Champasak 

At 8am we said goodbye to our Australian friends Angie and Peter and at 11am our shuttle boat picked us up. There would be no private shuttle tour to our new destination, I had insisted on public transfer.
The shuttle boat took its time to pick every on up and only when every available seat was filled did we go to Ban Nakasang.

  

So the little place we saw at our arrival three days ago was the official gateway to the islands. We made it from the boat with only a little accident (this time Dudley fell, but in another boat) and were then transferred like sheep to the bus station. There we boarded our minibus and since I had insisted on drawing some money from the ATM we were the last to board. Big mistake, really something I have to remember: Always be the first to board a bus. Dudley and I sat in the last row and he was more than uncomfortable due to his size. To make matters worse he told me what could happen with the minivan (accident wise) so that I had to tell him to stop his horror stories otherwise I would start to panic in the confined space of the last row with no way out. I kept on reading and tried to loose myself in a different world.

But all good things must come to an end and so must also must bad things. Eventually we got off the bus with the station Champasak being in the middle of nowhere. Literally there was nothing there. We had just time to ask in which direction the Mekong was because we knew we had to cross it and then the bus left.
When we started walking with our backpacks and my front pack I felt already tired. And when Dudley showed me on his phone that the Mekong was easily 5-6km away I slightly despaired. How could our Australian friends send us into this nightmare?

We walked for at least two km, all the while trying to hitch a ride. But none would stop or they would just slow a little and then drive on. If I had been alone, now would have been the right moment to sit down and have a good cry. I was tired, I was hot and sweating and I was exhausted. But since we were two I couldn’t do that and so just drudged on. And eventually, oh miracle, a car stopped to my hold out thumb and we got on its cargo area.


This wonderful lady gave us a lift to the boats (I am sure it was more than 6km) and we had no trouble to cross the Mekong.

    

Once we were on the other side we had finally reached Champasak.

Again we had no ride and were told that the hotel was just 3km away. With a storm threatening we walked as fast as we could when suddenly a minivan stopped and offered his services. With its driver it was the first and only time that I spoke French in Laos.

So with a couple of miracles and angels watching over us we made it to our Hotel Inthira before the rain started. Quite a feat!


And here the view out back from our rooms across the street. 

Champasak had not really much to offer as we would notice shortly after checking in. Dudley and I walked up and down the main street, visited one of the many temples and then bought ice cream. There was not much else to do.

  
     

After a short power nap during which it had started to rain in earnest we met for dinner at the hotel restaurant and I enjoyed a local delicacy called laab. Minced meat with lots of herbs especially mint. Very tasty and just a bit spicy. With this new experience under my belt I was ready for bed. Yours, Pollybert

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Strolling through Beijing

Since Babsi had a strong wifi I used my Wednesday morning to update the blog again. With a VPN connection it was possible to work a bit on it. I had decided to walk that the day through the Hutong, shop for some presents (Babsi offered to take them to Vienna at the end of May) and then slowly make my way to the park across the Forbidden City to climb up that tower that I had missed the day before.

As usual with these planned things it didn’t work out. I sat down for a little Kimchi soup for lunch, and then walked slowly through the shopping street where I tried some Taiwanese frozen yoghurt. It poured on some frost sheet and top with mango and then cut into smaller pieces while it instant freezes. Makes sense? It looked better than it tasted though and it was difficult to eat.IMG_2807 IMG_2813

Walking through the Hutong gave me time to savor the Chinese everyday life. It’s crazy btw and colorful and crowded and just great to watch.IMG_2808 IMG_2810 IMG_2811 IMG_2814 IMG_2815

This furry part in the last picture is the back of a cat that was sleeping in this shop. I really liked these figures but they were astronomically expensive. I had to take a picture though, they were really beautiful.

When I ended up with 4 bags and the metro was nearby I decided to go home and drop the bags, then go back for the tower. Yeah, did not happen. I spent 30 minutes at home, taking pictures of the kittens and relaxed.
IMG_2801IMG_2803 Then I took the metro to meet Babsi. Tonight we were going with her friend Jennifer to a reading from Timothy Garton Ash.

We met her at a tapas bar around the corner from The Bookworm where we shared a pitcher of some Tequila/grapefruit/soda mix (very good, light and refreshing) and some tacos.IMG_2821 IMG_2822 IMG_2823

 

From there it was only one more minute and we were right on time for the talk of ‘From Berlin to Beijing: reflections of a political writer’. I really enjoyed it, such a completely different program from everything else I have done so far on this trip. And while I will miss one book club meeting while traveling this makes up for it I think.IMG_2824 IMG_2825

But right after the event we left and searched for a taxi. I wanted to be home ‘early’ to finish packing and get some sleep. The next morning I was leaving for Shanghai. Yours, Pollybert

Cliff walking in Howth

From the Connolly train station we took the DART to Howth. All over Dublin we saw everything written in two languages Irish and English. Thus also on the train.
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I love that both languages are exactly the same size not giving one language the precedence over the other (unlike in Quebec).

Upon arrival we first took a picture of the map to know where to go. These maps and other signs are all over the island as well, the Irish are really nice to tourists!Handy 731
But first we stopped at the local market for a bit of sustenance, a blueberry scone which was barely edible (still, I ate half of it). And no, a scone is not the same as these cup cakes in the first picture.IMG_8463IMG_8464The sustenance was needed because breakfast had been small and the walk we planned was long. Take a look around the harbor. Can you see the palm trees?IMG_8466IMG_8468IMG_8469IMG_8471IMG_8472

For all poet lovers, Yeats lived here for a couple of years.IMG_8479
And a couple of doors further down we saw an “Emily”. If you want to read the real love story behind it, click here.IMG_8481

We passed the last of the houses and there was only nature ahead of us. The track took us up and down and since it had rained until the early morning there were lots of puddles to avoid. This was no “Handtascherlweg” (an expression I heard shortly before reaching the top of the Sonnblick, a mountain over 3000m high; meaning it was quite steep and rough), but it was well worth it. The view was amazing and all in all even I felt really connected to nature here and usually I am not into these things. The brown stuff you see on the first picture is actually fern and it was totally dry. Very weird.IMG_8482IMG_8484IMG_8486IMG_8488IMG_8490IMG_8491IMG_8492IMG_8493IMG_8498IMG_8501IMG_8504IMG_8506IMG_8508IMG_8510IMG_8515IMG_8516IMG_8518
I hope I didn’t swamp you with these pictures but it was heartbreakingly beautiful walking there and I just wanted to share this with you. We also saw a couple of birds and other animals while walking. So these are for all the animal lover out there.IMG_8513IMG_8519IMG_8535Handy 766

The whole tour took about two hours and we kind of walked a small circle, coming back to the village again from another side. Have you noticed by the way that in Ireland the gorse is still in bloom?

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And then we decided to take a short-cut which sounded like a good idea at first but involved climbing down sideways. Not something I want to repeat.Here the view looking down.

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The amazing view at this point.IMG_8532Looking back up.

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With this steep descent behind us we were back in civilization and ready for something to eat. But this is another story.
Yours, Pollybert

A rainy afternoon in Dublin

Standing in the middle of Trinity College with wet feet and an overall miserably and soppy feeling what’s better than to go for a Guinness? Ha, totally wrong and you don’t know me at all (which is true for most of you). Trinity College Dublin is the home of the Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript from the 9th century. And who can resist such a bookish attraction?

I cannot and we went inside before anything else and with wet feet on my side (my boots aged about 15 years in shoe years during this one rainy day). There were no pictures allowed at the Book of Kells exhibition but it was well worth my time (see it online here). The exhibition was very well assembled, showing minutiae details of all the major decorations. A beautiful work of art and a miracle that this book survived in such a great condition!
On the floor above was the main library which also drew me to it like a moth to the light. Wow, imagine such a library at home …

The upkeep might be a bit expensive but it would be worth it. Since my apartment could never house such an extensive collection I rather enjoyed looking at the one there. My own pictures are a bit on the dark side that’s why I took a picture of a postcard so you can look at the library in all its beauty.IMG_8356IMG_8342Handy 691
Shakespeare and I
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With the cultural aspect out-of-the-way for the day we moved on to satisfy our baser cravings. The Guinness Storehouse was a couple of bus stations from the Trinity College away, but with the bus on a 20 minutes delay we decided to walk there. Since walking was all we had done that day, what were a couple of blocks more? While walking I noticed large signs all over the city which showed even the dumbest tourist where to go.IMG_8357

Finally the Guinness Storehouse came into view.IMG_8360IMG_8363IMG_8369
The Guinness wonderland is a seven-story building that starts with a shop and the basics of brewing, going on to advertising through the years, then to a tasting room, up to a food mall on the 5th floor and a sky bar on the top floor. We did it all.IMG_8372IMG_8373IMG_8374IMG_8376IMG_8379IMG_8381IMG_8383IMG_8385IMG_8386IMG_8394

On the seventh floor we could finally change our ticket for a pint and I watched closely how the beer was drawn. The difference to your usual Irish pub is that in Ireland they are using a nitrogen combination so that the beer is a lot more drinkable than let’s say in Vienna. I think I tried it once here and the taste is totally different. I liked it a lot in Dublin although two pints are like a meal, really filling.IMG_8395IMG_8396IMG_8404IMG_8407

But a filling beer didn’t mean that we were not hungry once we left the Storehouse. Quite the opposite. On the way back to the hotel we decided to stop for an early dinner at a nearby pub and just eat some more local stuff. On deciding this we were just in front of Bakers Bar & Restaurant, an Irish pub where definitely also the locals stop and have a drink. We ordered more Guinness and three dishes to share: Irish Stew, Bangers and Mash and fried local shrimps with chips.IMG_8408IMG_8409IMG_8410
Yeah, cannot say that this was a success culinary-wise. But it was filling and we were hungry and let’s just not talk about it anymore. Shortly after we finished the meal we left and walked back to hour hotel. We all needed a break after this long day walking through rain mostly, before heading out into the night life.

Our pub crawl saw us walking in the rain* again to the Temple Bar district where we stopped at the Porterhouse. This micro brewery makes its own beer and it was a nice change to the domineering Guinness. The place looked like it consisted entirely of stairs. There were 4 floor levels, all connected by more stairs and bars in between. And of course a band was playing, also between two staircases.IMG_8411IMG_8413IMG_8414IMG_8415

In a way it is such a shame that I was in Dublin and didn’t see my favorite band. But The Frames seem not to be touring at the moment and Glen Hansard is only playing in December! Super sad that I missed that, I really wish I could have seen Joseph Doyle again. But let’s go back to the music at Porterhouse which was good too. What was interesting to see was that most musicians were a bit older. You know on the radio most of the music is from really young people, and don’t get me wrong, lots of it is great. But this was the second band we saw this weekend where the mean age was probably around 45.

Eventually we had enough of the beer and the music and some really embarrassing Austrian tourists who had to sing our unofficial anthem “I am from Austria” and sauntered back to the hotel. And you know what’s great about the Harding Hotel? The bar was still open and we had a G&T as nightcap. Maybe not Irish, but a splendid drink!
Yours, Pollybert

* My guide-book said that Dublin on average has less rain than Nice. I really would like to know where they get their meteorological data from.