Saturday, 18 May 2013

Bordeaux - Hossegor - Dublin - Galway - Kilarney

As Ellen wanted to see the French countryside, other than a mulled blur from the 400km/h TGV train, we decided to travel the scenic route from Paris by bus. Although a lot prettier than the train, the bus did take over 10 hours! As there were numerous children on board, to keep them entertained the driver put on some DVDs (reaching backwards & putting them himself, WHILST still driving the bus!) Along with trying to kill us, his movie selection wasn't great either. He lead with Mama Mia (no not the classic, the recent one where Pierce Brosnan is given waaay too many singing parts). Indiana Jones followed, (man the racism in that is unbelievable!... thankfully Ellen was the only Indian on board). 

He redeemed himself slightly with a Denzel Washington classic: Unstoppable, but then went dramatically downhill from there. He must've accidently grabbed one of his "alone time" DVDs, as the opening scene began with a slow panning-out of a naked woman pleasuring herself on a couch... extremely embarrassed, he quickly ejected the cd & put on the next one he could grab. It was D-grade Bulgarian film about a truck driver who had 72hrs to chase international drug lords into Morocco & steal back an illegal money printing press for the German police, but that same weekend was his child custody hearing in southern Bosnia..... there were no subtitles, but I was able to discern all of this as 4minutes before it ended we stopped for dinner, and when everyone re-boarded, the DVD player re-started the film from the beginning! (or the bus driver purposely re-started it to fill in the last 3hrs of the trip, as he only had porn left?)

Bordeaux was an extremely beautiful city. We spent our days walking around the charming cobbled streets, exploring the Gothic cathedrals & Bell-towers, basking in the 35 minutes of daily sunlight in the central Jardin and avoiding being hit by the masses of people rollerblading along the rivers edge. Naturally, we also continued our love affair of french pastries and cheese, maintaining a consistent supply of Chevre, croissants, butter and Jam. I also found the only biscuit that could ever replace the Tim Tam: the chocolate covered butter kek!

As the weather was so dreary we didn't get to indulge in a wine tasting tour around Bordeaux's amazing vineyards. We did however, stumble upon a cinema that was a renovated church, and played only Cohen Brothers films and Cannes festival winners. And it was only 4€ a ticket!!

Due to complications of Bratt runing off at the station and Ellen's creditcard not being accepted, resulted in us missing our train to St Vincent Tyrosse. A two hour silent-arms-folded-don't-look-or-talk-to-me wait later, we were on our way to Hossegor to stay with Ellen's old uni friend Matt.

Staying with a household of Aussie ex-pats meant we had numerous tour guides to take us around the area. We were staying in a 4 bedroom holiday home that was stilted above a marshland lake.

Our week consisted of a trip to Bayonne for the annual Ham festival (pretty much everyone getting drunk in beer/wine halls and eating copious amounts of Ham), a night drive across the border to San Sebastian for cheap tapas and beers (and the best Sangria ever!), walking along a beach lined with decaying German WW2 bunkers, exploring the surrounding forests and marshlands and cruising around on scooters to nightly dinner parties (Ellen had never ridden a scooter before, so was not aware that 10km/h is not considered a "speedy pace", even though she could see the copious amount of backed-up traffic behind her).

Matt has a strange habit of climbing horizontal supports whenever he comes upon them.

He nearly ended up in one of the marshy lake in the nature reserve, monkey-climbing across a precarious limb to remove a nature council sign that was affixed to it (he argued it was harming the natural aesthetics of the area), and has turned the safety barrier of the house's outdoor decking into a guided gymnastics-balacing tour: coined "the tour of the house" (so far no one has falled off the edge into the water below, but the tour's only been running a couple of weeks).

Celebrating Easter in Hossegor was awesome as we were surrounded by our little family. They ensured the festivities weren't lonesome and an abundance of chocolate was on offer. The Aussie guys all work at the headquarters of the major surf labels, so have a wicked social circle of German, Swiss, French & British mates who all have moved to this tiny coastal  village. Matt's birthday was the next day, so once again a dinner party was thrown & celebrations ensued.

Before we knew it April was upon us, so it was time for us to cross the Pyrennes & start walking the Camino. Unfortunately, the woeful European weather continued to rage. Neither of us wanted to trek across a mountain range in torrential rain & snow (well, not AGAIN, I should say) so we decided to rearrange our itinerary & head to Berlin until the summer kicked in & Spain would be ablaze in glorious heat. Several factors were preventing us from following through with this plan though. Firstly, Berlin was probably the worst affected city by this lingering winter weather, reading a chilly -6 degrees and hosting weekly snow fall. The other problem was the outrageous price of French trains! (the French government must use the revenue generated through the railway system to fund its moronic social welfare hand-outs). We were about to bite the bullet & cough up the cash, when Ellen stumbled upon a cheap alternative: flying through Dublin.

As my old Irish housemate Mo, had been haggling us to go visit him whilst we were in Europe, we figured it was a sign to take another side-trip from our original itinerary and visit the land of potatoes, leprechauns & the most ridiculous accents in the world!..(well ok, maybe on par with Wales).

Flying to Dublin was ellen's first experience of low-budget European airlines. The barbaric notion of non-sequential seating & lack of passenger respect for carry-on baggage limits (most people rolling on several large suitcases each, or stuffing their children inside to avoid buying seat tickets) shocked & mortified her. Overhead storage filled-up before even half the plane was aboard, so the aisles were stacked floor-to-ceiling with bags/children & Spanish immigrants (mistakenly fleeing to a country that was only slightly less in economical depression than theirs). The planes' weight was well above capacity, so just to achieve initial elevation, 6 Ryanair aviation officials had to stand at the end of the runway with padded brooms and push the wings of the plane to lift it into the air! Two turbulent hours later we were in Ireland.

As we were alighting from the aircraft in Dublin, it occurred to us that the city was bordered by massive snow-capped mountains! We had neglected to check the weather report here, but shortly realised it rivalled that of Berlin. Thankfully Mo had arranged one of his housemates to pick us up, so we didn't need wait in the cold very long. Steve tried taking us on a quick tour around the city, but as soon as Ellen noticed the hundreds of wild deer roaming in Phoenix Park, the tour ended & the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to pat/catch/eat one. 

Afterwards we resigned to a local pub to warm ourselves & sample the traditional brew. It was strange going to pubs in Ireland: most cities have a token Irish bar that everyone knows is always good craic. Whilst here EVERY pub was an Irish bar. We asked Steve if Ireland instead had a token other-cultured pub that everyone knew about. He pointed out an extravagantly decorated Aussie-themed pub that looked pretty cool...but he swiftly cut in that no one went there cz it was shit. People only go to the Irish pubs. He used the analogy "you don't try to pick up an American girl when holidaying in Sweden"...I seemed satisfied with his reasoning.

We hadn't seen Mo in nearly 2 years so it was great being able to catch up again. We spent the first couple days cycling round the city visiting galleries, museums & old gaols. Kilmainham gaol was wickedly cool and gave a great breakdown of Irish political history. The natural history museum (or dead zoo as the locals refer to it) is a MUST see when in Dublin. If not for the bizarre poses the animals have been taxi-dermed in, definitely to view the 20ft giant deer skeletons they have showcased!


On the weekend we experienced some traditional Irish musician legends entertain a screaming audience of at least 8 people. (ellen was pretty much the only one screaming) Though her enthusiasm gained her acceptance to the inner sanctum of the folk musicians, resulting in her nearly being married-off to the fiddlers' son. The performers were paid in free Guinness for their services by the bartender. More and more would arrive as the night developed. As intoxication ensued, so too does the river dancing on top of the bar furniture & friendly mass brawling (if you recall the scene from titanic when Rose first goes to the lower deck, its pretty much EXACTLY like that!)

We were advised to spend the next week on the west coast around Galway, as its the most gorgeous part of Ireland. Express tourist buses leave from Dublin every hour, taking only 2hrs as they stick to the new highway route. As we had missed one of the tourist buses by 5mins we opted to try the local bus, thinking it would still be quicker than waiting 55mins for the next one...we were quite wrong. As nice as it was to visit all 461 villages between Dublin & Galway, it was a 6hr journey I wish I'd had planned for.

As a lot of the west coast towns speak solely Irish, the traditional music & culture around the area is more rampant than in Dublin. To get the customers in, most pubs advertise the time slots they have musicians performing. Ellen utilized these notification boards to plan a thorough pub crawl of the city, ensuring we caught every set. The two evenings UEFA champions league fixtures were on, musicians were postponed til after the matches. The pub we were watching the games in offered free pints to everyone anytime a goal was scored after the 85th minute. The Real v Juventus & Dortmund v Malaga games resulted in Guinness being stacked along the bar as everyone grabbed as many glasses as physically possible.

We did a walking tour of the city, which was lead by a hilarious uni student. He adlib'd a lot of comical anecdotes that appeared to be solely for our amusement, as none of the other Japanese, Russian or Polish tourists understood his thick accent. Galway had a rich history of invasion, exploration & war. The most fascinating fact I learned was the slang phrased "getting lynched" originated from the city. Coined after the C16th mayor James Lynch hanged his only son from his bedroom window, as punishment for drunkenly stabbing a man.

As the magnificent Cliffs of Moher were only 2hrs away, we took a day-trip down passing through the intriguing Burren region. We stopped along the way at Aillwee Caves (an under-whelming Irish version of Jenolan caves), a bunch of cool castles from the Middle Ages, & Poulnaborone Dolmen (a 6000 year-old grave).

The cliffs were by far the highlight. Over 700ft at their highest point, and with very little barrier protection, the cliffs draw people to the edge to gasp at the deathly beauty. Occasionally, the wind kicks-up & flings unwary tourists to the crushing waves below....but the majority of deaths at the cliffs are intentional. Ireland has had a vast increase in suicides since the GFC, so helpline plaques are positioned all around the site, and coast guard officers patrol the area in an attempt to stem the fatalities.

Before we left Galway, we walked out to Salt Hill to "kick the wall" (a stone wall erected by the French during their rein in the area, to section the city limits). Locals give the wall a firm kick each time they pass it in an attempt to knock it down & liberate the city's border from definition. Although we would have loved to pass through every minor village on the way back, we opted to take the express bus & enjoy the uninterrupted journey back to Dublin.

Our last weekend was spent road trippin' down to Kilarney with Mo's housemates. The Gap of Dunloe is located 5mins from the town centre & is hailed as being of the most scenic driving landscape on Western Europe. Disastrous weather conditions however, meant we didn't get to take in the wonderful views, so we resigned to spending most of the dreary days within the warm comforts of the local taverns. As Ellen was yet to finish an entire pint of Guinness without complaining about its ash-like taste, she was forced to consume in silence for the entire weekend.

Kilarney was a surprisingly fun town to go out, but it did appear to play home to some of the ugliest & strangest people alive (even for Irish standards). We intended on getting back & heading to Dublin stadium by Sunday arfternoon to watch the Gaelic football finals, but the aftermath of Saturday night shinanigans depleted this plan. We settled instead for one last family-dinner with the boys.

Before leaving Kilarney we ate at one of the greatest cafes in the world. Upon entering, the waitress approached us and asked the group whether we were after breakfast or lunch. We all replied 'breakfast' & sat down. She took our tea/coffee order than left. We assumed she would return shortly with menus, but instead just started chatting away in the corner with the other waitresses. After about 10-minutes Ellen flagged her over & asked if we could place our breakfast order.

"You've already ordered breakfast though" stated the waitress.

"We did? What did we order?" We queried.

"Breakfast". She replied.

"No, we only ordered the coffees for our breakfast"

"Yes, the coffee to go with your breakfast".

"Yes, so can we order our breakfast?"

"But you've already ordered breakfast".

"Ummm....we're not following".

We weren't sure whether this was a joke or not. Thankfully one of the boys overhead & chimed in to help out.

"Guys, the breakfast here is a set, full-irish breakfast. If you want to order the lunch option its a Sunday roast. Tea and coffee comes with either option".

"Did you want to change your order to "lunch"?" The waitress queried.

"No, We'll stick with our "breakfast" order. Thanks."

She rolled her eyes & stormed off muttering something about "foreigners", under her breath.

Arriving at Dublin airport the next day we witnessed one of Ireland's infamous killer hare's bounding along the field next to the car park. We took this as a good omen for the next leg of our adventure. We scored ourselves emergency exit seats on the plane (leg room baby!) and were amazed not to see crowds of baggage or screaming children  piled up in the aisles.

We touched down smoothly on the tarmac 3hrs later, and surprisingly even heard the musical in-flight trumpets sound:

" ***Doop-do-do-deeeerrrp!*** 
Thanks for flying!" 

...(low budget airlines are SO weird)...

We had arrived in Berlin.


  1. Hi Ellen and Alex... your photography is fabulous, beautifully composed. Your wall kicking shenanigans...daggy pose, but fun I'm sure. Dubbo is getting cold. Isn't this where some of your Canberra band friends come from? I was invited to join a film group and I am making a short film to be screened Nov 7th. Have a weekend with a bunch of teachers in Coonabarrabran next will pop around and see mum whilst there. Off to do some marking...I think you both have a much better option travelling and experiencing some wonderful places. Stay safe. love mum xx

  2. Love the Breakfast/Lunch confusion.
    Love, Uncle Roger