Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Australia Day is not like Paddy's Day

Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. It is a public holiday which is celebrated annually on 26 January, the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag here, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland.
Before I visited this vast continent I had heard about the big party celebrations held in every territory across the state, and some had even described the event as "just like Paddy's Day to the Irish."
So you can imagine that after a very long drive up the West Coast as part of a tour on January 26, 2008 I was pretty excited about getting out and celebrating with the locals. Everyone on the bus (mostly from the UK) were also looking forward to some flag waving, drunken singing and general happy celebrations.
We were staying on a farm outside of Northampton, and our tour guide kindly offered to bring us to the town nearby and drop us off at the bar for our all night party.
We arrive outside a wooden exterior rural outback bar and about 15 of us offloaded and greeted the locals sitting outside (about 3 middle aged men) with a loud "Happy Australia Day!" To which the men looked up ... and sniggered – they didn't laugh, they sniggered.
I was taken aback but just thought they were the sad minority ... inside the bar there were about 20 people propping the counter. Again, they were startled with the groups' chorus. These ones didn't even snigger, they looked up, stared for longer than is polite and returned to their drinks. They were not talking to each other, there was no music and some were playing the pokies(annoying arcade games that are in every pub in OZ, even Irish ones).
So while there may be fireworks, open air events and general jolliness in the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane it is not quite celebrated as a national holiday all over the country. We felt as if we had insulted these people, came into their town and ruined their evening by reminding them about their national holiday.
The bar man told us "We don't really celebrate the day, its just like any other."
The date is seen as controversial by some Australians, particularly Indigenous Australians, who see commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet as celebrating the destruction of the native Aboriginal culture by British colonists. It has been locally termed as "Invasion Day" and even "Survival Day."
Let me just make this clear – Australia Day is no way like Paddy's Day.
And the outback is weird and scary – but that is what makes it unique and attractive.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Swallow your pride - book a B&B

You are in love and you want to show your other half how much they mean to you. 
Valentine's Day is coming up, you want it to be special but ... moths fly out of your wallet, the bank machine spits out your card and even the euro saver menu at McDonalds is a stretch. So what to do? 
Well before you resort to making your own card out of recycled newspaper and a red pen, how about swallow your pride and book a B&B somewhere romantic?
Okay, it is not a luxurious hotel with chandeliers and a valet service but a B&B will have something you never found in a hotel - genuine character.
 Oh and most B&Bs will look different, which is something hotels seem to forget when decorating - "How will we compete against our neighbouring hotel?" they ask. "Oh yes let's decorate the hotel to look exactly the same as theirs, then maybe vistors will mistake our hotel for theirs and choose us..." well that must be what happens!
So you are dreading the small talk over breakfast with the owners? Think they will have heard every creak in the bed, were counting every giggle and grunt?
Forget the movies, the reviews from the 1950s and your own silly notions. Irish B&Bs are in general modern, clean fresh and friendly, cost a hell of a lot less and usually give you some cosy memories of your break away with that important someone.

For an idea of where to break away for Valentines I suggest:
Glencar Waterfalls, Co Leitrim - If it was good enough for Yeats poetry it is more than perfect for a romantic walk and cuddle beside the powerful water cascades.

Aran Islands, Galway - Get away from the mainland and experience the authentic island treatment. Is tú mo ghrá ... try it where it counts.

Dingle, Co Kerry - Why do all those yankies love Dingle? Probably because it looks like Ireland 60 years ago in the movies with all the pretty scenery to go with it and good craic.

Drogheda, Co Louth - One of the oldest towns in Ireland, but one that has a mischief of youth about it, explore the Boyne Valley and your own adventure here.

Enniskerry, Co Wicklow - The Gateway to the Garden of Island - next door to Powerscourt Estate and the Sugarloaf mountains - escapism and romance!

For some ideas on nice B&Bs check out: http://www.bandbireland.com/

Friday, 14 January 2011

Bridges of the World

Forget the Seven Wonders of the World - how about exploring the greatest bridges of the world?!
The ones that make you go "oooh and ahh," where you peer dangerously over their railings and gasp in awe looking up at the monstrosity. Or you could even have the pleasure of surpringly finding yourself driving along on one of the greatest bridges of the world ... scared shitless!
Here are my favourites in order of preference:

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA

In my opinion the most famous bridge in the world is the red Golden Gate. I hate to admit I have not yet visited San Fran and so have not had the privilege to be bowled over by this stunning bridge spanning the Pacific Ocean, but I certainly hope to see it very soon - and when I do I will take that glorious walk across it to San Francisco Bay.

2. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia
Iconic, legendary and at the moment more symbolic of freedom to Irish emigrants than the Statue of Liberty was to them in the 19th century. The picture of the harbour bridge with Sydney Opera House in the background is a postcard picture, I am delighted to say I have stared up at this icon, but I failed to actually stand on it.

3. The China Bridge, Budapest, Hungary
Linking Buda with Pest across the Danube River this bridge could indeed be described as the heart of this city. In 1849 it became the first permanent bridge across the Danube, it was blown up in World War II but was rebuilt and became the site for the demonstrations for independece in 1989 - cementing its staus as a symbol of liberty. In the Summer it is thronged with artists and in the Winter it makes a blustery walk in the Snow.

4. The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
No landmark is more steeped in history than this bridge, lined with shops and jewelery merchants, it dates from 1220. This is also one of only a few bridges that was spared a bomb threat during World War II because Hitler admired it's beauty. A perfect place for a stroll towards the close of business and if you have the funds purchase something that sparkles!

5. Le Pont Neuf, Paris, France
Just about every visitor to Paris has walked across this magnificent 1578 erection - the oldest bridge in the Romantic city. Featuring one of the world's first pedestrian sidewalks, it makes a beautiful destination for a stroll with your loved one offering unbeatable views of Notre-Dame cathedral in one direction and the Eiffel Tower in the other. Perfection.

6. The Brooklyn Bridge, New York, USA
One of the best locations to stare dreaming into the Manhattan skyline is on the thrilling Brooklyn Bridge. It's Gothic style towers, cables and mile long pedestrian walkway may be a breezy and noisy stroll but it is well worth the effort. The bridge took 16 years to build, from 1867 to 1883, becoming the first steel wire suspension bridge in the world when it opened.

7. The Tower Bridge, London, England
The unmistakable drawbridge across the River Thames is quite the sight. Not quite medieval it was built in 1894 next to the dreaded Tower of London. Victorian boilers and steam still raise and lower the bridge and it is best viewed at night when lit up.

Do you agree disagree with the above list? Leave a comment.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Explore the island

If you are not already cursing the USC (Universal Social Charge) coming out of your wages, by the end of the month you certainly will. This charge will hit your disposable income, your pocket money and your travel plans. So foreign holidays will more than likely be scaled back if not eradicated completely this year.
Although exploring this wonderful island may seem hypocritical since we curse it every day - a few organised trips around some Irish hot spots may be just what we need - and exactly what this country is craves.

- Irish Year of Craft
Already mentioned on my Eleven Locations blog the Crafts Council of Ireland will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and in case you think local craft is made up for woolly jumpers and wooden ornaments you should get yourself away on a weekend trip to Kilkenny or indeed Carrick-on-Shannon to see some outstanding pieces of art (craft) their craft masters and also enjoy these two relaxing and dreamy locations. For local events see: http://www.kilkennydesign.com/  or http://intoleitrim.com/

- Tall Ships
Love Pirates of the Caribbean? The feel of wind in your hair and desire to have a parrot on your shoulder? Well you are gonna be shaking your peg leg at the Tall Ships Race in Waterford from June 30 this year! If you have never stayed in Waterford then this is your chance to explore the city with parades, music, food when the world's sailing nations sail into the Sunny South East. http://www.waterfordtallshipsrace.ie/

- Read, Write and Learn
Dublin has become the fourth UNESCO City of Literature in the world. Think you know everything about the Capital that you wish to know - think again. Stay clear of Leinster House and explore The Dublin Writers' Museum, the National Library or indeed the Irish Writers' Centre but whatever you do, do not miss Bloomsday June 16, Dublin Book Festival March 4-6 or Dublin's Writers' Festival May 31-June 5 and if you find a place on the city's grand lawns open up the City's selected book of 2011 Joseph O'Connor's 'Ghost Light.'

- Fancy a round?
North & West Coast Links Golf is Europe's Golf Destination 2011. You, your other half, the entire family and whoever else chooses to tag along have 12 championship golf courses to choose from. Royal Portrush to
Enniscrone will challenge your golfing skills but also your cultural mind - after some golf get out and discover some of the least populated and most stunning parts of Ireland. 

For packages: http://www.northandwestcoastlinks.com/

- Just a small drop
I'm usually not one to name an individual premises and promote it - but when somewhere like Harbour Bar in Bray, Co Wicklow get's voted Lonely Planet's Best pub in world it is impossible not to. The bar is often frequented by Irish celebrities including Colin Farrell,Brendan Gleeson and Sinead O'Connor. Testament to it's charm, the bar also scooped the prize for the “off the beaten track” category this year. http://www.harbourbarbray.com/

-Time to breathe

I have only visited Glendalough once, I was young on a school tour in fact, but despite spending my time worried about looking good in front of boys, I felt unusually calm here. For thousands of years people have been drawn to 'the valley of the two lakes' for its spectacular scenery, rich history, archaeology and abundant wildlife. But aside from all that you should come here without a camera, phone or other tech deck and just breathe - free you mind.

-The obvious choice
This is ridiculous of course everyone has been to the Giant's Causeway by now, right? You haven't? You feel guilty though right? World Heritage Site, Irish Legend and a very cool trip away with friends. You need to see this in 2011 - but be warned it is smaller than expected - oh and don't be lazy take the longer walk it is worth it. http://www.giantscausewayofficialguide.com/

-The Rock of Cashel
I admit I have not visited yet, but by Easter I will be able to boast about prehistoric raths to mediaeval monasteries and fortified town houses and I will be able to report on the smallest book in Ireland - how small is it? Get up and have a look you fool! Get your heritage on this year.

- Cork City
Well when in Tipp you may as well scoot down the motorway to the People's Republic of Cork - a former Culture Capital of Europe and this year's trendiest city. Aside from plenty of culture and heritage and the challenge of understanding Corkonian's accents the nightlife in this cool city is heard bet. What about the Jazz Festival or Live at the Marquee for the music lovers?

- All that glitters...
Like a magpie I love things that sparkle, like diamonds, oh and silver. And I do love Newbridge Silverware jewelery, cutlery, lamps ... everything. But even if you don't have the cash to flash on something new, why not gaze upon some very fabulous things in Newbridge's  Museum dedicated to legendary Style Icons. Be in awe of Michael Jackson's clothes, Audrey Hepburn's dresses, Maryln Monroe's letters, Grace Kelly's style and Judy Garland's extraordinary collection. http://www.newbridgesilverware.com/

-Head north
There are many beautiful places to see in Donegal, none so special as the Inishowen peninsula. See Irish nature run wild, sup in some very strange pubs and meet some unusual people as you walk, climb, drive or cycle your way around this peninsula. Find a secluded beach or indeed return to your pagan heritage and dance around some ancient burial ground.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Eleven locations

Where are "you had to be there" locations for 2011?
You cannot go wrong with showing your face in these trendy eleven locations over the next 365 days:

1. Tallinn, Estonia

This beautiful old town has been named European Cultural Capital 2011.
Freedom Square, Kadriorg Palace, St Catherine's Passage and unbeatable charm makes this city the best place to escape to this year. Oh just one more thing Estonia joins the Eurozone this year ... sorted!

2. India/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh

I know this is cheating but all three of these countries are hosting the Cricket World Cup this year, and though you and I may not be fans of cucumber sandwiches, it is a superb chance to visit these countries when they are scrubbed clean for a worldwide audience.

3. Berkshire, England

Right so the wedding of the year will be happening, whether you like or despise the Royal Family this is a biggie - but with accommodation prices in London only just friggin crazy, be a lord and lady and head to the home of the future Queen Catherine: Berkshire. Windsor Castle, the Royal Ascot and other la dee da charms await!

4. Wellington, New Zealand

Rugger up - the Rugby World Cup will be held in New Zealand this year and if you love a good knees up with some chunky men then you should make your way to NZ's capital cool Wellington the Bohemian adventure center.

5. The Amazon Rainforest

Why not just do it - it's not that crazy get your activity adventure loving ass over to the Amazon and celebrate the UN's International Year of Forests in style! Float your way through the world's largest rain forest and you could experience Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana and some amazing wildlife.

6. Valencia, Spain

What is so special about Spain in 2011? Aside from cheap beer and sun this city is Europe's Capital of Sport 2011. This city is really up and coming and is almost pushing over Barcelona with beautiful architecture, great shopping and oh the beach!

7. Argentina

Voted top ethical destination two years in a row and with gorgeous landscapes, cosmopolitan cities and a buzzing culture, Argentina is a travellers paradise. Affordable and unforgettable.

8. Machu Picchu

Yes this sacred mountain appears on most people's wish list but this year is it's 100th anniversary since it was discovered by a foreigner. The Inca trail is mysterious and ancient and making this journey could be the best of your life let alone just 2011.

9. Chernobyl, Ukraine

The well known Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986 is considered the worst nuclear power plan accident in history. This year a  number of companies will begin tours to the infamous power plant site you will get to see the 'dead town' of Pipyay, as well as the 'red forest.' It is great to see this place turning it self around and I really hope it does well.

10. Washington DC

This place seems extraordinary
and is on my list this year, because I have not been and everyone is raving about it! If you love museums this seems to be Disneyland and I hear it is cheap too - history my love here I come!

11. Irish Year of the Craft

We have some very talented people in this country and this year we will celebrate their unique talents with the Year of the Craft. Craft fairs will pop up all over the country this Summer so you can buy pretty things for me and you but to see some items during creation get yourself to Co Kilkenny or to Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim for some meet the maker fun.

Well hello 2011!

Apologies for my long absence, I was attacked by a virus over the Christmas and New Year which I am hoping is not a sign of things to come this year - because I am planning on having a very happening 2011.
So after days in bed I cannot wait to get out and start living in 2011 and not surprisingly one of my top resolutions for this year is to look after my body - exercise, eating better, relaxing and pampering!

I am hoping to do a photography course this year, because I love photos so expect a whole host of photos coming up, oh and I'm going to try out my new 12 month project where I take a photo of the same location every month and pick the best four that encapsulate the seasons.

Of course I want to get out and travel, go places, do things, maybe start doing some more walking trails and getting away with friends or even by myself to explore the country, I've not decided on any foreign hols yet but I think I might look for some different places a bit closer to home rather than half across the universe!

Write about what I love - which I do here of course but I also hope to try and do it more often like get a full time job more closer to my passions.

Cook new things - I love to cook when I get the time, and it is relaxing and satisfying so this is a must!

I would like to become more patient this year, try to listen rather than speak too quickly. I am quite a hot tempered person so this would help relationships all round! Most of all I need to realise that only I can make myself happy so I need to stop relying on others to do this for me.

In essence: Read, write, learn, travel, exercise, relax ... and breathe!