After a short flight from Paris, I landed in Dublin during a very windy and rainy day. The last 10 minutes of the flight were a bit like a roller coaster ride. Airsick bags were pulled out and at the ready by some, and the rear of the plane let out a cheer once we were on the ground. I was too tired to care.
Once off the plane I soon realized that I was not the only person who had decided to pond the holiday in Ireland. I was at the back of a line that took an hour to get through passport control. Never have I wanted an EU passport more than when I got in that line.
One of the other issues with EVERYBODY going to Dublin for the holiday was a lack of hotel rooms in the city center at my kind of rates. So I took a long cab ride out to West Park where my hotel was. Usually I’m all about public transit when I travel, but sleep deprivation made me opt for the expense of a taxi. The hotel is near a train station and a bus stop so I can make up for that expanse over the next few days.
While I was checking in to the hotel, the friendly lady at the front desk was coughing and commented that she was coming down with a cold and would be going home soon. Uh-oh. She was very nice, so I felt sorry that she wasn’t feeling well instead of angry that she was potentially infecting me with some virus.
I got to my room and went to sleep with plans to hit the town first thing in the morning.
CHA to ATL to IAD on Delta. IAD to CDG to Dublin on Air France. Dublin to AMS to IAD on KLM. IAD to ATL to CHA on Delta. More legs and airports than I’d like, but I got a super deal from Washington Dulles (IAD).
Books: The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer. It’s about the Spanish-American War, which doesn’t get covered much in US schools, so I’m learning lots of new things.
Music: Plenty. I’ve been discovering all of my collection again by filling up my new desktop with my CDs. Long story and long process.
TV: None, I’m going to read.
Guide Book: Lonely Planet Dublin
My Mother’s Biggest Fear: Nothing this time. That’ll be two trips in a row!
My Biggest Fear: Too much Guinness.
Plans: I bought tickets to two St. Patrick’s Festival events, checking out the parade, several museums, a pub or two, some bookstores, record stores, etc.
The biggest part of this trip, outside of the cool stuff in Dublin, will be my first attempt in a long time to sleep on a plane. I have never really been able to so I have stopped trying. I am planning to give it a shot again. I figure if I can get even a small nap in, it will be better than nothing.
I am also trying out my new AirPods for the first time. The new iPhone I got a few months back was the 8, and it saw the removal of the headphone jack. Since the earbuds now plugged into the charging port, it makes it impossible to charge and listen at the same time. If you also add the fact that one of my cats chewed the wire on my new earbuds that came with the phone, the jump to wireless was a no-brainer. Sigh.
Two months before this trip to Europe I was on another trip to Europe and my traveling partners and I spent some time in Geneva. I saw enough on that trip to know that I wanted to go back at some point. Since I was going to me in the country anyway, I figured I could spend a day there and see a few things that I wasn’t able to on that trip. On that trip we spent a full day in Geneva on a Sunday and almost everything was closed. This time, I made sure to travel to the city on a Sunday and have my full day there be a Monday.
I left my hotel after breakfast and decided to head to the old city and visit St. Pierre Cathedral. I’m a sucker for old churches, or old things in general, and figured on this chilly winter day, that being inside as much as possible would be a good idea. How chilly was it? It was so chilly that someone on the second floor of a building was storing their produce on the window sill.
The inside of the cathedral was large and impressive and built in a mix of styles. It was historic due to John Calvin being here and during the Reformation in the 16th Century. I know very little about the Reformation and didn’t do any homework in advance so perhaps much was lost on me as I walked around it. There is a museum of the Reformation nearby, but I was more interested in what was below this building: Site Archéologique de la Cathédrale.
You go down some stairs and discovered beneath the cathedral during renovations were two earlier Christian cathedrals, parts of the old Roman city, and even burials from before the Romans showed up. It was really cool. They had an English audio guide and cool displays that helped you visualize what it was you were seeing and walking through. I love museums like this, they are a great reminder that you are the end result of thousands of years of civilization.
After touring the ruins under the cathedral, I decided to wander through the old city a bit to work my way down to a street I saw on a map my first trip. There was nothing really remarkable to me about the street except its name:
Since December 31st is my birthday, I figured that there were only so many chances I’ll get in my life to photo this street sign. I should have brought some tools and “liberated” it. Then again, while everything in Switzerland is top-notch, I didn’t want to gamble on their prisons following that trend. Maybe one will show up on eBay one day.
This awesomely named street came to an end (or maybe started, depending on which way you are going. Life is about 90% perspective, am I right?) right on the lake. What I have always thought of as Lake Geneva, is actually Lac Léman. Maybe it has two names, but since I’m in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (I also learned that Geneva was once in France), I feel like I can call it Lac Léman and not be too pretentious. Besides the very nice park along the lake, Lac Léman is famous for the Jet d’Eau.
Hey, they aren’t getting fancy with the name it just sounds fancy to Americans because it is in French; “Jet d’Eau” means “water jet”. It is as described, a giant fountain of water shooting up out of the lake. You can walk out towards it and I’m sure during the summer the mists from it are quite refreshing. Since I was here in January, I passed on the mists and admired it from afar.
It was while admiring the jet, that I noticed a great many water birds swimming around the docks. I saw quite a few birds I haven’t seen before but one stood out more than the others.
This little guy or girl with the blue/gray beak and great feathers. He was the only of his type among many more ducks, swans, and other larger swimming birds. Despite it being smaller than all the others, it didn’t seem to get pushed around like some of the others were by a few of the larger birds.
Imagine his size next to one of the swans there. It was really small.
The internet failed me once again and I was not able to identify what kind it was, so I came to the conclusion that it was a new species. Since I saw it on Jan. 8th which is both Elvis and David Bowie’s birthday, I named it the ElvisBowie duck. It is now my favorite bird, besides fried chicken. If you make it to Lac Léman, keep an eye out for it or any others like it. As far as I know, it is the only one.
I grabbed a water taxi to cross the lake to do some souvenir shopping, and hit a great food store where I grabbed some amazing cheese, cured meats, and Swiss wine for dinner. I must have eaten about five pounds of cheese in the days I spent in Switzerland and will not feel bad at all when I have my first heart attack. It was worth it.
My quick day in Geneva a few months before had taught me that most of the town is closed on Sundays so planning a full day of train travel on a Sunday seemed to be a good idea. It would be a long day, but only required one train change in Zürich so I booked it.
One of the great things about rail in Europe is how easy it is to get from place to place. That can be a hassle when everyone else takes advantage of it at the same time. I’m not sure if it was the holiday, the weekend, or both, but it seemed like all of Austria chose to travel that Sunday via ÖBB second class rail. I got a reserved seat so there wasn’t any fear I wouldn’t be able to travel, the real issue is a lack of space for luggage bigger than a carry-on.
The train I was on from Vienna to Zürich had started the morning in Budapest and was pretty full by the time I hopped on board. I was lucky to find a place for my suitcase, but others down the line were not so lucky.
The ride through Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland was insanely scenic like before. It almost made up for the length of the trip and the crowded cars. I saw many places I’d like to explore more on a future trip.
The train was comfortable and on time, but by the time I got to Zürich I was sick of being around so many people. The Swiss Rail app has a great feature where you can see how crowded each train is by class, and I was seeing second class of my train to Geneva was pretty full. Feeling very much that I wanted some room away from the crowd, I gave in to a moment of weakness and upgraded to first class via the app while en route to Zürich. I also switched to a later train at the same time. No mad dash to find the right platform, plus since I’d spent quite a bit of time at the main station there a week before, I knew I could grab some provisions.
The quick ride from Zürich to Geneva was much less crowded in first class. I got lucky because at one stop in the trip they made the announcement that several cars of the train would not be making the rest of the journey. Of course I was on one of them. The luck came with me not having my headphones in when they made the announcement, so I had time to grab my suitcase ad relocate to the part of the train that was going to keep going.
I arrived on time and walked to two blocks from the station to my hotel. After a good night’s sleep, I’d be ready to explore Geneva on a Monday when things would actually be open this time!
In the future, I may plan to go ahead and pay for first class in advance if I am traveling with a large suitcase. Either that, or use the service that some railroads in Europe have where they will ship your luggage in advance.
My day in Vienna was just a sampler of what will hopefully be a future trip of much more substance. If I was going to spend a day on the train to get to Vienna, I was certainly going to spend a little over an hour on a train to go to Bratislava, Slovakia and scout that out, right?
From the Vienna Central station, the Austrian Federal Railway (or ÖBB) ran a train to Bratislava each way every hour. I grabbed one early in the morning and figured I’d spend the day in Bratislava and see what it had to offer, and still make it back to Vienna in time to pack for my trip back to Switzerland on Sunday.
After a short, foggy but scenic ride I arrived at the train station in Bratislava. As soon as you arrive you are aware that you are in a different part of Europe than just an hour ago. The station has a huge mosaic from the communist era when Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia, complete with a Sputnik!
Walking our of the station I had a sensation I have not had yet in my travels, it can best be described as “Uh, now what?” I didn’t really have a plan for Bratislava. I don’t speak any Slovak. I had read that there were things to see in the old city, but the train station was a bit outside of the center of town. Google maps to the rescue! It was a quick bus ride from the station to the old city. I had read in Vienna that my return train ticket would also act as a transit pass for the day in Bratislava but didn’t want to risk it so I bought a bus ticket from a machine at the stop.
Two stops later I was in the old city and I decided to head to the tourist office to see what there was to see in town. As I walked through the scenic and winding streets I was struck by how quiet it was for a Saturday morning. The tourist office was open but not much else because it was Epiphany, which is not really observed in the US in any way outside of a church event here and there. The theme for this whole trip seems to be: plan better next time.
I grabbed a lunch of Slovak food and Slovak beer and wandered around the old city. There were just enough souvenir shops open that I was able to fill my quota for the folks back home and one was even able to sell me stamps for my postcards since, because of course the post office was closed for Epiphany!
While waiting for the bus back to the train station, I spotted this:
A vending machine full of Slovak dairy items! If I didn’t have to travel back to Vienna, I would have totally bought some cheese. Next trip to Bratislava I am going to start here!