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The Guinness tour

sunny 17 °C
View Dublin 2014 on danics's travel map.

I'd enjoyed my previous trip to Dublin, so upon receiving a new invitation from my friend who lives there, I decided to buy a couple of tickets (for me and my girlfriend) and go visit him and this lovely city for the weekend.
My friend works at the Google office (as do many people in Dublin), so he took us the visit his workplace. These folks really know how to create a great working environment!
We were lucky with the weather, as it was really sunny for 2 out of 3 days we were in Dublin.
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The city has many things to offer to its visitors. We went to the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology (with free entrance), a beautiful building which contains an exhibition of some of Ireland's archaeological treasures and to the Trinity College, where some of the teachers were giving very interesting speeches about what the University has to offer.
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A trip to Dublin wouldn't be complete without a proper pint of Guinness. So, we decided to visit St. James Gate, Guinness original brewery and now a big museum. The ticket was quite expensive, but is nice museum if you like Guinness and want to learn a bit more about it (and they give you a "free" pint).
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Next day, between shopping and sightseeing, me and my friend went to try a proper pint of Guinness at Mulligan's, one of the city's oldest pubs. Although it was too early in the day, some of the regulars where already arriving for a drink.
In the afternoon, we still had time to take a train to Bray and climb the hill for a short walk, enjoying the nice view.
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After returning to Dublin, we went to grab a bite, at one of the Burger places (of course, after another pint of Guinness :) ) and enjoy our last night in Ireland.

Posted by danics 16.06.2014 11:33 Archived in Ireland Tagged sea walking ireland dublin guinness pint Comments (0)

Cuba - Part 3: Trinidad

Cuba's Museum city

The trip to Trinidad was indeed a lot different from the "camión experience". The main difference wasn't the comfort though, it was the percentage of tourists. Germans, Americans, Spanish, etc. It seams that everywhere you go in the world you'll find them. So I started chatting with an American lady and learning about her trip (and how "complicated" it can be for a US citizen to visit Cuba). The trip took about 11 hours (the Viazul bus is both slower and stops more often than the camión) and we arrived into Trinidad, a small city near the sea, in the southern coast of Cuba.

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For the first time during my visit to Cuba, it rained. And it really rained. First, it was really hot, so I decided that it was a good idea to go to the beach (Playa Ancón). But while I was waiting for the bus to arrive, the rain started. So, waiting there in the pouring rain I was almost reconsidering about going to the beach anymore. But then I thought "if it's raining, it won't hurt to be at beach". So I just went there and I think it was the best idea I had. The cloud still hadn't come there, so it was sunny when I arrived. The beach, simply amazing and the sea water hot. So I spent the afternoon there and almost 90% of the time inside the water (also because it started raining at the beach too, so I preferred to stay warm inside the water).
At the end of the afternoon, I went back to Trinidad (30 mins by bus). I ate dinner at a nice restaurant, where the owner spoke many languages (a rare thing in Cuba) and was entertaining the guests telling the story of how he opened his restaurant.

Next day: beach again. Playa Ancón had impressed me so I was ready to go back.

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The beach was excellent yet again. So were the mini mosquitoes that came to attack all the turists that were waiting for the bus afterwards. The sun was setting beautifully, but the mosquitoes were not nice at all. Finally the bus came and we managed to "escape".

That night was Valentine's night and all the restaurants seemed to be filled with couples enjoying that special evening. I met my American friend from the bus and we decided to go eat dinner together, but it wasn't that easy to find a cheap and good place. Finally, we found a spot were the food was good as was the music. And we didn't pay much.

The owner of the casa particular that I was staying in Trinidad was a taxi driver, so he had arranged a shared taxi for me next day to Havana. It was another good way of traveling as the price was the same as Viazul and it was faster and more comfortable. We arrived in Havana 4 hours later.

I enjoyed returning to Havana. At that time I was already a bit more "cuban" than on my first stay. I new more places and more people. I'd decided to go to the Book Fair, a good call. I took a full public bus there (the public busses in Havana always travel full and cost 0.01€). The Book Fair in Havana takes place once a year inside the two fortresses on the east shore of the bay. The crowd was really big, but I could see one of the main events for Cubans.

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It was may last day in Havana and next day was time to go home. So, after I got back from the fair, I enjoyed a nice dinner on a fancy touristy restaurant and finally tasted "Ropa Vieja" (shredded beef - one of the most typical cuban recipes).
Next day it was time to get back home. I got to the airport early (I took a bus to Santiago de Las Vegas and a taxi from there - a much cheaper option).
The flight was not as comfortable as the inbound one, but at least it was faster.

I wish I had more time to visit this big country where people are so warm. Hope to get back there one day :)

Posted by danics 09:39 Comments (0)

Cuba - Part 2: Santiago de Cuba

The soul

sunny 30 °C
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Before going to Cuba, I had planned to take the train linking Havana and Santiago de Cuba, the second biggest city. I read some advices from the Seat61 site, but when I finally tried to purchase the ticket, all my efforts were useless. I went to the ticket office Saturday afternoon in order to buy tickets for next night's train. The ticket office was closed and it would only open on Monday, they told me. I thought "well, I'll stay an extra day in Havana and go on Monday". So I went there on Monday to find that the train wasn't running that day. Viazul, the bus option, proved to be as hard to book as the train, because being high season, everything was already booked.
" - Well, you can try to do it the way Cubans do" advised me one of the men working at casa particular.
"- And how is that?" - At this point, I just wanted to find an alternative.
"- Take a camión. You can go to Bayamo or Santiago for a fraction of the price."
So I went to check it out. A camión is a truck which has seats like an old school bus. It only departs when its full. It seamed ok to me and I thought "well, this shouldn't take much time to get full". I was wrong. I waited about 3 hours until it got completely full. And it was hot. But I tell you, the money you save is worth it, if you don't mind having a little less comfort.

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Resuming: the trip took 11 hours, we got stopped 3 times by the police (2 of them probably for speeding, as the driver was driving really fast and the other the police went on the truck to check the contents of the bags), and stopped at the oddest places (including a stop to eat dinner at a private restaurant with excellent food for 30 Cuban Pesos - approx. 1€) and arrived to Bayamo (which I didn't know where it was until after I got to Santiago) at 3am. The next challenge would be to get from Bayamo to Santiago de Cuba. After waiting for a while and being offered as much as 3 taxis, I just took the normal Viazul bus that stopped there 30 minutes later (and this 130km segment was more expensive than the 740km from Havana to Bayamo by camión).

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I finally arrived to Santiago de Cuba. A city that shares so few things with Havana. For starters, the tall buildings are almost inexistent. It's not touristy at all, although you can find some touristy places. Secondly, the prices are way cheaper than Havana. You should have moneda nacional, though, as the shops are mainly directed to Cubans. "Normal" restaurants are harder to find, but you can find good street food. And ice creams for the price of a bubble gum in Europe.

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After checking in at the Casa and resting a bit, I went to visit the city center, which isn't very big. I started chatting with a local musician, who took me to the main musical venues, such as the Casa de la Trova, and explained many things about the musical traditions and the popular events such as the Carnival and the religious traditions. His Rumba group was recording a clip next day as well as commemorating its birthday, so he invited me to come along, invitation which I gladly accepted.

Next day, there I was early morning, ready to go to the party, that was being held at the beach, about 30 km from the city. The venue, a camping park for Cubans was a great place and it had a natural pool and plenty of shade to picnic or rest. There was a religious Santeria ceremony followed by lunch and after that, the Rumba show by the group, called "Rumba Aché". Everybody had a good time and the weather was really nice.

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The evening was approaching was it was time to pack things up and get back to Santiago. This time I had booked a ticket for Viazul to Trinidad, so I would traveling "in style" overnight. I went to get my backpack that I had left at the Casa and went to bus station to catch the bus.

Next stop: Trinidad

Posted by danics 24.02.2014 05:55 Archived in Cuba Tagged beach cuba party playa santiago Comments (0)

Cuba - Part 1: Havana

The greatest of Cuba's cities

sunny 28 °C
View Cuba 2014 on danics's travel map.

I'm back from the island.
I'm happy to be back, but some part of me is still on that magic island.

I arrived in Havana after a very long flight (so you can picture it, my flight from Paris to Havana flew over Canada, New York, Miami, etc), not so much jet lagged but tired of the trip itself. Waiting for me was Angel, a nice (and patient) cab driver, who took me my accommodation in Habana Vieja (the oldest part of the city). I stayed at a nice Casa Particular (the cuban equivalent to Bed & Breakfast - the breakfast was not included in the price though) where the owner Nelson and his family and staff welcomed me as a friend.

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Old Havana at night is a bit odd place to visit, since the ill-paved streets and the almost non-existing street lighting can make you feel uncomfortable, so my first impression was not too good. Next day, all that started to disappear as I got used to the streets and saw everything by daylight. The neighborhood has a mystique of its own and the houses seem to be falling apart, but the people living there already seem to be so used to that they just don't care.

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As you get close to the landmarks, the streets become nicer and the you start seeing museums and shops of all kinds and tastes. Havana is full of museums and if you the time (and money) to spare, they seem as they might be quite interesting. The colonial influence here is evident and one might get the impression of visiting Spain.

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But Havana is not just Old Havana. The newer municipalities of Vedado and Miramar offer much different sceneries to the visitor, with both different architecture, many green parks and see views that will make many people envious. Vedado's great avenues and parks, along with Miramar's tall and luxurious hotels contrast with the poorer parts of the city. For the first time in my life, I took one those bus tours (costing 5 dollars/convertible pesos) and the bus went around the city, passing through some of the main touristic points. As we cruise along the streets, we see the old cars that are one of Cuba's most picturesque marks. American classic cars as well as Soviet Lada's and Polish-made Fiats (126p) make you travel in time.

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I tried to maintain a "low profile" during my stay because when you look too much like a tourist people will always to sell you something or offer you their (paid) services. However, I met really nice people during my stay in Havana (some foreigners and some locals), and learned about their way of living and the different cultures.

My next stop: Santiago de Cuba

Posted by danics 20.02.2014 10:35 Archived in Cuba Tagged cuba old havana habana capital classic_cars miramar vedado vieja Comments (0)

Cuba: Ready, Set...

Last months have been chaotic in terms of work, which explains why there hasn't been any post lately.
But worry not, because I'm sure my next destination will interest most of you.
Cuba, the biggest Caribbean island. Great music, plenty of sun and warm climate and people is what I expect for my trip.

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Since Internet access in Cuba is not so great (from what I read in a few blogs), I'll leave the reviews for after my return.

Posted by danics 06:38 Archived in Cuba Tagged map cuba planning Comments (0)

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