Road trippin’

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When I pictured what life should look like in Ireland, it always included road trips on narrow country lanes with plenty of sheep, castles, greenery, and tea. Take a very random group of people, a deal from Pigsback for a two night stay in Tipperary, and a little red car and I finally got my road trip.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Work colleagues — two boys and two girls. James, an Irish lad, is best described as someone who has all of the fun all of the IMG_6624time. He’s a little outrageous, and some may say he has a few hippie-like qualities. Izabela is a passionate Polish girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to make sure everyone else knows as well. She’s good craic and often wants to “do something crazy.” Shane is your token surf boy who looks more American than Irish. He comes across as very civilized at first and then as he becomes more comfortable he starts cracking the dad jokes one minute and doing a headstand the next. As for me, let’s just say that if you had to pick a character from Friends that I’m most similar to, it would be Monica. I bring the snacks and the itinerary. Together, it’s an interesting dynamic.

We didn’t get out of work will about 6:00am Sunday, so we aimed to leave between 2:00-4:00 that afternoon. It wasn’t an ambitious plan, but nevertheless it failed. Here’s a little break down of what happened during those hours:

2:00 — Iza is showered, packed, and ready to go. I’m baking muffins. The boys are nowhere to be found.

2:30 — Iza is starting to get antsy, I have finished getting ready, both Shane and James are not answering their phones or responding to Facebook messages.

3:15 — James is alive! Still no sign of Shane, who also happens to be the driver.

3:30-4:00 — James tries to protect Shane’s well-being (from Iza) by trying to find his home number to hopefully contact Shane and salvage the day. I proceed to run errands.

4:30 — James discovers that Shane has been sleeping INSIDE James’ house the entire time.

6:00 — We finally depart Dublin.

The road trip consisted of a little McDonalds takeout, scenic views of street lights, and some classic shimmying and fist pumping to Backstreet Boys, 2Pac, Vitamin C, and Michael Jackson. We got a deal from Pigsback for two rooms in the Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf Resort for 89euro a room/two nights. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, but breakfast each morning was delicious and the leisure center was good fun. During our first visit to the leisure center we encountered the very hospitable Tipperary folk. You know how after sitting in the car for a couple of hours and working over 24 hours in two days all you want to do is relax in a hot tub for a while? Relaxation was our number one priority, so we beelined to the hot tub. Now, my job is to chat with people. I am a full time schmoozer. After a long weekend, the last thing I want to do is make idle chit chat. We finally get into the hot tub and Shane is already there, chatting away with a lady who had the thickest Irish accent I have ever heard. Shane seemed to understand her, but he bailed shortly after we got there and left the two foreigners to carry the conversation. Making conversation is one thing, but pretending to understand someone is a whole other level . This woman was extremely friendly, but for all I know she could have been saying cruel things about me while I smiled and nodded along, and there were numerous moments when I’d just keep nodding until I realized she had asked me a question and I had to guess if I should respond with “I’ve been in Ireland since the end of October, came here to travel,” or “Yes I do love castles” or “Sure I can turn the bubbles back on.” Combine her heavy accent with a too full hot tub that had aggressive bubbles shooting into my face and it made for a fairly comedic, less than relaxing experience.

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park was next on the itinerary. The boys enriched our cultural experience by pointing out many “watch towers” during the drive and providing us with numerous “facts” about Ireland. Touring around the castle was fascinating and the artifacts on display made it easy to imagine how it looked when people lived there hundreds of years ago. I could imagine the feasts and parties taking place in the banquet hall with people in beautiful hand stitched gowns and handsome jackets, drinking a little too much and dancing not hard enough. I pitied anyone living in the castle who might have been claustrophobic — the narrow stairwells would have been a daily living nightmare. The Folk Park was a lot of fun as well, and was a great historical glimpse of how life used to look in Ireland. I definitely recommend checking it out.

As for the rest of our getaway, what happens in Tipperary stays in Tipperary. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

So excited to see a castle!

So excited to see a castle!

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

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Inside a heritage house

Inside a heritage house

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Numb toes, rosy nose and a happy heart in Stockholm

I hate the cold, but visiting Stockholm, Sweden in the winter time was definitely worth temporarily losing the feeling in my toes. Stockholm is a gorgeous city — everything is clean and the sparkling snow covered buildings seem to be straight out of a Disney movie. The people who live there might as well be part of a movie set as well. Everywhere you look you’ll see tall, blonde, beautiful individuals. People are super stylish and just ooze cool. Swedish people seem to have it all figured out — everything is clean, functional, and trendy.

Model of Vasa

Model of Vasa

Some highlights of our trip include the Hop on Hop off bus tour through the city, a boat tour around the islands, excellent water pressure, and the fact there’s an H&M on every corner. We also visited the Vasa Museum which holds a real Viking ship. The Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in Stockholm in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961, and now it’s reconstructed and just hanging out in this building for you to visit. The museum has impressive detailed exhibitions and it’s worth spending a couple of hours there.

We stayed at City Backpackers and it is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Cozy beds, iMac computers, great kitchen, and the best shower I’ve had in months.

And now on to the important things. Food.

The key to following a budget in Stockholm is not going out for food all of the time. We bought some groceries and made most of our meals in the hostel. It helped that the kitchen could’ve been an ad for IKEA. The grocery stores were in incredible! I think a persons groceries says a lot about a person, likewise grocery stores reflect a country’s culture as well. I could’ve spent hours browsing through all of the gourmet, organic options. The standard grocery store is similar to a Canadian gourmet, health food store but with a massive candy section. Swedish people seem to value good cuisine and health, but they also embrace their sweets. We spent 482kr (57euro) each on groceries for five days, and we ate very well.

We did eat out a few times, and I can definitely recommend a few good spots:

Cafe Brasco

This place had a very cool vibe, selling tasty treats and delicious coffee but also doubling as a video rental store. They even sold cute dog bones at the counter. Surrounded by locals, I grabbed a cappuccino for 29kr and a snack for 10kr.

Il Forno II

Another spot off the beaten tourist trail, this small Italian restaurant was excellent value. The friendly staff start you off with a big bowl of tangy cabbage salad to keep you munching while waiting for your meal. They have an impressive selection of pizzas, and one would be enough for two people. We each ordered a pizza thinking they were “personal” sized and we nearly ran out of table space. It cost me 75kr (9euro) for a massive vegetarian pizza.

Anigato Sushi

Delicious!! About 20euro for a salad, miso soup, tempura veg, and a plate of sushi. So. Good.

Coffee

In general, Stockholm has a good standard of coffee. Still not as high quality as Australia, but definitely better than Ireland. Drop Coffee is supposed to be the “best”, and it was worth checking out. Home of five out of twelve semifinalists in the Barista cup 2012, coffee is taken very seriously there and you’re guaranteed to receive a quality product. However, I enjoyed the coffee I had at Kaffeverket even more than my coffee from Drop. I preferred the bolder blend at Kaffeverket, and if you’re feeling hungry they had a very nice healthy selection of food to choose from.

Alcohol

We went out for drinks once, and it was incredibly expensive. It cost about 30euro for three vodka sodas. And imagine our surprise when we went to the liquor store at 4:30 on a Saturday and and found out that it had closed at 4:00, and wouldn’t be open till Monday. I think that Stockholm is much more of a daytime city, which is totally opposite to Dublin.

I loved everything about Stockholm and would go back in a heartbeat. The city has so much culture to offer and five days there just isn’t enough.

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

Yep.

Yep.

View from the boat.

View from the boat.

This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

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Crossing things off the list

Bucket list, life goals, whatever you’d like to call it, my “Before 30” is a combination of ambitions, dreams, and slightly far fetched fantasy. Every time I read it I feel inspired and excited for all of the experiences that await me.

Seeing as I’m a bit of a globetrotter, a lot of items on my list are travel oriented. This year I plan to live out a lot of dreams, like visiting Burgundy Street in Madrid, experiencing cuisine in Italy, and delving into history in London. I’ve started the year off right, and can officially cross of four items.

26. Go to Ireland

I actually took this goal one step further and moved to Ireland. Now my goal is too see as many counties as possible and learn about complex Irish history. Ireland is a stunning country, and every time I’m outside of the city I feel like I’m in a movie.

34. Read 40 books for pleasure in a year

I read a LOT of books while I was in Canada for eight months, and I loved ever minute of it. Reading is like therapy to me and good writing inspires me. I crossed this one off the list when I finished reading Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong around Christmas time.

42. Work in a real Irish pub

Okay, so it’s not really a pub, but it’s a real Irish bar, with Irish colleagues and Irish customers, and we serve a lot of Guinness. I think it counts.

77. Visit Stockholm

I did a travel writing project on Stockholm, Sweden in third year at Western and I’ve desperately wanted to visit the city since then. I got to go for five days about a week ago and it was everything I hoped for. Beautiful buildings, beautiful landscape, beautiful people. I’ll get into the finer details in my next post, but for now I’ll just say I’m very glad Stockholm was on my list.

Not a bad start to the year, and who knows what I’ll cross off next. Maybe I’ll buy a coffee for the person in line behind me or eat chocolate in Belgium. Regardless, I have much to look forward to.

Mission impossible: finding the best coffee in Dublin

Coffee in Dublin can be summed up by one word: mediocre. I haven’t had many awful coffees, but I’ve only had a few “great” coffees. I was spoiled when I lived in Australia — coffee culture is really taking off in Brisbane, and I was able to enjoy a high standard of specialty coffee while living there. When I returned to Canada I couldn’t go back to percolated coffee, and was constantly disappointed by any espresso based drinks I ordered. In Canada, you have to be in the right city for good coffee. Toronto has a good coffee scene, but most Canadians are happy with a quick double-double from Timmies or a latte from Starbucks. I think it’s a reflection of culture. Canadians are business oriented and coffee to us is functional — it wakes you up and helps you get through the work day. Australia is big into day time culture, so people often treat going for coffee as a big part of their social life, therefore it’s a higher standard of coffee. I think the whole world knows that Ireland a night time culture kind of city. Generally speaking, people go for pints here rather than coffee. That being said, Ireland is still a part of Europe, and Europeans are big into coffee. Cafes here are equipped with quality coffee machines and there are plenty of shops to choose from. I think the biggest problem is the lack of training here. Being a barista is almost a trade in Australia and people get paid fairly well in the service industry, whereas it’s not valued as much here in Ireland. You know coffee culture isn’t great when cafes advertise pictures of awful latte “art” on their front stoop.

Nevertheless, I have found some good coffee in Dublin. I have been gallivanting all over the city ever since I’ve arrived, and I have a few favourite spots and a couple of places to avoid.

1. 3FE

My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)

My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)

The “best” coffee that I’ve had here was from 3FE. Good barista, good blend, good presentation, organic milk, reasonable price. From Dublin’s standards, these guys are in a league of their own. There’s two locations — one in Dublin 2, one in Dublin 1 (both of which are too far to be my “local” shop). 3FE easily boasts the highest standard of coffee that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Don’t ask for soya milk because they don’t have it. They only make coffee the “right” way — no modifications.
You know a place is good when it’s known in the international coffee community. One of my friends in Brisbane owns One Drop (GREAT coffee) and he sent me 3FE’s webpage, and when I went to the “best” coffee shop in Stockholm (Drop) and told the barista I live in Dublin all he said was “3FE”. To be fair it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had, but it’s high quality and makes me extremely happy.

2. The Fumbally

A hipster haven, The Fumbally is a trendy shop with a cool ambiance. Wood furniture, big windows, social tables, and happy houseplants all make for a cool vibe. They make a great latte, but the one time I ordered a long black it was mediocre at best. They serve breakfast all day and try their best to use only organic ingredients.

3. Butlers Chocolate Cafe

Yes it’s a chain, but these guys make a great soya cappuccino. It’s a little bit more expensive (3.50 for a soya cap) but I find the coffee to be consistent no matter what location I’ve gone to throughout the city. The coffee they use has a  beautiful bold, chocolately taste, and goes especially well with soya milk. The best part of Butler’s though is the free chocolate with every drink order — I go for the 70% truffle or the double dark chocolate!

4. The Humble BeanIMG_1715

Great food, good cappuccino, cute cafe. I ordered a soya cap and she brought out a regular cap, which was delicious and had a pretty pattern. I was trying to avoid dairy though so I got her to bring me the soya coffee, which wasn’t nearly as good. It’s hard finding a barista that can heat soya milk properly.

5. Baxter and Green

Good takeaway coffee. Stronger taste. Delicious.

Honorable mentions:

Bewleys, Lemon Jelly, Cup, Carlisle’s, Clement & Pekoe

Overrated (from a strictly coffee standpoint)

Metro Cafe

Coco and Busyfeet

The Coffee Society

The Bald Barista (decent, but really shouldn’t be advertising themselves as “Dublin’s Best Coffee”.)

Now I’m no coffee expert, and coffee that I like might be totally different from the person. I’m just a gal who REALLY loves coffee. I have many more cafes I need to try in Dublin, and if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Christmas in Ireland

Grafton Street at night.

Grafton Street at night.

I have now spent Christmas in three different countries — Canada, Australia, and Ireland. An Irish Christmas is comparable to Christmas in Canada in terms of food, traditions, and decorations. The main difference is that in Ireland it’s all about Christmas – there’s no “Happy Holidays” here. Being a predominantly Catholic country, people don’t worry about being offensive if they wish someone a happy Christmas, whereas Canada is an extremely multi-cultural country and it’s common for all of the different religious holidays to be celebrated.

I’m currently working as a floor supervisor at a new bar in Dublin, and spent most of my holidays making sure all of the Christmas party bookings ran smoothly. It was an extremely busy couple of weeks, and every Wednesday-Saturday you would find me running around like a crazy person with a clip board in one hand while the other hand held my earpiece in place as I tried desperately to understand my managers Irish accent through the static and pumping music. Let’s just say my adrenals took a beating.

Christmas Day itself was lovely. I spent it at one of my Irish friends house and her family made me feel right at home. We had turkey and ham on Christmas day as well as an assortment of vegetables, stuffing, TWO different kinds of potatoes, and a smorgasbord of dessert. After an intense month at work, curling up next to the fire with some traditional Christmas music playing in the background was exactly what I needed.

A lovely Irish Christmas with a wonderful family.

A lovely Irish Christmas with a wonderful family.

There are a few interesting things that have made this Christmas different than any other that I’ve experienced. Here’s what made my Christmas uniquely “Irish.”

Christmas Jumpers

Once December rolls around you start seeing Christmas jumpers everywhere. There are the pretty snowflake jumpers, and then there are the obnoxious “ugly Christmas sweater” versions. In Canada, it’s very common to throw an “ugly Christmas sweater” party where everyone has to dress in the most tacky Christmas wear they can find. However, it’s always tricky to find Christmas jumpers. That is not the case over here. Every shop had Christmas jumpers, and there are even a few stores that literally just make Christmas jumpers. The 12 Pubs of Christmas (a pub crawl) is almost a rite of passage here. At first I found the phenomenon charming — in theory, getting dressed up in Christmas clothes and doing a pub crawl sounds grand, doesn’t it? The novelty quickly passed after dealing with messy, obnoxious drunks in blinking Christmas lights. I’ve never felt more like Scrooge than one Saturday night, mid-December, when I looked out at a sea of Christmas jumpers after mopping up someones dropped drink for the umpteenth time, and I thought to myself “I hate all of the Christmas jumpers.” Now, that thought really had nothing to do with “Christmas.” As Jamie Foxx would say, blame it on the alcohol.

I don't know these people (found the image on Google) but it's a perfect example of the 12 Pubs.

I don’t know these people (found the image on Google) but it’s a perfect example of the 12 Pubs.

Christmas Music

Since I’m working at a bar this year, I had the privilege of witnessing a bunch of inebriated individuals link arms, jump around, knock over my drink tray, and squeal along to the same Christmas songs. Every. Night. I spent last Christmas in Australia, where they don’t get nearly as in to Christmas as we do in Canada, so I was a little behind on the Christmas songs. They play all of the mainstream classics, like Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.” One song that everyone goes absolutely nuts for is “Snow is Falling.” I hadn’t heard this song until this year, and I don’t know if it’s a European thing or if I was just out of the loop last year. Regardless, it’s so peppy that even when you’re sober amongst a ton of drunks you can’t help but have a bounce in your step. Sometimes I even catch myself clapping and inserting a sneaky spin or too. Then there’s the song that epitomizes Irish culture — “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. When this Pogues song plays, the room transforms before your eyes. Suddenly everyone is your best friend, you chug your beer and throw your arms around the shoulders of the people next to you, your feet start dancing, and each person sings along at the top of their lungs. This is what I love most about Irish culture.

Christmas Markets

Playing "The First Noel"

Playing “The First Noel”

I was really hoping to visit Germany for the Christmas markets this year, but unfortunately I ran out of time. Thankfully, Ireland offers Christmas markets in nearly every major city. The Belfast Christmas markets have a good reputation, so one Sunday myself and a couple of friends jumped on the Aircoach to Belfast and spent the day indulging in Christmas goodies. We had mulled wine, gourmet cupcakes, Belgian chocolate, German sausage, and Italian pastry. I also found a lovely pair of knit mittens and my friends picked up some knitwear as well. Michael Buble’s Christmas album was playing and it was packed with family’s who were filled with excitement for the festive season. We finished off our day with a pint at a beer garden that was located in the center of the market. The Irish way, right?

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Facing the crowds at the market

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Nighttime view of the Christmas market outside of City Hall.

Nighttime view of the Christmas market outside of City Hall.

French pastry!

French pastry!

The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.

The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.

My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas :)

My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas 🙂

How’s Howth?

Welcome to Howth.

Welcome to Howth.

Howth, a suburb of Dublin, is an idealistic fisherman’s town at the north of Dublin Bay. I’ve never been to Newfoundland but I imagine it would look similar.

Howth lighthouse.

Howth lighthouse.

I'll take one in every colour, please.
I’ll take one in every colour, please.

There are old fishing boats in the harbour, multi-coloured house fronts along the esplanade, and houses atop hills over looking the sea. The smell of fish lingers in the air and there’s shop after shop selling all sorts of seafood.

Howth is only a train ride away from the Dublin city center and there are always lots of times to choose from. It’s a half hour trip and costs about six euro for a return ticket.

It’s a small, sleepy town with just the right amount of shops and cafes. If you feel like grabbing a quick bite and sitting by the sea, there are several places that offer fish and chips for takeaway. If you have a a little more time, there are restaurants with beautiful seafood dishes where you can stop in for some tapas and a bottle of wine. The first time I went to Howth it started to rain so my friend and I went to a small restaurant and sat on a bench by the window and watched the rain meet the sea. I had an incredible seafood paella and enjoyed every warm moment before heading back out to walk to the lighthouse. Sometimes on my day off I take the train to Howth to just grab a coffee, go for a walk, and pickup some fresh cod to make for dinner. Bliss, I know.

Seafood paella by the seaside

Seafood paella by the seaside

Even if the forecast calls for sunshine it can always rain at the drop of a coin so I always go prepared — rain coat, toque, and umbrella. Rain or shine, Howth is beautiful and well worth the visit.

It's fun to grab some fish and chips and sit by the water when the sun's out.

It’s fun to grab some fish and chips and sit by the water when the sun’s out.

This little birdy hung out with me while I ate my fish and chips :)

This little birdy hung out with me while I ate my fish and chips 🙂

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Fisherman’s boat, sans fisherman.

This is me in Howth.

This is me in Howth.

melodies and serendipity

Music is a form of magic. It unites strangers. It can stir up your soul. It is the ultimate story teller. It matches your emotions and can make your mood swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. It is a universal language. It is powerful.

Dublin has a wonderful music scene. No matter what days you have available to go out, you’ll never have to worry about catching some live music because guaranteed there will be multiple places with live music to choose from every night of the week. You have the option of concerts, smaller gigs with new and upcoming bands, traditional Irish music and dance, or talented cover artists at local pubs.

Since I’ve been here I have experienced all of those options. I had a great time clapping along to some traditional Irish tunes at the Old Storehouse in Temple Bar, I sang along to some of my favourite songs being covered by an amazing vocalist/guitarist at Trinity Bar on Dame Street, I danced with a former of Lord of the Dance performer to some Irish jigs at The Mercantile, I experienced Bon Iver’s show in all of its glory at the O2, and I saw Matt Corby in an intimate, casual setting at Whelans Live. All of the shows ranged in price from free to 40 euros, and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them.

Taken from Bon Iver’s Twitter account, caption “Thanks Dublin, emotional.”

I experienced a phenomenal week music wise, seeing two of my favourite artists within a few days. I had the privilege of seeing Bon Iver twice this year, and I got the best of both worlds because I saw them in an outdoor venue in Burnaby on a beautiful clear summer evening and then again in Dublin in an indoor auditorium. They opened with the first track of their album, “Perth,” and then went in order of their album for the first few songs. They sounded incredible and I swear I could feel their music in every part of my being. The best thing about the indoor venue was that I got to experience the magic the set crew put into the performance. The lights accompanied the music, emphasizing moments and aiding in creating the appropriate atmosphere. It was their last show of the tour so it was very emotional for them, which translated into their flawless performance. They did a double encore because they “weren’t ready to stop playing music” and then lined up at the end to take a bow in front of a standing ovation. It was also announced that at this time there are no plans for Bon Iver to make more music together. One can only hope they’ll make another album.

I can’t help but wonder how it feels to have your music, a product that you have dreamed up and pieced together, affect people by the hundreds, thousands, millions. So many people have an emotional tie to their music and that must be a surreal feeling. Whether a song evokes happiness, anger, or nostalgia, I think it’s all positive and cathartic.

Matt Corby, several feet away from me. Halleluiah!

Two nights later, Matt Corby, one of my favourite Australian artists, was playing at Whelans Live (I highly recommend buying his EP “Into The Flame” on iTunes. You can thank me for the recommendation later). I discovered he was playing in Dublin about two and a half weeks prior, but it was already sold out. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I didn’t try to see Matt Corby when he was playing at my local bar, so I was absolutely determined to get into that show. I scoured Gumtree, eBay, and Facebook ads in hopes of finding a ticket. Nothing. I posted an ad on Gumtree saying I’d pay over face value for a ticket. Again, nothing (well that’s a lie. I did get one guy emailing me two hours before the show asking if I wanted I ticket. I responded twice, with great enthusiasm, and then eventually he wrote back saying he gave his ticket to his friend — for free. Awesome.) And then, Whelans posted at the last minute on Facebook that an extra 15 tickets were being sold. Here was my big chance! I got butterflies in my stomach from nervous anticipation, grabbed my phone, and got some guy named Richie on the line. Richie told me there was one ticket left, and a wave of excitement and relief washed over me. Then, the line went dead. I ran out of credit and had to call O2 to top it up which took about five minutes, and then when I called back the last ticket was gone. I was devastated.

My determination didn’t allow me to lose hope, though. I went to Whelans several nights before the show and asked everyone I talked to for advice on how to get in. Whelans is a big venue, with three different areas set up for gigs. The most common advice was to just show up early, grab a drink in the main bar, and hope you can either buy a ticket off of someone or be let in at the last minute. So, after Richie let me down, I quickly got ready, hit up the ATM, and booted it over to Whelans.

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:

The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

There was already a queue outside, and definitely no chance of buying a ticket off of anyone. I felt discouraged, but figured I might as well stick around until the doors opened and the crowd dispersed so I could try and convince the door staff to sell me a ticket. After all, we’re talking about Matt Corby here.

Earlier that day I had been thinking about how I should talk to strangers more. Yes, I’m aware of stranger danger, but I’m talking about seizing opportunities to meet people. So, when I saw a girl journaling while drinking a glass of wine at Whelans at a table with an extra seat, I got over social boundaries and any fear of looking like a weirdo and asked her if I could sit with her. It was by far the best decision I had made all week. We ended up getting along really well and bonding over our love of music. She had been at Bon Iver’s show as well (and MET them afterwards!) and it was one of those times where we kept finding things in common with each other. Her friends joined us a little bit later and they all had tickets to the show and managed to get me in. It took a combination of sass and stealth, but ultimately the key was the serendipitous meeting of new friends.

New friends and post-gig hangs at Whelans

Everything happens for a reason. If I had gotten a ticket to Matt Corby earlier, I wouldn’t have met the amazing group of people I spent the evening with. My new friend, Laura, said that earlier that day she had actually been asking how people meet outside of work and school. The answer is to get over any fear of “bothering” people or looking strange and simply say hello and test the waters to see if there’s common ground. Ask if the seat is taken. What do you have to lose?

If I had gotten a ticket earlier, I wouldn’t have met my new friends. If I hadn’t met my new friends, I wouldn’t have gotten into the gig. Serendipity.

Matt Corby’s gig was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. His ridiculous vocals tore me to pieces. In a good way.

Music. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m so grateful that Dublin is a hotspot for it.

How to become a Dublin “local” in under a week.

It’s official. I am a Dublin local. How, you ask? I am renting a flat, I have a job, I have a phone, I walk when the light is red, and I’ve ventured away from Temple Bar and Grafton Street.

Here’s how I settled into Dublin in five days:

Step 1: Mobile phone

Before you can do anything important, like apply for jobs or houses, you need a phone. I brought my phone from Australia and got a pay as you go plan. I thought my phone would be unlocked because it was prepaid, but it wasn’t so I had to do that before purchasing a SIM card. I went to Moore Street off of Henry Street and it cost 25 euros (less if your phone isn’t from Australia) and only took about an hour because it was a simple phone. Vodafone, Meteor, and O2 Ireland are the major networks here. I went with O2 because it is affordable, has good coverage, and I know people who use it so it’s free to communicate with them. Step one, complete!

Step 2: Housing

Welcome to the part of my blog where I rant about my hostel experience. I stayed at Isaac’s Hostel for five days, and I got out of there as quickly as possible. If you’re just staying for a night or two, it ticks off every important box: clean enough, good heating, decent location. For long term stay, it wasn’t the best choice. They advertised breakfast, but it just ended up being toast and cereal. Better than nothing, but there was supposed to be boiled eggs as well and out of the five days I was there I got one egg. The WiFi was not reliable, the reception was unaccommodating and answered every question with “go to the supermarket.” The “hot” water was more like “warm” water, and the showers would turn off automatically after one minute if you didn’t press the button again. The first shower I had was a vicious cycle of the water turning off and me frantically trying to turn it back on as I shivered away. I then realized the key was to keep pressing the button every 30 seconds so it would never turn off. All of those things are minor lack of luxuries, but then you get to the other guests in my room. I was in an eight person all girls room. Every night without fail my sleep would be disrupted for hours. I was on a top bunk, and the woman staying in the top bunk behind me made me miss sleep like never before. First of all, she snored. I can’t handle snoring in general, and she snored so loudly she might as well have just shaken my bed non stop. I would go to sleep with my ear buds in listening to lovely Bethel Live music and then would wake up every time it was over because of the snoring. The worst part was when she would stop snoring — I’d relax and become hopeful that the chainsaw was finally gone, only for it to start up again. The Bethel music was strategic, because as I was lying there I was just getting angrier and angrier and had to mediate on something good. One day she woke up at 6:00am, turned on the lights, stomped heavily back and forth, back and forth, and proceeded to spray her deodorant right in front of our bunk. Thanks a lot, lady. I understand we’re all paying for shared accommodation, but is it really necessary to spray your deodorant by my face at 6:00am?

Once that lady left, I was gifted with two Russian women who not only liked to converse to each other across the room in the middle of the night, but they conveniently snored as well. And they ate chips — in the middle. of. the. night. The best thing that happened in that room was when one Russian lady held the bunk bed in place while the other Russian lady got onto the top. Let’s just say there was falling (on the bed), rolling, awkward maneuvering, and lots of laughing on their part.

Ultimately though I really should thank these women because they lit a fire under me to get out of that hostel as soon as possible.

After gathering tips from locals, I discovered which areas are best to live in. As I was looking up apartments on daft.ie, I figured that the Dublin zones were in order of distance from the city centre. For example, Dublin 1 would be city centre, and Dublin 8 would be much further (after 1, 2, 3, 4, etc). I discovered that I was wrong, and what matters more is whether the number is odd or even. Odd numbers on on the North side of the Liffey River and even numbers are on the South. I was told to live on the South side of the city because the North has a rough reputation.

Dublin zone map. Turns out zone 8 is closer to the city than zone 6. Who knew!

Finding accommodation that is in a good location for a good price is difficult because it’s a city and there’s a lot of competition for rooms. Often times I would phone to make an appointment to view a place and they would inform me that it had already been rented. If you want to rent instead of share it is even more difficult because they require references and a 12 month contract. I was lucky because it’s just me and finding a single room in a house share is relatively easy. I’ve lived with enough people and in enough apartments to know what’s good and what’s bad, so I knew at the first place I looked at that I should snatch it up. It’s a good location, I’m sharing with three other pleasant working girls, there’s no contract, and it’s only 340 euros/month + bills. Not having to set up electricity, wifi, etc, makes the moving (both in and out) process much easier.

In terms of setting up my room I got everything (bedding, organizational things, etc) at Penney’s and Dunnes.

Step 3: Get your GNIB card

Upon arrival in Ireland, Canadian’s need to register with the Immigration Bureau within 30 days. I went to the immigration office two days in a row around noon time and both days they were no longer giving out numbers (even though they service people until 10pm). I came back the following day at 7am and waiting in line until they opened at around 8:30. I was number 16 so I didn’t end up having to wait too long. By the time the office opened the Que was huge and I was grateful I’d woken up at 6:00am to line up (and no, I did not spray my deodorant or stomp around in the hostel room). You need your passport and visa to register and it’s a fee of 150 euros. They take your picture and fingerprints and then give you the card which I’ll need to bring with me anytime I leave the country and want to get back in. It’s important to have the card in order to get a job, PPS (social insurance) number, bank account, etc. I definitely recommend getting there first thing in the morning because I had a friend who ended up waiting a combined 10 hours whereas I was only there for about two hours.

The Irish working holiday visa is much more complicated than the Australian version. For my Aussie working holiday visa all I had to do was apply online and pay a small fee and then the visa number was paired with my passport number. I also didn’t need all of the extensive documentation that’s required here for a social insurance number and bank account.

Step 4: PPS number

Before you can get a PPS number you need proof of a permanent address. They make you jump through a lot of hurdles and I’m still the in the process of obtaining my number. It’s necessary to have a PPS in order to work in Ireland, so it’s important to get this step done as soon as possible.

Step 5: Get a job

I actually started handing out my CV while I was still living at the hostel. I treated applying for jobs as a full time job. I came at an excellent time of year for hiring because summer staff are all gone and businesses are hiring for the holidays. I got a couple of job offers within the week and I’ll share my employment story in my next post. It’s another one of those “everything happens for a reason” situations.

Finally, venture away from the tourist districts and look like you know where you’re going and it’ll at least appear like you’re a Dublin local.

Dublin, Ireland: First Impressions

I have been in Ireland for one week and I still often think, “…I’m really in Ireland.”

Birds eye view

It was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived, and the view from the plane was incredible. As I was looking out the window at the acres upon acres of green hills I truly felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

After I got settled into the hostel (more on the hostel later), I headed out for a walk with a couple of German girls and an American girl who is studying in Italy. None of us had been to Dublin before so we grabbed a map, threw on our scarves, and prepared to get lost together. I’ve been told that Irish people are very friendly and helpful, but I also thought that being in a large bustling city people would be, well, city people. In Toronto, people generally have a “don’t talk to me” demeanor about them and I figured it would be similar here. I was wrong. We had only been walking for about five minutes when we pulled out a map at a major intersection to figure out where we were and where we should go. After just a moment of studying the map a man approached us and asked “What are you after?” I responded with something about how we were just wandering around, “Yes but what are you after?” he persisted. He then proceeded to point out all of the major Dublin landmarks that we could see from where we were standing, gave us tips on the area, places to eat, and a short history lesson. Irish people love to help, and they love to talk.

Dublin is a small big city. It has a big city feel to it and has lots to offer, but everything in the city center is within walking distance. One strange thing is that the streets are not clearly labelled, and even when you ask for directions people will normally refer to a main street as a starting point and then use landmarks as turning points. Signs are on buildings rather than above sets of lights or on a stand on the corner.

That night we wandered into a traditional Irish pub, sat in a cute little corner, and had delicious Guinness Irish stew. There are pubs EVERYWHERE. There are over 1,000 pubs in Dublin city. 1,000! That is a lot of beer.

Here are some of the most memorable moments from the first couple of days:

My first Guinness
Guinness on tap here is really creamy and smooth, and I enjoy it much more than Guinness back home. Most pubs I’ve been to have several stouts just for Guinness.

Walking Tour
The hostel I stayed at offers a free walking tour every day. I participated on the first full day that I was here and it was a great introduction to the city. We visited Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Christchurch cathedral, and more landmarks. The tour guide was a young Irish aspiring actress and was incredibly entertaining as she told us about some of Ireland’s extensive history.

Penney’s
Penney’s is this incredible store that has affordable clothes, shoes, accessories, home ware, and more. Incredibly dangerous. Every time I’ve asked anyone where to get something, they always say Penney’s. One girl had heard “Penney’s” so often in response to a compliment she’d give someone she actually thought that it was their way of saying “thanks”. It wasn’t until her friend complimented her haircut once and she said “oh penney’s” that she discovered it wasn’t a synonym for thank you.

Bus issues…
I decided to venture out to Roly’s Bistro to say hello to the couple I met in Vernon and to hand in my CV. All I had to do was catch a bus from the city centre and get off about 10 minutes later. Easy right? Well I never got there. First of all, the bus I was waiting for never arrived, and the other bus I could take was 25 minutes late. I asked the bus driver when I boarded if he could tell me when we were at my stop, and he informed me that the route was different today so I’d have to get off somewhere else and walk. I figured I was getting to know the city anyways and I wasn’t on a schedule, so I said that was fine. The driver ended up being very aggressive, slamming on the breaks, accelerating quickly, and honking persistently. At one point the bus stopped so suddenly that the elderly woman by me fell right into me., and we heard a crunching sound outside. A car door had opened and the bus driver ran into it and took the door right off. I took that as my queue to get off the bus and dropped my CV off at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. And that is my first impression of Dublin transit.

Buskers
There are people playing music all over Temple Bar, but my favourite busker was right by my hostel. Every time I walked by him I felt like I was finally in a musical. His music was the perfect soundtrack to my life.

Pub crawl
The hostel also offers a pub crawl for 7 euros. We went to five different bars, and even though it was a Monday night every place was packed. I LOVE live Irish music! We went to Whelans which is known for being the pub where Gerard Butler sings Galway Girl to Hilary Swank in P.S. I love you. My favourite stop was the Old Storehouse in Temple Bar. There were two men playing some Irish tunes and I could not stop smiling. There was one song in particular that they had the crowd clap along to several parts. I of course love audience participation so I got right into it. At one point they weren’t singing but they were playing the part of the song where we were supposed to clap, and I got a little shout out because my obnoxiously loud clap was the only one that happened. I may not play any instruments, but I take clapping very seriously.

Traveling is so interesting because of how quickly travelers connect with each other. I went on the pub crawl with the same girls I had been hanging out with at the hostel and even though we’d only known each other for a few days everyone felt a sense of loyalty to one another. We more or less stuck together as a group and took care of one another, so even though I came to Dublin alone I was definitely safe and never lonely.

Stay tuned for a follow up post on how to settle into Dublin in less than one week. Cheers!

Unknowns

I am about to begin a huge adventure and I don’t think the reality of it all has hit me yet. Sure, I’ve done my fair share of research on Ireland and have tried my best to educate myself on Irish customs and history, but there are still so many unknowns and experiencing Irish culture first hand will be completely different than researching it.
(Fun research fact — there are no snakes in Ireland and there never have been. After living in Australia, I love this fact a lot.)

Fun facts aside, my question is, can you ever really prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for an adventure abroad?

I don’t think you can. Speculation is inevitable, but retrospect holds the real power. Martin Buber summed it up when he said:

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Yes I can spend hours on Google and blog surf everything I can think of about Ireland, but I won’t know where I’ll love to drink coffee until I get there. I can pack and repack 10 times, but I won’t know if I packed appropriately until I get there. I can watch P.S. I love you over and over and it still won’t prepare me for the Irish man that is guaranteed to sweep me off my feet with that amazing accent of his. I can make a list of places to see and things to do, but what about all the things I don’t know that I want to do yet? And then there’s all of the people I haven’t yet met who are going to change my life.

Am I excited? Heck yes I’m excited. I’m excited for the newness of it all and experiencing a continent that I have never stepped foot on. I’m excited to build new relationships, discover my new favourite pub, learn to love the rain, embrace new music, and be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I’m excited to find inspiration in the unknown and look in awe at my adventures in retrospect. Ireland being my destination is already a surprise and I have no idea what this adventure holds, and that is what I find most exciting of all.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Bryson sums up the exact reason why I love to move to new cities. I want little things like ordering a pint or doing groceries to be unfamiliar. I want to be surrounded by accents and new sights. I want to make every day an adventure.