Four Of My Favorite Things About Dublin

I’m in Dublin this week for St. Patrick’s Day and am very excited to be here! It’s a great little city and very hard to get lost in (although, I do try!). The atmosphere this time of year though is what I came here for. Everyone’s Irish, even those who’re not and the city is full of revelers having a good time and spreading the Irish cheer.

My favorite things about Dublin though, are not the cliché one’s or the tourists, from my last trip here I had four favorites I wrote about in my travel journal. Actually, there were more but four seemed an appropriate number for an Irish story (like the four leaf clover, its lucky!) so I picked my favorite four and here they are:

Mohr-Ireland-Adventurer-Stacey

Pub Culture

Ireland has some of the best pub culture in the world. You can walk into a pub in the middle of the day and find local people drinking and shooting the breeze. Unlike in many other places in the world where a pub is a bar or a venue you go to dance, in Ireland they’re like public lounge rooms and people pop in for a drink and to catch up with their neighbors, the local gossip and politics.

At night though, pubs are full of great music, dancing and slightly awkward local boys’ trying to chat up local girls’. They’re fun places to be full of laughter and good cheer. Something I wish there was more of everywhere in the world.

Dublin Chippers

I was introduced to Dublin chippers by a local the first time I was in Ireland. Everywhere in the world seems to have its after-drinking food and a 2am trip to the Dublin chipper to pick up some fish and chips (or likely just chips) is as good as any after-drinking food in my book. Plus, you always seem to find someone you know in there, even if you have only been in town a few days’. Small place, very friendly.

Irish Directions

The first time I was in Ireland this happened to me and I thought it was just one weird guy but apparently it’s not uncommon (says Irish comedians, one shown below on youtube)

In my story, young pre-backpack Adventurer Stacey had over packed her suitcase and had broken it. She had to find a shopping mall to buy a new suitcase but got lost on the way (as always) and had to ask for directions. Most of the places in the world where I have asked directions I get something boring like, “Turn left at this set of lights and keep going, it’s on your left.” But not in Ireland. In Ireland the directions were more like, “Go left here and walk for ten minutes, then turn right and walk another five minutes, it’s on your left.” I laughed, surely he wasn’t serious. Did he know the pace of my walk? If I was likely to get distracted on the way and stop? Wind speed? Direction? I told him to stop taking the piss and tell me for real, how I get there. He laughed and told me he’d already told me before walking away. There was no-one else around so I decided to try it and you won’t believe, I got there. (the part about directions is at the two minute mark)

Irish Slang & Humor – You’ll Never Get It, Even When You Think You Do

I’ve had Irish friends and I think at this stage I mostly understand them (even though sometimes they do seem pretty alien) but when I was first in Ireland, often slang would go straight over my head and locals obviously didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t mean what they were saying.

One of my more vivid memories was when two older Irish men were at the pub, one asked the other what he wanted, “Oh, just a half Guinness” “Only a half?” asked his shocked friend before leaning closer to me and uttering, “He’s not well you know.” I thought he meant his friend was genuinely unwell, maybe he was about to go in for surgery and shouldn’t be drinking. As a result, I asked the first guy about his health and if he was okay, really. Did he need to go home? Some water? He just stared at me in confusion. Neither talked to me for the rest of the night. I later heard from someone that someone being “not well” was slang, a dismissive way of saying someone was crazy. I wonder if these guys’ thought I genuinely was crazy after the event.

Those are my four – now, if you excuse me I’m off to enjoy this wonderful little city!

Visiting Charles Darwin’s House While In London

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

After completing my training as a biologist at university one of the things I was most looking forward to while visiting London last year was Charles Darwin’s house! The grandfather of biology himself who studied everything living around him, even chronicling the growth of his own son was someone who I was sad I’d never had the opportunity to meet, this was an opportunity to get up close and personal with the great genius himself!

On the map it’s a simple hour-long journey to Downe House however, that’s boring. I’ll tell you how it really is on the ground: From London Waterloo station which you got to by some feat of genius through the rush hour chaos (note: don’t actually do this in ‘peak times’) you catch the South Eastern Line train to Orpington. You’ll notice how village-y this place is compared to London right away when a nearby bobby smiles at you. Chat to him, he’s friendly and has a funny non-London accent that you’ve never heard before. Ask him about the buses and you’ll find you need to catch the R8 bus (there is only one bus that goes to Downe House) ask the driver when you climb aboard if they can stop at Charles Darwin’s house for you, they will know where it is and will also smile at you which you will find unsettling after being in London. You’ll find a seat next to a teenager who’s been looking at you strangely due to your foreign accent (you think) and will ride out until the bus stops – not in front of a bus stop but just on the road and the driver calls to you, letting you know you’ve arrived. There you will be, in a small country lane as the tiny bus pulls away you’ll see a big house that you’ve come all this way to see right before your eyes. Feel the excitement but don’t run at it, you’re on the road remember. Look left, then right then left again before crossing.

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

I don’t want to give too much away because I want readers to go there themselves (genuinely I do! It’s such a positive experience after being cooped up in London!) but I’ll tell you some of my favourite things about my visit just to wet your appetite.

The gardens are beautiful! They’re where Darwin did plenty of experimenting and hypothesising. He took a walk in his gardens every day, even in the harsh English winter when he was an old man. They’ve been dutifully restored to an approximation of what they were thought to look like in the time Darwin there.

You've arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

You’ve arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

The museum itself holds some surprises even to those who’ve read plenty about Darwin and who’re familiar with his work – Darwin was ahead of his time in that he was an active father and a husband who saw his wife as an equal. Although followers of his work realise how much he love his wife that he almost didn’t release his Origin of Species for fear of hurting his wife with her deep religious sensibilities are surprised to see how he would find time after working to play board games with his wife and talk to her about things that were more intellectual, valuing her opinions. His relationship with his children was also more modern than his times. He actually spent time with them (outside of studying them as infants and measuring their growth and development for his work as a scientist). Apparently he was also very kind to his staff as well.

I was also surprised to see Darwin’s notes on his own health – I’d know he had battled with ill health throughout his adult life however, to see that he’d kept a diary made me smile. Something like that seems the type of thing I’d do!

A slide used by Darwin's children to slide down their stairs - what a fun childhood!

A slide used by Darwin’s children to slide down their stairs – what a fun childhood!

I came away from the experience feeling like I’d learned plenty about Darwin whose work had been a big part of my studies and was the basis for a discipline I have such respect for! I would recommend a visit to Dawne House for visitors to Kent and London as it’s a really beautiful place and getting there is a really nice adventure!

Darwin's finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Darwin’s finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Getting back too, was fun. I stood on the street and waved to a bus that stopped for me. After climbing aboard we were driving for a while and as the lane narrowed (these lanes were not consistent at all) we came face-to-face with a four wheel drive that had to back up so we could get past. It was a real adventure and so much fun laughing along with the local teenagers about how hopeless the other driver was!

Darwin's study where he did much of his work!

Darwin’s study where he did much of his work!

Arriving back in London that evening I felt newly refreshed and pretty wonderful! I’d spent a day in the country side, admiring a beautiful home, a wonderful garden and learning (I’m a life-long learner!)

Over to you! Have you ever visited Downe House? Would you recommend it to your friends? What other things would you recommend to the London visitor?

Travelling Creatives: Wandering The World, Making Art

Travel really brings out creativity in people, to live an unconventional life of travelling freely for extended periods of time people have to get creative.

Artisans from a nomadic tribe currently in Guatemala create beautiful jewelry

Artisans from a nomadic tribe currently in Guatemala create beautiful jewelry

While I was in the UK I was staying in hostels (or living in hostels technically when you consider the length of time) and while I was there I met some of the most talented musicians I think I have ever met in my life. I felt so much richer just for having been enchanted by their art.

In South America the creative types morph from buskers with guitars into jugglers, circus folk and artisans who make jewellery, handicrafts and even bars of soap to sell in their pursuit of a live lived on the road. These guys’ seem to be living a much rougher lifestyle from the outside however, they seem much happier than their often better-off European busking cousins.

In the past I’ve also met traveling hairdressers, the best hair cut I ever had was in a hostel in Belize. They’re every bit as creative in their marketing to backpackers for fast cash before moving onto the next town as the traditional artisan creatives.

Scots-Bagpipes-Edinburgh-Adventurer-Stacey

Being around all of these creative types feels amazing! While in Edinburgh I was nudged by some musicians who were living in the hostel to come to a bar and listen to music. Sounds unremarkable as most bars with live music tend to put a band on themselves however, this bar had just opened the floor to anyone who was interested in playing. As a result half of the bar was talented musicians and the other half was people like myself who happily listened. The bar was so full of people one could hardly move but that didn’t matter, you had no reason to want to go anywhere. To buy a drink one would pass their money to the bar from person-to-person (a lot of trust here) and then have their drink passed back from person-to-person (even more trust when you consider how much Scot’s love a drink!). It was such a great experience and one I will cherish always, it really fed my soul.

Being as surrounded by creative energy as I am while on the road I want to dust off a guitar and learn to play again, or start up my own travelling micro-business in handicrafts or to learn to cut hair so I can cut travellers hair and make enough to travel onwards.

Sadly, I am lacking in these areas at the moment. I am a writer and find great pleasure in a quiet corner of a hostel common room, tea mug in hand writing for my blog and for my personal travel journal. This is my creative streak expressed.

Although writing is solitary I know it won’t make me quick money like busking or selling jewellery will. Perhaps I should have polished some other skills before I left home. Hindsight is twenty-twenty!

 

Do you have skills that can make you money on the road? If so, will/do you use them to aid your travels?

Fear getting in the way of your travel plans?

Where would you go if you weren’t afraid? No really, I want an answer. I know many readers will say something like “Africa! But I can’t because…” and this makes me sad.

The world is a wonderful place and people generally wish you well when you visit their countries. A greater majority of people do not go out of their way to hurt you and the people who do are a sad minority.

Aside from warnings from your government, you should be able to travel everywhere. Any reason you come up with can be worked around, let me give you some examples.

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“I want to go to South America but I’m scared to go there alone…”

This one I hear a lot. South America in particular doesn’t have a great reputation. It’s all drug wars and kidnappings. Think though about all of the solo women who travel here every year and there are plenty of those. Amongst the people I have on facebook at the moment I’d say at least half a dozen travelled South America alone with few problems. One of them did get mugged but told me that it wasn’t a scary experience. I’m unsure what to make of that but do think it’s important to share. Sometimes bad things happen on the road, sometimes bad things happen at home but that doesn’t (I hope) stop you from walking down the street to the shops, does it?

“I have money worries…”

Money is a highly emotional topic for people and money worries are very common. I’ve written on the topic in the past and I know your worries are something personal you’ll have to overcome that may take you time. Sorry to break the bad news to you, there’s no quick fix to this one but it is a great opportunity for some personal growth.

"We've got your back!" said safety turtle. Photo credit: flickr user fugm10

“We’ve got your back!” said safety turtle. Photo credit: flickr user fugm10

“I want to go to a Muslim country but don’t want to wear their clothes and want to drink!”

This one is difficult. Drinking is likely something you will need to give up for your stay, unless you’re going to Dubai where there are bars for westerners. Wearing a garment to cover your body if you’re a woman is something you will need to do in some countries or face legal penalties, even Australia’s female foreign minister had to wear a headscarf. Evaluate how much you want to visit that place, what you hope to get out of your visit and weather it’s worth the sacrifices. If you decide it is, go for it.

“I miss my family and friends when I travel, I get pretty lonely!”

The best advice I can give for this one is live where you are. If you’re in a foreign city for the night travelling for work or even for pleasure and haven’t met anyone who speaks your language and are starting to feel the pinch of culture shock, maybe you should consider finding a local bar expats hang out at (hotel and hostel staff may be able to help), a restaurant run by people from your homeland or even calling home. Calling home may seem the easiest option and you may want to take it but bear in mind you will likely be crying your eyes out and saying things they’ll remind you about later. I called an old boyfriend when I was homesick a few years ago. He always remembered and relayed back to me the embarrassing things I’d said. If you’re ready for that then go ahead, dial the number.

Sydney-Harbour-Bridge-At-Night-Adventurer-Stacey

“Something happened at home, what do I do?”

This one’s difficult and not easy for me to give advice on as I’m not you. If it’s a situation that your presence can change for the better maybe you’ll want to consider flying home. If it’s not something you can do much about, then consider keeping in touch with your family as events unfold. Email, facebook and watsapp are all great for this. The best way to know what to do when you don’t know what to do is to close your eyes and just breathe deep, the right answer will come to you as you likely know that it is but aren’t listening to yourself.

“Mum’s worried about…”

You’ve just worked through a bunch of issues, your mum might have some of her own. Let her talk then logic through the emotional hurdles. Let her know you care about her and her feelings but this trip is important for these reasons. She will still worry but will do so less and likely more quietly.

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Your turn! What were your biggest worries when you first travelled? How did you overcome them? If you’re not travelling yet, what are your current worries and how are you/will you deal/ing with them?

The Vietnam War and its Social Aftermath

I enjoyed my time in Vietnam despite the bad weather: super typhoon Haiyan hit the south of Vietnam when I was there – roads flooded and I was unable to get out of my hotel for up to six hours at a time. I cannot complain however as the same typhoon hit the Philippines and killed 10, 000 people. All we had was bad weather and flooding.

I mention the typhoon however to point out to others’ why I left the country prematurely: I was supposed to stay on and travel the whole country from Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon) up to Hanoi, visit Sapa and Halong Bay before heading into Laos, I had to leave because of the typhoon. I left Nah Trang for Thailand where I clocked up more SCUBA diving hours.

Flooded Nha Trang street; picture taken from my hotel room. I actually didn't see the guy in the middle when I took the shot!

Flooded Nha Trang street; picture taken from my hotel room. I actually didn’t see the guy in the middle when I took the shot!

 

I’ve seen many travel writers and travel bloggers write about racism in Vietnam they’d experienced. There have been many reports of travellers being ripped off, talked down to, treated with disdain and like they’re stupid farang (white people). I’ve also heard of people being stranded because locals wouldn’t help them get out of bad situations (even when they offered to pay the locals for their time and hard work).

My experiences were similar to this in some ways with some people some of the time but mostly I experienced the other end of the spectrum of people being so excited to talk to an exotic white person and being so happy that my government sent our boys’ over to fight in the Vietnam war beside the Americans. It seemed that the people who didn’t like me for my skin color didn’t think I was “as bad as” an American so would be more likely to help me if I pointed out I was an Australian when I saw their negative reactions to my skin. The correlation between ignorance and ill treatment is one I’d like to emphasise here as it seems to be true anywhere racism is present.

Taken in Nha Trang. American friends said they were treated well by South Vietnamese

Taken in Nha Trang. American friends said they were treated well by South Vietnamese

The Ex South Vietnamese soldiers and officers (who’d fought beside the Aussie and American soldiers against North Vietnam and communism) would ask my nationality then want to talk to me about their role in the war and want to help me, even offering me discounts on things because I’d listened to their stories and because I was an Australian.

It may seem strange with this sort of reaction that I was uncomfortable: people were being nice to me, they were letting me in their lives and telling me their stories and they were giving me discounts on things because of my nationality. But the more I thought about it the more uncomfortable I was.

Invited into some excited locals home to drink tea with them (I was a huge novelty).

Invited into some excited locals home to drink tea with them (I was a huge novelty).

I was not even thought of when the Vietnam war broke out and it was also the first war that civilians actually saw the aftermath of (have you seen the pictures and video’s of the girl running down the street after her clothes were burned off?). For us in the west it was a big deal and it was fantastic when it was over. We didn’t want our people there causing other people pain and didn’t totally understand why they were sent in the first place.

So when I’d be confronted with “white girl, you’re so amazing!” it made me uncomfortable. I never let the people know this with their good intentions because I didn’t think they would understand how this upset me or even why so I’d just smile, listen to their stories and then gently remind them that I didn’t know much about the war when I’d thank them for sharing their stories with me.

Kids in Vietnam - Adventurer Stacey

Have you visited Vietnam and encountered social problems due to your nationality? How did you deal with it? Would you recommend Vietnam to your friends’?

A Worldly and Romantic Valentine’s Day that Won’t Break the Bank

A picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower in the heart of the city of love, holding hands and staring deep into one another’s eyes is a fabulous idea for a romantic getaway but what if you simply cannot afford it this Valentine’s Day? Or you realise that if you do that this valentine’s day, how are you going to get through the next one without letting your sweetheart down?

I’ve compiled some other worldly romantic ideas (five, a convenient number to read) for Valentines Day that will give you a taste of that worldly Valentines without the price tag attached:

Eiffel-Tower-Adventurer-Stacey

Visit a museum (preferably art as it’s the most romantic of the museums): good romance is an art form in itself, so is being a good museum patron. When your sweetheart want to stop and look at anything stop and look interested, maybe put your arm around them and lean a little closer to discuss the artwork when appropriate. Make them laugh and hold their hand. It’s important to be patient with other museum guests because most people who visit art museums on Valentine ’s Day are in the same boat as you: it’s a once-a-year thing and maybe doesn’t do it for them either but such is the price of love and romance.

Go to dinner, Italian style: if there is no shared bowel of spaghetti, musicians serenading you and your lover, checked red/white table clothes and the table next to you is not occupied by two dogs one scraggly and the other perfectly kept, you’re probably in the wrong place, sorry. If this is the scene however, you’re in! Keep up the romantic worldliness!

Take them dancing: Dancing is a great way to get close to your partner and it’s cultural (potentially worldly?) too. Just as cultural as food, maybe you should do this after your Italian food. If you can find say salsa then you can have a hugely cultural evening: Italian food then Latin American salsa dancing.

Watch worldly (romantic) movies together: Valentine’s day is big business, if you cannot find anything showing that will satisfy your worldly hungers AND your romantic wants then go rent something black and white with soft-faced women on the cover, it will be romantic and if you’re lucky, set somewhere distant. Casablanca is one of my all-time favourite romantic movies (probably showing how bad I am at romance here!) it’s set in an exotic location too. Perfect!

If all else fails: Find a nice grassland and learn how to say “I love you” in French: just because you couldn’t be in Paris today it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the fantasy, right?

I hope my slightly tongue-in-cheek Valentines post made you smile and that all of my readers have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether it’s got any romantic connotations for you or not you can still make a fine day out of it!

Favorite North American holidays I wish Australia would import!

As many of you may know, I spent a semester of university in Canada. One of my favourite things about North America generally was the holidays’ (well, the US and Canada, I’m not sure Mexican’s celebrate American holiday’s the same way Canadians do, the same Canadian’s who cannot stop telling you they are not Americans, that’s right, I’m onto you Canada!).

Me winning (yeah right!) my first pumpkin carving competition in Canada!

Me winning (yeah right!) my first pumpkin carving competition in Canada!

Halloween was something I was really looking forward to. Growing up in Australia you see so many Halloween specials on our television as most Australian TV is actually imported from the USA. I was happy enough to watch the shows, but when I got to Canada as an adult it was time to catch up on lost time – and lost candy!

I’d planned to trick or treat for the very first time in my life with some friends and then go to the universities Halloween dance (which had been sold out for weeks and had students scalping tickets for five and six times their cost price on Facebook).

There was a Holoween store IN MY TOWN! You couldn't imagine my excitement!

There was a Holoween store IN MY TOWN! You couldn’t imagine my excitement!

I was super excited to trick or treat in my costume – in North America’s over sexualised culture, of course I was a naughty French maid and not a scary monster as they didn’t seem to make female costumes that weren’t sexualised. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though, to make myself Halloween-y I put on a tone of stage makeup to be a zombie. That’s right, a zombie French maid. I’m not sure anyone would have understood it, or liked me knocking on their door. Perhaps it’s a good thing Hurricane Sandy (which was dubbed “Frankenstorm” by the local news because of it’s landing date on PEI) hit that night. By the time it reached Canada it was just a big storm and nothing to worry about however, it added to the general feel of Halloween. The Frankenstorm though, didn’t work so well with my makeup so I never got to trick or treat. It’s now twenty-four years with no trick-or-treating; I think it’s something that’s not going to happen for me now.

Scary-Sexy? Not sure what I was going for here….

I did go to the dance however, and had a great time getting drunk and checking out Canadian Halloween costumes. Did you know you can be a slutty ketchup bottle? No, really. This is what Halloween for twenty-something Canadian’s is all about and I love it!

Canadian Thanks Giving came after Halloween by about a month then a month after that was American Thanks Giving. I had a pretty full calendar that year.

I celebrated Canadian thanksgiving with a friends’ family. He was one of my best friends in Canada and it’s easy to see why – he’d invited me and one other girl around for thanks giving because he thought, in the spirit of thanks giving, we shouldn’t be alone. How sweet is that!?

We had all the traditional thanks giving foods – turkey, loads of roast vegetables and my now favourite North American food (next to poutine) pumpkin pie! I couldn’t get enough of the stuff! I thought it would be kind of bitter somehow but it was super sweet. I’ve spent some time at home in Australia trying to perfect the recipe, but to no success. Perhaps when it’s perfect we will be posted on my mothers food blog.

Taken the day before the Macey's Thanks Giving Day Parade (I went twice - the day before was easier to move than the night before!)

Taken the day before the Macey’s Thanks Giving Day Parade (I went twice – the day before was easier to move than the night before!)

My American Thanks Giving wasn’t as special as my friend had made the Canadian Thanks Giving, but I still had a good time. I was in New York (how appropriate!) and I’d meant to see the Macy’s Thanks Giving Parade, but had slept in. However, I did go and see everything getting ready for the parade. It was something everyone had told me to do, and I don’t regret it, even if I do regret my sleep in on the day.

It was a cold night, but the air was abuzz with people’s excitement as native New Yorkers (I had to be the only tourist there) made a reasonably orderly line around the blow-up creatures with kids pointing and parents smiling.

Getting away at the end of the float viewing the night before the Macey's Thanks Giving Parade.

Getting away at the end of the float viewing the night before the Macey’s Thanks Giving Parade – People EVERYWHERE!

After battling my way out of the crowds I had a $2 hot dog and wondered back to my hostel. New York is wonderful that time of year! Or perhaps any time of year, I should do more research I think. What a job that would be!

 

 

What are your favourite holidays? Have you experienced holidays abroad and wished they had something similar where you’re from?