Road Trip Of Ireland 4

Day 4

On the final day, in the morning, I went back to one of the bars I had been into the previous night, and got a big fry up, nice onwe too, rpactically all I could eat, the woman serving me thought I was from Tyrone or Donegal, evne though I’m a Down man!

I then rode off, onlty to realise I needed fuel, stopped off at the nearest garage, got seved by someone that looked and sounded like they were from Eastern Europe. Not that theres anything wrong with that, just an observation, how things change over time.

I then rode up the M6 towards Athlone, the road was good, but I found it a bit mind numbing, and as soon as I seen signs for Athlone, I thought “screw it, I taking a diversion”, as the buffeting on the motorway from carrying the rucksack on my back was getting too much.

Athlone, in County Westmeath was a nice place, much to commend it, as it had a lot of nice architecture, a lot of history too, pity it wasn’t warmer then, but, what do you expect in January? I do remember a LOT of people queueing up, presumably for Garth Brooks tickets, the Garth Brooks shows that never were,

After that, I went up in the direction of Cavan, and landed in Cavan town, where I got a bite to eat. My uncle/godfather is from there, os it was nice to see the county that he was from, first time I’ve been in it in years. I then got lost, thinking I had seen as sign for Armagh (city), when in actual fact I had seen a sign for Arvagh. Easy mistake to make I suppose, stopped after a while, got my map out and found my bearings, and tried to head in the direction of Monaghan town.

On the way to there, quite a lot of the journey was spent going over from one side of the border to the other, and vice versa, as the route alternated between “speed limit in kmh” to “speed limit in mph”. I got to Monaghan okay, then headed for Armagh, got therwe without any difficulty, filled up the tank again, and rode through Tandragee and then home.

I worked it out afterwards, but I think I covered nearly 1000 miles on my bike. If I had done this in a car, it would’ve been a breeze, but on a bike, it was a challenge – something that can be done easily enough, but it challeneges you in many ways, physically (wind blast, ruck sack, the actual riding) and mental (riding again, being aware of everything around you, planning your route).

I’m really glad I done it, and hopefully, I will get a chance to do individual tours of each ancient province in Ireland.

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Scandinavia and Germany 5

 

Day 7, 8, 9 – MotoGP Germany and World Cup Final

Another early start, but considering I had to get three trains to Hohenstein-Ernstthal, I didnt have much choice. I got the train in the main station from Berlin, heading in the direction of Leipzig, Chemnitz and then my final destination.

As I was getting connecting trains, my views of the places were mainly of the stations, but I distinctly remember a conversation that an Englishman and a German (I think), and the German guy said that Chemnitz had been well known for its coal mining in the past.

I had a slight panic attack on one of the change overs for trains though, not because I was cutting it fine time wise, more so by that stage, I was running out of Euro’s, and neither of my cards would work in any machine I used that morning, well, until I got to Chemnitz station, and a machine worked there, I was saying my prayers of gratitude after that I can tell you!

I do mind getting a subway there, and completely misunderstanding what the counter guy was saying (my German is pretty poor), I eventually worked out, with him doing some finger pointing and odd bits of English, that the oven/grill thing they use in Subway was broken, still I got fed and watered, could’ve been worse, hungry and broke.

I then I had to do the whole running underground between the different lines, trying to figure out what line was the train for hohenstein ernstthal. I got the right train (everybody was wearing bike racing gear bit of a giveaway), then I got to the track to pick up my tickets for the Saturday and Sunday.

My idea prior to arriving at the race track, was to buy a tent and sleeping bag at the campsite, and that would be my accommodation. That was the plan, but the campsite didn’t, and I ended up trekking around the whole of hohenstein ernstthal, trying to find a shop that sold a tent and sleeping bag.

I went to 4 different supermarkets (they nearly all seem like the same idea as Lidl – sell you everything, food, handy stuff and cheap tat), for a while I thought I was going to look like the dickhead who booked into a campsite without a tent, but I got sorted out at the last supermarket, even though later on, I was to realise, that I had bought an inflatable mattress, instead of a sleeping bag.

The people beside me in the campsite helped me put it up, and seemed friendly, well, apart from the fact that the ones to the left of me (think they said they were from midlands of England), they were friendly, but never seen sight of them for the rest of the weekend.

Before I went ot the campsite, I seen Friday practice, the scenery around the track was nice, the central food area was a bit of a pain, no one really knew what direction they were walking, you ended up going left/right half the time, felt like a crab at times.

After I got set up, I went on the beer, then Jim Beam and Coke, went down very well, seen a Rammstein tribute band (I think) in a tent, and seen some dance thing outside. I woke up next day, not really hungover, but covered in muck, place was a quagmire, with rain, and people riding around on bikes, and others revving engines up too.

The qualifying on Saturday was good, really great weather, had some more drink on the Saturday evening, and seen some band in the same tent, who were a cross between Judas Priest and Spinal Tap. Bit hungover on race day, and slightly damp, but racing was good. I was still struggling with my German, more or less copying what others said, other times when I said “mein deutsche nicht so gut”, they just shouted at you in German, thinking that you would suddenly understand German.

Later on in the Sunday, I watched the World Cup Final, just outside the race track, it was a great atmostphere, even more so when Germany won! I couldn’t really sleep that night, and ended up getting an early train to Dresden, nice scenery on the way, but parts of Dresden seemed a bit run down. I got a connecting train up to Berlin, it was horrifically cramp, I think it might have come from the Czech Republic, but I got to Berlin eventually, and then used the S – Line to get to Schonfeld airport.

By this stage I was drained, tried to get a bit of kip at the airport, was glad to get back to Dublin, but felt absolutely shattered when I got home. I’m glad I done this trip, and would go back to these places again, it was definitely an experience for sure.

Italy and the Balkans Part 2

 

Part 2

The second part was a quick trip to the balkans, and I tired to see how much I could see in 5 days.

On the Monday, I flew into Belgrade, and the thing that struck me, especially as the trip went on, was the contrat between new and old, whether that be roads, buildings, transport, its almost as if they co existed together, when really, the old should’ve given away to the new a long time ago.

Belgrade itself, I didnt mind it, some interesting things to see, some nice views, especially where the Danube and the Sava rivers merge. I was in some military park nearby, where they had old tianks, and some “Victory” monument.

It seemed that the place was getting partially westernised, in that you could go to a KFC for something to eat, and although some buildings looked good, a lot of it seemed very run down, especially the buildings that had been hit by NATO back in 99, 2000, they were still sitting there, falling apart, I thought this was insane.

Another thing was cost. Everything here, a bit like other parts of the Balkans, was dirt cheap, you could buy 20 Marlboro for £1.70, but then again, when you consider that their avergage monthly wage is the equivalent of 500 Euro a month, is it any wonder why its so cheap.

I stayed in a hostel, it was a bit grubby, but it had a nice location, and the fellow travellers were really sound, I owe the Aussies a pint, they woke me up the following morning to get a bus, we all had drinks together in the hostel run bar, got plenty of beers in (Jelen, I think), got friendly with an Irish guy who lived in London, or maybe Guildford, pity I wasn’t able to get his contact details. People here smoke their brains out as well.

I travelled down to Sarajevo, Bosnia on Tuesday, and with feeling hungover, it was a long 7 hour bus journey. The scenery was beautiful, I would highly recommend the balkans for the scenery, pity then, that its still hazardous to go out in certain parts of the countryside, especially in Bosnia, a legacy of the war/breakup of Yugoslavia.

When I got to Sarajevo, it was such a pretty place, like someone had dropped a city into the valleys, the architecture was really nice, the people seemed civil, and as with Serbia, everything was dirt cheap. Unemployment here is horrendous, some official figures are quoted at over 40 %, but as with certyain parts of this world, black market is king, some say its a legacy of the Ottomans, I’ve no idea how factual it is.

One thing I observed, was the amount of Mk2 VW Golf’s, it was like every second car was one, I’ve since found out, prior to the Yugoslav war, VW had a factory in Sarajevo, which explains why theres so many Golf’s.

Some of the public toilets here, remind you that we in the west, have many things to be thankful for, as some public toilets here, were still a hole in the ground.

On day 3, I went down to Croatia, to Dubrovnik, and the scenery just got better and better, I could use cliches like picturesque, but it was so nice travelling through Bosnia, but you were reminded of the legacy of War, what with the amount of graveyard with the same style of headstones, and the memorials along the side of roads.

The bus driver was a lunatic, a bit like quite a few other drivers in this region, but we got to Dubrovnik in one piece. I didnt really go into the new part, passed through it briefly, but I stayed mainly in the old town, which so pretty. The views out from here, into the Adriatic, were breathtaking, and the hostel I stayed in, was nice too. The woman who rani it was really helpful and welcoming.

I got talking to a Brazilian guy from Sao Paolo, a really cool guy, then I headed out to an Irish bar down the street, and met up with others for a few pints. I really enjoeyed staying here, and I would wholly recommend Dubrovnik as a place to go on holiday.

Day 4, which merged into day 5, was spent mainly on the road, travelling to Bar in Montenegro, and then getting the train from Bar back into Belgrade. The road trip had a lot of beautiful scenery, but a bit mountainous in places, one other thing about travelling through these countries is border controls, if you’re not used to it, it can be frustrating at times, but I suppose thats the way it is. I got talking to some young American dude about heavy metal, and travelling in general while on the bus.

As far as punctuality for public transport is concerned, nothing is really on time here, anyone expecting Germanic efficiency might need to adjust their expectations. Wheni got to the train staion, I got my ticket, seen some wreck of a train roll in, I waited a while, as people started to get on this thing, then I reralised, and asked staff here, yes, this was the overnight train to Belgrade!

As I got on, I felt very vulnerable, as my Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian was non existent, I was starving too. The train then stopped somewhere 15 minutes into the journey, and a guy and girl got on, and in a way they were my guardian angels, two Serbs who were returning from holiday in “beautiful Montenegro”, as one other guy put it, who got on later.

Public toilets on the train: probably the worst toilets in the world! The floor was covered in various waste, toilet was fully loaded, nowhere to really was your hands either, absolutely ghastly.

Iva and Serbie seemed really nice, they knew a bit of English, and we all kept each other company, the jounrey took 19 hours, a very long time, whith many stops along the way. Something else I noticed, was the fact that people around here might recognise laws, but not pay too much attention to them.

I noticed one person, on the train, when asked to produce their ticket, they din;t have one, the conductor gives them a slip with some fine on it, and the person just happened to open their wallet, couldn’t help but glance, was full of the same slips/fines.

When I got back to Belgrade, you could see, what I presume, was Novi Grad, or the new parts of Belgade, and they looked modern, yet we were travelling in on this rickety heap of dung!

I then said my farewells, and eventually got a taxi to the airport, to fly back into Milan.

I would definitely suggest the balkans as an alternative holiday, something a bit different, just dod a bit of research beforehand, and you should be fine. I definitely want ot go back again, and check out more of this wonderful region! If it wasn’t for this trip, I might still be unenlightened as regards the genius of Nikola Tesla.

Italy and the Balkans Part 1

This trip was broken into two main parts. The first part was staying in Milan, while going to the F1 Italian Grand Prix in Monza. I got the bus down from the airport that Aer Lingus flew into, then I got stitched up by those hoods outside Milan Cathedral – kind of put a dampener on things, but I just didnt have my “city smarts” in gear, sods law I suppose, anyone out there reading this, this applies to any big city: anyways be on your guard.

I then legged it up to where I was staying, some little hotel, of sorts, not far from the central station. The peoplw who owned it didnt speak much English, but then again I didnt speak much Italian, but they were pleasant and brught me breakfast every morning.

Milan as a city, I just don’t know, I wouldn’t say I dislike it, as there were many things to like about it, like good food and plenty of places to see, such as the San Siro football ground, but I just couldnt warm to it, and it seemed like a pain in the arse to find bars/pubs for something to drink, its was almost as if you had to get a taxi or use the underground to find anywhere decent.

As for Monza, the race weekend was good, ended up collecting my tickets at the track, but I ended up having to travel a couple of miles, as I had travelled to the wrong pick up point, which burnt the feet off of me. The weather was good though, no rain, and pretty warm too. As far as a venue for racing goes, it is hard to fault, as it had so much history, and character, I cn now say that I’ve stood on the historic Monza banking!

The trains (and buses on the Friday) were jam packed, super, super busy.

The one thing I did miss a little, comparted to the time I travelled to the Belgium GP in 07, was the noise, or lack of. I’m not saying it Ferrari sounded the best, pity then that the single seater support classes were in some ways louder, and the 911 Porsche supercup cars sounded better. I’ve always felt that the sound is one of the great attractions of motorsport, whether its on 2, 3 or 4 wheels, it just gives the whole experience an injection of excitement, that something such as, Formula E, just doesnt have.

Ocverall, I’m still thankful that I was able to go there, as many people out there would love to go to any race, or do some kind of travelling, and for that, I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had.