Love Animals? Here’s Some Great Holiday Ideas!

One of the downsides of living in the city is that you don’t always get to spend much time at one with nature. Breathing in the clean, fresh air and being able to marvels of the natural world all around is something many people take for granted. If you’ve been brought in the countryside then have moved to the big bad city, you may miss it. It’s good for the soul to spend some time in the great outdoors. It’s essential for a healthy mind and body. Getting in touch with Mother Nature helps keep things in perspective too. Sometimes we can get so swallowed up by our own worries we can forget we’re just small parts of a much bigger picture.

If you’re an animal lover, you may not even have room for a small pet in your apartment in the big smoke. So if you’re missing contact with some four-legged friends why not spend some time with some on holiday? From Swimming with Dolphins to Monkeying about with apes, you could spend some time walking with the animals. What could be better for something different to do on your vacation this year?

Pack a Trunk on Safari

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Megan Coughlin: image credit

Passionate about preservation? Then why not visit the stunning wilds of Africa on a safari drive? You could walk amongst the elephants and see masses of cheetahs. Namibia is home to the largest colonies of wild cheetahs. They also have unique terrains, and you’ll get to see animals you’ve only ever seen in books or on tv right up close. It’s very humbling to be amongst such a variety of animals in their natural habitat.

Do you, donkey?

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Marilyn Peddle : image credit

If you’re planning to get married on vacation, Did you know you could get wed with some very special animals? You can get married in the UK in a Donkey Sanctuary! If that’s not a unique holiday/wedding idea, then you’ve got a much better imagination than this blogger! Saying I do amongst braying donkey’s might not be everyone’s ideal big day, but you could be doing some serious good. By having your nuptials here, you’ll be giving something to charity and help animals in need.

Swimming with Dolphins

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hirotomo t : image credit

Do you love dolphins? You can swim amongst them when you visit the Azores. A firm favourite destination with many for years, the Azores are classy and sophisticated. And as swimming with dolphins is on many a bucket list, there’s no better place to do it. It’s the ultimate if you are amazed by all things marine. Swimming in the clear warm waters beside such picturesque scenery is definitely the stuff that dreams are made of.

These experiences would be ideal for any animal lover and would make a fantastic surprise. Imagine fulfilling your dreams on holiday! For anyone with a fondness for wildlife, you normally wouldn’t come across these things in your everyday life. Make your holiday memorable and extra special this year in 2016!

Weekly Photo Challege – Silhouette

Here are two pictures for the Weekly Photo Challenge – Silhouette

I took this picture in Dublin while the sun was slowly setting down…it was a true beauty saying goodbye to the sun.

View of River Liffey and the city of Dublin from O’Connell Bridge

Next picture is of few young kids (probably teen-agers) enjoying the magical moments of sunset by River Rhine in Basel, Switzerland

Sunset near Mittlere Rheinbruck (Middle Rhine Bridge)

Revisiting Luxemburg

Last weekend my little sister, who lives in Virginia, was here in Belgium. We went to Luxemburg for the weekend and stayed there overnight. I didn’t forget the serene beauty of Luxemburg from our last visit 4 years ago, (I don’t think anyone can forget whoever visited this lovely country), but this visit was much needed to freshen up some of the magnificent places that the place has to offer to its visitors. Here is a picture of the old ruins of Luxemburg…enjoy

Walking around the old ruins of Luxemburg (Casamates)

A day by the Alps in Lucerne, Switzerland

LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND: Lucerne was completely different from what I had imagined it to be. After looking at some Google images, I knew it would be surrounded by the Alps, has a lake, and some nice views. Of course it has the giant Alps guarding the city from different directions and deep blue Lake Lucerne being a huge home for lots and lots of elegant and friendly white swans. But the city itself is charismatic and charming as well as loaded with Swiss history and a feeling of medieval city life. In addition to that, the location is great to explore other nearby Swiss cities like Zurich, Berne, Basel, Interlaken and regions, like French Alsace, German Black Forest, and finally, the mighty Alps.

Lucerne Bay, Chapel Bridge, the Alps in Luncerne, Switzerland

The main attractions in Lucerne are within walking distance. Taking a stroll or just chilling by Lake Lucerne is half the fun here. The official language of the city is German, but I’ve heard people speaking French and most of the locals are very fluent in English as well. One thing to remember when driving on autobahn and entering Basel (or Switzerland) is that you have to pay 40 CHF to get a toll ticket. The ticket is valid for one calendar year indicating on the sticker. There are few garages close to The Chapel Bridge or the old town, don’t have to take any risk of parking by the curbside.

Majestic swans of Lucerne Bay in Switzerland

TIME OF TRAVELING: We drove to Basel during first week July, 2012. It was a nice and scenic 5 hours of drive from Tervuren, Belgium. From there, we came to Lucerne for a day trip, which was about an hour drive from Basel. The weather was extremely cooperative, not too hot, not too cold, and luckily, no rain.

Summer blooms in Lucerne, Switzerland

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Dorin Hotels & Resorts in Basel. The hotel didn’t have free breakfast but free Wi-Fi and paid car garage were perfect for us. The best part of the hotel was that they gave us free tram pass for 4 of us for the duration of our stay which we could use both in Basel and Lucerne. Also the location of this hotel was perfect. It was only 7/8 minutes tram ride from Basel city center and about an hour drive to Lucerne.

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN LUCERNE: Of course, Swiss chocolates are something to eat and buy in Switzerland. Other than Lindt, “Villars” is a good brand of Swiss chocolates. Additionally, Swiss knives, watches (if you have some extra cash to spare), and cowbells are some of the popular souvenirs to take back home. Buying Swiss watches from Switzerland doesn’t mean that you will get them cheaper here, these cost about the same anywhere else in the world. There are tons of Swiss watch stores in Lucerne and some of them are actually open on Sundays too.

PLACES WE HAVE VISITED: We spent a whole day in Lucerne and saw all the things we wanted to see in our list. Here are all the places we could explore in a day:

Swiss cows on the Alps, you can actually hear the bells clanging around their necks

1) Mt. PILATUS: If you want to enjoy the breathtaking view of one and only Alps, consider going to Mt. Pilatus for that and it is a one of a life-time experience. A trip on Mt. Pilatus involving the cogwheel railway (world’s STEEPEST cogwheel railway) or various cableways is an experience not to be missed. Mt. Pilatus offers a spectacular view of Lucerne Bay on a clear day. If its cloudy and you can’t see the bay, don’t worry, looking at soothing greenery up on the mountains, listening to Swiss cows clinging their bells as they roam around the hills, hugging the clouds, and enjoying fauna & flora are just some of many things to do and see here. This is a great adventure for all ages and visitors get a good impression of the rocky and wild side of Alps.

A cog-wheel rail (world’s steepest cog-wheel ride) crawling up Mount Pilatus in Switzerland

This is a great place for hiking for the pro-hikers. The fantastic trails offer everything from easy to alpine. We really didn’t hike, but took some short walks with the kids to admire different parts of the mountain. Even if you don’t prefer hiking, plan to spend at least couple hours on Pilatus. I would highly recommend taking a fleece or light sweater when going 8000 ft. high in elevation. The weather is very unpredictable here, it kept changing from hot to cold and hot again.

From top of Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

There are several different options to go on top of Mt. Pilatus. We took the cogwheel ride from bottom of Mt. Pilatus and within 30 minutes we were on top of the cloudy mountain. For the round trip of cogwheel ride we paid 70 CHS per adult, 35 CHS for our 6 years old and nothing for the 2 years old. There are few restaurants on top of Alpnachstad. Visit www.pilatus.ch to see all the options and packages are available for the visitors to make this trip a really great experience.

View of Lucerne Bay as we were going down the mountain in Switzerland

2) THE CHAPEL BRIDGE (KAPELLBRÜCK): This is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe and a must see landmark in Lucerne. Built in the 14th century, the bridge served as rampart and town fortification during that time. Chapel Bridge was burnt down in 1993 around midnight, which unfortunately, also damaged a lot of the paintings there dating from the 17th century. But you can still see the remaining paintings while crossing the bridge.

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland

Walking over the Chapel Bridge is a fantastic experience. During the summer, it is decorated with beautiful flowers on both sides. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the surrounding jaw-dropping view from the bridge. We were standing there surrounded by many white swans with the Alps on one side, old town and medieval buildings lined by the water on another side (which kind reminded me of Venice), and several gorgeous architectures on the other side. Jesuitenkirche, with its green twin towers, is an example of one of those beautiful buildings that can be seen from the Chapel Bridge. I am sure anyone will instantly fall in love with the view from the bridge after seeing such splash of colors all around it. Don’t forget to buy some souvenirs from the store right on the bridge.

View of Jesuitenkirche and surroundings from the Chapel Bridge, Lucerne, Switzerland

3) HOFKIRCHE: This can easily be recognized by its twin towers. You have to climb some stairs to go inside the church. Interior is very nicely decorated with giant white columns and furniture in dark wood. There are several old large paintings here. The cemetery outside the church is very peaceful and calm. Also the view of the city from up the stairs near the church is simply lovely.

Hofkirche in Lucerne, Switzerland

4) LOWENDENKMAL (THE LION MONUMENT): Also known as the Lion of Lucerne, is a sculpture of a mortally wounded lion, situated in a very calm and serene place shaded by lots of green trees. This mourning lion commemorates the Swiss mercenaries who, in the service of Louis XVI King of France, were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The inscription “Helvetiorum fidei ac virtruti” means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”. This stone-curved sculpture is 6 meters high and 10 meters long. Many writers have praised this sculpture in their works, one of them is Mark Twain, who said “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

The Lion Monument of Lucerne, Switzerland

5) ALTSTADT (OLD TOWN): This is a fascinating place to get lost and connect with Swiss history. The old town is rather small but remarkably well-preserved. Enjoy small squares like Weinmarkt, Kapellplatz, Theaterplatz and Lucerne Rathaus (City Hall) in Kornmarkt with its maroon clock tower. Its narrow streets, passages, and murals on buildings are truly admirable. You can also see Lake Lucerne and The Chapel Bridge once in a while thru those old buildings. Overall, the old town of Lucerne takes you back to past centuries and leaves you with a pleasant feeling.

Old town of Lucerne near the Town Hall in Switzerland

6) TRIP TO BASEL: Basel is less than hour drive from Lucerne. It makes a great day trip to get some taste of Swiss city-life. The public transportation system in Basel is extremely well. Please check out my page on Basel on the right to get more travel information on this city.

View of River Rhine and the city from the top of Basel Munster tower

Dear Dublin,

DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Visiting Ireland was a dream coming true for me. I am not so much into crowded city, but I simply loved the hustling and bustling of Dublin. It’s an up-beat city with lots of energy and attitude. I truly enjoyed the great combination of its laid back charms and busy city life. How is it possible? Come to Dublin and they will show you how they can be both laid back and yet be spontaneous all at the same time. After visiting Dublin, I realized that Irish are the friendliest and jolliest people in Europe. They will just come and start a conversation instantly and will come forward to help you if they see you looking left and right with a map in your hands.

The old city wall of Dublin

Ireland was established or founded in 988 A.D. but got its independency from Great Britain in 1921. Dublin (“Dubh” and “Linn” means The Black Pool in Gaelic), being the capital of Ireland, has many historical buildings and places that played big role in getting their freedom from the English. River Liffey made its way to different parts of the city making it even more beautiful.

Walking around near Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland

TIME OF TRAVELING: We took a train from Belfast to Dublin in the 2nd week of August, 2012. It was a nice 2:30 hours of scenic train ride. We did buy the tickets before hand, but I am sure you can buy them on the stop too but will cost more. We didn’t get much of rain during our stay, may be once or twice a sudden heavy rain for 5 minutes and that’s all. Otherwise, the summer is very pleasant here, may be a bit chilly at night.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar. This is a 3-stars hotel with free Wi-Fi but the location was AWESOME. This is about a minute walk from the heart of Temple Bar.  We usually explored other parts of the city during day and had our dinners in Temple Bar. This is also within 10 minutes of walk from most of the tourist attractions like Dublin Castle, Dublin City Hall, O’Connell Street, and Trinity College.

A popular Irish pub on the street near Temple Bar where our Hotel Blooms was located

WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN DUBLIN: “There is more philosophy in a pint of Guinness than in all the books in Trinity College” – Martin Keane, Proprietorship. I found this quote on the tiny envelope where our hotel receptionist put the keys for our room. This tells a lot about what to drink in Ireland, doesn’t it? Other than that, traditional Irish stew is a very famous dish here which is cooked with lots of potatoes and vegetables like carrots. Some places have it with beef, but if you want the old-style stew then lamb is the way to go. Fish items are also very well-known here for those seafood lovers. There are tons of traditional Irish restaurants with live music and performers in Temple Bar. We had one dinner and a traditional Irish breakfast in one morning in O’Shea’s which has good Irish food for good price. For another dinner we tried another restaurant called “Rome to Mexico” where you can get Mexican food as well as Italian food. Some people may be surprised that we actually went for Mexican restaurants in Dublin!!! This is what happens when you are away from Taco Bell for too long!!! The food was the yummiest and the place was right beside the original Temple Bar restaurant (the red building).

My Irish stew in O’Shea’s near Temple Bar

For gifts and souvenirs, Carroll is the biggest store in the city. They are almost everywhere in Temple Bar and O’Connell Street. They have the largest selection of Irish gift items and you can find anything and everything that you are looking for including Irish CDs, t-shirts, mugs, Celtic ornaments and jewelries, Guinness items, and leprechaun. There are some other stores as well selling the same stuff. I bought a sweat-shirt “Temple Bar” written on it; you can only find it in Temple Bar, nowhere else.

The oldest Irish pub from 1198 – Brezen Head Inn

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We got 2 full days in Dublin. We didn’t go out to countryside to see the true beauty of Ireland this time. We were enjoying the city itself so much that we decided not to go to the mountains or the coastal sides. As usual, we hit most of the places by foot. It is a lot of walking but it didn’t feel like so since I was enjoying every bit of the city. Dublin is known for its beautiful and colorful doors…so pay attention when walking around the city or a neighborhood for these doors.

Customs House by River Liffey in Dublin, Ireland

Some of the places that we saw other than the ones I’ve listed are old city wall, Samuel Beckett Bridge on River Liffey which looks like a harp (built in 2009), the grand building of Customs House on the bank of Liffey and very close to Samuel Beckett Bridge (built in 1791), Brezen Head Inn – the oldest Irish pub from 1198, and one of the world’s oldest cast-iron bridges, Ha’Penney Bridge.

An artist and his creative mind near Dublin Spire

1) O’CONNELL STREET & BRIDGE, O’CONNELL MONUMENT, and THE SPIRE: This is the heart of Dublin and THE place to hang out day or night. The long stretch of O’Connell Street is a perfect place to eat, buy souvenirs, do shopping, enjoy River Liffey from O’Connell Bridge (built in 1880), or to just take a stroll. One of the iconic buildings of Dublin, the historical General Post Office, is also located here. You will find some high-end restaurants here as well as good fast foods like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway.

View of River Liffey and the city of Dublin from O’Connell Bridge during sunset

O’Connell Monument, built in 1882, is right near O’Connell Bridge as you are coming from south. And the Spire (built in 2003), one of the tallest sky-touching needles I have ever seen, is on one side of O’Connell Street. The small branches of O’Connell Street are very impressive and charming as well.

The Dublin Spire on O’Connell Street and the building of General Post Office on the left

2) TEMPLE BAR: Nightlife here in Temple Bar is definitely noteworthy. This is where the good stuffs are happening in Dublin. I don’t think this place ever sleeps. It becomes more beautiful and more crowded after evening. Temple Bar consists of few streets and blocks mostly cobbled-streets for pedestrians. You will see colorful flower baskets in front of most of the restaurants and pubs.  This is the best place to hang-out and have a drink or meal. Most of the restaurants here are traditional Irish pubs and usually have live performers, singers, comedians every night, especially in weekends.

Temple Bar, the first building in Temple Bar area, on the right and Mexico to Rome, where we ate one night

3) ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH: This is a giant edifice with English style Clock Tower right beside St. Patrick’s Park. The Normans built a church in stone on this site in 1191. This was rebuilt in the early 13th century and is the building we see today. This is a lovely church as well as a great museum for those who loves history. The writer of famous book “Gulliver’s Travel” Jonathan Swift’s grave is located in the south aisle of the nave of the cathedral. He was the Dean of this cathedral from 1713 – 1745 and wrote the book while he was in that position. His pulpit can still be seen although it is no longer used. The cathedral houses some memoirs of Jonathan Swift along with other previous deans. Pay attention to the sparkly and colorful tiled floor as you walk on them.

The colorful tiled floor of St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland

The church is open Mon – Fri: 9 – 5, Sat: 9 – 6. The fee to enter the church is 5:50 euros per adult and family ticket is 15 euros (2 adults + 2 children).

Inside St. Patrick Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

4) CHRIST’S CHURCH CATHEDRAL: This church was founded in 1030 A.D. making is the oldest building in Dublin.  Christ’s Church Cathedral is very similar to St. Patrick’s Church inside and out. They both have similar English style outer look and very similar colorful floor design and altar. The church has a great collection of cathedral’s history, artifacts from royal gifts and communal ceremonies. Do go downstairs to visit the interesting crypt and treasury where visitors can see old costumes of the church’s members, the oldest foundation of the church from 11th century, old furniture, silverware, and ceremonial artifacts on display. The crypt is not only one of the largest medieval crypts in either Britain or Ireland, but also the oldest structure in Dublin. One interesting display in the crypt is the cat and rat (opposite the gift shop) – the one presumably chasing the other, were trapped in an organ pipe in the 1860s and became mummified. Another FYI, Christ Church Cathedral has a record-breaking 19 bells, the greatest number of bells in the world run full-circle.

Christ Church Cathedral on the right and Dublinia Museum on the left in Dublin, Ireland

Christ’s Church Cathedral is open daily 9:45 – 6 in June – August and 9:45 – 5 in September – December. The crypt and treasury are open until 5. The entrance fee is 6 euros per adult, 2 euros per child, and 14 euros per family with 2 adults and 2 children. You can also get combo ticket for this church and Dublinia Museum for a cheaper price. You can go top of the bell tower for 4 euros extra and it takes about 30 minutes; kids 12 years or under aren’t allowed to go there.

5) DUBLIN CITY HALL: This is another grand building and an outstanding example of Georgian architecture situated right beside Dublin Castle. It was built between 1769 and 1779 by the Guild of Merchants. The building has been used as the city hall since 1852. The exhibition here displays story of Dublin, Ireland from 988 when the Vikings found this city, medieval life of this city, Ireland under British laws, history of their independence, and finally, how it got its modern face. If you are not interested in the history or exhibition, go to the Rotunda on the 2nd level, which is free of charge. This is a big circular hall with spacious dome, supported by 12 columns and beautiful art-works on the wall. There are few statues of the glorious sons of Ireland who played major roles in getting their freedom and to the society.

City Hall is open Mon – Sat: 10 – 5:15 and closed on Sundays and holidays. Exhibition of city hall is 4 euros per adult, 1:50 euros per kid, and 10 euros for family ticket (2 adults and 2 children).

6) DUBLIN CASTLE & SURROUNDING SITES: Unlike most of the castle we’ve seen so far, Dublin Castle is right in the middle of the city and right beside the town hall. The castle was established in 1204 A.D. We walked right in the inner courtyard of the castle which has relatively new buildings on all the sides. The courtyard featured some sand sculptures in the center and we saw an artist working on his project to make a sand-sculpture surrounded by other finished sculptures. We didn’t really go inside the castle, just spent some time walking around outside. There is a small chapel, called the Chapel Royal, near the Record Tower (with 15 ft. thick walls), which functioned as a top security jail for State prisoners in the old days and is the last intact medieval tower of Dublin City. Go around the other side of the castle where you will see few museums, and entrance to Dubh Linn Garden which once was the original site of Dubh-linn harbor (Black Pool in Gaelic) from which the city got its name from. The gardens are designed as a helicopter landing pad, with a pattern of six interlocking brick pathways (inspired by Celtic design) that are distinctive from the air. The Coach House, a mock-Gothic stone façade opposite of the main entrance, was constructed to house the Lord Lieutenant’s own coach and string of horses. Chester Beatty Library, located on one side of this garden, is a world-renowned art museum and library containing a rich and diverse collection of prints, drawings, books, miniature paintings, and decorative arts from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. We didn’t go inside the library, but you can see Egyptian papyrus texts, illuminated copies of the Koran, the Bible, and European medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

Sand sculptures in the inner-courtyard of Dublin Castle

The castle is open Mon – Sat: 10 – 4:45, Sun & Holidays: 12 – 4:45. There is no entrance fee but you will need guided tour to go inside the castle that costs 4.50 euros per adult and 2 euros for kids less than 12 years of age.

Dubh-Linn Garden and the Coach House in the back in Dublin, Ireland

7) TRINITY COLLEGE & THE OLD LIBRARY: Trinity College is among one of the prestigious universities of the world and is beautifully situated in the heart of Dublin. It wasn’t that crowded in summer since most of the students were gone for the break. This Library square is very nice and calm where you can see the largest Oregon Maple tree in Europe from 1800’s.

Entering the world-renowned Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland

Most of the visitors come to visit this college mainly to see its Old Library and Book of Kells (about 1 million visitors every year)…the cream of Irish beauty. Trinity College Library Dublin is one of the world’s great research libraries, holding the largest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland. The earliest surviving building, the Old Library, was built between 1712 and 1732. The exhibition area of the Old Library displays Irish medieval gospel manuscripts, principally the gorgeously illustrated and colorful calligraphy of original manuscript of the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow along with the history of these prints. These books were written in around 800s by Irish monks. The main chamber of the Old Library, the Long Room, is about 65 meters in length and houses around 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. The oldest surviving harp from Ireland, probably dating from the 15th century, is also displayed in the Long Room. As an early emblem of early society, this is the harm which appears on Irish coins. The Long Room also has busts of many famous intellectual people like Newton, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Socrates, and many more. It kinda feels overwhelming being among thousands of old books, and manuscripts.

The magnificent Old Library of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland

We, luckily, found a young guy selling tickets for walking tour in the university (Old Library is self-guided) near the main entrance. The tour costs us 10 euros per adult (kids are free) for 30 minutes which allows you to go to the Old Library as well. This was a good deal not only because the guide is a student of this college who can give you practical insights of this place but also you can use the same ticket to enter the library of Trinity College which is otherwise 9 euros. Be ready to stand on the line for a while to go inside the library. Pictures aren’t allowed in the exhibition area and in the Long Room.

8) AN POST MUSEUM: This is the general post office on O’Connell Street which was captured by Irish rebels on Easter Monday in 1916. This is one of the iconic buildings of Dublin that played a big role on their independence. The museum displays old stamps, videos/information on the early methods of delivering mails and parcels. The main reason we went to this museum was to see what actually happened on that Easter Monday in 1916 and surely, the video in the museum provided us with those great historical moments. An Post Museum is open Mon – Fri: 10 – 5 and Saturday: 10 – 4. The entrance fee is 2 euros per adults and free for the kids.

9) TRIP TO BELFAST: Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is very close to Dublin…only 2 hours and 30 minutes of scenic train ride. The city itself is very beautiful and vibrant. There are few guided tour bus services that you can take to visit the coastal side of the country and go to Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site Giant’s Causeway. Please visit my page on Belfast from the side bar to see all the fun things you can do in Belfast.

Giant’s Causeway – the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland

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