Monthly Archives: September 2014

SUPing the Sea – Paddleboarding Dublin – Blog for Isaacs.ie

Stand Up Paddleboarding or SUPing to the pros is a relatively new adaption of the water+board family.

The BaseHeading down on the DART south of Dublin, I soon arrived at Dun Loaghaire and from the station I was at Aboveboard within a couple minutes. I was greeted by Richard, the Venezuelan who would be guiding around the board, and the harbour that morning. The sun was shining, but the breeze was up a little, so we decided the harbour would be the best bet for a fun and interesting paddle.

Getting changed and heading down didn’t take long and soon we were getting our instructions on how to work these boards. It’s pretty simple, it involves a big board, a long paddle and a great workout;  but Richard was very good at improving our technique so we could get the most from the board. Standing straight (rather than sideways like a surfboard) you paddle with arms straight, similar to Kayaking, but this uses a lot more of you core strength. As we paddled around I could feel my core tightening and knew this would be a great workout

Playground
Working our way around the harbour we dodged kids in sailing dinghies, and paddled past million dollar gin palaces. At one point Richard decided to test the water and show us how to get back on in case we fell off, and how to pull another person on to the board if there was an emergency. Feeling a bit like the guys on Baywatch we practiced our skills, which of course meant pushing each other in so they needed rescuing!

The experience was excellent, and I left feeling happy and well worked without being exhausted. The weather held out nicely, but this would still be fun in the cold and wet, the wetsuits are so thick there’s no need to worry about freezing!

Benjamin Duff – Versestravel

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Dublin – City of booze

IMG_20140730_230935 So it’s coming up to 8 weeks in Dublin, I think I know it well enough to give a fair review.

Dublin is cold and wet on the whole – it’s not a place you go to for a summer holiday. It’s also not got a whole load of adventure/adrenalin sports or activities (there’s a couple hidden around, but it’s definitely not a hotspot for it). So what has it got? History and Culture.

CourtsHistory: It’s got this in bucket loads, recent and pretty damn old, there’s museums for the artifacts and quite a few sites of historical importance as well. Dublin castle and Killmainham Gaol which sit pretty central to Dublin are obvious points of interest. The streets as well, are filled with a variety of buildings from different eras, it’s possible to spot where some of the major historical events have affected the designs of the city. Along O’Connell street you can see the buildings which were rebuilt after the battles for independence.

BonesCulture: Well culturally, it’s mostly drinking! Certainly it doesn’t feel very different from the UK (which is understandable) and it’s definitely European. It’s nice that there’s a good amount of buskers and live music in the streets. Although there is a lot of repetition, the groups that play in the commercial areas tend to be boring covers, but hidden away there’s some spots (like Dame Lane) where you’ll hear great bands playing original music. The pub scene is a bit hit n miss, with terrible cliche bars with horrible cliche live music (I’ve never heard so many versions of Country Roads) and plenty of pretty boring bars. If you’re looking though, it’s definitely possible to find something you’ll like. There’s even a few places in town where the drinks aren’t crazy expensive.

Street MusicOverall: I think Dublin is a wonderful stop for two reasons. Firstly those who are looking for history, interested in a country that was one of the first places of western civilization.HedgehogIt’s not as impressive as London, but it certainly has a lot of charm and generally more friendly vibe. Secondly for those who want a good night out or two in a different city. It’s not cheap but it has a lot of options for those who want to party.

Like so many other cities though, it’s impossible to experience it all in a weekend, but a week here would leave you bored. Getting out of the city is highly recommended, there’s plenty of good day tours that while not exciting, show you much more of what Ireland is like outside the ‘big smoke’

So if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, either keep it kinda short, or have a few weeks and go see the rest of it.

Boat

PS: Watch out for terrible pub food, they haven’t realised yet that a packet of crisps and a slice of cheese does make nachos, and they’ll be happy to charge 7 Euros for it. Unless it’s a gastro pub, don’t trust the food!

Surf Ireland – Blog for Isaacs.ie

Surfing in Ireland is a surprisingly popular weekend pastime, with van loads of people heading over to the west coast from Dublin each week. I was in one of those vans recently heading to Bundoran and the Turf n Surf lodge.

Surfs Up - Versestravel
Arriving at the lodge only a few hours after leaving Dublin was like arriving in the new country, the sound of the sea only meters from the front door created a wonderfully peaceful location, while the warm welcome from the staff and other guest meant we settled in quickly and of course we were off to the pub for some local music and local beer.
Ready - Versestravel
Saturdays lesson was at 10am, plenty of time to wake up and feast on the plentiful breakfast before squeezing into a wetsuit and grabbing a board. It’s a short ride in the 4x4s down to the beach were the lesson starts after a quick warm-up.
The instructors are good fun and make sure everyone’s happy before we splash into the water.
Surfing - VersestravelThe more advanced folks headed out back to make the most of the waves while the newbies stayed close to practice riding the white wash. The instructors helped those that needed it, giving everyone some attention and making sure everyone was catching waves and getting up on the board.They had some good tips for the experts as well, shouting pointers on catching the unbroken waves and how to trim and carve as well. It’s obvious these boys love the waves and love helping people to enjoy their sport.
That afternoon we had free time to explore and wander the town, or to find another activity to do. The town has a swimming pool with slides, but after a morning in the sea, I’d had enough water, so I took a stroll over the cliffs and through the town. Pretty sights all around, and some lovely cafes to grab a bite to eat.
That night was the leaving party for one of the long term staff members, so there was live music and a fancy theme (new suit jacket 4 euro from the local charity shop) which made for a very entertaining night.
Nearly - VersestravelSunday was surf time again, and with the shorter on land lesson we got straight to it. The surf was good and the session was good fun, lots of splashing and falling off still, but there was noticeable improvement from most people and lots of happy faces as they caught waves in. I myself got a few good waves and got the excellent feel of riding before the wave. A bit like flying, only easier to fall off!
I would have loved to have stayed longer, the atmosphere at the lodge, and the positive attitude from the staff that wore off on everybody else was just brilliant.
Working hard - Versestravel
Benjamin Duff – Versestravel

Indoor Adventures – Bouldering and Trampolining – Blog for Isaacs.ie

Sometimes the Irish weather can get the best of us – but with these Indoor Adventures you’ll be getting your adrenalin fix in no time!

Just chilling - Versestravel.wordpress.com

Bouldering is very similar to Rock Climbing, you still climb up walls, but these walls are a maximum of 4.5 meters high, and there’s some lovely big cushions at the bottom as well. Which means there’s no ropes and shorter climbs. This makes it much more accessible than normal climbing, where you need a partner, knowledge of knots and more expensive gear. Bouldering is easy to get into and highly addictive.

Easy or Hard? - Versestravel.wordpress.comGravity Climbing Centre is a short walk from the Blackhorse stop on the LUAS red line about 20 minutes from the hostel. The friendly staff will get you kitted up and clued in with a few minutes and before you know it you’ll be jumping down to the pad after your first climb. Go with a few mates and hang out, taking it in turns climbing the same sections or just go alone and make some new friends. The staff and customers there are all approachable and always willing to give advice on how to tackle the next obstacle. Depending on your fitness the 90 minute intro session should wear you out, but if you want you can become a member and stay there all day.

Dodgeball! - Versestravel.wordpress.comJumpzone trampoline park is a little more casual, no special skills needed here, just lots of enthusiasm. A short bus ride north of the city, the site is the biggest in Europe. It’s a huge room, filled with trampolines, simple as that. Whether you fancy a bounce around or you want to practice those backflips this is a great place to be. You’ll be amazed at how much progress you can make within one session, and with the foam pit you try those tricks you were too scared to try before.  And for those of you with a competitive edge, there’s a couple of dodgeball courts to get into as well. Team up, or just go one on one with a buddy, there’s plenty of ways to have fun with trampolines and balls!

Jumpzone HQ - Versestravel.wordpress.com

Benjamin Duff – Versestravel

Opportunities

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One thing that I learnt while away: Make the most of all opportunities.

It’s easy to be too budget, or safety, conscious these days, especially when you’re travelling around. But we can’t take anything with us, so let’s enjoy everything we can while we’re alive (but don’t be a dick).

NYC - Scott CliffordWorking as a travel agent in Australia and New Zealand I had a lot of incredible opportunities, from Bungy Jumps, to Helicopter trips, all for free, and I tried to do as many as I could. Even the stuff that didn’t appeal to so much, it’s worth a try just to be sure! I even went to Milford Sound twice, just to enjoy the spectacular scenery. I did most of these things alone, I wasn’t worried about that.

Northern Drakensberg, SAMore recently I was in Cornwall, and despite long drives, I went to meet people and visit new places. Cornwall isn’t quite as impressive as New Zealand, or South Africa, but it still has some beautiful areas, and I’m very glad I made the trip, even if it cost me in petrol. Even locally there are cool places and things to do, so don’t be afraid to go have a look.

SharkI am currently working at a hostel in Dublin, and this has opened doors for me again to try certain activities for no cost. I am doing most of them alone, but usually I meet other people. Admittedly, some of the bus tours have been pretty dry and boring, but I’m still glad I got to see the wonderful sights they took me to. I’d always prefer to go with a friend, but if it’s not feasible, going alone is better than not going at all.

JohannesburgTalking to a friend the other day, she told me she wouldn’t do the things I do alone. She sounded pretty interested in them, but was perhaps too nervous to go alone. She would always need company, even to go bouldering or trampolining. Yet she also wasn’t motivated enough to organise a trip with her friends. It seems a shame to me that either laziness, or nervousness would prevent a person from enjoying activities like these.

SydneySo I guess what I’d like to see is more people trying new things, and more of the places that run such activities hosting ‘newbie nights’ or something similar, a session designed to get people meeting each other and enjoying fun things together. Perhaps ‘singles nights’ might be fun as well, not just to meet training partners, but also to meet people with common interests.

Castle

Religious Remains – Irish Religion; St Patricks, St Valentines & Christchurch – Blog for Jacobsinn.com

If the history of Irish religion is something you’re interested in, then Dublin surely is the best place for you.

St Valentines' Remains - Versestravel.wordpress.comAlong with the famous sight of Christchurch Cathedral, there’s hundreds of other little spots that can hold your fascination. The first of these is the resting place of St Valentines remains, the Carmelite Whitefriars Street Church. This is an impressive church in itself, as big as some of the cathedrals in Ireland. From the outside however it is somewhat more humble in appearance. Inside it offers an impressive and decorative hall, more modern than others but still a good photo opportunity. Part way down the hall is an alcove, which contains the remain of the romantic Saint in a humble display, a simple box contains the actual remains, which is held within an alter, above which is a statue of the man. There is a book in which you can write a prayer to the Saint. Asking any of the clergy about St Valentine will reward you with an impassioned talk on the history of his life and achievements.

St Patricks' Cathedral - Versestravel.wordpress.comSt Patricks’ Cathedral is not a far walk from Whitefriar Street Church, and with the park adjacent is a wonderful stop for lunch. It also allows you to get some good snaps of the Cathedral in more picturesque surroundings. It is a small charge of €5.50 for entrance but this allows you full access of the interior, and plenty more opportunities to get those snaps for the photo album. Again, the clergy and curators are incredibly knowledgeable and will jump at the chance to discuss their favourite subject. Depending on who you ask, you can get a full history of Dublin along with the story of the development of religion in the country.

 

Marshe's Library - Versestravel.wordpress.comJust around the corner from St Patricks is the Archbishop Marsh Library, a small but lovely little library containing many religious texts. With a cheap entry price, this is a quick and easy stop on the tour. The rooms that hold the books are stunning, lined with shelves, reminiscent of the long room in Trinity college. However this library is much smaller, and attracts much smaller crowds meaning a trip here feels like uncovering a hidden gem in the bustling city. The intimate surroundings and old wood finish gives it an almost imposing sense of gravitas and austerity.

Christchurch Cathedral - Versestravel.wordpress.comFinally is the ever popular Christchurch Cathedral, the most expensive at €8 and also the most touristy, but with access to the catacombs beneath the main hall, this is money well spent. The cathedral is one of the most impressive in Europe and one of the most important in terms of Irish Religion, with large stained windows and a lot of statues and shrines around the edge of the room. Then the catacombs add a significant amount of intricate history and interest to the trip. The guided tours are an excellent choice as you’ll learn a lot about the cathedral, and this sight in particular has a lot of history specific to it. It has ties to nearly all of the events that have shaped Dublin city as it is today.

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This is a wonderful tour you can do easily from Jacobs Hostel in a single day and even if you’re not so keen on Irish religion the sights are impressive and you will pass plenty other points of interest on route.

Benjamin Duff

Versestravel

Where Does The DART Go? Blog for Jacobsinn.com

Seconds away from Jacobs Inn is Connolly Station, with the DART line – but where does the DART go?

Well simply enough, it heads along the east coast, both north and south of the city.

SOUTH

Heading South on the DART - Versestravel.wordpress.comHeading out of Dublin south will treat you some incredible coastal views. Once you get through the sprawl of the city, the railway follows the line of the coasts, cutting it’s way through headlands and over cliffs. The views are simply amazing as you head along

Bray - Versestravel.wordpress.comHeading down to Bray or Greystones is a good recommendation, both are pleasant little towns that will give you a nice walk and a great bite to eat. In fact Bray is home to the Harbour Bar, voted the best pub in the world in 2010 by the Lonely Planet guidebooks. It may have lost the title, but it hasn’t lost the charm or the quality. Heading in here will never be a mistake, the delightful decor and friendly staff will welcome you like it’s their home, and if the weather has turned less pleasant this is a wonderfully homely place to call home for a couple hours.

NORTH

Malahide - Versestravel.wordpress.comTo the north is the terminus of Malahide, another seaside town. While the ride up isn’t so impressive the town makes up for it. You can buy yourself a nice picnic lunch and go sit on the grass down by the pontoons. Watching the boats and birds bobbing in the bay with some good food will put you in an excellent mood for a stroll.

Malahide Castle - Versestravel.wordpress.comIf you head back past the station you can find the lovely Malahide castle, set in the large grounds and gardens. There’s a small charge to see the inner gardens, but the castle and grounds are free to explore. Wandering through here is a peaceful and easy way to spend a sunny afternoon. Away from the bustle of the city, it’s possible to lose the sound of all traffic and hide away somewhere quiet, until you lose track of all time and the sun has set.

The last location is the sweet little peninsular of Howth a small peninsular perfectly suited for a good stroll. Up across the centre will take you to the top of the hill, known as the Summit, where a pub awaits your arrival to fuel you on the rest of the walk. On the far side the lighthouse is sitting pretty, the focal point of many a photograph. Following the cliff walk back around will offer a variety of great views over the sea that divides Ireland from the United Kingdom. Back in the town, there’s some excellent pubs many of which offer live music, and best of all – cheap beer! At least a lot cheaper than Dublin.

Dublin sunset from the DART - Versestravel.wordpress.comSo now you know where the DART goes – time to go have a look!

Benjamin Duff – Versestravel

Urban Wakeboarding in Dublin – Blog for Isaacs.ie

Sounds like a crazy idea – but until you’ve tried Urban Wakeboarding you’ll have no idea how great it can be.

Bord Gais Theatre, from the Grand Canal - Versestravel.wordpress.com

Wakedock is located in the Central Canal, just 5 mins from the DART station and 20mins walk from the hostel. The day we headed down was sunny with little wind, after introductions and instructions we got changed and headed out to the starting platform. There’s no need to be worried about the cold, although the water is pretty chilly, after only one run we were warm and toasty in our wetsuits.

The Wakedock - Versestravel.wordpress.comThe set up is simple, one line like a clothes line pulls the tow handle across the water. The height of the line helps to pull you out of the water making it easy to get started. Within seconds we were up and away, and shortly after we reached the far end of the course. It takes a little getting used to learning to carve out and tuck back in to turn around without going back in the water, but soon enough we were performing beautiful carves over the water.

In fact the whole experience was very easy – much easier than being towed behind a boat and a lot of fun. By the end of the session we were even trying slides on the first obstacle, not too successfully as you can see in the video! The instructor was very helpful, giving tips and help wherever he saw it was needed, making sure we were ok after each bail. The impact vest and helmet protect your vital parts from the worst of the falls, but not once did we get hurt.

Wakedock jump! - Versestravel.wordpress.comExciting, adrenalin pumping, heart racing – if you’ve never tried wakeboarding this is the easiest way to go, and if you’re already a pro, the obstacles make it a great place to practice those backflips. Best of all, the weather really doesn’t matter, as you’ll be wet anyway. So next time you’re not sure what to do on a rainy day and you want the rush of adrenalin – you know where to go!

Check out the Video here

Benjamin Duff – Versestravel

The Grand Canal - Versestravel.wordpress.com

 

 

Belfast Roadtrip Day 2 – #gentsonajaunt

Day 1

Belfast City Hall - Queen Victoria
Belfast City Hall

An earlyish start lead us out into a completely deserted Belfast, the religious roots still mean that the city centre is shut up until 1pm on a Sunday.

Moving on to our first stop, Shanes Castle, just half hour away to check out some more Game of Thrones filming locations. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly security guard who told us that the site was closed to visitors, although he did let us have a little walk down to the lough. He explained that the site was currently in use, and that filming had and would be occurring that month. So we got to see a real set, scaffolding, fences and everything.

Giants Causeway stretching into the sea
Giants Causeway

The next stop was Giant’s Causeway, via the coastal road from Port Stewart. The National Trust really want you to pay for your ticket, which includes entry into the appartently excellent visitor centre, and parking. But at £8.50 per person, we decided to park a little down the road at the Heritage Railway and walk, it’s still free access if you don’t use any of the NT facilities. The causeway is covered in tourists but covers a reasonable area, so you do get moments of peace. A lot of time is spent waiting for people to get out of your photos, or dodging out of their though. At £6 for the parking (split between  3) we felt that was a good amount to have paid, but that £8.50 was rather too much, unless the visitor centre was really spectacular.

 

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle

Next was a quick stop off at Dunluce castle, a great location featuring a castle perched on a cliff stack, linked by bridge to the cliff top. It’s possible to walk around the paid site and check out the castle from below, along with the ‘mermaid cave’ underneath the castle. The way it is makes it feel like I could be in Game of Thrones, an impressive castle in an impressive location.

 

Ballintoy Harbour - the filming location for Pike
Ballintoy Harbour

Balintoy Harbour is a very picturesque little port, nestled in the natural alcove created in the rocks the harbour is built in and on this existing safe zone. Again it’s popularity somewhat mars the experience, but it’s still wonderfully pretty, and is another Game of Thrones filming location. We were hoping to try the cafe, but it had just started to rain, and there simply wasn’t space for all the tourists to cram in there together.

We drove on to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge but the weather and price put us off somewhat. The NT seems to really embracing the popularity of these sites and maximising their profits as well. It would be nice to see them charging a more reasonable amount.

Dark Hedges - The Kings Road
Dark Hedges

The final stop on our tour were the Dark Hedges, a popular stop before GoT featured them, and an even more popular stop now. However, it was surprisingly quiet. It only takes a minute or two to get a decent pic, and there’s not much more to it than that. It’s far from the coast though, and it looks really cool, so check it out.

From there it was the long haul back through the suburbs of Belfast and down to Dublin. Overall a very good trip, and very good value for money, certainly better value for money than a day tour, although that is booking in advance and splitting costs 3 ways.

Giants Causeway
Giants Causeway
Lough Neagh from Shanes Castle
Lough Neagh

Belfast Roadtrip Day 1 – #GentsonaJaunt

This weekend I took a trip to Northern Ireland with a couple of the other guys on my internship scheme. The Belfast roadtrip involved some very historical sites, a few Game of Thrones stops, and plenty of natural coastal beauty.

Strangford Lough and Castle Ward boat shed
Strangford Lough

Overall the trip cost us less than €50 per person for the car and hostel night. Food and booze is another matter, but if you’ve traveled at all you should be able to budget for those. The car was through Europcar, booked about 12 days in advance, and the hostel was Vagabonds booked through Hostelworld.com.

Knowth, and a satellite tomb
Knowth

Picking up the car from Dublin city we hit the road about 11 on Saturday morning and drove directly to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, the gateway to the Newgrange and Knowth ancient sites. Despite plenty of warnings, (normally the wait time is pretty long) we were lucky to be able to immediately join the Knowthe followed shortly by Newgrange. Tours include transport to the site, and are necessary to gain access to the megaliths, there’s no sneaking in or queue jumping possible.

Knowth Interior, smaller than it looks - approx 5ft high
Knowth Interior

Knowth has one megalith, surrounded by several satellite tombs, it has clearly been reconstructed in parts, but a lot of the original pieces are still in place. It is an impressive site, especially when you understand that these monuments were built over 5000 years ago, 500 years before the first Pyramid in Egypt. The tour guide was knowledgeable and interesting, showing us the various stages in development that had happened in and around the hill. There is also an opportunity to go inside, to a newly built display room, showing some of the more recent (but still 100s of years old) developments and the entrance to the original passageway to the central chamber that held the remains that led archaeologists to believe it to be a tomb.

Newgrange entrance - not the original steps
Newgrange entrance

Newgrange is a larger and more visually impressive site, with the quartz wall rebuilt along the front side. The carved rocks on display are the originals, and in the correct position, and are the reason for the wooden steps that lead to the internal passage. While this somewhat spoils the frontage, it protects these carvings, with the Tri-Spiral, a symbol only seen at this site. The tour guide here provides an excellent base of knowledge about the site, including the uncertainties involved with piecing together the evidence, and the variety of theories about the area. You are lead into the megalith to the very centre, a chamber which contains three large dish shaped pieces that are said to have been the first stones laid (they are too large to fit through the passageway). There is some wonderful original carving, as well as some less historic carved graffiti from the 1800’s. Using the lights it’s possible to give you an idea of what the room is like on the morning of the shortest days of the year. On these days the sunlight comes through the ‘roof box’, a window above the door,  right into the chamber. This is only for 20 minutes maximum, and is said to be of ancient sacred significance. You can enter a lottery to be allowed to be in the room on one of these day on the heritage ireland website. I hope the weather is good for the winners.

Wild Ireland - getting lost is fun!
Wild Ireland

Our next intended stop was the Tollymore Forest Park, a site for some Game of Thrones filming, we took some interesting wrong turns along the way, and ended up driving through the mountains of Mourne. This was an excellent accident, and the gloomy weather made us feel as though we were driving through the wild North of Game of Thrones/Misty mountains of Lord of the Rings. Some spectacular views later we found the park, but not the filming location, after a quick drive by we moved on.

Audleys Tower - GoT location stop 7 (according to the sign)
Audleys Tower

Castle ward and Audleys tower, overlooking Strangford Lough was the next stop, taking in a few more filming locations and appreciating a walk along the lake edge. The castle itself is not too impressive, but head to the waters edge and take a stroll, it’s impossible not to be impressed. Great views of the lake, with some wonderfully picturesque old buildings make for excellent photos, and Audleys Tower is a nice little site, perched atop a hill overlooking the lough.

The view from Castle Ward
Castle Ward

The last stop was Belfast, with no google maps thanks to flat batteries we found our hostel eventually. Vagabonds is great small hostel, welcoming and fun, even if we were the only people drinking around the table at first. The staff were good fun, and took us, and all the other guests who wanted to, to the local drinking establishment, a bar/club/off license, known as Laverys‘. Playing a nice mix of indie and rock downstairs and funky house and pop in the upstairs loft club. It was a good way to experience Belfast in a night.

Benjamin Duff