Losing things along the way…

Remember when I said I couldn’t update my blog for a while? Sometimes it wasn’t just the internet.

I had arrived in Cork and was unpacking when I realized my netbook wasn’t with me. Oh shit, I must’ve left it in Galway!

I didn’t panic immediately, I realized I made some friends in Galway and one or two ppl mentioned going to Dublin. I shot out a mass email asking if anyone was going to Dublin within the next day or two…Sebastian answered my call and said his friend Justin was going that day. *phew* so he brought my netbook to a Dublin hostel where I collected it later that day.

And when I reached Dublin, I realized that I had left my little bag of dirty clothes in Cork! Shit…that contained two of my shirts, and one pair of my travel pants. I was pretty disappointed in myself and sad.

Oh well, stuck with the few clothes I do have. I did a wash in the sink in Paris a few days ago, hung them all up. Bought an extra cheap plain t-shirt too. Going to look out for more items in the coming weeks.

Galway, Ireland

Galway
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.

PICTURES

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast
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.

PICS:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kksm83/sets/72157623973388031/

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:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kksm83/sets/72157624089739692/

Final Goodbyes in Dallas

I suck at goodbyes. I’ve been told that when you’re on the road, you say so many goodbyes so often you get good at it. I guess I will be trained in the art of goodbyes in some time.

Played my last pick up soccer game at Brookhaven on Thursday. I had been wanting to get in a decent game so I could leave on a high note. I was frustrated on Tuesday so when Thursday rolled around, instead of thinking about having a good game, I just tried to focus on on having as much fun out there as I could. I scored a decent goal, then later punted a kick off which Jon W. controlled beautifully before turning and scoring a spectacular  goal 5 seconds into our game (one of the best pick up goals I’ve seen ever, and I’ll take that assist), then set one more up later, got some decent crosses, played decent defence…anyway, I was happy to sign off in that manner. Most importantly, got to say goodbye to lots of friends I made there.

Cleared out the apartment on Friday, lots of last-minute packing and moving. I left a broken vacuum, an old broom, some paper towels, toilet paper, some air freshener behind. If hobos broke in, they could set up shop easy. Loaded up Peter’s Navigator, loaded up my car, had a shitload of wings, then came down to my sister’s place to stay the weekend.

Got to watch Chelsea/Liverpool and ManUtd/Sunderland this morning with some friends at The Londoner. Had a blast although the Chelsea result didn’t go our way. But as they say, “Football, bloody hell” and anything could happen in the final week. Said my goodbyes there too and left my old folding soccer goals with Jay, guess it’ll continue to be part of Brookhaven pick up games.

Other than that, I sold my TV and am ready to head back to Austin tomorrow. After that, camping with my buddies and then head off into the unknown.

Oh yeah, here’s my backpack which will be my friend/home the entire trip:

Everything I’ll be carrying with me with fit into that REI Flash 50.

Vaccinations

I’ve already gotten vaccinations a few weeks ago. Hep A, tetanus/polio boosters, yellow fever, and typhoid to complement what I already have been vaccinated for in the past. Will purchase malaria pills in regions that have it, or some ppl have suggested, stay covered up during peak biting hours, take precautions, and if needed, deal with it if you have it. It’s cheaper that way apparently.

Sold most of my stuff, only got a sofa, TV and car left. Other than that, lending some stuff to Lesley/Donnie to put in their home. Storing the rest of my clothes/books/CDs/DVDs/minor things.

Bought stuff for my first aid kit today, gotta be prepared just in case. Going to finish shopping at REI this weekend, gotta get a micro-fleece, some proper socks, sports sandals, and other minor things. Lastly, the backpack. Going to be traveling as light as possible.

Informed a few good friends about the impending trip just now on facebook, having told a few already beforehand. I thought I’d let a few others know, they might wonder what happened to me (maybe).

Other than that, just waiting it out. I am nervous & excited. More nervous. I don’t know what to expect ahead of me. Some ppl might wonder why I want to do this. I’ve wanted to do this since I can remember. On the bucket list, right at the top, I don’t know why it’s up there but it’s one of those things that has a window…you can’t do it when you’re tied down. The timing was right, I was financially ready for it, I’m taking my chance and going for it.