I spent the first two weeks of August in Dublin, Ireland on a trip for work. What follows are some observations of the little things I noticed as an American without much international travel experience.
Stuff I liked
Irish accents are cool. I wouldn’t mind having one (or one of the southern English accents). I was almost too embarrassed to speak at times because an American accent must sound horrible to them. And I know it may sound silly, but many times when I heard an Irish woman talking on the street, I turned around to see if it was Ríona, even though her accent is sadly waning.
Another thing that I enjoyed hearing was the ringback tone— the ringing sound that you hear when you’re calling someone. It’s a lot smoother than what you hear when calling a North American number.
I liked how technology enabled me to feel a little less like a tourist and a little more like a local. When it came to food, I was able to use Yelp to look for reviews, and then with my phone was able to confidently get walking directions to the restaurant’s location. I wasn’t limited to using tourist maps or judging a restaurant by what it looked like on the outside. And, since I checked in everywhere on Foursquare, I had a record of every place I visited which ended up being helpful when I did my expense report. I also have location history enabled on Google Latitude, which allowed me to look back and see things like the route our bus took from Dublin to Doolin. So, the two gadgety things that I’d recommend as an international traveler (besides a voltage converter) are a local prepaid SIM card with a data plan (likely much cheaper than roaming), as well as an extended or extra battery. If you’re in the US, you’re probably used to unlimited data, but you’re unlikely to find that when traveling. I found 3G Watchdog on my Android phone to be a helpful app for monitoring my data usage.
I like sandwiches (everybody does), and the sandwiches in Ireland were generally good. I especially liked that it was easier to find a sandwich with sundried tomatoes than it was to find one with avocados. My favorite meals came from Listons Food Store, which was highly rated on Yelp and navigated to using Google Maps on my phone. During both of my visits to Listons, I had a delicious ham and cheese panini. The first one I ate inside the store, but for the second one I took a short walk to St. Stephen’s Green and had a pleasant lunch on a park bench. One thing I have to say about Irish food though is that Dublin’s definition of “crispy” in the context of “crispy bacon” is not the same as it is in the US.
I really enjoyed my one-day trip to the west coast, particularly because I traveled through the countryside and saw the Cliffs of Moher. Those of you who know me personally know that I would never want to live in a city (though I don’t mind working or visiting one), so when I travel I enjoy getting outside of the cities. While they all have significant differences, in a way visiting a major city anywhere in the world is kind of like visiting a major airport anywhere in the world: many things are the same. Traveling outside of Dublin, I was able to experience the green of Ireland that I heard so much about. It really is a beautiful country, and the abundance of green reminded me of home. On my next trip, I’d like to spend more time on the west coast and in the countryside.
My self-confidence was constantly being boosted by their overuse of the word “brilliant,” which seems to be a UK thing as well. As an example, when I turned in my SIM card that I was borrowing during my stay, my Irish coworker responded with, “Excellent brilliant stuff, mate. Cheers.” And when I was in Heathrow, a woman who was handing out flyers for some survey asked if I would be using the Internet in New York (I was flying into JFK). When I indicated that I would in fact be using the Internet, her response was simply, “Brilliant.” Yes, I am. Thank you.
Of course I liked seeing my coworkers. The funny thing is though, due to the multilingual nature of our work, most of the people I work with (and therefore hung out with) in Dublin actually aren’t Irish at all. It was interesting to hear them proudly speak of their homelands (I think a trip to Berlin or Munich is in my future), and I think they were surprised at my ability to sympathize with them when they learned that a trip from California to Pennsylvania is actually longer than a trip from Dublin to most of their hometowns.
I only took three taxis during my stay, but they were a refreshing change from what we have to deal with in the US. Besides the “just round up to the nearest Euro” tipping custom (don’t get me started on how horribly awkward and confusing the tipping culture is in the US), I was relieved to find that the drivers were both courteous and knowledgeable. In the US, it’s such a crapshoot. You can take a cab in the morning and have a friendly driver who can give you helpful suggestions about the area, and then later that afternoon have a driver who seems to hate the idea that someone else got in his car, has no idea where your destination is, and has no map or GPS to help him out.
Even though I had to go through security multiple times on the way home (once in Dublin, twice in Heathrow), I liked that I didn’t have to take my shoes off. They still have the strange liquid restriction though, which didn’t affect me but I felt bad for the non-English-speaking family I saw trying to get medication though the screening process.
Stuff that was kind of weird
It was nearly impossible to find non-American television content, let alone Irish programs. Even when I settled on the BBC one night to catch some European material, they were showing Insomnia, an American film. Not a bad movie, though.
Everything closes early… even earlier than in the Bay Area. I tend to get in late and work late, so it was a challenge for me to rush out every night after work to get food. I thought I had found a solution when I discovered an “American diner,” but it closed at 10:00! That kind of defeats the whole purpose of a diner. When I tried to load up on some food at a convenience store instead, I discovered that they had closed at 9.
By the way, if you want to see more of Ireland, Google just launched Street View in that country, so start exploring.