Camping in Luxembourg

Well it’s been almost a month since I last posted and a lot has happened in that time in France, some of it not so good.

I decided to get out of France for now and I elected to head off to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Patrick’s friends were heading away for a few days to celebrate the end of their studies, and they had a spare place in their car. As long as I was happy to pitch in for petrol, then they were pleased to be able to have an extra person along for the ride.

Camping and Fairytale Castles

A few of Patrick’s friends knew of a small campsite near to a town called Vianden, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in the whole country. It has its own castle sat on the hillside overlooking the village and river. This castle is straight out of a children’s fairytale, and has plenty of its own amazing stories to boot.

If you are not interested in the history of the place, visit the castle for the views alone: you will not be disappointed. When we went, it was actually pretty miserable weather, and most of the valley was shrouded in (strangely beautiful) mist for the first half of the trip, but suddenly, the clouds lifted, the sun came out and the view was stunning.

Tree Top Adventure

The guys I was with really wanted to go to the local high ropes course as well. It’s not the cheapest activity for a shoestring traveller to take part in, but it was less expensive than similar activities back in the motherland. We went on a school day, so there weren’t too many children around, which was great because it meant that I could unleash my inner child. This is not one for people who don’t like heights, so know your limits before you pay as there are no refunds if you chicken out! Make sure you wear sensible shoes and rent out a locker so that you can safely store all of your stuff.

Luxembourg City

After our stay in Vianden, we headed off to Luxembourg City to stay in another campsite just outside the centre. The site arranged shuttle access for people to the main city centre, because parking is at a premium in certain areas. On the plus side, public transport in the country is amazingly good value, so you won’t really be at a loss if you do not have wheels of your own.

The Old Town area (“Ville Haute”) is pedestrianised so it is a great place to just wander around and take in the sights and sounds of the city. This area is a veritable paradise if you love European Medieval architecture. The Old Town is also the best place to go if you want to be reminded that Luxembourg is also well-known for its opulence and riches, because the area is crammed with luxury shops and bars. Thankfully, us cheapskate students had packed our own lunches so we didn’t have to worry about coppering up our cents to afford a few morsels.

Luxembourg City also has a spectacular river basin area, where the river has carved its way through the local sandstone rock. If you have had your fill of the old town opulence, then you should take a stroll through the Ville Basse area. Although there is plenty more medieval sites for you to see, you will also find that this area is a little bit greener and more reminiscent of the geographical quirks which serve to make Luxembourg a very interesting country to take a trip to.

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My Thoughts on Brexit

It’s been a couple of weeks now and I have finally managed to compose my own thoughts on the Leave vote. It took me a while to write this post, because I have so many emotions rattling around in my head about Brexit. Because of my dual citizenship, I am stuck on both sides of the divide, but I also have the “golden ticket” that so many people now seek. I’m told that immediately after the vote there was a spike in the number of “British” people trying to find out how they could get an Irish passport. Still, it is a shame that I may now need both passports to be able to travel freely to see my family in both areas.

There are a lot of people still trying challenge the vote in the United Kingdom, but I don’t think that will make the situation better. People already feel disconnected from politicians, so politicians overturning the will of the people could only serve to alienate the general populace further from the political classes. Likewise, all this backstabbing and backroom dealing that is apparently going on in Westminster seems to be taking British politics back decades. Then again, it may well make politicians understand that it is the British people who really should be listened to as in recent times they seem to have been somewhat ignored, and it could indeed make for a better future for all British people.

One of my main concerns about Brexit however is that this could reignite the troubles in Ireland? Northern Irish people voted in favour of staying “in”, with 56% of people thinking that it was better to “Remain”. When the UK eventually leaves the EU, I suspect that this could create some extra friction in an area that is still trying to overcome centuries of hate. Especially with so much talk about Scotland leaving the Union, there is a real potential for more violence if Irish people seek to follow the same path. I hope in this I am wrong.

For myself, (selfishly perhaps?) I’m worried about how this could affect my travels. But I’m also worried about the effects on the economy. The whole world seems to have been shaken by the actions of one little (geographically speaking) country, and I’m concerned that this means that my savings won’t reach as far. I mean, there has already been a lot of talk about how this could inflate the flight prices of all of my favourite low-cost airlines. It seems a selfish perspective, but I think I might have to change my plans a bit based on the economic instability. I may even have to go home to support my parents if I find that they are beginning to struggle financially. We are it seems at the moment at least in a real period of uncertainty, so all that any of us can really do right now is wait. If only someone (anyone? Please?) had made a plan….

My one real wish about the referendum is that there could have been more control about the messages which were put out there by BOTH sides. There seemed to be no rules and regulations about who could say what, and lies were constantly dressed up as fact. Interviews after the results were announced showed that many people regretted their votes, and many of those who didn’t actually understand what the vote was really about. Tighter regulations on disinformation could really have changed the results I feel. Hopefully lessons will be learnt for the future.

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The Student Life in Lille

From Ypres, I decided to move on towards the French city of Lille. Although I had heard a few good things about it from other people in hostels, my visit was primarily motivated by the fact that I have a friend who is living there. The city has a big student population and my friend is doing an Erasmus Study Abroad year there.

First Impressions

The city seems to have a casual, relaxed vibe when you are in the “studenty” areas. There are lots of fantastically beautiful buildings and structures to see as you walk around the streets. Lille’s situation means that there is inspiration from the French and Flemish. The old town area is full of the types of winding narrow streets that I absolutely love.

The best thing about staying with a friend in Lille is that he is off away on a trip home next week, and has generously offered to take some souvenirs home for my family. He is a “slow traveller” too, which means he can travel back home with more than just one tiny piece of hand luggage. Lille is a great place to go souvenirs shopping, because of its mixed heritage. There are some brilliant shopping areas in the city, if you like that sort of thing. Suffice to say, my ma and pa will be getting a few lovely gifts in the next few weeks.

In addition to souvenir shopping, I also enjoyed the bustling Wazemmes Market. I think my love of fresh food means that I always want to explore the local marketplaces. Staying over with Patrick also meant that I had the chance to actually purchase some of the traders’ wares AND be able to rustle up a tasty meal in his fully stocked kitchen! As much as I enjoy hostelling, their kitchen facilities are not always up to scratch.

Lille Belfry

The town hall belfry is one of the tallest historical structures in the city, and is pleased to welcome visitors for a few hours each day. You normally have to book in advance, but it is well worth the trip to the top. Standing at 104 metres high, the tower offers spectacular views of the town, and off into the mountains in the distance. Getting to the top is also a brilliant workout. Thankfully my WWOOFing in the Netherlands had kept me healthy enough to make it to the top without cheating and using the lift. There are also some displays to help you to understand how Lille has changed over the course of its history.

Pres Du Hem

Patrick also decided that we should go to Hem with some of his fellow students. If you have the opportunity to visit in the warmer months, you will definitely find something to keep you entertained, although I have been told that it can get a little overcrowded in the summer holidays. Whilst it is touted by some as a children’s attraction, we (a group of young adults) enjoyed ourselves.

There are lots of watersports to try your hand at, including kayaks, dingy and windsurfing, as well as nature walks and conservation efforts. If you enjoy the outdoors and like to get a little bit wet, then I would thoroughly recommend this day trip out of Lille, especially if you get the chance to go with some likeminded spirits.

Good News!

Just as I was finishing up writing this quick post I had a phone call from England and thought I’d share what it was about here. I won’t go into much detail but a couple of weeks before I started out on my travels I travelled to a friends flat in Croydon, England after being invited to stay the weekend to catch up. He also had a spare ticket to the England v Ireland game at Twickenham in the Six Nations so I could hardly refuse!Everything was great, except the result because Ireland lost, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyhow.

Unfortunately on the way back to Ireland and still in England I got rear ended by a car (not my fault) and ended up with mild whiplash. To cut a longish story short, after looking for some advice on car accidents and whiplash, I ended up starting a personal injury claim, and I’ve just been notified my claim has been successful. I should very shortly be receiving some compensation in my bank account, and although it isn’t really much it is certainly better than nothing, and a little extra cash always helps when you’re travelling on a budget!

 

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Ypres

With the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme being remembered today, it is somewhat coincidental but fitting I feel that I’m also writing about my recent experiences of Ypres, in Belgium.

Inner feelings

When I was out at the café in Brussels with my fellow hostel goers, talk turned to the places that we had visited in Europe and where we intended to move on to next. One of the girls said that she had recently been to Auschwitz, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about the fact that it was being classified as a “tourist destination”.

The group had a long discussion about our own feeling about visiting places where a large scale loss of life had occurred in relatively recent history. Some felt that it was important to let people visit these places so that the next generation could learn from the mistakes of the last one, whereas a few others in the group felt that when a place became a “destination” on a revolving door tour, it lost all its poignancy and became just another box to tick. We all agreed that “selfies” and a picnic lunch on the lawn were totally inappropriate, but we were then forced to consider how far back does that privilege extend? I mean, there are plenty of battlefields in Ireland which are also gorgeous picnic spots!

Respecting our History

All things considered, I joined a few of the others on a trip down to Ypres to visit some of the trenches, battlefields and a World War I Cemetery. I’m glad I went, because I really feel as though it helped me to understand a lot more about World War I, and to understand the enormity of the events. I feel as though a lot of younger people have actually been dulled to the events of World War I because they are so far removed, mainly because of time and location.

Other people of my age have told me that they have almost developed a kind of “memorial fatigue” due to the sheer number of Centenary events that have taken place over the past few years. For me, the practical aspect of this trip was far more important than any book learning has ever been.

Some trenches around Ypres have been reconstructed so that visitors are able to walk through them. Whilst it is impossible to fully understand the horrors that soldiers must have experienced when they were faced with vermin, mud, live munitions, unsanitary conditions and the constant worry that they were about to be sent over the top, these trenches helped me to understand just how claustrophobic many of these soldiers must have felt. When taken with many of the famous war poems about the trenches near Ypres, it feels far easier to understand the personal aspects of the war, rather than just seeing the conflict as statistics.

I am told that there is also a German trench and a German war cemetery near to Ypres, but I did not get chance to visit. History is often written by the victor, and it can be easy to forget that the old “enemy” were people too. Most of the German soldiers must have been as scared and frightened as the Irish, British and French soldiers were, and they were required to follow the same mindless orders from people on high. It is nice that there are some facilities to remember them in this area.

Outside of the battlefields, Ypres was a pleasant enough place to visit. Almost all of the historic sites were destroyed during the War, so there is much less to see than there are in some other towns and cities in Western Europe. If you enjoy a good walk, the Ramparts walk is a very interesting trip. Despite the destruction that the rest of the town experienced during the war, the ramparts are some of the best preserved examples in the whole country. Taking this walk will give you the opportunity to see that Ypres is much more than just a World War I site.

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Waffles and Beer

After my healthy WWOOF experience, I could not think of a better place to go than Brussels. Leaving aside the current situation with Brexit and the EU project, Brussels is famed for its chocolates, its waffles and its beer, rather than its sprouts, the capital city of Belgium is only about half a day’s bus ride from the farming community where I had been enjoying my workcation. So I hopped on an early morning bus and was there in time for lunch.

I had already imposed a budget on myself which stated that I would indulge on food in each destination, and then try to enjoy the rest of the city for free or cheap, but I just did not know where to start when I arrived in Brussels. I asked for advice at my hostel about where to get the best waffles and the receptionist joked with me to say “Just pick one, you won’t be disappointed”. I’m going to stick with her tact of not championing a particular waffle houses, kiosk or street vendor, because the three sets of waffles I ate (in two days!!) were all truly scrumptious. I would hate to promote one place whilst knowing that all of them are just as tasty as the next.

On my first night in Brussels I went out for Belgian beers with a few of the people I had met at the hostel. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but my comrades assured me that the beer was beyond compare. We sat in a small square in a café opposite a popular waffle house with an open air waffle window. It wasn’t raining so we sat outdoors under little blankets that the café owner brought to us. One of the girls introduced us to a game she had invented called “waffle toppers”, which was based purely on people watching. All you had to do was guess which topping (or lack of topping!!) they would choose to have on their waffles. It sounds silly but it was a really fun way to pass a couple of hours.

The next morning we all want down to the Brussels Museum in the Town Hall. The entrance fee is only 4 Euros if you have a student card (or free if you visit on the first Sunday of the month) and I would say that it is well worth a visit if you find the time. Although there are some fantastic displays about the history and the culture of the city, the thing that I found most interesting was the display of costumes for the Manneken Pis.

The Manneken Pis (“Peeing Boy”) is a famous statue of a naked boy urinating into a fountain which has stood near to the Grand Place for nearly 400 years. A few times a week the statue is dressed in a costume by the city, and it is customary for visiting dignitaries to bring an item of their traditional dress for the statue to wear. All of the best costumes are displayed in the museum. It’s quirky but fun.

Brussels is a great city to walk around in the late Spring. There are lots of unique things to do, including spotting the aforementioned “Peeing Boy” statue. If you are particularly eagle-eyed, you can also spot a “Peeing Girl” and a “Peeing Dog”, which are slightly less famous.

The city is full of out outdoor spaces where people are relaxing and making friends. As the “capital of Europe” (read home of the EU) it is also a very international city, meaning that you should be able to find a lot of home comforts here. I am told that the population has become a little more reserved in the past year, given that the city has been involved in a number of large-scale terrorist incidents, however I did not notice this at all. Most of the people I interacted with were just happy that tourists were still visiting the city.

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