If you are not up the the challenge of climbing six stories of steep stairs – don’t start the tour…
I think that one of those requirements for first-time visitors to Ireland is visit Blarney Castle. It was way up on our list of must see.
When you tour Blarney Castle the first thing you are confronted with is a six story, narrow spiral staircase. Everything is rough stone and there isn’t enough room on the stairs for more than a single file line. Someone getting past another in line would be a serious challenge. In touring the castle and getting up to the rock of eloquence (better known as the Blarney Stone) you must ascend on one staircase and descend on another equally narrow staircase. While on the ascent there are a couple of side rooms attached to the stairwell there is no way out until you climb the full six stories. At the top you walk over to the Blarney Stone and afterwords cross over to the other corner and start down the second staircase.
Before you enter the actual castle itself there is an attendant that clearly explains the issues with the spiral staircase and that if you don’t think you are up to the climb you shouldn’t continue.
On our visit last year as we entered the grounds we became aware of a couple in the group that stood out. He was, it turned out, in his 90’s and walked with a Hurrycane. It’s that foldable walking cane with the hand grip at the top and the four footed base as seen on TV. As we entered the castle the elderly gentleman was ahead of us with about six people between us and him in line. Just ten feet inside we were at the foot of that spiral staircase. At that point we commented to ourselves that we were impressed with his courage if not his judgement.
To his credit he made it up almost three stories before he couldn’t take another step. At that point the people below on the stairs couldn’t do anything to help because we were stuck in a single file. There was a lot of discussion up and down the line and eventually the line above him managed to get into an alcove and one gentlemen came back to him. With his wife behind him and help from the man above they managed to help him crawl up a number of steps to that alcove. After that the line started moving up again – there was no other choice. There was no way we were going to get a line three stories up into the castle to back up. When we got to the top of the castle several people explained to the attendants helping people kiss the stone* about the gentleman’s problem.
Maybe Blarney Castle has experienced this problem before but the logistics of stopping the line, getting help to him and than getting him down three flights of steep, narrow, spiral stairs does seem like a daunting task. That doesn’t even take into consideration the tour buses that are on a schedule and have significant distances to travel.
I’m sure there are a number of morals in this adventure but I’ll leave them to the readers imagination.
*You lay on your back while the attendants hold you as you stick your head through an opening at the top of the castle, six stories above the ground while you kiss the stone protruding from the wall above you – try that on a wet and rainy day. Also there doesn’t seem to be any Purell in use and you start speculating about all those people ahead of you that day?
If you travel a lot, especially if you are a cruise enthusiast, you will on occasion come across ship and boat wrecks either grounded or in shallow water. They seem to garner more attention than wrecked and abandoned cars on land. Maybe there is something more intriguing or romantic about ship wrecks because they seem to recall huge tragedies or great seafaring legends. It’s unlikely you’ll find a story titled The Wreck Of A 66 Oldsmobile, but there are accounts that live on about the Andrea Doria, Rubin James, Titanic, Edmond Fitzgerald and a lot more.
On a recent stop in Montevideo, Uruguay we came across what looked like a ship graveyard, right in the middle of the harbor. Derelict fishing boats, tugs and even larger ships were left in the harbor, making for a very strange sight. Seeing this surprising, large collection of half sunk, rusting, and abandoned boats and ships in the center of this cities working harbor raised a number of questions. Who abandoned them and why? How long have they been here? What is anybody doing about them?
Abandoned boats are not a problem unique to Uruguay and we often encounter ships wrecked along a coast, unable to be moved or salvaged. Even in the U.S. you’ll find abandoned boats usually left on remote and rarely used channels or in out of the way bays. But I don’t think we have every come across such a large number anywhere else before.
After getting home a little research turned up an article dated 17 June 2015 (HERE) estimating the number of derelicts at fifty that were abandoned by their owners because of debts or liens. It indicated that a plan has been developed that will re-float the boats and have them taken away. The Uruguayan National Port Administration will be in charge of the program.
When we were there in January of 2019 and I counted thirty boats so maybe they have made some progress in the last three years but Montevideo still has a long way to go.
Starbucks is becoming as ubiquitous as McDonalds around the world. We have become accustomed to looking for these outlets as we travel. While we are not huge fans you can expect a consistent coffee offering along with free WiFi from Starbucks as you travel.
We just got home from Europe and we just jumped to conclusions about using our Starbucks Gold Card in Europe from our experience on previous trips. Several years ago we cautiously started using a Starbucks card to purchase coffee in various cities. Over time we came to expect it to work everywhere.
While traveling in Australia and Ireland we were very surprised at how the process worked. After paying with the balance on our card we would get a receipt that showed the amount used in local currency along with the card balance expressed in Dollars and local currency.
After this trip a correction is in order. We were in Hungary, Austria and Germany and our card wouldn’t work at all. Checking the Starbucks web site we found the following statement:
Starbucks Cards activated in any of the participating countries can be used to make purchases and be reloaded in any other participating country. Starbucks Cards must first be activated by loading money onto the card in the country of purchase before being used internationally. The participating countries are; UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, and the Republic of Ireland.
I guessed we jumped to conclusions based on too small a sampling. The good news is the coffee was what we expected and the WiFi is still free.
Budapest is a remarkable, beautiful and large city with the Danube River running thru the middle of it. Along the river in the central city are four major bridges. Starting from the north at the southern tip of Margit Island is Margit Bridge.
Margit hid or Margaret Bridge is a bridge carrying trams, cars and pedestrians connecting Buda and Pest along with access to Margaret Island. It was designed by French engineer Ernest Goüin and built by the construction company Maison Ernest Goüin et Cie. between 1872 and 1876. Margaret Bridge was the second permanent bridge in Budapest.
Next is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by the Scottish engineer Adam Clark, it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary. It was opened in 1849.
Next is Elisabeth Bridge (Hungarian: Erzsébet híd) is the third newest bridge of Budapest. The bridge is situated at the narrowest part of the Danube in the Budapest area, spanning only 290 m. It is named after Elisabeth of Bavaria, a popular queen and empress but often referred to by locals as the “White Bridge”.
Going south the fourth bridge is Szabadság híd (in English it means Liberty Bridge or Freedom Bridge. It was originally named Ferenc József híd (Franz Joseph Bridge). At its two ends are two public squares, Gellért tér, at the foot of Gellért Hill, next to the Gellért Spa and Fővám tér at the Great Market Hall. Built as part of the Millennium World Exhibition at the end of the 19th century, the bridge features art nouveau design and mythological sculptures.
Navigating the city by surface streets can be confusing with neighborhood streets seeming laid out like a maze. Many areas have very few streets that are laid out in a square grid pattern but rather seem to zig zag back and forth. For this reason even trying to use a compass heading can be frustrating if you are walking. If you are walking to destinations we recommend using a detailed map or cell phone navigation. Fortunately major tram routes and subways trace prominent paths thru the city easily found at major intersections.
Budapest has a very efficient and inexpensive metropolitan transit system. The best option if you are going to be spending a couple of days in this city, is to get a Metro “day pass” which averages about $6.00 per person per day or less and is available in one, two and three day passes. A day pass operates on a 24-hour cycle so if you buy one at 10:00 am it can be used until 10:00 am the next day. You can purchase them from vending machines but our recommendation is to purchase them from a manned ticket window open during business hours at most major stations. These are usually at major street intersections where you will find there are stairs going underground that are often also the best way to cross large city streets. While an amazing number of Hungarians know a passing amount of English, signage is another story in this city. Finding good signage in English is actually very rare in Budapest. Beside being able to talk to an agent about purchasing the best pass for your needs, they will also give you a complete set of pocket maps with some information brochures in English that are not available at the machines. The metro system is based on individual tickets based on tapping onto trams and busses. If you buy a day pass you do not need to tap on or off the various transports but simply have the passes with you. The truth is that after three or four days of riding rapid transit, nobody ever asked to see our pass.
One exception to that was one day we bought a train ticket for an hour trip out to Slovakia which offered a partial discount off the price if we had an active transit pass. The conductor on the train did want to see our metro pass to confirm that we were entitled to the reduced train fare.
Metropolitan transit in Budapest has three primary systems. They are subways, buses and the street trams. The easiest to navigate are the surface trams which are clearly marked on maps by their routes. They also have the advantage of being operated at street level where you can see where you are.
As a visitor think about Budapest as being divided up into several areas of interest. First the city is divided by the Danube River. The east side of the river is the old city of Buda with most areas of interest located within a mile of the river. Much of this terrain is steeply inclined up to the fortifications, the castle and Matthias Church and the old city. There is also a funicular that goes up to the castle level from near the Fisherman’s Bastion.
The west side of the river is the old city of Pest and includes most of the large commercial areas and additional major attractions. Some major sights include St. Stephen’s Basilica, The Hungarian Parliament Building, Hero’s Square as well as a number of major museums and galleries.
There are two primary tram lines designated 4 and 6 inside the central city that cross the river at the Margit bridge and the Erzebet Bridge. These two lines are major routes for people to use going to work and shopping and can get busy at times. Along these routes are the Central Train Station, the Market Hall, the New York Cafe and the Octagon intersection. From Octagon you can switch to the #1 subway line to get to Hero’s Square, the National Museum and or toward the river to the Opera House and a popular restaurant neighborhood.
There is an intersection of tram routes 4 and 6 with the #4 subway line at Jozsef Krt and Rakoczi Ut where you can switch routes and take the subway toward the Danube..
The easiest way we found to use the trams and subways is to know the map location where you get on and count the number of stops to where you are going, Understanding the Hungarian tram and subway announcements is often difficult and reading stop locations can be a challenge. Also station names at the various stations in the subway are poorly marked. For example boarding a west bound subway at the Octagon station and wanting to get off at Heroes Square to visit the gardens simply count five station stops.
After just a couple of trips you will easily get the hang of the system. Rush hour is also an interesting time on the trams. When the doors open on a packed full tram you will quickly realize that the crowd behind you believes there is plenty of room for a number of additional riders inside. You may be reluctant to push in but the next thing you know you are right there, packed into the car that you thought you wouldn’t fit into. Don’t worry most everyone is friendly and accommodating. Also if you aren’t sure where you are ask for help. We rarely found anyone that couldn’t understand some English and were happy to help.
Auckland is a popular port for cruises around Australia and New Zealand as well as southbound Pacific repositioning cruises. Most itineraries also include a stop at The Bay of Islands due north from Auckland.
Where You Dock
The Port of Auckland has a number of piers east from the ferry terminal at Princess Wharf. All of the docking spaces are right in downtown Auckland so it is only a short walk from the dock into the CBD. There are also a number of public facilities not far from the port.
With only a few hours on average for exploring while in this port there are a number of places within walking distance and the downtown area is very pedestrian friendly with lots to see. Taxis are readily available but Auckland is the center of a large metropolitan area so it is best to have a destination in mind and agree on a fare before heading out. There is also an extensive bus and ferry system around the area with a good web site that shows your options HERE . The city also has a visitors one and two day pass that includes admission to a number of attractions HERE.
The New Zealand currency is the NZ$ currently worth about 65¢ US. Foreign currency is not readily accepted but credit cards usually work fine.
Within walking distance are a number of good sights including:
Albert Park – Historical, park with trees andflowerbeds, a Victorian fountain & statues.
Auckland Art Gallery – A collection of national & international art, with Maori works, in a château-style historic building.
New Zealand Maritime Museum – exploring the country’s seafaring history through exhibits & sailing trips on replica ships.
The Skywalk Visitors Center
Auckland Bridge Climb (Bungee jumping available)
Also about twenty miles west of Auckland is a very nice wilderness area called Waitākere Ranges Regional Park that if you have a few days this area should be considered.
The Port of Bay of Islands
Located about 175 miles north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. The area is somewhat rural and one of the big attractions is the various vineyards nearby. While the production is on a much smaller scale than the southern island the quality is very good. A local industry has developed offering tours to the cruise passengers and probably the best way to see some of the region is booking one of these tours. Many of these excursions are focused on the waters around this port.
Many western Caribbean cruises include Key West, Florida as one of their port visits. This city has much to offer a one-day visitor from history to shopping to just soaking up the atmosphere of Americas most southern place.
Where You Dock – Cruise ships dock along the waterfront right at Mallory Square in the heart of town. While there is no cruise terminal there are plenty of facilities with a short walk.
A five block walk to the left down Front Street takes you past Duval Street, home to a number of shops, bars and restaurants to A&B Docks with its array of restaurants and shops next to Key West Bight. Walking down Front Street in the opposite direction takes you past the Truman Winter White House and Whitehead Street the address of the Audubon House and the Hemingway House.
Transportation – Key West is not a very large city with the center of town just steps away. Getting to the other side of the island is a few miles but without a specific interest in mind probably not worth the walk. Sightseeing is easy with the Conch Train and the Trolley one to three block from the ship. There are also a few less conventional modes of transportation available like street legal golf carts and miniature two-seaters you can rent.
Money – The US Dollar
Attractions – If you are interested in history there are a number of attractions for you. From the Ship Wreck Museums to the homes of famous Americans like President Truman, Hemingway and Audubon. There are also an assortment of water activities like snorkeling and diving trips along with sailing excursions available. Key West is also popular for shopping, seafood and bars. Be sure and visit Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite. There is little in the way of attractive beaches nearby but there are excursions down to the Dry Tortugas and the National Park and historic fort.
Key West is also famous for its sunset celebration at Mallory Square but unfortunately because of local regulations cruise ships must depart before sunset so as not to block the views.