Thursday, August 31, 2006

Merdeka Day -Independence

Today it is Independence Day in Malaysia and I struck it lucky here in Melacca as the guesthouse I am in had a prime parade viewing position. I merely walked across the road and had a superb view of the whole Merdeka parade this morning.
It has been clear since I came to Malaysia that Independence Day is celebrated with some enthusiasm. Flags have been exuberantly flying all over the place. Then yesterday when I checked in and they saw my passport, the comment was that I had just had a birthday and that my age was **. The reason that my age was so easily calculated was that I was born just over a week before Malaysian Independence. So, if you know how many years Malaysia has been independent, you know my age!
Last night things began. I heard the countdown and caught a glimpse of the distant fireworks from the guesthouse balcony. Like a New year countdown at home.
This morning when I opened my shutters I could see people assembling outside and a few police motorbikes around. By the time I had showered there were some more people gathering and it was clear I would not have to go far to find the parade I had been told about.
The parade was amazing and took ages to get to its end. It started with some military people dressed in white carrying an enormous flag in a flat position, followed by two groups carrying many flags. The parade continued with a huge array of marching groups, from schools, to police cadets, to workplaces to marching bands, to leisure groups. There was a smallish army presence. Some of the marching groups were deadly serious with their marching steps and others were more relaxed and even waved to people they knew.The crowd watching the parade were incredibly well behaved. There was a police presence, but once they had stopped the traffic there was little they needed to do with the crowd. I was near a family whose father was a policeman and he came and stood with them for a while with his motorbike. It was a real family affair with many small children watching. There were so many in the parade itself I am surprised there was anyone much left to watch it! When I ate dinner last night the waitress told me that the Melacca parade this year would just be a small one and that next year it would be huge for 50 years. I thought it was pretty huge this year!


Trishaws. The ones here in Malacca are amazing, decorated with flowers and flags and all sorts. At night they might have lights and hooters.
Traffic. Terrible. Lanes mean nothing and driving down the middle of lanes, and changing lanes without indicating are commonplace. Motorbikes weave in and out at speed and apparently the accident/death rate is very high. Double parking is a norm. There are shelter places for motorbikes built under motorway bridges and since I have seen a few torrential downpours now they are obviously a good idea.
Food is yummy and comes in great variety. Hygiene for food also seems to be high. Though water needs to be bought.

Seremban, KL, Malacca

Have been spending a few days in Malaysia. D and I came up on the MRT and buses last Sunday evening. Getting through Customs involved getting off the Singapore MRT bus at Singapore customs, then getting back on to drive over the Causeway, then getting back off for Malaysian Customs, then getting back on to go to Larkin Bus station in Johor Bahru, from where we caught a Malaysian bus to Seremban. We had a bit of a view until it got dark. Lots of pine oil plantations where once there was no doubt jungle. The whole place had such a rural feel after the skyscrapers of Singapore. People seemed more relaxed and less like business clones.
The nice thing about Seremban was that it was an ordinary Malaysian city, not full of tourists. D's friend J being a local, he knew all the best places to eat out. We explored the sights of Seremban by car and saw the multi-coloured lights by night. There was a glorious Sultan's palace - very rich - that of course we could not enter.
On Tuesday we went into KL where J had necessary business to perform. We waited for him at the shopping centre under the two towers. Very exclusive kinds of shops. Quite a few women all in black that J told us were probably visitors from Saudi ( who used to go to UK and USA but can't go there so easily now.) We then visited the museum which had some great lifesize displays to demonstrate aspects of life of the various diverse cultures in Malaysia. We walked from there up to the beautiful orchid and hibiscus gardens. We just missed getting caught out in the torrential rain which arrived, though D and I got somewhat drenched a bit later just getting out of the car to go to the roofed-in market area.
This morning I branched out on my own to Malacca for a few days. The drive only took just over an hour. But when I got to Malacca I was foxed by the huge size of the bus terminal and its many doors and the fact that it is several kilometres away from the historic part of town. Plus the language barrier and the fact that I had no idea where any hotels were. I had done no research! And the taxis are unmetered so I didn't fancy taking one. So I delayed and checked my e-mail for a while!
Next I actually sought some help to get the local bus. I knew the historic area was somewhere near the sea, so when a local lady cottoned onto me saying hotel and sea she thought of Ocean and helped me find the Ocean bus. Turned out Ocean was a shopping block so I still hadn't found the historic centre. I soon got tired of feeling lost in the heat so decided to venture into a flasher hotel than I was going to afford and asked directions. (I thought they might speak reasonable English in there. They gave me a map which was very helpful.) So I then spent quite some time in the historic area with shades of its Portuguese and Dutch history, and finally found a guesthouse. It has aircon but primitive plumbing. I dare say I can survive for three nights at the end of my trip! It has canal views and a vew of Francis Xavier Church from the room balcony so that is nice.
This evening I have eaten out at a food stall where I got delicious food. Now town is quite busy. It is Malaysian National Day tomorrow and I gather there will be lots of people out celebrating this evening. Fireworks will be let off that I am hoping to see from the hotel roof, though I am now confused whether that is tonight or tomorrow night! Time to go and find out.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Still lazy!

I have to admit, I have still been lazy. I have been having a holiday after my holiday! I didn't really have too many slow days in Europe but I have made up for it this week. Watching Tv, spending time on the internet, sleeping in.....
But this afternoon I am going to get a wee bit more active again. We are heading up to Seremban, not too far from Kuala Lumpur. So I am about to pack my bag. Nice to be able to pack a small backpack instead of my large one!
This morning I went into town on the bus to go to 10am Mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. As it turned out, the bus stop was right across the street from the church, which is always helpful in the heat. But today it wasn't the heat that was the issue, it had started pouring with rain. First rain since I have been here. But at the pedestrian crossing near the lights, a lady realised I did not have an umbrella and sheltered me to get over the road under hers, which I much appreciated. She then went into the church as well. The music at this Mass was wonderful, and if I am back in Singapore for next Sunday, I will go again!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lazy days in Singapore

I know the Singapore Tourist Board won't want to hear this, but I have been enjoying some very lazy days in Singapore while I get over jet lag! I did enjoy some retail therapy on my birthday when I did the expected tourist thing and purchased my new digital camera. Then yesterday I experimented with it around the apartment block where my friend lives. The building shapes actually look quite effective when you capture bits of them on screen.
Yesterday evening I met my friend after work and we went to the Esplanade Theatre complex where we ate at an outdoor foodhall with delicious and cheap food. The views over the water to the buildings were quite spectacular. Guess what though, no camera with me, so we are going back tonight!
At dinner another friend of his was talking about an educational conference she is going to in Auckland, paid for by her school. Hmmm. E-mailed the thought of such an experience I could organise for myself to my boss and got told, predictably, "Yeah Right!" Tui really does have a lot to answer for. (Sorry only Kiwis will really get this!)
Today I was going to get active first thing in the morning. Jetlag clearly still has hold of my body and had other ideas. Slept three hours last night, spent the next three hours wide awake, then went back to sleep and never woke until nearly 11am. And this is me who is usually such an early bird up with the larks. Tomorrow will have to be the early day!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Birthday Girl

Ok ok so I am not going to say how old I am, but I am a birthday girl in Singapore. Thanks to those of you who knew and who sent me birthday e-mails! I started the day feeling quite jetlagged so decided to have a quiet-ish day. Took a short walk to the local supermarket. Felt too tired to read the newspaper I bought, so went back to bed at midday ( not what you are supposed to do with jetlag I know!) and set the alarm for two hours later. Woke up feeling much better and quite refreshed.
Set off for town where I met up with my friend and went shopping. A very Singaporean thing to do believe me! I had managed to break my digital camera when I dropped it not long before I left New Zealand. Decided to replace it. Went into a couple of stores in a huge electronics plaza to get an idea of what was what. Met a couple of quite pushy male salesmen but remained non-commital. Then on a higher floor of the plaza, came across a lovely woman. (She has obviously worked out that 'pushy' doesn't work with some of us!) Decided to buy myself a birthday present then and there. Got an excellent demo of its features from a young man in the store. Plus I will get a small tourist tax refund. I have never spent enough before to be eligible for such a thing.
My friend and I then went out to dinner for my birthday in a very pleasant place. A pleasant birthday in a foreign land, and managed to get over jetlag at the right time to enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Singapore

Had a good flight from Frankfurt though it feels strange to have "lost" six hours. Felt like I never slept much on the flight but suddenly there were only two more hours before arrival, so I actually must have been sound asleep for quite a few hours! I was sitting next to an Italian man who works in Frankfurt and spoke really good English as well.
My friend picked me up from the airport and we came to his apartment. Then we left for downtown where we ate. Singapore buzzes in the evenings. Now, next morning, I am fighting an urge to go back to sleep, but maybe I am about to give in!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

leaving Europe

Can hardly believe it but I am about to go to CDG airport here in Paris and will be leaving Europe today. After initial homesickness, five months has whizzed by.
Spent the last couple of days seeing new and old places in Paris. Outdoor museum of sculpture by the Seine was an interesting new. Last night went to an audiovisual display at Notre Dame. Then went to Gregorian Mass there this morning. Last sound as I left was all the bells pealing in the square.
Now I am heading to the airport and will be in Singapore tomorrow, half way around the world!

Friday, August 18, 2006


Arrived in Paris this afternoon. Progress through Dublin Airport was as smooth as I imagine it normally is so that was a pleasant surprise. CDG took ages to get through queue at Customs and then had to wait ages for baggage- quite the slowest I have met anywhere.
I am staying in a hostel in Montmatre and love the neighbourhood. The hostel is close to Jules Joffrin metro stop. There is a lot of ordinary residential property and all the boulangeries and flower shops and butcheries and small grocery shops you would expect in France. Plus lots of fresh fruit, something that was not so easy to find in Jersey and Ireland. I walked up to Sacre Coeur at the top of the hill and found all the tourists. Then came back down again to eat in more normal territory. Had just started eating when the storm that had been threatening all afternoon finally hit, complete with lightning. My French friend Monique told me that after August 15th there were typically lots of storms here. Guess she was right!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Yesterday I came by bus from Derry to Dublin in about four and a half hours. We had a really courteous Ulsterbus driver who even helped put the luggage on board. We had to produce identification just over the border in Co Monaghan, though there had been no check going across from Donegal to Derry the other day. There have been a few recent fire bombings sadly in the border region, so I guess that is the reason they were being careful.
It was raining for quite a bit of the journey and quite a bit of the rest of the day in Dublin, so it put a damper on more exploring. I was a bit late to get back to the museum though and have probably missed really good archaeological stuff, but you can't do everything.

This morning I was booked to go on Mary Gibbons tour to Newgrange which I was really looking forward to. But I had a bit of excitement before I got away. I was supposed to be picked up from the top-end Merrion hotel. (One night there would cost as much as it costs me for two weeks or more in a hostel I gather!) I waited but nobody arrived. Then the hotel concierge came out as Mary Gibbons was on the phone for me. I had been forgotten. (Not something normal I gather.) But she arranged for the hotel doorman to hail a taxi for me that she would pay for, and I was delivered to the bus and the rest of the tour group. I don't usually travel from swanky hotels in taxis hailed by a doorman and paid for by somebody else!

The tour was excellent and Mary was a wonderful source of knowledge. We first stopped at the Hill of Tara where the Irish kings were based. There are lots of mounds and funny bits of ground to look at, but no remnants of any buildings. But we got a wonderful view out in all directions over the countryside, even though the weather was cloudy. (But no rain!!!) My surname means 'royal bard' so I felt as if I belonged on the site from way back.

At Newgrange we were booked onto the tour through the visitor centre ( the only way you can get on the site). Our guide was excellent. She gave us a brief rundown on the site outside and then we got to go inside the passage grave itself. The mound is huge and the passage is very long. Inside she turned off all the lights and we were able to see a demonstration of how the light comes into the far chamber for a brief period around the northern winter solstice. It was amazing to be there experiencing something from stone age times that was so precise. The stonework in the structure was impressive as well. The stones had been layered outwards so that it was still very dry in the chamber all these thousands of years later. (Newgrange is older than the pyramids.)

On the way back to Dublin we saw where the Battle of the Boyne took place and heard something of its history and ramifications. These royal battles for power had effects on people so long afterwards.

I ate out in Temple Bar and spent more than usual on the meal. Seemed to match my taxi trip of the morning. And now I am about to pack my bags for the first of my homeward flights. I leave for Paris in the morning and have a few days there. Hard to believe that I am almost leaving Europe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Bloody Sunday"

The Museum of Free Derry is a small museum at the edge of the Bogside area. It has a display about Bloody Sunday. It also shows a 45 minute documentary filmed by Canadian television about the events of that terrible day. I looked at the photographs and found some of them hard to look at. People lay dying and were not able to be comforted. People trying to render aid to the wounded were shot. A large group of people sat down for the whole video and there was a sad silence at the end. It is clear that innocent people were shot that day by British paras, and that responsibility still has not been taken for the killing that took place. It was an event that led to years of violence in reprisal, and trust has still not been regained.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Giant's Causeway

The rain held off - the sunshine even came out- and I really enjoyed the Giant's Causeway!
On Sundays in summer, Ulsterbus run a direct bus to the Causeway (saves making connections). It leaves at 2.15pm and then leaves the Causeway again at 7.30pm, so it gives you several good clear hours to explore the landscape.
I took the top path first and enjoyed wonderful clifftop views over the various bays and rocks. The "organ" section of rocks is especially impressive and tall. I met a Spanish couple while walking here that I had also seen on the Donegal Tour: you do tend to meet people again in this country!
After taking the cliffpath for a while I walked back to a section of stairs and descended to a lower track. Following this to the end gave another excellent view of the organ rocks, even more impressive from a bit lower down when you could see the whole extent of them.
Next I came back to the Giant's Causeway itself. From the top it is difficult to realise how impressive these rocks look at ground level. The tide was fairly far out and you could walk over quite a large area of "stepping stones" on the blocks of basalt. Many of the blocks are six-sided, but there are other numbers of sides as well. It was just amazing to see how these shapes all fitted together, and to realise that the cracks had extended so far down the blocks in straight lines. Apparently the lava in this area cooled in an old river bed, and cooled slowly at the kind of rate that led to this very even cracking. One of the wonders of the world I have been fortunate to see.

Derry after the March

I arrived in Derry yesterday afternoon not realising the significance of the day: Apprentice Boys' March.

The first sign I had entered the city was graffiti on the walls and I realised I had not seen much tagging recently: perhaps most Irish towns clean it up promptly when it happens. Then I saw an armoured police vehicle. Next we passed under the bridge en route to the bus station and I could see that marchers were passing overhead.
I have not heard that there was much trouble at the March but I basically kept out of town and did my laundry. (One pair of jeans does get smelly when you wear them every day as it has turned cold!) This morning though I have been exploring the town and there are a few signs of what happened - a few burnt out vehicles and bonfires still smouldering.
The first thing I did in the city was find the walls and walk around them. They are certainly impressive, being nearly intact and quite a few metres wide. You also get a wonderful view from the top of them. The murals that have been painted on some Bogside buildings are very powerful and quite a few are visible from the walls. From the walls you also look over to the Catholic Cathedral in its hilltop position. I also walked past the Fountain area of town, right up close against the walls, and here Union Jacks were flying and some fires still smouldering.
As I wandered some more in the city I began to find all the divisions quite disturbing. I cannot imagine what life was like here in the Troubles and whether the divisions still run deep, even though life appears on the surface to be more peaceful. Maybe if you come here on any other day it just seems like a normal peaceful city... as I suppose it mostly is these days. I hope the people here know peace and justice.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

'Hills of Donegal' tour

Travelling in peak periods in Ireland has some disadvantages as it can be hard to get hostel bookings when you want them. But it has some advantages too, as there are buses that connect places in summer months that don't run the rest of the year. Yesterday I went on a BusEireann tour here in Co Donegal that runs only in the summer and it was excellent. It enabled me to get out to parts of rural Donegal I would otherwise have found it hard to travel to/from.

I picked up the tour in Donegal Town at 10.15am. The driver was a great guy. He was friendly and also had great local knowledge. He was imparting bits and pieces of interesting info all day in a very natural way. Some of it was anecdotes he had picked up from other locals, rather than just dry tourist facts.

The tour was circular and visited both mountain areas and coast in Co Donegal. We passed through some lovely green farmland in the morning and also through some major towns.
My favourite bit of the day was when we arrived at Glenveigh National Park. We had over two hours free here to explore which was great as it gave time to go walking a little. Fortunately the drizzle/rain of previous days seemed to have mostly abated and I only needed my raincoat on very briefly. I climbed to the viewpoint where you were able to look along the length of the lake. The track went steeply upwards in places, but after Croagh Patrick, it was a breeze! Then I followed the footpath back to the Visitor Centre along the lakeside. The Visitor Centre had some information about the golden eagles they have been reintroducing to this area. It also had some poignant material about more than 100 people who were evicted from their houses by the local landlord. Their houses were levelled and they were left destitute. He claimed as his justification for this that there had been a murder of one of his staff and this was punishment for those responsible. When things like this have happened to the Irish in their past, it is no wonder that they seem to have a conscience here for aiding those in the world who are suffering famine or other injustice.

Our trip in the mountain/coastal area was in quite different terrain from the good farmland we had seen in the morning. This western part of Donegal was quite rugged. It is bogland and we saw many places where the turf has been cut to give fuel for the domestic fires. As well as bog, the rain fills the many lakes in the area, and the effects of glacial sculpting of the landscape are obvious. The bog covers bedrock and in many places huge rocks were protruding.
We went to Dunlewey and had a boat ride on the lake if we chose. I was hungry by now and glad to eat here as well!

The coastal section of the trip was beautiful and we had many good views out over bays. It was cloudy so we never saw 'blue sunshine' water, but maybe seeing Ireland with drizzle imminent anytime soon is how it is most of the time anyhow! We had time for one last visit before we returned to town. The driver took us to 'Leo's tavern' which is owned by the father of the Clannad family, and Enya. There was no music on while we were there, but it was most impressive to see all the silver discs on the walls etc.

It was about 7.30pm when we got back to town so it had been a very full and interesting day. We covered about 260km of varied and beautiful landscapes and had time to explore at some of our stops. If you are in Co Donegal in August I really recommend this trip, but the last day it runs is September 1st!

The weather

The weather has turned into jeans and jersey weather here in Ireland and as I only have one pair of jeans now, I am starting to get a bit smelly. Hopefully I can get back to some lighter clothing soon! Though soon enough I know I will be moaning about the heat and humidity of Malaysia and Singapore.
There are weather words I have encountered in Ireland that are unique to this land. People say it is a "soft day" when it is drizzling or raining just lightly, without much wind. Quite a nice term really.
"Quite fine" to the Irish means it is drizzling only slightly and is warm enough, or that it has just been drizzling, or that it might well be drizzling again soon.
"Sweltering" means the summer temperature has reached about 23 or 24 degrees.

Friday, August 11, 2006

In Donegal

I have arrived in the northern end of the country and have colder, more drizzly weather to match at present. At breakfast this morning in the hostel I was telling an Irishman how cold I was finding it and how I had hauled my good wind jacket out of the bottom of my pack, and he told me this was quite mild!
Yesterday I visited the Catholic shrine of Knock out of curiosity but never really connected with it. I was wearing my sandles as my shoes were still soaked from the day before on Croagh Patrick, and the first thing I did on arrival in Knock was buy a pair of socks to keep my feet warm! My raincoat was still feeling a bit damp from the climb as well, but it gave me some warmth. I spent the day longing for my wind jacket! And the buses were such that I was stuck in Knock for hours - not my best day's planning!
Yesterday evening was the first evening of a Westport music festival. I had seen the stage being erected over several days down by the river, and clearly a lot of organisation has gone into this free event. I got there in time to hear most of the "warm up" act. An American act was supposed to follow, a well-known men's group from way back.... but they were well over half an hour late. Ihe Irish crowd were incredibly patient, and I could imagine the crowd would have all sung "Why are we waiting?" at home, and then left when the act did not appear. Who knows what the hold-up was, but I hope the organisers don't have to endure such a wait again.
This morning I caught the bus from Westport to Donegal town. The countryside north of Westport was rolling and green and very beautiful. As we approached Sligo it became flatter across to the sea view. Then north of Sligo there were some hills/ ranges apparent in gaps in the mist and drizzle. I am told this area is very beautiful and I hope to see some of that beauty on a bus tour tomorrow. But being from a mountain province myself, I know that mountains don't always reveal themselves to flash-in-the-pan visitors!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Croagh Patrick

The Irish climb Croagh Patrick as pilgrims, and see it as having penetential significance. I climbed it today in the New Zealand sense of "because it's there" and I see now why it is a pilgrimage thing. It was hard work!

Croagh Patrick was visible with its dome shaped peak from my hostel bedroom yesterday evening. This morning first thing there was an ominous cap of cloud on top of it, but it cleared. I had breakfast at the hostel then headed into town, bought a sandwich for lunch and walked to the edge of town to start hitching to the mountain. Now, friends and family, don't freak out: it was 8km to walk to the starting village and I don't usually do this but the first bus today did not run until lunchtime which was too late. It took about half an hour before I got a lift, but it was a lovely old man who picked me up. He guessed I was headed for the "sacred mountain" and assumed I was holy to be doing it. I didn't feel able to ruin his day with the truth..... He told me about the climb, and that the top bit was toughest, especially coming down as it was easy to slip on the stones. He showed me where the best pub was for a cup of tea at the end, and where to get hold of a stick for the climb.

Anyhow, about half past ten I set foot on the mountain, stickless, as I am not used to carrying one. The mountain is only about 735m, but as the climb starts pretty much from sea-level, there is quite a bit of climbing and it goes uphill all the way, quite steeply in places. The route is very stony, and the stones are loose on the path so footwork is tricky. At this stage the view to the top was still clear and as I climbed I got some great views over the bay with its many islands, and then up by the stone cairn, over to other mountains/hills and valleys. The views were superb even though it was a bit cloudy. I was glad I took some photos going up, as visibility was soon to deteriorate markedly.

The top part of the walk was on the dome-like part of the mountain and it was steep all the way. The rocks were also very unstable so it was hard work climbing. I had not gone far on this steep bit when a father of a descending family gave me his stick and said I would need it. He was right! I was glad to have it, especially for the descent on this section.

I was soon walking in mist. The view of the top had disappeared and the mist got thicker as I climbed so you really had little idea what lay ahead. I knew I would make it if I just kept on keeping on, and suddenly, about one hour and fifty minutes after I started, I arrived at the oratory at the top. At least the other people there told me it really was the top: you couldn't actually see far! (I chose to believe them anyhow!)

The part of the oratory you first reach was providing some shelter and even in the brief time I was at the top, the weather got worse. As I stepped around the side of the oratory to go inside, it was a battle to walk against the cold wind. It was not suitable weather to stop and eat my sandwiches so I started to descend.

The whole descent turned out to be slow going and took a lot longer than I had expected. I had the stick for the steepest bit. Then I gave it to someone without a stick who was about to start on the steep section. She gladly took it. However, the next section down also proved very slippery as the stones had become a bit wet. I took a couple of tumbles and am probably lucky to have escaped without injury. By this stage the wind had suddenly become very strong and it was actually difficult to stand up and not be blown downhill. I slipped over once and the wind then blew me along while I was on the ground which was quite scary. I felt a bit shaky after the fall, but conditions on the mountain were not conducive to feeling wobbly and staying there, so I had a few pieces of magic chocolate, took a swig out of my water bottle, and carried on down. I had thought I would be eating lunch in some pleasant spot lower down, but the weather was not conducive to that!

Eventually I reached the bottom, cold and wet but really glad to have achieved the climb and descent. I didn't stick around for anything to eat as I really wanted to get back to Westport for a shower and change of clothes. I thought I might have trouble hitching in my obviously wet and messy state, but I had hardly started waiting before a local man picked me up. Turned out he lived in the village but worked in town right close to my hostel, and he didn't find it hard to guess I had just climbed the mountain.

So, now I am in clean dry clothes and at 4pm I actually ate my lunch! But I am very pleased with my achievement.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Westport, Co Mayo

Yesterday I left Limerick, feeling a little as though there was more to see that I hadn't seen, but the hostel was on the dearer side (though it was friendly, clean, and nice to have a single room for a couple of nights for a change!)

I passed through Galway which has been too busy for backpackers to get bookings in lately as there has been an Arts Festival and a week of races. People are starting to go there now, but I have decided to bypass it and I just had a quick walk around in between buses. There was a pleasant river/canal walk. At a market I spoke to one of the stall-holders. He picked my accent as Kiwi, and it turned out he lived in the town of my birth in Taranaki for seven months!!!!!! How is that for chance! I also saw the Catholic cathedral which was a very beautiful building, with rounded stone arches and exquisite stained glass.

I arrived in Westport, in Co Mayo the land of my Burkes, late afternoon, and am in a lovely hostel just on the edge of town. It was hard to find though and I badly overshot it and walked far further than I needed to with my heavy pack on my back! From my hostel bedroom I look out over Croagh Patrick which was clearly in view.

Westport was a very pleasant place to walk around and not too busy yesterday afternoon. Hilly though in places! And this morning I aim to climb Croagh Patrick where the path seems to climb quite steeply, so it might be a challenge as my bike fitness has largely gone now!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Burren and Cliffs

This is peak holiday time here in Ireland and this weekend being Bank Holiday things are very crowded and full. So I decided to take a day tour to see some of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. Barratt Tours offer a half day tour that leaves from Limerick at noon. Well, sort of half-day: it doesn't get back to town until 7pm so it is a fairly full day!

The trip started at Bunratty where there was time for lunch and shopping. Personally I could have skipped this bit. I ate my sandwiches and apple ( and ok yes some chocolate!) and had no intention of adding to my backpack weight at this stage by shopping. (My last day in Dublin, or Paris, or Singapore will be soon enough for any of that!)

We then picked up some more people in Ennis which looked like an attractive town and headed off on the road for the Cliffs of Moher. It had been raining to start the day but had finished by 2pm so we were treated to some excellent views along the way, including some of Galway Bay. The roads definitely got crowded near the Cliffs as was to be expected. An advantage of being on a bus was that it seemed much quicker to get in/out of the bus part of the parking area.

But the Cliffs of Moher I think are over-rated. Over 700,000 people apparently visit them each year: the power of mass tourism and reputation. I have seen higher cliffs, and the south coast of Australia has plenty. But what I hated was the "freak out" factor I had while there. There were zillions of people and only a couple of poor men who had the job of trying to police the barriers, being argued with by stroppy foreigners. A lot of people were jumping over the barriers and going very very close to the edge to get their photographs. Risking their lives for a picture. I was reminded of the German guy at Punakaiki who managed to kill himself trying to get a photo the day after the Cave Creek tragedy and the poor rescuers had to retrieve his body. I hated the sight of all these people close to the edges.

We left the cliffs though for my favourite part of the day. The weather had cleared but with the cloud still around there wasn't too much glare and the views were wonderful. We could see out to Connemara and even across to the mountains on the Ring of Kerry, as well as the Dingle Peninsula. They were blue and far away, but their outlines were clear.

Then we came into the Burren landscapes. I am sure we only had a taste of the immensity of them, but without a car it is not so easy to reach them. The Burren is basically an area of limestone that has been uplifted. The sides of a whole valley had the topsoil layers all removed by the scraping of glaciers in the last ice age. It looked dramatic. We had a great view from a viewpoint before winding our way down Corkscrew Hill. We travelled on to see the neolithic tomb monument at Poulnabrone. This was our only brief time actually walking on some of the Burren rocks so I made the most of it. I doubt I will be back for a bigger walk, though with my flexi-planning you never know!

So, that was the day. Tomorrow I catch the bus right through Galway to Westport in Co Mayo. I will be leaving the area of my Riordan and Malone ancestors to get closer to the land of my Burke ancestors.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Moved on to Limerick

Last night I attended a brilliant concert held in St James Church, Dingle. There were five musicians, each superb. Two played the violin mainly, two played the guitars, and the fifth played the pipes and whistle. They played mostly as individuals or in twos. I especially loved the guitarist in the second half and bought his CD: he could make such a range of sounds with his strings. He soon teamed up with a young fiddle player and she was lively and just so skilful. At the end they got the sound technician to join them on stage. He has apparently been responsible for organising these kind of concerts in Dingle, but this was his last one and he is about to leave Dingle permanently for Hawaii. The sadness of the musicians was clear.

It was another misty morning in Dingle. Maybe it is like this most of the time when it is not raining! I caught the 10.15am bus out of Dingle along with many others. Some of the departees at least were leaving as accommodation was very tight in the area for Bank Holiday weekend if you hadn't booked. Three young German women from my dorm room were in this position and had to ring widely to find an available bed.

Dingle certainly was not the isolated area I had imagined: it was full on tourist-land. Maybe the locals get the magic of Dingle back in the winter, but there appear to be a huge amount of extra holiday homes and second houses going into the area. It will never again be the romantic place of the past.

Personally I was ready to leave the south-west of Ireland behind. It is very beautiful but also very full of summer tourists (like myself!) The bus ride out of Dingle was up through hills with the mist on the tops of them. Then we travelled in the actual mist itself for a while. Suddenly we emerged from the mist into sunshine above the Tralee Bay and it was another gorgeous view. From Tralee to Limerick we could just as well have been travelling through farmland in New Zealand. I felt very at home.
The bus journey took an indirect route through various towns. One of these towns was Rathkeale that I had visited as a young woman to see one of Dad's first cousins. I remembered Rathkeale as being full of grey buildings, so I was interested to see if it was still grey, or whether buildings had been painted as they have been elsewhere in Ireland. Many of them have been painted! But it retained the feel of a 'real' town and not just a picture postcard.
Patrick Riordan, my great-grandfather, came from Co Limerick (Curraheen). Margaret Malone, my grandmother, came from Charleville, in Cork close to the border with Limerick. So my visit to Limerick has been to come close to where they lived. I am not going to try and reach the townlands themselves without a car, but it is still good to be here. People can spell my surname and pronounce it beautifully. Limerick is a refreshing place to be, as it is not reliant on tourism, and has a life of its own. The river Shannon is a definite presence in the middle of town. I counted over 50 swans on it this afternoon!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dingle in the mist

A harbour-side walk was my plan for the early part of the morning but I awoke to misty rain outside. But it was mainly mist with nothing much in the way of drizzle so I set off towards where the harbour entered the larger bay. I nearly made it all the way but the path seemed to peter out, and the rocks next to the water were slippery. I didn't think I should be the third person in our family to get a broken leg so I made my way back again. For most of the walk in the mist I felt as if I was the 'only being' on the harbour except for occasional boats leaving, and a few cows who ignored me. But then I rounded a corner and heard the loud noises of a group of wet-suited people in the water. Apparently Fungi the dolphin had kept them company for a while but had since left. This famous Dingle harbour dolphin has been keeping humans amused and many locals employed for twenty years or so. I am not sure why the dolphin puts up with all these noisy humans but I guess they provide company.

At 11am I left on a guided walking tour with Bernie who was an absolute fount of knowledge. He took me first to the garden behind the Presentation convent where on a good day we should have been able to see Lord Ventry's house. (I visited this yesterday to see the ogham stones.) Bernie described how Dingle had been laid out as a town by the Normans, though in the current enthusiasm for the area as an Irish speaking one, he said this heritage is largely ignored. He pointed out where a bit of the old town wall ran, though evidence of an older town has largely disappeared. He talked about the amount of contact Dingle had with Spain, and that in fact for a period, Dingle citizens were considered citizens by Spain. We visited the present St James Church that is near the site of a larger original St James Church, used as a starting point for a dangerous sea voyage to Compostella for pilgrims. This large amount of Spanish contact meant that Irish soldiers were common in various Continental armies, and also that middle class sons were commonly educated on the Continent. Bernie said that the Spanish had detailed maps of the Dingle area at a time when it was a blank on English maps, but all that changed at the battle of Kinsale, (about which I learned on a guided walk when I was in Kinsale!) Bernie talked about 'Mass houses' and how Catholic practice was not quite so viciously stamped out here in Dingle as in other parts of Ireland.

There is still a misty drizzle outside. So I am on the internet while my laundry gets washed at a local laundry. It is one of the essentials of a traveller's life every so often: I ignore dirty marks on clothes as long as I can, but you reach a smelly stage where you can ignore the dirt no more!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sciuird Archaeological tour

This morning dawned fine and sunny again and I headed out along the coastal walk. I was very glad to discover this walk yesterday evening as you can wend your way along the harbour for ages without any cars nearby. Yeah!!!!! I ate my breakfast as I watched boats out on the harbour with the glorious backdrop of green hills and blue water.
Then mid-morning I embarked on an excellent tour. It was in a minibus on parts of Slea Head, with Michael, who has studied archaeology in Galway. His tour was one of the most informative I have ever been on, plus he was nice with it and readily answered questions that people had.
Our first stop was to see some Ogham standing stones and he explained in some detail the significance of the marks on the stones. We passed the ruins of a tower and heard what it was there for and how it would not have made for pleasant living. We next went to the ruins of a monastery where there was a picture giving an artist's impression of the layout, showing how several buildings were circular. Michael explained that the monasteries were independent of each other and that this one only had a small number of monks in it. It was also probably on a pilgrimage trail to a nearby mountain. The view was superb: it is hard to imagine that people were living an ascetic life in hard conditions when you see it glorious sunshine like we had today.

There were many Celtic swirls on a stone in the ruins and Michael talked to us about how archaeologists have doubted for some time that there was ever a Celtic invasion into Ireland. Instead, it appears that aspects of Celtic civilisation were adopted by the Irish already here. Recent DNA studies into the Irish are backing this idea up, and the Irish share genes with people from the coast bordering the Atlantic eg the Welsh, but there is no evidence of much Celtic genetic input. This could be something interesting to keep watching for information about.

We went to the Gallarus oratory which is still in its original state, with no mortar, and built of dry stone. It has held together as built. The door is apparently like those of 8th century origin, but the window shows a more Romanesque 12 century influence. Michael suggests that the building has continued in use by farmers etc to shelter animals over the years and this is one reason why it has remained preserved.

I was intrigued by the pattern of paddocks on nearby hills and asked about it. Michael told us that there used to be many crops grown in this area, which was largely self-sufficient in agriculture. But since joining the EU, small farmers cannot compete so there are very few crops grown here now. A farmer can earn far more from the land, if it has a good harbour view, by getting planning permission for a dwelling and selling the land.

This afternoon I have been to see the Harry Clarke (Dublin) windows in the old convent here in Dingle. The 12 windows were a commission and are exquisite in their colours and details. Harry Clarke died quite young (and my guide suggested that the acid he used on the windows is now thought to have contributed to his illness), but he has certainly left some beautiful windows behind.

Glorious weather here so I am off out to enjoy more of the harbourside walk where I can forget all about the traffic and the hordes of people in Dingle!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


This morning I caught the bus to Dingle, a summertime only service that came directly from Killarney via Inch without having to go to Tralee and wait for a connection. I was surprised when I reached Dingle as somehow I had imagined I was coming to a remote spot. Glengarriff was far more remote and rugged: Dingle has a largish port and is very busy with tourists.

I found my spot in the hostel, booked an archaeaological tour for tomorrow morning and then headed off to walk down the peninsula a bit. (The lady who booked me on the tour commented that my name was "very Irish" and then she proceeded to spell it correctly. I was impressed: I am sure I will love the tour!)
Unfortunately when off walking I missed the turn for the Dingle Way, and ended up walking to Ventry along a very busy road that had heaps of tourist traffic going around the Head. On the way back I discovered where I had missed the turnoff! It was a warm afternoon and the sunshine was strongly back again with no need for a raincoat. There were a few good views out into the harbour along the road walk, but mostly I was worried about avoiding cars on the narrow road. I passed a lot of farmland and saw some dairy cows. It was not the rugged isolated place I had envisaged, though the scenery was still beautiful.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I should have hired a bike!

It was only €12 and I could have hired a bike for the day. I don't know why I didn't. I didn't know what the route was like and I thought the weather might have been drizzling often like yesterday, as well as windy. So I didn't. I walked. And walked and walked on mostly flat paths perfect for cycling, sheltered from the wind mostly, and it didn't rain all day. So I have very tired feet now when I could have been whizzing along on a bike!!!! Thousands of others seemed to be out on hired bikes. I should have been too!
I did the traditional close-to-Killarney paths today. It's strange, as I have a memory of being in Killarney when I was only 23, and I realise now that my memory is somewhat skeddaddled and muddled with somewhere else. I seem to remember walking somewhere very close to Killarney and that it was a rough gravelled road and that rugged mountains were either side of me. At the time I was wishing I knew more about the route so I could safely walk further. Well, I got the first bit right in that the National Park is right close to Killarney: you cross the road near St Mary's Cathedral and you are right in it. But it is not rugged mountain terrain. You are walking through attractive woodland on land that has been used for farming. But in just a couple of kilometres you are near the lake and get a beautiful view near Ross Castle. (So I am not sure where my rugged mountain memory comes from: perhaps way back then in the dark ages there was even such a thing as a tourist bus to somewhere like the Gap of Dunloe and I caught the bus then walked there. The truth is lost in the mists of memory anyhow!)
After seeing the Ross castle area I needed to do a bit of road walking to get to Muckross House and the Waterfall just past it. My feet seemed tired today and the road section took a long time it seemed! Eventually I was on a lovely little walking trail close to the lake. The only thing spoiling the view was a lake hotel that was an ugly intrusion on the landscape. All around were wooded hills and the lake view, and then there was this large hotel right on the lake front. Hard to believe planning regulations allowed this blot.
However, once I had gone a bit further the hotel disappeared and the only sign of Killarney you could even see was a church spire behind some trees. It was a surprise each time I came to a carparking area, or to the waterfall, to realise that the road in fact was not far away, because the woodlands seemed quite isolated and apart.
Torc waterfall was rather beautiful and it was good to see so many people there enjoying the sight of it, including many Irish families with their children.
Now I am back in town with tired feet that I will rest for the evening, and tomorrow I head off for the more isolated area of the Dingle Peninsula.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ring of Kerry

Today I was a "proper" tourist and went on a bus tour for the day! I joined 52 others for a Ring of Kerry tour. Conditions were drizzly on and off so visibility was a bit marginal, but maybe that is more typical of Ireland and the way it should be seen anyhow. It was still beautiful!

We headed off down the coast and got to see the Dingle Peninsula and Valentia Island across the water. We passed through the town where Daniel O'Connell was born, and the bus driver pointed out the house, now just a few bits of brick walls covered with weeds and creepers. There is however, a Daniel O'Connell memorial church, the only one in Ireland not named after a holy saint or event or place, and the Pope approved the choice of name for a politician.

Near the furthest point on the coast road we passed some "famine houses" that had fallen into ruin after the people had died. In response to a question our bus driver told more about what happened in the famine.

The bus driver was entertaining throughout. Sometimes you couldn't be sure if he was serious or just being witty. We stopped at a Pass that gave a magnificent view over the Kenmare River on one side, and down over a ring fort and green fields out to the sea on the other side. There was a statue of Mary at this high point that was established in 1954, a Marian year. The driver told us that most girls born that year were baptised Marian and they are now all hating it as it tells their age!!! (Was the driver joking? I don't know! He told a really good Bush joke too but I can't remember it now.) The area near this pass is a recognised Irish speaking area.

We stopped at a place that had a "Dan Murphy's pub" so I had to take a photo of it for a certain person!

The last bit of our journey passed the MacGillicuddy's Reeks and we had great views of the Killarney Lakes. It was very atmospheric in the misty drizzle. We passed some rhodos which were introduced and grow too well here, stopping other native trees from getting established, so they are being pulled out with various voluntary schemes.

Great trip. Lots of narrow roads. Glad I was on the bus and not driving!