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Nepalese Adventure 2014 – The Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara

 

 

 

The World Peace Pagoda , Pokhara

The World Peace Pagoda , Pokhara

If you just want the complete photo archive there is a link to the album at the end.

The post includes some photos most relevant to the text also, rather than fill the post with a host of details, I have inserted links to the relevant websites for the hotels and all the major attractions we visited. There are also some reviews on tripadvisor. Read on, or skip to the photo link!

My 70th birthday holiday was planned to fulfill two aim:  the first to visit the homeland of the Gurkhas, with whom I served in Borneo in ’65/’66, and their Museum in Pokhara and, secondly, to go paragliding from Sarangkot. We abandoned a guided tour option and decided to to see how things would pan out flying to Kathmandu for a few days and then on to Pokhara and finally back to Kathmandu.

We flew Turkish Airlines from Dublin, via Istanbul and I would recommend them for service and efficiency.  We arrived at 6.15 a.m. but it was nearly two hours clearing passport control and immigration.

Getting your visa is wild – Make sure you have two passport photos (there is a guy there who will take them on the spot – at a price), the right fee (preferably in US dollars)  and are in the right queue for the period that you intend to stay in Nepal.  Any deviation will mean joining another seemingly interminable line of travelers!

Having finally negotiated the carousel we were accosted by a taxi agent who, having commandeered a car, escorted us to the hotel, keeping up a barrage of information and  insisting that he could arrange our whole stay in Nepal.  Having arrived at the hotel,  the Tibet International, we told him to come back that evening with a proposal.

Of course it being early morning we were unable to get a room and the manager suggested we visit the Boudhanath near the hotel, First though we visited the roof top restaurant for breakfast.

Boudhanath stupa

The great stupa of Boudhanath

Our friendly tour guy returned in the evening with his boss Dinesh and we were driven to Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu, to  their offices, Osho VisionTrecks.  Dinesh went through the various options and we finally agreed a programme for the whole of our stay including taxi excursions each day to the many historic sites, flight to view Everest, air transfers to and from Pokhara, paragliding from Sarangkot and final transfer back to Kathmandu international at the end – all in £800.  It proved to be money very well spent.

Driving around the Kathmandu valley is like being conducted through a building site.  With a few exceptions there doesn’t seem to be more than 500 metres of paved road before it becomes a bone rattling cart track and there are buildings in various states of renovation everywhere.

two man shovel

Two man shovel filling a one man “doko”

Our second day started at the World Heritage Site of Pashupatinath a Temple complex dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and the venue for Hindu cremations which are conducted on a 24 hour, seven day week basis.

Hindu cremation, scattering blooms on the body

Hindu cremation, scattering blooms on the body

We spent some time touring the complex with the help of an unofficial guide who insisted that she was “just talking to us”. Only licensed guides are  officially allowed on the site.  The tour included visiting the old peoples home where some local dancers were entertaining the residents.

Entertaining the elderly

Entertaining the elderly

From here we moved on to Rudravarna Mahavihar, one of the oldest monasteries in Patan (Official name Lalitpur), the city of fine arts, and one of the three Royal Cities in Nepal.  Reputedly over 1500 years old It was one of the most striking of the many buildings in Patan.

Statues and prayer wheels at Rudravarna Mahavihar

Statues and prayer wheels at Rudravarna Mahavihar

Just round the corner from this is a terracotta temple dating from 1585, the Mahabouddha, which has thousands of images of Buddha engraved into its surface. It was rebuilt in 1934 after being ruined in an earthquake but there were no original plans and there were enough bricks left over to build a small shrine to Maya Devi, Buddha’s mother.

 

Mahabouddha, temple of a thousand Buddhas

Mahabouddha temple of a thousand Buddhas

From here it is a short journey to Patan Durbar Square, the hub of the city, full of ancient shrines, temples and monuments as well as the many local shops. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the entrance to the square and then acquired ourselves one of the official guides to take us round.

At Patan Durbar Square

At Patan Durbar Square

This was the last stop of the day and we returned to the hotel for dinner and a well earned rest.

The next morning we were collected at 6.30 a.m. for the short journey to the domestic airport for our excursion on the “Mountain Flyer”, an 19 seat  Beechcraft 1900C, the flight along the Himalaya to view Everest from a unique angle. A really wonderful experience and for Josephine possibly the highlight of the whole trip.

Everest flight certificate

Everest flight certificate

After this experience we returned to the hotel for breakfast and a couple of hours recuperation and the we were off again to visit the Narayanhiti Palace Museum. It wasn’t until we were almost at the end that we discovered that, in 2001, the whole of the Nepalese royal family were murdered by the heir apparent after a family dispute.  No photography is allowed in this modern relic of Nepalese politics.

From here we moved on to see the Buddha Park, a haven of peace,

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

before moving on to the  “Monkey Temple” or Swayambhunath, a hilltop complex which, as you may gather from the name, is alive with holy monkeys.  Do not attempt to eat ice cream anywhere in their vicinity  as you will have it snatched from your hand as soon as you are distracted.

Monkey business

Monkey business

Of course being a temple there are a lot of steps, 365 to be exact, to negotiate! Apart from the central Stupa there are many smaller ones, the Herati Devi being dedicated to the goddess of smallpox and epidemics!

 

Herati Devi Temple

Herati Devi Temple

We took a late lunch and returned to the hotel to recuperate.

Next morning, my birthday, started with the staff at breakfast presenting me with a cake and ritual white scarf. Today was booked for Bhaktapur, about 15 kilometers from Kathmandu. It is the largest of the Newa towns and was capital of Nepal during the latter half of the 15th century ,

The drive to get there was somewhat interesting as, apparently the direct route was closed so we had to make a detour

Going by the scenic route

Going by the scenic route

Our taxi driver had organised his younger brother, a registered tourist guide, to escort us.  He was not only knowledgeable but spoke perfect English which mad the whole experience more enjoyable.

Bhaktapur is similar to Patan but on a much larger scale and it was as much the people,

Local Spinner

Local Spinner

local businesses

Potters Wheel

Potters Wheel

and shops

Pot shop

Pot shop

that provided some of the most memorable experiences.

Water is still drawn form wells.

Pulling water from the well

Pulling water from the well

Animals are still sacrificed to the Hindu Gods in Nepal and entrails may be hung on the temple.

Intestines from sacrificed bull on the Dattatreya Temple

Intestines from sacrificed bull on the Dattatreya Temple

A custom that would definitely be frowned upon in the west is the practice of covering a baby in mustard oil and putting he, or she, out in the sun to darken the skin.

Darkening the baby with mustard oil

Darkening the baby with mustard oil

Apparently the more modern mothers now us baby oil instead of mustard oil!!

Whilst in Bhaktapur we visited a Thanka Painting school and ended up buying a Mandala, or Circle of Life painting. I have admired them for years in various parts of the Far East but watching them being painted finally convinced me I needed one!

Thanka Art School

Thanka Art School

We finally left the wonders of this amazing town and headed for hilltop village of Nagarkot for a late lunch. The clouds made getting a good photo difficult but the views across the valleys were worth the journey, as was the lunch.

Nagarkot

Nagarkot

And that was another day over.

Our last day in Kathmandu was spent in the city area.  We passed some terrace housing on our way the Hanuman Dhoka 
situated on the Eastern side of

Terrace Housing

Terrace Housing

the Kathmandu Durbar square. This is the gateway to the Royal Palaces which house the Kathmandu museum.

Hanuman Dhoka

Hanuman Dhoka

The square itself has the usual collection of temples and a large statue of Kala Bhairav or the Lord Shiva in his frightening aspect

 

Kala Bhairava

Kala Bhairava

And thus ended the first phase of our holiday

Next morning we took the Simrik Airlines Beech 1900 flight to Pokhara.

Flight deck - Pokhara here we come

Flight deck – Pokhara here we come

This is a half hour flight which can be a little bumpy at times, but one hardly notices it as there are some spectacular views out of the windows.

Welcome to Pokhara

Welcome to Pokhara

Having landed and collected our baggage we were met by our taxi man who would be our guide for this stage of the holiday.

We drove off to our hotel, or so we thought. Thirty five minutes later we arrived at a parking area alongside a couple of fairly shabby hotels. Josephine’s comment was, “what have you brought me to!!” However, it turned out to be the way to the Begnas Lake mooring point where our ferry was waiting to take us to the resort.

Begnas Lake Ferry point

Begnas Lake Ferry point

Twenty five minutes later we had our first view of the Begnas Lake Resort.

 

First view of the Begnas lake Resort

Begnas Lake Resort – the first view

What nobody had told us and did not seem to appear anywhere on TripAdvisor is that  there are 109 steps up from the landing stage to the Reception.  Nor did it mention that from Reception to the road there are 274 steps up!!  Do not let this deter you, the service and the food are beyond reproach.

Our room, number 33,  had a large bath,

Now that's what you call a bath

Now that’s what you call a bath

and a large bed

King size bed

King size bed

and not a bad view from the balcony

View form the balcony

View form the balcony

After settling in we thought we would try the steps up to the top road which turned out to take us thirty minutes with stops for breath at each bench, about 50 steps apart. By the time we left we had it down to 10 minutes!!

View at the the top gate (333 steps up)

View at the the top gate (333 steps up)

That was enough for one day so we repaired to the bar for a well earned beer.

 

Begnas Lake Resort - Bar

Begnas Lake Resort – Bar

The bar boy turned out to be a Liverpool supporter – not that you’d ever guess!

Suitably exhausted we retired for the night.

Day seven was scheduled to take in the Gurkha museum and to go paragliding from Sarangkot and our ferry back to Begnas Bazaar and our taxi was booked for 7.30 am.

We visited a Hindu shrine on the way

Pokhara Hindu shrine

Pokhara Hindu shrine

and then the land rover picked me up for the trip to Sarangkot.  They did not mention a this point that the last 750 metres to the take off zone had to be made on foot.  This was a near vertical climb which, even if I had had a camera with me, I would have been too knackered to use!!

My reply to the “flight marshal’s” query, ” Are you sure you are OK?” was ” I made it didn’t I!”

And so my pilot,  connected me up and we took off

 

Going up!

Going up!

It was a pity that the weather was not better as we did not get the stunning views of the mountains as a backdrop but the climb up to 2400 metres into the cloud base was something else. As was the descent. As seen on the video which follows:

And we landed safely without incident.

soft landing

soft landing

From here we drove back into Pokhara and visited the Gurkha Memorial Museum.

Gurkha Museum

Gurkha Museum

This is really worth a visit even if you do not have the interest that I have. The section on the Borneo campaign was particularly relevant to me.

Borneo Operations

Borneo Operations

From here we went to a Nepalese fast food restaurant where the order of the day is a Thali Set, which is a combination plate for which one can get unlimited refills.  Meal for three at less that £5.00!

And so back to the resort.

The next day we visited the world peace pagoda, see the first picture. As usual this involved climbing a long way up and even longer down.

We decided that, given the state of the approach road it would be better to walk down to where the tarmac started!

Better than by car

Better than by car

Having negotiated this we called in at a local supermarket and picked up a couple of bottles of wine and then had lunch at another establishment that served the Thali.

Thali lunch with our driver

Thali lunch with our driver

From here we went to the Devi Falls.  As a tourist attraction I found it a little disconcerting to discover that the name is derived from the fact that a girl of this name drowned whilst swimming on one of the pools.

Devi's Falls

Devi’s Falls

From here we visited the Tibetan refugee reservation where, amongst other enterprises,  they have a carpet weaving workshop.  Needless to say we now have a hand made runner on our landing.

The following day was planned for the paragliding experience and

The next day,  sitting on the breakfast terrace, the morning view of Annapurna appearing out of the mist was an experience not to be missed.

Annapurna from the breakfast terrace

Annapurna from the breakfast terrace

The view changes from minute to minute and occasionally one get the reflected view in the lake.

 

Annapurna reflections

Annapurna reflections

We then decided that we would spend the rest of our time at the resort walking in the surrounding area rather than bouncing around in a taxi.  Also, although the weather was pleasant at around 23º – 25ºC the cloud base was too low to provide classic sunrise/sunset views from Sarangkot.

We had some stunning views and also some insight into local life.

One - choose your boulder

One – choose your boulder

Two - lift your boulder

Two – lift your boulder

Three - Drop it in the doko

Three – Drop it in thedoko

 

The three pictures here are of one of two girls who spent each day moving boulders about 60 yards to a building site.  They carried about three boulders per load! The loader varied between this woman and a man. When not carrying their loads they could be seen chatting away on their mobile phones.

 

The came across all sorts of occupations as we went along:

 

 

road gangs.

Road builders

Road builders

 

 

Shepherdesses

 

an arm full of goats

an arm full of goats

 

 

Linemen for the county!

Linemen for the county!

National Grid engineers

 

 

 

 

Sweetcorn de huskers

sweetcorn

sweetcorn

 

 

 

And of course there is the local Co-op

The local Co-Op

The local Co-Op

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also encountered some of the smaller local life

An ant and his house

An ant and his house

Taking in the sun

Taking in the sun

A puddle full of frogs

A puddle full of frogs

A friendly beetle

A friendly beetle

 

 

 

 

On our final day in Pokhara we took the paddle boat to the Tal Barahi Temple on Lake Fewa

 

 

It is great spot for just sitting and watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

 

We flew back to Kathmandu to spend our last two days at the Gokrana Forest Resort, a complex a few kilometers out of the city and, as the name suggest, set a Forest reserve. there is a championship golf course attached but I did not take up the challenge.

 

Monkey at Gokrana

Monkey at Gokrana

Some stump

Some stump

In fact we spent the two days lounging around in the grounds watching the monkeys and getting a massage prior to the flight home.  It is an excellent hotel with helpful staff and wonderful food. The security guards carry catapults rather than guns!!

And so ended two great weeks of exotic sights, sounds and smells.

See the photos at Google + The header picture for the post is the 15th century carved wooden Peacock Window in Bhaktapur, known locally as the Mona Lisa of Nepal.

Ölüdeniz experience – October 2013

Just the place to relax. Apart from the taxi not being at Dalaman airport which was a bit of a letdown we had a pretty uneventful journey to this beautiful bay to the south of Fethiye.

The bay

The bay

ü

Ölüdeniz has most things one could want.  A plethora of restaurants and bars, sunshine and friendly local populace.

chilies drying in Üzümlü

chilies drying in Üzümlü

Our idea was to laze about and take a few excursions and meet up with an old friend who has a apartment in Üzümlü, a pretty mountain village about 40 minutes on the bus from Fethiye.

We duly booked to visit The Saklikent Gorge and Tlos, an ancient Lycian Citadel on one day and also a two day excursion to Ephesus, the Roman capital of Asia Minor, and Pamukkale where Cleopatra was reputed to have taken the hot springs and St Philip was martyred.

The great thing about Turkey, apart from the weather and the food,  is it’s wealth of history.

 

Of course there had to be another distraction! Ölüdeniz is a centre for paragliding, due to a 2000 metre mountain directly behind the town and reputedly the best thermals in Europe.

The sky is full of parachutes from dawn to dusk. Needless to say I got hooked on the idea and had to give it a try.  The most hair-raising part of the whole adventure was the ride to the take off platform in a minibus.  Once that was over the walking off the the edge of the mountain was a doddle!! The 25 minute descent was just mind blowing.  Click the photo for the video experience.

Flying high with Alibaba

Flying high with Alibaba

 

 

 

Christmas Letter 2013

10 December 2013

Another fairly short missive this year.  It has been as eventful as ever but once again I have failed miserably to allow for the fact that it has been a lot shorter than last year.  This has resulted in December taking me by surprise and leaving me little time to marshal facts and figures.

I am also trying to work out how, having reduced my working week to Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays, I seem to have less time to do all the things that, in previous years, I managed to get done over the weekend.

The most notable event of the year was probably our youngest son, Peter, finally managing to climb onto the housing ladder and moving into his apartment in May.  It is quite amazing that, from a constantly full washing machine we now are lucky to make up a couple of loads a week.

On the recommendation of a dear friend, whom I first met in Corfu whilst on the Greek Interpreters Course in ‘73, and had only met up with once since, we went to Marmaris for a week in April.  Barbarra bussed up from Fethiye for a day and persuaded us to visit Ölüdeniz which, she assured us, was a much better place to holiday. We dutifully took the 4 bus day excursion and were so impressed we booked for ten days in October. In the meantime I signed up for a basic Turkish course.  Never thought I’d see the day!!  It is also the best place to sample Doner Kebabs since I was in the Old City in Famag’.

It turned out that Ölüdeniz is one of the most popular centres for paragliding in Europe and watching them glide down and land along the esplanade  gave me one of those; “I could do that, couldn’t I?” moments.
DCIM100GOPRO

Josephine told me if I wanted to just stop talking about it to go and do it… so I did!  It was an unbelievable experience, walking of a 2200 metre mountain and spending half an hour floating above the sand and sea. Definitely hooked and will be up again at the earliest opportunity.

Apart from this we found Turkey to be most hospitable with friendly people and a wealth of history and all at a remarkably economic price.

We took a two day trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale, famous for the salt springs and Cleopatra’s bath amongst other things.

 

Old Shanklin

In June we made another duty trip to the Isle of Wight.  The last time we were there was in 2000 to scatter my mother’s ashes on the downs at St Catherine’s.  This time it was to scatter my last remaining relative’s ashes in Niton Churchyard.  The one thing one can guarantee about the IOW is that nothing will have changed and it will remain firmly planted in the ‘50s. My Brother in Law had never been so we did the whole tourist thing. Picture is Old Shanklin.

 

with king puck

With King Puck in Killorglin

This August was the 400th anniversary of the oldest Fair in Ireland.  With a couple of exceptions it has been held every year in Killorglin, Co Kerry.  The format is that on day one a Goat is crowned King of the Town and put high above the main square where he reigns for three days whilst the townsfolk indulge in a horse fair, cattle fair, and a myriad of street events.  The Bars licensed for music until 4a.m. On the third day the goat is brought down and de-crowned and it is all wrapped up with a huge firework display

Apart from this Josephine has been busy with her walking groups and beading classes and I have continued to attempt to maintain my handicap at the same level. Even playing twice a week this is becoming ever more difficult.  Still it keeps the joints moving.

And so another year draws to a close and we are still in the land of the living and in relatively good health so we wish you a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2014

May 6, 2013 - The Jacksons    No Comments

Josephine’s 70th

Another milestone reached. Josephine’s 70th on Sunday. “Quiet” family affair followed by high tea at the Oregano. Great day.

Cake by Grandaughter Beverley

Hand made by Beverley

Josephines 70th

with 3 generations

youngsters

The youngsters and a grown up Zoe

three girls & a Dog

There girls and a dog

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, Oct 2012

The Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Naples is the ideal take off for a trip to far south of Italy.  Just over three hours in the air and one is an hour and a quarter bus ride from the centre of Sorrento.  This is the Curreri Viaggi bus which stops right next to the airport and runs every hour provides a  pleasant ride around the Bay of Naples with some wonderful views and all for €10 a head.

We arrived at Sorrento station with the sun shining and 24ºC.  The most important thing on our minds was food as an early start had precluded a proper breakfast!

Jhonny’s Pizza & Sfizi

We set off down the road and just around the first corner we happened on Jhonny Pizza & Sfizi House. Definitely a find with lots of locals, great Pizzas and Peroni beer at very reasonable prices

Our hotel has a regular shuttle bus but as we had no real idea where it ran from in relation to the station we decided to take a taxi.  How much will it cost I asked.  It’s on the meter said the driver.  It was! 3km for €22.50!  Well we should have known – this is Italy.

We arrived at the Grand Hotel Aminta, perched high above the town, and booked in.  Our room, as we had requested, looked out over the bay to Capri although the island remained shrouded in mist during our whole stay.

Room with a view, Capri

Whilst out on the balcony I got into conversation with our neighbours, only to discover that they were from Hillsborough. They gave us the low-down on the path that runs from the hotel down into the town, originally the main road.

Harbour from the old road

Having had a bit of a rest we decided to try it and set off down the path.  It takes about twenty minutes using the stairways which cut off the U Bends.  better than waiting on buses although a bit heavy on the knees.

 

A picturesque town

We would recommend the town to anyone who like pottering about.  There is a wealth of architecture, shops of every sort from  tatty to ultra chic, innumerable restaurants and bars which cater for every taste and pocket and generally an ambiance of  pleasant indolence.

We had been recommended to dine at the Ristorante Sorrento and, whilst the food was excellent, it took 45 minutes to arrive.  In this period we engaged a couple at the next table in conversation and found them to be teachers of English as a Foreign Language to Chinese students in Milan!! To cap it all the  gent was from the Donegal Road in Belfast and had attended Inst in the 70s.

After dinner we discovered that we had missed the 9.30 shuttle to the hotel and there was not another until 11.30 so we decided to retrace the path back to the hotel. This turned out to be a bad idea!!  Not only were there no lights and it was easy to miss the short cuts but it was a lot steeper than we remembered.  When we finally made it and told the receptionist she was horrified and ordered us never to try it again.  We had no intention of so doing!!

Circuvesuviana

After an excellent breakfast with proper Italian coffee (Josephine is now converted to latte when in Italy) we  caught the shuttle to town and thence to sample the delights of the Circumvesuviana, the local narrow gauge train that serves all the stations between Sorrento and Naples, and which stops at Pompeii, our destination for the day. About €4.20 each return. It is quite an experience being packed with not only tourists but people going about their daily business.  It is reminiscent of the London Tube with the exception that one gets to hear peoples life stories and a host of other interesting, and not so interesting, facts about life as the passengers babble on to one another.

Arriving at Pompeii it is a short walk along to the site.  Unfortunately we had forgotten our passports as, at all national monuments in Italy, EU pensioners get free entry!!  There are plenty of guides about if you wish to hire one but we decided to buy a guide book and do it ourselves.  There are various recommended tours, broken down by the amount of time one intends to allot to the experience,from 2 hours to 5 hours.

“Zebra crossing”

Thermopoleum (Fast food shop)

I do not intend to dwell on all the sights as it is perfectly well documented elsewhere.  It is an experience not to be missed and we found the simple things like the “Zebra Crossings” to allow people to cross the road without stepping in the muck whilst allowing carts etc.  to pass by were as interesting as some of the more spectacular relics. One can listen to guides  as one goes about and some of the patter leaves one wondering if they really do know what they are talking about.  I would hasten to add that some of others are obviously very well versed.

Happy Snappers

Brothel advertisment

One of the most amusing episodes was the appearance of  a Japanese film crew, the ultimate in Happy Snappers, complete with the ubiquitous face mask.

There is a very good self service restaurant on the site and it provided a welcome break after about 3 hours of walking.

At the forum

Temple of Jupiter

Overall we spent about 5 hours exploring and then made our way back to the station and thence to the hotel for a wash and brush up before venturing into the town for dinner.

This time we made sure we caught the shuttle bus.

Octopus Salad

We decided to try a different restaurant rather than risk another prolonged wait to be served and settled for the Taverna dell’ 800 on the Via de 11′ accademia. Their Octopus Salad starter was a masterpiece. The rest of the meal lived up to this standard as did the wine of the region which we had discovered on the previous evening; Lacryma Christi, literally Tears of Christ. Have not seen it outside the Neapolitan area, but if you do come across it it is worth a try.

For our second day we decided to just potter about the town and to this end we took a leisurely walk down the harbour and discovered that there is a “Mini Cruise” which leaves Sorrento harbour around ten in the morning and calls at Capri, to go swimming for an hour, Positano and Amalfi and, at €24 each, this seemed a pleasant way to have a relatively stress free and restful day.

San Antonino Abbate

Taking it easy under the carving

Cold cuts

Tickets are only available on the morning from 9.00 so we took the lift (€1 each) back up to the main part of the town. We shuttled it back to the hotel for the afternoon and then braved the town again for dinner.

This time we were railroaded into the Blu Water on Via P R Giuliani by a vigilant maître d’hotel.  It turned out very well and I can recommend the affetato misto (cold cuts) as a good way to start.  Josephine took the spaghetti i mare and I had pan fried anchovies, all topped off with another bottle of Lacryma Christi.

Great craic in the restaurant with the head waiter chasing people who sat down got a menu and then one goes to the loo and on return they both try to disappear up the street.

We were getting used to our evening routine and were back on the 11.30 to the hotel, thus ending another day.

We were up early in the morning for breakfast to prepare for our cruise.

We had checked the times of the local bus as the shuttle did not make its first run until 9 a.m., however, due to either the vagaries of the timetable, or incompetence of the receptionist to read it correctly, nothing had appeared by 8.30 and once again we ended up taking the footpath down to the harbour.

Cruise ship

The “ship” would not be much competition to Royal Caribbean but proved to be adequate for the purpose.  There was a choice of polypropylene or traditional deck chairs on the top deck. We cast off and headed for Capri.

Capri coast

The request for numbers who wished to go swimming returned a null so we sailed around the northern tip and then headed off along the coast towards Positano.  It is a pleasant run up the coast with villages and farms dotted along the cliffs.  One has a choice of disembarking at Positano or continuing on to Amalfi, the latter being our choice.  Quite a few passengers boarded for this leg of the journey. We finally arrived and went off to explore the town.  It is hard to believe that around 1000 AD it was a major maritime garrison with around 70,000 inhabitants.  In 1343 it was more or less wiped out by a tsunami that caused a huge landslip which slid most of the town into the sea  and it never recovered.

Alamfi Cathedral

It is a picturesque town with an imposing clock tower on the cathedral and, really, one main shopping street that winds it’s way up through the centre.

Main street

Street scene

There  was the inevitable wedding in the town and, as is the Italian custom, the bride and groom paraded up and down the street.

happy couple on walkabout

We were not persuaded to actually buy anything except for some locally made gelati.  Then it was time to reembark and head back to Sorrento.

At least they can get Sky

By this time the breeze had a chill edge to it so we found a corner of the deck under the lee of the superstructure.  The sun continued to shine and we had a pleasant run back along the coast picking up the Positano group on the way.

We finally arrived back in the harbour at about 5.30 and caught the shuttle bus to the hotel for a session in the Jacuzzi and change of clothes.

Once more into town for dinner and we returned to the Blu Water as the previous evening had been such a success.  We were not disappointed.

For our last day we planned to go to Vesuvius and possibly Herculaneum.  This involved taking the Circumvesuviana once again , this time to Ercolano.   One can buy a ticket for the bus transfer from the station to Vesuvius at the ticket office in Sorrento so we dully opted for this.  The all in price for the two of us was €28.  The train was as crowded and noisy as our previous trip, but this time buskers hopped on and off at various stations along the way.

The long walk up

Pandemonium reined at the destination.  We were told we had to “change” our transfer tickets for the bus at the little office in the square and were also asked to pay an additional €8 each for entry into the Vesuvius National Park! There were two organised tours and many more freelancers like ourselves, around 50 in total, but no buses.  Then a 12 seater arrived and there was much jostling for position.  You may guess how much as there were Italians and Germans amongst the throng, neither of whom has a reputation for understanding the principal of queues!! A 27 seater then appeared, followed by another minibus and again there was much rushing about until we all managed to get aboard. Our 10 seater had 13 squashed in but I was lucky enough to get the front passenger seat to myself.  The driver explained that the previous day they didn’t fill one minibus from that train so had not bothered to bring all the drivers in.

The crater at last

The drive up to the crater is quite spectacular with wonderful views over Naples and also the lava path from the 1944 eruption.

One does not get to the crater by bus; one gets to a shack selling drinks and various knick knacks and a stall hiring sticks intended to help one on ones way up the 800 metre lava dust track to the final destination. We did not invest in the sticks considering them more a hindrance than a help.

We made it eventually and Josephine’s comment on looking into the depths was, “is that what we struggled all the way up here for!!” Well there wasn’t any fire and brimstone to view!! Needless to say we did not circumnavigate the rim of the crater which is an option for the more intrepid walkers.

The buses allow just over an hour and a half to make the pilgrimage and this worked out about right;  35 minutes to get up, including rests on the strategically placed benches at the hairpins, and 25 down, avoiding ending up on ones backside on the volcanic shale, plus time for a well earned Peroni.

We were duly returned to the station where the driver informed us that the site of Herculaneum is only about a ten minute walk down the hill.

This time we had ensured that we had our passports and so saved ourselves the €11 each entry fee.

Mosaic decoration in the Neptune & Amphirite House

Taverna di Priapo

It is amazing to walk onto the site at roof top level and look down and see the ancient town laid out below.  It is nowhere near the size of Pompeii but, due to the manner of its submersion in a mud slide, two and three storey buildings remain standing as they were. The interiors are also better preserved and one can see the evidence of restoration work which was in progress from a previous earthquake.

One could have spent a day there but exhaustion set in after a couple of hours and I think we had covered the major works so we climbed our way back up to the station and train back to Sorrento.

For our last evening we went up market for dinner and settled on the Sedil Dominova where we ate inside and actually had tablecloths. The service and food were exceptional and we were serenaded by an Italian guitarist. An altogether well spent day.

Serenade

Next morning we were up and away and on the but to Naples and our flight back to Dublin.  The last view of the bay!!

Quick link to all the Photos

Nov 20, 2012 - Eating Out, The Jacksons    No Comments

Greenisland Golf Club Formal, Masked Ball 2012

Saturday 17 November brought another year nearer to it’s end with the GIGC Formal complete with a Masked Ball theme.  Starting with champagne cocktails to get everybody in the mood we then moved in to dine.

David Alexander’s starters were a definite hit, Antipasti with a difference;  Parma ham, salami, peppers, crusty bread and not a fork in sight! Main courses offered were Steak, Cod with a herb crust or Supreme of Chicken with root vegetables and potatoes to accompany.  The sweet was a tiramisu.  No complaints from our table!  Rosie Hunter provided the music and before anybody knew it it was time to close the bar.  As usual and excellent night out.

 

Nov 6, 2012 - The Jacksons    No Comments

Carnmoney Halloween Party

Our Hosts

Our old friends Stephen & Jackie invited us to a Halloween bash at their “new” home in Carnmoney.  The order of the evening, champagne at seven and dinner at 7.30.

A bunch of nasties

Of course it had to be fancy dress and a lot of effort had obviously been put  into the costumes.  We were a seemingly disparate group who, on the face of it, had only a love of good company, food and wine and who succeeded in making the whole evening memorable and all in the best possible taste!

Dinner is served

Congratulations  to Jackie especially for providing a gourmet dinner.

Cruella & the Joker

Draculas bride

The Reaper

Oct 24, 2012 - Eating Out, The Jacksons    No Comments

JHONNY PIZZA & SFIZI, CORSA ITALIA, SORRENTO

Jhonny Pizza & Sfizi

If you are just off the Naples bus or the local train  and dying of hunger then Jhonny is the place for a snack and a beer.  Walk down from the station, past the  Hotel Nice on the corner, turn left, and there it is.

Small pizzas

Nothing pretentious, vinyl bench seats and wooden tables, but with friendly staff and a sensible menu, in English if  you so require.

The Pizzas are out of this world and, unless you have a massive appetite, go for the small version. Judging by adjacent patrons, the other offerings are equally delicious.

Throw in a couple of 660ml bottles of Peroni and you have a perfect meal for two for around €14.00.  One really cannot do much better!

Grand Hotel Aminta, Serrento

We selected the Grand Hotel Aminta as appearing to be the the best value for money, its general rating on TripAdvisor and the fact that that one could get a sunset view room across the bay towards Capri.

We arrived mid afternoon and one could not fault the welcome we received in reception, having got over the shock of a €22.50 taxi bill for the 3 kilometre drive from Tasso Square (it’s on the meter the driver had told us – and it was).

The promise of  a stunning view from our balcony out across the Bay of Naples was fulfilled, everything was clean and tidy and the double bed extremely comfortable.

Room with a View

The hotel have a free shuttle bus that runs every hour into the town centre starting at 9 am with a last run back at 11.30 pm. It misses a couple of hours at lunch time and again thre is no 10.00 p.m. down or return.

It is also possible to walk down the old road into town which takes about 20 minutes if one utilizes the steps which cut off many of the hairpins. Coming back up is a bit of an effort and it it easy to miss the turn off to the hotel .  The staff were horrified that we had done it after dark and advised against a repeat performance.

The Breakfast Room

Breakfast is buffet style although it is possible to order from the waiters who circulate with coffee and tea.  Personally I preferred to mix and match continental and crispy bacon.

We did not eat in the restaurant as there was such a good choice in the town at exceptionally reasonable rates.

The bar was comfortable and it prides itself in the number of whiskeys available – apparently over a hundred including a number of Islay malts. They also have an enviable selection of Grappa without which no Italian holiday is complete.

Cons?  We could hear the television in the next room even when the volume was turned down.  They have them back to back on wall mounts and I suspect that the power boxes are shared between the rooms.  Also any movement in the corridor was clearly audible. We had to request additional shower gel twice before it appeared and our towels were removed but not replaced on one occasion.

Pros?? Spotlessly clean and pleasant helpful staff . Beautiful views from the 2nd and 3rd third floors at least.

There were a number of regulars, who had been returning for a number of years, staying  so it  obviously has a great appeal for some.

Perhaps we are too picky but we will return to Sorrento but not the Aminta.

Sep 20, 2012 - Eating Out, The Jacksons    No Comments

SLIEVE RUSSELL HOTEL, CRANAGHAN, BALLYCONNELL, CO. CAVAN

It’s some time since we were last at the Slieve Russell , but some things never change. We were attending the IVEA Annual Conference and the only minor setback was, having to arrive at 9.00 for the golf, which meant that we had a four hour wait for a room (well Josephine did).  It says something for the popularity of the venue that they had three functions filling the hotel on a Tuesday evening and ours and a wedding following on the Wednesday. Breakfast was magnificent although, as we did not have a room, they charged us €16 a piece for the privilege.

I left Josephine in the lounge and headed for the club house in a downpour that brought gasps of horror from the assembled golfers, however, by the time we were on the first tee the rain had passed and the sun was making a valiant effort to bring some cheer to the proceedings!

Tee More – an exacting par 3

 

I will not dwell on the golf except to say that the course is one of the very best in the area with some great holes and beautiful vistas; posh word for views! My partner Joe McGrath, almost a local boy, managed to keep his nerve and came out winner of the competition.

Our room was spacious and, happy days, had a separate shower so no clambering over the edge of the bath. The Wi-Fi also worked without any problems and was free.  I was checking our clothes later in the afternoon and realised that our suit/dress bag was missing so went down to collect it from reception.  Disappeared!  For the next couple of hours there was a certain amount of pandemonium as the staff tried to find out where it had gone.  No names, no pack drill but a very old friend of ours had lifted it instead of his own and only realised much later that he really did not need a dress – Well done Ted!

The dinner that evening, hosted by Count Cavan VEC,  was excellent and the service smooth.  Dish of the menu was the starter, chicken and smoked ham Strudel served with baby leaf salad, Sancerre wine and Dijon scented cream. The company was as good as the food and one’s wine glass remained full.  All together an enjoyable evening.  We retired to the bar and the ensuing ceilidh was still in full swing when I took my leave around 2 a.m.  Dinner Menu

Breakfast was as good as the previous day and this time included in our package!

The conference proceeded well with visits by Ruari Quinn, Minister for Education, and another Junior Minister, who both made presentations to the conference.

The hotel staff dispensed refreshments with suitable gravitas and in no time it was necessary dress for the IVEA Banquet.  Another culinary tour de force.  This time my dish of the day was the fillet of Atlantic hake steamed with fine herbs a, Donegal lobster and Chablis, although the dessert, Assiette Gourmande came a very close second.  The choir and accompanying band, from a number of establishments in the county, gave a great performance following the meal. Banquet Menu

A nightcap in the bar, they still give one the port bottle to make a brandy & port, was enough and we turned in.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance to make use of the Spa but it was, altogether, a well spent couple of days in delightful surroundings.

 

 

 

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