our guide Mark introduced himself and our bus driver Andreas, who according to Mark was ‘exuding boyish enthusiasm’ for the day ahead (although the next time I saw him he was dead to the world, snoring his head off while we waited to get on the bus after visiting Windsor!) This was just the first taste of Mark’s vivid descriptions of the sites we were visiting, the surrounding areas and the people involved in the stories of each place. He was a riot!

Our first stop was to be Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest continuously inhabited castle in the world. It wasn’t quite what I expected. For some reason I thought it would be out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rolling green countryside. However it is located smack-bang in the middle of the town of Windsor (funnily enough) with the buildings and shops situated right next to the outer walls.

The outer castle wall with the town of Windsor in the background

Some of the gardens inside the castle walls

A courtyard inside the castle walls

Inside it was utterly spectacular. The rooms were so elaborately decorated that every time I passed into a new chamber my mouth would just drop open. A gorgeous array of artworks, furnishings and fixtures were combined in each room to give each of them a different feel and a unique richness. I could easily imagine ladies in gorgeous gowns being swept around the floor of the elegant ball rooms and lords sitting around the ornate fireplaces, discussing state affairs. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take images inside so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

I also saw the changing of the guards, which wasn’t quite the spectacle of the Buckingham Palace ceremony but pretty cool nonetheless.

Changing of the guards

Being a bit of a myths and legends nerd I have always been fascinated with the mysteries of Stonehenge. It amazes me that there is still so much we don’t understand about Stonehenge. The half-ruined ring of colossal stones are located on the Salisbury plains a couple of hours south west of London. Construction began at Stonehenge about 3000 BC and consisted of around 160 stones, some of them 8 metres tall and weighing up to 50 tonnes. No one really knows why it was built, what purpose it served and how the larger rocks were moved. The stones used to construct the inner circle are blue stones which come from the south of Wales 150 miles away and weigh about 7 tonnes each.

It was a similar feeling to seeing Machu Picchu for the first time; you’ve seen it a million times on TV or in magazines but seeing it for yourself is something entirely different. It doesn’t take long to wander around the outside of the circle of stones and take it in from every angle, but it was still impressive I thought. Particularly when you think about the huge amount of manpower that goes into constructing something like this and how they managed to do it 5000 years ago.

Next up was the gorgeous town of Bath. I could spend quite a few days in the city of Bath however we only had the afternoon which meant a quick trip through the Roman Baths and a stroll alongside the river was about all we had time for. The baths were a sight to behold with the golden limestone contrasting beautifully beside the green water of the baths. It was really interesting wandering through the different rooms and reading what each was used for, including my favourite, a room with ancient under floor heating. Nice!

The town itself is quite quaint with lots of small boutique shops and cozy cafes. The walk alongside the river was very pleasant and once again I was blessed with brilliant weather (for that time of year) for the entire day.

I know there’s quite a few things I missed out on in Bath such as the Jane Austen centre so let me know if you think there’s something I must go back and see 🙂

The Journey South

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From Mendoza, I took the bus back to Santiago where I was to join a tour group for a 5-day journey south (Pachamama by Bus Tours).

The bus picked me up early in the morning and we headed off. On the first day we visited the small town of Pomaire (not much there really) and Rapel Dam before stopping in Pichelemu, a small beach town that is famous for its great surf. I went for a bit of a wander around town and then the bus driver took us to nearby Punta de Lobos where we could watch the sun set. I’ve never really seen the sun set over the ocean before and it was incredible how quickly it disappeared below the horizon.

The next day we headed for Pucon. Along the way we stopped in the town of Santa Cruz where we visited the Museo de Colchagua. The museum is owned by a local man called Carlos Cardoen who made his fortunes in arms dealing and was at one stage one of the most wanted men by the US government. Here, though, he is a hero because he has funneled much of his fortune into the town, building facilities and creating jobs.

The museum was probably the best I have been to in South America. It includes a huge collection of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones, pre-Columbian artifacts, gold Conquistador work and much more.

The township of Pucon is similar to that of a European ski village. The town is built on the side of a beautiful lake with the peak of Villarrica volcano in the background. Here you can do any number of outdoor adventure activities, such as climbing the volcano, trekking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, horse riding etc. Unfortunately it rained the whole day we were there so we weren’t able to do any of these things. It sucked! In the afternoon it cleared up momentarily so we headed out for a wonder around town and down to the lake. In the evening we went to some nearby thermal pools, which was great – lounging around in the hot waters with the forest around us and a raging river right next to us. It was beautiful.

The next day we left Pucon and of course the sun was shining – a perfect day to do all those awesome activities I couldn’t do the day before. Not happy!

We headed for Valdivia where we stopped at the river to view the sea lions. Apparently an earthquake near the city caused a tsunami which washed a large population of sea lions into the river and they’ve stayed there ever since. It was quite bazaar to see these huge creatures sitting up on the pier in the middle of town.

The next day we headed to Puerto Montt, a small salmon-fishing town. We had an enormous seafood lunch and checked out the handicraft markets where I bought myself a flashy red poncho. Very stylish!

Then it was onto Puerto Varas where we were spending the night. The main thing I wanted to do here was to book onto a horse riding trip in the local area, which I managed to do, so stay tuned for more on that in the next blog.

Hasta luego.

Trip Checklist

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When I first decided to go on this trip, one of the first things I did was write a checklist of what I need to do before I fly out. Then I can tick things off as I go along and also keep track of all the costs that correspond with my to do list actions. This is what is on my list:

Get fit: In progress (kinda). This was the very first thing on my list as I really wanted to be able to hike the Inca Trail without having a heart attack! I’ve been going ok with the goal but it’s been very difficult to get up on these cold winter mornings and go for a run. When I can’t convince myself to go outside I walk up and down the fire stairs in my building. Hopefully getting those mountain climbing muscles ready to go!

Books flights – DONE. I am flying with Lan Chile to Lima via Auckland, New Zealand and Santiago, Chile. Then my flight to London is with Linhas Aeras. I booked all my flights through STA Travel at Broadway Shopping Centre. I highly recommend my travel agent Mick Tattam who was extremely helpful and patient with me when I was trying to make up my mind about whether or not to book.

Book tour – DONE. I decided that it would be best to start out on a tour so I could get used to being in a country where I knew absolutely no one before trying my luck on my own. I booked my tour through STA who are affiliated with GAP Adventures and once again Mick was very helpful.

Buy backpack – DONE. I went in to the adventure travel district on Kent St in Sydney and went to pretty much every single store there. The very first store that I went into was Paddy Pallin where I was assisted by a very helpful girl and she recommended Osprey backpacks.  I fell in love with the very first one I tried on, the Waypoint, but I forced myself to go to the other stores to try on some others. But, guess what, in the end I ended up buying that very first backpack!

Buy hiking boots – DONE. I’ve bought a lot of stuff at Kathmandu and my boots was the most exciting purchase out of these. A friend who had hiked the Inca trail before recommended that I get ankle high boots as the trail is quite uneven in places and ankle boots give you a bit more stability. So I got Kathmandu’s Terania boots which I thought were comfy and not too ugly looking!

Buy travel insurance – DONE. I looked into getting travel insurance through a financial institution that offered free travel insurance with their credit card products. However, for all of them it was required that I have a return airline ticket for the insurance to be valid. I looked at a few that were incredibly expensive and then my mum suggested World Nomads which is designed for young, adventuous travellers and you are able to extend the cover at any time.

That’s enough for now. In my next post I’ll tell you about the other things that were on my checklist.

Adios!

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