The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Belfast to Galway

Life and this holiday go on. Up and off to Galway – 5 hours driving from East to West – but we had to take a different route. We were looking for the Marble Arch Caves just south of Enniskillen in county Fermanagh (it is precisely on the border between Eire and the United Kingdom England Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland – I know because they accepted Euros and Sterling. It was closed for winter. Still marvellous drive to get there and see the place.

Then we just set sail for Galway arriving around 3.00pm. Fabulous B&B just down the road from Salt Hill where my great grandmother on Mum’s side held the lease on one hotel and eleven houses. We had a postcard from 1909 showing the Main Street of Salt Hill and we set off to find out what it looked like today. Our host was very excited and gave us a good start.

When we walked up to the street we were quickly able to identify two hotels from the postcard. We went into Lonergans Hotel. The Barmaid was amazed but confirmed this was one of the buildings in our postcard. We had a pint and a chat with the locals and then went into the Eglinton hotel. It is no longer a hotel but a refugee hostel. Even so the staff were excited to see the post card and gave us some information that Killorans Hotel next door to Lonergans had old pictures of the area.

We then went to Killorans (also shown in the postcard) and spoke to the barman who pointed to a photo on his wall and there was the identical scene only in black and white hanging on the wall but they had no idea of the date. We saw later photos showing how much land has been reclaimed to create a new fore shore and other changes. Another pint.

Feeling we had solved the mystery we headed for Galway to have dinner and ended up in Anton’s cafe (picture to follow). Now we are back at the B&B planning tomorrow.

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The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Belfast

Due to my meeting with the Goldsmiths of Dublin, we got away to Belfast rather late. We only had time to go to the Titanic Centre which houses a special display on the construction and disaster of the ship at the dock yards where it was built. The building houses a lift like a ski lift and as you ride along to view scenes from the making of this giant vessel. Extremely interesting. There were displays of the various cabins on board and a sectional view through the ship from engine room to the wheelhouse but you need all day to take it all in – the sectional view felt like you were a ghost on an elevator passing up through the ship from keel to wheelhouse.  From inside the building you could see the dry dock in which the Titanic was constructed. But it was the photograph of the ships propellers that put it into perspective

We moved on to our lodging at Ballymena (everything around here commences with Bally) and the Adair Arms hotel (Trip advisor had great reviews particularly on their cooked breakfast of sausages). To Kerry’s surprise this is not a bush town with a dumpy hotel. Nicely appointed and very busy with business people. Ballymena is the base for Caterpillar in Northern Ireland and the town is a primary centre for all of the agriculture around it. The sausages were a disappointment. Nothing distinctive and pretty greasy.

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The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – My 60th Birthday

My Birthday. I awoke and opened my present from Doug and Nerida that I had kept for the day. I had the sausages (ho hum) and then we hit the track for the Bushmills distillery. I don’t need to tell you that was grand and I had three whiskeys to celebrate.

Nearby is the Giants Causeway and something I have always wanted to see. Just remarkable and a very stimulating walk to see nature’s handiwork at its best.

Kerry had noticed on our map the rope bridge at Carrick a Rene a little further along the Causeway coast. This is a 30m rope bridge from the cliffs on one side to the island on the other-side. The bridge started out as the means for fishermen to launch their nets to catch salmon (there is a cottage on this little rock with fishing dinghy and derrick to lower it to the sea). The bridge for them was a little cruder than today’s bridge (a single strand rope I am told). The walk to get there and the 172 steps down to the top of the ladder down to the bridge was pretty demanding. I can only imagine the trip for the fisherman and carrying gear across on the rope. It was great fun with dramatic scenery and something I would recommend to all visitors.  To end our visit we had a picnic lunch of leftovers and Vegemite sandwiches near the gift shop.

On the way back from the bridge we noticed other ruins on the coast and a nearby island. I chatted with the car park attendant who was a local and told me that they used to quarry dolomite for paving stones for Glasgow Streets and that the dolomite was transported to the island by flying fox and loaded onto ships for Scotland. When bitumen replaced cobbles the mining ceased but then they mined the limestone cliffs for the limestone so some of the other ruins were the kiln where they burnt the lime and the crusher. The gift shop was a former mine building and the mine mangers house is still used today. The mining ceased in 1970s.

We then went to Belfast and strolled the city streets. Kerry had found Deane’s Eipic Restaurant (spelling is said to be gaelic for Epicurean) by searching on the net. The owner and chef had operated a Michelin 2 star restaurant and had sold that business to open Deane’s Eipic to get away from the confines of the Michelin style. It is actually 3 restaurants adjoining one another – a steak restaurant with aged meats between the style of the Breakfast Creek Hotel and Moo Moo here in Brisbane, a seafood restaurant and a fine dining restaurant. It was my choice and fine dining for me. Finest dinner ever. Seven courses with a carafe of Spanish red in a fine dining restaurant – not what I had expected in Belfast. I went to bed very satisfied and won’t forget my sixtieth.


The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Jet Plane to Dublin

Doug and Nerida had left to return to Australia and we are on another jet plane tomorrow at 7.55 am which means a 4.00 am start. Sleep was difficult. When the sun (yes the sun) came through our window I don’t think either of us were rested but things had to be done. .

Arrived at Dublin and I think we both slept most of the way. Picked up the hire car and Kerry drove us to Dublin without incident. Whilst Kerry parked in the street I went to the door of our supposed apartment and this proved to be quite an experience as there was no reception as such and by sheer fluke we caught up with the owner. The apartment was not ready and we were early so we went to the tourism office and ended up on the red bus (actually it was green but you get the idea) touring the city. Our car was parked in the back yard of the building (it looked like the yard in Steptoe and son). Our apartment was down the road a bit from the place where we met the owner but what a surprise – the space – it is a one-bedroom flat with kitchenette. And a gin palace across the road. We took a walk down the street and as it is near to St Patrick’s day this shop caught our eye.

Met with Leanne (co director in Phenix and international development director) and after a lengthy briefing we went to dinner and it was lovely. We slept in the next day and then continued to tour around the city. Went to see Trinity College and the Book of Kells. What a magnificent library. And this wonderful ancient harp and its story.

Then we went on to Guinness Brew House. Outstanding views. Printed on the glass was a description of the points of interest in front of you. And I actually drank a pint of the black stuff. Kerry got her nose to it and I got a second pint.

We then walked over to Jamieson’s former distillery – a renovation of the old distillery into a display and home units. We then walked back into the city and tried again to pay the rent and this time the door was answered.

We then went on to the National Library. I had brought with me some family documents which I thought might be of historical value to the National Library particularly as one of the documents was a 999-year lease to my great grandmother from Lord Rothschild under his seal. We dropped the documents into the library and they were received with great enthusiasm. From there we walked back to the northside of the Liffey (river running through Dublin) to see the restored dockland area. Here we picked up the bus tour again and returned to the apartment for some R&R before seeing some Celtic dancing tonight.

Well we went to Lanagan’s for dinner and never got to the Celtic dancing – having too much fun at Lanagan’s. Food was pub food and the drinks reasonably priced so we stayed and kept on drinking (check out their face book page for the proof). The following morning, I had a meeting for Phenix international with the City of Dublin Goldsmiths. This company incorporated by charter by King James 1 in 1608 is responsible for all the hallmarking of precious metals in Ireland. I got a grand tour and had our meeting in their board room.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – “Twelve Angry Men” at the Garrick London

Saturday morning and Kerry is off again. Unable to contact David about Spamalot so I grab the tube to Leicester Sq. and set off to finally locate Jamie’s Italian for dinner on Sunday. Before getting out of the station I spy a half price theatre ticket shop and I check on tickets for “Twelve Angry Men” at the Garrick. There are only two together in S row so I snap them up – 132 pounds – hardly half price. I felt that I may have acted rashly and it is a bit of a damper on the day. Then I start my search for Jamie’s the restaurant. I find it very quickly and then just start to wander.

The Seven Dials is identified on the map and I go to see what this might be. Turns out that it is a large clock with 7 dials at the intersection of 7 seven streets and immediately in front of the theatre showing “Matilda”. We have been to see the show on previous trips but I did not even notice the roundabout. Spotted a sign to Covent Garden Markets and went to investigate. It turns out to be the old markets building but now used for a mixture of flea market, markets and restaurants and another Jamie’s Italian. Now there’s a conundrum – which restaurant are we booked to visit? I also snuck a peak at the half price tickets at the markets and was relieved to find they were dearer than what I had paid by 2 pounds.

Sick of looking around shops and buildings I head for the river and end up at the Victoria Embankment gardens. Very peaceful strip along the Thames looking at the London Eye and the Aquarium. Flowers are starting to bloom and its full of statuary of the old and famous. Fed the pigeons with some of my sandwich I had made at the hotel and discover London has two types of pigeons – one similar to those at home and a larger breed – still rats with wings.

After taking lunch and meandering through the extension of the gardens to the west (Whitehall Gardens) – there is an excavation there of a set of stairs and landing said to have been constructed for Henry VIII and or Mary I to give a view of the river and access to the river from the Palace that once stood on the site – interestingly the river bank is some 30 – 40 meters away from this structure today. As I approach Embankment Tube station I notice a crumbling stone structure near Gordon’s Restaurant. A large plaque tells me that in the 17th century this was a river gate to enable persons in the building which it adjoined (since demolished) to access the river and that in the 19th century The city of Westminster decided to preserve the river gate as part of the Thames heritage. It does not look like they have done a great job but most of it is still there.

The Whitehall Gardens are just below the Corinthia Hotel where we had dinner on Friday night and they follow almost up to the Houses of Parliament. I decide to walk across the bridge (Waterloo I think) – big mistake as it is jammed with tourists but I proceed anyway and on the other side there are queues for the Aquarium, London dungeon and the London Eye. I end my walk by crossing the Hungerford foot bridge to Embankment and a journey home. Picked up my book and dozed and read through the afternoon but finding that I had a sore throat by the time Kerry gets home. She is tired and says she has a sore throat also. So she joins me for a nanna nap and then we head to Westminster and West End for dinner and the show. Martin Shaw had the lead role of the juror who would not convict and Martin Vaughan (Man from UNCLE) was the old codger. Henry Fonda played the lead when this was made into a movie many years ago and I don’t think Martin Shaw made the same impact as Fonda with his southern drawl. Nevertheless, a first class show.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – At Work at Move It

Next day we have a leisurely breakfast and Kerry heads off to work leaving me to do the washing. So I catch up on a few emails etc. and then the phone rings. Its Kerry wanting help at Olympia. I buy the few items she needs and then head over walking there in quick time. When I arrive she then says no one organized the float and they have no change so off I go to get change. I end up walking to Kensington High St to find a Post office to get the change and return about 3/4 of an hour later.

I then return to the hotel to do the washing and that done I head into town and walked around the Strand, into Covent Garden down to the National Library and St Martin’s Place – thirsty work – so I pop into a pub with the newspaper for a quick pint.

Caught the tube back to the hotel from Piccadilly Circus folded the washing had another whine to reception that our phone did not work so we could not complain that the TV did not work. Kerry got home tired from the show and we chose to go to the Prince of Teck pub in Earl’s Court Rd for a pub meal and then some rest.

Interestingly Kerry had mentioned that we should do a show whilst in London. Immediately across from the Corinthia is the Playhouse and what should be showing – “Spamalot” the last play Kerry would want to see and top of my list as a Monty Python fan. David is also a fan so we are considering a matinee on Saturday.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – London and Move It

Arrived in London smooth flight collected our baggage no trouble caught the Heathrow Express into Paddington Station without incident caught a cab to our hotel without faltering. So far so good but the Hotel is a letdown. We go to Earl’s Court underground and buy our oyster and get guidance on the best way to travel to Kensington Olympia and we are recommended to use the bus in Warwick Rd. We have now used up all our English currency and until we get the new credit/debit card we have no access to cash.

Travel to Olympia by bus to set up for the Move It show for Glitter and Dance UK – what a roundabout way to go. Frances our UK manager arrives shortly after us and we set up by 5.00pm, We decide to walk back to the hotel as it seemed that it was directly down the road despite the winding trip on the bus, Yes, 15 minutes’ walk and we were at the Hotel, Shower and change for the big dinner tonight at the Corinthia Hotel.

Caught the underground to Embankment station and walked through to Northumberland St and there it was in all its magnificence – it was truly magnificent. We went inside and took a seat at the cocktail bar ordered a drink and watched in awe as the barmen mixed exotic cocktails in front of us – we had sat down in front of the preparation area. We had arrived 10 mins early so we were teased by the variety of cocktails being served. David and Veronica arrived – we can never get together in Brisbane but they come to London to have dinner with us.

Dinner was a fixed menu for 30 quid a head. It started with a glass of champagne and fresh baked loaf then entrée, main and dessert. All very wonderful until you get the bill and find there is a 12.5% service charge on the bill. C’est la vie!

The Retirees go Abroad – France Norway UK and Ireland – Paris to London

Before Diane and Svein went home, we enjoyed a night at the Lido – some very good artists and lots of boobs.  Please excuse my shaking hand when photographing the wild life at the Lido. We had planned to have dinner at a place that Diane recommended. Well not so. It was gone or her memory was gone – which ever. We found a pub in one of the back streets and had a nice inexpensive meal – difficult to do in Paris. The show finished about 11.00 pm so we caught taxis back to our hotel.

Next morning, we said farewell to Diane and Svein who returned to Bruges and we visited Sacre Cour and Montmartre. Inside Sacre Cour is quite amazing but Nerida was in 7th heaven with all the shops. Kerry and I relive a moment from an earleir trip with coffee at Monmarte.

Kerry and I then went off to the catacombs at Place du Denfert Rocheleau. To get there we passed on foot through the fabric district of Paris. There were a few imitators of Glitter and Dance there.

When we arrived at the entrance to the catacombs the line up was easily over two hundred people and it took two hours for us to get in. Whilst we waited we were visited by a rodent of Paris. So while Kerry held our place in the queue, I went for a walk to the Palais du Luxemburg and Jardin du Luxemburg. The picture of the Palais is the featured image.

The entrance to the catacombs is through a plain black door is a plain black building in a small park in the middle of a large intersection. Once inside and you have paid your €8 or in Kerry’s case as a senior over 60 €6 you walk down 132 stairs in a column to start a 2 klm walk under Paris. There is a variety of information on wall panels from history to geology but all you need to know is the tunnels were originally dug to quarry rock for building and later filled with the bones of bodies from unsanctified graves around Paris and graves that were being reclaimed for building. After a few cave ins and subsequent destruction of houses the Paris council decided to shore up the tunnels and later to arrange the bones which had been discarded into the tunnels to be stored in a tidy fashion – it is still happening today.

We leave the tunnels via 82 steps exiting into a part of Paris we had not seen before but using the Metro we returned to our hotel to ready ourselves for the next part of our trip and to farewell Doug and Nerida. Before we say farewell we have booked a wine tasting with a Sommelier but its his night off and we have the Vigneron take us through his wines and he did not skimp on the beverage. Great tasting with lots of information.


The Retirees go Abroad – France Norway UK and Ireland – Canal St Martin

Sunday, breakfast was most needed. Doug and Nerida will go to the Louvre (its free every first Sunday of the month) and we will walk to Pont D’Ilema then along the Seine hopefully as far as Pont Tolbiac and the National Library but the camera dies around Pont Alexandra III, so we cross over to the right bank and go on down to the Louvre for coffee at Cafe Marley. Along the way we saw life on the Seine and the Parisians exercising there and the Parisians living in boats and in cardboard there. Left the cafe and went out to Rue de Rivoli along past St Germaine Eglise and back to Quai du Louvre and walked onto Pont Neuf checking out “les Bouquinistes” the booksellers along the Seine – very quiet with many of them closed. Returned to the Louvre entering via Quai du Louvre (the queue for the pyramid commenced from that entrance and ran through that courtyard through the archway and into the main courtyard up to the crowd controlling zigzag lines and then into the Pryamid – a 45 to 60 minutes wait to get in). After waiting 10 minutes Doug and Nerida appeared.

We planned to meet our friends Dianne and Svein Koningen from Bruges here in Paris. Diane had rung to confirm they would be somewhere along canal St. Martin and Kerry worked out this was near Place de Republic and close to Temple – we had been here before but still had no idea where along the canal they would be. Caught the Metro to Republic and then got the call with vague instructions that they were in a restaurant near a carpark in Rue Eugene Varlin. We’ll take a cab. Found the cab rank and asked the driver who had no idea where it was. Kerry is already in the cab and I’m headed for # 2 on the rank when he says “I have gps”. So we all pile in and he realises for the first time there are 4 of us and I want the front seat so he has to move all his belongings so we can all get in. Then we get to where he wants to turn and the street is closed and the next one and the next one (it would have cost us €3 but he had to find a street that was not closed or at least close enough for us to walk) €6 later we land in a street and walk three blocks to find Le Robinet d’Or a nice bistro in the back streets. We had a fun lunch catching up and when it came time to leave Doug and Nerida travelled with Diane and Svein back to Rue de Passy while Kerry and I walked the canal back to Republic (well not quite that far but the Metro before it) caught the metro changed trains and caught another Metro to La Muette and walked back to the hotel before the others could drive there.


The Retirees go Abroad – France Norway UK and Ireland – Lunch in the Tour Eiffel

Next day – time for a haircut and Kerry and Nerida make great fun of Doug and me in the barber’s chair. After that the pressure is too great – we are surrounded by shops and the girls give in. I decide to walk down to Jardin au Ranleigh and spot the Monet museum – queue from one corner to next. I must be looking European as I am stopped by French people for directions to the museum – which I give in perfect “Ausnch” or “Frenaussie”. Back to the shops without any luck as the girls are still shopping.

We are going to Jules Verne at the Tour Eiffel for lunch to day so back to the hotel to smarten up and then the metro to travel to the Tour Eiffel. Buy the tickets following the instructions given the day before (or so I thought) then jumped the Metro at La Muette travelled to Trocadero to change metro and Nerida saw some signs to Tour Eiffel but when we exited we were at Trocadero (as you would expect) across the river and Pont D’Ilema to the Tour. No good we must travel to Bir Hakiem to get to the left bank. So back on the Metro and exit at Bir Hakiem (there is still 4 blocks to walk to the Tour and we have 10 minutes before our booking at 13.30. Raced down the stairs into the arms of the train police checking tickets. Of course I had stuffed up the selection of tickets buying “jeune” tickets instead of “adult” tickets and they jumped on us with on the spot fines of €33 each. Of course our HSBC credit card had expired on March 1, 2014(heh that is today). 15 minutes later I am rushing the 4 blocks to the Tour where the doorman is talking to a swarthy Arab looking fellow without a booking and saying there was 4 no shows when I pipe up and the doorman expresses regret to the Arab and sends him packing. Not very happy about our Metro experience but jubilant about the lunch we were about to have and the queues of people waiting to go up the Tour and we jumped in ahead of them.

In the restaurant (Jules Verne) we take our seats beside the window and smirk about our view and what is too come. The menu is handed to us and the waitress is already trying to sell us champagne – (“Is the champagne part of our package” I ask but get no answer – Kerry has the maître de’s attention and notices the same time as I did the menu is for 5 or 6 courses not 3 and the price is double our package deal. “Oh no says the maître de the €90 menu is only available on week days”) So after arguing the point with the maître de he politely says “the choice is yours whether you stay or leave” as the waitress pours the champagne for Nerida and puts some nibbles on the table which Nerida has already put in her mouth. S***t! what to do – we all agree it is not something we will ever do again so we decide to stay and live on bread and water for the rest of the trip. Lovely lunch for 3 hours thereafter – now stuffed like Xmas turkeys we go down to the viewing platform (being diners we saved €15 each to go to the viewing platform) and see the sights of Paris along with a throng of the unwashed of Paris (warnings about pickpocket blaring over the intercom).

Feeling chasten by our financial misfortunes we decide we will walk back to the hotel. From Pier Sud to Pont D’Ilema over the Seine into Avenue Delessert and then Rue de Passy (stopping at Le Passy for a reviving refreshment) along Rue de Passy to Place Passy shopping centre through the centre into Rue de L”Anonciation (in all under half an hour) and we are back to our hotel – we did not even have to catch the Metro after all. Very quiet night and no dinner.