Not being long enough in Ireland is a safe way to make a wrong decision. If you decide to explore the Northern part of the island, you will miss the South. If you go to the South, you will leave aside the fantastic North.Our wrong decision this time was to explore the North during Easter holidays (in 2014… some posts take longer than expected!).
Ireland is an island which is divided in two different countries. The Southern part is the Republic of Ireland, which is a country in the Euro zone, using the metric system (i.e., kilometres) and mostly catholic. Northern Island is part of the United Kingdom, using British pounds, the imperial system (i.e., miles) and with a strong division of protestants and catholics in their population.
This is the outcome of a number of historical happenings. All was initiated with Henry VIII, who wanted the divorce and founded a religion that accepted it. In the 17th century, England sent a Scottish King to the Ulster region, who also “imported” protestant Scottish peasants to the nowadays Northern Ireland. Ireland joined England in 1800, and all their representatives in the Parliament had to be protestants (or say so, at least). In 1916, the Easter Rising ends up with a Free State that led to today’s Republic of Ireland. The population that remained in the North are a mix between the original catholics from several centuries ago, and the protestants that populated the area around 200 years ago. They do not get along very well, and have been fighting ever since.
We had three bases in Ireland during this trip: Dublin, Londonderry and Belfast. The first one is obvious and recommended in any trip in this area, as it is a living city with lots of entertainment opportunities… although you should pay attention if you go in Easter with some closing days; the second one was very convenient to explore the Northernmost coast, and we though Belfast would be similar to Dublin… but it is not.
Newgrange (A) was my first excursion in Ireland. It is a set of constructions, from the Neolithic that were discovered by chance in 1699 when they were removing stones to build a road. There are 37 satellite tombs (with more than 100 people) around the main one, which hosts remains of five people. This construction took three generations to be built (note the life expentancy by then was less than 35 years) and it is quite surprising that the material used (white quartz) was brought from a distance of at least more than 80 kilometers. The main tunnel, which has several curves, channels the sunlight to a specific point in the centre of the tomb only during the solstices. If you are not impressed yet, let me remind you that Neolithic was 10,000 BC.
Dublin (1) is a must in Europe for a relaxed weekend trip. A very intense city thanks to its university, with its fantastic Trinity College, hosting one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and some of the oldest books in History. Their pubs are also worth a visit… or that is what I heard because they are all closed in Easter Thursday (yes, that was our “Dublin day”).
LondonDerry (2) (or Derry, depends on what are the speaker’s political views) does not have a lot to see. Some murals remembering the Bloody Sunday and the Troubles, and a fortress, but it was a good place to start our journey through the Northern coast of the island. In this coast, we visited Portstewart, the Dunlace Castle (great location) (B), and the Giant’s Causeway (C), a geologic formation formed by basalt columns that were formed after a volcanic eruption got in contact with the water.
Belfast (3) was for me the biggest deception of the trip. We thought it would be nice to sleep in a big city, as it would have more life than other places, but we did not see any life there. Maybe the day (Sunday in Easter) was not the best one too. From the visitor point of view, Belfast is known for hosting the shipyard where the Titanic was built, and for the sadness of having the conflict between catholics and protestants still alive. The two neighbourhoods are still separated by a wall, which have several gates, that are closed during nights and on special days (Easter Sunday, for instance) to avoid more problems.
Julio. Córdoba. Dos palabras que dentro del ámbito de las decisiones racionales nunca deberían ir unidas, pero que por gajes del destino y muy buenas razones (una boda de amigos muy queridos) el año pasado sí lo estuvieron.
Fue una visita un poco exprés porque la boda no era en la capital, pero nos dio tiempo a hacer un poco de turismo y comer con algún amigo perdido por allí. Una visita a Córdoba no se puede considerar tal si no incluye una visita a la Mezquita de Córdoba, que aunque ya no ejerce como tal, conserva todo el arte musulmán previo a la reconquista intacto (menos en aquella zona donde se ha instalado una iglesia cristiana, claro está).
La visita a la mezquita debe ser seguida por un paseo por la judería con o sin destino. Cuando voy por esos barrios de casas blancas y calles estrechas, me recuerda al barrio de Santa Cruz en Sevilla, con muchas tardes de domingo perdidas por allí, y acabar observando el puente romano que cruza el Guadalquivir.
En este caso, la ruta acabó con una comida basada en salmorejo-fusión (alguno de los salmorejos no tenía ni tomate!) en el Mercado de la Victoria, un mercado reconvertido en lugar de tapas, al estilo del Mercado de San Miguel o de San Antón en Madrid.
A la vuelta de Córdoba y de la boda, antes de llegar a Madrid, nada mejor que parar en las Tablas de Daimiel. Un lugar cientos de veces visto anunciado en la A-3 y en la A-4 y nunca visitado. Probablemente no fuimos en la mejor época (julio) ni por cantidad de agua, ni por cantidad y variedad de aves. Los humedales, formados por el agua del Guadiana, ofrecen cobijo a una gran variedad de fauna a lo largo del año. La visita está cómodamente organizada con diversas rutas que discurren entre los humedales y permiten la observación de las diversas aves que lo habitan.
Back and recovered from the trip to New York City of last week. I think there is no better way to enjoy some days off than travelling to some unknown place and enjoy the sun walking from dawn to dusk.
New York was not an exception. Furthermore, when you get to NYC for the first time, you can only wonder “Am I really here?”. Because everything is really familiar to you, but not real. You have seen it in all kind of movies, TV series, documentaries, etc. There is not a big gap between your expectations and what you get. It’s a trip to realize that everything we see in the movies… is inspired in a real place, and you are there: New York.
It is said that the World’s capitals are London, Tokyo and New York, and this latter was still missing in my list. After having visited all three of them, I think Tokyo and New York are at a different level in terms of size and dynamism, although the fact that Tokyo is in Japan provided some quiet experiences even in the city centre that I did not manage to see in Manhattan.
New York’s transport is great… if we exclude weekends for the evaluation (they do construction works every single weekend and it is a small mess). I think this is mainly a result of a decision back in 1811, when they decided to define a perfect grid for the island. The result is that lines are straight: either north-south, or east-west, and it is very easy to orientate in the city with the streets having numbers instead of names: really practical, isn’t it? There is a big flaw in the subway: you have no indication of when next train is coming (and which one is it): a bit confusing.
Food is no surprise either. American culture and cuisine has been successfully exported to the rest of the world. We all know burgers, pizzas (we know them through the Americans), bacon and pancakes… Well, that’s it. Not really healthy, but trust me, the burgers are awesome over there.
Going to New York, you must also make sure you attend a couple of events and places. If you are into art (not my case), you should not miss MoMA and Metropolitan (very similar to British Museum), but there are some other “musts”.
A basketball match at Madison Square Garden is a great experience. If you are lucky, go for a Knicks match. We could not as the season was over at NBA, but we went for a WNBA’s New York Liberty match: 13,000 people and a lot of fun. Another recommendation is the Gospel service on Sunday in Harlem: a different approach to what we know over here, with people singing and with some visual aids (videos, presentations, karaoke)… And, of course, Central Park: a huge park in the middle of Manhattan to (try to) disconnect from the urban landscape without leaving the city. Just like Retiro in Madrid or Englischer Garten in Munich.
Last long weekend I went with Nes to Kraków, in Poland. It has been my first time in Poland. Even though I was tempted to go during my Erasmus in Germany, I finally did not cross the border. Now, this trip has shown me a very nice city and an interesting country. Some observations during these days:
One of the reasons to visit Beijing is the Forbidden City. To tell you the truth, when I was a child I did not really know what was this about. I knew it was in Peking, and that was some kind of palace (I was right with this) but I thought the entrance was really forbidden. Some years ago, I realized it is just the name it got because the entrance was forbidden for many people when the emperor lived.
Now, it is the one of the biggest and well preserved palaces in the world, and its visit in a normal not too busy winter day takes a good couple of hours. This has been for me one of the most interesting sights in the trip, and a must in Beijing, although some people I met were not specially surprised for this…