Anyone who knows (from experience over the years) of my relationship with this blog knows that it’s not dissimilar to that of some guy and a mail order bride; she has her good moments, but on the whole she’s cost much more than she’s returned and so I secretly never feel too bad ignoring her for a while. Tough love.
The last month – and the coming month, at least – I’ve too much on to pay much attention to her. To start with, I hold a full-time job. I also design and produce the calendar every year for one of my friend’s organisations, Second Chance Animal Aid, based in Shanghai and from which they derive some funds to keep things ticking over. What with not being much of a designer and having to relearn Creative Suite once a year, this takes up a lot of time and we’re working on this at the moment.
After that, another friend of mine has started his own WordPress themes business (not that there isn’t enough already); Inspired Themes. For my part, I’m spending (or trying to spend) some time helping him with his online marketing, site design and everything else to get this thing going.
In the middle of this, we’re currently trying to work out what to do this winter – with a move from Ireland again more than likely on the cards. Stay tuned.
Lastly, and possibly the most exciting for anyone reading this over the years, I’ve taken all the most popular of my travel posts, re-written them in full without the bothersome constraints of “will someone be bored out of their mind reading this online”, and am putting them together to make one complete (e-)book, hopefully available towards the end of July. I’ll let you know how that works out.
I’m also working on a redesign of sorts for this humble blog to keep it going into the future (5 years going as of October this year) so that’s also in the pipeline – but whatever about anything else, I promise to make a return to this by mid-August at the latest!
So picking up from where I left off in the last post, we were not far off our visit to the Smithwicks Brewery, which itself isn’t far off being gone for good.
We wandered around Kilkenny for the gap in between, pacing up and down the streets, seeing what shops they have that we don’t, going up and down (and there is a lot of them) the narrow side streets and seeing what they had, wandering into shops and back out, so on. One thing you can always be sure of in nearly every Irish town, it almost goes without saying, is that there’s always either a large Dunnes Stores or Tesco nearly in the town centre. Kilkenny, for the avoidance of doubt, has a Dunnes.
It has a lot of cute shops alright, but so as I don’t get an e-mail telling me it wasn’t worth the trip, it is also quite a small town and you can pace the whole town in a day trip if you, like myself, walk it at a reasonable speed.
Back to the Smithwicks Brewery then for our tour – the first and most obviously striking thing about this particular brewery tour is its lack of ‘corporate’ when compared alongside the Guinness tour up in Dublin. In other words, for anyone who hasn’t been, the Guinness tour is very long and large, almost cocooned from any actual production that might also be taking place on the site and it’s more like a designated visitor attraction than a visitor attraction that grew out of showing off the production and facilities. The Smithwicks tour meanwhile, comes complete with hi-visibility clothing, safety goggles and rooms that clearly smell of industrial beer production. I know it’s bound to happen, but it’d be a terrible shame to lose it – process efficiencies and corporate ‘unification’ aside.
In fact, the last time I had such an ‘honest’ tour was at this place some years back, the Steam Whistle Brewery, just literally opposite the CN Tower in Toronto. Basically, they weren’t long in the game and the tour consisted of a few beers before going around; a tour that was more or less completely unplanned or scripted; and then a few more beers afterwards. It was actually one of the best tours of anything in my life to be honest – and it was worthwhile for them too. At one point, myself and my friend went to leave and were more or less hauled back in, forced to have another beer which tipped us over into the stage of ‘that was delicious, let’s get a 6-pack each for the road’. Anyway, back on topic…
Smithwicks. It came with the almost compulsory free pint at the end, each one perfectly poured by our tour guide who then promptly disappeared for a bit. Of course, harking back to the Steam Whistle experience, I lingered around to see if a second pint might be on the cards but as most tourists left of their own accord, it looked highly unlikely and we eventually called it a late afternoon ourselves.
Back out into the cold February evening, my thirst for a pint had but only increased so we rounded off our trip with a delicious meal of bar food and, in my particular case, a ‘gathering’ of my own; a gathering of pints to round the evening off (which I can assure you did nothing for me trying to get the car out of the aforementioned ultra-compact car park the next morning).
Next time round, I’ll let you know how our trip to the sunny South-West went down, and how to try and reach road-worthy speeds in a Peugeot 206 with 4 people plus all their luggage. It was interesting…
With us safely back in Ireland after our long trip around Asia, it wasn’t long before we got planning our next exit. Sadly, not enough of you have either booked hotels through the site, clicked on ads or any of the other subtle money-making things I’ve left around and with my day job not funding constant exotic holidays, we had to take it down a notch – but, with this supposedly being the year of The Gathering as we all know, we reckoned Ireland might be an interesting bet with the year that was in it.
With a two-night stay in Kilkenny already in our travel planning ‘bag’, we decided to advance it forward as far as possible and took it up in February, just before the winter…continued. Kilkenny really is an inexcusably short drive from Dublin, and with motorway virtually right to the doorstep, there’s no good reason why I hadn’t been there since I was about 6. Our stay for the visit was the rather plush Kilkenny Ormonde hotel. It’s more or less on top of the town centre, has a pool and some other leisure facilities that we lamentably never got round to using, and a (very difficult to negotiate) car park just across the road – but I can’t stress enough that a small vehicle is more or less mandatory if you intend climbing the levels in this particular car park.
First impressions of the hotel – very pleasant. It has a sort of unusual corridor like entrance that opens into a huge reception area, with the bar and restaurants off it and a large glass-fronted waiting area. Of course, like all good Irish hotels, it comes heated up to a nursing home-level ensuring a coma-like state the second you sit down and in our particular case, the view was by no means especially riveting – looking out to some backyard and overlooking the very industrial roof of the restaurant area. That said, they can’t all be winners and in general it was very pleasant.
I wouldn’t take marks off for this necessarily, but it would be something of a gripe that our sleep was made next to impossible by a woman who fancied herself as Sinead O’Connor for a period of time – until I called reception, that is. Anyway, she really was belting out all the hits, with some male cheering-on by the sounds of it; as I say, not the hotel’s fault although I just can’t understand how people find this to be acceptable behaviour anywhere.
Up early the next morning to make sure we got our breakfast in for the long day ahead, we headed straight off to discover what sights Kilkenny had in store for us. Naturally, as you would, we arrived up to the castle first. We really are very ‘speed-oriented’ tourists no matter how much sightseeing and appreciation we try and do, and I am fully cognisant that this regularly comes off as an attitude of indifference or carelessness to one’s local culture and heritage but it really is just that we see things, take it in, and move on, rather than hanging around half the day looking as if we’re waiting for the old knights to actually shuffle back to life. Anyway, this meant a debate on whether to even visit the castle or not – eventually deciding that it looked big enough that we surely couldn’t have to pass by the receptionist again within 15 minutes.
If you get the chance, and you should try, the castle’s actually very worthwhile. It took us about an hour in the end to actually get through, which must be something of a record.
Next up on our agenda was a trip to the soon-to-be-gone original home of Smithwicks, disappearing as global beverage giant Diageo continues to pursue efficiencies and this means moving Smithwicks up to Dublin. Our appointment was for much later in the afternoon – a time which, I hoped, would be more conducive to the intake of numerous free pints of the famous brew itself – so we had plenty of time to take in the town.
Coming up next time, I’ll tell you about Kilkenny town itself, the Smithwicks brewery and whether those free pints materialised or not…
From the last thrilling installment of our road trip, we continued on after the waterfall tearing back up and over the same mountains we’d come down the previous night, passing out vehicles (and in one case, an ambulance) as we endeavoured seemingly to get back to the other side in record timing.
We stopped en-route only to pick up an ice cream, in one case take some pictures of a fearless monkey that was sitting on top of a fence taking whatever anyone threw at him, and enjoy some of the cool mountain air before slaloming back down towards sea level. We came to our next halt at a place called Lake Beratan, where a large temple and greenery opened out to a massive lake, backed by mountains. As is always a bit the case with these things, the pictures don’t do justice to the time of day that we were now approaching and with it, the hordes of tourists were out en-masse.
One thing that sprung up time and time again in our conversations was (in spite of the extreme irony of the situation) the beauty of the place set against the tourist capacity before it just strains the place to complete breaking point and where tourism grows and grows to a point where it’s so mainstream and expansive that a lot of the people who originally went there for peace and calm can no longer find it there. There’s no doubt however, that although a heavy fog hung over the place like it was trying to choke us all out, it was still very intriguing.
Back into the car after one of our traditional ‘lightning speed’ trips around the lake and the journey to our next stop was one of the longest, taking a few hours to reach one of the final stops of the tour – the temple in the sea, Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot sadly dragged up the old question once again in record timing for us; Tanah Lot’s entrance, for those who may remember it, was not unlike the old toll plaza on the M50 in terms of size and appearance.
To get down to Tanah Lot, one must walk a very long and exhaustive pathway – not unlike the ‘long walk’ in an airport past every catering and retail franchise they can cram in, just to get to your plane – past market stalls, souvenir shops, the odd photo opportunity stop and much more.
I’ll be honest – the first time this happened to me, I was blindingly disappointed. I remember it well – Niagara Falls, and I was wholeheartedly expecting some kind of beaten old mud path winding through trees and then opening up to the natural wonder. Instead it was the most horrendously over-commercialised tack I’ve ever seen – to this date in fact. And while it’s more understandable for this to be going on somewhere like Bali, I always still wish we could be a bit more careful presenting natural wonders for what they’re supposed to be…natural.
We actually tried quite hard to get a ‘site-suitable’ picture where it looked like it was supposed to, but the one featured was as good as it got in terms of the crowds present.
Back into the car and onto the final leg of the tour – back home – during Bali peak time traffic. Made decided to take us for one last diversion through the ‘backroads’ and being honest, it ended up being one of the highlights of the second day of the road trip. On tracks just wide enough for the car to fit through, we cruised through rice paddies, through gates barely wide enough to fit the car through, over bridges that looked like they were never designed or to be utilised for vehicles before eventually getting stuck on a hill with an oncoming motorcyclist. It was much more of the nature I’d been hoping to see, and only thanks to Bali’s peak-time traffic seemingly.
Safely back home, it was time for one last meal out, a last period of enjoyment of Bali and what it had given us (including one final Bintang for the road, in my case) before packing and getting ready for the long trip back to what would be – regardless of the actual weather – a cold, miserable Dublin.
Stopping just long enough at the volcano for a number of pictures, a quick debate on whether some of the ground we were looking at was in fact lava-tarred or just barren and a brief discussion on why we hadn’t stopped at the entry box to pay, we were back in the car and continuing on in no time. After the earlier part of the journey, we were all pretty tired and getting more and more anxious to bed down for the night. We stopped very briefly at a temple at the top of a hill, during which Anna spent almost the entire time debating with a friendly local over the price of a dress to visit the temple, which we actually had no intention of doing anyway and so after much debating (and some hardcore guilt-tripping, the likes of which I have been employing for a number of negotiations since) we carried on in the car, finally coming to a stop at a hotel recommended by Made, our driver, the quite-luxurious looking Aditya Beach Resort.
As with all things regarding tourism in Bali, some hardcore negotiation followed during which we basically bartered down the price of a room, and when that was down, the price of our early morning excursion the next day to see the dolphins. Negotiation successful and keys handed over, our luggage was deposited into an outsize wheelbarrow and we were led to our room. The room was actually very pleasant on the inside – if perhaps a bit old school – with TV, well-sized if a bit pongy bathroom, and a very efficient air conditioning unit which belied its age. After reaching, as my grandmother would say, our elegant sufficiency courtesy of the all you can eat deal in the restaurant it was straight off to bed and off for a good nights sleep.
Except it wasn’t. Roughly every 20 minutes a gentle rumble would escalate into an all-out take-off as if our room was now screaming down a runway about to take flight. This all-out rampage would last several minutes before receding back to nothing more a gentle, sleep-inducing rumble. And it did the trick well – the first few times we woke up startled, before being lulled back to sleep gently. But as the night wore on, somewhere around 1am, we realised this lullaby noise was merely a trick in inducing us to sleep before waking us up in a panicked sweat some 20 minutes later again. Eventually, somewhere around 3am, the air conditioning unit got the blame and was promptly switched off. But curiously, as the temperature began to go unchecked and we slowly drifted off again, in a widening pool of sweat, we were both startled back to liveliness by the jet engine reaching max thrust once more. The culprit, it would turn out sometime around 4am, was the fridge. Plugged out and with no noise anymore, one hour sleep was left to be had.
Back up, shorts and t-shirt on and straight out to the beachfront for our dolphin trip. Now, we didn’t really know what to expect of the boat, but given the size of the group (circa 25 people), we reckoned it would at least be relatively seaworthy and stable – not quiet. Instead, everyone was split into groups of two or three and shown to what was effectively their private kayak with wings. After hopping into our oversized kayak, our captain, a man of no more than 21, lit up the first of many cigarettes, fired up the engine in a belch of thick black diesel exhaust smoke, spoke a few completely unintelligible words to us before setting off.
Now, it’s worth remembering that we were effectively chasing dolphins. But so were about 20 more of these oversized kayaks – and while it was very interesting and an experience definitely never to be forgotten, we did sort of come to question if the dolphins were really that thrilled having at least twenty boats chasing after them every time they had cause to surface. At one point in fact all the boats made a complete circle where we all had seen the dolphins moments earlier – needless to say, this tactic was less than useful as they re-surfaced somewhere completely different some time later. Our captain, though evidently quite young and with probably not a long life ahead of him judged purely by his intake of cigarettes, proved to be quite a master at predicting the whereabouts of the dolphins and we broke away several times from the ‘pack’ and ended up having great success locating them. Nonetheless, the last time I saw dolphins in any number was on a catamaran heading to Vancouver Island at about 40 knots and it was a short-lived experience so whatever the dolphins may think of being hunted by a bunch of diesel-belching boats every morning, it was wonderful at any rate and set us up for the day.
Back on dry land and with breakfast thrown down the hatch and bags packed, we were back into the car. After the early morning sun(burn), I was happy enough for the air con again and as we drove, climbing back up the same hills we’d come down the previous night to get to the hotel, our initial start to the trip was cut short to observe a stop at a waterfall. The waterfall – in our minds anyway – will always be more notorious for the outrageous length of the walk to get to it (complete with highly questionable distance markers) than for the actual wonder itself. Bali knows how to do tourism to the extreme and I’ve never before seen a waterfall come with such an intense amount of associated souvenir shops. We walked for a good 15/20 minutes each way (at a good pace), with souvenir stalls being spaced roughly 5 meters along for large stretches. But, thankfully, where there weren’t souvenir shops and aside from the waterfall itself (which was lovely), some of the surrounding scenery was delightful by itself – pictured – and was worth the walk.
After the waterfall, we returned to the car (ice creams in hands) before continuing on for the rest of the days travelling, which I’ll cover next time round!