Saturday, July 21, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Ireland

19 - 20 July 2012
  • Rosslare - Tramore: 74km
  • Tramore - Cork: 130km

As I cycled home to Cork from Rosslare, spending a night at a campsite in Tramore en route, I saw that while Ireland is far from perfect (I passed several "ghost estates") for me it is still a great place. Helped by it being a sunny day, I thought that cycling along Waterford's "Copper Coast" was as beautiful a route as any I had seen during my trip.

When I reached my sister's house I met my nine-day old nephew Seán. He was due to be born the day after I was due back, but he beat me to it by arriving ten days early. It was great to meet him and to see that Aileen, John and big sister Nicole were all coping well with the new arrival.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: France

6 - 18 July 2012
  • Buzancy - Guignicourt: 83km
  • Guignicourt - Pierrefonds: 104km
  • Pierrefonds - Hénonville: 100km
  • Hénonville - Les Andelys: 61km
  • Les Andelys - St-Georges-du-Vievre: 77km
  • St-Georges-du-Vievre - Villers-sur-Mer: 54km
  • Villers-sur-Mer - Arromanches: 68km
  • Arromanches - Grandcamp-Maisy: 58km
  • Grandcamp-Maisy - Quinéville: 54km
  • Quinéville - Barfleur: 25km
  • Rest day in Barfleur
  • Barfleur - Cherbourg: 30km
For an area with such a bloody past, I often found north-eastern France to be eerily quiet. As I cycled near to sites of World War One battles, I went through dozens of quiet villages with shuttered windows and shops closed for most of the day. I progressed from the war cemeteries in the north-east
through the wheat fields north of Paris
to the coast. There I found many more war memorials as well as pretty seaside towns.
As I made my way west along the coast, visiting the D-Day beaches, I realised that I was ahead of schedule to make my ferry to Rosslare so I could afford to slow down and relax. And there is no better place to do just that. The last days of my cycling holiday around Europe were spent reading (I was very pleased with my newly-purchased Kindle which was perfect for this trip), eating delicious food, and contemplating the sun setting on my three-year adventure.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Belgium

6 July 2012
My experience of being a cyclist in Belgium, though brief (less than two hours) and unexpected (I realised only the day before that I would pass through its south-eastern corner on my way from Luxembourg to France), was a positive one. Unlike in the other countries, several passing motorists showed their support, admiration and encouragement for me by beeping their car horns and waving their hands at me. This welcome trait would certainly make me want to do more cycling here.

At least, I think their beeps and waves were meant to encourage...

Friday, July 6, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Luxembourg

4 -6 July 2012
  • Bernkastel-Kues (GER) to Luxembourg City: 123km
  • Rest day in Luxembourg City
  • Luxembourg City to Buzancy (FRA): 105km
Of the ten countries I would see on this cycle trip, Luxembourg was the only one that I had not previously visited. But being able to add it to my "Places I've Been" list wasn't the reason I came here. I came to meet my friend Tom, his fiancé Eilish and their newborn baby who was due on 26 June. But instead of a baby, when I arrived on 4 July I found that Eilish was still very much pregnant. So waiting and watching Wimbledon was the order of the day. Thankfully I seemed to be a welcome distraction, and I enjoyed the home comforts which included, thanks to their satellite dish, being able to watch the tennis on BBC and the RTE Nine O'Clock News, so it all worked out well.

I was impressed with Luxembourg City, and I left it recharged and with a pannier full of clean clothes. And for even happier and more important news, the day I left Eilish and Tom became the proud parents of Kate Ann - congratulations!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Germany (part 2)

21 June - 4 July 2012
  • Cottbus - Bad Liebenwerda: 107km
  • Bad Liebenwerda - Leipzig: 106km
  • Rest day in Leipzig
  • Liepzig - Naumberg: 65km
  • Naumberg - Erfurt: 77km
  • Erfurt - Eiseanach: 75km
  • Eiseanach - Bad Hersfeld: 95km
  • Bad Hersfeld - Grunberg: 86km
  • Grunberg - Runkel: 105km
  • Runkel - Limberg: 11km
  • Limberg - Burgen: 107km
  • Burgen - Bernkastel-Kues: 106km
An abundance of cycling routes, bakeries, and historic towns made for a surprisingly good two weeks cycling from east to west across Germany. I say "surprisingly good" because, well, I was surprised at how good Germany is to visit. Highlights for me included a night out in Leipzig (a cool city), the Cherry Festival in Naumberg (where I didn't see any cherries but instead enjoyed a variety of live music, beer and food), and cycling alongside the Mosel River (where a path sandwiched between the river and vineyards connected a string of pretty towns).

Indeed I found Germany to be full of attractive and historic towns and cities. I was continually arriving into impressive town squares, passing medieval-looking buildings on cobblestone streets and looking up at castles.
At various times in Germany I followed cycle route signs labelled with numbers, letters or a range of symbols, including once what I think was a cartoon of a cycling radish. Taking cycle routes certainly has advantages in terms of safety and scenery. For instance, by taking the "Iron Curtain Trail" I cycled along quiet country roads that brought me to historic sites.

But scenic routes tend to be longer than the main, more direct roads. So I was often faced with a choice: take the shorter but busier and less interesting road or the longer but safer and more scenic route. I generally chose the latter, especially at the start of the day, but when I felt the need to clock up some kilometres I would switch to the former.

Speaking of clocking up kilometers, I cycled over 100 kilometres on five days in Germany. I hadn't been sure if I wanted or was able to get all the way from Poland to the ferry in France just by cycling. After crossing Germany I happily realised that I would be able to reach Cherbourg in time just by pedal power.

Friday, June 22, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Poland (part 2)

19 - 21 June 2012
  • Poznan - Wolsztyn: 92km
  • Wolsztyn - Zielona Gora: 65km
  • Zielona Gora - Cottbus (GER): 112km
The morning after Ireland's final match in Euro 2012, I took down my tent, loaded up my bike and started my journey home. As fun as the preceding twelve days had been, I was sort of glad that the party was over. It had been hectic and unhealthy, so I was happy to get back on my bike and to head off on my own into the Polish countryside.

The previous day I had bought a map of Germany. Its eastern and western margins contained Poznan and Luxembourg respectively, so I drew a line between the two and my plan was to stay as close to that line as possible.

After meeting many young Poles in the big cities of Poznan and Gdansk who were helpful, friendly and good English speakers, it was interesting for me to be back in rural Poland. On quiet country roads and in villages I often came across older people who looked at me with surprise but kept their distance. People were helpful if I asked directions but, unlike in other countries, they generally wouldn't approach me even when I was stopped at a junction studying my map. I can only guess that their communist past taught people not to ask questions or get involved with strangers.

I enjoyed my peaceful last couple of days in Poland, especially relaxing by the lake in Wolsztyn watching the sunset. Three weeks after cycling off the ferry from Sweden, I left Poland by cycling into Germany. It had been a great, and very varied, three weeks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euro2012: Poland

Poznan, Gdansk, Poznan; POLAND: 7 - 19 June 2012
"What? You've cycled here to Poland for Euro 2012? Wow, you must be a big football fan?"

"Well, no not really."

"Oh, so then you are big into cycling?

"Well, no. I've never done a big cycle trip before and I only bought this bike a few days before starting out."

"Okay ... Are you mad?!"

Apart from repeatedly having the above conversation, my time in Poland during Euro 2012 was mainly spent socialising and singing; and not just Irish football songs ("Stand Up for the Boys in Green", "We all dream of a team of Gary Breens", etc etc etc.) but Polish songs too. That Irish fans used to sing "Polska Biało-Czerwoni / Poland, the White and Red" was just one of the reasons why most of the locals seemed so enamored with us. Irish-Polish relations were also helped by the fact that the Irish really are great fans. The centers of Poznan and Gdansk/Sopot were constantly packed with good-natured revellers in the days building up to Ireland's matches. It was incredible.
I arrived in Poland without match tickets or booked accommodation, but it all worked out. I found space at campsites, which were good craic, although I felt sorry for the small number of non-Irish campers due to the late night sessions and because every morning Irish fans were to be found all over the place in varying degrees of health.
It seemed that not many Irish fans came to Poland with spare tickets, so unfortunately I had to turn to touts. Whilst I wasn't prepared to pay the €200 - €250 asking price for the Ireland v. Spain match (which I watched on the big screen in the packed Fanzone), I paid €100 and €75 for a ticket to the games against Croatia and Italy respectively (face value for both was €70). Given the amazing atmosphere in the lead-up, especially for the opening game against Croatia, I was delighted to get a ticket.
In the stadium comedian Karl Spain was part of the pre-match build-up, which included a surprisingly impressive "mini opening ceremony" before each game.
Unfortunately, while all else was perfect, Ireland's performances and results were poor. Indeed, apart from the fact that Ireland lost all three of its matches, everything about being in Poland during Euro 2012 was great; from the friendly Polish people and their rocking cities to being proudly part of that amazing spectacle that is Irish fans abroad. And I even got to see up-close Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins.
So even though I'm not a big soccer fan, being at Euro 2012 was a great experience and I'm delighted that I had the opportunity to be there.

Friday, June 8, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Poland (part 1)

1 - 7 June 2012
  • Gdynia to Gdansk via Sopot: 47km
  • Rest day Gdansk
  • Gdansk to Malbork: 67km
  • Malbork to Grudziadz: 82km
  • Grudziadz to Toruń via Chelmo: 85km
  • Toruń to Trzemeszno: 133km
  • Trzemeszno to Poznań via Gniezno: 81km
Cyclists are few and far between in Poland. This was especially noticeable for me as I had spent the previous two weeks in the cycling meccas of Denmark and Sweden. The locals in Poland who do cycle use mountains bikes - a wise choice given the quality of some of the roads and cycle paths. I quickly realised that main roads were to be avoided at all cost. So I spent the five days cycling from Gdansk to Poznań on back roads in the countryside, which was an enjoyable experience. My guidebook tells me that 52 percent of Polish territory is agricultural, with almost 30 percent being forested. That pretty much tallies with what I found.

In general, taking the lesser-travelled roads, where I spotted several deer, a couple of eagles, and dozens of storks perched on their huge nests, worked out well. However, one road I took, which started off as a nice quiet country road, soon turned into a sand track suited more to tanks than to heavily-laden bicycles.
When signs warning of unexploded missiles appeared, I realised why it was such a quiet route.
But I figured it was safe when I saw deer grazing, so I continued and safely reached the end. There I surprised a soldier posted at a barrier to stop vehicles entering (nothing had been placed where I had joined the road).

It wasn't all just the rural side of Poland that I saw. I started on the Baltic coast with the Tri-City of Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk. The latter has held a fascination for me ever since secondary school when I first learned about the League of Nations-controlled Free City of Danzig, as Gdansk was known between the World Wars. It didn't disappoint and I'm happy to go back there for Ireland's second Euro 2012 match.

My journey south to Poznań (where Ireland play their first and third matches) was all about castles, churches and cobblestones, with the highlights being Malbork and Toruń.
I happily spent nearly three hours in Malbork Castle and I camped within view of the impressive building (note how my bike doubles as a handy place to dry my hand-washed clothes).
And I had an afternoon and evening in the attractive walled town of  Toruń, where I enjoyed the local speciality of gingerbread (where better to eat some gingerbread made in the likeness of Copernicus than in front of a statue to the great Pole himself).
After five enjoyable days, during which I saw some last minute building and flower-planting for the upcoming European Championship and I discovered that in Poland cobblestones (the nemesis of the cycle tourer) are not just confined to the centres of old towns but can appear on country roads too, I rolled into Poznań on the eve of Euro 2012. That day happened to be a public holiday for Corpus Christi, so I came across multiple processions and streets covered in flower petals. After spending a lot of time recently in predominately non-Christian countries (India, Nepal, Turkey), it was interesting to be travelling in such a traditionally Catholic country.

So having successfully completed the first part of my cycle trip, it was now time for a change; no more cycling for a couple of weeks, and instead of the early-to-bed and early-to-rise routine of a solo cycling tourer, I was about to be one of thousands of Irish football supporters in Poland to support our team and have a good time.

Friday, June 1, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Sweden

23 - 31 May 2012
  • Ferry from Helsingor (DK) to Helsingborg 
  • Two days cycling around Helsingborg: 46km
  • Helsingborg to Lomma via Lund: 77km
  • Lomma to Malmo: 15km
  • Rest day in Malmo
  • Malmo to Borrby: 90km
  • Borrby to Ahus: 87km
  • Ahus to Ronneby: 84km
  • Ronneby to Karlskrona: 80km
Having made it to my first two targets (wedding in Yorkshire and marathon in Copenhagen), I cycled off the Helsingor - Helsingborg ferry into Sweden without a tight deadline ahead of me. That meant that I could spend time properly seeing a couple of places, so I enjoyed two full days in both Helsingborg and Malmo. That made me feel like a backpacker again. But following a fun weekend in Malmo, where I joined the locals in celebrating Sweden's victory in the Eurovision Song Contest, my style of travel went back to that which comes with cycle-touring, i.e. arriving at my destination in the afternoon or evening and leaving again the next morning. By now, having clocked up my first 1,000km on the bike, I had learned that cycle-touring is more about the journey than the destination. And I was happy with my journey in southern Sweden, where I saw the ancient,
the modern, 
and lots in between.
By the time I reached Sweden, I had figured out a routine that suited me. In terms of food, that meant stocking up in supermarkets for breakfast, lunch and snacks. During the day I would eat a lot, usually stopping for lunch in scenic locations. 
Then I'd have dinner in a restaurant. This meant that I didn't have to carry cooking equipment and I got to try local food, which to me is an enjoyable and important part of travel. After all the exercise I tended to go to bed early and sleep very well. For the most part I slept in my tent but every few days, usually if I was in a large city, I'd stay in a hostel or cheap guest-house.

I was liking the life that comes with cycle-touring, i.e. eating as much food as I wanted while staying healthy and sleeping well. If only more people knew that they could have such a life, then I'm sure there would be scores of Irish people cycling to Poland too!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Denmark

15 - 23 May 2012
  • Flensburg (GER) to Faaborg: 85km 
  • Faaborg to Slagelse: 107km 
  • Slagelse to Roskilde: 90km 
  • Roskilde to Copenhagen: 53km 
  • 3 rest days in Copenhagen 
  • Copenhagen to Helsingor: 46km 
After crossing from Germany to Denmark by cycling over a simply bridge,
I soon found that both prices and the level of English spoken increased. But even though it can be expensive, Denmark is great for cycling. While the beauty of the coastal routes that I took was dulled by poor weather for the first few days, I enjoyed some pleasant cycling that linked interesting historical sites, including the decisive battle site in the 1864 Second Schleswig War, Roskilde's cathedral and "Hamlet's Castle" in Helsingor.
After a bit of island-hopping, I made it to sunny Copenhagen on time to be part of the support crew for my marathon-runing friends. On a very hot day, Sinéad, Gavin and Deborah successfully completed the 42.2km run and received their well-earned medals.
It was my first time at a marathon and I really enjoyed the whole experience. And after running across the city centre a few times to catch a glimpse of the runners at several points along the course, I felt that I too deserved the celebratory drinks.
The amazing atmosphere in the city on the day of the marathon was just one of the factors that made me really like Copenhagen. It is a great city, and probably the best city in the world for cyclists.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Germany (part 1)

11 - 15 May 2012
  • Nijmegen (NL) to Bocholt: 77km
  • Bocholt to Münster: 100km
  • Rest day in Münster, then train to Neumünster
  • Neumünster to Nortorf: 16km 
Instead of large cities and speeding autobahns, as a cyclist my time in Germany was spent in cobblestoned towns and on scenic cycle paths.
And with an improvement in the weather, it was time to use my tent for the first time. My tent is super lightweight, i.e. very small. While some people describe such one-man tents as being like a coffin, I found it perfect for my needs.
To ensure that I reached Copenhagen on time to support friends running the marathon, after three days in Germany I decided to take a train north to near the Danish border. This gave me more time in Denmark and less in Germany. As I plan to cycle through Germany on the way home from Poland, I was happy with this decision.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Holland

8 - 11 May
  • Port of Rotterdam to Rotterdam: 35km (train from Rotterdam to Breda)
  • Breda to 's-Hertogenbosch: 55km
  • 's-Hertogenbosch to Nijmegen: 49km
My route through south Holland was dictated by where my Dutch friends live. So I spent nights in three small cities: Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch (or just Den Bosch to us in the know), and Nijmegen. All were nicely old and very European. The more I've seen of the rest of the world, the more I've learnt to appreciate Europe. It was good to be back.

And it was very good too to catch up with Milou, Eward, Inge, Roel and Chantal, to try their favourite Dutch foods, and to get my first experience of being a cyclist in a very cycling-friendly country. Not only does Holland have bike lanes everywhere and motorists who are often cyclists themselves, but it has amazing facilities too, like 24-hour guarded garages where you can lock your bike.

Such facilities are especially important because together with the high number of bikes in Holland comes a high rate of bicycle theft. A young guy cycled alongside me for 20 minutes one day. We chatted about the usual topics that you talk about when you meet someone from Holland: football (he watched the 2010 World Cup Final in prison); drugs (although he was cycling to his friend's house to smoke a joint, he opposed the recent change in the law that stops non-Dutch residents from smoking in coffee shops because now instead he and his friends sell drugs to foreigners on the streets); and cycling (he casually told me that he had just stolen the bike he was cycling). Even though I stated my disapproval of the theft, we remained on friendly terms. Indeed, he cycled for five minutes past this destination to help me find the bike path. Nice to know that even drug-dealing bicycle thieves have a good side.

Of course, a major attraction to cycling in Holland is that it is flat. I certainly appreciated not having to slowly slog up steep hills. However, without uphill climbs you can't have downhill free-wheeling, but maybe that is getting a bit too philosophically deep for this simple travel blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: England

2 - 7 May 2012
  • Chester to Stockport: 74km
  • Stockport to Barnsley: 50km (train from Barnsley to Leeds)
  • Leeds to Knaresborough: 30km
  • Knaresborough to York: 24km
  • York to Hull: 82km
My primary objective in England was to get to North Yorkshire in time to attend the wedding of my friend Anthony from Cork and his English bride Angela. I quite liked the idea of cycling to a wedding, especially as I had friends (Keith and Ben in Stockport, James in Leeds) with whom I could stay along the way. It was nice to catch up with them and to see more of the country. My previous visits to England had all been weekend breaks in its larger cities, so I was happy to cycle along part of the Trans Pennine Trail and to visit the cool cities of Chester and York (I was a lot less enamoured with Stockport and Barnsley!).

I got to the wedding venue, the beautiful and very fancy Allerton Castle, with an hour to spare. But the snooty butler was less than impressed with my appearance - I think it was the first time someone had turned up there for a wedding wearing shorts and flip-flops. Before I got kicked out I found Anthony's brother Karl who had brought my suit and shoes over in his car from Dublin and after a quick change in the bathroom I was more in keeping with the location and the occasion. It was an enjoyable day and I'm very glad that I was able to be there - congratulations Angela and Anthony!
The next day, in quite a contrast to the newlyweds who left for their flight to Mauritius, I got back on my bike aiming for Hull to catch my ferry. To each his own...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Wales

1 -2 May 2012 
  • Drumcondra to Bangor: 52km (ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead) 
  • Bangor to Prestatyn: 78km (train from Prestatyn to Chester)
The start of my summer cycling adventure wasn't how I imagined it would be.

Firstly, it was raining; I had only pictured sunny cycling with daily ice-cream stops.

Secondly, my first destination was Holyhead in Wales. That hadn't been the plan. My intended route had been to start by getting the Dublin - Liverpool ferry. Starting in Liverpool rather than Holyhead would have meant that I could reach Angela and Anthony's wedding in North Yorkshire on time just by cycling. However I discovered that foot passengers are no longer accepted on that ferry route. Is this because of previous unruly behaviour by scangers and scousers?

Whatever the reason, it meant that I would have to rely on some forms of transport other than just my bike in order to reach the wedding on time. Once I had accepted that, the pressure was off. Cycling whenever possible and being happy to use public transport when necessary became my modus operandi. I think that was a good plan, at least for the start when I had a few targets to meet, considering the fact that I had never done a big cycle trip like this before. Sure I only bought the bicycle a few days before I heading off, and I needed the helpful guys at Victoria Cross Cycles (where I got my first bike at the age of 7) to teach me the basics of bike maintenance (i.e. how to change a tyre).

After a disheartening cold and rainy day in North Wales to begin with, day two brought good weather, a nice cycle path
and some scenic stops, like the quaint town of Colwyn Bay (which I liked even if it is aimed at tourists twice my age).

So I was on my way. I had a lot to get used to, like remembering before stopping that my shoes are clicked in to my pedals and being comfortable with leaving all my stuff in easy-to-open panniers on my bike when I needed to leave it unattended. While Poland seemed a long way off, I was happy to have started this last big trip of my career break.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Hectic Homecoming

Dublin, Cork, Tipperary, IRELAND: 19 April - 1 May 2012

My trip back to Ireland was brief and busy. My 12 days, which I spent between Dublin, Cork and Tipperary, flew by too fast. But sure come August I´ll be back with plenty of time to catch up properly with everyone.

Apart from seeing my family, including my nephews Tom and Christopher who both have started walking and talking since last I saw them, my main reason for this visit was to be groomsman at the wedding of my friends Ciaran and Martina. I spent three very enjoyable days in Tipperary where I stayed in the Dundrum House Hotel, which was a huge step up in comparison with other places where I´ve stayed in 2012! It was a great weekend where I caught up with a big gang of friends and got to experience some classic rural Tipp moments.
The wedding day itself was perfect, with the bride and groom, and indeed the Glen of Aherlow, all looking very well. Congratulations Martina and Ciaran!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ending on a High

Fethiye, Faralya, Kabak, Göreme, Istanbul, TURKEY: 9 - 19 April 2012 From my base in Fethiye, where the sunny yacht-filled marina is overlooked by snow-capped mountains, I explored part of Turkey's south-west coast. I started with a half-day walk to see the eerie village of Kayaköy, which was abandoned by Greeks during the 1920s population exchange between the two countries. I then walked the first two days of the 500km long Lycian Way. It was a nice walk, with friendly places to stay that had delicious food and funky cabins.Even with the stunning coastal views on the track,I was happy with my decision to spend my third day relaxing on Kabak Beach rather than continuing to walk. From the coast, which in places is ruined by beach-and-beer package holiday-makers, I took an overnight bus inland to Cappadocia where, uniquely, having lots of tourists actually enhances a visit here. If you do a hot air balloon ride, that is. After spending two enjoyable days walking around the valleys surrounding Göreme, visiting churches inside rocks, and going down into underground towns, on my last morning I took to the air for my first time in a hot air balloon. The views were out of this world. The rock formations are truly incredible and seeing them from above, in a sky filled with hot air balloons, was great way to end my time in Turkey. Indeed, my three weeks in Turkey, a country full of very friendly, helpful people, where tea is in constant supply and turtles pop up where you least expect them, were a nice end to the fifteen months that I've spent away from Ireland during this stint of my travels.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Country for Old Men

Istanbul, Çanakkale, Bozcaada, Izmir, Selçuk, Pamukkale, TURKEY: 29 March - 9 April 2012

San Francisco, Lima, Sydney and now Istanbul - those are the places during my trip where I have met my friend Ciarán to begin a stint of travelling together. And of those cities, indeed out of all the cities that I've visited, Istanbul compares very favourably.
Its an amazing place, and having only spent three days there I feel that I barely scratched the surface.

In Istanbul I went to a barber for a shave. For just a couple of euro I got the full works, which unexpectedly included an eyebrow massage and having some of my hair burnt off with a lighter. Getting such a shave is an enjoyable and cheap experience that, unlike for us in Ireland, is common for men in Turkey. It seems to me that men here have it good. Everywhere we went we saw groups of men sitting around, drinking tea, chatting and playing cards or games like backgammon for hours during the day as well as the evenings. This was most evident on the small island of Bozcaada.
During our two days there, during which we cycled around the island and briefly braved the refreshing sea water for a dip, the town square was always occupied by old men hanging out with their mates.
Then when sitting aournd drinking tea becomes too stressful, men go to a hamam. When myself and Ciarán went to one such Turkish Bath in Izmir, it was both a relaxing and hilarious experience. After lying for awhile in the sauna on a large marble slab looking up at the domed ceiling, a smiling fat man, who like us was just wearing a short cloth towel, went to work on us. This involved a body scrub, a soapy massage and generally giving us a good clean. I felt like I was a small child when, after fully covering me in suds, with a hearty laugh he proceeded to give me a full 360 spin on the wet marble. All in all, a bizarre but good experience.

An aspect of travelling that I have enjoyed is learning parts of a country's history about which I previously knew little or nothing at all. I've read some excellent history books during my travels, including John Hemming's The Conquest of the Incas when I was in Peru, Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore in Australia, and Michael MacLear's The Ten Thousand Day War in Vietnam.

In Turkey, after touring the Gallipoli peninsula,
I started reading about, among other things, why Turkey was involved in the First World War and why it was on Germany's side in Peter Hopkirk's On Secret Service East of Constantinople. Its a fascinating story. Indeed, Turkey has a fascinating history, stretching right back to ancient times, which we saw impressive evidence of at Ephesus.
Once home, I have along list of countries whose histories I want to read more about.

Speaking of going back to Ireland, when Ciarán returned to Izmir for his flight to Dublin, I hit for the south coast for ten days of solo travelling after which I too would take a flight to Ireland.