Dublin Heat

quaysIt was sweltering in Dublin in July. I hadn’t planned for that. Global climate change was touching Ireland, and lucky me, I walked right into it. Ireland has the reputation for changeable weather in summer, mostly rain to clear. I’d planned for mostly that, but not the intense heat I encountered. Never thought I’d get sunburn in Dublin.

 

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Oscar Wilde

Dublin is one of the most complex and busy cities you will visit in Europe. It is also one of the most expensive to live in, eat in and tour. Unless you stick to a strictly free as much as possible day. The people of Dublin are cosmopolitan and eclectic in their tastes, and the food is fusion and experimental. The architecture is grand, with Regency Era buildings and a hodge podge of old and new. I have been in large cities, large tourist towns like San Francisco where I lived for many years, and London which is a huge tourist metropolis. I have not see anything quite like what I experienced in Dublin this July. The streets were teeming with people, you couldn’t walk down sidewalks, people poured into the streets, blocking everything. Massive groups of Italian students with their bright coordinating backpacks in swarmed like bees, turning much of Temple Bar into a piazza.

Bog Men to Vikings

Dublin is a great city for museums and each national museum is by subject. The museums can take up a day or two of your visit as the exhibits are very in depth and well curated.  There are the large extensive museums and many smaller museums focusing on specific people such as my favorite, Oscar Wilde. The majority of museums are south of Temple Bar around the Trinity College area, a place filled with great buildings and architecture, buskers, and shops. This summer there was an exhibit on Vermeer paintings. All the other museums, Archeology, Decorative Arts and History, Country Life, and Natural History are free to the public.

What to do when there are so many museums and only a few days? I usually tour museums when the weather is inclement and save the rest of the days in a city for exploring. With the heat, they became a great refuges to escape the sunburn I was acquiring.antiquities

Archaeology Museum, Kildare Street

One of my main drives to get to the museums is the rich human history Dublin has. This museum had great exhibits on Viking and Mediaeval artifacts that showed the vast wealth of history Dublin had in shaping Ireland. I had not had a chance to see actual Viking objects before, so it was a great treat to see models, weapons, jewelry, and pieces of everyday life objects the Vikings would have used. The medieval history objects and stories of local chieftains and their battles over who would lead and rule Dublin are not to be missed. Then. There are the great Celtic objects on the main floor, filled with Torcs and other jewelry displayed. Truly some of the decorative pins in size and magnitude defy logic.

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Molly Malone

However the best part was the one I had been trying to get to Dublin for many years for. The bizarre Bog Men exhibit. I must admit that since I was very young and took my first Archeology classes, I had been intrigued by the story of the men and women ritually killed and left in bogs, with bodies being discovered and put on display. It was really a thrill to see the examples in this museum. I was excited to get to a city with Viking history again. When you live in the US, history starts at 1600 with the later colonizations. While Vikings may have landed in Canada and attempted settlements, we don’t get a lot of exposure on these ancient cultures in the US.

phoenix park

Natural History, or the Smelly Dead Zoo

National Museum of Natural History. Another fascination from childhood was with taxidermic animals. I have been to many exhibits of these over the years, and the one in Dublin is a find collection of animals collected mostly in the Victorian era. Sadly this means the specimens are very worn and tired. Now, there are some really amazing examples of extinct creatures that you should see, my favorite being the giant Irish deer from prehistoric times. The rack of antlers on these are the largest in the world.

Food and Drink, Temple Bar

This is one of the most heavily populated tourist areas in Dublin. The entertainment area is packed with restaurants and other venues. It is elbow to elbow crowding usually at night, but that week it was from late morning into the evenings. I often found that I had to circumnavigate the area and give it a wide birth, or sneak up an alleyway street.  I tried to avoid this area, I knew it would be a serious tourist trap on this side of the Liffey river. The winding shop streets in the Grafton area seem to keep leading back to it and there is no escape, especially when tourist runs kept dragging you along. I steered clear of the American filled pubs and bars, packed past capacity. My one respite on day was to have sushi and sake at Banyi Japanese dining. Great restaurant with great food.

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Temple Bar

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Shane

Icon Factory Dublin Interview With Aga Szot

Glasgow Westend Summer 2017 Musings

ashtonI have just spent a few rare, mostly sunny days in Glasgow’s West End. What’s not to like about this festive and eclectic area in Glasgow. Situated right next to University of Glasgow, as in all great university towns, a great area hub of several very diverse communities on all sides of the university, each with it’s own flavor.

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It’s warm and happening here in the West End and Hillhead area of Glasgow. A rare, two warm sunny-ish days are indeed happening. I probably cursed us by wearing my sleeveless shirt for a while, sans jacket. Highly indulgent of me, I know. Feel the sunburn happening. Just walking the Byres Road area in the afternoon and the beach chairs are out near the  Hillhead Bookclub, an eclectically intense eatery that even has a clothing jumble sale on weekends upstairs. Great  vegan offerings along side traditional food. Had a sweet potato cake that was spicy indeed, and the plates are large portioned.  Just look for the dapper sea horse mural and you have found the spot.

 

Kelvinside and Botanic Gardens

This area boasts the enchanting Glasgow Botanic Gardens. In the summer you can see Bard in The Botanic, the local Shakespeare in the parks production. Places to eat and venues like the Oran Mor and Webster Theatre offer entertainment as well as good food and bar facilities.

Hillhead

Besides having a lot of student housing areas, with more being built as of this writing, this part of town has a vast array of restaurants that appeals to many cultural flavors and pricing is influenced by the student population. Therefore, great bargains can be had food wise here, and like most Uni areas, volume comes with the plate in many cases. Check out the other patrons plates to see if you can dine al fresco or if each plate can feed two to three people. There is also a lot of shopping to be done in the area at several brand name

DeCourcys

 as well as boutique stores. And don’t pass up the Oxfam and other local charity shops, you may just find a fun, hip article for a good cause.

West End

Just south of Kelvingrove Park is the area that is the eclectic and hipster area of West End and features Sauchiehall Street, Fitzroy Place, and Argyle street. There are a great number of bars and high end restaurants in the area, and plenty of places to do whisky tasting like the Ben Nevis. Other real notables are Ox and Finch, Mother India, The socialHidden Lane Tearoom, and Cubatas Tapas Bar, and the recently voted best place bar in West End, J. Sharpe Dispensary or The Drugstore Social . This was a great retreat one day from lang walks and the need to feed at lunch with a great glass of wine. The area features a few small boutiques for shopping fun. I recently ate at Ox and Finch, a small plates Tapas style eatery off Sauchiehall Street, after trying to have a sit in there for a few weeks. This restaurant is so popular you may have to book a few days in advance via their website like I did. It was worth the wait. The sommelier was very knowledgeable about both food and wine pairings, and helped with a Gluten Free adaptation of meals. The atmosphere was relaxing and a wonderful West End experience. Also after a good feed at the local, walking the Kelvin riverside walkways are a pleasant way to make room for a later whiskey tasting.

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Kelvinbridge

Two favorite places near where I was staying and just a convenient hop across the Western Road were Inn Deep at the Kelvinbridge, featuring a very twisty stairs down through the main door, or a bridge staircase down to the Kelvin walkway, which by the way is a

must river adventure. This foodie enclave features dog friendly spaces, riverside seating you will have to fight for or make friends over. Music tends towards the 70s and even some American Funk. But beware of being blasted with Fleetwood Mac and other golden oldies you may find yourself singing along to. Great hand cut fries, too.

Another dog friendly spot, and people too, is the The Belle on the Western Road. Quiet some nights, raucous talk the next. Good selection of drink options. 

 

InnDeep

 

Whiskey

Yes, national drink and all, most bars, pubs, and taverns will carry a very good selection of regional whiskey. If you have mostly had American or only a few Scottish varieties, you may want to go to a whiskey bar or even go on a whiskey walking tour where you can hit up a few specializing places. If you are in the West End, Ben Nevis Pub is a connoisseur spot but gets packed of an evening. If you don’t like a huge crowd and want to talk to the barkeep, try a late afternoon visit.

Hint: Kitchens can close early in Scotland, so if you are used to tavern food up until midnight, that may not be the thing in some parts of town. Sundays mean earlier closures for most restaurants.

Saturday Travel Musings: Glasgow

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It’s another rainy April day here in Portland, and the petals are flying from the trees. A young hipster is wearing a Ramones tee, and I fondly remember my first tee back in the Uni Days. I am drinking coffee in the Hawthorne and planning my escape. Thinking about my travels in 2 months and reading a local digital paper for Glasgow, Scotland since I will be going back in July. I highly recommend you read the local rags online for what cities you will visit. It helps get you ready to plan on what you can do while there and it’s highly intertaining to see that your town is not the only weirdville around. Not to mention that things sell out like theatre and music shows, so visiting the local indie papers for What’s On is a good deal. get a feel for your adventure in urban exploration.

Planning out the visit, I had been thinking about where to eat. Being foodie is crucial on vacation as it is for the rest of the year. Glasgow has definitely got the eats. As in my previous article on socially conscious eating, I had mentioned finding cafes and restaurants that give back to the community. In reading Glasgowlive.com the last few months, I had been tracking a feature on a cat cafe opening to benefit cat rehoming schemes, The Purrple Cat will be at 2 Trongate this July. I’m there, love a good cat cafe. But not to leave out the dogs in this dog loving town, because I know I met quite a few last summer there. If you want to visit with dugs while visiting this town or others in Scotland, check out the dugswelcome.com page to find food, drink, and dug friendly spots. Even if you can’t bring Fido on your travels, you can meet other dug friends in these places. An hey, most of them still have their tails.

http://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/location-finally-revealed-glasgows-new-12923091

Glasgow Science Centre

I also see that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon album will be celebrated at the Glasgow Science Centre tonight, with tickets having sold out some time before. I remember my first planetarium experience with a light show and Floyd back in the early Uni days in California. I can tell you the technology has advanced greatly since then and this show looks really amazing. So popular that they had to extend showings until May and June. So if you are traveling to their city you may want to hook up at the tickets page if you can before they sell out. Sorry to go on, but this iconic album is always made spectacular by added show, so enjoy if you can. Here’s hoping they can add on July.

What city are you traveling to this month and what’s on there?


Photos by Lonni and Alastair McMillan

Curry: The Spice of Life

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Since my Uni days I have been a big fan of curry and Indian restaurants. Now Indian foods is not the only flavor of curry, many Asian countries have their style of curry. Japanese and Chinese come to mind. But classic Indian curry houses are quite special. And I am very excited that I will be going back to some cities that boast some damn fine curry establishments. Too bad as you get older you can’t withstand the Vindaloo as you used to. Here in America, we do have an Indian population and plenty of restaurants. However they do not compare with curry houses in the UK and Ireland. Curry and the former empire have long gone hand-in-hand in delectable delights. And especially so in port towns. So I am very excited to go and taste more curry when I return to Glasgow, for I barely touched the surface of restaurants like this.

What’s so great about curry and Indian food in general? The variety, the fact that for example a college student can fill up for flat rate at some, great buffets, clearing your sinuses, the list goes on. Oh, yeah, the taste! How do you find a good restaurant, there can be many choices? Things to look for? See how many Indian or other Asians may be eating there. Because really, here in America for example, many restaurants try to “localize” or mix the cuisine to Americanize it a bit. We want authentic dishes from all over India for example, not just one, watered down place.

So check out some of these local curry houses in Glasgow courtesy of GlasgowLive.com. I plan on checking a couple of these restaurants out, seeing if they clean my clock taste buds wize. Maybe if you are traveling there you can too. Let us know what you think when you try some of them out. Leave some comments if you have a favorite curry house in one of these towns.

Glasgows Best Kept Curry Secrets

And in Edinburgh Best Indian Restaurants

Dublin Best Curry Restaurants

Around Ireland

London is huge and filled with curry options, so how to pick amongst the restaurants in the  Brick Lane District? Check out below.

Best Curry Houses and Take Away

Belfast

Fantastic Curries

Glasgow: Finding a Good Japanese Restaurant Off the Atlantic Ocean?

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Sushi and other fish dishes rely on getting very fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean. We here on the Pacific Rim are quite spoiled. Japanese restaurants are quite fantastic here. So what do you do when traveling in the UK and Ireland and your fav cuisine is a bit elusive? Keep trying. Most Japanese restaurants have adapted to working off the Atlantic Ocean, using fish found there for the sushi and traditional fish stews, after all, dashi is usually shaved bonito which is freeze dried and easy to transport.  But you won’t see Yellowtail (Hamachi) or other fish from the Pacific. Or if you do, it’s not fresh, it’s frozen and you can taste that difference. So when you are in the UK, you may just have to settle for chicken or beef dishes.

My second day in Glasgow and I wanted Japanese. I looked up a restaurant on Yelp and hoped for the best. The sushi Nigiri list had much to be desired, so I tried a traditional dinner instead, more comfort food, Nanakusa was pretty good overall. But then I was on a quest. Well, what happens when you get an unsatisfactory taste sensation? You seek out better choices. The next Japanese I tried was off the Buchanan Mall area and up some stairs, Ichiban. Out of the way a bit, but their Japanese curry was good. I lamented with the Japanese wait staff over finding good Nigiri in Scotland. I then chatted with them about getting a menu to catered to the Atlantic v. Pacific fish market. There was a degree of sadness felt, a commiseration. But if you look you can still find some good Japanese if not great fusion, if you are willing to seek it out.

Top Glasgow Sushi and Japanese

In Edinburgh I tried out a Japanese that was a fusion restaurant. Eh, it left a bit to be desired and well, I had to really get attention to get attention. Oh, when ordering Sake, make sure you tell them hot. Don’t assume they will know. Restaurants in the UK tend to default to room temp or cold. Also, their flasks aren’t as large as in the US. Just a tip.

Top Edinburgh Sushi

Dublin Japanese

Belfast Japanese

Whiskey Tourism and You; Have a Dram With Me

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Okay, so it’s sad to admit this, but I am not much of a drinker these days. Sadder still, when you go to countries like Scotland and Ireland and whiskey is a national drink or a beer is, and you don’t really do either, you feel a bit out of place. In my youth I could drink some heavy drink, not to say that I didn’t suffer the next day, but I certainly could hold it better. Back in the day, though it was Vodka for me. I spent many nights in Irish and Scots pubs in San Francisco, but could never develop a taste for the amber liquids. I hope to change that as I have found that true whiskey is so not what it is in the states. It’s a rare thing that needs appreciation.

Having a taste for something  like whiskey means growing up with it. In Ireland and the UK in general, alcoholic beverages take on a different aspect to how we view such things in the US. Well, granted we all look at it as a good time, and see what happened when we had Prohibition, we just wanted it more. So the attitude to take when you are in another country, is yes, try the wonderful varieties of whiskey, but think a bit before you do. In the US we have our versions of Scotch and various whiskeys with an American twist, but it’s nothing compared to true Irish or Scots whiskeys. Simply put, our soil is very different and we don’t have as much bog, we got swamp, and well if you got swap you got some bog, but not like in these countries.  In the US, our alcohol content is not as high as other in other countries. In the US we still have our mentality of supersize me, when we pour a whiskey it’s maybe a half glass of liquid, but not made like it is in the UK or Ireland. It’s a bit watered down. We view it like we do in excess of soda pop or anything else we have in the states. We have a lot at once. It’s quantity, not quality.

Have that mentality in the Uk and Ireland and sticker shock will get you. Alcoholic drinks are heavily taxed in the UK, it’s what drives the price up. You will get a smaller portion very exactly measured out. And whiskey is traditionally a dram. It’s a wee amount. I have been told by whiskey enthusiasts that true, well done whiskey is best in small amounts and should be savored, rolled on tongue and many other tasting rituals that we do. If you are an American and ask for a half glass of Scotch at a pub, they will just look at you. Ask for a Whiskey and be prepared, there are so many varieties you have never encountered unless you belong to a whiskey club in the US.

EDINBURGH’S WHISKY HERITAGE

Then we come to the fun part. Tourists have become big enthusiasts in tasting tours. We love them, even when we are not on tour at home. People go to beer tastings, Sake tastings, and of course whiskey. But it is oh so different in the UK and Ireland, and your sommelier will enlighten you so. Listen up. There are so many establishments wanting your business, banking on your tourism that they blast the pipes music out the doors and hope you’ll come tasting with them. So how do you tell the good with the bad? How do you figure out having a quality experience? If you are traveling with a group, decide what it is that you want from a tasting. Not everyone will like the whiskey, so go somewhere that also has a bit of wine or beer on tap just in case. But go with this in mind: You are going to have a verra small taste of the hundreds of distilleries in the country. It is a discovery of what you like and may prefer. Let your taste develop, don’t think of it as a brand like you do in the states. It’s a name, like a fine wine, only a great deal of time is spent on its creation, up to 30 years aging. So, don’t get too intimidated, talk to the sommelier. Admit you have only had American style and want the real thing. Yeah, in the US we get most of our alcohol courtesy of our immigrants heritage and much was changed in the process. So be prepared for a little going a long way.

And to truly make a appreciation, take a distillery tour. All major and many minor labels have a tour of their facilities. If you can squeeze one in your travels, you will greatly appreciate the art of drinking when you see what goes into it. And what the heck with peat? Peat is used in the kiln during the heating during the drying process for the malt. This gives it a smoky flavor. Yes, in the US most of us heat with wood, in the UK and Ireland sod burning still goes on.

Best Distillery Tours

How to not get overwhelmed by so many whiskey choices? Check out some articles on places to try whiskey in Scotland and Ireland, take your friends and just try a wee tasting. It may take a while but you will find a whiskey or two that you enjoy.

Oh, and if you are visiting friends in the UK or Ireland find out what their favorites are and get them on the plane or at airport, duty free. As I have said, it’s very expensive and host gifting is still very big in these cultures. If they can get a really nice bottle from you that will make them very happy.

Bring bottle of aspirin when you travel.

Don’t forget, in Ireland, there’s a whiskey museum. Now how good is that?

Links

Whiskey Basics

The Scotch Whiskey Experience

8 Best Whiskey Bars in Edinburgh

The Best Whiskey Bars in Glasgow

Top 10 Best Whiskey Bars in Dublin

Best Places to Drink in Dublin

Whiskey Walk Belfast

Galway

Ireland Whiskey Trail

British Distillery Tours

 

Community Cafes for Conscious Tourism

coffeeThe  cafe. A place to contemplate politics and community. The birthplace of revolutions. Why not participate in a conscious place of birth for a worth cause?

Social enterprise is very much on the rise the world over. Community, Social Conscious or non-profit cafes have been springing up all over the world in the last 10 years with many missions. Most cafes have a general mission to help with a charity or offer training to those in need for job skills, or any other great social combinations. Whatever the mission, these cafes are not just a soup kitchen affair. Some are trendy and well peopled with celebrities like George Clooney visiting them.

When traveling, consider helping support  the  local community there by eating at a sandwich shop that helps out a charity. True, you are on vacation maybe and want to spoil yourself with great food. Why not accomplish both a good budget food choice and one that helps out? Food can be good for the soul and helping communities the world over is a powerful statement for any traveler. Besides, just think of the conversations you will have. Talk to the staff, ask them what they are about.

So when you are traveling, key in social enterprise cafes and restaurants in searches to find the local ones. Enjoy your meal.

Check out some of the cities below to see how you can help.

London’s Best Community Cafes

Edinburgh’s Community Cafes – Comprehensive map and list of cafes for Scotland’s capitol.

Community Cafes in Glasgow

Inverness Velocity Cafe – I ate here, it was a good bite and hard to get in, very popular

Around the World

Let’s Eat Glasgow – Food Festival with Food Equality in Mind

Belfast Cafes

Galway