Thursday, September 23, 2010

Couple thrown out of hotel for writing negative TripAdvisor review

Here is an interesting story about a couple who were thrown out of the Golden Beach Hotel in Blackpool after being accused of writing a negative TripAdvisor review! I guess the lesson to be learned here is to close the gate before you slate!  Don't stop reviewing-it is an asset to tourist who follow in your footsteps-just do it after you leave!  This story has made its way into the press, resulting in a lot more bad publicity for the hotel than any Trip Advisor review could generate....a serious whoopsie on behalf of the hotel manager!  Read more  here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Arthur's Day!

Thursday September 23rd is upon us and, for the second year in a row, Ireland is preparing to celebrate Arthur's Day.  The people at Guinness have always been great marketeers, highly regarded for their clever and inspiring advertising campaigns, as well as the extremely successful World Records initiative. 

But their latest piece of PR pushing is close to ingenious.  What better way to shed a ray of light on a nation steeped in recession than to encourage them to do what they do best..... take to the streets drinking!  The creativity of this 'holiday' rivals even the Hallmark projects; it has a character (Arthur), a purpose  (raise a pint) and is strategically positioned exactly 6 months apart from Ireland's official day of boozing, St. Patrick's Day.  The addition of Arthur;s Day to the national calender is surely a permanent fixture and, in my opinion, certainly  a welcome one!  The sense of carnival induced by last years 250th anniversary celebrations did much to boost national morale, at least for the day.  Coming as it has during these dark times of high unemployment and overwhelming mistrust of the Government, Arthur's Day reminds us that being Irish means more than just being broke.  Being Irish means bring part of a community that is celebrated across the world for our music, dance, gift of the gab and of course, the craic!  

I for one will be raising a glass this evening.  If not to toast Arthur for giving us the black stuff, then to toast him for giving us an excuse to let our hair down!

Happy Arthur's Day!  


For more information on Arthur's Day visit the Guinness website.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Korcula-Birthplace of Marco Polo Don't you Know?!

Korcula is one of the largest and greenest islands of the Dalmatian Coast.   It is an extremely fertile territory, well known for its olive oil as well as for winemaking, particularly dessert wines made from the grk grape.   During my numerous walks within the interior countryside of the island I spotted figs, butternut squash, tomatoes, citrus fruits and various other produce growing in the fields.  

The parameter of the island is made up of secluded coves, quiet strands and beaches, both rocky and of fine sand.  Swimming, kayaking, snorkelling and wind surfing are all popular activities. 

A little known fact, until you visit Korcula that is, is that the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo, was actually born in Korcula.  A huge amount of shops, restaurants and hotels carry his name, so if a visitor is unaware of this fact on arrival, they certainly won't be on departure.  The island was controlled by Venice from the 14th to the 18th century, as is evident from the Venetian coats of arms adorning official buildings.

Korcula Old Town sits on a small hilly peninsula on the Northeastern side of the island.  The inside is made up of old churches, red roof houses and narrow winding streets.  It is often referred to as 'Little Dubrovnik'.  When you  look at its old walls, paved streets and historical structures it is easy to see why.  

There are of course noticeable differences to Dubrovnik Old Town.  Korcula is more compact and nowhere near as busy; you may even find yourself alone on a street or small square.  It does not possess the same elegance and sense of space of Dubrovnik, rather it appears slightly grubbier, less grand.  But this makes it feel older almost.  Compared to Dubrovnik, where the hun of restaurants, bars and cafes are located within the city's walls, the Old Town of Korcula is relatively quiet, with very little happening inside at night time.  

A strip of restaurants run the circumference of the exterior walls, offering views out onto the Adriatic.  They offer the same tourist priced fare as Dubrovnik, with local seafood, grilled meats and pizza homogenous to all menus.  There is also a good few bars and eateries in the new town, which is also nice to walk around.   One bar we wanted to visit, but were to early for is this terrace bar with a fantastic view of the sea and the Old town.  The cocktail bar allows visitors onto the terrace via a rather steep ladder.  Once a top they will send up your drinks via pulley system.  Probably best to visit here at the start of the night :)   It opens at 6 PM.  

As far as shopping is concerned I found that Korcula Old Town (and some stores outside) has the upper-hand on Dubrovnik.  But then I am a jewellery girl.  There are lots of good quality jewellery shops around, many specialising in turquoise and other stones. They can be expensive and the abundance of trinkets on offer can become overwhelming, but if you have the patience and purse to treat yourself you will find something nice.  if you are looking for a cheap fix then the usual junk is available on market stalls at the entrance to the Old Town.     

What I like most about Korcula is its relaxed island living.  Dubrovnik is for sightseeing, but Korcula is for holidaying.  For me a visit to the Old Town is merely a day trip to break up sleep days on the beach or more energetic walking/boating excursions.  You don't need to stay near to the old town.  Vela Luka and Lumbarda are both popular tourist destinations on the island, offering accommodation, activites, beaches and more.  

I wiled away a full week in Lumbarda, where the below photograph was taken, filling my days with countless swims, ice-creams, beers and afternoon snoozes.   

During our last few days in Korcula the weather began to get cloudy and slightly cold.  Without the sun the island loses a little of its charm so make sue to visit in the height of summer.  That goes for Croatia as a whole :)

Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the East

Famously referred to as 'the pearl of the Adriatic' by George Bernard Shaw, Dubrovnik is the tourist capital of Croatia.  The  city's well preserved walls and old town, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, are the main attraction for visitors of all kinds, from  inter-railing backpackers right through to five star luxury cruise guests.  

Matching the huge span of visitors to Dubrovnik is a range of accommodation options.  The city has many standard guesthouses, as well as 13 of Croatia's 23 luxury hotels. For those on a lower budget there are plenty of hostels and a huge amount of rooms to let.  The latter is the best option, often working out cheaper than a hostel for a higher standard.  Most of the property surrounding the port and the old town has been converted to cater for tourists.  Rooms can be in dedicated accommodation properties or simply in the homes of local families. There are lots of self-catering mini-apartments available as well as standard rooms with shared bathrooms.  This being my 3rd visit to Croatia since 2003 I have noticed an increase in the quality of this type of accommodation.  

Prices will vary depending on demand, but the best value will be got when you get off the ferries or a bus.  Locals will swarm you offering their services.  They will have photos and maps of their accommodations and will be open to striking a deal so be prepared to haggle.  The ferries usually arrive early so don't worry about not being able to find anywhere to stay.  The majority of these rooms are not available online so you do need to book in person.

Formerly known as the Republic of Ragusa, Dubrovnik was originally built during the 7th century.  It thrived as a maritime trading port, coming second only to Venice at the peak of its success.  In 1667 the city was almost completely devastated by an earthquake.  It was rebuilt and restored by its residents, giving us the Dubrovnik that stands today.  

In more recent history, Dubrovnik was absorbed into Yugoslavia following World War 1.  it had previously been a monarchy, however after the assassination of King Alexander in France, his son, Prince Paul, developed a relationship with the Germans.  This proved to be poor judgement on his part.  In 1939 the German immediately ousted the Prince and , with the help of the Fascist Italians, invaded Croatia.  Ultimately Communist control took hold under Tito and the Iron Curtain fell over Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia and Boznia-Herzegovina.   After Tito's death in 1980 things began to disintegrate.  By the end of the decade Croatia had entered into  war with Serbia.  Fighting lasted until 1993, with Dubrovnik receiving the bulk of the impact.  Evidence of the conflict  can still be found in the old town today, adding further dimension to the historical draw of the city.  

The Old Town
The fully pedestrianised and impeccably kept old town is a joy to explore and get lost within.   Its polished streets are noticeably absent of litter. Strict signage/frontage guidelines ensure that shops and restaurants fit snugly into the old town rather than distracting from or contradicting it. 

What will distract you from the lovely architecture and  intricate side streets is other tourists.  Between the months of April and October Dubrovnik is inundated with sightseers, many of whom share the holiday photographer's philosophy that he who holds camera need not look.   I cannot exaggerate the amount of times a sightseer blindly tripped across me while taking a photograph.  When not falling over others these tourists were being bashed into by similar minded people, who,  also taking photographs, failed to notice the abrupt halt, aim and snap of the person in front.  At times the swarm of the crowd was almost concert like.  If you want to avoid this then visit the old ton early in the morning before the cruise ships dock for the day.  The below photograph was taken before 9 AM.  Bliss :)

An absolute must do is walking the city's walls.  It costs €10 and will take about 1 hour.  As well as great views into the Old Town, you will be able to see the old port, the old monastery island of Lokrum and the stunning blue of the Adriatic.  

Water Babies
Of course you can enjoy the Adriatic close up.  There is an alcove just outside the Old Town walls that has been allocated to swimmers.  It is essentially a pier structure with ladder access into the sea, a perfect place to cool down and unwind after a busy day sightseeing 

For those of you looking to leave the crowds behind and bare all in the quest for line free tanning, take a ten minute boat ride to Lokrum, where there is a good naturalist beach. If you get bored of naked people watching you can also visit the old monastery and the botanical gardens.   

 Another way to enjoy the Adriatic is to go sea kayaking.  This is a popular activity in Croatia.  A 3 hour trip around Lokrum offers great views of the island as well as of the old walls of Dubrovnik.  Snorkelling equipment and a packed lunch-which we gobbled down after paddling up a serious hunger-are included in the price of €30 per person.  To book a tour just keep an eye out for reps on the old town bridge.  They will be holding paddles and handing out flyers so you cant miss them.  

Dubrovnik is packed full of cafes and restaurants. Their owners are aware of the town's popular tourist status and have learned to price accordingly.  The food in Dubrovnik -and Croatia as a whole- is best described as fresh, good quality produce presented with little imagination or flair.  Spicing and strong flavours are absent.  Restaurants offer a similar menu of local seafood and grilled meats at various prices from the middle road tourist traps to the gastronomic fancy pants spots with expensive offerings.  The rather homogenous menus and simple plates can become tedious after a while.  For cheap eats look to the many street side pizzerias selling take away slices from hatches.  The Italian influence has rubbed off well, with most of these houses using wood fired ovens.  Delicious slices can be bought for just over a Euro and are perfect for ending a night on the booze or for filling a gap.

There are plenty of cafe/bars that serve alcohol on the streets and sqyares.  MAny of them also serve food and so can be a little more expensive.  If you are looking for more of a pub venue then head into the side streets, particularly those right of the main entrance to the old ton.  The Irish pubs are particularly busy spots.  Both 'the Irish Jig' and the newer, and might I say cleverly named, 'the Gaf' offer play live music from about 9 PM and tend to attract young, lively crowds.  They are right next to each other creating a mini hub within the side streets.  There are a couple of late night club type venues outside the city's walls, but the most popular one is Latino Fuego which is just a gew metres from the main entrance.  This is generally where all the tourists go to dance the nigh away.  

I love to shop, but to be honest found very little to catch my eye in Dubrovnik.  There are lots and lots of souvenir shops but to be honest they are full of rubbish :).  

Day trips/Excursions/next Stops
There are other day trips and overnight excursions you can take from Dubrovnik. The Elaphite islands, Miljet, Korcula, Kotar (Montenegro), Mostar and of course, the pilgrimage town of Medjugorje (both in Bosnia),  are all within fairly easy reach of Dubrovnik.  The city does not have a train station, however it is well serviced by bus and of course by ferry, with Jadrolinija being the largest operator.  Transport is reasonably priced.  Buses are regular, but ferries tend to operate daily (usually at the crack of dawn) or a few times a week so if you are planning on moving on from Dubrovnik check the schedules on arrival so that you don't end up spending longer in the city than you had estimated.  During peak months it is a good idea to buy ferry tickets the day before travel as they can book up.  

Other Tips/Notes/Observations

Note that there are few and far between ATMs outside of the Old Town. 

The Croatians love to get the exact change or at least be handed cash that allows them to easily give back a single note or easy change, so carry lots of coins.  

I found Dubrovnik to be a really safe place.  I saw/heard no crime while there.  

It is also absent of beggars, which is refreshing and also slightly unusual for Eastern Europe. 

 When you go swimming it is important to have sandals that attach to your feet (as opposed to slip on ones). Although everyone knows this (beaches are rocky and also the sea floor is covered in urchins) there are not many shops that sell strap on waterproof sandals.  If you are stuck with this little problem like me then go to the internet cafe to the immediate right of the inside of the main gates.  They have a good selection of waterproof sandals.  

Aer Lingus flies a regular service into Dubrovnik from Dublin.  Very nice travel times too :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do Dalmatians come from Croatia?

Do Dalmatians come from the Dalmatia Coast?  This question niggled me during my recent vacation to Croatia.  But now, after some shallow research,  I can confirm that yes, the popular spotty pooch is indeed named after Croatia's Dalmatia coast.  This is not a reason in itself to visit the area.  Not one Dalmatian crossed my path during my 2 week holiday :( 

Luckily the Dalmatian coast has lots of other reasons to lure visitors.  Having recovered from the Croatian War of Independence by the late 1990s, Croatia has experienced a boom in tourism.  The rocky Adriatic coastline is dotted with thousands of uninhabited islands surrounded by crystal clear water.  Hotspots on the trail include 'the pearl of the east' Dubrovnik and the islands of Mljet, Hvar and Korcula.  My next few posts will retrace my recent tour of the area, bringing you an honest and (hopefully) informative review of my Dalmatian experience.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Home Sweet Home

As contradictory as this sounds, one of the many aspects I love about travelling is coming home. I have been in Croatia for the last 2 weeks (details of my adventures to follow). As the holiday drew to a close I found myself looking forward to certain comforts and nuances of home. It seems that home sweet home is sweeter still when you are away from it. The craving to wander free and embrace new cultures and experiences is slowly replaced by a yearning for the familiar beat and treats of home. Before I fully satisfy my domestic yearnings and become thirsty once more for travel (doubtless this won't be long), here are some of my foreign fantasies of homecoming rewards.

A 'proper' (in Irish eyes) cup of tea

Sleeping in my own bed   zzzzzzzzzzzz

Swapping the suitcase for a wardrobe

Watching TV

Unlimited Internet access


Click here for image source

Catching up with friends/family

Replacing sandals with shoes, socks and all

Click here for image source

Emptying the toiletries bag back onto the shelf

Planning my next trip :)

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