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Eating Our Feelings in Ireland

It is officially less than a month away from Christmas and what better way to celebrate than travelling to Christmas Markets in Ireland and eating kangaroo and venison burgers. Nothing says the holiday spirit quite like biting into Rudolph—and while the other reindeers may call him names, I shall only call him one: delicious.

My friend Victoria and I decided to tackle both of our Irish heritage by taking a tour with Bus2Alps. At first we only had plans to go to Dublin and Galway as the tour company’s plan dictates but then decided to fuck plans and go to Belfast as well.

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We started out day one by going on a walking tour after having met our six other roommates in the Generator Hostel. They were all American and female (an eery trend on our trip), who had come from their study abroads on this organized tour because, for this particular type of young woman, they prefer man-bun clad tour guides to listen to them giggle and cart them around long enough at each place to get a selfie there. You know the type.

The caption fits this kind of traveller perfectly.

Due to this I am now able to recreate a Long Island accent and feel a crippling disappointment in American’s education system after being asked, “What state is Toronto in?”, by one Mississippian backpacker.

After the tour we finished the evening with the Guinness Storehouse. Although it was pretty interesting to learn how beer is made in general, it felt rather masturbatory at times. I mean they had video clips with various hired actors inflating Guinness as the herald of Ireland’s prosperity and giving weird facts about the creator, Arthur Guinness. Did you know that he had twenty one children, ten of which survived to adulthood? I do now thanks to a clip of a random actress dressed up as a nurse. That may just come into use in Jeopardy?

Near the end I was pretty sure Guinness could cure cancer and be used as a penis enlarger. As well, for the love of god, do not touch the barley. Just don’t.

The next day we were dragged from our beds haggard after a night of drinking at the Temple Bar and trying to break into university awards ceremonies to load onto a tour bus for the Cliffs of Moher.

Okay, I’m a sarcastic shit and there is a lot I could say about the Cliffs of Moher, but honestly it was just really beautiful.

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Although, this place did have my “High Place Phenomenon” on red alert as I kept asking Victoria, “HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU THINK WERE DUMB ENOUGH TO GO TO THE EDGE?” as I pressed my back to the stone wall and spasmed every time someone even entertained the idea of standing near the edge for a selfie. I was having flashbacks of my second cousin dangling over the ledge of a cliff in Wales looking at the dead sheep at the bottom, reduced to little white flecks from so high up. Those sheep were made for those cliffs and are still dead. What chance do you think you have, oh feeble fingered human!?

My anxiety was calmed as we finished off in Galway and visited the first Christmas market. Corndogs, mulled wine, and fudge was had all around.

The mint and chocolate fudge tasted like Christmas and regret.

The mint and chocolate fudge tasted like Christmas and regret.

Now freed from the lynch mob of knit headband wearing, ugg-clad girls screeching, “PLAY P.S I LOVE YOU OR SO HELP ME GOD” at the poor solo male tour guide, we set our sights on Belfast.

Neither of us really knew what was there except there was some sort of weird connection to Titanic.

I will never get over this marketing slogan.

I will never get over this marketing slogan.

God, am I glad we took the receptionist’s advice at Lagan Backpackers. We didn’t really miss out by not going to it, and swung by to look at the Titanic’s sister ship the Nomadic for free instead. We now had fifteen pounds burning a hole in our pocket and was told by the same charming receptionist that Black Taxi Tours was the way to go. At fifteen pounds per person for an hour and a half… you could not spend your money any wiser in Belfast.

We were greeted by Bobby Walsh, a greyed man whose lack of dental care and bone-crushing game of handshake chicken told us immediately that we’d been given a real Belfaster. I impressed him by knowing that my favourite chef Anthony Bourdain had filmed with them and then immediately put in place when I loudly proclaimed I had British grandparents (hoping, I guess, to show how I had somehow carved out a little place for myself in history).

“Don’t go saying that too loud in these parts, okay?”

Bobby took us to the Catholic side first to show us the murals and the ridiculously large eleven meter wall that still runs through Belfast and is routinely locked at night. As we stared at the murals I pointed up to the names weaved into the mesh. “So… are those names of people who are in jail?”

He nodded but then pulled me closer by the elbow as a few people walked by. “Yes, and the Catholic side wants them out of jail, but honestly these people killed people. They shouldn’t be released.” His voice was conspiratorial and was quickly silenced by the cigarette he smoked during each of our stops.

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The hushed words put a certain tone to the whole tour. Bobby insisted that there wasn’t any trouble between the parts, and that may be exactly true, but there was a tension bubbling beneath the surface. Watching the gates close off two parts of the same town and then heading to the Protestant side and seeing their very vigil-esque murals with snipers and large faces of murders painted as glorified military commanders was unsettling to say the least.


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The fact that only 8% of students are integrated is a testament to the continuous segregation. As a baptized (although now atheist) Protestant myself, and Victoria being a Catholic by baptism, sitting side by side and listening to stories about people from “our sides” fire bombing and shooting each other really put the history in context in a very visceral way.

Belfast wasn’t all tension and religion though, and the parts that were were extremely fascinating. The Crown Bar was beautiful (though overpriced) with real gas lamps and private booths, and we were lucky enough to find another Christmas market, this time right smack in the middle of city hall.

The first thing we saw when we arrived was a paella stand that reminded us of our impending Spanish doom. Though once we were into the heart of the market and weaving through the slow trudge of people, we found ourself more food in the form of kangaroo burgers and kettle corn (which is so Christmas-y).

Eventually we had to head back to Dublin to catch our flights home and actually attend classes again. In summary my recommendations for Dublin and Belfast are:

DUBLIN

  • Visit O’Neill’s in Dublin for huge portions of really potato-heavy Irish fare
  • Visit the Temple Bar, no matter how touristy, during the evening when they have live music
  •  Take the trip to the Cliffs of Moher to make yourself feel tiny and insignificant

BELFAST

  • Go have a “proper Irish fry” at Maggie Mays for a few pounds (there are vegetarian options too!)
  • Take the Black Taxi Tour, but make sure you do it with a reputable company since there are many fakes… do your research!
  • Walk down to the SS Nomadic ship and take a look at it or take a cheaper tour, but don’t bother paying the fifteen pounds to visit the Titanic Museum unless you are a huge history buff

 

 

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The First Two Weeks – AKA Spanish Cults and Ethinic Segregation

Come to Spain they said, you’ll make loads of Spanish friends they said.

Ha.

I had spent the week at the hostel with my mother (who, by the way, did not end up throwing any tomatoes in La Tomatina) and had finished saying goodbye. I arrived at the residence late on a Sunday and was quickly whisked into the group of international students. Most are from the United States but my roommate is from Argentina and there are some others on the Erasmus program.

Everyone was super nice, and not that creepy “YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND (until we find people we actually have something in common with)” sort of friendly, but genuinely nice. We were eating large meals with primero and segundo plates together at the cafeteria, going out for croquettes and tapas, and drinking up on the roof of the residence. We even toured in Getafe together and saw the cute as hell floating umbrellas.

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Maybe we should have noticed that we were all put onto the same floor, or that there was a distinctive lack of Spanish students. 

Oh, we were blissfully unaware until the hoard arrived a few days later.

Suddenly it went from a cozy inclusive group with chummy dinners in English to swarms of tanned, skinny Spanish students ignoring our very existence and surrounding our table like a pack of lions around pale, uncultured gazelles.  

Then it got weird. Not only were we on a separate floor from the Spanish students, attended separate dorm meetings, ate at different tables, but according to the Spanish students, the international floor is known as “The Ghetto”. Apparently with all of us exchange students, smelling like hamburgers and sitting on our disposable travel money, congregated together in an area with numerous problems it is similar to a ghetto. Doors that work? Nope. Lights that don’t flicker? Nah. Actual useable WIFI? Hahaha, never.

All this tension and glaring between groups has sparked what I can only call “casual racism”. For example, today I mentioned taking a nap after having only four hours of sleep and the guy beside me scoffed and said, “Don’t take a nap, don’t be lazy like the Spanish.” 

Excuse me?

We international students bitched about no longer having the cafeteria to ourselves, complained about the laissez-faire approach to life of the Spanish, sneered that their women hike up their shorts until their asses hang out, and threw around words like “they” “those people” and my favourite “it’s how it is in this country”. Hell, I’m not innocent of it either. We say it like after having attended school for 2 weeks here that we are the cultural experts of their country.

It’s us and them, and it’s so fucking preschool.

But it became even more tense when the idea of hazing was introduced to the international students. Suddenly we were the pillars of morality. That would never happen in North America (and it does)! They better not touch us (and they didn’t)! How could they do that to the new students? How cruel. 

I thought it was a joke until I had two girls knocking on my door and asking me how old I was. When I mentioned I was a third year one of them sighed, “Great, so I guess I can’t make you do my dishes then.”

In truth there was hazing, just not towards us past some students trying to swindle dishwashing services out of our floor unsuccessfully.

It occurred out in a dusty dog park beside the Getafe residence. Freshmen students were put into circles in their pyjamas as the ring leaders holding nefarious amounts of alcohol starting picking out people for tasks.

It looked a little like a cult with the perfect boy-girl-boy-girl circles all nervous to be indoctrinated. Break out the cool aid!

Whipped cream nipple licking unfortunately not included in this picture.

Whipped cream nipple licking unfortunately not included in this picture.

But the boy who dragged us there insisted, “They love it.” Even if it felt weirdly morally ambiguous to watch 12-year-old looking girls lick whipped cream off a moaning boy’s nipples.

We did finally meet some Spanish students and while the hazing will never quite make sense (neither will having tomato sauce on rice), at least now Spanish and international students are beginning to feel comfortable enough to sit next to each other.

Provided there are at least two empty seats between them.

 

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Body-Slamming Spanish Cuisine

Countdown to lift-off: 131 days

I’m not yet close enough to my departure for Madrid to be focusing on packing, getting visas, or any of that other boring and mandatory crap. Instead I get to do what I always love to do: over prepare to the point of insanity.

When the first Hunger Games movie came out in theatres in true mimesis form my friends and I—a bunch of then 18-year-olds—went around the parking lot after the movie pretending to impale each with arrows and ranting about how long we’d live. It came down to my friend Matt living the longest because of his bloodlust and ability to disappear for months at a time. Where did I rank and how does this have to do with travelling? Hush sweet reader, for I shall get there soon. For myself I loudly proclaimed I, with my ambition, patience and inflated sense of self worth, would surely get to the final four. “Oh no”, they claimed, “Christ, you wouldn’t even make it out of the cornucopia.” I demanded an explanation only to be told, “You’d rush right into the cornucopia and proceed to try and pack everything into your bag until you were gutted. You’d totally be like “wait, I may need these five different throwing daggers, this camp stove, maybe a spear—no wait, I totally will need two spears incase one gets lost”.”

On evaluation it was scarily accurate.

I’m sure there are many other people out there who have a similar problem and would be helicopter lifted out of the cornucopia along with me. As a previous entry mentioned, this really does bleed into my style of travelling and pre-travel planning.

So with Spain finally in my vision I am currently at the cornucopia of knowledge, shoving every fact I can into my hideous metaphorical fanny pack. My current unhealthy obsession is…

GIVE ME BOOKS ON CHEESE, GIVE ME WEBPAGES ON COOKING SCHOOLS IN MADRID, PLEASE SPANISH FOOD GODS LET ME DEVOUR EVERY PIECE OF KNOWLEDGE ON SPANISH CUISINE. I WANT TO DEVOUR SO MUCH PAELLA MY STOMACH SPLITS OPEN, I MUST DINE IN BOTIN, FEED ME JAMÓN AND PULPO A LA GALLEGA.

Ahem.

I’m pretty fucking stoked to be able to write about the food while I’m there, but in the meantime I’m going to mention some of the resources I’ve been ploughing through recently in preparation for the Spanish portion of my eight months abroad (Italy and Germany will be next on my hit list).

The first book I bought, which is applicable to all of my stops, is the “Food Lovers Guide To The World” by Lonely Planet. It is a fantastic resource with recipes, recommended culinary pitstops, where to find the best of the best along with food-related festivals in each of the areas it reviews.

Here is the introduction page for Spain, giving an idea of the super pretty pictures and information. (As a note, I will probably be including a few recipes from these books in a later post!)

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets... I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets… I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

The next thing I slit open my wallet and shook it’s near empty contents onto a counter for was “Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Costal Waters of Andalucía” by Jeff Koehler.

 

The photos in this book are incredible and while it may not have the level of information that the Food Lovers book does, it has so, so many recipes.

Look how colourful and pretty!

Look how colourful and pretty!

This is of course on top of web resources like About.com and Spain’s Official Tourism Website. I also bought “Cheese for Dummies” and have been studying up on different Spanish cheeses (who can believe that there is more than just manchego!?). If you have any other awesome books on Spanish cuisine of any kind, please do tell! This of course is on top of struggling, emphasis on struggling, to learn Spanish through Duolingo¿El perro come un niño? I fear for when I’ll ever need to use this sentence.

Pretty much in the past few weeks since I finished my huge chunk of exams I have been trying to really learn as much as I can about Spain, with a giant emphasis on its food. The only downside is the more I learn about their food, the more I begin to hate Canada and our lack of a cultural cuisine presence. Sure Madrid isn’t as fancy with their cocino and stews but it sure as hell beats poutine, maple syrup and ketchup chips (shhh, I’m so sorry poutine I don’t mean any of it). Then again, perhaps it is all about perspective. Having worked with many ESL students at my past job it’s surprising to hear about people studying up on so-called “Canadian cuisine” before coming here with the same fervour as I am currently studying Spanish cuisine. Maybe… just maybe… if I spent this much time learning about my own country I could learn about all the great foods that Canada has to offer….

Nah.