Blog Archives: September, 2007
Our last stop in Italy was the Cinque Terre region, a collection of five small towns on the Mediterranean in north west Italy. The towns are all joined by walking trails and cars are not allowed in the towns. I’ve wanted to go to this area for about 10 years now, so it’s nice that I finally made it. The first walk was from Riomaggiore (seen at left) to Manarola (seen at right) on a sidewalk style path for only about 20 minutes. That made us think that all the walking trails might be that easy, but they indeed got quite a bit harder.
Each town had lots of little shops (glass, art, souvenirs, pesto, wine) and places to eat (focaccia bread, gelato, restaurants) of which we took good advantage. The pesto was particularly amazing. Apparently pesto was invented close by, and it tastes very different than the pesto we have in North America: this pesto was very gentle and smooth in flavour, not harsh like the pestos I’ve had in North America. The town of Corniglia (at left) is the only one of the towns that doesn’t have a harbour as it’s on a hilltop. We did an extra little walk around Corniglia’s vineyards, and had a bottle of local wine with dinner that night. Next was Vernazza, probably the nicest looking of the towns (or at least, the nicest one of the photographs on this page, as you can see at right).
Our last stop was dinner in Monterosso, where we had an amazing pesto soup (for free!). The next day we made a short trip down to Pisa and then spent the afternoon lying on the beach in the town of Levanto just a few kilometres north of Cinque Terre. The water was warm and shallow for a few hundred metres out from the shore and we managed to avoid being eaten by the great Mediterranean sharks. I didn’t get much of a tan, but that’s not the point, really, is it? Just being on the beach is enough. Sadly our day at the beach was followed by a day involving over 20 hours of travel (train to Milan, bus to Milan airport, flight to Frankfurt, flight to Toronto, shuttle to Waterloo), but that’s a necessary part of travelling, and worth putting up with for such an excellent vacation.
Welcome to Milan and Italy! While Milan is not too high on the list in many guidebooks, it has some gems. Our favourite, seen at left, is the rooftop of Milan’s Duomo (cathedral). As with many other cathedrals in Europe, you can climb to the top for a small fee, but Milan’s is unique so far in my travels in that you can walk around almost the entire roof once you’re up there. The view at left is the roof over the main transept of the church. One interesting thing about the cathedral in Milan is how long it took to build. According to our guide book (Rick Steves’ Italy, an excellent tour book), it inspired the Italian phrase for “takes a long time”, namely “like building a cathedral”: it was started in the 14th century and only finished in roughly 1858. The facade, seen at right, was “finished” last, although when it’s now under renovation, which is why my picture only shows you half of it.
Next to the cathedral is the fanciest shopping mall I’ve ever been in, the open air but covered Galleria, seen at left. It has the world’s first Prada store and, directly across from it, a McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it. We walked around town that night and went to see Sforza Castle, which is quite large and in the middle of the city. I don’t know if anyone ever successfully invaded it, but I didn’t see an easy way in.
The next day we took a train up to the Lake Como region, and visited a few small towns, including Varenna seen in the picture at left. Keen Star Wars fans may recognize the lakeshore house in the picture at right as the house that Senator Amidala and Anakin Skywalker hide out on Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II. I knew that it was somewhere on Lake Como and was very excited when our ferry passed it and I managed to get a photo. Oh, and the rest of the area was nice too.
Day 3 started off with a tough decision, one that we had been agonizing about for the past two days: do we take the long road or the short road? Day 1 was long — 66km — but day 2 was short, at only 45km. So do we do the 34km route or the 60km route for our last day? We set out without having made a decision, because our first stop either way was “beautiful” Ashleigh Waterfalls, which you can almost see in the picture at left. Yes, these waterfalls are an actual tourist destination. Far more interesting at that stop was the horse who was the apparent gatekeeper between us and the waterfalls. He posed for many pictures with us; we named him Ed.
Showing more courage than brains, we opted for the long road, which led us along the fjord we had sailed along the previous day, then through a mountain valley, around a peninsula, and then along a bay until we arrived at our destination. The area through which we cycled during the first half of the day was very desolate but beautiful, and had far more sheep than people as inhabitants, sheep who were comfortable living on the side of the road, as you can see.
We arrived in Westport but took it slow, stopping for ice cream along the harbourfront and visiting an old estate, Westport House, seen at left with its unusual roof (construction was going on at the time, making for a surreal photo). Laura, being the classy, dignified girl that she is, decided to take the quick way down the stairs at Westport House, but fortunately no one noticed and she was not kicked out. We finally arrived back at our B&B, tired but proud with accomplishment after a 60km cycle that day and what we estimate to be 180km in total.
For those who are interested, our bike tour was organized by Killary Tours, and was a 3-day, 4-night, self-guided bike tour, and is something we’d highly recommend for adventurous, fit travellers looking for something literally off the beaten path in Ireland.
Day 2 of our bike tour started out with a visit to Ashford Castle in the town of Cong where we had stayed overnight. We had stayed in the town of Cong, that is, not Ashford Castle which you see at left. People can stay in the castle, just not people with limited financial means such as us.
We started out cycling through back roads in the Irish countryside. There wasn’t too much to see along the way, just sheep and fences and grass. We made good time with few stops on our way, and arrived 45km later at our destination, the bustling seaside metropolis of Leenane, which had three restaurants and one corner store.
We arrived in time to take a boat cruise out from Leenane down Killary Fjord, which is apparently Ireland’s only fjord. This two-hour cruise took us out to the mouth of Killary Fjord which opens up onto the Atlantic Ocean, and was even so kind as to bring us back to where we started. After struggling to find dinner at 5pm (no restaurant would serve dinner until 6:30 or 7) we turned in early again; biking is tiring!
We arrived in Westport on Sunday afternoon, and enjoyed wandering around this lovely country town. The next morning our bike outfitters arrived (albeit late) and eventually we were off on our adventure. Our bike tour is a self-guided bike tour, although we’ve been given booklets with directions and some maps. The basic routes are somewhere around 45km, but there are some extended routes (60-70km) which we, being the bravehearted souls that we are, decided to try out.
We first went through the small hamlet of Aghagower which seemed to have no moving souls in it whatsoever, although there was a well-populated graveyard. From there, we began our climb into the mountains and the mist. The road along the way was certainly the road less travelled, at least by people: cows and sheep along the road were a common occurrence. And we really did go over a mountain range, the Partry Mountains, the tips of which were covered in mist, limiting visibility to less than 500m, I’d say. The picture at left shows the types of roads we were cycling on. After a twisty downhill on a slick road that caused one of us (not me) to wipe out (but Laura got away with only a scratch and some colourful bruises), we had lunch in the three-corner stop of Toormakeady on Lough (Lake) Mask.
Our destination on day 1 was the town of Cong. We arrived fairly late in the day as our departure had been delayed in the morning, but in time enough to do some sightseeing. In particular, we visited the spectacular ruins of Cong Abbey. The monastery was originally established in the 7th century, and the buildings that you see in the pictures date from the 13th century. Dinner that night was in, as have most of our meals in Ireland, a pub, and then we settled into our B&B for a comfortable sleep. Incidentally, you may have noticed in the picture at the top that we were carrying very little luggage on our bikes, and that’s because our tour includes transfers for our baggage between B&Bs while we’re out trekking.
When we (you) last left our intrepid travellers, they (we) had promised a trip to the Guinness Storehouse on Sunday morning. And, like the good kids we are, we made our trek to the Guinness Storehouse (a storehouse, as we learned, is where the yeast is added or “stored”) early Sunday morning. The exhibits were good although seemed to take themselves a bit too seriously (read the “yeast” photo at left).
The exhibits were leading up to (both metaphorically and physical) the Guinness Bar on the top floor of the museum overlooking all of Dublin. There we were treated to two complimentary pints of Guinness, at left. You may object that the pints are not quite full, but they’re actually in mid-pour. They fill them 2/3 with gas injected into the flow in order to make the head appear, let them settle, and then fill the remaining way without gas injected, to achieve “the perfect pint, every time” or something like that. We enjoyed our pints of Guinness (at right) around 11:30am on a Sunday morning, as you can see in the timestamped picture at right. A good time indeed for our first-ever pints of the black stuff.
After a good morning in Dublin, we boarded a train for the west coast of Ireland and our bike tour.
Greetings from Dublin! After I finished attending a conference here on elliptic curve cryptography, my friend Laura has flown over and we are doing some sightseeing. We spent today around and about Dublin, visiting Malahide Castle (pictured at left) which was inhabited for nearly 800 years continuously. We also went to see the Book of Kells which is a Latin bible over 1000 years old. One of the most peculiar things about Dublin is their attempt to serve Tim Hortons’ donuts. They have stands in stores and supermarkets to sell Tim Hortons’ donuts, which are advertised “So Fresh They Must Be Canadian” for the low, low price of 1.19 Euros. I’m not sure what recipe they’re using, but they definitely don’t look fresh and they don’t look like the authentic Tim Hortons’ donuts we know and love.
We had dinner tonight in the Temple Bar area, which features an old bar, called the Temple Bar, and many other such fine drinking establishments. Tomorrow morning we’re making a traditional Irish Catholic Sunday morning visit at 9:30 am to the Guinness Storehouse for a pint of the black stuff (and a tour), and then we’re off to the west coast of Ireland for our three-day biking tour. Bye for now!