Cork, Ireland

Cork City
May 22nd, 23rd 2010

I couldn’t write any entries upon arriving in Cork because…I left my netbook in Galway!

Yes, that’s why I couldn’t write sooner. I stupidly left it on my hostel bed while packing. I was worried but thanks to meeting some friends there, I shot some emails off asking if anyone was going to Dublin within a day or two. Luckily, Sebastian had a friend who was. He would drop the netbook off in Dublin and I could just go pick it up when I got there. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. I am continually learning how most strangers are more than willing to help you.

Cork is a pretty city. IMO, it looks like Dublin. In fact, I’ve read that Cork and Dublin are a bit of rivals. Anyway, Kiera and I decided to wander around again after leaving our luggage at the Bru Bar Hostel (which was a combo of a bar downstairs and hostel upstairs). We had a room at attic level but it means quiet away from the bar several floors below. We visited the Cork City Gaol (Jail) and it was a pretty interesting tour. We skipped the butter museum tour though. I like butter but Kiera, being a dietician/nutritionist, preferred margerine. Anyway, we skipped it because it cost a bit more than we’d like for a tour of butter’s history.

On a side note, although Kiera isn’t reading this, I had to say although she’s pretty cool and sweet most times, she’s a hardcore planner, pretty impatient, a fast walker, and doesn’t have much of a sense of humor (she doesn’t like stupid humor, as if she’s above it). Everytime we’re walking, she’s way ahead of me. It ticked me off a bit because she’s always in a god damned rush. She cannot stand in one spot and enjoy. She would need to continually know where she was at, what street she had to take to get to the next location, etc. She couldn’t just wander for wander’s sake. Get lost, find adventure, sit still, take in the sights/smells/sounds… Not my ideal travel companion. I’m sure she (like myself) felt relieved when we stopped travelling together. She did help me out with some travel tips though. Got a guide book, some a small sudoku book (I finally learned it!), got started on hostel cooking… So thanks to her, I am a better backpacker now. Although I still think Simpsons, Seinfeld and South Park ROCK HARD!

Anyway, at night, after splitting some hostel-made stir fry, I decided to hang out in the lounge to watch some ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Met some Brazillian guy named Clio (sp?) and we shared some soccer talk. The guy lived in USA before so he shared his stories about his travels. Now he’s just hanging out in Ireland. I meet many nomads while backpacking. They’re all so far away from home, I wonder why they want to be so far away for so long.

I went to bed pretty early. I was tired, and again, not much of a “Let’s go drink all night” kind of guy. Met another roommate who just got in, some Australian girl named Hannah. She was 18 and travelling solo also. She was energetic but very very talkative. I couldn’t get much of a word in once she got started on her backpacking stories. Our other two American roommates (a couple) walked in and once she started talking to them, I took my chance to go to sleep. I had the best night’s sleep ever that night. Finally, some roommates who don’t make a lot of noise at night or in the mornings.

The next day, Kiera went off to wander by herself, so did I. It was quite quite fun. I got myself a pair of flip flops (did I mention I left mine in Belfast?). I visited the Old English Market and was surprised to find the most awesome assortment of meats, cheeses, chocolates, breads, etc. It was like a food lover’s nirvana. If you like to cook, you would love this place. I was hungry so I went upstairs to get some food but lunch wasn’t served until 12 pm.

I went outside to wanted and stopped at a bench in the middle of the city alley street. I started reading the local paper when an Irish guy came up to me and asked where I was from. I said “America”. He then said “Texas?”. “How’d you know?”. “Oh you have the Lonestar state written all over your forehead”.

Anyway, Patrick lived in Oklahoma for 6 months, in New Hampshire for 6 months. He had brothers living in America. He himself was a self-sufficient guy who grew his own foods (like a farmer?) at his place outside the city. He’s only there to take care of some errands. I don’t know what triggered it but he started talking about conspiracy theories. And boy, he knew what he was saying. He started going on and on about the Free Masons and how they controlled the world around us. He had an interesting case although we never really know what the truth is about the world. Did I mention he was a spitter when he talked? I had to maneuver my body position to play self-defense against his occasional missile spits. He also mentioned he liked men and women (if you know what I mean), more so women than men. He invited me for a coffee but I declined (oh COME ON! I don’t know if he had any interest in me in that way but it was funny and I wish some hot Euro chicks would do that instead of an old fat Irish guy). But he was very nice and I am happy I got to converse with a local so we shook hands and parted ways.

Anyway, ate some shepherd’s pie which I severely overpaid for. But it was my last day in Ireland, screw it, I will overpay a few Euros just so I could say I ate shepherd’s pie in Ireland. I spent the time writing some post cards.

We left Cork City around 2 pm and got back to Dublin around 6:30 pm. Kiera and I said goodbye and I went to search for the hostel which held my netbook. It was a pretty far walk but I recovered my netbook and then went to eat at a nearby popular joint called “Gruel”. It was either that or another place that had Irish stew. What do I do? Eat at a very popular recommended place (that didn’t have Irish stew, which I wanted) or go to a pub and eat some stew? I decided to look inside the stew joint. Not many people. I went back to Gruel and enjoyed my mackerel and lime potato salad, which was amazingly delicious. The place itself was small but had such an amazing feel to it. Lots of ppl were eating there so that obviously reaffirmed my decision that it was the right one.

I saw some Mexican ppl gather outside a Mexican food joint to watch the England/Mexico friendly soccer match. I went to watch it with them but I couldn’t cheer when England scored. I also didn’t mention to anyone I was from Texas. I played the role of Asian tourist bystander who didn’t say a word to preserve his identity. Yeah, as an Asian in a western country, I can play any role. FOB or American. Native English speaker or broken English speaker with FOB accent to boot. I am like the Jason Bourne of FOBs, flying under the radar but standing out at the same time.

I took the 9:30 pm bus to Dublin Airport. It is 1:19 am, May 25th 2010. I am going to sleep here tonight before my 7 am flight to Paris. I have written 2-3 entries so far. Taylor Swift is blaring on my mp3 player (don’t judge me). The airport is very quiet. What a roller coaster ride so far.


Galway, Ireland

May 21st and 22nd 2010

I went to the Bus Eiranne station and looked at the departure boards. Where did I want to go? The man working at the Belfast train station told me I should visit Newcastle if I liked mountains. I was set on going until the very last minute when my spontaneity kicked in. Some of you may or may not know this but I have a habit of changing my mind at the very very last minute. I could open a menu, tell you I’m getting a particular dish, and when the waiter is taking my order, I pick something else I wasn’t really thinking of getting. Gut feeling selection. It’s more exciting when I don’t think about something too much and just go with whatever feels right.

Galway is all the way west of Ireland. Belfast is all the way east. It was a 6.5 hour bus ride. I had about 2 hours to kill before my ride so I went to the local grocery store, picked a maple pastry and Tim Horton coffee, sat on the steps of a building and just people-watched. Everyone was starting their day, school/work… I enjoy people-watching. I move around a lot when I backpack, so sometimes it’s nice to just be still and observe.

I walk back to the bus station and wait. Some girl comes by later and is also waiting. I strike up a conversation with her and turns out she’s heading to Galway (and Cork later as well, which was my plan too). She’s from Sydney, Australia. Kiera seemed friendly enough so I asked her later if she wanted to travel in a group.

Anyway, off to Galway, what a long ride but what a long beautiful joyous ride. Taking a bus gives me a chance to enjoy the countryside and small towns I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Lush green open lands filled with sheep, cows, horses…and some were laying flat in the middle of the open, sleeping. I have never seen animals sleep like that in the open. Just laying there, sunbathing, looking dead but really just sleeping.

Once in Galway, Kiera and I decided to stay at Kinley Hostel. The place has a great feel to it. It felt cosy, warm, friendly, homely. I loved it. We left our bags in luggage storage, went to wander the streets. It was a small town connected to the ocean via a river than ran through it. The place was bustling with people, both locals and backpackers alike. Plenty of pubs, eateries, gift stores. You could tell lots of tourists make their way here. But despite all this, it didn’t feel too touristy, it felt warm and friendly. Kiera and I ate at Fat Freddy’s, got some great pizza and salad. It was either FF or MacDonough’s, a fried seafood joint. We were by the coast, seafood would be great but nah, I’ve had fish ‘n chips already.

We went back to the hostel to check into our rooms. Upon walking into the room, I see a petite girl sitting in the corner of the room, looking shy and lost. I know that feeling and I’ve always wanted people to just come up to me and be friendly. I decided I was going to do that. I had a small group of two going, why not more?

Turns out her name was Sandie, she’s French-Canadian from Montreal. Her English wasn’t great but she said her mission during backpacking was to come out of her shy-shell as well as practice her English. She had the cutest mannerisms and French accents are always awesome. She was going for the Cliffs of Moher tour tomorrow as well so I invited her to join my little group. She looked relieved and happy to have made some friends so easily. Later, a French guy named Armand came around and asked us if we wanted to go pub crawling. Me and Sandie decided to join in. We met Sebastian and Michelle as well.

Sebastian was a 19-year old German whose accent was very thick on top of his decent but not too easily understood English. He was in Europe for a few weeks and was heading back to Germany in a few days. Michelle was a pretty Swiss girl. She was also 19 and was in Europe in a soul-finding mission. She left a job in a bank and wanted to discover what she wanted to do with her life. I understood how she felt so it was easy for me to emphatize. She was going to travel for while.

We all headed out to a pub called “The Quay”. It was packed. Michelle got a cider and let me taste it. I decided it was too sweet for me and wanted a beer. So I looked at what was on tap…decided to pick the one that said “Bulmer’s Irish”. Guess what? THAT WAS THE CIDER I DIDN’T WANT. Awww hell, I paid €4.50 for it and had to finish it. Anyway, had a good laugh about it with everyone.

Next day, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a well known location for one of the most amazing views in Ireland. I had missed out on the Giant’s Causeway while in Northern Ireland so I was hoping this tour would make me feel better. That morning, I saw an Asian girl eating breakfast by herself. Again, I hated having to see a solo traveller so I invited her to be in our group.

Sae Young came on the tour with us. She was a Korean citizen but she grew up travelling with her father who worked all over the world. She even lived in Kenya for 2 years. Her English was very good, unlike most Korean natives I’ve met. Turns out she was born in Chicago and lived there for a few years growing up. She was pretty cool to talk to. She has backpacked before and wasn’t too fazed by the experience. I have a lot of respect for girls (anyone for that matter) who have the guts to travel solo (Kiera and Sandie included).

We stopped for a walking tour of the Burrens before. It was a rocky countryside mountain and we hiked up it. Ireland’s landscape has its history and it was cool to be able to enjoy the vast countryside instead of just sitting on the bus. We ended that tour with the tour guide’s grandma’s homemade apple pie with homemade cream. My God it was so good.

The Cliffs of Moher was amazing. Nuff said. The view blew me away. We walked past the warning sign that basically said “If you fall, it’s your fault”. I got the edge of the cliffs where there were no barriers for tourists. If you fell, you were dead. But the views…I wish I could fly. Nothing but miles of beautiful countryside and the vast Atlantic Ocean in front of me…all the way to the Aran Islands in the distance.

We headed back to Galway but stopped by for lunch in a little town called Doolin. We sat outside under the beautiful weather, and there was a golden retriever mix walking around looking for food from random people. He had a Manchester United collar on so he was immediately my good buddy. He was even lucky enough to get 3 huge pieces of pork ham the Italian lady beside us didn’t finish. He was a happy country dog. It made me think of American dogs, cooped up in homes and leashes when this fella was lucky enough to have the beautiful Irish countryside to roam freely.

Got back to Galway. We had a big soccer game to watch at the local pub that night (Inter vs Bayern, CL final). But first, Sandie and I split some hostel-made pasta (being dubbed the Pasta King at home by my family, I cooked, she washed up). Kiera’s idea of adding veggies to pasta is killer, I am going to do that from now on, not just meat.

Went to watch the game at King’s Head with Sebastian, Sandie, and Michelle. Sae Young had left for Dublin earlier and Kiera was still sorting some banking issues so they didn’t join us. We met Jessica and Jasmine on the way, who were Sebastian/Michelle’s roommates. They were both American. They joined us for the soccer game and we had a blast watching it with the crowds. Everyone seemed to be going for Bayern but me. Inter won 2-0 haha. And I didn’t order a Bulmer’s this time. Good end to a good day.

Leaving for Galway wasn’t easy because I had to say more goodbyes. I hate meeting these cool people because I know we’ll probably never see each other again. We were friends in this particular place for this particular time and we would always have that I guess.


Belfast, Northern Ireland

May 20th 2010

I got to Belfast (North Ireland) some time in the afternoon. My initial impression was that Belfast looked industrial and pretty boring. The colors were dull, buildings were old. I checked into my hostel (Belfast Youth International Hostel) and even the hostel had a boring feel. No one was hanging out in the lounge, no one was using the computers, the feel of the place was just BLEH.

Went out to get lost and ended up in the city area. I was looking for a place to get some lunch, specifically, some ulster fry. I asked a construction worker where I could get some and he directed me to a restaurant called Wetherspoon. He spoke Irish Gaelic to his coworker and I thought that was interesting. Anyway, found my way to Wetherspoon and checked out the menu. I noticed they didn’t use Euro but Pound Sterling instead. Shit. Well, had to go find a bank first.

Walked into the first bank I came across. I put my ATM card into their machine, turns out the ATM machines in North Ireland use a chip on it. I crashed their system. Whoops, oh well, went to the teller and he got my money for me.

As I made my way back to Wetherspoons, I looked around me. The city, like any other, was full of ppl just going about their daily lives be it work or school or hanging out. I ordered the ulster fry, it’s really just eggs, ham, sausage, baked beans, and some Irish potato and soda bread. But the old guy sitting at the table next to me asked me if I was from Hong Kong or something. I said I was an American but was born/raised in Malaysia. He lit up. He started sharing his story about the time he left North Ireland when he was young and later ended up in Kuala Lumpur and worked/lived there. He was a bit difficult to understand (he’d been drinking a few beers, he’s a retiree, apparently his wife already passed…). But I shared a nice conversation with him (with him mostly rambling on about the same things without answering any questions I asked him). Now he’s back in Belfast to live out his days I guess…he was away for a long time apparently. Take care Tommy.

I finished my ulster fry (it was aite) and went out to explore. Ended up at City Hall, just in time for the 2 pm tour on the city’s history. Got to sit in the Lord Mayor’s chair for a pic. The Lord Mayor is the mayor (what could’ve given that away…). After the tour, I continued wandering the streets, didn’t find anything particularly interesting.

Couldn’t even get free internet at the hostel, I had to pay £1 for 20 mins of use so I decided not to write a blog entry. Showered, went out wandering again, decided to hit up Wetherspoons for dinner. Place was packed so I guess it’s a decent eatery. Ordered a steak/kidney pie. £5 and pretty good. Walked out, saw a movie theatre, decided to watch a movie. I was in luck, Robin Hood was just starting and I haven’t seen it. Decent flick. When I was there, I started to think about how I felt like I was home (I’ve seen a number of movies by myself at Irving Mall). Except when I walk out afterward, I was a long way from the familiar streets of Irving.

Went back to the hostel after to sleep. I haven’t been sleeping very well the past few days, hostels aren’t very comfortable.

Belfast pics

Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

That’s not pronounced “Dun Lay-o-gare”. It’s actually “Dun Leary”. Yeah, those Irish names are confusing to pronounce. It was for me.

I woke up around 8 am and got the day started early. Went to explore the northern half of Dublin and found most of the immigrant stores are more concentrated there. Polish, Czech, Chinese, Moldovan, you name it.

Also, Dublin (like most of Europe I’m guessing) has a lot of butcher shops. I wish America had more mom/pop butcher shops, especially in Texas. New York probably has a few. I took a walk in a few of their grocery stores. They don’t have massive stores like Costco or HEB or Walmart around here. It’s mostly small supermarkets. For the most part, they have what American stores have, just different brands, brands I grew up with in Malaysia, which used to be a British colony (Ribena, Schweppes anyone?). I haven’t seen something out of the ordinary yet that completely boggled my mind. Maybe ‘Rhubarb and Ginger jam’ and ‘White/Black pudding’ which really is meat and blood in a sausage form.

I had to find out how to get to Belfast so I took a walk around and had to find the Bus Eiranne office. Some locals were kind enough to point it out to me. I will be there around 7:30 am this morning to take the 2.5 hour ride up to Eire’s rivals.

There are just so many buses here it’s insane. I had to find one to get to Dun Laoghaire but when I finally found the right one, the wait for the bus was too long and it was an 80 minute ride. Instead, I took the D.A.R.T. train and for €4.20, it took me back and forth to Dun Laoghaire in around 20 minutes one way.

Dun Laoghaire is a small coastal town with a breathtaking view. It isn’t famous for anything other than the ports. Not the food nor any particular tourist attraction (according to a police officer whom I spoke too. His accent was damned thick, could hardly understand him). It’s a normal town with working folk and students.

I'm defending Dun Laoghaire!

The Eastern pier was super long. I walked all the way to the lighthouse, enjoying the views and watching ppl take their dogs and kids out for walks. Lots of yachts parked in the water. I was sitting down writing something down when a father exclaimed to his little girl that there was a seal in the waters. I managed to just catch a video of it before it disappeared underwater, probably playing hide and seek with us but picking too good a hiding spot amongst the yachts.

I enjoyed an ice cream cone and a beef + Guinness pie at a local bakery. Both were delicious and the immigrant shopkeeper got an A+++ rating from me for customer service. I decided I was done with people watching for a day and walked back to the train station and head back to Dublin and retire for the night.

Until my roommates woke me up since they had to pack up for their 4 am flight out to London and my other roommate (mr aerospace engineer) ran out of bed and puked onto the bathroom floor, drunk. He’s there right now, sleeping in the bathroom after his second run back there. I’m not planning to use the bathroom tomorrow, just head straight out to Belfast and wash up there.


Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is a lot colder than I thought it would be. It was cloudy and in the 60’s when I got here. After I landed and got my bag, the first challenge was getting to my hostel without getting ripped off (aka taxis). I managed to find out the bus that would take me to the area my hostel would be.

The street signs in Dublin are terrible. They are located on buildings on the corners of streets and sometimes it’s not even obvious. I was semi-lost for a while but with the help of a few locals, I found my way to the hostel.

I am bunking with 5 other ppl, who coincidentally are Americans too. 4 of them are college students who are backpacking some major cities in Europe. The other was an aerospace engineer who looked a lot like a surfer/stoner guy. He’s from Utah and was travelling Scotland, England, Ireland for a few weeks.

Sometimes I stood in one spot and just observed ppl. Many who walked past me were conversing in foreign European languages. I couldn’t tell what was what but I could tell Dublin had many immigrants who were here trying to make a living, much like immigrants in America. I even managed to run into a few Malaysian students on the tram. They were conversing in Bahasa Malaysia and I recognized it, struck up a conversation with them. Business students at Dublin College. Friendly Malay fellas.

I’m hoping to cover the other half of Dublin tomorrow. Then make my way to the countryside or Belfast, not sure which yet. I’ve heard many great things about the beautiful countryside here. The plane flight as we entered the country showed this as well, it was a spectacular view.

Pictures from Day 1 are here: