Ireland in twelve days

Ryan-Air zoomed the six of us across the English channel to Dublin in a few hours and we moved from the humidity and high 20°C’s of northern Italy to the bleak cloudy rainy weather of the Irish summer. We HAVE seen the sun and blue sky on some days, but never have our plans have been terribly disrupted but the weather.

Ryan-Air zoomed the six of us across the English channel to Dublin in a few hours and we moved from the humidity and high 20°C’s of northern Italy to the bleak cloudy rainy weather of the Irish summer. We HAVE seen the sun and blue sky on some days, but never have our plans have been terribly disrupted but the weather.

Somewhere down there you might be able to see England on the right and France on the left

Hiring the van in Dublin SIXT went okay. The desk operator said we had a nice new Renault Trafic van as per the order. When we picked it up, it had unrecorded damage on several panels. ALWAYS check the car over and NEVER assume the hirer has logged damage. If you sign for it being right, you’re likely to be stuck with it. Once we’d photographed that and had it recorded, we set out onto the highways – this time driving on the left of the road. This morning I was driving on the right of the road in Italy, this afternoon it was all opposite.

Drogheda was our first stop at a pre booked Air B&B and were welcomed by the friendly host. It was daylight despite it being 10:00pm at night. Up the narrow stairs with our cases, around the tight corner and up a few more stairs – this was something we were going to get used to doing over the next weeks. Quick to bed and a plan to meet at breakfast at 8:00am.

Drogheda Aaron Vale

This duly happened and we enjoyed a nice cooked breakfast before heading out onto the road with a plan to drive a few hours north past Belfast to a place we found near Cloughmills. The promo photo reminded us of Keeping Up Appearances. In reality, they were warm and genuine, like everyone we’ve come across in Ireland.

On the way we passed through Belfast and spent a very pleasant couple of hours at the Belfast Titanic exhibition before finding our way past Ballymena towards Ballymoney and onto Coleraine near the coast where we found a lovely looking restaurent by the river. It served excellent chinese cuisine and was packed for Fathers Day. Filled, we returned to Drumadoon House for two nights.

The Giants Causeway and associated cliff drives were on the agenda, but first we had to get Jenny’s asthma and allergy to pollen seen to. The pharmacy first, then a quick visit to the hospital to book an appointment for the afternoon and we were on our way.

So was the rain.

The driving was quite spectacular, both scenery wise and also skill wise …. haha, as the roads got narrower and the cars coming the other way got wider.

One little village had enormous canopies and grandstands being built around its windswept treeless, a links design apparently, little country golf course. Then the signage confirming that it was the British Open was going to be played there in a few weeks. What a huge event that will be for the town. Best to get out I’d imagine. Later in the week we came across the venue for Irish Open and Irish PGA so the golfing world will soon be focused on Ireland.

Second stay was at the small seaside village of Portsalon up on the north west coastal area for one night.

Third stay was at Loughrea, not too far from Galway for two nights. One the way we dropped into a delightful ceramics factory at Belleek. Pretty and refined work of reasonable prices, it’s apparently quite collectible.

The non travelling day in the middle saw us pile back in the Renault Trafic for a jaunt out to the Cliffs of Moher. These were spectacular cliffs, but I was having my worst cold/flu day with little energy to walk and explore. I couldn’t help comparing where I was a year ago in Svalbard gazing at higher cliffs that stretched for ten kilometres and was home to millions of birds. I’ve been fortunate to gaze on these wonderful locations.

Fourth night was near Bantry down in the south west region of Kerry for two nights. The house was only a few years old and very large and spacious. Plenty of rooms and the kitchens in the last couple of places have meant we can self cater for as much as we like.

Our outing day was a tour of the Ring Of Kerry. This scenic drive covered over 250km of tight roads, mostly coastal but also including some tight mountain roads complete with tunnels and one lane bridges.

From Bantry to Borris on Sunday was a miserable drive. The rain started before we got out of bed and didn’t let up all day. With the driver not feeling very well for the last few day, it’s not an easy time when the conditions make things so much harder. We did however find an absolute gem of a little pub beside the road in Dungarvan – Marine Bar Dungarvan – a small fire was going, no one else in the place, hot soup, apple pie made by Mum and sandwiches as we chose. A small bus with nine Canadians pulled in and as they were finishing their lunch, the owner came out to sing for them, and us. It was delightful, utterly delightful.

Everything a small country Irish pub could be
Yes, a fire on a rainy miserable day, hot soup and apple pie that Mum made – plus live music

We also called into the Waterford Crystal display factory for a little tour around their small workshop. I’m sure they make actual stuff here, but with only a handful of cutters and a few others making the basic shapes, the throughput would have been minimal. The end products look nice but don’t have the same appeal as the ceramics place from a few days before at Beleek

The farmhouse at Borris was another charming discovery by our accommodation experts, Barry and Kerry. A 300 year old converted horse barn was warm and silent. The host family chats are always fun at these locations.

I’d also needed to use my old faithful cable ties, brought from home just in case, to repair the plastic undertray of the Renault. A previous hirer had damaged the bumper, displacing the under engine plastics to the point of rubbing along the road and eventually catching on anything.  Larry and Janet were able helpers as we drive the car onto some blocks, discovering it was front wheel drive in the process, to give some space, and then reconstructing the plastic sheeting so it wouldn’t flop around. Job done successfully.

The little drive in the non travelling day was to nearby Kilkenny. Sadly we missed on having a pint of Kilkenny stout in Kilkenny. A disappointment. Larry also investigated an old viaduct on his morning walks and took us there to check it out.

Now it’s Tuesday and we drove through the side roads once more for our final day in country Ireland, reflecting on how hard it is to see over the hedges, how risky they are for oncoming traffic but also the joyful scenes of country life and the tapestry of colours that make the Irish farming landscape. The stone walls and hedges, the quaint villages with their little houses along the road, the friendly waves, the self shedding sheep and the bitterness of the thin wind.

Dublin was a must do place with the tour of the Guinness factory on the list. It was also the place we needed to find accommodation close to the airport to make it easy for our travel companions to find their way to the airport. Unfortunately time ran short and options were limited to book for 6 people in our price range and we ended up in a most disappointing apartment. Perhaps it was better for the others, but Kerry and I took the mezzanine level and there was no blackout curtains, or fans, so the short time of darkness and limited cooling breezes and single shared bathroom and small living area became testing. Fortunately a much better option was found for our next night and away from the airport. 

We caught the local bus – a double decker with USB charge ports and maybe wifi for the half hour ride into central Dublin. We’d booked online for the next Guinness Storehouse tour and killed an hour or so at Cafe Notto on the way. 

The Guinness Storehouse was packed with people and is an unguided but interesting tour though the old factory. Plenty of video presentations and information boards led us to the place we all wanted to be – well, those who might like a Guinness anyway. And so eventually we went to the famous bar at the top of the building that gave 360° views of Dublin and enjoyed a pleasant pint. It was noisy and crowded in reality, so we escaped down the stairs to a better location to savour the lovely drop.

The gift shop had a visit before we made our way out and headed for the Jameson’s whisky factory. The idea of another tour didn’t appeal, but an Irish coffee DID appeal and oh my, that was a good move. With a significant double shot of coffee and Jameson’s whisky with cream on top, those that partook, ie me, was buzzing along for some time. 

With the afternoon still young, we headed off to relax in the parklands at St Patrick’s Cathedral and watched a young man, who was being carefully watched by many young women, practice his acrobatic moves. Their attention increased when he took off his shirt in the warm Irish summers day. 

More walking as we headed back to the centre of town via the pleasant St. Stephen’s Green, which many places today was packed with people enjoying the sunshine and being outdoors. It was about 25°C and indeed, quite pleasant. We DID walk a long way once we got going, quite likely over 10km for the day, so after walking through the grounds of Trinity College, dinner was found in the Restaurent of the slightly luxurious hotel, the Hotel Riu Plaza The Gresham. They didn’t have any charge points for iPhones though!

Before we sat down for dinner we realised we needed cash to buy the bus ticket to get home and somehow had successfully spent all our cash. The money changers wouldn’t have a bar of my request for change – “You get change by spending money”. The banks had closed – again we got tricked by the long summer days, and also the paucity of banks in anywhere but the Main Street. Eventually someone gave us a tip to go to the Post Office and the man was happy to hand over a bag of change in return for our €50 note.

This was our last night as a group of six, so once we’d made our way back to the apartment, arrangements were confirmed about getting an Uber to the airport the next morning for Janet and Larry as they made their way to London for the weekend.

For the remaining four, we eagerly planned our next day to get OUT of the city and into the comfortable surroundings of a quiet village somewhere.

Donabate was our location and the large house of our hosts was much like Barry and Jenny’s own Air B&B with pleasant company and good location tips. We were keen to find a proper steak and Guinness pie and so far had failed. Fortunately the Keelings pub in Donabate had the required and saved four for us to return in the evening. We spent the afternoon at the Donabate Beach with a light snack at the Shoreline Bar. There was lots of activity around and it was soon evident a wedding was booked. After a pleasant walk along the coast where we chatted to many locals, who like everyone we met in Ireland was interesting and welcoming to us, we came back to check out the wedding. The two brides were taking advantage of the change in the laws following the Irish referendum, much like we had in Australia, and as predicted the sky has not fallen in and the outdoors wedding was not struck by lightning, pestilence or other tragedy. The page boy, and dog, and flower girls did their stuff and I sent off my candid photos to the hotel to be forwarded to the brides. 

Kerry and I walked to dinner via the large estate opposite our accommodation and found the planning well under way for the Flavours of Fingal County Show, a major event in the calendar with free entry and heaps of traditional farming stuff going on over a few days. We got to wander around whilst they were still setting up and kinda pleased we were going to miss the expected crowds. 

Next morning we said our goodbyes to Barry and Jenny, the Renault van and Ireland, as we went our own ways. For Barry and Jenny, it was home after 6 weeks of travelling and then heading to Tasmania with grandchildren for a winter escape. For Tim and Kerry, it was to Vienna to meet Chris and head to the Grand Prix. 

Hanging out in Vicenza

Tuesday saw us saying goodbye’s to Fattoria Grimana B&B that had been our home for a week. Carter’s had a big day ahead making their own way to Rome so they were delivered to the little Grisignano Di Zocco train station early by the wedding couple. Barry and Tim decided the cheapest way to hire a car for the next few days was to do a pick up and drop off to our departure airport – Treviso. So we also travelled to the little Grisignano Train station too and got the newbie travellers on their way from Padova train station.

The bus ticket from Venezia Mestre train station was purchased from ATVO. Their offices are about 250m on the right as you exit the Venezia Mestre Train station and the ticket office is not visible from the exit to the train station. Once on the bus, it was about 40 minutes to Treviso airport where we were served by an interesting assistant at the Sixt car hire office. We’d booked online the night before to get the best price. She was very helpful and we chatted about all sorts of things whilst sorting out our contract and payments. Our car is a nice Fiat Tipo 1.6l turbo diesel, six speed manual. Yes, left hand drive. Estate – wagon to fit all our stuff.

I plugged in the iPhone and turned on Google maps. I’d already downloaded a large chunk of northern Italy to work offline so wasn’t too concerned about using data on the phone. I don’t know why I worried as I have 25Gb allowance each month for the next two months. Cost me €30 with Vodaphone which is not bad I thought. Simply walked into a Vodaphone store and presented my passport and paid.

Wednesday saw us hit the road around 10:00am after meeting the lovely Ellis and Will from San Fransisco for a coffee before their departure. Then it was in the car for what turned out to be a ten or eleven hour day, all bar about 3 hours were driving. Yes I was exhausted, but gosh what a lovely days drive up in the Alps. Lunch at Alleghe.

Thursday was a quieter day where we rested up, walked up to the Spar supermarket about five minutes away to buy lunch and dinner makings. Barry and Jenny went off for a sleepover with old friends in Bologna.

Our afternoon included a walk to Parc Querini.

Friday had Jacob join us for the day. He had a destination of a lake on the far side of Verona, so off we drove. What a great day it was. The lake resorts were popular but the little drive he took us on after the crowds of the resort was something else. More narrow roads zig zagging up the mountains had the pay off of some awesome views.

We needed to get back in time to meet up with Barry and Jenny who had been off to see a friend for the last couple of days.

Nicole and her family came to join us in the evening and we had a lovely walk through the old town of Vicenza. The gelato was awesome, and the shadows in the old buildings captivating.

And so this section of our holiday was over. Chris was delivered to Marco Polo airport for his Contiki Adventure, and the others went to Treviso to meet the Carters again and fly to Dublin.

Bye bye Vicenza

Events on a day of celebration

The day of the wedding, Sunday June 9th 2019, had arrived. In a blur it was over.

In between are a collection of wonderful events, each savoured for the moment. Some are able to shared here, others can only be in our memories.

It was day to be proud of. Not only for Jacob and Nicole for the meticulous and thoughtful organisation of every detail, but for us as parents too. Many people gathered at the bride’s home in the morning. Some where neighbours, some had been collected by a mini bus from Vicenza some half an hour away. They’d come from San Francisco, Shanghai, Barcelona, London, Amiens, Perth and Melbourne: it was indeed an international event.

A huge spread of brunch food and drinks meant to keep us filled in time to get us through to what was going to be a late lunch indeed did achieve that. It was also the first glimpse of the bride and groom together. Gasps were heard.

The lunch at Ristorante LaVecchia Latteria was terrific. A bus had been hired to take us into the pre Alps about 45 mins away so the views were lovely as was the location. Many courses – six I believe. Antipasta, two entrees, two mains, and a dessert of Thousand layer cake. It finished at 6:00pm. We woz full. Full and very happy.

At 6:30pm the evening guests arrived and more food was served in a less formal setting. We didn’t have any! Although a choice of three gelato to finish off the evening just couldn’t be ignored.

Visitors arrived who’d known the couple from Amiens and from local areas. The garden setting was well utilised for photo’s chatting and by the time the bus was ready to take the old people home, a couple of entertaining impromptu speeches by the Best Man -Thomas in English and Bridesmaid – Alessia in Italian. Having known Thomas for as long as Jacob – Day One, Year One – we were just as proud of his lovely speech as we were of the things he was saying about Jacob!

Once the old people left, other things happened. But I can’t write about that because, well, I was on that bus too.

The next day, Monday, was to be a tour of the region and lunch, and indeed it was. A larger bus picked us up and we toured an old castle in Marostica, rather famous because they got a bit sick of continual battles over land, so instead they played chess to choose the winners of land allocations. Hills were climbed, old things inspected, people continued conversations from the day before.

Back on the bus to a Monastery and a view over an old city and very old bridge. The bus driver, a cousin of Angelo, Nicole’s father. There were plenty of laughs at his stories, some of which Nicole translated.

Lunch was at a large local cafe in the hills. Plenty of locals around, it was, as was a great deal of this week, a great time experiencing the non touristy areas of Italy and mixing with plenty of regular locals – with all the richness of experience that language barriers bring.

The bus dropped us at the brides home around 9:00pm and we carried on eating up the leftovers from the wedding day – a job that had to be done, until getting back to Fattoria Grimana, about 500m away about 11:00pm to crash into bed after an enormous couple of days.

A week in Montegalda

Long flights are never much to write about. Qatar Airlines was on time leaving Perth and the very long night is hard going. We’ve learnt it’s important to sleep on the second flight, no matter what sleep you’ve had during the night. We got within about a dozen rows of the front on both flights so the A380 was relatively quiet. I use Bose noise cancelling ear buds, not headphones as they are too big to sleep with. I turn the noise cancelling on and can either listen to music or nothing much. The cry of babies can still be heard, but they do a marvellous job of taking out all the deep drumming of the long flights. The A330 of the second flight was less than half full so I made use of a place to stretch out.

Qatar city and suburbs
Suburbia in Qatar

Venice Marco Polo airport was not very big, compared to the monsters at Qatar and Dubai. Australian passport holders are sped through the biometrics scanners along with Euro zone peeps. It was great to have Jacob meet us and whisk us along the freeways for the hour drive to the lovely accommodation at Montegalda – Fattoria Grimana

We loved meeting Nicole’s family and spent a pleasant evening with them. This is the plan for each evening for the week. Translations are done enormously well by Jacob and Nicole and her brothers.


A day trip to Verona started with Jacob ferrying us in two car trips to the little station of Grisignano de Zocco where the ticket machine was negotiated with, money paid and tickets printed out then validated in a different machine. For some reason we needed to catch the train the wrong way into Padua, then change trains and go back past Grisignano de Zocco at great speed and four stops later, about an hour, we found our way at Verona. This backwards train ride wasn’t by accident, it was because of the train timetable and which train stops at the little station. Trenitalia website tells all.

Jacob led us through to visit the old places, a lovely looking old coloseum type arena that hosts the likes of Elton John, Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, lunch opposite the old Verona Filarmonic Opera house, and even a quick trip to the Capulet house to see Juliet – yes the one from Romeo and Juliet fame.

Fondling Juliet is apparently a thing to do

With lots of little alley ways in a city, the best things are often found if you take a wander through them. It also takes you away from the main tourist throngs.

Over the fast flowing river we climbed a big hill to see a different view of the city. The weather was not very pleasant with it being quite humid and 33°C or thereabouts, so the climb up the hill was made at a leisurely pace.

Walking back to the train station we found a shirt shop near a Vodafone shop where we bought Euro wide SIM cards to take away the limitations of the WiFi networks. Yes we could have got by without, and I frequently have done so, but with a large group of people potentially needing to stay in contact, it’s a small price to pay for sense of security and convenience.

12km walked today

Thursday was a partial rest day. Some of the group caught a local bus into Vicenza, Jacob collected the best man Thomas who’d arrived from Shanghai, and Kerry and I borrowed bikes and rode around the village of Montegalda. We found a side entrance open to the church and are pleased we had time to absorb the serenity of the building where the wedding will be conducted on Sunday.

We found a pleasant little bike path along the riverside and there are enough bikes around that cars give good distance to cyclists. No helmets and big trucks with limited cycle ways made arriving home very welcome.

Venice on Friday.

A big day ahead, we sorted out the train tickets at Grisnano de Zocco station. Six tickets for the trip in, eleven for the return journey. But the machine would only give us nine tickets. Deep breaths. We intended the train to go straight through without a train change, but the ticket machine said something about delays and a change a Padova. Deeps breaths.

Arrived in Padova. Locals stayed on train. Things looked good. “Excuse me, can you help me in English?, a little bit??” He assured me this train indeed did go all the way to Venice. So 45 minutes later we pulled into Venezia St Lucia train station and walked out to see the famous city.

Cassidy had found a free walking tour so we made our way to the designated spot and waited to be sorted into the groups. Our guide was Anna, a pleasant and engaging woman who lived in Venice. She kept us away from the big ticket tourist hot spots which I was pleased about. I hadn’t been looking forward to the crowds. Anna showed us the back alleys and the places the local Venetians lived, talking about the city, it’s commencement and history.

These free walking tours rely on a payment at the end and we were happy to provide a fair donation to her – it was enjoyable. Venice Free Walking tours

The next test, and major reason to go into Venice, was to meet Barry and Jenny, Jan and Ty, Janet and Larry, all travellers from Perth who had arrived at different times and for us to bring them back on the train to Montegalda.

With the help of WhatsApp we all kept in touch and slowly everyone gathered. As each group arrived, the pressure of the day lifted with us knowing the plan was coming together. The designated train arrived on the designated platform and all 11 passengers piled onboard with a good time to spare. Big sigh of relief.

The evening was spent sharing a meal in our small apartment – 11, 12 or more we think. Lots of chat including a comprehensive briefing by Nicole and Jacob on the plans for the next couple of days. Everyone was mightily impressed at the details and thought put into every component of the event.

Pre wedding day – Saturday.

Wow, getting closer now. The breakfast table was abuzz with chat about the wedding, previous holidays and catching up. A walk into Montegalda was decided on and then completed. We took the long way around and passed many amused locals with a trek of 13 Aussies all wearing hats and carrying cameras and backpacks traipsed past their properties. “Ahh, must be the Pontarin wedding group” we decided they were thinking.

Finally we came to the Montegalda church. The new visitors were impressed by the outside and stunned by the inside. This was going to be a big event.