Crossing off the Counties: Roscommon

Ireland is a small country. Driving from tip to tip, Creeslough, Co. Donegal to Bantry, Co. Cork, will take six hours and 52 minutes (Google Maps). To put this in perspective, it took me longer to drive from my hometown Kinburn, ON to my university in London, ON, and that isn’t even the full length of the province of Ontario.

map-of-ireland

Although Ireland is small, each county is known for something different. People who live two hours apart will support different sports teams, embody different cliches, and have completely different accents. In Canada, those who live two hours apart are practically neighbours. People here don’t even need to be from different counties in Ireland to sound different — two people from different parts of Dublin have stronger accent variations than people who live at opposite ends of Canada. For example, there is a stark contrast between the “posh” D4 accent and a classic North side accent. A good way to imagine a D4 accent is to picture someone elongating each syllable while speaking with marbles in their mouth, whereas a typical North Dub speaks so quickly they’ll leave you with verbal whiplash. Although these areas all fall under the Dublin umbrella, the culture is different, and I find these differences fascinating.

Because the island is so small, there is no excuse for me to not experience every county. Last year I went to Galway, Tipperary, Tullamore, Wicklow, Kerry, and Belfast. This year I ros-churchkicked off the counties with the exciting Roscommon. The population of the entire county is 64,065, and the county town population is 5,017. Roscommon has an area of 984 square miles and is the fifth least-populous county in Ireland. Needless to say, what was I thinking picking Roscommon? I got a Groupon voucher for a nice hotel, I thought Roscommon rolled off the tongue nicely, the town website said it was scenic, and I want to see all of the counties.

I saw this town in its entirety, and I saw it quickly. It took about half an hour to do a full lap of the town. In terms of food, there was one cafe that was bustling during the lunch hour. It had very kind staff and offered soup, sandwiches, cakes, and even gluten free options. There was also three or four fast food places open in the evening, and one amazing Indian restaurant where we had the best naan bread I have ever tasted. Although there were few options for food, the sleepy town of Roscommon won’t leave you thirsty. In true Irish form, we saw about seven or eight pubs. For landmarks Sacred Heart is a beautiful church with stunning glass windows and there was an intriguing Abbey ruin behind our hotel. One highlight was a perk included in the Groupon voucher — we had “sparkling wine” on arrival, which turned out to be a fancy bottle of cider and two champagne glasses. Once I finished giggling over the fact that there was a cork in a bottle of cider,  we realized it was the perfect refreshing beverage after spending the day in the leisure center.

Ultimately, when visiting Roscommon the key is to bring good company. Wandering through a quiet town in drizzling rain and January wind is nice when you have a good travel partner. It’s a pleasant family friendly town, and visiting made me appreciate living in Dublin that much more.

Crossing off the counties together

Crossing off the counties together

The Abbey behind our hotel
The Abbey behind our hotel

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Belgian bliss

I got the waffle from a waffle truck. The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

Bliss.

Bliss

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!

All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

Spot the waffle truck!

Spot the waffle truck!

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Iza with her cherry beer!

Iza with her cherry beer!

Beautiful monument.

Beautiful monument.

Yes please.

Yes please.

"Welcome to my home!"

“Welcome to my home!”

IMG_6857

Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

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.

You never know when a stranger will change your life

wait·ing/ˈwātiNG/

Noun:
  1. The action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.

“Waiting” is a word that I have become very familiar with this year. I returned to Canada in February with the intention of “waiting” for three months for my new visa to be approved for Australia. Three months passed and slowly turned into four, five, and six months, until suddenly it was September and I had been home for eight months.

Good things are worth waiting for, and trust me, my life in Australia was one of those things. It was so good that I cannot even begin to describe the beautiful times and amazing relationships I experienced. Eventually though I started to feel the constraints of waiting, and although I never let go of my desire to move back to Brisbane, I began to dream new dreams.

One day I sent an email to the Australian immigration office inquiring about the status of our application, and received an automated email that implied our application was considered invalid. It was unexpected, freak circumstances, but our application was thrown in the trash without them directly notifying us.

I had been waiting for so long, refraining from making any future plans. And then, once I received that email, I was released from the waiting game. It became possible to take action.

That night I served a lovely couple from Dublin, Ireland. It was a slow night at work so I had the opportunity to really chat with them. As it turns out they own restaurants in the Dublin, and after I shared a bit of my travel tales with them they told me that if I were to move to Dublin tomorrow they’d give me a job. The very idea gave me butterflies and I thought “well, why not?”

Two completely random people planted a seed in my mind and got me thinking about Ireland non-stop. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go to Ireland and even looked into schools there at one point, but I had been so distracted with Australia that I didn’t even consider getting a working holiday visa somewhere else. I desperately want to travel Europe, and working overseas will give me a really affordable option to experience Europe.

After that day things quickly fell into place. I got into research mode and discovered how simple it would be for me to move to Dublin. There are plenty of serving jobs, housing, and cheap flights to choose from. Applying for a visa is straightforward and I met all of the qualifications. It was meant to be!

Ireland feels right and makes me excited in the pit of my stomach. It seems crazy that I was waiting for eight months for my Australian visa to work out, and then the possibility of Ireland unfolded so easily in a couple of days. Now I am about to begin a brand new journey, filled with new cultures, people, music, food, and land to explore. My future holds the promise of adventure.

I met that couple from Dublin on September 8, 2012, and my flight to Ireland is booked for October 26, 2012. You never know when, and how quickly, a stranger will change your life.

Thinking of moving to Ireland? Here’s what I did:

Visa application: SWAP working holidays (www.swap.ca). You have to apply at least four weeks before your departure date.

Flight: CanadianAffair.ca (found a flight for $303 taxes in from Toronto)

Health insurance: applied through SWAP for RBC’s Bon Voyage travel insurance. I got 12 months of coverage for $432, which is half of what I paid for my insurance when I went to Australia.

Accommodation upon arrival: Hostel World

Housing research: daft.ie

Job research: http://www.jobs.ie/