Diamond Hill and Tully Cross, Connemara

September, 2019

Just outside Letterfrack, you will find the entrance to Connemara National Park. One of the Twelve Bens (or Pins) is Diamond Hill. Its name is related to the glitter of the quartz crystals on the mountain. The views reach over the water, as far as the islands of Inishbofin and Inishark. It is surrounded not only by many other Bens, but also by Kylemore Lough and Kylemore Abbey.

The grey weather is not very inviting for a long hike, but with my raincoat and my poncho tucked away in the backpack, I decide to give it a try. It is still early in the morning and there are only three other cars in the parking area. The guy at the information desk tells me about the three different loops. I decide to go for the red one, which goes all around the top of Diamond Hill and takes about two and half hours to complete. He does not tell me that the weather can be very unpredictable, once you are halfway on the mountain!

I start my walk full of optimism and energy and although the drizzle is changing into rain, I still enjoy the endless views over the water and the mystic red earth.

The stonepath trails and wooden boardwalks (erected after severe erosion) are very well-assigned, but as soon as you climb higher, the wind is picking up. I only see a handful of people up the mountain in front of me and the weather is changing from one minute into the other. I get my poncho to cover my backpack and try to follow the others. The stone path is no problem with good weather, but with these gusts I feel extremely unstable. At a certain point I have to make myself very small and hold on to a rock, as the wind gets under my poncho and tries to lift me! Wow, I will end up as Mary Poppins, if I continue this hike……..I decide to return and join some others, who made the same decision. Further down, you can take another loop, which brings you back to the parking area.

I drive back to Diamond Hill on my last afternoon in Connemara, just to get some nice shots and enjoy the hike in calm, sunny weather conditions.

They say Ireland has four seasons in a day and you have to dress in layers. These four seasons give the sea different colours, very impressive clouds and endless rainbows.

The afternoon brings some sunshine again, so I grab my camera and go on a hike to Tully Cross, situated on the Renvyle Peninsula.

Tully Cross is a very small village on the Wild Atlantic Way. If you follow the road, you end up in Tully Head, where the Atlantic Sea lies at your feet. It is also possible to climb Tully Mountain (well, more a hill!), but there are no assigned pathways.

In Tully Cross I visit famous Paddy Coynes Pub. At this time there are no other guests, but I do find the fire place burning and treat myself on a nice and well-deserved gin & tonic. One day I will return and enjoy their special Irish Nights!

 

From Dublin to Letterfrack, in colourful Connemara

September, 2019

My first week in Dublin went quickly, due to the many events in the evening and sightseeing during the day. My daughter and I visited the Guinness Storehouse, where every floor gives you a lecture about the history and the process of making Guinness. Once you are on the top level, you arrive in the Gravity Bar, where you can treat yourself on a pint of Guinness, while enjoying a panoramic view over the town.

One of the famous pubs in Dublin is O’Donoghues on Merrion Row. Very authentic and visited regularly by The Dubliners, as well as many other famous people.

While the family is returning to Australia again, I pick up my rental car from the airport and start my trip to the Western Coast of Ireland. It all sounds very relaxing, but it wasn’t! Just the knowledge of having to drive on the left hand side of the road with a left manual gear, gave me sleepless nights. On top of the stress, there was an issue with my credit card and I had to call my bank in The Netherlands to solve the problem, as otherwise no car! With a delay of an hour, I finally could collect my vehicle. I first checked it thouroughly for any damages (took pictures of every scratch!), practised the gear, adjusted the chair and mirrors and took a deep breath……I checked the instructions of my Tom Tom, which I brought with me from Holland and also got the google map from my phone on. Another deep breath and off I went on the highway. For the first hour I constanly told myself “left, left, left”, but you can’t go wrong on the highway! Once out of Dublin, it is pretty relaxing driving, only in Galway I had to do some roundabouts and turns, but all went well. The roads are getting smaller after Galway and at some point I had to go right, missed it, tried to turn and couldn’t get my car into reverse. A farmer finally helped me, with a big smile on his face, while my face turned red!

By now I was driving on a road, with water on both sides and the red coloured mountain range of Connemara on the horizon. It felt like I was travelling on another planet. Sheep were just wandering in front of my car, while dark clouds were hanging against the mountains.

Towards Letterfrack
View from the house
View from the house on Connemara Loop, in between Letterfrack and Tully Cross.

Without any issues I reached the small village of Letterfrack, where I got some salade, cheese and wine to get me through the evening. Gerry and Mary, the owners of the airbnb, which I booked for the coming 6 nights, wrote me very detailed instructions how to reach the house. It was just light enough to see. The narrow road went up and down and finally I arrived in paradise!

The next morning was fairly cloudy and the forecast not really promising, so I decided to go on an early hike along the coast. After a few meters, there was this tiny harbour and I enjoyed the stillness, the colours of the surroundings and the view over the water.

I continued the small road, passing a few tiny houses and a flock of sheep, until I reached the ocean. Later my landlord told me, you can hike all around the peninsula in around 5 till 6 hours. Next time! This first day I take it easy. By the time I returned, rain started pouring!

The unknown cliffwalk from Greystone to Bray.

September, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I saw a documentary in The Netherlands, about the traindrive from Dublin to Greystone. Perfect for a daytrip! Until Bray you can travel with the DART and after you switch to the Irish Rail direction Greystone, which borders the impressive Wicklow Mountains. During my traintrip I start a conversation with a guy from Dublin. In Ireland it is easy to connect with people; they are not only very helpful, but also talkative. The man tells me, he will be meeting an old friend in Greystone for coffee and after, return to Bray via the cliffwalk. Although I read my tourist guide thoroughly, I have not heard of any possibility of hiking back. For sure, I will do the same thing and walk the loop over the cliffs. In Greystone, I decide to go first for a coffee and the mainstreet has enough possibilities to sit, relax and get your watersupply.

Greystone has lovely beaches, a small harbour and many sport opportunities. Such a pity that apartments are built right at the seaside.

The cliffwalk starts down at the lively Marine and after a few minutes hiking, you will leave the town behind. Here it is just silence, eyedropping views and now and then the train passing by deep down below. Along the path you can pick as many tasty blackberries as you like; it seems nobody does! In contrary with the cliffloop in Howth, here the path is safe and on most parts protected. It takes about 2 hours and is 7 km long. For the best views go direction Bray and not the other way round.

Once in Bray, you can walk over the extensive boardwalk, with on one hand the sea and on the other hand hotels, pubs, a bandstand and plenty of green. For the third time I meet my Irish “friend” and we decide to go for a beer, before heading out to the station. I have my first Rockshore and love it.

Although I just had a small pint, I notice upon arrival in Dublin, that I forgot my camera!!! (black camera on a black chair……). No clue which pub it was, so I have to google. From the pictures on the internet it seems it is The Mortello hotel, but nobody found a camera. I call the police station in Bray and they tell me their ‘lost and found’ department is closed until Monday. For the insurance I need also a form from the Police Station, so I decide I have to go back to Bray on Monday morning.

On the DART again and very quickly helped at the Police Station. No camera found, but I get a file number for my insurance company. I decide to walk back via the boardwalk to the pub/hotel where I lost my camera, before heading out to the station. It is not raining yet and many joggers are taking the opportunity to get some exercise. Suddenly I see the place where I was supposed to have left my camera; it is not The Mortello, but Ocean Bar & Grill!!! Same bar counter on the pictures and same black seating area……(later it turned out the venues also have the same owner!). I try the front door, but it is closed on Monday morning. Now what? I try the side door. Suddenly a delivery man arrives and he just pushes the door open and lets me go through. The cleaning lady is very understanding and starts investigating. Finally, it turns out they did find it on Friday and put it safely away. I can not thank them enough and feel totally embarrassed! Once I return to Dublin, I immediately call the police to tell them I found the camera. So greatful I get another staffmember on the phone, so I don’t have to explain him what happened……..

 

 

 

Returning to Howth, the gem of Eastern Ireland

September, 2019

My daughter and my Irish ‘son in law’ are flying in from Australia for a family wedding and for me a perfect reason to hop on the plane and meet them in Dublin. Finally, a well-deserved holiday and I decide to take a two-week leave and combine Dublin with a visit to the West Coast. During the evenings, there are plenty of dinners, parties and other get-togethers, but during the day I go hiking and exploring. Around 33 years ago, I spent a long weekend in Dublin and Howth, so it is time to refresh the memories! I buy a Dart (Dublin Aera Rapid Transit) train card and jump on the train from Sandymount to Howth. The station is small; you go North or South, so you can’t go wrong. After several stops, mainly in central Dublin, the last stop is my destination. As soon as I get of the train, I smell fish!!! Love that smell…..together with clear skies, sunshine and great hiking temperatures; a day to embrace.

My first stop is at the tourist information desk, in front of the harbour. Here you will find brochures of all the loops you can walk: The Tramline Loop, The Bog of Frogs Loop, The Black Linn Loop and The Lower Cliff Loop. I just want to hike along the coast and around the harbour, as I just love the typical atmosphere of a harbour town. I meet an older Irish fisherman and we have a long chat. He tells me that all his six sons are fishermen, but never all six are at the same time at sea. Probably, to stay on the safe side? I wish I had taken his picture, but I didn’t. I did gave him my card!

W.B Yeats

“I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”

I start the loop along the Balscadden Bay, past the former house of the poet W.B. Yeats, and the path goes higher up the cliffs, direction the lighthouse. At a certain moment there is nobody around me anymore and the trail is getting narrow, with no protection at the side and I feel my fear of heights is giving me nausea. Time to return and explore the harbour a little bit more.

By now many more tourists have arrived and the terraces around the harbour are fully occupied. I decide to go for my first seafood chowder. Although I checked the prices of the food, I didn’t check the prices of the wine and my glass of white wine was ridiculous expensive! Though in Ireland, all liquors in the stores are also way more expensive than on the mainland, so be aware!

It is time to make my way to the station, as tonight a family get together will be organized. In the harbour, a few people are gathering and curious as I am, I follow their eyes. There are several Sea Lions swimming in the harbour and I quickly grab my camera. It looks like one of them is posing for the picture. You have to be quick, as they swim in no time to the other side. A tourist/photographer is arriving with all his equipment and by the time his tripod and other gear are ready for the pictures, the Sea Lions are gone. I show him my picture and he is not happy……..

Howth is special; I do hope to visit the ‘Pearl of the East’ again soon………..

 

 

 

Zwillbrock, hiking along the flamingoes and visiting the Baroque church.

Springtime, 2019

My last trip was in February, a long time ago. Work took all my attention, but during the leisure days I tried to discover new places. I met a new group of friends and we go on hiking tours together or visit musea, a concert or any other interesting event. Through these people, I discover many treasures of The Netherlands. Still, on various occasions I go exploring on my own and enjoy the tranquility of the countryside.

A remarkable place is Zwillbrock (Zwilbroek for the Dutch), just a hundred meter over the border into the municipality of Vreden, Germany and very close to my hometown. People say, that the border here never excisted; it was centuries long a place where German and Dutch people mingled together. This tiny village is proud owner of the Church of St. Francis, a baroque church and former monastary with a long history. In 1651 the first church was built on these grounds, which became an escape for the Catholics from The Netherlands, who were banned in their own country. The St. Francis church is dating from the early 18th century and although rich in decor, still beautiful in simplicity. Nearly every Sunday at 16.30 there are performances in the church. Many musicians are eager to play in this historic intimate ambience!

Zwillbrock is also famous for The Zwillbrocker Venn, the most Northern breeding area for flamingoes in Europe and a birdreserve with more than 100 different birdspecies. The only time I saw flamingoes in the wild, was on the island of Bonaire (Caribbean). Never thought I would encounter those beautiful creatures again, so close to my home! The first Chilean flamingoes arrived in 1982 and until now nobody knows where they were coming from. A few years later, also European flamingoes joined the group. After raising their chicks, they will leave again until the next year. For more information, visit the Educational Centre at Zwillbrock Biological Station.

The best time to watch the flamingoes is from April till the summer. Sometimes they are gone in June already. There are different birdwatching stations and with my 60 x zoom camera, I can get some nice shots.

I hike the roundabout of a rough 7 km along the shallow lake and marshland, witnessing many black-headed gulls and other birdspecies. On purpose, I choose a weekday and walk for more than an hour, without encountering other hikers.

 

 

The fishing villages Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell

19th and 20th of February, 2019

This Tuesday is a bit cloudy, so I decide to pay a last visit to Pals and some coastal towns on the northern side. In Pals I discover hidden corners where I have never been before.

It’s not great weather for pictures, until I arrive for a late lunch in Estartit, where I can catch the sunset over the small harbour and the lighthouse on the Islas Medas. Estartit has also changed completely and it takes a while before I can find the old centre, with the small streets and tiny stores. A nice change is the walkway along the rocky shore, but in summer it must be crazy busy here with all the tourists.

I finally find the (closed) restaurant, where we used to spend many great evenings. The owner behind the piano and his son playing the drums and we danced until the late hours, after our wonderful supper. The name of the restaurant annex bar is still the same (Eden Bar and Restaurant) and when I look through the window, I realize nothing has changed inside. The piano is still there and the bar is on the same spot. If I close my eyes, I can see my father and me dancing together. Very good memories indeed……..

My last day will be a day of hiking along the coast. I start at Llafranc, a lovely fishing village, and walk via de Camí de Ronda all the way up to the 19th-century lighthouse at Sant Sebastià. From here you have a view over the coast of the Costa Brava and the hinterland. There are also some ancient Iberian remains to visit. From Llafranc there is a path along the cliffs to Tamariú. I decide to go back, as I still want to visit Calella. While walking, I am impressed with the lovely views from all around. Very carefully, the sun is coming out and I grab my camera for some last pictures of the harbour below.

It is possible to go to Calella de Palafrugell by foot, along the Aleppo pine-dotted coastline. I decide to take the car, as I want to visit Cap Roig first, known for its beautiful botanical gardens. Once I arrive high above the village of Calella, I notice the gardens are only open during the weekends! Too bad, so I drive all the way down to the centre of the village and park my car in one of the side streets. By now the sky is completely blue and the air is warming up. Although Calella also grew way too big, with too many holiday apartments, the beaches are still pristine and the fishing cottages and renovated mansions are a delight!

I treat myself on a light lunch right at the beach. Most visitors this time of the year are Spanish tourists and people from Catalunya, who come for lunch to this well-known beach town. While having my salad and sipping my wine, I dig deep in my memories…….Once we went on a warm evening in July to Calella to enjoy the Havaneres, the ‘Sea Shanties’. All visitors were sitting on the beach, while a big group of men were standing in a fishing boat, singing songs with amazing voices. We enjoyed that evening so much. It seems that nowadays, the inhabitants of Calella leave their own town on those evenings, as it is packed with people from Barcelona. They even are building stages and come with television crews!!! So glad we witnessed those performances in former times…….

After lunch, I walk up the cliffs to get some nice shots. Calella de Palafrugell is divided into a few small beaches and thanks to the walkways along the shore, you get a fabulous overview.

Tomorrow I will fly back to The Netherlands, so it is time to say goodbye to the Costa Brava. It is also time to say goodbye to my dad and I promise to return one day with my children.

 

Monday market in Torroella de Montgrí and lunch in ancient Peratallada

18th of February, 2019

Torroella de Montgrí is a culture town, with regular musical performances, expositions in the church and three museums to visit. It is situated on the foot of the Montgrí, a mountain with the remains of a castle and seen from a far distance.

P1050359

It is a very lively town, although there are not any specific spectacular buildings present, except for the church and the museum Palau Solterra, a 15th century palace.P1050445

We used to go on Monday morning to the market. Not only to buy the fresh produce, the tasty olives and cheeses, but above all to have a coffee on the placa (plaza). There is only one cafeteria and I still remember the old man, who owned the café a 30 years ago. He always had a big smile for me, when he noticed I arrived again for the holidays. After he died, the café was not the same for me anymore, although his sons took over. On occasions we went on special summer evenings to the intimate plaza, where we joined (after invitation) the Sardana dancing, the typical Catalonian dance, symbol for national unity and identity. The café served Cremat, a Catalan alcoholic cocktail, made with rum, sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and coffee, prepared in huge terracotta bowls. The lights were dimmed and candles were burning and I still feel the atmosphere of the small idyllic plaza.

 

On my way back ‘home’, I decide to go for lunch in Peratallada. Like Pals, this very small and authentic town, with only around 250 inhabitants, is considerably renovated. The castle is dating back to the 10th century and the church of Sant Esteve to the 13th century. The name of the village is derived from ‘pedra tallada’ or ‘cut stone’. In the summer various restaurants, galleries and even some small hotels are catering the many tourists. Still, people often forget to visit beautiful Peratallada, as it lies off the main road. Now in February, I am surprised that a few restaurants still have their doors open. I decide to have a late lunch in El Borinot, a cute and tiny place under the arches. A nice way to end another great day!

 

The change of Palamos into a big coastal town……

16th and 17th of February, 2019

Today is time to visit Palamos. The first thing I notice is the change of the roads. While driving towards Palafrugell, the road becomes a highway with a speedlimit of 100 km. Wow, that was different 20 years ago! Also, there is Palafrugell North and Palafrugell South. What happened to the small market town? In no time I enter Palamos and follow the parking signs to The Playa. I don’t recognize anything anymore. It’s an enormous city in comparison with the small fishing town, tucked away in my brain.

It’s very busy at the playa and all the parking places are taken, so I return to the centre, where I find the very last empty spot. My lucky day again! Once at the harbour, I notice why it is so busy. There is the Optimist International Regatta with 550 participants from 29 nations! Today they have a day off, at least this morning, as there is no wind at all.

Wonderful to see all the small boats on the beach, while their crew is hanging around, waiting for the wind to pick up.

I spent quite a while walking around the different harbours and remember how it was 30 years ago. I realize I am getting old(er). In the far end you see Playa d’Aro and San Feliu, an area I rather avoid these days.

The lively old centre of Palamos is situated a bit higher and more peaceful than down the playa.

By lunchtime I have enough of busy Palamos and drive home. This afternoon, I go hiking in the woods, where we always spent so much time walking our dog………

On Sunday, my goal is Begur and Tamariu. Begur, with the old remains of the castle towering over the town. Definitely worth the small climb, as from there you can see the coastline with the Islas Medas, the Pyrenees, the old town and the lushy back country. It’s very windy today, as most of the days now in February and difficult to make a steady video!

Also Begur is growing, but I do hope that most of the green area is protected and that one day they will stop expanding.

In the old centre, I find an empty place on the best known terrace (Bar de Placa) in town. Right under the bells of the church. Never go and live in Begur, as they cling every 15 minutes very loud!

From Begur you can take a small coastal road to the small fishing village of Tamariu. At least in Tamariu, time stood still. A cozy place with a row of fish restaurants surrounding the beach. All open on this cold, but sunny sunday and while the parents are sipping their wine, the children are having fun on the beach. This reminds me of our life in Greece! We used to spend our Sundays like that. Going with friends to the taverne on the beach and sit there for hours, while our children were keeping themselves occupied.

I choose the restaurant Rodondo for my birthday meal. Finally, I get my favorite dish again; calamares a la plancha! The people next to me have sea-urchins for starters and I ask them if I can make a picture of the dish. Immediately, they shovel one on my plate. I do have to taste it! There is not much meat in it, but the taste is good and the important thing is (according to the guy), that it has the ‘sabor del mar’ (‘taste of the sea’…)

After my lunch I go hiking on the rocky track along the coast. The first part is a bit a challenge and you have to look for the signs red-white, but later it becomes a real path. A nice track with gorgeous view over the coast. Later this week, I hope to start from the other side at Llafranc and Callela de Palafrugell and then visit the lighthouse of San Sebastian.

 

 

Market in La Bisbal and a visit to Pals and Sa Riera

15th of February, 2019

After a very cold night with frost on the ground, I hop in the car and decide to go to the market in La Bisbal d’Empordà. At this time of the morning, you still can find a parking spot. Markets are popular among the Catalans and they start early! La Bisbal d’Empordà is a typical provincial town, very well-known for the ceramics and all kinds of baskets. I notice that the stall with meat and cheeses is still on the same corner as 20 years before. They stick to their place! You can get good bargains here and most people buy for the whole week their fruits and veggies. I just stroll around, get familiar again with the Spanish atmosphere and buy some roses for my father’s grave.

From La Bisbal I return to Pals, park the car in town and walk up towards the cemetery. From now on, I will visit my dad every day of this week, to catch up with him on the stories. A lot has happened over the last 20 years…….

Pals is still Pals, a few stores more and a few less and, very important, more cafeterías! The medieval town has not changed at all and it’s lovely to walk around and admire the view from the old tower.

At the parking I start a conversation with an older guy, who is sitting on a bench. We talk about my economic rental car and I tell him the reason I came back to Pals. Long story short; it turns out he was the gardener of my parents!!! What a coincidence! The next day, I take him to the local café and we talk about the old times.

It’s lunchtime and I drive to Playa de Pals, to see if restaurant Mar Blau still exists. It idoes and as always running the whole year. It has a terrace at the seaside or at the back. There is a cold wind blowing, so I prefer to sit on the secluded terrace. To sit outside again is such a great feeling! I take my favorite avocado-schrimp and sip my white wine. This is holiday!

The beach is wide and empty. After lunch, I go for a walk over the rocky path along the sea, towards Sa Riera. Many times I walked this trail in the past and on some stretches it was not very safe, but it improved a lot. The nude beach is also still there and one person is sunbathing. Thanks to my 60 x zoom camera, I know it is a guy and yes, he is nude!

Sa Riera is empty, nearly all the houses are closed and not even one café open. In the summer these places are crowded with tourists and now I barely see a living soul.

I return my way to Play de Pals, via the tiny streets up and down the hill and arrive just before sunset ‘home’.

 

A pilgrimage to Pals on the Costa Brava, Spain

14th of February, 2019

It has been a long time, maybe 18 years? I remember my parents left The Netherlands when I was 20. They decided to build a house in Spain and they started a new life. I always loved going to Spain. Especially Christmas and New Year, when all the tourists were gone and the air was crispy clear; great for hiking! Sometimes, I met up with friends in wintertime and we were crazy enough to dive into the very cold sea. After my parents passed away, I never went back, due to my own living abroad. Though now, I get a chance to have one week off from work and I give myself a birthday present; a flight with Ryanair to Girona, a small rental car with Firefly and a cute apartment in the countryside of Masos de Pals.

This will be my pilgrimage, my ‘peregrinaje’. I am excited to go back and hope to find my way again in the villages and on the coastal roads. My plan is to go back to all the favorite places and write about them on my blog. It will be a busy week!

This is also my first time flying from Eindhoven and my first time flying with Ryanair. Everything goes smooth, although I am way too early at the airport. There is always the chance you get stuck in the traffic in Holland, even very early in the morning! My car is conveniently parked at Eazzypark (58 euro’s a week) opposite the entrance of the airport building.

After hopping on small planes in countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Ecuador or Mexico, Ryanair is not bad at all. The landing could have been way smoother, but hey, who cares? Only the baby in front of me!!!

I arranged the car rental ahead of time and took full coverage, out of safety reasons. I am satisfied with the price; 78 euro’s for a week.

Girona airport is simple and quick. Luggage was there in no time and within 30 minutes, I was on the (wrong) road to Pals….. I printed a description of the numbers of the road, but driving and reading is not working. There are immediately many roundabouts, while leaving Girona, and you need to focus on AP-7 Girona/Francia and NOT Barcelona. Too late, I did go to Barcelona and before you get an opportunity to return, well, that takes some miles!!! Once back on the right track, I realized I had to take a small stretch of tollway. I check the button to open the window, but there is no button. Where on earth is that button? I can’t stop in the middle of the highway. Panic, as I know I have to open the window for the machine at the toll post. While driving I push all the buttons I can reach and hope nothing weird is going to happen. Finally, I find them in the centre of the dashboard (what a weird place). Just on time!

In France it was never a problem, but here I find myself suddenly in the lane of the VIA-T people, who pay automatically. I only found out when no ticket came out of the machine and the guy behind me started making funny gestures. O.K, calm down, I go in reverse and try the right lane, pfffffff………

Funny enough, after leaving the tollway, I don’t have to pay anything. All the effort for nothing…..

I relax and drive without any other issues straight to my apartment in Masos de Pals, where the view stretches over the fields, with the mountain range of the Pyrenees on the horizon. It feels like coming home; the intense blue skies and the cold wind of february are embracing me…….