Category Archives: Around the World

Travel reviews and notes

Oberammergau Passion Play September 2010

Oberammergau 2010


Oberammergau, a small village in Bavaria, has staged the passion play every 10 years (with 2 exceptions) since 1634. It plays to audiences of 4,900 five days a week from May to October and you will be very lucky to get a cancellation. Even for the non religious it is an experience not to be missed.          

Our tour started in Dublin on 15 September where we were originally booked into the Clarion at the Airport.  By a quirk of fate we were transferred, all expenses paid, to the brand new Gibson Hotel opposite the Point, sorry O2. As we were not flying until 5p.m. this was a veritable godsend.          

Which way?


Our companions had never visited Dublin as tourists so I inaugurated a crash tour starting with the Luas to Jervis and then walking up through Temple Bar, Grafton Street, the Green and then back down to Dublin Castle.          

We had lunch in the Cow’s Lane branch of Queen of Tarts whose home made cakes and, believe it or not, tarts are something to wonder at. Click here for Dublin photo show.          

Schneerose Guesthouse


An uneventful flight saw us in Munich around 8pm and from there it was a two hour bus journey to our hotel in the village of Oberau in the Wildschöenau area of the Kitzbühl Alps region of Austria.  It turned out that the 3* Hotel was actually a 3* Guest house which was somewhat disappointing as it certainly lacked the facilities of a hotel. One could not fault the family running it as they were very accommodation and were only supplying that for which they had been contracted.          

Arriving at Fugen Station


The following day, Friday, we started our tour of the Austrian Tirol, Driving to Fugen in the Ziller Valley and taking the narrow gauge steam railway on the one and a half hour journey to Mayrhofen.  The weather was not perfect but the drizzle managed to stop when we were out and about so really could not complain for the time of year. It is obviously a popular ride as  about 5 or 6 other coach parties arrived. The train meanders at a maximum of 32 mph through the valley, pulling into sidings here and there to let the diesel service through.          

We arrived in Mayrhofen, a noted ski resort in the winter, in time for lunch and, in accordance of our guide’s, Julian, advice, headed into the Neue Post hotel for lunch.          

Following this we spent some time exploring the town by way of the Mayrhofen 1, a tractor thinly disguised as a train.          

Maids (& Elmer) in Mayrhofen


It is a fact that towns such as this really come alive during the winter sports season and unless one is on a walking holiday they lack the this vitality during the autumn. Maybe I am biased having spent a lot of time in the general area during the ’80s. We re-embarked on our coach and headed for home, stopping off at the small town of Rattenberg on the  River Inn.          

Finishing the swan


This is famous for its crystal and we were given a demonstration of glass blowing in one of the major establishments. For a slide show of the photos of our first days excursions please click here .          

I will not dwell on the repast at the Schneerose but we managed a few beers and some great craic in the dining room later in the evening.          

On Saturday after a breakfast of cereals, salami, cheese and ham we were to cross the Brenner Pass and enter the Italian Tirol (Südtirol) and the border town of Vipiteno.          



For those who don’t mind a bit of history this area of Italy was originally Austrian and the predominant language remain German, or Austrian.  It is an autonomous state within Italy. I first crossed the Brenner in 1971 on my way to Venice; then there were queues of lorries miles long waiting for customs clearance.  Now there is not a sign of  a customs post. It really is not possible to get photographs from a coach that do the views of the the bridge and the pass justice so I make no apology for omitting them.          

The Town Band


The Europa Bridge, opened in 1963 was a feat of engineering and took pressure off the original pass road which still meanders along 180 metres beneath it. Vipiteno, or Sterzing in German, is a typical border village which dates back to the 10th century. It has seen its fair share of history being a staging ground for various Nazi generals on their way to South America.          

Robi tries a hat


There was a official municipal  function taking place in the square, complete with the inevitable local band which added an element of local colour.  Of course we also got shepherded to the major tourist shop, which, it must be said offered a great line in wines and spirits.  I succumbed to the temptation of a bottle of excellent Grappa!          

The Golden Roof


The statue takes a break


From here we made our way on to Innsbruck, which is at the confluence of the Inn and Sill rivers and is the capital of the state of Tyrol. It was the home of the Hapsburg’s, one of the most important royal dynasties in Europe and who ruled for over 500 years.  It is a wonderful city and well worth a visit. It’s most notable attraction is the “Golden Roof” which was built in 1500 by Archduke Friedrich IV to honour the second marriage of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor.  In more modern times Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice and is due to host the 2012 winter paralympics in 2012.          

We had an excellent guide who met us off the bus and took us round the city starting through the Hofgarten.  We also had an extensive visit to the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace which contains much of the history of the Hapsburg dynasty.          

Click here for the photos for day two of our adventure          

Mystic Mountains


Sunday morning saw us on our way again, this time for for a boat trip on at Zell am See and from there to the well know resort of Kitzbühel. Well, it’s well known if you watch Ski Sunday or you indulge in winter sports.          

Enjoying the breeze


The weather held for us and we drove through the magnificent scenery up into the alps and the mountain lake.  The boat duly arrived and we found seats outside on the upper deck.  The speciality of the day was coffee and apfelstrudel with cream.          

Wouldn’t you know it; they ran out at the table before us! In a fit of self denial we decided to give food a miss and wait until we disembarked for lunch.          

Zell Town Band


Amazingly enough there was a band playing in the town square. The recommended eating house was the Sportstürbel, which it turned out, offered among other things an amazing home-made bratwurst with sauerkraut.          

Following a leisurely walk round the town and the lake side promenade we were shepherded onto the bus once more and set off for Kitzbühel.          

It being Sunday there were no shops open. The continent has not succumbed to great British seven day week and shops close on Saturday at around 2p.m. and do not open again until Monday. This is a good thing! Another good thing is that HGVs are not allowed on the roads on Sunday which makes for a more pleasant journey.          

100 years of Mountain Rescue


Even out of season Alpine towns do have an atmosphere and Kitzbühel is no exception. My only gripe was that the restaurant at which we stopped for coffee had run out of Sachertorte, the inimitable Austrian chocolate cake conceived by Franz Sacher, a kitchen apprentice in the court of Prince Metternich in 1832.          

Not the best place to land


On our way back we passed the ballooning festival.  The best picture I have is of the NASPA balloon sinking slowly into the village.          

We arrived back at the Schneerose for our last evening and in good alpine tradition partook of a few beers before calling it a night and packing our cases.          

Photos for the day can be seen by clicking here.          

I had been intrigued by the statues used to mark the footpath from Oberau to Neiderau, a distance of about 5 km and decided to walk it before breakfast on Monday morning. Thus I rose early and set off for the round trip.          

The Sun Song - beginning of the path


The Wildschoenau Dragon


The statues and their accompanying stone plaques are a philosophy of life and guide one along the route.  They are lit at night so as to make the going easier. Also along the route one comes upon the Wildschonau dragon who reputedly cleft the valley in it’s death throes, having been slain by a farmer. A slide show of the statues is here.          

I got back to the guest-house in time to shower and change for breakfast, which was really needed after the walk, and to get our cases down ready for our excursion to Achensee on our way to Oberammergau for the final stages of our tour and of course, the passion play. Once breakfast was over our mover and shaker, Anita, organised everyone for the group photo.          

The group - click to get the name tagged version


Having achieved this not unremarkable feat we bade farewell to the valley and headed of to the village of Pertisau on the Achensee, the largest lake in the Austrian Tirol. This village was the favourite of the Emperor Maximilian who based his hunting and fishing expeditions here. From here we embarked on our boat, the oldest in the fleet of 4 that are licensed to cruise the lake.          

Pertisau and the Karwendel Mountains


The sun shone in an almost cloudless sky and yet again we were presented with a series of amazing mountainscapes. the pictures say it all. We returned to Pertisau and had plenty of time to explore. The Parish church from which Ave Maria, in a multitude or vairiations, is broadcast to village at midday and 6pm each day is one of the many delights and we duly listended to that days rendition.          

The Parish "Ave Maria" church


It’s other claim to fame is the extraction of mineral oil from the local slate which is said to have all healing medicinal properties. They even have a visitors centre the “Steinöl Vitalberg” given over to it.          

“Steinöl Vitalberg” Center


This area is not only a winter resort but caters for walkers, climbers and paragliders, of whom we saw many, throught the summer. It also boasts the oldest golf course in Austria. The lake itself has drinking quality water and views are stunning. It is certainly an area I’ll consider revisiting for a pleasant walking holiday (and maybe a round of golf, but don’t tell Josephine).  We had lunch in the Christine and this proved to be another excellent hostlery. Try their fried eggs on fried potatoes!          

The photos of the lake and village are here          

It was a shame to leave such an idyllic spot but needs must and we headed off on the road to Oberammergau.          

Zum Kirchenbauer - Our guesthouse


Tour coaches are ot allowed into the centre of the village so they are all directed to a holding park where one is  then collected by taki or minibus and ferried to the selected accommodation.  As most of the guesthouses are relatively small, taking up to about 4 couples at most, we were split up for the first time on the tour.          

Do not expect lifts; do expect steep narrow staircases and sloping ceilings. Also expect to be greeted with a friendly smile. We were allocated, together with David and Vicki, to the Zum Kirchenbauer adjacent to the main church so we had no problems finding our way back.          

The wood carvers


Having deposited our bags we set out to explore.  The main occupation of the village is woodcarving and every other shop displays this art in various forms.  The ones that attracted me were either far to expensive or would certainly not have looked at home in NI. As to be expected there were throngs of tourists of all nationalities roaming round.          

We returned for our evening meal and found that our table companions were a South African couple which made for interesting conversation. The other table also had a South African couple and two ladies from the States.          

Ettal in the morning mist


We retired fairly early and in the morning I made an early start and walked the footpath to Ettal about 4 km up the valley.  What I had not realised was that I should have taken the footpath on the other side of the river and which followed the valley.          

My choice of route went up the side of the mountain.  Ah well, one lives and learns.  I also found, having nearly reasched my objective, a signpost saying “Ettal 1 km”. Greatly encouraged I pressed on and about a kilometre further came across another on offering the high pass to Ettal 1 km and the other the alternative route – stall at a kilometre. I picked the high pass as this was more or less on the flat.  Then round the corner there it was nestling in the valley in the misty morning. Task accomplished and only the walk back to negotiate.          

At 10 o’clock we went to the theatre and attended the pre play seminar given by Otto Hüber, the deputy director.  It was an excellent lecture and gave a great insight into the the production of the play and its evolution from the first performance is 1634. The auditorium holds just under 5000 and the acoustics are good enough that there are no microphones required by the cast. iT is impressive!  The stage is open but they have added the facility of a sliding roof in case of inclement weather.          

The Stage - Passion Play Theatre


Act one started at 2p.m.  I will not attempt to describe the passion play; it is awesome both in scale and presentation. The narrator and choir of about 30 provide the continuity betwen scenes and “living sculptures” are used to as flashbacks to the old testament stories.  The clearing of the temple scene sees over 500 people, dogs, donkeys and doves on stage at the same time. It is impossible not to be enthralled by the majesty of it.          

The first act, which lasts about 2 1/2 hours finishes with Jesus being arrested. Then there is a three hour break for dinner and the second act starts at 8.  This lasts up to 3 hours depending on who plays Jesus (all the major roles have two actors who play on alternate nights), one taking half an hour longer than the other. One would not see the time going in and suddenly it was the resurrection and the end of the play. My advice to anyone who has not been is to make it one of their “must do before I die”  events.          

Click here for photos of the village and area          

The next day we set off for Munich and the last visit of our tour.  Had I been able to afford the time I would have rearranged my flights and stayed on until the weekend.          

The route follows part of the Via Claudia Agusta, an ancient Roman road, now a cycle track, linking Ostiglia in Italy with Donauwörth on the Danube in Bavaria.          

Nymphs of the Nymphenburg


Our first stop was at the Nymphenburg palace, a 17 century masterpiece of baroque architecture. From there we went on into the city and were left off at the Marienplatz. They have brought the Oktoberfest forward a couple of weeks as they have had such bad weather in Bavaria for the past few years, so the city was alive with tourists.  The temperature was around 23° so their optimism paid off!          

Hofbrauhaus Munich


A party of us decided that we would forgo the wonders for a while and headed off to the famous, or notorious, Hofbrauhaus for a litre or two of Bavarian beer and something to eat. After that we headed down into the open market to watch the world go by and get a bag of the ubiquitous frites and mayonaise.          

We finished our day over a final beer in the Marienplatz and then it was back to the airport for an uneventful trip home!          

For photos of this final leg click here          

The following are links to the @trip maps of our travels.           

Ziller Valley          

 Vipiteno & Innsbruck          

Zell am See & Kitzbuhel          


 Oberammergau to Ettal walk & Munich          

Neue Post Hotel, Mayrhofen

Neue Post Hotel

Our first stop at the end of the Zillertal Steam Train journey. The hotel is a typical Austrian resort hotel/restaurant catering for the international tourist trade as well as the locals and was recommended by our guide, Julian. They provide menus in both German and English, but as is usual these lose something in translation.

The Skull Room

It is a large establishment and the restaurant is divided up into a number of areas, including one adorned with a myriad of goats skulls.

The service is efficient, if a little brusque, and they are obviously used to dealing with large influxes of customers.

The beer is excellent, as it is throughout Austria and Germany and their Dunkel Weissbier is a classic.

The best menu to order from is the Tageskarte, the days specialities. They have a three course menu for around €7.50. Vicki and I chose a champagne based soup; very nice, and Gröstl, a pan fried concoction of local black pudding, onions and potato scallops which turned out to be  perfect. unfortunately Josephine and David settled for the Goulash.  Do not be tempted by this unless you are a fan of nudeln, a soft, semi tasteless semolina pasta. Unfortunately the 4 or 5 pieces of beef that came with it  were rubbery and the only saving grace was the sauce; but even that was mediocre.

Our 3rd course was a chocolate mousse to die for!

A mousse to die for

All in all I would award it about 7 out 10 overall and would be tempted to call in again if we were ever in the area.

Kay’s Foodhall, Blanchardstown Centre

Kay's Foodhall, "Real Chefs Real Food", Blanchardstown Centre

I seem to remember that the News of the World used to have a strapline (and maybe still does); “all human life is here” and this could well go for Kay’s in the Blanchardstown centre, just off the N3 Navan Road to the west of Dublin.

Their motto above the entrance is “Real Chefs Real Food” and there was certainly a man in a chef’s hat there when I called in for breakfast at 9.50 a.m, following an early start from Belfast and a site meeting near Clonee. At this time he was being bullied by a man with a very large camera on a tripod, who I assumed was a PR photographer. Apparently Kay’s investment in the Centre is around €1 million so I suppose they can afford to do a bit of promotional photography. Maybe it is for their website which is currently “under construction”!

The long and the short of it is that they serve an excellent breakfast with fried eggs that are soft, as requested, which is a welcome change from the plastic one is served up in many places. Personally I didn’t like the look of the scrambled eggs but they were very popular with the rest of the clientèle. The bacon was good, the black pudding piquant and the sausages nicely spiced. Toast comes in two large crusty slices and the teapot holds two large cups. Butter, Jam and Marmalade are gratis.
Add to this service with a smile and a bill around €6 and you would be left looking hard for something to complain about.

They have other counters, bakery  for instance, besides the breakfast bar but at that time in the morning they were a little under utilized.  This is Ireland remember.

Myos, Main Street, Castleknock, Dublin 15

Myos, Castleknock

Made a flying visit to Mount Sackville College, not far from Castleknock, to do a measure up. Was not there long and as Myos was a prominent feature opposite the Topaz garage where I stopped for diesel (15% cheaper than the North) and the car park looked pretty full I decided that it couldn’t be too bad for a spot of lunch.

An alcove

Entering the large open plan bar area the response to my query as to the availability of a sandwich was that there was only the carvery at lunchtime.

In for a penny in for a pound; I went round to the counter. There were a couple of people ahead of me so I got a chance to look at the offerings.  The roast beef and bacon joint looked really well but I am wary of the amount of food one is expected to eat: asking for small portions is normally greeted with disbelief  and the request ignored anyway.


I looked at the plates (about the size of serving trays) of the persons in front of me and saw that they were piled high with meat, roasted and mashed potato and a selection of vegetables.  If I’d eaten that lot I would have needed to sleep for the afternoon!

I settled for the peppered beef with rice and turned down the offer of vegetables and potato on the side! As it was it would have fed a family.

One could not complain about the quality or the quantity.  They serve decent quality food at a reasonable price (€10.00 for the carvery).

As for clientèle; amongst others there was a party of three young mothers with their children, a couple of local businessmen, a construction crew and the architect and the principal of the college. Not a bad mix for a Tuesday lunchtime.

Birds and beach at Whiteabbey

Knockagh Monument

A Saturday walk with the dogs along the Loughshore at Whiteabbey gave me another chance to practice with my telephoto lens.  These photos are the best of the bunch. Click on the them to see larger versions.

Watching the camera - curlew & oystercatcher

Coming in to land

Formation flying

Study in black & white

Follow my leader



You go your way, I'll go mine

Beached Jellyfish

Rochestown Park Hotel, Rochestown, Cork

Rochestown Park Hotel

The Rochestown Park is another of my favourite haunts on the South Coast.  It is quite a while since I was last there as business needs made the Blarney Park (unfortunately now closed down) or the Carrigaline Court more convenient.  As it was my appointment was in Curraheen,  just off the south circular road as is the hotel.

Last time I boooked in they were looking €120 a night and it is now back to €89 for B&B, a sign of the times.  Having said this they were fully booked which cannot be bad for mid-week.

The rooms are “old world” with plent of space, mine had an L shaped desk with Leather swivel chair as well as the usual dressing table, combined ironing board and trouser press, tea and coffee, etc. etc. Free WIFI as well.

The leisure centre

They have an excellent leisure suite and pool plus a spa which, due to time constraints, I did not get round to using on this trip.

I went for an evening meal in the Sutton Bar rather than the main restaurant. They have quite a good menu and I picked on the duck breast with oriental vegetables and noodles.  The duck was well cooked but I felt that the sauce/glaze was a little too reliant on 5 spice powder.  The vegetables were very good but relied too heavily on various coloured peppers for the volume, whereas I would have preferred a little more in the line of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.  What I did like was that they served the noodles seperately in a bowl so that one could mix in the sauce as one wanted.  They have quite a good line in wines by the half bottle.

Sutton Bar

The bar was really busy but they have service very well organised with waiters and waitresses allocated to specific areas of around a dozen tables (you may guess the overall size) and you get typical Cork service with a smile and a chat.

I had a fairly early night and was up early for breakfast; there was a notice in the lift suggesting that, due to the number of people in residence this would be a good idea. There was plenty of fruit and a comprehensive selection for an Irish breakfast. My only complaint would be that the cold table consisted of chorizo and a rather bland cheese, not a sign of Irish ham or smoked salmon, which was rather disappointing.  Never mind the tea and toast was most acceptable.

If you want a good hotel on the south side of the City with perfect access to routes out to West Cork then you could do far worse than this.

An Poitin Stil, Naas Road, Rathcoole, County Dublin

I  been calling into An Poitin Stil, classed as a heritage Irish Pub, for as long as I have been travelling to Cork and Limerick, which must be at least 15 years.  In all that time it has never let me down as a place where you are served good food and drink efficiently and with a smile.

You can always find a space in the busy car park and no matter what time you arrive there is a menu to suit. Their latest promotion is the 5 to 10 (p.m) menu  with all starters at €5 and all mains at €10. Examples: starter – Mussels in white wine sauce, main – Grilled Pork Chop and Apple Sauce.

On this trip I just opted for the Seafood Chowder and a coffee to keep me going until I got to the Rochestown Park Hotel not far from Cork city. More of that in the next post.


Village Hotel, Otley Road, Leeds

Flew over to Leeds for a couple of meetings with suppliers and after a trip out to Skipton and a tour of Leeds University ended up for lunch at the Village Hotel North, on the Otley Road about 8 miles from Leeds/Bradford airport. 

Very smart looking building and big airy foyer.  The receptionist recommended the bar rather than the restaurant.  This has two big screens showing Sky Sports News, luckily without any sound.  They also have smaller screens with the hotel channel showing easy  listen music videos. 

The menu is pretty extensive with all the usual “pub-grub”, burgers etc.  One chooses and then goes to the bar to order. My only concern would be that they take your credit card off you and keep it behind the bar in a glass.  In these days of credit card and identity fraud personnaly I would not be too happy about this. but my companion did not seem concerned. Trusting crowd Yorkshire people (and not a bad thing either I suppose). 

My associate does not indulge in red meat and chose the chicken burger and chips and, as he was driving, blackcurrant and lemonade.  For myself  the spaghetti with meatballs in a lightly spiced tomato sauce and a glass of Sangiovese. 

Cheerful service, very good food, inexpensive and a big car park. If you can live with the credit card problem – or get them to process it when you order – a good place to eat.


Busy Bees

It's in there somewhere

The day was bright and sunny with the bees (we are lucky enough to have a large number) buzzing around the flower beds, so we decided to make the most of  the weather and see what was happening in the area.

Sentry Hill House - Front Entrance

Isn’t it funny that one can live in an area for 25 years without noticing a local landmark. On Sunday afternoon we took a run up to Sentry Hill House, not ten minutes drive away, and found a 19th century farmhouse with an accordian band playing in the courtyard. They offer tours of the house itself and also have a local historical collection that was bought by the Newtwonabbey Borough Council together with the buildings. In fact the source of nearly everything in the house and collection was William Fee McKinney who lived there for most of his life and amassed and catalogued items of interest from both the local area and his family abroad.
Local schools apparently also use the venue for their history lessons.  One lives and learns!

Knockagh Accordian Band

Following this we took the dogs down to the Loughshore for a run and for the first time this year came across a party in the water at the end of Gideons Green.

Loughshore steps at Gideons Green

Killymaddy Tourist Information Centre

Killymaddy Restaurant


From Belfast Killymaddy TIC is about 7 miles to the west of Dungannon on the lefthand side of th main A4. I have stopped there many times over the past few years for coffee or a snack.  It has recently been revamped and includes a craft and knicknack shop and manned (or rather womanned) information desk.  They have the most comprehensive collection of brochures and leaflets covering both local Tyrone attractions and the rest of Northern Ireland and the borders.   They also havae a very comprehensive and free  “Where to Eat” in Ireland booklet. 

As far as the restaurant goes there is a good variety of dishes including the staples of burgers and fries.  On this occasion I was on my back from a round trip to Sligo (again) and had an excellent bacon and mushroom omelette and chips.  It was much needed as the café at which I normally get breakfast on the outward journey had had nothing prepared.   

Another plus is the clean toilets, hot water and paper towels (there are hot air dryers if you are into that kind of thing) 

Picnic Area


The Centre from the carpark