Wild Atlantic Way: Dingle to Tralee

There are two ways of travelling from Dingle to Tralee by road. There’s the N86 which commercial vehicles and commuters use. And then there’s the Connor Pass white-knuckle ride and it’s along this route that the official Wild Atlantic Way travels.

Starting in the Riviera-like Dingle town the R560 road travels in a north-eastern direction snaking up the mountains until the Connor Pass (An Chonair) viewing point is reached. The Connor Pass is one of the highest asphalted mountain passes in Ireland and has spectacular views of Brandon Bay to the north and Dingle Bay to the south.

View of Brandon Bay from Connor Pass

Looking northwards from Connor Pass

Next up, the white-knuckle ride section of the route. Jagged rocks protrude from the mountains for ascending southbound drivers. There’s a 1,000 feet drop into the above-pictured valley for northbound drivers descending the Pass. Neither are great options, hence the need for careful driving skills and putting the word Achtung* on an Irish road sign!

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Descending from the Connor Pass

Less adrenaline-releasing options are available by the time the road levels out. The Wild Atlantic Way splits into two routes, both of which meet in Castlegregory. The R560 is an extension of the Connor Pass route but take the R550 road to Brandon (Cé Bhréanainn) and Cloghane (An Clochán) villages to experience one of the lesser-known treasures of Kerry.

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Hikers may wish to stay overnight in either village as opportunities for climbing abound. For day trippers I highly recommend the walk to Brandon Point from Cloghane (12km approx) or Brandon (5km approx) as much as I recommend the bakery in Siopa an Phobail Bácús Bhréanainn in Cloghane.

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View of Brandon Bay from ascent to Brandon Point

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View towards Cloghane & Brandon villages from Brandon Point

If accommodation isn’t available in Cloghane or Brandon then Castlegregory, water-sports capital of Kerry, is the next best bet. Castlegregory’s expansive beach is one of the most popular beaches in Ireland for surfing whilst ex-professional windsurfer Jamie Knox has a long-established water-sports centre on the Maherees, a sand spit which juts out into Brandon Bay.

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Fermoyle Beach, between Cloghane & Castlegregory, looking towards Brandon Point

The Wild Atlantic Way continues eastwards towards Tralee in a straight line with Tralee Bay to the left of the route. A trek in Glanteenassig Woods, south of Castlegregory, is another recommended walk as are the Sliabh Mish mountains which skirt along the right-hand side of the road into Tralee. Bear in mind that the area around the Knockmichael peak is reserved by the Defence Forces.

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Glanteenassig Woods. There’s a Nordic Noir feel about the place!

Straight road from Castlegregory to Tralee

Straight road from Castlegregory to Tralee

The R560 becomes the N86 at Camp village and soon Blennerville’s windmill is visible. A three minute drive from cozy Blennerville along the canal leads into Tralee town and the journey comes to an end. One blog post doesn’t do this varied and inspiring section of the Wild Atlantic Way a great deal of justice so I will re-visit sections in the future. So see you later…or auf wiedershen as the Connor Pass folk might say!

Blennerville windmill

Blennerville windmill

* German word for Warning

© Hazel Joy 2016

 

Cuba Independently – Part 2: Cienfuegos & Bay of Pigs

After Havana, the next stop on the Cuban independent travel trail is the tobacco-producing area of Viñales or time-warped Trinidad. But I had read so much about the architecture of Cienfuegos that I was determined to make it my first stop after Havana. Yes, its architecture differed from the rest of Cuba reflecting its French colonial past. Give yourself one day in Cienfuegos to complete this task and then head either east towards Trinidad or west towards the Bay of Pigs. Here’s a flavour of that architecture.

Building on Parque Jose Marti

Building on Parque Jose Marti

House on Calle 37

House on Calle 37

 

It’s not that Cienfuegos was a disappointment but I simply lingered there too long and got bored. The golden rule of Cuba travel is this: never use a town as a hub to travel to other places. Public transport is limited so stay in the towns you wish to visit. For example, my trip to the Bay of Pigs could have been done as an inexpensive overnight stay at a casa particulare as opposed to an expensive day trip by taxi from Cienfuegos.

 

The Bay of Pigs exceeded my expectations. Somewhere in my brain politics, history and current affairs have a common meeting point and the Bay stimulated this cerebral junction. It’s a stunning coastal area more suited to a photo shoot rather than the shooting and military action which took place there in 1961. But even before I reached the gorgeous beach of Playa Girón I was entertained as well as informed at Museo de Playa Girón, the museum which charts the ill-fated CIA-backed attempt by Cuban exiles to invade and overthrow Castro. The museum also looks at Cuba’s success in expelling “Yankee Imperialism” from the island. I can’t remember the admission fee but distinctly remember a feeling of value for money upon exiting.

Museo de Playa Girón, Bay of Pigs

Museo de Playa Girón, Bay of Pigs

Fair point! Museo de Playa Girón

Fair point! Museo de Playa Girón

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum’s exhibition of conflict and combat is a far cry from the relaxing environment one will find in the general Playa Girón area. It’s popular with the scuba-diving fraternity as the corals are quite close to the shore and the limpid water makes for greater clarity, but I recommend the area to all travellers as the beach is simply gorgeous.

Playa Girón

Playa Girón

Another gorgeous beach, and possibly the best I experienced in Cuba, is Rancho Luna. Located approximately 15-20 minutes drive east of Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna was probably the safest and ultimately the most peaceful place in Cuba I visited.

Rancho Luna entrance

Rancho Luna entrance

Rancho Luna strand

Rancho Luna strand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warm tranquil water, soft sand and friendly café staff made this a memorable experience. As you can appreciate, I reluctantly plied myself away in the evening to catch my taxi back to Cienfuegos. And despite what you may read elsewhere Cienfuegos city doesn’t have a beach.

Beach problems aside Cienfuegos also suffers from being over-rated. Lonely Planet calls it a “displaced piece of Paris” and I would love to know what piece of Paris they think is displaced. Last but not least, Cienfuegos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and perhaps it’s this tag which sets the highest expectation of all.

© Hazel Joy 2016

The Tremiti Times

“Kiddo, you might need to re-think your travels plans” said my brother when he was unable to locate the Tremiti Islands in his trusty atlas. My decision to choose Isole Tremiti was based on Italy’s secret islands, Jo Caird’s Irish Times travel article on the islands, an archipelago so small that I unusually skipped the atlas step of travel planning and headed straight to Google maps.

The Tremiti Islands are located in the Adriatic Sea, 22 miles off the Italian coast and part of the Gargano National Park. San Domino is the largest of the Tremiti islands and is where I stayed. I travelled to the Adriatic coastal town of Termoli where I got the morning ferry to San Domino. Termoli is a resort town on the Bari-Venice railway line and has a large expanse of free public beach. The quaint old town which overlooks the beach to its north and the ferry terminal to its south is perfect for a passeggiata. I highly recommend Locanda Alfieri for accommodation in the old town (www.locandaalfieri.com).

As no cars, apart from residents’ vehicles, are allowed on the Tremiti Islands I and every other tourist arrived as foot passengers. San Domino is approximately 2km2 in size and with that information I decided to walk from the ferry to Hotel Eden, completely underestimating the island’s heat and the weight of my bag.

San Domino’s small size is ideal for pure escapism. No matter what direction you walk and how lost you get you will return to your departure point within an hour, provided you don’t get sidetracked by the island’s many coves.

Cala degli Inglesi

Cala degli Inglesi

Cala Tramontana

Cala Tramontana

San Domino is also a nature-lover’s paradise with a wide variety of flora and, by the number of critters I picked out of my beach bag, an equally ample number of fauna. Pine trees cover most of the island with their sweet aroma permeating the air.

Cala delle Roselle

Cala delle Roselle

With neither Italian language skills nor a map I initially felt utterly stranded but after a while was at ease with the escapism the islands offered. The only other non-Italians I heard or met were four German tourists at Calle delle Arene, San Domino’s only sandy beach. The lack of international tourists meant that restaurants began serving dinner at the Italian hour of 10pm, something my body clock will never get used to. However, I had no trouble getting used to the view from my room.

View of San Nicola from hotel bedroom

View of San Nicola from hotel bedroom

 

 

 

I took the few minutes boat ride to San Nicola island for an afternoon trip where centuries-old buildings house artisan craft shops and cafes. Boats depart San Domino to bring visitors to all of the islands.

View of San Nicola from San Domino

View of San Nicola from San Domino

I’m an old-school traveller whose travel inspiration comes from leafing through the atlas and the travel pages of newspapers and magazines before researching through guidebooks and cyberspace. It’s a method which works well for me but in this case the internet played more of a role in the earlier planning. The change in the planning process paid off as my time on Isole Tremiti was a happy time indeed.

Italy’s secret islands:

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/travel/europe/italy-s-secret-islands-1.647825

© Hazel Joy 2016

Pedal-powered Paris

Necessity is the mother of invention. Austerity is its co-parent. The dilemma: How does a budget traveller get from A to B in Paris? The Métro is the obvious solution and was my main mode of transport when I first visited the French capital in the 1990s. But as comprehensive and pocket-friendly the Paris Métro is, the journey from A to B in this world city is as much of a pleasure as reaching the destination. Paris is simply too picturesque to be spent underground and too large to walk around. In 2007, the Mayor of Paris initiated Vélib’, a self-service public bicycle-sharing scheme. The name Vélib’ comes from the French words vélo (bicycle) and liberté (freedom), and the scheme is now the largest in the world outside of China.

Velib in square

Place de la Bastille with Vélib’ station in background

The Vélib’ website states that there are over 23,600 bikes in the scheme with 1,800 bike stations located every 300 metres all over the city. I can certainly attest to the plentiful supply of stations with several conveniently located next to prime attractions such as the Louvre and the Notre Dame cathedral, to name but a few. A map of station locations is listed on the Vélib’ website, but trust me, you won’t ever be far from one.

An empty station showing the popularity of Vélib

An empty station showing the popularity of Vélib’

All that’s needed for the scheme is a credit card, a sense of adventure and a sense of direction. For short-term travellers, one-day and seven-day tickets are available online or from the stations and currently cost an astonishingly cheap €1.70 and €8.00 respectively. Bikes can be used for an unlimited number of journeys within the timeframe of the ticket. The first 30 minutes of each journey is free, and as long as you return the bike to a station within the 30 minutes all you could end up paying is €1.70 for 24 hours or €8.00 for seven days.

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Vélib’ ticket

Despite instructions in five different languages, I found the initial ticket purchase the most challenging part of the process. In a nutshell, the station vending machine will issue a ticket upon acceptance of a credit card. Treat this ticket like gold. Input a PIN corresponding to that ticket and memorise the PIN for as long as the ticket is valid as both the ticket and PIN are needed to rent a bike. Learn from my mistake and check the bike prior to renting. To cycle down the multi-lane Avenue des Champs-Élysées is exhilarating. To abandon one’s journey because the chain has fallen off is utterly deflating. I’m determined to return and have my yellow jersey moment!

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

The aforementioned chain

The aforementioned chain

Vélib’s appeal spreads right across the community and has been embraced wholeheartedly by Parisians as well as tourists. Economically and environmentally, public bicycle-sharing schemes are a no-brainer and my experience of Vélib’ will prompt me to use other such schemes, regardless of my budget. Safety-wise, the city has invested in bicycle lanes so cyclists are not competing with the continuous flow of vehicular traffic. Saying that, I get the impression Vélib’ has reduced the amount of cars and has led to a sense of calm I never experienced during my first visit.

Despite the Tour de France’s standing as the most famous cycle race in the world combined with my own love of cycling it would never have occurred to me to journey around Paris on two wheels. I’m just surprised how long it took me to figure out that pedalling along Paris’s world-famous boulevards and avenues with the wind blowing through my hair would be an experience as beautiful as the city itself.

http://en.velib.paris.fr/

© Hazel Joy 2016

 

Rebels and Railways

Visitors to Ireland may notice that all mainline stations in cities and large towns are named after people, more specifically, the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, an armed rebellion prior to our War of Independence from Britain (1919-1921). Whilst the Easter Rising only lasted a few days and was a military disaster for its proponents, its legacy was immense, swaying public opinion towards complete independence and leaving us with the Proclamation, the egalitarian statement of principles which independent Ireland is still aspiring to.

Banna Beach

Banna Beach

Whilst the Easter Rising took place predominantly in Dublin, events in Kerry were the starting point for the rebellion. Sir Roger Casement was a Dublin-born British diplomat and human rights campaigner who challenged the social injustices of colonialism around the world. Upon retirement he turned his attention to colonial abuses in his own land and became involved in the Irish nationalist cause, travelling to Germany for help to support independence.

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

A German shipment of arms arrived off the Kerry coast on Holy Thursday night, 20th April 1916, disguised as a Norwegian fishing vessel and named the Aud. Casement travelled from Germany on a submarine and came ashore on Banna Strand in North Kerry with two others, Daniel Bailey and Robert Monteith. The Aud arrived prematurely and was intercepted whilst an ill Casement remained in the Banna area and was later arrested. He was transferred to London where he was found guilty of High Treason and hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 leaders to be executed and the only one who had a public trial. Casement’s efforts of furthering Irish independence are commemorated at Banna Strand, outside Ardfert in North Kerry.

The other significant Kerry-based Rising event occurred at Ballykissane Pier outside Killorglin in Mid-Kerry. On Good Friday, 21st April 1916, five men arrived in Killarney via train from Dublin with the wireless communications station on Valentia Island their final destination. The task of Con Keating, Charles Monahan, Donal Sheehan, Denis Daly and Colm O’Lochlainn was to get hold of a portable radio unit to warn the Aud not to land until Easter Sunday. The men travelled towards South Kerry in two cars with the vehicles becoming separated en route through a series of mishaps. The second car carrying Keating, Monahan, Sheehan and driver Thomas McInerney took a wrong turn in Killorglin and headed straight towards Ballykissane pier where their car entered the River Laune. Only McInerney survived. Their operation failed and the British Navy captured the Aud.

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Ballykissane Tragedy Memorial Monument in Killorglin

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Killorglin: Road on left leads to Cahersiveen. Road to the right of the orange sign leads to Ballykissane Pier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ballykissane Pier with Sliabh Mish mountains in background

 

 

The rebellion operation in Dublin was unsuccessful with the leaders surrendering on Saturday 29th April. All but one of the Rising’s leaders were subsequently court-martialled and executed by firing squad whilst thousands of people unconnected with the Rising were interned without trial in prison camps.

Many events have taken and will take place this year to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising including a Full State Ceremony at Banna Strand. As part of the 50th anniversary commemorations in 1966 the State renamed the mainline railway stations in honour of the leaders. Further information on the 1916 Easter Rising can be found on www.simplifiedhistory.com

So it’s only fitting that I finish this post with the list of rebellion leaders and their respective railway stations.

Seven Signatories of the Proclamation:

Éamonn Ceannt – Galway city

Thomas Clarke – Dundalk

James Connolly – Dublin city

Seán MacDiarmada – Sligo town

Thomas MacDonagh – Kilkenny city

Pádraig Pearse – Dublin city

Joseph Plunkett – Waterford city

Other Leaders:

Sir Roger Casement – Tralee

Con Colbert – Limerick city

Edward Daly – Bray

Seán Heuston – Dublin

Thomas Kent – Cork city

John MacBride – Drogheda

Michael Mallin – Dun Laoghaire

Michael O’Hanrahan – Wexford

William Pearse – Dublin city

© Hazel Joy 2016

Our woman in Havana: The Graham Greene Trail

Hey there Irish lady. You wanna dance?” I was making my way through the music-filled ground floor of the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana when I turned to find the American journalist, whom I met on the Malecón earlier, with a fake Cuban accent mocking my dislike of the Cuban jintero custom of haranguing independent female tourists, something travellers on guided tours don’t experience. Despite my American acquaintance’s joke, the dancing was thankfully by choice leaving me at peace to savour the moment and my mojito.

Cuba, the island that dared to do its own thing since 1959, is on everyone’s to-do list ever since the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US.

I had great expectations of Cuba’s revolutionary sights but found that the most appealing attractions were those of the decadent pre-revolutionary era, the Cuba of Graham Greene’s espionage satire novel Our Man in Havana. I found myself traipsing between Havana’s hotels, the setting for many of the book’s scenes, taking refuge inside their grand interiors from the unforgiving heat and persistent jinteros.

Our man in Havana books

Various editions of Graham Greene’s classic in my local library

First up was the Hotel Plaza, a two-tone yellow 19th Century building with a colonnaded ground floor, the front door of which opens onto Parque Central. Whilst the Plaza didn’t feature in Greene’s novel, Sloppy Joe’s bar at the rear of the hotel did and was where Agent Hawthorne persuaded vacuum cleaner salesman Jim Wormold, the novel’s protagonist, to reluctantly become M16’s man in Havana. In reality, Sloppy Joe’s was frequented by American tourists, a clientele which ceased when Castro came to power resulting in the bar’s closure. Thanks to a restoration project Sloppy Joe’s has returned to its former glory and it’s only a matter of time before it’s once again filled with American visitors.

The Prado (Paseo) is the main street which roughly divides Havana Vieja (Old Havana) from Centro Havana and it’s on this street where most of the city’s elegant hotels are situated. The Hotel Sevilla is the northernmost with its Moorish entrance on the Prado and its neoclassical entrance on Trocadero, and it was in this hotel – Room 501 – where Wormold received his instructions from Agent Hawthorne. In Greene’s book, the Prado is home to the Wonder Bar, the watering hole of his protagonist, but the bar no longer exists.

Prado (Paseo de Martí)

Prado (Paseo de Martí)

An establishment which hasn’t changed much from Greene’s novel is the Hotel Nacional. Situated overlooking the bay in the Vedado area this large art-deco national monument has a history as notorious as the poisoning shenanigans in Greene’s book are slapstick. Popular with mobsters in the 1940s and 50s, tunnels and trenches were dug in the back garden by revolutionaries and used as look-out and artillery points, with the artillery pointed directly at Florida. The tunnels and trenches house an exhibition on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Hotel Nacional from the Malecon

View of Hotel Nacional from the Malecón

 

Foyer of Hotel Nacional

Foyer of Hotel Nacional

But of all my Havana hotel escapades the Hotel Inglaterra on the Prado made the most impression, which in a strange coincidence was Graham Greene’s apparent favourite as well. Wormold’s M16 handler and – spoiler alert – love interest Beatrice stayed at the Inglaterra, a national monument and Havana’s oldest hotel. The interior is Spanish-style with the exterior looking neoclassical French. The hotel doubles as a meeting point with mahogany chairs and tables filled with casual drinkers. The building oozes character, evocative of a decadent past. Live music and dancing takes place in the colonnaded area at the front to both hotel patrons and to local commuters waiting at the nearby bus stop.

Hotel Inglaterra

Hotel Inglaterra

Hemingway-related sights attract scores of visitors in Cuba. But its Greene’s novel, published a couple of months before Fidel Castro came to power, that is the definitive fictional take on Havana. Such is the novel’s renown I was receiving texts and emails from friends and family during my visit asking how “Our woman in Havana” was doing. Greene, a writer who also worked for M16, captures the mood of uncertainty and Cold War farce, and giving a description of the city that, to this day, remains true.

© Hazel Joy 2016

Wild Atlantic Way: Foynes Flying Boat Museum

When us Irish look out our windows and see the incessant rain belting against the glass we curse our position as a windswept little island in North Western Europe which bears the brunt of unforgiving Atlantic weather systems. On the other hand, our geography has meant the country has played an enviable role in world aviation which remains to this day.

Ireland’s first step into aviation began when John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown landed their plane in a bog near Clifden on the west coast of Ireland in June 1919. Theirs was the first non-stop transatlantic flight having departed Newfoundland, Canada, approximately 16 hours earlier. It took until 1928 for a successful east to west non-stop transatlantic flight to materialise when James Fitzmaurice, Baron Gunther von Hunefeld and Hermann Kohl departed Baldonnell Aerodrome near Dublin on 12th April and landed on Greenly Island, Canada, the following day. Commercial transatlantic flights were now a reality but only seaplanes had the endurance for such a route. In 1935, the Irish, British, Canadian and American governments came to an agreement regarding the transatlantic route with Foynes in County Limerick becoming the European flying boat terminal. Foynes was chosen for its proximity to the sheltered River Shannon estuary.

Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum

Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum

In 1939, commercial flights by Pan American, British Imperial Airways (later BOAC), American Export Airlines and Air France Atlantique began carrying passengers and cargo between North America and Europe. During the Second World War neutral Ireland walked a diplomatic tight-rope by allowing the Allies to transit through Foynes, albeit in civilian clothing.

Replica of a B314 flying boat

Replica of a B314 flying boat

Advances during the war led to the advent of long-haul land planes and, with the opening of a land-based runway at Rineanna on the opposite side of the estuary in County Clare (modern day Shannon Airport), operations at Foynes ceased in 1945.

Original equipment on display

Original equipment on display

In its few short years of operation, Foynes was the epicentre of transatlantic aviation with a VIP passenger list to rival that of modern day Heathrow or JFK. Thankfully much of its activity is preserved at the wonderful Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum located in the original terminal building. It’s the most engaging museum I’ve visited in Ireland and is a must for aviation fans and historians worldwide. It contains a replica B314 flying boat, an excellent audio-visual presentation, flight simulators and a wide selection of original aviation equipment and tools. Cocktail aficionados will be delighted to know that the Irish Coffee cocktail was invented by chef Joe Sheridan at Foynes and, yes, its available to sample!

Irish Coffee 2b

Irish Coffee – Foynes contribution to the cocktail world.

Visitors will learn how our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the day, Eamon de Valera, embraced the concept of aviation through his friendship with pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh. De Valera delegated political aviation administration to Seán Lemass, Minister at the Department of Industry and Commerce. Lemass head-hunted Brendan O’Regan to manage catering at Foynes and when the flying boat terminal closed O’Regan transferred to Rineanna where he set up the world’s first duty free shop. The adept and dynamic Lemass also oversaw the establishment of Aer Lingus and the construction phase of Dublin Airport.

Pan Am's advisory note to personnel regarding alcohol consumption on duty in foreign countries

Pan Am’s advisory note to personnel on duty in foreign countries regarding alcohol consumption.

Ireland continues at the forefront of aviation with Dublin the aviation finance and leasing capital of the world, and Shannon Airport co-ordinating North Atlantic air traffic control with Prestwick Airport in Scotland, to name but a few endeavours. My first thought when I exited the Flying Boat Museum was that of bewilderment as to why Ireland’s pioneering and extensive aviation history was never studied in school. As we progress towards the centenary of Irish independence a visit to this entertaining and educational museum is a must for anyone who wishes to explore the lesser-known part of Irish history, its unsung heroes and its undisputed place on the world stage.

http://www.flyingboatmuseum.com/

© Hazel Joy 2016