Eating Vegan in Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Although I didn’t eat out that much whilst I was in Duabi, I thought I’d do a quick blog about my experience of vegan food whilst I was there. Basically, eating vegan and gluten free in Dubai is as easy as it is here in the UK. The smaller, local supermarkets all stock lots of fresh produce and all the other staples you would expect to find. In the bigger supermarkets, and some of them are HUGE, you can expect to find a lot of the same brand names as you would in the UK or USA. As this is the desert, though, most products have to be imported and therefore the price can be higher. Out and about, almost everyone in Dubai speaks English and understands what it means to be vegan. One of the things I loved about Dubai is that they have great juice bars everywhere, which is especially handy when you’re walking around in the heat in the middle of the day.

Happy Cow lists a lots of vegan friendly restaurants. There are a couple that I would particularly like to mention. Super Natural Kitchen is a raw diner-style eatery in the Dubai Mall. Once you get over the fact there are people shopping for clothes right behind you whilst you’re eating your lunch, this is a great place to stop for some food. I had a green juice, California sushi roll and a chocolate brownie. Unusually for Dubai, this restaurant is also very environmentally conscious in other ways. They even gave me a metal straw to reduce waste, which I was very impressed with. As well as the outstanding food, they also have vegan cookbooks and other literature for sale that you can browse whilst you’re waiting for your food.

Whilst we were in JBR, my friend took me to dinner at Cucina Mia. This is an omnivore restaurant that has a separate vegan menu. All the food is Italian, I had the mushroom risotto which tasted delicious. I was also really impressed with the staff. When I told the waiter I have food allergies, the chef came out personally to speak to me personally about my order.

Dubai also has a lot of the chain restaurants you’ll find in other parts of the world, so whatever your tastes you will find some great vegan options.

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Getting around in Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Dubai is very much a city designed for cars. Unlike a lot of places in the world, which see reducing their dependence on cars as progressive, in Dubai there is still a lot of status attached to owning your own set of wheels. To be able to visit all of the city, you will have to travel by car at some point. If you want to venture outside of the city and into the desert, access to a car is a must. The roads are big, more than six lanes each way in some places. The driving isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, nor is it the worst. And as making offensive signals or swearing at other people is illegal and punishable with imprisonment, at least road rage from other drivers is unlikely. I was lucky to always have other people driving me whilst I was there, so I didn’t have to concentrate too much on the road, but the network of highways and streets seemed very over-complicated. I couldn’t decide if this was intentional to make Dubai seem bigger than it is, or just a result of bad planning. Either way, driving is still the easiest way to get around Dubai. That being said, there are other options. If you are not able to drive yourself, there are lots of taxis available to transport you. You don’t even need to phone them. As it’s so unheard of to walk anywhere in Dubai (although possible and actually quite enjoyable in some places), as soon as you start walking anywhere on the street a taxi driver will stop and ask if you need a ride. It’s like some magic sixth sense they all have to let them know where the pedestrians are in the city. You can also use Uber, but the regular taxis are cheaper and just as efficient. Be prepared to get your own sat nav up on your phone, though, a few of the taxi drivers I encountered didn’t know where they were going and needed directions.

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If you don’t want to pay out for taxis and drivers all the time, there are public transport options in Dubai. The metro opened in 2010 with the red line that runs 52.1km through downtown and right up to the airport. The green line, which covers Bur Dubai and Deira, was added in 2011 and covers 22.5km. Although you are limited as to what you can access with the metro, it’s a very efficient service which I hope they will expand in the future. The regular carriages feel just like travelling on the underground in London, although here you are on an elevated track with good views of the city around you. The carriages can be just as crowded as in London, although you’re unlikely to get shoved and pushed as much because it’s also considered an offence. One Indian man accidentally touched my hand when we were holding onto the same pole, and looked petrified when he realised. He apologised profusely, but I assured him it was fine. As there has to be a VIP version of everything in Dubai, there is also the option to travel Gold Class. This is a separate carriage at the end of the train that has bigger seats and usually more space. It will cost you twice as much for the fare, but it’s still not expensive. The big advantage I found whilst travelling Gold Class, as recommended by my friend, is that you get a great view out of the front/back window. You can buy a top-up card at any of the metro stations, the staff are generally helpful and overall it’s an enjoyable transport system. There are also local buses and trams in Dubai, and although I didn’t hear of any problems with either network, I didn’t use them whilst I was there.

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By far my favourite form of transport in Dubai is also, apart from walking, the cheapest. For only 1 AED (about 20p) you can catch an abra across the Creek to Bur Duabi and Deira. It feels like there are hundreds of the little, motorised, traditional wooden boats waiting along the creekside to ferry people back and forth. They leave once full, about 20 passengers, and you find yourself bunched up with group of workers as you skim along almost at water level. It’s only a short journey, but one I would definitely recommend as something you have to experience in Dubai. You can also charter your own abra by the hour, although they’re so small I can’t imagine you can do much on them other than sit still and watch the views go by.

If you would like to see more of my travels on the public transport network in Dubai, including videos, please visit my Facebook page Sasieology.

 

The Architecture of Dubai

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Prior to seeing Dubai for myself, I had heard many different accounts from various people who had been there. They differed wildly, but now that I have been there myself I agree with all of them. Dubai is a place of contradictions, where cultures and styles clash unapologetically. This is no more evident than in the architecture. It’s like a group of ten year olds have  been let loose with the worlds biggest bucket of Lego. In Dubai, if you can dream it, someone will probably let you build it.

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Huge skyscrapers of every conceivable shape and made from glass and steel house apartment blocks and hotels. Other hotels are built to look more traditional, their clean designs and too-perfect attention to detail making me feel I was in Las Vegas rather than Dubai. There is a definite obsession with building the biggest and the most impressive. If any other city tries to compete with Dubai to build a taller tower or a more expansive shopping mall, I’m sure they’ll immediately retaliate and go one further. This is where the boundaries of architecture are pushed to their most extreme limits.

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I took lots of photos of buildings that caught my eye in Dubai, which was pretty much constant. It seemed to me, though, that no-one in Dubai is looking at the bigger picture. Each of these buildings is an impressive feat of architecture and construction, but there is no thought to how the buildings fit next to each other, or how the city works as a whole. It’s great that Dubai has attracted all these architects and developers, but I can’t help thinking maybe they should have brought in a town planner at a much earlier stage.

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The construction is ongoing, and with a huge desert to build on who knows what Dubai will look like in ten or twenty years. It’s going to be a long time before they have to think about knocking anything down to create more space. For now, if you’re prepared to accept the pedestrian crossings that lead to nowhere and routes that do anything but take you directly where you need to be, Dubai is a place that will make you look up and say ‘wow’.

Dubai: The Palm, Burj Al-Arab and the coast

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Before the Burj Khalifa made it’s record breaking debut, the iconic image of Dubai we saw across the rest of the world was the Burj Al-Arab. Completed in 1999, the sail-shaped hotel is 321m high and houses 60 floors. Rumour has it that the lobby is so high, you could fit the Statue of Liberty inside. If you want to go and measure it for yourself, make sure you’ve saved up some dirhams. The hotel is only open to private guests and paying customers at the restaurant and bar, where there is quite a hefty minimum payment. Happily, walking along Jumeirah beach and seeing the outside of the hotel at sunset is completely free.  Whether the architect intended it for perfect photographs or not, the building sits on it’s very own island 300m out from the shore.

Further along the coast is my favourite neighbourhood in Dubai. Jumeira Beach Residence, or JBR for short, is the closest that Dubai comes to having an arty neighbourhood. The Walk at JBR was built in 2008 for  the 20,000 people that live there, and is the first outdoor shopping and dining promenade in the city. The 1.7km walk  is a great mix of restaurants, shops and food stalls right on the beach.

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Not content with stunning sandy beaches, great amenities, luxury hotels and resorts, a choice of watersports and even a beach library, developers in Dubai of course have to go one better. As if it’s not impressive enough to build a 60 storey hotel on it’s own island, they have been extending the waterfront property potential even further.

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As the name suggests, The Palm is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree. The trunk is 2km long, and there are 16 fronds that are kept in place by an 11km long crescent-shaped breakwater. It took 1 billion cubic metres of dredged sand and stone to build the island, the centrepiece of which is the Atlantis – The Palm Hotel. As well as the standard Dubai transport options of driving and catching a taxi, there is also an elevated monorail between Gateway Towers and the Atlantis. Apparently there were plans to connect the monorail to the metro line, but sadly this hasn’t happened so far. Which has led to the running of one of the most bizarre transport connections I have ever seen, it that it doesn’t really connect anything. As you have to drive to get to Gateway Towers anyway, most people just drive the whole way. Once I’d managed to explain to my confused taxi driver that I specifically wanted to catch the monorail and not just have him take me to the Atlantis, he dropped me at the station after Gateway Towers. I honestly thought the monorail must have been abandoned in between my guidebook being written and me visiting Dubai. I was in the middle of a huge housing estate, and I could see about 3 other people. The monorail station looked like it was closed, and it was only when I walked right up to the automatic doors and they opened that I thought maybe I was in the right place. Inside, one lonely attendant sat in the ticket booth next to shiny new automated machines that apparently don’t work. I think I might have been the only person he served that day, possibly that week. Thankfully, once the monorail arrived, I wasn’t the only person aboard. I think that would have completely freaked me out, but there was a group of tourists I assumed had been dropped off at Gateway Towers. The monorail gives you the best view of The Atlantis. I caught a taxi back from The Palm, and my lovely taxi driver kindly stopped on the highway so I could take a photo of the hotel from the front. However, it was nowhere near as good at the vantage point you get from the elevated monorail. There are also a lot fewer cranes in the way. From the monorail you also get an idea of how The Palm is designed, which is very difficult when you are on the ground simply because the island is so huge. Out of every attraction I visited whilst in Dubai, The Palm was the biggest disappointment. Aside from the monorail journey, which once I got on it was a great experience, I found the island quite boring. I’m sure I would have a different opinion if I was staying at The Atlantis, but as a day visitor you are very restricted as to which areas you’re allowed in. There is a waterpark and aquarium at The Atlantis which are both open to the public, and a small shopping mall that you can wander around for free. Other than that, all you get to see is the back of the hotel and the breakwater. You can hire a bike and cycle along the breakwater, one of the few places in Dubai where you are allowed to cycle, but it’s far from the most interesting coastline in the world.

The Palm has been plagued with problems. Construction began in 2001 on what the developers envisioned to be a mixture of luxurious hotels and high-end beachfront villas, high-rise apartment buildings, marinas and malls. As the completion date was pushed back further and further, the number of buildings on the island increased and building quality dropped. Many hotels that were planned have never opened. There has also been a huge environmental impact. The breakwater interfered with the natural tides, and gaps had to be cut into it to prevent smelly, stagnant water and algae growth. There are also reports that the island is sinking by 5mm per year, although this has been denied.

Further north construction is underway on another group of islands in the shape of The World, although construction has also been delayed on this development and it currently just looks like 300 piles of sand.

If you would like to see my videos of The Palm, please visit my Facebook page.

Burj Khalifa

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know about my theory that every destination hoping to attract tourists will have one landmark labelled as the ‘must see/do’. If there isn’t already a suitable choice attached to their local history, they’ll build something. In Dubai it is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Modern Dubai prides itself on pushing boundaries and challenging what is considered impossible. It was inevitable they would build the tallest building.

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Burj Khalifa is all about numbers. For the moment you enter the bottom of the tower at the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping centre, of course), you are bombarded with facts and figures about it’s vision, construction and everyday life. At 828m, it is seven times the height of Big Ben. It took only 6 years to build from excavation, officially opening 4th January 2010. Up to 13,000 workers a day were involved in it’s construction.

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If you’re looking for some luxury accommodation during your Dubai visit, there is Armani Hotel on the lower levels of Burj Khalifa. Above the hotel, floors are taken up with luxury apartments and offices.

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The tower has 160 storeys in total. Most daytrippers visit floors 124 and 125, where there are observation decks that provide impressive views over the city. Unfortunately during my visit it was quite foggy, but on a clear day you can see The Palm and Burj Al-Arab. Although I wasn’t so lucky, I could just about make out the new islands development The World on the horizon, which is still under construction. A pre-booked online ticket will cost you 100 AED (approx. £20). If you are travelling on a budget, I suggest you book your ticket in advance of your trip. If, like me, you are not so organised, you could end up spending a lot more. As with everything in Dubai, there is a VIP option. For 500 AED you can buy a SKY ticket (it’s cheaper if you visit in the evening). This gets you an hour in the SKY lounge on floor 148 accompanied by a Guest Ambassador. At 555m, the SKY lounge is the world’s highest observation deck. You also get to jump the queues, which is useful once you drop back down to the much busier 124 and 125 floors, and refreshments both at the bottom while you wait for the lift and once you’re in the SKY lounge. Our Guest Ambassador was a lovely lady from Colombia who provided us with lots of interesting facts and stories about the tower, and happily answered our many questions that she probably gets asked a hundred times a day. In a move that I was quickly learning is typical of Dubai, the design of the building also includes certain features that very few people will ever appreciate. For example, apparently if you look at the building from directly above, it is in the shape of a flower. I can’t imagine how much time and energy must have gone into that one design element, on the rare chance that someone will fly over the top of the tower and notice. There were things I learnt that I never would have thought to question. Like, for example, how they pump water up 160 storeys. Having lived in places where they struggle to get water past the third floor, I realise what an incredible feat of engineering Burj Khalifa is.

If you time your visit right, it’s also worth catching the Dubai Fountain at the base of Burj Khalifa. Set to music, the fountain dazzles spectators at 1pm every day and also at regular intervals in the evening. As the display only lasts 3 minutes, though, I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it.

Bur Dubai and Deira

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For the past few years I have been keen to spend Christmas somewhere hot and sunny. This year I finally got my wish when a friend kindly invited me to stay with her in Dubai.

There are so many different neighbourhoods and experiences in Dubai, I’ve struggled to decide how to break it all down into posts so I can share it with you. In the end, I decided to start where Dubai itself started.

Bur Dubai was the first part of the city to be settled. The contrast between this area and the much more modern downtown area of Dubai is evidence of this. Here, buildings weren’t built to make statements or to appear as pretty patterns from above, they were built for people to live and work in.

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Dubai Museum is a definite recommendation on my list of things to do in Dubai, and at only 3 AED entry for an adult (about 60p) it’s very affordable. The museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in 1799, it is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai. Previous to educating and entertaining the many tourists that flock to Dubai every day, it was once the seat of government and residence of Dubai’s rulers. As with most of the more traditional buildings in Dubai, the museum is built around a central courtyard. Here you will find examples of old fishing boats and a traditional palm-leaf house called a barasti. The barasti has a great example of a wind tower, which is basically what local inhabitants used to survive the intense summer heat before air conditioning was invented. Although I visited at the end of December, it was still very warm in the middle of the day, and I was glad to escape the heat by exploring the inside exhibits. The museum is really well thought out, and teaches you all about different aspects of Dubai life right from when the area was first settled up to the recent building boom. It also answers lots of questions you’ll probably have, like how they acquire so much water in the desert.

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Deira, Bur Dubai’s neighbour on the other side of the Creek, also feels like another era after you’ve spent time in the other neighbourhoods. Even the modern metro stations have been designed to fit it with the older architecture.

If you like bartering with traders for spices and traditional clothes, Deira is the place to head to. Wandering through all the souqs and markets, the only thing I have to compare it to are the bazaars in Turkey. I think I must have been asked if I wanted to buy a pashmina by about 20 people in the space of 5 minutes.

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It’s also worth taking a walk along the Creekside in Deira and checking out the dhows (long, flat wooden vessels used in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea) loading and unloading.

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You have a few options of how to cross the Creek between Bur Dubai and Deira. The green metro line runs underneath the water, and ferries run between various points. My favourite mode of transport here however is the abras, tiny boats that take you across almost level with the water. I’ll talk more about all the transport options in a later post.

 

Street Art in Ireland

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Wherever I travel in the world, I always take photos of any street art I see and share it with you all here on my blog. In Ireland I didn’t see much street art at all, even in the cities I visited like Cork and Limerick. However, on our last full day in Ireland and just as I was thinking there was no street art to be found, we arrived in Waterford. There are only a few photos, but I just had to share them with you all before I finished my series on Ireland.

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Back to Rosslare

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

For our return trip to Rosslare to catch the ferry back to Wales, we travelled across land and stopped off in Tipperary and Waterford on the way. After learning that my family name is actually originally from Tipperary, I was even more excited to see some of the county. I was glad that I’d been given a heads up, because when we stopped in the town of Tipperary my surname was everywhere. It was on estate agents’ signs and shop fronts all over the place. I know there is only a slim chance I may be distantly related to one of them, but it felt comforting to find another connection with my family history.

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Our other stop on our last full day in Ireland was at Waterford, our main reason for visiting that we have a friend who is from there. She said we couldn’t visit Ireland without stopping by her hometown. Waterford is probably most famous for its tradition of glass manufacturing, which centres around the House of Waterford Crystal, although some designers have broken away and started their own collections. Aside from the glass manufacturing, which was at its heyday in the 18th century, there is a lot more history to be explored in Waterford if you have the time. I found the town to be a great mix of old and new and, although the locals exhibit the same exceptionally high level of welcoming customer service as elsewhere in Ireland, it still very much has the feel of a port town where people just stop off on their way to somewhere else.

Eating Vegan in Ireland

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

I only have one word to describe all the vegan food I tried while I was in Ireland – wow! The same as when I travel anywhere, I searched every destination we stopped at on Happy Cow to find out where the best vegan food was to be found.

Here are the restaurants we tried, and I would recommend them all. There are lots more to choose from, and I wish I’d had the time to try them too. Just another reason to return to Ireland I guess.

Quay Co-op, Cork

There is so much to choose from at this great eatery. And make sure you leave room for dessert, including gluten-free options. They also have a HUGE health food store on the ground floor.

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Box of Frogs, Bantry

Tell the chef what foods you like, and he’ll whip you up an amazing dish from the delicious components he has in his fridge. They also serve incredible smoothies and great coffee.

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Dish, Tralee

Great tasting vegan alternatives to some comfort food classics are on offer at this great little restaurant in Tralee. Burritos are their speciality, but if you’re looking for a vegan cooked breakfast this is the place to go.

The Grove Veggie Kitchen, Limerick

Tell one of the lovely ladies behind the counter what you dietary requirements are, give them €10 and they will exchange it for a huge plate of satisfying, plant-based deliciousness. They’d unfortunately been victims of a break-in the night before we visited, but that didn’t slow them down at all and we were still greeted with that great Irish welcome.

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Momo, Waterford

Right in the centre of Waterford, eating at Momo is an amazing experience. Lovely food, lovely people and a great atmosphere. The chef even came to our table to ask if my vegan, gluten-free dessert was OK.

 

The Ring of Kerry

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Although driving for 8 days hadn’t seemed like a great prospect for a vacation, I have to admit that driving around Ireland was a really enjoyable experience. For one day, though, I decided to take a day off driving and go on a coach tour of the Ring of Kerry.

Booking an excursion in Ireland reminded me of trying to book an excursion in Iceland. Everyone is so laid back. There were two excursion companies I could choose from, and I decided to go with O’Connor Autotours because I would be able to park my car for free near their head office. I’d been phoning them the day before the excursion, as instructed on their information leaflet. When no-one answered I sent an email, but got no reply. I got up early the next morning anyway, and tried the phone number one more time only for a lady to answer like there was no hurry (an hour before the bus was due to leave).

I think they were amused at someone with an Irish name booking the excursion (this is the only place in the world that I haven’t had to spell it for them) and it was the lady who greeted me at the coach who told me that my family name is actually from Tipperary, not Cork as we had always been led to believe.

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As with the whole of the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenery on the Ring of Kerry is absolutely breathtaking. There are a few photo stops, but the disadvantage of being on a coach is there aren’t many places it can stop. It was nice not driving for the day, but I missed the flexibility of just pulling the car over to the side of the road. There are also stops for, as described in the promotional literature, ‘tea/coffee/guinness’ – only in Ireland!

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Our first proper stop was at The Kerry Bog Village. Peat is a soil that is made up of the partially rotted remains of dead plants which have accumulated on top of each other in waterlogged places for thousands of years. In Ireland, it is used as a source of fuel. The buildings at The Kerry Bog Village show what life was like for various local inhabitants  during the 18th and 19th centuries, when everything revolved around the digging-up and trading of the peat. Just like wooden logs are stored as fuel in other parts of the world, the peat rolls are stacked, albeit in a slightly more floppy style, against houses and places of work.

Next up was the sheep dog demonstration. As a vegan I chose not to partake. Besides, I spent a lot of time at agricultural shows as a child, part of which is always a sheep dog show. There are only so many times you can watch a frustrated border collie try to persuade a flock of sheep to run into a pen. I wonder if there’s ever been a sheep dog who has refused to perform for the show. I know I’d be annoyed if I’d spent an hour rounding up the sheep only for the farmer to release them again ready for the next bus load of tourists. Apparently the sheep herding demonstrations is one of the most popular attractions in Ireland and visitors, excuse the pun, flock back every year to watch it. Everyody who went to watch the demonstration in our group seemed suitably impressed when they returned to the coach, so I’d say it’s worth the 5 euro entry fee if it interests you.

We stopped at the most bizarre restaurant for lunch. It’s a self-service restaurant that also has waiting staff.  As you enter the restaurant, a server greets you and carries your food tray for you as you decide what you want to eat. The same server will then seat you at a table. I get the impression they came up with this strange system years ago, and everybody is too scared to tell them what an actual self-service restaurant looks like. I completely screwed up the system by saying I only wanted a coffee, at which point I was politely told I’d have to carry my own coffee cup and would still have to queue for food. The other diners around me seemed to be so pressurised throughout the whole conveyor belt, I could hear them panic ordering fish and chips and vegetable soup. I’d be surprised if they ever sold the last item listed on the menu, even the fastest reader in the world coudn’t get to it before they were pushed to the checkout.

Aside from the bizarre lunch experience, I have to say the Ring of Kerry excursion was well worth it and a welcome break from doing all the driving myself. Our driver/guide was very entertaining and informative. He also proved my theory that visitors from overseas generally understand the Irish accent and dialect better that us Brits do. There were parts of his guiding speech that I completely missed, but my fellow passengers from far flung parts of the globe were laughing along with him.

 

Useful info

Ring of Kerry Excursion with O’Connor Autotours €25 to pay on coach, €21 via Paypal

Entry to The Kerry Bog Village €5

Sheep Dog Demonstration €5