Monday, 9 March 2015

7 Things We Could Learn From Germany

So, last November (2014) I toured across Germany with a touring theater called Wilde Shamrock with two guys, Vinny and Ricky. We traveled to schools and venues across the land performing plays and music gigs. The audiences would improve their English, learn about Ireland and most of the time, their laughter assured us they were entertained! Throughout the 4 weeks we traveled thousands of miles and stayed in tens of towns. On the way, I got to meet some amazing people and learn so much about Germany, having never been before despite studying the language in school. There are a few things that stuck out about their way of life that I wanted to take home with me, here are some of them!

1. Take Your Shoes Off 
This is a rule almost every home I went into in Germany abides by. Quite hilariously, no one warned me about it! So the first house I stayed in, I was tromping all over the place in my ankle boots, introducing myself to everyone and wondering why the hosts kept looking at my feet. "We don't wear shoes indoors here," Vinny whispered to me. So I tip toed out to the hall and left them with the rows of shoes I somehow missed when I came in the door. 

It was hard to get used to, and some houses were fine with it so every house I entered, I had a ritual of checking to see if there were shoes by the door or were they on the feet of the people who lived there. If the rule didn't exist, I opted to keep my shoes on as my socks were cheap and not very cosy to walk around in plus I never thought of bringing slippers with me on my travels! And I really dislike walking around barefoot. On days where I was wearing fluffy socks though, it was the best thing ever! And there are so many pros to taking your shoes of at home;

  • You instantly feel more relaxed and at home, even if it's not your home!
  • Your shoes get less wear and I'm sure the time spent out of them adds up and they'll last longer?!
  • Wearing shoes all day, is bad for your feet. They need to air! So let them breathe and they'll be less smelly too.
  • You can put your feet on the furniture without being yelled at.
  • Let's face it, the carpets and floors will be a whole lot cleaner, won't they? 
So buy yourself some comfy socks or a pair of slippers and take your shoes off at the door.

2. How to Drive
For a country that usually has no speed limit on the motorway, you'd think there'd be collisions and pile ups everywhere! But no, out of the 5 other countries I have experience in the passenger's seat of a car in, Germany is by far the safest country to drive in. One of the reasons behind this is not any lucky ninny can get behind the wheel with a full license. First you need to complete 14 theoretical driving lessons, then do 12 mandatory on the road lessons split between driving on country roads, on the Autobahn and in the dark. Plus you also have to do a first aid course before you can even think of getting your hands on a full license. How crazily smart is that? Yes it sounds like a pain in the hole regarding money and time but at the end of the day, they're more prepared for the unexpected. I'd sooner trust someone who studied at a German driving school when driving through Cavan at avoiding unexpected sheep on the road than I would someone with an Irish license. No offence, but seriously! The way drivers in Germany treat cyclists is another one to take note of and learn from. See the next point!

Genius I tell ya!
(They also have these super genius digital signs every few hundred meters or so on the autobahn which warn drivers of accidents up ahead or roadworks and display a speed limit drivers must adhere to, to cope with such conditions. Then the signs let you know when the speed limit no longer applies and you can go back to driving as fast as you like!)

3. How to Treat Cyclists on the Road
There are cyclists everywhere in Germany and they're treated like the road users they are. They have designated cycles lanes almost everywhere and no one walks or stands in a cycle lane or, as I almost learned the hard way had I not been pulled back, you'll be run over! If you're cycling in Ireland, and in particular, Dublin, you need to constantly expect people to walk out in front of you because...well, they most likely will! In Germany, it's the pedestrians that need to look out for the cyclists because if you're standing in the cycle lane, they'll most likely just cycle you over. And having a broken arm from a cyclist running you over is a whole lot less 'cool' than being hit by a Jaguar.

If there's a meme of it, it must be true.
If Ireland had the same respect for cyclists on the road as they do for cars, the roads will be a whole lot safer. Then it will even appeal to people more as it wouldn't as risky. More cyclists = less car users = less CO2 emissions = a healthier planet. Plus more money in pocket, plus exercise and fine looking legs! Win win!

4.  Be an Honest Customer
Cafés leave these blankets for
people to use and no one
steals them either!
I noticed when in a pub, café or restaurant in Germany that for every drink I ordered, the waiter/waitress made a small mark on the coaster under my glass. When paying the bill, they would come over and count the marks on each person's coaster and charge them for that amount of drinks. Yes, in bigger pubs and restaurants, they'd have it all in the till already and it simply made it easier for knowing who owed what for drinks, but in smaller pubs they did it too. No one swapped coasters with anyone else or tore theirs up. You could easily get up and leave without paying and not get caught, but this was unheard of. Then I thought, could you do this in Ireland and not have people take advantage of it? Honestly, I don't know. Most of the time we use the coasters for 'magic' tricks or tear them up because we're extremely fidgety people. But I'd like to think if places did start doing something like this, we'd have some respect and pay for the 10 drinks we ordered instead of 3. When it comes to supporting businesses in this day and age, we gotta be good! (However I do believe the banks here don't count, so don't be afraid to take their pens...)

5. Allowing Dogs Inside
The door of a hairdressers. Dogs allowed!
As an avid animal lover, one of the first things I noticed in Germany was the friendy, accepting attitude towards dogs. I was sitting in a café in a town called Amberg, having flown into Germany the night before, and I saw someone walk by the window with two gorgeous big dogs. As usual I cooed and cawed until they past. The next thing, in walks the owner behind me and walks by me sitting at the table with the two magnificent dogs!! I loved it. It's just so cool. Over the next four weeks, from Munich to Bramerhaven, there were dogs chilling in cafés, pubs and buildings all over the place. I never saw any strays, they were all accompanied by someone who had them on a lead or sitting at their feet, so it wasn't a case of dogs wandering around restaurants begging at tables. It just added a whole sense of homeliness. I hate walking by places and seeing dogs tied up outside, it breaks my heart even though most of the time they're probably fine. Germany just felt like a happier place for dogs with their lack of 'No dogs except guide dogs allowed' signs.

I don't need to vouch for why we should let people take their dogs into cafés and whatnot in Ireland. Everyone loves dogs plus they'll be more likely to be taken places and for walks with their owners. So come on Ireland! Raise your puppy not to be extremely hyper and maybe I can bring my dog, my Buddy, somewhere for lunch! Imagine how nice that would be!!! I vote for dogs. A vote for dogs is a vote for us. That is all.

6. Reliable Public Transport
Vinny told me of a time he was waiting at a train station somewhere near the border of Germany, close to Switzerland and Austria. An announcement rang out over the intercom in German and everyone started huffing and complaining. It announced the same thing in a few different languages and more and more people showed their aggrivation. Thinking, 'Uh-oh, did the train break down? Is there gonna be an hour delay?' Eventually, the annoucement was made in English saying the train was going to be delayed by two minutes. Two minutes.


That goes to show you how efficient and reliable the public transport is in Germany and I experienced it myself when taking buses and trains.

In Ireland, the bus stop you're waiting at will tell you your bus is due in 10 minutes, then when it gets to 1 minute it will disappear off the system only to flash back up 5 minutes later saying the same bus is due in another 6 minutes and the bus will eventually arrive about 15 minutes later. Sadly, this is no joke. Public transport is a nuiscance. So Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Iarnroad Eireann, get your ass/transport in gear!

7. Be Nice to our Planet, Be Environmentally Sustainable
Our first roadtrip in the daytime was from Erlangern to Amberg, the day after flying into Frankfurt. Seeing the landscape of a new country is always exciting for me, I suppose it's because I haven't been to that many! So I was looking out the window, examining all the things that make the country different to Ireland; we were driving on the right side of the road  (as opposed to left, not wrong!), there was no Irish on the signposts, only German, and there were wind turbines everywhere. Everywhere. The more we drove, the more we'd see. Then I saw fields of solar panels everywhere. After doing my research, I realized Germany is one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to environmental sustainability, and we need to follow suit. An investment in renewable energy will save us money in the long run and reduce our use of fossil fuels which is currently around 90%. We need more turbines and we need more solar panels.
This gorgeous view from the car was constant
    Among all these sightings, forest after forest thrived across the landscape too. I learned that one third of Germany consists of forests and over the past five decades, they've added one million hectares of forest back to the land. How does this compare to Ireland? Well, a 2012 article stated our land is less than 10% forestry, the second lowest in Europe and planting has slowed down with no signs of speeding up. Long ago, Ireland would have been primarily covered in forest. Yes, some may blame English rule for cutting them down to build their ships and it's like we're half waiting for the UK to give us some compensation money to replant them or something. Regardless, I don't think we're going to get pity money from any country any time soon in this climate. What's clear is our lack of forest is because of human activities. And we need to fix it. Why? 

  • We'll reduce our Carbon Dioxide emissions and if we hit the EU's target, we'll escape hefty fines.
  • The environment in general will benefit, primarily animal life. 
  • Tourism will benefit. Research shows Ireland's landscape is one of the main attractions for tourists. Using personal experience and talking to tourists, many thought there'd be more forests than there is. More forests = more tourists.
  • More tourists = money into the economy. Especially into more rural areas that need it. 
  • Employment: If the government gets a loan or takes something out of their hefty salaries and pensions, they could put it to employing people to plant trees and perhaps maintaining forests, spreading awareness and educating people. A large but worthy investment when we escape EU carbon emission fines.
So. Forests. We need them. End of.

And may I remind you of the previous point addressing the number of cyclists there are?! Germany is amazing when it comes to taking care of the environment and Ireland looks ridiculous in comparison. For a country that is great for recycling, we really suck when it comes to everything else.

Jayziz, I could do with a cup of tea now! These are just a few things I think Ireland could learn from Germany, and maybe other countries could take heed too. Of course, Germany is not perfect and there's a few thing I'd like to teach them. Like, why can't you sell proper crisps?? There isn't anything even closely resembling a Tayto crisp or a Hunky Dory. And ye could do with learning how to make a good cup of tea! (Ostfriesland is excluded from this, their tea is pretty amazing.) Making cycle lanes a bit more obvious will also help reduce the number of poor unsuspecting travelers like me getting runover by a bicycle. Having the lanes just a shade darker than the rest of the path can be a tad unclear! Just saying...

Anyway, I'll be going back to Germany in April to learn more about their ways and maybe teach them how to make a good cup tea.

Until next time, I'll sign off with a picture of me and a giant nutcracker that actually works. Thanks for reading and Happy Travels!


Ceara (:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

12 Ways To Keep Yourself Entertained During A Flight Layover

The only layovers I've ever had were during my flights to and from my trip to Africa. The first layover was relatively short but on my way back, I had a 7. Hour. Wait. During this time, I almost went crazy. Between being emotionally upset that the trip was over,  having no money left to spend in duty free and being extremely tired but unable to sleep on the ever so "comfy" airport loungers, I was not a happy camper during my layover. The fact that I fell asleep for only 5 minutes and in that 5 minutes I ended up moaning and talking in my sleep so loudly that I woke myself up to passers by staring me out of it didn't help. But if I had known of some/all of these ways to entertain myself, I may not have been such a sulky mess when I eventually boarded the plane.
This was me in Dubai...

1. Sleep
You've been awake for ages and even though you've been on a flight sitting down, dozing in and out, you're still wrecked. If you can't sleep on a plane because you need to be lying down flat to do so or have the kind of luck that always ends up with you sitting in front of a child that kicks the back chairs for a living or beside the only screaming child on the flight, you should sleep your layover away. There's usually a bunch of gates that are quiet. Go to one of these and have a kip or stretch out on an airport lounger somewhere if you can find one. Some airports have hotels you can check into either for a few hours. You can relax/shower/sleep there in style either!

2. Leave the airport!
If you have hours to kill you might as well leave the airport and do a little exploring. Keep in mind, some countries you'll nee a visa to leave so you won't be able to do that everywhere. Also make sure you make it back in time to go through security again before your flight! If you have luggage you don't want to drag around with you and if there are no left luggage services at the airport, find a local internet café or hostel. They usually have left luggage services for a low cost.

3. Introduce Yourself
Whether you're at a bar, restaurant, in a shop or waiting to board your flight, you'll be surrounded by people and fellow travelers. Start some small talk, introduce yourself and let the stories flow. As well as marveling at some adventures they've been on and things they've seen, you can ask for tips on future travels, get some inspiration and even give some advice yourself! You never know, you could end up with a travel buddy, a best friend for life or the love of your life! Or they could be a total creep or not understand a word you say. You won't know until you try though!

4. People Watch
Watching people as they go about their business is a lot more entertaining than it sounds. Just watching people as they go by and observing their characters or imagining their story is quite fun. Making up a live commentary is also good fun especially if you're with someone. Just make sure they're out of earshot, you don't want anyone getting upset or feeling like they're being stalked.
Isn't this just the WORST. THING. EVER?

5. Read
Need I explain? Pick up a good book or magazine or take out your e-reader!

6. Write
If you're documenting your journey there's no better time to catch up on the adventures you've yet to write up on because you were too busy kayaking off waterfalls, vegging out on new foods or getting drunk with the locals. Find somewhere comfy to sit and get documenting. You never know, your journal/blog could end up being as significant as Christopher Columbus'. 

7. Exercise that Brain
Nothing beats a good crossword or Sudoku puzzle. You can get them in most newsagent shops in the airport and it's a good change from watching 8 hours of The Gilmore Girls on the plane. And if you're in anyway competitive like me, you'll spend nearly hours trying to beat your own best score on Solitaire and not notice the time go by.

8. Draw
This can go with 'people watching'. Doodle sketches of the people around you or your surroundings to pass the time. They can be good or funny reminders to come across later. (If you take photos of the people around you, you will probably look very strange and creepy. Drawing is a much safer option and hones your artistic skills!) 

9. Entertain
Have you seen the video of the guy that started a singsong in an airport after a flight was delayed? Well you should! Here it is; 

If you play an instrument and have it with you, just take it out and start jamming. Even if you sing, just sing a song and there's bound to be people that will join in with you. Heck, leave a hat out and you might make a few bob! You can't embarrass yourself, you'll probably never see the people around you again. Just give it a go. [Do be mindful if there's loads of sleeping people around you though, don't be a d**khead!]

10. Be Inventive
Like these 4 chaps who decided to be creative during their boredom, you can do the same, it just takes a little imagination. Create something, video it, and you could have a viral hit on your hands!

11. Roleplay
Having studied acting, I often find it fun to walk around pretending to be different characters. This might not be everyone's cup of tea but even if I just order food in a different accent, I get this amused giddy feeling if people fall for it. Walk into the most expensive duty free shop there and ask to try things or see things that you can't afford but give off the impression that you can. It sounds silly, but can be really funny if you're with somebody.

12. Explore
You might as well explore every corridor of the airport while you're there. You never know what you might find! There could be hilarious statues, an amazing arcade or somewhere selling giant Toblerones for close to nothing. You won't know until you go wandering! Walking around is also a good way to get the blood flowing properly in your legs again as sitting down for hours on a flight is never good.

It was actually quite hard to think of things to do during a layover so if you think I missed anything, let me know! This list must be expanded to stop us going crazy. Long layovers mixed with jet lag, exhaustion, hunger and feeling emotional from the journey can be a one way ticket to crazyland!

In the meantime, I wish you long trips, short layovers and happy travels! And that your flight may have the luck of this meme;

I now leave you with a collection of videos of people being just as bored in the airport as you are. You are not alone. Really, the amount of these videos is actually crazy. Pretty much like the people in them!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

6 Reasons To Be A Tourist in Your Own Country

(I wrote this post's title on my phone and auto correct suggested 6 Reasons to be a 'tortoise' in our own country. I know what my next post is going to be about anyway...)

Recently a friend of mine from Switzerland that I met while volunteering in South Africa came over to visit our Emerald Isle for the first time. I offered her the choice of staying with me and allowing me to guide her through the best of Dublin and the country side. However instead of guiding, I ended up holding that map with her and exploring places in my own country that I've never seen before. 

  Ireland is a very small country. The culture doesn't change with the landscape. You barely have to go 100 meters and you meet someone you know and haven't seen in years. For these reasons, I'd never think to really put on tourist mode as I feel I'm not going to see anything new and those landmarks we have I'll eventually get around to road-tripping to one day. I get used to the place I'm in and never think to look around with new eyes. I think everyone reading this can say you've had someone visit you at some point and you had to turn on tourist mode. You instantly become more active as you're going out, eating and drinking in nice places and bringing them to the historical, pretty or famous places you know of. You do this instead of going to the same pub or club or sitting in watching hours of movies you never heard of on Netflix. When tourist mode is on, several wonderful things can occur. Here are some of them;

1. You Notice More
Places and scenery that are mundane to you suddenly show signs of beauty. As an example, my friend Janina, stopped to take pictures of a pub in Dublin that had beautiful hanging flower baskets outside them. This was a pub I passed often and yet never stopped to admire these well looked after flowers that added so much life to the street otherwise consisting of concrete. I often take pictures of the strangest things when abroad like huge doors, fancy gates and markets. If you look around your home locality with tourist mode on, you'll see these strange things pop out at you.

2. Meeting People & Other Travelers 
By visiting attractions and going on tours you'll meet people from all over the world. These travelers come from all walks of life and have some amazing stories to tell. They can also give you tips they've learned on the way and if you get on well there may be a contact in a future city/place you travel to or even better, a couch! 

3. You Can Help
Like I said, doing touristy things leads you to other tourists. You'll often witness a bus driver or tour guide getting asked for directions or help and often it's 20 questions from 20 groups at once. If you are familiar with the area you might be able to answer some of their questions which would in turn help them and the bus driver. That's your good deed done for the day and you never know, you could get a job out of it!

4. Knowledge
Everyone knows traveling abroad teaches you so much about the country you're in from its history to the language. A lot of people will say they also learn about themselves. It is no different in your own country. You may know some of the stories behind where you go but guides will teach you more. You'll see things you never noticed before, be brought to places you never thought to go and perhaps learn from the travelers you're in company with. There's no better time to put that French you learned in school to the test either!

5. Save Money
I know as much as the next person what it's like to have no money but want nothing more than to escape and see new things. Go on holiday at home and you won't need to pay for flights. If your visiting local areas you won't need accommodation. No travel insurance is needed, your loyalty cards will still work, there's no charge for withdrawing money from the ATM, no need to change currency, if you have a local student card you'll get discounts almost everywhere, you'll know where's expensive to eat so you won't get ripped off, and all those discount vouchers you have but always forget about can be used once they're valid! Oh! And you won't arrive home to find a phone bill closing in on a four digit cost because of roaming charges. Now how many of the above things would still apply if you were abroad? Close to none or none at all. I know it's no Ibiza, but if you can't afford a foreign holiday, just take a few days off and be a tourist at home.

6. You'll live. 
Me feeling the wind after climbing a cliff.
There's living i.e. eating, breathing, excreting. And then there's living i.e. savouring, appreciating, loving, seeing, smelling, listening, tasting, learning. I don't know about you but I can nearly always tell a tourist from a local by the way they walk. Locals walk fast and bustle through the streets in a constant rush, they rarely look up/around and can often look sad/angry/upset/bored. Tourists have a slower pace. They stroll around, not a bother on them! You can see them looking up at the buildings and sites that they pass. They take pictures and see things we don't. They don't stick to a rigid routine. We should make the time to slow down and look around like we do when we're in a new place.

If we lived with tourist mode on in our home country, imagine how much happier we could be? Imagine taking the relaxed, appreciative approach to life and how better you could feel? Just taking things easy, not letting the stress of work get to you. I think it's something we should remember to do more often. 

I'm not saying you should pretend you don't know where you are or get a map, put on an accent, ask every second person for directions, walk around with a fanny pack, your camera around your neck, your phone in a pouch around your neck or buy Irish souvenirs for your Irish friends/family. I'm simply suggesting you turn on tourist mode at home so you can meet new people, learn and appreciate your surroundings. Break away from your usual routine and don't give time to any stressful calls or e-mails from work etc.

Apologies if this post is cheesy but after my recent 4 day tourist mode in Ireland, I know I'll definitely continue living with tourist mode on.

Until next time, grá,

Ceara (:

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Salou Day 6: My First Hair Braid! Good Service & The Cutest Airport

I did myself the favour of packing last night as I knew how unrealistic it was that I would be able to function before 9 in the morning let alone concentrate on what was legal and not legal to bring on a plane. After eventually having breakfast and checking out, we left our luggage in a room of the hotel while we lazed by the pool for a bit. I spent this time blogging in the shade as I was running out of factor 50. Ginger Irish girl problems! Eventually I went for my last wander around Salou with one goal in mind; I wanted to get a hair braid.

I remember so vividly as a child seeing my friends and cousins after they've been on holidays and as well as a tan, they nearly always had these colourful hair braids. Now I'm on holiday so I want a bright, colourful, hair braid, even if it is 10 years later! I eventually found a lady doing them and got one done! I got to pick two colours and a bead and everything. I was probably more excited about this than I ever was about going to the hair dressers my entire life. Although the fact that the lady said I have too much hair and I needed to hold it forward was kind of embarrassing... Even though it cost €10, it was worth it!

I picked up a few souvenirs around town and then collected my suitcases before getting a bite to eat. Obviously we would find the place with the nicest staff and the nicest food on our very last day. We went to O'Brian's at The Titanic Bar & Restaurant which had the tastiest, freshest vegetarian roll I've ever had. The menu was in various languages and nothing was overly priced. They also had loads of vegetarian options! On top of that, the bartender/waitress we had was lovely and so helpful. Her name was Julie and not only did she advise us on what we should eat that would allow us time to get to the airport, but also let us know exactly how long we had to wait so we weren't anxious about missing our flight. We were originally planning on getting a bus to the airport but on discovering it stops at nearly every hotel between where we were and Reus, Julie advised we should get a taxi as it would be quicker and cheaper. She then arranged a taxi for us upon our request and off we went. She was a lovely lady and the only thing that upset me was the fact that we only found the place at the end of our stay. Typical!

The taxi only cost about €6 which was well worth the reduced stress we then had. Reus airport is also the smallest airport I've ever been in. It's tiny! The security checkpoint is across the hall when you get there and as soon as you get through that, there are 5 gates of the airport right there, lined around this basketball court sized hall. It's so CUTE. What's more, the shop they had there sold bottles of wine for €3.60. I loaded up on these and headed onto the plane a happy lady. Thank you Spain!

I took one last look at the clear blue sky which I felt I wouldn't be seeing for a very long time before boarding.
Goodbye hot, sandy Spain!
However flying over Ireland I the rolling green hills and green fields and green trees and life everywhere. It's home. Even if the weather is bipolar, back to front and never what you want to it to be, it's home.
Hello cold, cloudy, green Ireland!
If it wasn't for my a-m-a-z-i-n-g sister, I never would of had this actual holiday. Thank you, thank you, thank you! My first sun holiday! I have no tan, but I have more freckles and the memories of swimming in a warm sea. 

Spain, I will definitely be back.

Hasta luego/Slán go fóill/Goodbye for now.




I wonder where the next adventure will take me...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Salou Day 5: Hysterical Lady, Magic Bubbles & Water Fights

Considering we have previously had to leave Port Aventura somewhat early to get back 'in time' for the hotel's dinner, (we've still been late every day so far) we decided to change our meal from dinner to lunch today. That way, we could go to the park early in the afternoon after lunch, spend the whole day there, stick around for the fireworks show and have dinner there! Sorted. However on arrival to the park we were delayed by a hysterical lady in the queue who apparently had her car stolen or something (from what my sister picked up in Spanish) and the park staff were telling her it's not their responsibility and she needed to call the police. Someone else eventually came to deal with everyone else who was there (we were there due to a wet ticket) and we eventually got into the park. The hysterical lady was spotted in Salou the next day and she seemed fine so let's hope it's all good!

  There were still a lot of rides and shows to do and see and there was no way we could fit them in without getting a map and planning some kind of route. The first day we were here, we just wandered around which really wasn't the best way to avail of our time and we ended up with really sore feet. Lesson learned; get a map! 

   First on our list was Bubbleou, a bubble performance show! We took a boat from the Medditerranean to China to get there quicker. (It suddenly sounds like I'm much more traveled, but no, the park is just divided into worlds like that.) The show was amazing. Just amazing. The things the artist did with bubbles I did not think was possible. No description can explain what I saw. Use the photos below to imagine the spectacular show it was.

   It was about 5pm after the show at this stage and the queues for everything were unbelievably short. Very few rides had a waiting time of over over 15 minutes. As we walked by Dragon Khan, the second largest rollercoaster next to Shambhala, there was no queue at all so we just hopped on for our 1 minute fix of adrenaline and off we went again! As my nephew didn't get to do a lot of the children's rides yet, we spent some time in Sesamó with him. Thankfully, they didn't discriminate against adults and I was able to ride the kiddy rides, which were actually fun! Yay!

  As we ticked almost every ride off our To-Do list, we had the new attraction of 2014 to do yet, Angkor. We had no idea what to expect as we walked through a synthetic jungle until we arrived at the head of the queue. The ride consisted of small barge-like boats with room for 4 people either side. Each person is equipped with a canon and wheel which they need to turn extremely fast to shoot water out of the canon.
We were not clever enough to wear ponchos...
The ride is actually a game where you cruise down this river and shoot water at other people on their barges also doing the ride. As unexpectedly wet as the experience was and unpleasetantly cold the water was, it was hilarious. Even though the other families and friends we were shooting at weren't always English speaking, we could both understand competition, yelling and laughing. Not only did it give my arms great exercise but was also a good family bonding journey as we screamed at each other where to fire when new targets were coming our way. The only downside was that we did the ride so late in the evening hence we had no sun to dry us off so we needed to invest in the body dryers. 

  As I walked around the park in shorts that were still damp, we came across some rides that were closed despite it not even being 11pm yet and the park closes at 12. What really ticked me and my sister off was the fact that Furius Baco, a rollercoaster we were looking forward to trying the whole day as we hadn't done it yet, was closed at 11pm. This was despite the fact the park was open for another hour and the finale parade and fireworks show was to happen right beside it, so it wasn't as if they wanted to start emptying that section of the park or anything! 

   I cheered up when getting dinner and I found an actual vegetarian option of a veggie pastry thing. I don't even remember what it was, only it was vegetarian and didn't consist of just cheese or chips or salad. Finally! The parade began and in it we saw the characters of the park dance and wave by. An absolutely amazing display of lights and fireworks then occurred. On the lake which glistened with reflections of the fireworks above it, light-up floats of cowboys, horses and a huge majestic Chinese dragon glided across the water, creating a wonderful spectacle. Each float and collection of fireworks was related to one of the worlds of the park, as was the music. It was all so lovely to watch.
Our view of the fireworks was from under Furius Baco
This is what I imagined Disney World to be like!

It was a brilliant ending to our Port Aventura adventure and our last night in Spain. Tomorrow I wander the streets of Saluo for the last time before heading home. 

Hasta luego, 



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Day 4: DON'T SELFIE & CYCLE! & 'Veggie' Dishes May Contain Meat

We weren't going to Port Aventura today so the day was ours to do with as we will. After breakfast I lathered up in factor 50 and headed to the hotel pool for a swim. I've been in outdoor pools before but they were in Ireland so the cold weather always meant there was a lack of life in them. Here, the pool was full of people and inflatable things. Inflatable things everywhere. There's no room for laps or exercise here, just games with inflatable things! 
My fuzzy head at the pool with the Spanish sun behind me!
      After lunch we headed out to a local shop which rent scooters, prams, bicycles and electronic wheelchairs - anything with wheels really! There we rented out 6 bikes at only €10 each for the whole day which is really good value. They gave us 3 bike locks and my nephew a helmet at no extra charge. All they needed as a deposit was one passport or a cash sum. My dad left them his passport and off we cycled into the distance! Well... after walking the bikes through the crowd to the cycle lanes by the fountains...

When we locked the bikes up in Cambrils
  The cycle lanes here are totally different to the ones in Dublin. In Salou, there are two cycle lanes, one for each direction, but instead of having them either side of the road where there's ongoing traffic between, they are side by side, separated from the road. They feel extremely safe to cycle and even have yield signs in certain places where pedestrians often cross. On top of that, the cycle lanes from Salou to Cambrils are left of the road so we had the sea on our left the whole way down. At some points the shore was barely 10 meters from us. It was absolutely beautiful. 

  We eventually arrived in Cambrils, locked the bikes up, and went for a stroll. We walked by a harbour where hundreds of boats and yachts of all sorts were docked. We just so happened to pass an open gate down a private boardwalk so naturally we went where our curiosity called us and had a peek at what life with enough money for a boat is like. Oh my GOD the SIZE of some of them! They weren't just boats, I'm pretty sure there were ships too. Looking at these yachts with their fancy interior and shiny surfaces, I just couldn't understand the concept that some people have enough money to own these things. A life of money and yachts is totally alien to me. But I am absolutely fine with that as I think I'd find a lot more joy out of winning €8 on a scratch card than people with yachts will.

Beautiful. HUGE, works of art!
  When you look at the buildings facing the sea, you can see Cambrils is a totally different location to Salou. Salou is a holiday destination particularly popular to tourists from the UK and Ireland. The buildings closest to the sea are tall apartment blocks and hotels. Between them and the beach you have souvenir shops, fountains and bars. This is because Salou is a much newer city and is fueled by tourism so they need to accommodate that. Cambrils is a much older town. The buildings lined up facing the quay are of beautiful older architecture that display a lot more character. Instead of fountains everywhere we saw statues and works of art. Along the quay you still have restaurants and shops of course, but the further you walk into town, the less 'touristy' it is and the less English speaking locals there are. A place like this is excellent for experiencing true Spanish culture and putting your level of Spanish to the test. The latter we definitely experienced.

  After scouring the area trying to translate menus and coming across one particularly unhelpful and cold waitress, we eventually found somewhere nice to eat. This place also happened to have a menu that translated into almost every European language. However this did not help when it came to vegetarian options. Their canneloni had chicken in it so the only vegetarian options I could see were chips, a green salad or potatoe salad. That's pretty ridiculous!! So I ordered potatoe salad and said 'Sin carne' to her (meaning no meat) several times. She then came back out uttering lots of Spanish and saying something about frankfurters. Dad took over the conversation here as he could pick up on what she was saying a lot easier than I could. She was talking about these frankfurters and Dad was trying to ask if the sausages were vegetarian or not to which she said 'Sí!' and we were like 'Graaaand, I'll have that, problem sorted!' This was originally about a 2 minute long conversation. I eventually got the potatoe salad and had Dad taste the sausage in the salad and turns out, it was meat! Surprise, surprise. I ended up eating a green salad. And anyone who knows me knows that I am not a vegetarian who eats salads. I like pasta, and lasagna, and pizza, and omelettes, and supplements. Salads, are for sides, not mains! But I ate my rabbit food regardless. Thankfully I bought a lollipop in a shop earlier so I had that to keep me happy afterwards. I really need to improve my Spanish.
No... No...                             No...
  We eventually made it back to the bikes and decided to cycle a little further on before turning back, but the track turned away from the sea and into the town. After passing just residential areas for a while and at the risk of getting lost, we turned back and cycled towards Salou. On the way I thought I ought to get some pictures of the cycle for the blog so I took my phone out while cycling to take a video and few snaps. Now, before I continue to inform you of what happened, I'd like to ask you to imagine you're riding a bicycle. Now, what side is the front brake on, and what side is back brake on? 

  Well in my experience the front brake is on the right and the back brake is on the right, right? In Salou, they like to wire their bikes a little differently apparently as the brakes are the other way around! So I was trying to get used to this for the whole cycle. Then while holding my phone, I needed to brake suddenly, pressed the left brake thinking it was the back one but no. I ended up halting the bike, somersaulting over the handlebars with said bike landing on top of me. Very graceful! Thankfully, myself, dad and sister were just bicycle dancing to some music that was playing out of someone's car as we cycled by so we weren't going that fast! All I suffered was a severely bruised ego and legs and quite comic looking tire tracks on my shins! Anyway, lesson learned. Don't selfie and cycle!

A Selfie & Cycle Consequence. Ow!
  Having eventually arrived back in Salou without further incident, myself, dad and my brothers went for a cycle further up the tracks than we had started.* This led us to a beautiful boardwalk above a rocky shore and around old walls of the city. Really beautiful! After admiring these for some time we ran into a dead end on the cycle track and everything else was uphill. Like, 70 degree uphill. Maybe at the start of the day I could have done that but not with banged up legs! We decided to call it a day in regards to cycling and brought the bikes back to the shop. I headed back to the hotel, had a much needed shower and eventually got the tire tracks off me. 

*This cycle led us past some restaurants where those 'seagulls' I was telling you about in my Day 1 blog entry were trying to get people in. As we cycled by they STILL tried to get us to go into their restaurant, madness! One chap tried to lure us in by hilariously letting me know they have free parking for bikes there. Ha ....Ha...*cycles away.* 

   After dinner I headed out to a local Irish bar called Patrick's, no surprise in the name there. After a drink and a wander around a midnight market, I called it a day. 

  Tomorrow, we have our last day in Port Aventura. My factor 50 is at the ready. 

Hasta luego, 

The B-e-a-Utiful Boardwalk we came across.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Salou Day 3: Wedgies, Spanish Lifeguards & Change of Skirt

In my imagination, a water park would consist of one massive pool with various slides leading into it and a kids area. I thought this after only seeing snippets of water parks in films or on advertisements on TV. Little did I know the scale of what they are or can be! Costa Caribe, Port Aventura's water park, is huge. Due to my desire to be constantly swimming or doing water rides, (sun bathing is for people who can actually tan, I wasn't going to waste my time!) I left my phone in my locker for the whole stay. This resulted in me only taking two pictures, one blurry one of the indoor part as I was leaving and a selfie which is in no way interesting or appealing. Hence to visually display where I was, I'll be 'borrowing' pictures from elsewhere on the interweb.
     The lockers we had were on a balcony adjacent to the indoor pool of the park. With an amazing climbing frame for kids, an old style airplane hanging from the extremely high ceiling, 2 tunnel slides and tens of lounging beds, I could see straight away that a destination like this would suit anybody/family as there's something for everyone! My inner child was most definitely alive and raring to go at this point. The only thing holding me back, was my not-so-trusty flip flops which I had no choice but to take with me (even after swearing never to look at them again after the airport fiasco) to prevent contracting any unwelcome fungi on my feet. Yuck. Hence my desire to speed-walk to every attraction was reduced to a feeble hobble. Once on stone ground, I abandoned them as much as possible with the same feeling of taking off a bra after wearing it for one for 10 hours. Freedom!

Rapid Races
First up was Rapid Races. Considering it had room for 6 people at once and we were all above height limit, it was a good one to start with! Obviously some healthy competing between family is (never) rarely a bad thing so we took the race seriously. I won! ...The first race that is... there were several others after this and I may or may not have lost the rest of them. We were attracted to the slides more than the pools so we did most of them before a good old fashioned swim in the beach pool. Artificial waves are great fun but they'll never beat the real thing! Although knowing you're not going to get stung by a jellyfish or eaten by a shark is a genuine comfort. Of course all the lifeguards surrounding you is an extra comfort too. If I start laughing when I'm swimming in deep waters I instantly lose my ability to swim properly and basically start drowning. So thankfully there were loads of them there! Even if they are really strict and won't let anyone wear sunglasses in any of the pools...

     There are so many different types of water slides to do, it's crazy! I've only ever done the solo slides in Splashworld in Waterford, Ireland, which are just dark, tunnel slides. No rings, no pool you land into (just a tray), and the occasional gobshite (please excuse my french) of a kid that will purposely get stuck in the slide so the people behind him will crash into him. There's none of that here! The slides with rings are great fun in my opinion. The solo slides are usually faster and more thrilling but with them comes a lot of water in your face and up your nose and you usually can't see at all in the latter half of the journey if not all of it. With those slides you also get an almighty wedgie. Maybe this only happens to people in bikini bottoms but my goodness. I ended up wearing an unwelcome thong at the end of every slide I went down on my back on. Despite my efforts to discretely readjust as the lifeguard attendant is ushering you out, I definitely flashed an unpleasant site to many onlookers and one very good looking Spanish lifeguard more than once. Scarlet! 

There are too many slides to describe to an accurate portrayal of what they were like without being repetitive. You really just have to go on them all yourself to know what they're really like. However I will of course describe the largest slides, one of which is Europe's tallest free fall slide at 31 meters (102 feet) angled at a 55 degree slope, King
Red: Ciclón Tropical, Yellow: King Khajuna
Khajuna. In all its tall, yellow glory, it's much more nerve wrecking when you reach the top of the quene and look over the edge to the park below. 55 meters is quite high, not a height that I'm uncomfortable with, but what was unnerving was the wind that rolled in once some clouds came. Standing on the top of the tower, I could feel it sway beneath my feet. Not a pleasant sensation so I figured I was probably safer taking the slide than chickening out! The free fall wasn't as I expected. There's no trap door or anything, you just ease yourself off (I needed the help of the attendant who gave me an extra push... I blame the all-you-can-eat buffet at the hotel...). During the quick 10 second ride/6 second drop, I never felt that gut wrenching feeling you usually get when falling as I could constantly feel the slide against my back and the force of water is very strong around you. The lack of adrenaline was slightly disappointing. My brothers on the other hand thought it was terrifying and they felt that free fall sensation, so it could be just me! I went on it again later that day to see if it was any better but no, it was a tall slide which gave me an almighty wedgie! Still good, but surprisingly not in comparison to Ciclón Tropical, the 19.64m high, 100m long slide that goes parallel to King Khajuna. As this one has 3 steep vertical dips which result in the possibility of you lifting off the slide slightly, the momentum and feeling of motion is always there. I suppose that's where I get my kicks! 

      Now the park is not all queues and slides and scary things. It has amazing pools for kids with smaller slides but just as exciting ones (as my sister found out-screaming on a 5 meter long slide, hilarious!). The climbing frames they have are unreal. I may have climbed them myself once or twice while "looking for my nephew." Travelling with a child is seriously brilliant. There are so many things you can do with them where you would otherwise get stared at if you were doing them as an adult without a dependent. There are hundreds of loungers around, if not thousands so there should be guaranteed space for you to rest. There is also the Lazy River which involves you sitting in an inflatable ring while a current brings you slowly around the park. This is lovely and relaxing but it's also intersected with the occasional fountain or water feature to make sure you never stay too dry. The absolute highlight of this for me was actually trying to get in to the inflatable ring. It's close to impossible! Watching my brother fail at it several times and topple into the water was hilarious. 
I wasn't hardcore enough...
Due to a sunburn malfunction, my brothers and dad left the water park around 5pm. Myself, the sister and the nephew stayed right up until closing time (7pm) and had an absolute ball thanks to how quiet it got! The queues were non existent so we did all the slides, some again, some more than once. Having done every slide except the indoor ones, we decided it was time to go (and maybe be early for dinner for a change!). The only major downside to the park (this goes for the theme park too) is the toilets. They aren't ventilated as much as they should be so they are extremely stuffy and they smell really, really bad. Before they expand again on their ever expanding park, it would be nice to sort that out. So we headed back to the hotel and decided it was best to shower there.

     We arrived half an hour before dinner ends (which is the earliest we've been so far) so we felt we could take our time, and eat more. A lot more. After dinner I had such a big food baby I needed to change my zip up skirt to one with an elastic band. How do people come back looking skinny after holidays?! Madness.

The extremely chill seating at the beach bars
     We spent the rest of the night chilling at a bar on the beach which was lovely. Nothing beats having a drink with your family beside the sea. It was a good day.

Tomorrow, we rent bicycles and cycle to Cambrils!

Hasta luego,