Skerries – a short getaway from Dublin

Last weekend, we drove up to Skerries, a seaside town north of Dublin city. In about an hour, we made it to the centre of the small town. Easily accessible by Dublin bus and the Irish rail, Skerries is part of the Dublin county and makes for a great city break.

Skerries is especially popular for its historic tower mills that date back several hundred years. The Skerries mill complex includes 2 tower mills or windmills and a water mill.

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The mills can be visited through a guided tour only and unfortunately the last tour was already underway when we got to the mills. And so, we just walked around the mill complex admiring the mills from a distance.

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The one above is the four sail windmill and is the older of the two. It’s also known as The Small Windmill while the one below is called The Great Windmill. The taller one below is said to be more efficient considering its five sails.

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It was good weather the day we were visiting – blue skies showing no trace of rain. Perfect weather to walk the little coast of Skerries.

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We were soon peckish and decided to head over to this little cafe Goat in The Boat for some snacks and coffee. Funny little folk tale of St. Patrick and his visit to Skerries can be found on one of the cafe’s walls.

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Skerries is filled with cute little cafes.

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Storm in a Teacup is very close to the beach, perfect place to take away some icecream and a cuppa to enjoy by the beautiful Irish sea.

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From the Skerries harbor, you can see a faint outline of the Mourne Mountains in the distance

We walked along the rocky shore picking shells and watching little hermit crabs scurrying thru tidepools.

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As the sun went down, it started to get nippy and we made our way back to the car park.

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Right behind the car park is one of the two Martello Towers in Skerries. You’ll find plenty of such towers along the Irish coastline. These small defensive forts were built during the French revolution. Although primarily functioning as a watch-house, these towers were also homes to the guards and their families.

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Alhough we spent only a few hours in Skerries and found Howth much more fascinating, it was nevertheless a lovely evening spent in good company.

ECP – Singapore’s Jewel in the Crown

The East Coast Park was a big part of our life in Singapore and is our most loved place in this wonderful little island country.

The ECP is a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 kilometres and is a great place to go to for a ride along the coastline or a lazy day at the beach.

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You can spend a few hours or an entire day at the ECP. There’s a whole bunch to do. And, it’s a beach you can go to anytime of the year. You may be aware that Singapore doesn’t really have seasons.. it is situated just above the equator and has a tropical climate.. it’s humid and sunny thru the year in this little island. And yes, it is known to rain quite often but it’s usually the kind of rain that comes pouring down with all its might but lasts just a short while. There’s plenty of gazebos around the ECP for you to take cover while the rain clouds pass over.

ECP is filled with a whole range of entertainment options. You can ride a bike along the coastline – a single, tandem or a full family seater! The view is spectacular and you’ve got a dedicated cycling path for your uniterrupted biking pleasure. Many an afternoon/evening was spent biking along the coastline while we lived in Singapore. They also have other options like rollerblading, kayaking, wind surfing, and other extreme sports for the adrenaline junkies. There’s also a paint ball and laser tag arcade in Parkland Green. Or if you’d like to just sit back and drink a pint or two while some fresh fish take the bait, you’ll find plenty of fishing spots along the ECP – the pier near Marine Parade is especially popular for this.

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If you’d rather just hang out by the beach, get a beach blanket, some snacks, and a cooler filled with your favorite beers! You’ll find plenty of folks just lazing on the beach under the shade of a palm tree, having a jolly good picnic. At ECP, you can also camp by the beach, overnight as well if you’d like to. It is a very popular activity, so you’ve got to book ahead. We never got around to camping under the stars while we were in Singapore but would highly recommend this if you get a chance to. They provide for shower facilities as well if you’d like to wash off some of that salt and sand off your skin before you call it a night.

There are a ton of options all along the ECP for some lip-smacking food – you’ll find a whole bunch of hawker centers (Singapore’s quite famous for these). It’s basically street food that is cheap and delicious. We highly recommend the satays – they are just mind-blowing! You”ll find these stalls at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. Just a little further away, you’ll find restaurants, beer bars, and cafes as well, if you fancy a quieter place. Many of these offer a great sea view too. We frequented the Parkland Green as it was closer to where we stayed. This section of ECP is newer and offers plenty of dining options. And, for the eager cooks, you can do your own barbecue in one of the many pits around ECP. Barbecuing at the beach is another very popular activity – make sure you book in advance!

The East Coast Park is part of the Singapore national parks and is interconnected to many of the other parks so you can indulge in some park hop too, by foot, by bike or simply skate your way through.

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The East Coast Park is definitely frequented more by the folks living in Singapore but it is a great place to unwind and soak in Singapore’s fantastic culture, and relish its variety of culinary delights during your short holiday to this little island.

If there’s one thing we miss the most about Singapore, it would have to be ECP. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. While there were beautiful cycle paths along the Donau in Germany and there’s sure a great variety of food and beautiful coastlines here in Ireland, having that all-in-one experience like the East Coast Park is something we crave for from time to time.

Some of our favorite moments in ECP were riding one of ’em big family cycles along the sea, building sand castles with two of our favorite little girls, enjoying a nice pint at sundown and watching the distant lights of the boats fade into the sea… priceless memories!

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The East Coast Park holds many a precious memory from our life in Singapore. It made our lives beautiful and complete. It will always be a special place!

Bali – a cultural wonder

Our trip to Bali was a memorable one. It reminds us of some fun times, great food, beautiful sights, and a rich cultural experience.

Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia and rightly so. In Bali, you’ll find a varied mix of areas – some like Ubud that are steeped in mythical traditions with beautiful temples, artisans displaying their meticulously crafted ware, and talented artists putting up great performances in mythical plays. And then some others like Seminyak (part of Kuta) where you’ll find the hip and happening beaches and bars. We stayed at Seminyak as we wanted to be close to the places playing live music and pouring out the good brews.

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Gorgeous sit-outs by the beach at Seminyak

We started out by watching the Barong dance, a very popular Balinese dance. Barong is a lion-like creature who represents all things good and the dance features the battle between Barong and Rangda, a demon queen that represents all things evil.

The music and the depiction of these mythical characters in an enthralling dance was a great start to our journey into the rich cultural wonders of Bali.

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Meet Rangda, the white-haired evil queen

Our next stop was the Kopi Luwak Plantation. This was an interesting and somewhat amusing experience.  We witnessed the making of the world’s most expensive coffee (aka Kopi). The Luwak, this cat-like creature eats the coffee cherries and then of course poops it out. This poop is then collected, the coffee beans separated from the crap, cleansed and sun-dried, fried well, and hand pounded to produce the supposedly wonderful coffee. Sorry for the sarcasm here but well, I tried the coffee and while it was decent, it was in no way remarkable to pay the high price it demands. And, I am a coffee lover just like many of you out there but just didn’t understand what the fuss was about. This turned out to be an interesting experience nonetheless and was worth the visit.

The plantation is beautiful and you should definitely take a short walk through it to see the lovely coffee plants, cocoa trees and fruit trees. Oh, and the tea lovers needn’t despair, there’s also a wide variety of interesting teas to be tried as well, which incidentally I enjoyed more than the coffee!

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Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple

We then headed over to the Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple located in Batur, Kintamani. This is one of the second most important temples to the Balinese people. It is a huge temple complex and in fact consists of nine different temples that includes ~300 shrines of gods and goddesses. One of these nine temples is actually a Chinese temple and I was a bit surprised to see it there but it was apparently built to pay homage to Ida Ratu Ayu Subandar, the patron saint of commerce and the ‘administrator’ of the gods. The story goes that, back in the days, the king used to appoint a harbor master, usually Chinese, who was responsible for the storage and protection of valuable objects.

Hinduism is the majority religion in Bali and being a Hindu (by birth but not by choice) and being aware of some of the Hindu customs and gods/goddesses – it was pretty amazing to see how similar Indian Hindu rituals was to that of the Balinese Hindu rituals. It was also amazing to note the differences in the way they represent the same gods and rituals. The architecture of this whole temple complex is just mind-blowing! We unfortunately went there on a misty day and there was lots of fog which made for a slightly blurry view… despite this, the temple was simply marvelous. By the way, in almost all Bali temples you will need to wear a sarong, both the male and female.. this is not that bad a deal really.. you can rent one or buy one.. but what’s bad is the locals ripping you off by charging as much as 50 USD just to rent one! This is not so bad in all temples and we were shocked when it happened to us in this Batur temple. It’s best to just buy one and use it for all the temples you plan to visit. It’s much cheaper and stress-free!

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Mount Batur, Kintamani

Mount Batur is an active volcano visible from Kintamani. Its last eruption was in 2000. The mountain is surrounded by the crater lake, Danau Batur, Bali’s largest lake. As I mentioned, it was a misty day and we waited several hours for the view you see in this image. When we got there, there was nothing but thick mist making the entire mountain and its surrounding area altogether invisible. We sat in this little cafe sipping on some lovely coffee and munching on some delicious cakes and waited for the mist to lift. It was worth the wait.

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Royal tombs at Gunung Kawi

We drove down through a different route and stopped over at the Gunung Kawi temple. The main attraction of the temple complex is the royal tombs. These tombs are dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favorite queens.. This image above features the tombs of the king, his ‘major’ queen and their three sons. On the other side of this are the tombs of the ‘minor’ queens.

It’s a beautiful walk through the temple complex with little streams flowing through and beautiful rice terraces along the way. Ubud is filled with these gorgeous rice terraces.

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The rice terraces of Bali

This was the end of our Day 1 in Bali. Boy! we did see a lot and it was such a beautiful day! We then headed back to Seminyak to unwind with some chilled beers and listen to a fun, local rock band. The next day we just chilled out in our lovely villa and swam and drank lots more beers.

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A typical pils (nothing special) – seemed to be the most popular local beer

In the evening, we stepped out to see Tanah Lot, a temple built in a spectacular rock formation – this is one of the most photographed places in Bali. Just behind the temple, you can find a quiet little rock for yourself, away from the maddening crowd, and sit there mesmerized by the beauty and the power of the sea.

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Tanah Lot, approaching dusk

On our last day, we visited Nusa Dua, part of the Kuta area in the south of Bali, that is well known for its water sports. We had a whole adventure-packed day and indulged in a variety of water sports from parasailing to sea walking to doing the flying fish. We immensely enjoyed them all.

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The blue parasail is me taking off

It was my first time parasailing and after much trepidation, I mustered the courage to do it and I was so thrilled when I did it. The insane rush of adrenaline as you take off, the child-like glee that surges within you as you soar high and admire the vast expanse of water, and finally, the urge to do it all over again as you descend to the shore — was simply wonderful. We also visited the Turtle Island which I don’t think is worth the time, money, and effort – it’s sad to see the turtles kept (trapped really) in such enclosed dirty conditions.

We wrapped up the day at the Pura Luhur UluWatu temple, which is perched at the edge of a steep cliff that is surrounded by the Indian ocean. The views from here are breath-taking! We also watched the fascinating Kecak dance here – the performance takes place every evening against the backdrop of the ocean.

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Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple

The music for this dance is produced by the performers you see in this image incessantly chanting ‘Cak’. The dance is a depiction of one of the primary plots in the Ramayana where Sita, the wife of Lord Rama is abducted by the demon king Ravana and then the performance goes on to show how Rama (with the help of the monkey god Hanuman) kills Ravana and brings back Sita safely. The entire performance is filled with unbelievable energy and is a brilliant one to watch – and the twilight views of the vast Indian ocean make it all the more special. We then headed off to grab a lovely dinner in a restaurant situated on the other side of the cliff. The food in Bali is delicious no matter where you go with a wide array of choices. Eating mouth-watering satays, listening to the local band play some lovely Balinese music, and looking out at the ocean – this is how we finished off our last day in Bali.

That’s what makes Bali so memorable for us – the amazing views, the scrumptious food, the rich culture, and the varied experiences you can get in this lovely little city. There’s something for everyone.