Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Bit of Culture in Dun Laoghaire

Last weekend was another busy one, with most of it spent at the annual Festival of World Cultures in a quaint seaside suburb called Dun Laoighaire on Dublin's South Coast.
It's become rather popular in Dublin, mostly for it wide variety of food stalls selling delicacies from all over the world, as well as free outdoor concerts overlooking the sea.

For this reason, it is of course preferable to have a nice, sunny summer's days to wander the stalls and watch the concert. We weren't so lucky, and from the moment I set off out of my front door to the late afternoon, it really rained. Then there was the mud.

Fortunately it cleared in time for some great concerts and an impromptu Brazilian jam session by the sea....definately one of the highlights.

We caught an amazing West African family band on Saturday night, then headed home for some sleep before returning on Sunday.

The weather cleared up on Sunday and I experienced bright, warm sun for the first time in awhile. 23 degrees and it was even described as 'boiling'- funny how quickly we adjust!
One of the best bands of the weekend played on Sunday night at a local loft pub- Balkan Beat Box. Definately the most original band I have heard in a long time, they were really fantastic.

All in all the weekend was really great. I tried a variety of foods, the strangest being Polish 'pate'... not really pate at all, but pork lard mixed with onions and spread thickly on bread. Hmmm....fat on bread. This is only one of many festivals to come in Dublin. The International Theatre Festival and Fringe Festival are coming up soon. I'm hoping to catch a bit of Oscar Wilde-a compulsory Irish experience.

I will post photos soon.

Hasta la vista

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Love Brussels

Escaping Vesuvius
Originally uploaded by simpsonatti
This became the phrase of the week after an endlessly hilarious trip to Brussels last weekend with my friend Agnieszka.

Why Brussels? I wasn't too sure. It's close enough to Ireland to make a good weekend trip and it rhymes with the mussels Belgium is so famous for.

We arrived in the city late on Friday night, dumped our bags at the hotel and headed straight for the bars. Unbeknownst to us we happened to be staying right near the Red Light District, home to seedy looking cinemas and Eygyptian boy racers. So after an eye opening trip down the main street we headed to the bar quarter on the look out for some of that famous Belgium beer.

I was never a great fan of Belgium beer, and the Krieg (cherry flavoured beer) reinforced this. Basically its bright red, sickeningly sweet and if it was up to me should be banned from existence. After repeatedly refusing the very common Stella Artois, I did try some other (better) varieties, although I still think German beer trumps them all.

Anyway, after a very late night/morning, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest before getting on one of those terribly tacky hop-on, hop-off tour buses with recorded commentary. Despite beginning the tour very seriously, this degenerated quickly when we realised that the English version of the tour wasn't working, so we decided to listen to it in Japanese instead. We got off at the first stop, which was the Atomium, a famous Brussels landmark in the shape of an atom which you can go to the top of to get a great view of the city.

While up there I looked down to see the Eiffel Tower, Mt Vesuvius and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No, we weren't in Space looking down at Europe, but we were looking at.... Mini Europe! By far the highlight of any trip to Brussels, it contains miniature versions of all EU member states.

Mini Europe prompted a very serious Mini Euro Tour photo shoot (see left and
during which we morphed into Japanese aliens.

During a walk around the very quaint city centre, we visited the main square and Mannikin Piss, the famous statue of a little boy peeing which, according to legend, was erected in honour of a boy who put out great fires of Brussels while doing his business.

After a compulsory waffle eating mission, we headed in what we thought was the direction of our hotel only to end up at a fun fair. We took a quick ride and headed back to the hotel before going out to the Delirium Bar, known for its selection of over 2000 beers.

On Sunday we finished off the bus tour, catching a glimpse of the EU district, beautiful cathedrals and the palace.

Before leaving we finally had a bite of Brussels Mussels before heading back to the airport.

All in all a fantastic trip!

I love Brussels.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Very Irish Road Trip

Armed with raincoats and tequila, the Five Foreigners (Me, Gergo (Hungary), Max (Australia), Veronica (Mexico) and Martin (Spain) ) headed off on a 3 day road trip to the West Coast of Ireland.

It all began with a much too early start on Saturday morning, followed by a 5 hour drive to Lisdoonvarna, a small village near The Burren, a famous area of lunar-looking karst landscape along the coast (pictured).

After arriving at our fantastic hostel- Sleepzone The Burren (highly reccommended!) we set off on a bit of sightseeing of the surrounding area, exploring megolithic tombs and ancient ruins, which seem to pop up almost everywhere you look.

The Cliffs of Moher were another highlight, also one of Ireland's most visited destinations. We had a tip from the hostel staff to go in the evening in order to avoid the crowds and the entrance fees, which we did. We got a partial sunset (a miracle for Ireland!) and headed back to the hostel for some much needed beers in the downstairs bar complete with traditional Irish music which went on deep into the night.

Saturday was a bit of a slow start but eventually we made it to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands, after an incredibly sickening boat trip. Every time I go on a boat I swear it will be my last, and this was no exception.

It took awhile recover from the sea-sickness but eventually we made it up from the sand and walked around the very small island. It really was like being in a different land and everything had a tinge of surreality to it.

The first thing that hit me when I got off the boat was the vast criss crossing of ancient stone walls across the island which didn't seem to serve much of a purpose. The island is littered with old ruins overlooking the water and all the houses are so quaint they could be mistaken for a movie set. The islanders pedomidently speak Irish and horse and cart seems to be the favoured transportation method.

While on top a ruin we noticed a huge, heavily rusted shipwreck looking very foreboding on the pebbles of the far beach. We decided to navigate our way through the wall maze and animals to check it out. When we got there there was almost no one around so we decided to climb up inside the ship and check it out.

It was a very eerie feeling being inside the ship, like walking through a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. After a Wikipedia check when we got home we discovered that it was shipwrecked in the 1960s and the entire crew saved by the Inisheer islanders. Quite an amazing feat.

Inisheer was definately one of the best parts of the trip despite injuring my foot by jumping onto a stone!

We played a few rounds of Texas Hold 'Em poker that night and left early for Galway city the next day. It was a pretty town, but very small.

It was a fantastic trip but all too short, and had left me with many more ideas of places to explore in Ireland.