Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dublin: Learning the Irish Way

You know, every country I've been in so far .... all of the stereotypes are true.

The French are pretty, conceited, and bundled up.

The Scottish say 'aye' and 'wee' and wear kilts.

The Swedish are tall, blonde, and shy.

The British are loud, bold, and rich.

Well, the Irish. You know what the Irish are. They're drinkers.

I went to Dublin this past weekend with Carmen, Hilde, Suzan, Maria and Vasilis. We spent every night we were there in the same pub -- The Oliver St. John Gogarty. The pub's hero is a crazy man who's done everything from write poetry, be a surgical doctor, a sportsman,to being and for activism. The pub itself is huge. It's got three floors and on each floor separate bars. They play either crazy obvious singles from 60s+ like "Dancing Queen" to "I Feel Like a Woman" or traditional Irish music.

On the first night we were there, we went and enjoyed the first floor, the one with the obvious singles. We met a handful of ridiculous Irish men, but they were pretty hilarious. That night was also the night I discovered Dublin had TIM HORTONS. I was tres happy.

The next day, we did most of our touring before ending up at Gogarty's again.

The group of us walked around the city but split up when Vasilis and Maria wanted to go on a tour of Trinity College, so the girls and I went to see the giant needle in the middle of the city and walk around the River Leffy, ending up on a pier drinking coffee and tea all classy until it rained and we were the only people left on the pier - covered in all four of our umbrellas. After that, we visited a church I don't remember the name of, had some food, and then ended up in St. Stephen's Green park.

That's when we ended up back at Gogarty's - for the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl. Two professional musicians, one Irish, the other Scottish, took us and a group of about 20-30 more people (all older than us) to two different pubs, where they sat us down for a pint and played us, well, traditional Irish music. One played violin, the other guitar. It was nice and relaxing, but I got so tired that I zoned out for a while. They provided us with some history and context, and it was interesting. It was then that I realized how much musical history Dublin has, and how many buskers out on Grafton Street and more there really are. There's tons of music stores, but since going to Dublin, I've been pretty bummed I didn't get to go explore them. Oh well - it's probably for the best. The city is ridiculously expensive, so I would have been in trouble.

Anyways, most of the group ended up going back to Gogarty's for another drink afterwards but Suzan and I retreated to our nice hotel for some relaxation. At this point, I was getting rapidly more exhausted after my travelling since Sweden (I only had a day and a half in London between trips and that was spent in class).

The next day, the group of us went to the Dublin Castle and played around in the park for a while. We then split up: I went with Vasilis, Maria, and Carmen to the Guinness Storehouse and the Dutch girls went to explore the castle and city more. I was aprehensive about going to the Guinness Storehouse for so much money but it turned out to be worth it (besides, it includes a free pint). It's actually fun, and seriously the beer version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. You go through a maze of Barely, Hops, Water, and more. You see how they mix everything, their old advertising campaigns, and by then you get up to the gravity bar -- seeing all of Dublin while nursing your pint.

That evening, we went out for dinner and ended up at Gogarty's again - it was a Sunday so less busy, but still entertaining on the Obvious Singles floor.

Our last day was Monday, but it rained. Just like the day we came. So Carmen, Hilde and I ended up walking along the water under umbrellas again and stopped at another cafe talking about horror stories for quite a long time. Then we met up with the Greeks and proceeded back to our hotel before flying back to London.

Swedish Plants and Animals

On Tuesday, (March 31) , Vanessa, Isak, Jamie, and I went to the Varmlands Nature Centre and Animal... something. It was kind of a groggy day as all of the past days were, but it was still a lot of fun. Isak brought his dog and together the five of us walked through the abandoned park and had lunch in the nature centre.

From there, we walked through the animal park and saw goats, black sheeps, ducks, and cows. No sight of the supposed horses. Played around on the playground for a few minutes, but then it was time to catch the bus back into town.

Vanessa and I then went and hung out in the library/tourist centre, where I finished my souvenir buying, checked my email, and sat around because I was sooo tired.

That night, we just hung out again, watched more of the Big Bang Theory. I had to leave in the moring, so we were pretty sad.

The next day, I got up early and got myself down to the train station. Took a train to Gothenburg City. I had four hours to kill before my bus to the airport to take me back to London, so I decided to walk around on my own for a bit. By then, the weather in Sweden was beautiful (of course just when I'm leaving) and really hot out, but unfortunately I was all layered in coats so I didn't have to pack them and walking around was somewhat of a tiring task. Anyways, walking around I realized Gothenburg is more of a nicer, friendlier Paris. Everything shines and everyone is out shopping and happy. There's a few canals I walked by, and pretty European buildings. I didn't walk very far, but I found my way a few streets over to where the university is. There's a canal and a hill covered in flowers, so I sat on a bench for an hour and read my book (Cider with Roadies). All of the university students were out sunbathing sitting on the ledge of the canal. After that, I walked back to the station and got an ice cream and sat outside listening to a podcast until it was time to go home.

Sweden overall was a really good trip. I got to reconnect with Vanessa and Denis and I made a couple of new acquaintances. The atmosphere is really relaxed and I think it's definitely a challenge for Vanessa to live there and to learn how to live a slower lifestyle compared to Toronto. I liked having time off from the big ol London, and probably deserved that snowstorm because I missed all the big January ones in Toronto.

Oh, and Swedish sounds like a mixture of Sim language and Italian. Strange, huh?

Exploring Karlstad

By Monday, most of the snow had thawed down in Karlstad. So Vanessa took me around the town on a little tour.

We discovered that Swedish people only work Wednesdays to Fridays, and had a long contemplation on how they hell they stay alive because all they do is shop. She took me past the "Entertainment Factory" where all the cool kids go, a salon dedicated to Elvis, and a church that has an interior that's almost all white.

We ended up in a small mall where we had baguette sandwiches for lunch. Then we walked across the street and went into one of the probably two Karlstad record stores. I bought a vinyl single that was warped into a strange bowl. The single: Mili Vanili's 1989 hit, "Girl You Know It's True".

From there, we spent an awful long time in a bookstore in the town square, finding the strangest kid books. Creeeepers.

We topped off our shopping with a little H&M therapy (hey, we're in Sweden, we had to go there) and the grocery store to buy dinner supplies. That night we watched a lot more movies/tv and made vegan cookies. Awesome.

I've really missed Vanessa. We've been living together for so long now, she's pretty much one of the cool sisters I never had (others: Felizia, Nahmi, Caroline, Clara, Laurel). So just hanging out all the time in Sweden was great for me - I didn't care what we did, I just wanted to be with my friend. However, everything we did was so much fun.

Swedish Learning

On my second day in Sweden, Vanessa, Denis and I trekked over to the Varmlands Museum after we had a lovely half-Swedish breakfast of cheese sandwiches and this dessert soup with ice cream.

We couldn't read a word at the museum, but it turned out to be really interesting with random paintings, a much too fun kid exhibit, and a history of the Varmlands area, which is where Karlstad is.

Afterwords, we went back to Vanessa's place where we attempted to watch the Science of Sleep but it was in French with Swedish subtitles so we blew it off and went to the Audio Video store and giggled over silly Swedish translated movie titles until we picked out the wonderful Be Kind Rewind.

The next day, Denis left early in the morning so Vanessa and I had the lazy Swedish sunday to do pretty much nothing. We decided to bike over to town to go to the Royal Cafe. I have not biked in yeeeeears and was really excited to do so, until I found out how much of a pain it gave me (butt bruises, really). I whined the whole way there, but by the way back even though I was sore, I had fun soaring through the pathways of the thawing Karlstad with the wind blowing through my hair. For the rest of the night, Vanessa and I just chilled watching movies/tv.