Friday, October 24, 2008

Dublin Part II

On the second day in Dublin, I visited the two sites that I really wanted to see. First up was the Kilmainham Gaol. This site is most famous for its role as a political prison up to the early 20th century. (If you're British, I wouldn't recommend going here.) This is one of the most important historical sites in Ireland because prominent leaders in Ireland's many revolutions were held and often executed here. We had a great tour and it was fascinating to walk through the jail and go in the cells. Very similar to Alcatraz, but with much, much more cultural significance.

I'm going to go off on a tangent, but I've developed this huge pet peeve since I've been over here. It's the habit of people taking Facebook pictures in historical places. (I define a Facebook picture as: a picture of only yourself where you're smiling and giving a thumb's up sign or some other gesture. Preferably the picture is taken somewhere that will make you look cool. Bonus points if you can see your arm holding up your camera to take the picture.) Some places are appropriate for this, but there are other places that just aren't. I consider the jail to be one of the latter. More than once on this tour, the guide would give a detailed description about how a tragic event took place in a particular spot, and then 2 seconds later some idiot was giving a thumb's up posing for a picture. But enough of that...

After the jail, the next stop was the Guinness factory. I have to admit that this was probably the main reason why I wanted to go to Dublin. Guinness is basically my favorite brand of anything, so I was excited to see what the the brewery and the museums were like. Once you're inside, you keep going up stairs in the storehouse--you see the detailed history of the company and the process that's used to make the beer. You also see all of the ingredients that are used. The process was a bit more complicated than the bucket I use to make beer at home.

I think most people do the tour in about an hour and a half, but I was here for 5 hours. There was a huge exhibit on Guinness advertising, and I'm a bit of a marketing nerd. Naturally I took pictures of every single ad and other historical items that they had here. It was at least a few hundred pictures. Donald Draper would be proud.

Once you get to the top of the building, there's a Gravity Bar. Of course, the only thing on tap in the bar is Guinness. In the bar, there's an amazing panoramic view of the entire city--probably the best view in town...when the sky is clear. (Note: the sky is never clear in Ireland, so I'll let you figure that out.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dublin - Part I

I had no intention of going to Ireland, but the flight was just too inexpensive to pass up (60 euros roundtrip). Unfortunately for that price, I had to take a bus to Bratislava to catch my plane. I don't know a whole lot about Bratislava, but I'm a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a city by their airport. For example, San Diego's airport smells like the beach when you get there...on the other hand, Baltimore's airport smells like garbage. At the airport in Bratislava, there's a big sign when you check in at the service desk. It shows pictures of all the items you're not allowed to bring with you when you leave Bratislava. The banned list includes staples like: grenades, gasoline, and poison. I made a quick note to return here for Christmas shopping.

There are some fun things to do in Dublin, but there are also some negatives too. For one thing, Dublin is very expensive. I subsisted on a healthy diet of cookies (35 cents for a box) and apple juice, but expect to pay 4 or 5 euros for a Guinness here...even though they can basically walk the kegs from the brewery to the bars. The nightlife scene is very cosmopolitan, and it didn't feel like true Irish culture. Lots of tourists and expatriates around.

Aside from that, there are still a few places that you have to see. The first one that I visited was the National Museum. This museum had artifacts that were thousands of years old, including swords and other items from the Vikings. It was a massive collection, including a number of items from other countries--Egyptian mummies and Roman artifacts among them. The most impressive item was a 2,500 year-old longboat that was carved out of a single oak tree. As always--no pictures allowed, but I tried to grab one:

I went on a 2-day whirlwind tour of Dublin to see all of the major sites--Temple Bar, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle, O'Connell Street, St. Stephen's Green. It's actually fairly easy to walk around to anything in the center of Dublin in 10-15 minutes.

The first day ended with an eventful night at the hostel. I've stayed in lots of different places over the years--some sketchier than others--but this was the first time that I ever demanded to be moved to a new room at 2AM. That's a story for another time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Long Night of the Museums

I'm back from a week in Ireland and promise to have new pics and posts up by this weekend but first, before I left, we went to the Long Night of the Museums in Vienna. Basically this is an event where you can visit all of the museums in the city for one night. It's a cheap and entertaining way to see a number of different museums in the city, but then you realize that there are over 90 museums in Vienna. There are some amazing ones here--including the Albertina, the Belvedere, and the Hapsburg Treasury, but I'll bet you didn't know that we also have the world-renowned museums for snowglobes, shoes, contraception, and chimney sweepers as well. (Not all in one museum because that would just be strange.) Unfortunately I'll have to visit those last few another time because 7 hours just isn't enough time to see all the museums in the city.

There is a great Van Gogh exhibit in the Albertina and we also saw an unusual exhibit on the history of blood and violence around the world. Lots of people were everywhere around town, so it was very difficult to see the more popular exhibits--I'll have to go back another time to look at the Van Gogh collection. The treasury is probably the most unique museum in Vienna because you can see all of the crown jewels and other items from the Hapsburg Dynasty. So many scepters and capes--I find it hard to believe that people actually wore those things in real life!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


For the final activity at orientation, the Buddy Program at the university took a group of 200 students to Oktoberfest in Munich. It was only one day, but the trip basically consisted of three very distinct parts--the train ride to Munich, the Oktoberfest celebration, and the train ride back to Vienna. It was an exhausting trip, but all in all, Oktoberfest is something that everyone should go to at least once.

The train ride to Munich was basically a pre-Oktoberfest party (meaning no chance to sleep). We took the overnight train from Vienna and reached Munich at about 6AM. There were definitely some problems with the organization of the trip, but that's a story for another time. It can be a bit difficult to find things to do in Munich on a Sunday at 6AM, but after a short rest in the train station, we headed for the English Garden. The English Garden is one of the largest parks in the world, and I was surprised by the number of people that were out in the park at that time of day. Not all of the places were open on a Sunday morning, but there was still plenty to see in the park:
(I don't think anyone expected a lovely picture of a swan in an Oktoberfest post.) After the park, we toured around Munich for a few hours. We mainly walked around the Marienplatz square and saw all of the famous buildings around town. I won't even attempt to explain the history of these buildings--although I know that a large number of buildings were destroyed during World War II, and the government decided to rebuild Munich with its classic look as opposed to a few other German cities that opted to modernize. (My thanks to Wikipedia.)

After the tour around Munich, we finally ventured into the Oktoberfest area. I guess the closest comparison for the U.S. would be a giant state fair...if the men at the state fair wore leather capri pants...and they served beer by the liter. There were rides, carnival games, and plenty of food inside the grounds.

Each of the major Munich breweries has a tent inside the festival grounds. Our group had reserved a number of tables at the Hofbrauhaus tent. The atmosphere outside the tent is similar to what you'd find at a family barbecue or picnic. There are a lot of people at picnic tables eating the popular foods--the only difference is that there are barmaids that carry 10 glasses of beer to the table at a time.

The atmosphere inside the tents is completely different. There are traditional German bands and thousands of people singing and toasting inside. You see the occasional fight, but for the most part everyone is extremely happy to be there. This part is something you actually have to see to understand how enormous it is.

Naturally with the crowd that's inside, outside of the tents there's a hill where the attendees can take their friends who've passed out. I think the picture is pretty self-explanatory:

So after you've been to all of the different tents and avoided upsetting the leather capri-wearing Bavarians, it's time to try the food. Basically the food here is cooked whole and on a spit. I opted to try the hendl, which is a small whole chicken...and an oxen sandwich on the side. I guess anything might taste good after a full day at Oktoberfest, but the food was some of the best that I've had since I've been in Europe.

So that leads me to the trip home...At 11 PM, we headed back to the train station to leave for Vienna. I'd been up for almost 2 days, so all I really wanted to do was to sleep for a few hours on the train. Unfortunately the Austrian rail system had completely lost our group's reservations. Now keep in mind this was a reservation for 200 people on the fully booked Sunday night train. After an hour of indecisiveness, they decided that they would just put everyone on the train and figure out the details later. Seats weren't an option, so they sent us to the luggage car. I managed to find a small place to squeeze halfway into the aisle, which was at least palatable until a few students decided they wanted to turn the train into a party train. A couple more hours of that, and then we were ushered off the train so that they could add 2 more cars. We waited for another hour, and then I managed to grab a very small seat for the final few hours. Definitely one of the worst rides I've ever taken. I finally got back home in Vienna at around 7AM and happily slept for the rest of the day.