Around Dublin in five statues

Dublin has given birth to many characters over the years be they political, fictional, literary, or just those who could turn a good phrase so it was inevitable that the town’s statuary would be plentiful. The locals often give the statues rude but humorous nicknames. On my first trip to my ancestral homeland this summer, I found that the statues are also a useful tool for drunken navigation on the way home from the Temple Bar district. So here I present my top five, complete with the local nicknames.

 Oscar Wilde by Danny Osborne (1997) in Merrion Square Park

I came across ‘The Fag on the Crag’ while lost on my way to meet friends at ‘The Tart with the Cart’ (see below). It turns out that Oscar’s childhood home was 1 Merrion Square so here he is, on the corner near the house. The great aesthete reclines louchely in coloured stone with a bemused smirk crossing his lips (well they did place a naked female statue in his line of vision), rendering everyone who looks at him very unintelligent and inarticulate.

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Michael Collins by Dick Joynt (1990) in Merrion Square Park

We found this sculpture at the other end of the park while sheltering from one of the frequent Dublin downpours. Michael Collins doesn’t get a witty nickname, perhaps because he was politically important to the country (he was the first President of the Irish Republic) but probably because he was assassinated. You forget how young he was (just 31 and engaged to be married) and this bust makes ‘The Big Fella’ look years older. He obviously packed a lot into those years because so many pubs are named after him; in fact I first met my husband in one of those pubs so fate led us here to pay our respects.

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Molly Malone by Jeanne Rynhart (1988) on Grafton Street

Obviously two things stand out about Molly – the attention to period detail and the beggar who ‘haunts’ her, charging tourists to pose…no I can’t lie, it’s the breasts. Rynhart insists that Molly’s low-cut top is in line with the fashion of the times which enabled easy breast-feeding but ‘Cockles and Mussels’ infers that Molly is a fish monger by day and prostitute by night, hence her local nickname ‘The Tart with the Cart’/ ‘The Bitch with the Hitch.’ In the song Molly dies of a fever and Dubliners regard the song as an unofficial anthem even though there is no historical certainty that she even existed. But for all the tragedy and enigma surrounding Molly, the breasts were all that mattered to the male members of our group – “Yeah we’ll meet you at that boob statue.”

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Phil Lynott by Paul Daly (2005) on Harry Street

‘The Ace with the Bass’ is situated near the Bruxelles pub, once a renowned rock venue, now something of a generic après-work bar. Sometimes the statue is lost among the Saturday market carts which is a shame. Phil was the man who came up with the quip: ‘Any girls here got a little Irish in them? Any girls want some?’ He died of a drug overdose in 1986 and since then his memory as a talented bassist and frontman has been somewhat lost amongst bad cover versions of ‘Old Town’ (will The Corrs never leave it alone?) until 2005 when Paul Daly made sure this Boy Is Back In Town. Being a shameless Thin Lizzy fan, I was very excited to see Phillo and the statue reflects his flamboyant sense of style. While reading up on the public opinion of this piece, I found this gem: “Why can’t there be more statues with afros?” Why indeed.

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Jesus of the Taxi Drivers on Upper O’Connell Street

Not strictly a statue, more of a shrine. I had no idea that taxi driving was such a dangerous business – this makes O’Connell Street look like Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet but ultimately is more Father Ted. Lynne Truss would have a heart attack at the grammatical errors on the dedicatory plaque.

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SIX-RESIZED-e1323032146937This is Irish eccentricity through and through. Coincidentally, while photographing Jesus, I also happened to witness the crucifixion…

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O’Connell Street is officially the most random street on Earth.

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Watching the Northern Lights… from an Igloo

Finland may not be the most conventional destination for a winter trip abroad, but the northernmost region, home to Finnish Lapland, makes for one of the most unique locations in which to witness the Aurora Borealis – more commonly known as the Northern Lights. One of most spectacular natural phenomena in the world, the Northern Lights can be viewed from several locations along the Arctic Circle including Norway, Sweden and Iceland. But can those sites really beat Finland’s Hotel Kakslauttanen, which offers visitors a crystal clear view of nature’s finest light show from their very own private igloos? The village of Saariselkä, where the hotel is situated, may not be the easiest to reach (after flying to Helsinki, visitors must take a connecting flight to Ivalo airport before using the hotel’s shuttle bus), but the journey does have its rewards – never has the proverb “good things come to those who wait” seemed so true!

Glass-Igloos-with-Magnificent-Northern-Lights-Views-in-Finland.(The most popular, and most spectacular place to view the northern lights – a glass igloo. unofficialnetworks.com)

The accommodation on offer at Hotel Kakslauttanen offers one of the Arctic Circle’s best views of the Northern Lights: visitors can choose to stay in a full snow igloo, a glass igloo or the slightly less adventurous (but nonetheless authentic) traditional Lappish log cabin. The most sought-after option – the glass igloo – is fitted with thermal glass walls and ceilings which insulate it to keep it warm and cosy despite outside temperatures reaching minus 30C in peak season. The glass also contains a frost preventative to ensure the ceilings remain clear, allowing only the very best views of the skies above. With night-time accommodation covered, the hotel also provides activities for visitors during the day, including a visit to their ice bar, ice-sculpting classes and even personal husky or reindeer safaris, where guests are pulled along in their own sleigh.

The hotel is located in Finland’s Saariselkä region, which lies within the Kekonnen National Park. Opportunities within the park include snowmobile trips for the adrenaline-junkie or skiing trips for those seeking an active break. While in the region you’ll also get the chance to visit some of Finland’s local Sami people, an indigenous tribe whose customs and traditions really do contrast with contemporary Finnish ways of life. Saariselkä is also home to the country’s most celebrated restaurants, with local delicacies including salmon from the nearby River Tenojoki, or sautéed reindeer (though maybe one to avoid if you’ve just finished the reindeer safari…). On a broader scale, the hotel also lies within the Inari municipality, the largest region in Finland. Its impressive road networks and location in the Arctic Corridor mean it is an ideal base-of-operations if you’re planning on exploring neighbouring countries such as Norway and northwest Russia. Imagine: it might just be the perfect Arctic road trip!

Northern-Lights(One of nature’s most stunning wonders – the Aurora Borealis. http://www.dialaflight.com/)

The result of colliding gaseous particles, the Northern Lights last from between several seconds to two minutes in duration, and occur during Finland’s high season, between December and April. Because we’re talking about one of the world’s natural wonders, the hotel naturally can’t guarantee sightings of the lights, but staff do still keep watch and quickly ring a bell to signal when they are visible. The winter months are also the time of Kaamos, where at approximately 2pm everyday between December and January, everything (including the sky and snow) turns blue – it’s another spectacular natural phenomenon. Despite Finland being known for its dazzlingly white snow in winter, it is also a land of four sharply contrasting seasons. After winter comes the awakening of nature in spring, followed by the summer months of May to August in which temperatures can reach 30C and the sun does not set at all, hence Finland’s nickname, “Land of the Midnight Sun”. In Finnish folklore, however, the most celebrated season is autumn, owing to its striking colours: the leaves turn blazing shades of orange and red and contrast sharply with the crisp snow. This time of year is known as Ruska, which literally means “autumn colours”.

Is-Finland-a-boring-country-travel-Finland-trip-hottrip_net1(Not fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights? Don’t worry! Kaamos will surround you with the next-best natural phenomenon. http://hottrip.net/)

Seeing the Northern Lights first hand has a place on many people’s wishlists. But just imagine how spectacular it would all look through the roof of your very own igloo! Finland’s unique location offers visitors both an insight into contemporary Scandinavian life as well as the chance to admire some incredible natural beauty. There surely aren’t that many other destinations that can offer variety like that.

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The Schnitzelburger – Sweden vs. Germany

You’ve been on a night out, consumed far too much alcohol and are now in desperate need of sustenance. You stumble into the nearest fast food shop and, blinded by the ultraviolet lights above the counter, decide that you’ll select a large portion of junk to take home with you in a bid to absorb that last shot of tequila. But what to choose?

You crave a doner kebab smeared with garlic and chilli sauce, a pizza adorned with layer upon layer of as many toppings as you can handle, a tender doorstep of a burger littered with fresh salad and golden chips with smudges of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup, a juicy, cheese-covered chicken parmo and the glistening crispiness of deep-fried chicken. These are the foodstuffs of the modern drunken Brit. They’re dirt-cheap, deeply satisfying and readily available from dusk until dawn. When we really begin to think about it though, the above descriptions of said foodstuffs rarely match the item we finally receive. In reality the kebab is slimy, the pizza reminiscent of a cardboard cut-out from a recipe book, the burger tough and flat, the chips appearing as appealing as water-logged cigarette butts, the parmo an artery-clogging slice of sorrow and the fried chicken tepid, stringy and riddled with gristle.

photo-1224(This greasy monster has nothing on the Schnitzel alternative. www.pistonheads.com)

Following an experience of European post-alcohol cuisine however, I discovered what is missing from the UK. It is true that any item of junk food purchased at 4am after having been reheated several times that day is unlikely to be a taste sensation, but this is not the most disturbing problem within the fast food industry in the UK. The real issue here is that the UK, as a nation, does not include in its typical culinary endeavours the finest late-night morsel of all: the Schnitzel Burger.

Running through a downpour of torrential rain in Gothenburg following an evening out, I spotted a beacon of hope and salvation: the fast food stall on the corner of Engelbrektsgatan, open until 6am. The seductive smells trickled out into the street, intensified by the dampness in the air. Stood under the canopy and gazing bleary-eyed at the menu, we managed to order through deploying a combination of slurred English and broken Swedish. What we received was what we believed to be the holy grail of all burgers.

Now a schnitzel is, essentially, an escalope, at least when speaking in German terms. The traditional dish Wiener Schnitzel features an escalope of veal, however the word “schnitzel” in broader terms now denotes a cut of boneless meat flattened with a hammer and fried in breadcrumbs. The Schnitzel Burger might now be made from chicken and pork, and on this occasion we chose chicken as this is what was offered. The girl serving us was surprisingly cheerful given the time and the weather, and looked vaguely bemused at the looks of wonder on our faces as she passed us our order.

Schnitzel-Burger(This mouthwatering, double-delight is the Swedish Schnitzel Burger. blog.cityeats.com)

Not one, but two enormous chicken escalopes were wedged on top of one another into a soft, fluffy buttered white bread roll. A delicious blanket of béarnaise sauce oozed over the chicken. The fresh, crisp lettuce and onion weaved through the succulent tomato and crunchy cucumber. Best of all though, hidden in the depths of all this lay a monstrous heap of bacon and blue cheese. Unsurprisingly, this burger requires two hands with which to clasp it. Enormous, packed with flavour and utterly sumptuous in every sense of the word, it nestled in my palms, a great heap of decadence. We declared then and there that we loved it, and the country from which it came. The Swedes are hugely friendly and accommodating people from my experience, and certainly deliver when it comes to good food. Little did we know however that on leaving Gothenburg for Berlin, we would encounter another of these wondrous burgers, done almost entirely differently.

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We sat outside a bar on Kurfurstendamm, Berlin. As seems customary in some establishments in Berlin, we were given fresh, fleecy blankets to encase ourselves in as the night drew colder. The perils of being not only an outdoors person but also a smoker are significantly lessened when the staff voluntarily provide this level of comfort. After the fourth carafe of red wine we chose to head back to our hotel, but not before exploring the small food stall by the roadside. An ageing man sat reading a newspaper on a stool and, speaking with a broad East German accent, enquired as to what we would like to eat. Having had yet another conversation that evening reminiscing about the delights of the Swedish Schnitzel Burger, we vowed to order one then and there. Purely for comparison’s sake, of course.

20120611-223350(The German’s take on a Schnitzel Burger with a slightly smaller bun. aimakan.wordpress.com)

Again we received two enormous pieces of chicken schnitzel which basked on a bread roll. The roll, however, was distinctly small in comparison to the escalopes this time, and so the chicken poked out at either end amusingly. Struggling slightly to understand the man serving us over the noise of the traffic, we nodded repeatedly as he gestured to several trays of condiments. He grabbed a ladle and soaked the burger in a fluorescent yellow curry sauce, similar to coronation sauce but without the raisins cruelly lurking within. Following this, he scooped up a large dollop of pure white garlic sauce and spread it on top, garnished it with raw red and white cabbage and finally gave it a generous sprinkling of strong parmesan cheese.

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Home, in an area of East London dominated by fried chicken shops, we long for the Schnitzel Burger. For us, it is symbolic. Discovering local food when abroad is an element of travel not to be forgotten, particularly when there is the chance to compare a certain dish in different areas. The Swedish Schnitzel Burger was like a warm, comforting cuddle, in line with the free, relaxing atmosphere of the country itself and the genuine loveliness of its people. It almost represents the Swedish attitude towards life in general – to be comfortable, at peace and generally content. The German Schnitzel Burger has more of a kick, and there is a strange tension between the flavours similar to the tension one feels when considering Germany as a whole. It bites back, it feels like an odd hybrid of things which wouldn’t usually mix, as though it has been re-mastered in order to appear more ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ in a bid to erase tradition and history.

Ultimately, the Swedish Schnitzel Burger has to win hands down. Not just for the taste, but equally for the fact that it is so endearing and so enormously vast, not dissimilar to Sweden as a country. A vast, sweeping place littered with gems of people who never fail to make one smile, Sweden is undoubtedly one of the most uplifting places to visit. And if only so that you can try the Schnitzel Burger for yourself, I highly recommend that you give the country a go.

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How to save money in Argentina

I woke up to a panicked text from my friend the other week asking ‘how much did you budget for Argentina?!?!’. She was about to book her flights to South America and understandably money was really playing on her mind…

ATM (source- marksmanuk via flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

As a student though, when isn’t money a concern? There’s always the balance between eating rice and kidney beans for yet another day to justify buying an extra pint. When travelling, the question is often more like ‘if flights cost this much, how long can I survive out there on this minuscule lump of returned rent deposit?’. If you’re like Stef and are panicking about whether you should go to – insert country – at all just buy your flights. You’ll be fine! Well, that’s if you’re willing to be as much as a “cheaps-kate” as me (yes, I really have earned that title by being stingy). Admittedly, my claim of budgeting wisdom may seem a little arrogant without any context; surely any travel guide or person who has travelled even a little can give you the same guidance as I can? Doubtful, unless, like me, those people have left their bank card in an ATM a mere week into their journey. Credentials established, I’ve got a few ideas for how to occupy your time, feed yourself and, most importantly, have fun for next to no money.

Finding food

One of the first practical ways to save money is by cutting down the amount you’re spending on food. I actually found this pretty easy as, unlike most of the hostels I’d visited in Europe, breakfast is free. First meal of the day done! Standards vary but at the very least there will be a few rolls of bread and some sachets of dulche de leche. Bread and spread? Well, then you have lunch right there. A big chain hostel is not going to notice bread and a banana or two going missing. Though of course, I would say that this isn’t a good plan in a smaller, less successful hostel. At the end of the day,you just need to be considerate to individuals such as small business owners – gauge the appropriateness of a ‘packed lunch’ carefully. There is a time to be a budget queen, and a time to be generous with whatever you can. Going back to our big hostels though! Their bountiful food is also perfect for another purpose – the dulce de leche makes nice presents for everyone at home. Another way in which big hostels can save you money is through free airport transfers: right from the airport to your hostel door, saving you money before you even arrive properly.

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A Heads-Up about Cuba

With the political landscape changing and (gasp) modern cars invading the streets, the residents of this Caribbean nation will be happy to tell you what they think about the direction their country is headed in. That’s why I’d recommend you spend no more time thinking “I’ll go to Cuba one day” and go right now. Stay in ‘casas familiares’ to get a taste of Cuban home life and ask people what they think. In the meantime, here are a few other bits and bobs that you should be prepared for.

Cuban cars (source- jeminke via Flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster is an everyday lunch

Aside from getting a closer insight into Cuban family life, staying in a casa familiar means that your hosts will prepare meals for you, included in the price of staying. We were slightly taken aback when asked for the first time (of many), “What would you like for lunch today, ham or lobster?” Umm…we’ll go for the lobster please.

Even touristy beaches are deserted at sunset

As well as the chance to explore Havana and see some Cuban countryside, we were keen to sample Cuba’s postcard beaches. Going for the easy option as we were packing this all into a pretty short trip, we stayed in Varadero, one of the island’s popular resorts. There was no disappointment, however – postcard beaches indeed. During the day we were surrounded by both Cuban and foreign tourists, but as dusk set in the beach cleared up and all you could see for miles was the sand, sea and sunset.

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