September 2019 – Zürich

In need of a serious and very well earned break, my wife and I decided to re-book our previously cancelled trip to Zürich, Switzerland in September. Zürich was a bucket list item for me, and my wife was more than happy to entertain my desire to spend a few days there and get away from home in mid-September.

Getting There

Unfortunately, there weren’t any direct flights from Cork to Zürich, so we ended up flying from Dublin direct. The flights were reasonably cheap – about 500 for the round trip for two of us with Aer Lingus. Once you arrive in Zürich, the airport is only a short taxi ride (about 15 minutes) from the city center. There is also a rail link which we opted not to take due to having a bit of baggage.

Accommodation

My first taste of Zürich’s reputation for being expensive was the accommodation. We chose the Hotel St. Gottard on Bahnhofstrasse right in the heart of Zürich. Bahnhofstrasse, as you may tell from the name, is very near the central train station in Zürich, and is the main shopping street in Zürich, containing a store for every high-end brand store you can think of. The hotel itself was very comfortable with excellent service. We got upgraded to a junior suite on check-in which was a welcome bonus. In terms of location, it is really central and is a great base for a few days exploring Zürich, or even a few day trips due to its proximity to the main train station. If you’re planning a trip to Zürich, I would highly recommend staying here.

Activities

There’s quite a bit to do in Zürich, and we aimed to get in all the touristy things in our first few days, leaving us a few days to explore.

Our first stop was the Lindenhof hill, a public square in the center of Zürich. As the name suggests, it offers some nice views of the old town, and is definitely a must see. Lindenhof hill is also in close proximity to the old town of Zürich, just across the river, and it was great walking through here exploring the shops, restaurants and stopping for a casual beer every now and then.



After this, we took about a 15 minute stroll south which brought us to the edge of Lake Zürich. This is an amazing sight, and you can spend the day pretty much exploring the lake side parks. We ate lunch in a very good restaurant, Lake Side offering great views of the lake and the passing marine traffic, as well as the loads of swans.





While in Zürich, we decided to look into a day trip, with our initial thoughts being to maybe travel over the border to Germany for a day. We actually ended up going to see the Rhine Falls, which is about an hour bus ride way. We used Viator to book this trip, and it was as it said on the tin – a bus ride to the Rhine Falls, entry to the falls with some time to explore, and the bus ride back to the starting point near the train station in Zürich. The whole tour lasted from 9am – 12pm and was perfect for us, as we despise day-long tours. The Rhine Falls is the largest plain waterfall in Europe, and is a really cool sight when you get up close.





Eating & Drinking

There are no shortage of eateries in Zürich offering everything from traditional Swiss and German food, to any European or Asian dishes you can think of. Some particular favorites of ours in Zürich were:

  • Hummerbar Zürich – actually part of our hotel, and an excellent seafood restaurant. It’s quite expensive – we had a two course meal and a bottle of wine and the bill was about 300 euros, but well worth it.
  • Jules Verne Panoramabar – a really unique building in the middle of town offering great food and unreal views of Zürich. I recommend booking if you are trying it out as it can be very busy, especially around lunch time.
  • Zeughauskeller – a traditional beer hall in a 15th century building. I’m a sucker for German-type beer halls, and am always on the lookout for one if I’m in continental Europe. The atmosphere here didn’t disappoint, and the wienerschnitzel and beer was excellent too.


  • Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Zürich and were sad to come home. It will definitely be on our list to return to at some point in the future.

June 2019 – Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Vilamoura

I have just arrived back from a very relaxing 3 and a half week’s break around Europe with my wife. This was much needed, especially since I had spent 10 days previous on a business trip to the US (including an awful connection through Chicago O’Hare, but that’s another story).

We started our trip in a rather unorthodox way, by first heading to Dublin (even though we were flying out of Cork), to attend concerts by Michael Bublé in the 3Arena, and then see Metallica at Slane Castle the next day. I was a bit uneasy about the first one, but my wife likes him and that’s all a part of it I guess. I actually ended up enjoying the concert, he’s definitely a born entertainer, cheese aside.

The next day we headed to Slane Castle to see the gods of metal. We had VIP tickets so getting in was a bit easier, and we had a private bar and food area which was great. There was also a large bar marquee which came in very handy when the inevitable rain started to come down about 5pm. Nevertheless, it was an epic concert and I’m so glad we made the always arduous journey to and from Slane to see them. Although I think it may be a few years again before I attend Slane, and the headline act would want to be someone I really want to see (think the Stone Roses reforming again or the Second Coming of Kurt Cobain).

We arrived back to Cork two days after Slane, and a well needed rest day in between. On Tuesday we caught a flight to Amsterdam, this was our first city in a multi-stop trip over 3 weeks that looked like this:

trip

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is definitely one of my most favorite cities in the world. I say that having been there upwards of 10 times now. I know what you are thinking, cannabis and sex tourism, but I assure you that that opinion is the ignorant view of those who have never traveled to this city, or who have only seen the city center. I generally stay in the South West of the city which is quiet, non-touristy, and only a 15-minute tram ride from the city center. It’s also near great attractions like the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum, both of which I highly recommend. Better yet, it’s near one of Amsterdam’s most famous parks – the Vondelpark (named after the ‘dutch Shakespeare’ Joost van den Vondel).

While in Amsterdam, we also took a day trip to Eindhoven, which takes about an hour to get to by train from Amsterdam Central. While we were only there for a few hours, it seemed like a nice city, quite industrial, but certainly not lacking charm in its compact city-center.

Recommendations:

  • Louis Bar Cafe de Dam – a great little bar just off Dam Square. We spend an afternoon here chatting, drinking, and watching the world go by.
  • Beer Temple – this is a really nice establishment specializing in American craft beers, with over 30 on tap and 100 bottled beers. I recommend trying the ‘California Lager’, and ‘Enter Night’. Try a cheese board also!
  • O’Reilly’s Irish Bar – I’m a sucker for visiting Irish bars wherever I am in the world. O’Reilly’s is very near the aforementioned Beer Temple, and well worth a visit. Try the mini sliders if you’re peckish.

Berlin

After Amsterdam, we were bound for Berlin, Germany. My wife & I decided to take the train to see a bit of the Dutch country, and also because when we were students neither of us could afford the common inter-railing trip around Europe summer holiday prevalent with a lot of students – we worked through each summer instead. The train from Amsterdam central to the main station in Berlin takes about 6 hours. We got first class tickets and it was very comfortable. Berlin was on my list to visit for many years, being an avid reader of German history. We stayed near Alexanderplatx in ‘Mitte’ which is basically very near the center of Berlin (if you can in fact say that Berlin has a center). A surprise for me in Berlin was the smell of sewage which seemed to be present in many of the places we went. Nothing is more off-putting than that particular smell if you find a restaurant that looks good, which happened to us a few times. This being our first time in Berlin, we done all the touristy things – Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Tier Garten, and the Berlin Wall being the main ones. We also took a very good tour (thanks to my wife for allowing this ;-)) called ‘Final Days of WW2 in Berlin’. This was a great tour, and ended near the site of where Hitler’s bunker and Reich Chancellery had been. Great for a WW2 nerd like myself.

Recommendations:

  • Berliner Fernsehturm – this is a 368m tower that includes a revolving restaurant, offering panoramic views of Berlin. We ate here and it was one of the best meals of our trip. I recommend booking beforehand as there can be large lines.

Munich

After 4 days in Berlin, it was on to Munich, again by train which takes about 4 hours. We had visited Munich previously, and decided to return for a few days on our way to our final destination in Portugal. Munich, as Berlin, is a city steeped in WW2 history, and we once again returned to the Hofbrauhaus for a few beers.

Recommendations:

  • Hofbräuhaus München – you can’t visit Munich without having a beer here. Try some traditional Bavarian food and a pretzel also.
  • Münchner Stubn – an excellent restaurant with great beers and very friendly staff. Try the Wiener Schnitzel.

Vilamoura

3 days later, we were on a flight out of Munich bound for Faro, and our final destination of Vilamoura where we were to spend the last 9 days in the sun. Vilamoura, located on the Algarve and only about 20 minutes from Faro is a man-made resort with a large marina filled with shops, bars, and eateries. There are some great hotels in the area also. We had been to Vilamoura in 2015 and liked it so much we decided to return to end this trip in the most relaxing way possible. Our hotel was a few minutes walk from both the beach and the marina, and was stocked with all the necessary amenities to ensure our quest to relax was ultimately successful.

Recommendations:

  • Prime Steakhouse
  • it can be difficult to chose a place to eat on the Marina, there is so much choice. However, you can’t go wrong with Prime. This is an excellent steakhouse with great cocktails, and very friendly staff. Try the Tuna Pate.