Have Bag, Will Travel
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As we nail down 2014, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I look back over the last one. I have ignored the WordPress annual statement to produce my own review.
The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work. I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither conceited enough or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read. I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the back button!
Just to go back a bit, in 2012 the site recorded 170,900 visits and I was optimistic that as I kept posting this number was just going to keep going up but then in February 2013 Google made some devastating changes to its search algorithms and the numbers halved overnight and have never fully recovered. I finished 2013 with 79,470, a decrease of 115%.
I thought it was important to keep going so in 2014 I have posted 320 times and the total number of visits is recorded as just over 101,000 so there has been some significant recovery. My other companion blogs, Scrap Book Project and Another Bag More Travel have recorded about 105,000 hits between them.
Interestingly, WordPress statistics reports are consistently lower than third party statistics counters but I am reporting here on the official site numbers.
These are the Top Ten posts of 2014:
A newcomer to the top ten and straight in at number 1 with 5,430 visits. I posted this in August 2013 following a week touring Catalonia in the North-East of Spain and pulling in a visit to Barcelona along the way. I’d like to think that this is because it is a knowledgeable and scholarly assessment of Gaudi’s architectural contribution to the World but I think it is more likely because the image attracts visitors as it easily found in a Google search and people seem to like it because it has been copied several times!
This post is down from number 1 in 2013 to number 2 this year with 4,010 hits. I posted this in April 2010 after returning from a visit to Krakow in Poland. It was a good trip but I am not sure why so many people would hit on it. It is not as interesting as my trip to Auschwitz or the Crazy Mike Communist Tour. Once again it is probably the image but interest in this post however is on the slide because someone stole the image and their version of it now comes up before mine in a Google search. How annoying is that!
3,300 hits, staying in the Top Ten and up three places from number 6 represents a very successful year for this post. This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one. I think people assume that I have connections with the Royal Family and can be of some assistance.
This post stays in the Top 10 for a second year with 2,225 visits after an original posting in July 2012. Cameras and mobile phones are strictly forbidden inside the Mausoleum because the Russian authorities don’t want snapshots of the great man turning up on the internet in people’s Blogs or Trip Advisor reviews so they have to be left in a locker room and if anyone tries to defy this and is caught by the thorough security checks then there punishment is to be sent to the back of the queue! I shamelessly stole this one – well, people steal mine!
1,330 hits and a fourth year in the Top Ten but dropping three places and presently running out of steam. A bit of a surprise because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad. From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to Capri, Naples, Pompeii, The Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only achieved a handful of hits between them.
This year’s second new entry with 1,050 visits. The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited. Third in the competition was the mighty Spanish Cathedral in Seville, Andalusia..
Seventh place with 1,005 hits which demonstrates the importance of an ‘About’ page.
Completing the Top 10 this year are three more newcomers:
I try and regularly take part in the Weekly Photo Challenge and often use it to provide a link to an older post. I get a respectable amount of visits but they are rather like a Mayfly and only live for a day but for some reason this one has just kept on going. Only posted in October 2014 it has attracted 905 visits and has muscled its way into the top 10. It is a signpost in the village of Ballyvaughan in Southern Ireland and I can think of no reason why it has been so successful.
A second top 10 appearance this year for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (maybe I am an expert on Gaudi after all). After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list. I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way. I posted this in March 2013 and it has made its way into the top 10 with 820 hits.
I posted this in March 2010 so it has taken a long time to get to the top 10. It is actually one of my personal favourites. It has crept in this year with 765 visits but I have no explanation about why it should suddenly spike like that! It is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.
Dropping out of the Top Ten this year were: Norway, Europe’s most Expensive Country, Travel Tips when Flying Budget Airlines, Danger in Naples, Camorra, Vesuvius and Pollution, Onyx UK and an Inappropriate Visit to the Moulin Rouge and Twelve Treasures of Spain – Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
If you have read one of these posts or any of the 1,475 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’, then thank you very much! I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”
I’d be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2014 and the possible explanations why? Comment and let me know. I’m a sucker for statistics!
“The Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”
Later in the morning we were leaving Galway to drive south through the Burren and towards our next scheduled overnight stop at the town of Ennistymon in the heart of Father Ted* country but as this wasn’t an especially long journey we were in no particular rush to leave and so after breakfast we wandered off into the city again to visit the Saturday morning street market.
I have explained before (several times) that I am not a fan of shopping but I don’t mind the local market especially one that sells regional produce and handmade crafts so it was quite enjoyable strolling around in the sunshine, tasting local food and debating whether or not to buy a pointless souvenir or a piece of traditional Irish woollen clothing that we would possibly never ever wear again once back home. So we didn’t.
As midday approached we turned our backs on Galway, threw a few more coins into the collection boxes of the street entertainers and returned to the hotel to check out and load the car.
The car! OMG the car!
Over the last forty-eight hours I had forgotten about the warning lights on the dashboard and they flashed up again like casino gaming machine as soon as I turned on the ignition and although they are normally supposed to go out after a couple of seconds or so they took it in turn to blink and flash and most worrying of all there was that pesky engine management warning light again. The engine sounded sweet enough however and there were no plumes of black smoke or sounds of exploding metal so we carried on and resolved to ring the car hire company later on.
We drove inland along the north shore of Galway Bay, then south before turning west along the south shore and into a region called the Burren, an area that makes it into every top ten list of natural wonders in Ireland. A vast barren area of bare limestone rock and at first sight very little else and the first coastal village that we arrived at was Kinvara where we stopped at the outskirts at the site of the restored Dunguaire Castle.
According to legend if you stand at the front gate and ask a question you will have an answer to by the end of the day. While Richard and Pauline went to the top of the battlements and Kim made a circuit of the castle looking for photo opportunities I made my way to the front gate and asked my question, ‘is the car going to blow up?’
Out of all of us Richard was the most excited about the Burren and plotted a route to take us into the interior to see rock formations formed by criss-crossing cracks known as ‘grikes’ and isolated boulders called ‘clints’ which between them have formed deep crevices with layers of fossils and the home to a multitude of alpine plants and he wandered off and poked his camera lens into these interesting places. Kim and Pauline were obviously much less impressed by this rocky wilderness and returned to the car after only a very quick and discourteous glance but I took a look around and tried to get a better understanding of the bleakness of the place and if I had been a geologist or a botanist then I am certain that I would have got very excited, but I’m not and I didn’t.
With Richard outvoted three to one we now returned to the coast and to the village of Ballyvaughan which seemed unexpectedly busy.
The reason was that there was a cycle event taking place today called the tour de Burren and nearly two thousand cyclists were taking part and were all due at the finishing line in Ballyvaughan later this afternoon. We stopped for a short while for a Guinness and a sandwich and then we made our way out of the village and headed west before it was completely taken over by women in inappropriately tight lycra, men with shaved alien legs, those weird helmets that cyclists wear and competitors and spectators alike in garish bright colours that for driving safety reasons required the use of double sunglasses.
Driving became increasingly difficult now because all of the cyclists were coming towards us in the opposite direction and it needed total concentration not to knock any of them off their bike and spoil everyone’s afternoon. There was only one near miss when a cyclist choose to make a risky overtaking manoeuvre at the top of a ridge just as we were approaching from the other side. I demonstrated the reactions of a formula one racing driver and braked hard to avoid a collision and caught the look of sheer panic on his face as he swerved back to his own side of the road just in time but I am quite certain that it was the sort of incident that would require him to disinfect his saddle later on!
The scenery was spectacular now as the road swept around the coast in a roller-coaster sort of way and we stopped several times to admire the views and walk across the grikes and even Kim and Pauline were finding it interesting now. And so were some of the cyclists because many of them were also pulling up and taking photographs in a leisurely sort of way that convinced me that this wasn’t a cycle race in the same way that the Tour de France’ is a cycle race because I am sure that Chris Frome doesn’t stop to take pictures whilst cycling through the Pyrenees.
At Black Head Point the road turned an abrupt 90° and we headed south with the Atlantic Ocean to our right. The road all along this coast is called the Wild Atlantic Way but there was absolutely nothing wild about it today and with blue skies, sunshine and no wind the sea could hardly find the energy to make a slight ripple let alone a crashing wave and the water caressed the shoreline in a gentle peaceful sort of way.
With the dashboard still lit up like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise we carried on now towards the Cliffs of Moher.
* As my UK readership only makes up about 20% of all my page views an explanation is required:
I am going to mention Father Ted again in the next couple of posts so I need to tell you that this was a cult UK situation comedy about three priests living in Ireland which generally pokes fun at Ireland and its stereotypes. It probably doesn’t travel too well. There was once talk of a US version but the project was abandoned before it started.
There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’. Not surprising then that until now I have never visited the country.
Later this year of course, if the Scottish Nationalists get their way, then there will be two correct answers to the question which is likely to cause a lot of bar-room arguments!
2014 has been a big year for me as I reached the birthday milestone of sixty years and I was planning something special to celebrate the occasion and then some friends asked if we would like to visit Ireland with them and that seemed special enough so we set about making travel plans.
I suppose I have always been a bit hesitant about travelling in the British Isles because being English I have always been rather conscious that we are not going to win many popularity contests with our nearest neighbours.
A lot of Scottish people seem to hate us and the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond and his dreadful deputy, the Anglophobe, Nicola Sturgeon, desperately want a vote in favour of independence. Until quite recently the Welsh used to burn down our holiday homes and the last time I went there I got a speeding ticket which I am convinced was issued only on the basis that I had an English registered car. So I was a little concerned about visiting a country who apparently regard the English responsible for all their recent disasters from the Irish Famine to the failure to qualify for the Football World Cup!
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting. Most impressive is that Ireland is placed seventh in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top ten of the most highly developed countries in the World and before the recent economic crisis it used to be in the top five! The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.
The economic crisis has had a negative effect on Ireland’s position in the European Happiness Index however and it is rated at only fourteenth out of thirty which is a very long way behind the United Kingdom but I was interested to see that in a recent poll in the Irish Times that Galway was voted the happiest place to be in Ireland and I was glad about that because that was where we were planning to go first.
Ireland has only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which, lets be honest, is a rather poor performance and I would suggest that someone in Dublin needs to start travelling around and making some applications – Australia has got nineteen for goodness sake! The country also needs to do something about its Blue Flag Beaches because it now only has seventy when a few years ago it had one hundred and forty-two!
But some statistics continue to be impressive and Ireland remains the most successful nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which with seven wins is higher than all other competitors so who really cares about the economic crisis anyway?
We flew to Shannon Airport early one Thursday morning and after arrival set about finding the car rental office. Being a skinflint I had arranged a vehicle through ‘Budget Rent a Car’ and that should have been a warning in itself. The cost of insurance doubled the original quote and then I was alarmed to find that we had been charged for a full tank of diesel at way above sensible pump prices but to be fair they did promise to refund the charge if we brought it back full but at this stage I have to say that I was not especially hopeful.
We left the airport on the very edge of the river Shannon (the longest river in Ireland and the British Isles) past the peat bogs of the estuary shoreline and headed north to Galway and then the first warning light came on. It was the engine heater plug warning light so this did not concern me greatly and we carried on but then more lights started to appear until the dashboard resembled a Christmas tree in New York Times Square or Saturday night on the Las Vegas strip.
We carried on because these seemed only to be linked to the instruction to get the thing serviced and I decided to call the hire company later after we had parked up and checked in to our hotel. And then the Engine Management warning light came on and I thought this might be serious but I didn’t want to spoil the day so on the basis that ignorance is bliss I placed a fold up map over the dashboard display so I couldn’t see it and just carried on while I mentally calculated how much I might be charged for a new engine if it blew up.
So we found the hotel and I was interested to check out this whole Irish happiness/friendliness thing and sure enough the desk clerk was happy and friendly but I remained sceptical and thought, ‘well, of course she is, it is her job’ and then we went into the city centre. It was lunchtime so we found a pub and I went to the bar and ordered some beer and a man immediately started to talk to me and he was happy and he was friendly and as we enjoyed our first pint of Guinness in the sunshine I instinctively knew that Ireland was a special place to be.