Absinthe-minded

I was eating peanut butter sandwiches everyday at my middle school cafeteria when Anthony Bourdain started making a name for himself, but I still had the same initial reactions to him when I became interested in food writing and watching as the foodie world did about five or six years later than the initial Bourdain breakout. When I watched the pilot episode of No Reservations on Netflix, I ended up more impressed with Bourdain than the food he tried. He seemed like the most badass of chefs, with the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips and the small silver hoop dangling from his earlobe.

In the world of Emerils and Mario Batalis, he was the food world’s Keith Richards and I was the little girl falling in love all the way at the very back of the concert hall.

When I started planning my Parisian 4-month vacation, I rewatched that episode again. I knew that I might not be able to afford to visit all of the bars and restos and patisseries and boulangeries that Bourdain did, but I definitely had to go to that absinthe bar.

And two months in, when I watched it again, I felt like such an insider that I scoffed at Bourdain’s recommendation that taxis are an easy way to get around Paris and could pick out neighborhoods and streets that he passed by. But then I deflated when I realized that no, I hadn’t actually gone to that absinthe bar yet and only had a month or so left to do it.

As I wrote in a previous post, suddenly it was  Thanksgiving—aka, Thursday, in Paris. I had gotten a little taste of the holiday and its tradition the Wednesday before at a little potluck dinner thrown at my school, but I still wanted to do something. And I thought, if I can’t have all of my Thanksgiving traditions, then I’m going to do something so outrageously un-Thanksgiving like that there’s no way I’ll be able to get homesick.

The outside. You can already tell it's pretty badass.

The outside. You can already tell it’s pretty badass.

Using that brilliant logic, I ended up suggesting the absinthe bar to my friends.

I sent over the Youtube clip of the bar scene—and my friends actually took the time to watch it, which usually doesn’t happen (to be fair, I do love sending Youtube videos).

“We’re not actually going to hallucinate like that, right?” one friend asked.

“Nah, of course not,” I said. “We don’t have the special camera effects Bourdain did.”

We also didn’t have the illegal, pre-prohibition absinthe that he did, either.

The bar looked pretty kitchsy in the video—low lighting, skeleton decorations, cartoon pornography featuring hot naked demon ladies. The website was equally bizarre. The “philosophy” of the bar is to be exactly what a “rock ‘n’ roll” bar should be like—but also being “punk rock” and “metal” at the same time.

IMG_9639

I made sure I wore my leather jacket—but it’s a jean-colored fake leather jacket cut in the style of a jeans jacket, so I was nowhere near the leather daddy/witch goddess fashion of all of the bar patrons.

And this was something I picked up as soon as I walked through the door—although that could have been because a woman with piles of dark hair messily held on the top of her head laughed and said, “Come on, kids” in French as we walked by her.

Yeah, not exactly the kind of welcoming I wanted.

Later, my friend confessed, “As soon as I walked through the door, I wanted to bolt out of there.”

But we soldiered on, trying not to stare at the demon porn or all of the leather. It’s funny, because there are a lot of bars in Paris that try to capitalize on the coolness of rock or Anglophilia and call themselves “bar du rock” or a “bar du punk.” But La Cantada II really was a metal bar, sure, but the people here were older, in their thirties and forties. The Oberkampf/Parmentier neighborhood the bar is in is really known for being the cool hangout place for the young hipsters and “bobos,” and we quickly decided that we were at the bar these people went to when they got too old or too creepy.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you're cleared by the bouncer.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you’re cleared by the bouncer.

I felt like I was back working at the record store I worked at in high school—once again, I was the only natural blonde there with no piercings, no tattoos, and no way of ever intimidating anyone ever. Except now, my friends were with me and there’s always strength in numbers, I guess.

We timidly approached the bar, and I was thrown once again when I didn’t see a menu for absinthe. Sure, I saw the absinthe bottles and the antiquated “Absinthe” sign, but I didn’t see prices or names for absinthes, only for beers, mixed drinks, and wines. I started internally freaking out—I brought my friends here, I was the one pushing for the bar, and then there wasn’t any absinthe?

The bartender approached us, and I was so busy being surprised at how he looked exactly like Harris from Freaks and Geeks would look as a thirtysomething bartender at an absinthe bar that I fumbled and just said, in French, “Good evening, it’s our first time here and …”

He immediately interrupted me and said, in English, “You came for absinthe,” as he grabbed a laminated absinthe menu from behind the bar.

It was that obvious. We were one of those American tourists who wandered in because of Anthony Bourdain. But really, how many twenty-year-old girl American tourists can say that?

No, you're not hallucinating, there's a coffin in the corner.

No, you’re not hallucinating, there’s a coffin in the corner.

The names of the absinthes meant nothing to us, as did the country of origin listed in parentheses. What did interest us were the prices (less than 5 euros for most of the glasses—a better bargain than most alcoholic drinks at bars here) and the alcohol content (around 60 to 70 %). But when the bartender came back a couple minutes later, we still had no clue what we were doing.

“What’s the best drink for our first time?” we asked, since giving us the menu really didn’t help us out.

He pointed to the “Mata Ari,” which was 4,80 euros so we felt confident that he wasn’t trying to rip us off.

I’d Google the drink later, and apparently it’s a bohemian absinthe without the pedigree of a French or Swiss absinthe, which means it’s more like a wormwood bitter than the proper anise absinthe. But to my newborn absinthe palette, it was a pretty good starting off drink.

Who am I kidding—anything would have been a pretty good starting off drink. I started giggling as soon as the bartender pulled out the old-time water drippers. Everything about this bar and this drink was becoming an experience in itself.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

He poured a little bit of absinthe—not even a full shot—into a fancy glass, and then took out a triangular log with holes in it to lay across the rim of the glass. A small sugar cube was then placed on top of that, and then the water from the water dripper slowly dissolved the sugar into the absinthe.

The resulting color of the drink was a pale mint—not the bright green I was expecting. It tasted a lot of black licorice, but in a way that I could easily drink (I always give the black licorice anything to my mom, can’t stand the stuff). And this is something that is not something that should be easily drank in large quantities. I went home after one drink, not even wanting to try another because I just felt heavy and thick.

Maybe it’s because of all the pancakes I like to eat on brunch excursions, but has anyone ever described food as “sitting on your stomach?” Well, because absinthe definitely sits on your liver. I think people would have to be crazy just to drink large amounts of absinthe. I’m glad I went to an absinthe bar, and I would definitely drink absinthe again, but it’s a one-time-only per occasion kind of drink for me.

But I still like absinthe. Like many people before me, I only knew about absinthe because of its scandalous reputation, not because of its taste. It was only a friend of a friend, with those “friends” being Anthony Bourdain and Oscar Wilde as the people I most associated with absinthe. But now I’d say that absinthe and me are acquaintances, and it’s always nice making friends at bars.

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Election Night in Paris: American? You’re on the V.I.P list!

When I registered for my absentee ballot in the summer, I didn’t really think about what it would be like to vote outside of the United States or be outside of the country on Election Night.

I applied for it when I was in the middle of filling out a bunch of other paperwork for studying abroad and then scanning it and sending a copy to each parent. At that moment, and in that state of mind, it was just another piece of paper requiring my social security number—nothing more, nothing less.

This apathy righted itself as soon as I came over to Paris. But even then I didn’t become swept into the upcoming election by choice or desire; it was the French pushing me into caring about it, or at least carrying on a conversation about it.

One of the first things my host father asked me at our first dinner the day I moved in was whether I would be voting for “Rom-i-ney or O-bahm-a.” Later, my host mother would ask if I did everything I needed to in order to get my ballot. And when I did email in my ballot (thanks, always-forward-thinking Massachusetts), I knew I would have to tell her and I did—twice, since she wanted me to explain it to her husband at dinner that night after I had already described it to her when I came home from school.

My very liberal, very politically minded parents—my host mom went to a protest once, even though she’s in her ‘60s … and she judged me so hard when she asked me about Occupy Wall Street and I had to confess that I never actually participated it. So in the beginning, at least, I thought that maybe it was just them. At that time, it was only a couple weeks into the program and I hadn’t had any conversations with French people who weren’t required to talk to me because of their job (i.e. my professors and people behind the counter, whether the counter was in a restaurant or a clothing boutique).

But then I learned that I was being silly. French people liked talking to be about Obama and the election, and I’m assuming that it’s simply because I was American. Even if people didn’t know enough English to carry on a conversation with me, they knew enough to say “OBAMA!!!!!” and shake their fists in the air like they were Rocky in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  And the ones that did know English felt more than comfortable in their language skills to start a political conversation with me—and even the ones who didn’t speak English knew enough to try and start a political conversation in French with me, those poor, unsuspecting people.

No matter who I was talking to or where it was taking place, I always felt guilty, because I never felt as impassioned as my conversational partner did.

Most of the time, they would just talk about how great Obama is or how terrible Romney is. No one ever mentioned Dubya, for all of the stuff he did to make the French hate him. In these occasions, I would just shake my head and say “Oui, je suis d’accord avec toi”—which in my translation means “Yes, I agree with you, so there’s no need to keep talking about this!!”

But then there would be someone who knew facts and percentages and could quote from the debates and knew where the candidates were speaking that day. Those would be my oh shit moments. Oftentimes, they’d know more about the election or the candidates’ talking points before I did.

My host mom would stay up late to listen to coverage about the debate on the radio, and I would have nothing to contribute when she would ask me about it the next day. Sure, I’d watch the video the next day, but I wouldn’t stay up late to stream it live or wake up early the next day to watch it before school. And every time I had to explain this to her, I felt like she was disappointed in me.

I never encouraged these conversations. Even in America, I would never start a political debate or mention politics. I never liked debating in the political science class I took in high school that took place in Massachusetts after Ted Kennedy died and before Scott Brown was elected as senator.

But because I’m American, it’s not only assumed that I would want to talk about Obama, or that I would be capable of having something to say about Obama. I found this to be truer the closer it got to November 6, 2012.

And then once it did get to Election Day—or night, in my case—then I got the biggest idea of what is expected of me as an American abroad.

It was my Irish professor that first told me about Harry’s New York Bar, the American bar famous mostly for three things:

1.) It was one of the many hangout bars of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But a lot of bars can claim that in Paris. So …

2.) It is the birthplace of the bloody Mary and was the first place in Paris to sell hot dogs. But I don’t like tomato juice and I always publically say that I don’t like hot dogs. So that leaves us with …

3.) Since the Hemingway/Fitzgerald times, it has conducted these straw polls for presidential elections that only Americans could vote in. During the whole 80-something year history the results have only been wrong twice, in 1976 and 2004.

When I googled this point, I read on blogs that it’s usually pretty hard to get into Harry’s New York Bar on election night, since the actual bar itself is reserved for V.I.Ps and media types. But I also read that the whole street is closed off and there are giant screens that play CNN all night, so I thought it’d be fun to check it out with a couple of friends.

The outside of the bar. Note the bouncer/boxed-off section.

When we got there, we saw that the boxed-off smoking section outside the bar had a bouncer in front of it, and the makeshift entrance had two people with clipboards standing in front of it. I didn’t even now what to call a V.I.P in French to try and worm my way inside, and I didn’t have my “News Editor” press badge from The Triangle, not that I thought it would work. But it wasn’t too cold out and we were waiting for some friends to arrive, so we just stood outside the bar and talked about how we weren’t hearing any English from the people loitering in the streets.

We probably would have done that all night, except then this woman came up to us and said, in stilted French English, that she did PR for the bar and they needed to fill their American quota and we were American, right? Yes? Well, then, would we like to go inside and maybe talk to the media? There will be free champagne!

Obviously, we said “Oui.”

All in all, there were nine of us American girls, and when I brushed past the people waiting in line to get to the bar I reflected on the irony that we were being brought inside not because of our looks, but because we would be good interview subjects.

How many other girls can say that, am I right?????

He doesn’t look too happy about giving away all of that free champagne.

I’d say that media types cornered us as soon as we walked in the door … but for me, there was a guy with a camera tapping my shoulder as I waited in line to get through the door.

“American?” he asked.

I nodded. Le Duh.

And he continued to ask, all in French, if he could talk to me. Okay, I said. And then he started asking all of these questions.

Who did I vote for? Where was I from? Who did I think was going to win? Was I stressed about the election? What was I doing later that night (in terms of the election)? What was it like being abroad on Election Night? How long had I been in Paris? What was I doing over here?

“You speak very good French,” he told me after I stumbled through those answers, which would be hard for me to answer in my own language. “Can I record you now?”

“Um … I have friends inside. I’ll see if they want to talk too. You can ask all of us,” I said, hoping then the spotlight would be taken off me and some of my more politically-minded friends could take over for me.

He grinned. “Parfait!” he said, and followed me the two steps I could make into the door. And I did find two friends—two out of the nine who weren’t already talking to reporters—to cover for me. But after we all said our names (for me, this was the first time the guy even asked my name) and they realized this interview would be in French, they pretty much ran away, leaving me with this guy and the camera he was holding about six inches away from my face. Thanks, guys.

So he asked me the same questions he did outside and I gave my same answers.

The famous straw poll box.

I voted for Obama, and I thought he was going to win. I was from Massachusetts—the state where Boston is. I was nervous about the election, but not enough to stay up all night and watch the results because I had class the next day, because I am a student studying French in Paris. This was the first presidential election I ever voted in and it was a little sad that I wasn’t in my country the night of the election but I was glad to be in a country that cared about the election as much as France.

Then he said okay, and I asked what this was for. Le Parisien online, he said—aka, one of the major French newspapers. It should be up tomorrow, he said. And then he thanked me and ducked out of the bar.

When I met up with my friends, they were watching the bartender pour us free glasses of champagne. And as we sipped the drink, we talked about how weird it was that we all had to give interviews—and then, how unfair it was that most people’s interviews were in English! Some people spoke to Reuters, others spoke to a French radio channel. I was the only one with the newspaper.

I understand why we were singled out. A tour around the bar would reveal that it was still mostly French media types, and the little bit of English we heard were coming from old people. In this campaign, as young girls, we were the perfect people to give sound bites. But it felt really weird to be twenty years old and considered an expert on American politics, especially just because I am American!

I didn’t get to fill out the straw poll for the bar. And I didn’t want to, after I saw my friends and other American girls who came in later do it and get swarmed by French people, media or not, recording the moment with video cameras and regular cameras and even iPhones.

The bar was tiny and crowded and hot, and no one talked to us for the hour we spent there. Once we were recorded, we were no one. We sipped the last of our free champagne knowing that we wouldn’t be able to go to the bar and get a refill now that the PR lady was standing next to a new group of American girls. It was awkward, but I was glad because it meant I didn’t have to talk about Obama for a while.

They had all of the state flags in the bar. Including Massachusetts!

And since CNN wasn’t even talking about the election since there was still almost two hours until the first polling station closed, there really was no reason to be there anymore. When someone suggested we go, I went.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good night. I got into a bar I didn’t think I would be able to get into. I got a free drink. And not only was I interviewed by a major newspaper, but the whole thing was conducted in French and I was able to keep up and sound reasonably competent. It was a personal success and I hoped the good luck would transfer over to Obama.

I woke up at 6 a.m. to check the results—Obama won!—and then went back to sleep at 6:03. I’m gonna need to know everything about the election for breakfast tomorrow, I thought to myself.

And it was “OBAMA!” as soon as I walked up the stairs. And I had to explain that I won because a Democratic state senator was elected in Massachusetts. And I had to try and explain what the electoral college system was like and how technically there are people who vote for us.

When I searched Le Parisien the next morning, I didn’t see a video of me—or anything from Harry’s New York Bar—on the homepage, or in the search results.

Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

P.S. One of the girls in my program got interviewed and literally this is all the article says:

Champagne toasts accompanied by cheers of “Four more years!” broke out in Paris at 5:20 a.m. local time, when President Barack Obama’s re-election was announced at a results-watching party in a chic nightclub just off the Champs Elysees.

Gabriela Reno, 20, applauded with a group of other American exchange students who’d spent the entire night watching returns come in at an event sponsored by the Democrats and Republicans Abroad.

Reno and her friends didn’t spend a lot of time celebrating, though.

“We’ve got class at 11 a.m.,” Reno said, as the partygoers filed out into the dark pre-dawn Paris streets.

See? All you need to do is find an American girl, and baby, you’ve got an election-night article going.

Top Ten of Dublin Roundup

After a twenty-hour nap taken as soon as I washed all of the Irish grime off of me at my French homestay, I finally feel capable of at least beginning to document the eight days I spent in Dublin. I thought I would do a day-by-day post, but that proved very unlikely once I was in bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. every day—often leaving the hostel at 10 a.m. and not coming back for another 12 hours. So I’ll just write a ginormous post about my ten favorite parts about the trip and that’s that.

My Top Ten of Dublin:

1. Dublin Pass

-My friends and I bought the Dublin Pass, which is a card that lets you get into museums and most tourist attractions (Guinness and Jameson, for the best deal) for free and get deals or discounts at other places, like a free coffee and cake at the famous (and kind of fancy!) Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street. A lot of museums in Dublin are free, like the Natural Museum of Archaeology or the Chester Beatty Library, but with the Dublin Pass you got additional deals, like 10 free post cards. We got a deal for 6 days of sightseeing for about 60 euro and when we added up everything at the end of the trip, we more than broke even on it. So I highly recommend looking into it if you want to be a big-time tourist in Dublin.

2. Guinness Storehouse

I’ve kind of already mentioned this, but I didn’t know a lot about Guinness the beer and Guinness the brand, but this trip definitely took care of that. I didn’t have as many things I wanted to do in Dublin as some of the other girls I went with, but this was something I knew I had to do, even if I would have had to pay for it. I didn’t, because of the Dublin Pass, but I would have gone here without that incentive.

The storehouse is kind of out the way, as it isn’t anywhere near proper Dublin where all of the touristy things are. It was like a 45 minute walk from our hostel but it’s do-able, I guess. We had to walk through a rougher area of Dublin than the polished, visitor-friendly part that we were used to, so it was good that we got to see another side to the city. The Guinness storehouse really is the only thing to see in this area, though.

When you first enter, the first thing you see is the 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness signed for the place in 1759. I don’t really understand how that is possible or how it works but it’s a good thing to know if you need to start a conversation over a pint of Guinness, I guess. You could even see the original document, but it was kind of hard to read.

“My goodness, my Guinness!”

The best part about the exhibit is that you’re walked through the four main ingredients of Guinness (water, barley, yeast, and hops) and how and why they are used in the beer-making process. There are slightly dated videos about how to make the beer that you can watch, and you can also see all of the equipment used with creating and then storing the beer. And then after all of that, you get a shot of Guinness where you’re encouraged to swish, sniff, admire, and sip the beer—basically treat beer like a wine and be all snooty about beer. Sign me up!

After walking through a history of Guinness advertisements through the ages, we then could either pour our own glass of Guinness or go to the Gravity Bar at the top to have our complimentary pint of Guinness poured for us. The girls I was with wanted to go to the Gravity Bar, and I kind of just went with it. I already had a basic knowledge of how to do it just from watching the bartenders do it in Ireland: tilt the special Guinness glass at a 45 degree angle and fill it ¾ of the way while rotating the glass so it stands straight by the time you hit the ¾ mark, and then wait a bit for the foam to settle before finishing it off. Once I read the sign that explained all of that but in more scientific and professional-sounding terms like “surge” instead of “foam,” I was good to go. The Gravity Bar gave a really picturesque view of Dublin, but what really added to the experience was the fact that there were labels for all of the big attractions you could see (like St. Patrick’s Cathedral or Trinity College). But after walking so far to get to the storehouse and then walking up seven flights to the top, it was nice to sit down and get down to Guinness and relax with a pint—even if it was only 11 in the morning!

I will no longer be impressed by the hearts or ferns in cappuccino foam. Thanks a lot, Guinness.

I don’t know how, but the bartenders made four-leaf clovers in the foams of our beers. Maybe if I had known that they would teach you how to do it in the “Pour Your Own Pint” section I would have pushed for that, but overall it was an experience I’d definitely recommend, and not just for the free beer!

3. U2 Everything

I get a lot of flack for it, but I love U2. I know it’s Dad Music, I know Bono comes off kind of strong sometimes and their music sometimes isn’t that great. I get it. But I don’t care. I love U2. I was excited to go to Dublin because of the U2 connections. One of the things I wanted to see was the Clarence Hotel, which in person is really underwhelming and all but whatever, Bono and Edge are partial owners so it’s cooler than any hotel you could stay in, okay?

But U2 was everywhere, even if I didn’t have as many conversations about the band as I would have thought. The guide of the free Dublin tour didn’t remember Adam Clayton or Larry Mullin Jr.’s names when we were stopped outside of the Clarence Hotel—don’t worry, I unabashedly helped him out, and then again for a second time when we were at St. Stephen’s Green and he was talking about how since U2 has the keys to the city they could technically let their livestock graze on the grass thanks to an outdated but still legal law.

If you understand this, then don’t tell me what it means. Bono is perfect.

There were also wax statues of U2 members at the Wax Museum, which I expected. A couple of the pubs in Temple Bar area had pictures of the guys from when they stopped in for a pint. I expected that too. But what I did not expect was that U2 songs would be everywhere. The pubs, the cafes, the stores, the grocery stores, the hostels—if there was music playing, it would be U2 if you were there long enough. Most of it was old, pre-‘90s U2, which was fine by me. But yeah, if you listened to the music in a public place, then you were listening to U2.

I did see some anti-Bono graffiti. I don’t really understand it, and not just because I don’t understand why someone would take to the walls of Dublin to complain about the city’s most famous and prolific celebrities. But it was there.

4. O’Neill’s

-O’Neill’s is right across the street from the Dublin Tourism Center, and it looks like a big house that could be a hunting lodge or something. It definitely had to have been a house in another life, because there are so many rooms and stairs and nicks and crannies in the restaurant, which makes it a great bar to go to.

When we went here on the Halloween pub-crawl, they served mixed drinks with gummy eyeballs that were very creepy and festive (and deadly). There was also a live traditional Irish sessions band playing, and it was here that we were introduced to popular Irish songs like “Molly Malone” and “Wild Rover” (I just put up Dubliners videos, but every sessions band worth their weight in Leprechaun gold will know these songs, apparently; both of the sessions bands we saw at Temple Bar played these songs).

A nice hearty O’Neill’s dinner: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mashed carrots, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, chorizo/mozzarella-stuffed chicken, and garlic bread. AKA everything that could ever fit in my stomach ever

When we went for late lunch/early dinner a different day at O’Neill’s (we got a free beer there thanks to the Dublin Pass), there was a ton of people there watching football on all of the screens and we ended up sitting in the most isolated seat, which was good because we stuffed ourselves on the 12 euro carving station meal. It was easily the best meal I had all week. In lieu of waiters or menus, they have a “carving” station that basically functions as an upscale cafeteria line, or you can go to their sandwich station and get a big hearty sandwich. They also do breakfast, which I almost did but I didn’t want to go to the same restaurant twice during the same trip. I kind of regret that now, especially when writing this.

5. St Stephen’s Green

My lunchtime view. So pretty!

I went here four times. The first was with the free, guided tour; the second was with a friend who had missed the guided tour; and the third and fourth were by myself on my last day in Dublin, when I finally did a full turn around the park and then returned with a package lunch to eat on a park bench and people-watch. No matter the weather, it’s always picturesque and beautiful with the water and the fountains and the birds—and let me tell ya, I got to see it in the sun, in the fog, and in the rain. There are a bunch of memorials here if you want to be touristy and a lot of benches if you want to be creepy. But it’s so nice, especially with the rich autumnal colors of the leaves (the leaves actually turn warm colors here, as opposed to the pale green and yellow-green of Paris!) that I felt instantly uplifted and homesick for raking leaves every time I entered the park.

6. ‘Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies’

To be honest, I wasn’t super into the idea of this deal of eating a three-course meal at a pub and listening to Irish folk tales. Lily really wanted to do it and everyone else seemed okay with it and even though I wasn’t too happy about the 36 euro price tag, I just went along with it. I was glad I did. The food was really good—you had a choice of four or five things for appetizer and dinner and then a choice of two for dessert, and I got a “warm chicken salad” that was literally a skinless chicken breast on salad but it was so flavorful and delicious I completely forgot about its sparseness, a really spicy salmon that went really well with my two different types of potatoes, and then a chocolate cake that was, well, a really good chocolate cake. Plus, we got like a history of Dublin and Ireland from Viking Age to Great Potato Famine, and even though it was the same spiel we’d gotten from other tours and museums, it was presented in an interesting way. And the stories were great too. The origins of the banshee myth were explained, as long as stories with fairies and other popular folk tales.

If you’re interested, the organizer of the dinner sent everyone a 23-page Word document of all of the stories we heard that night, as well as book recommendations for further reading. So if you’re really into Irish folk tales, let me know!

7. Grafton Street

Grafton Street is well known for its street performances and stores. It’s a good, busy street that’s equal parts touristy and, um, not-touristy, I guess. There aren’t a lot of familiar shop names there but the clothing stores and shoe stores were fun to walk around in. I know this because I walked around here a lot looking for boots, since the only pair of shoes I had brought to Dublin, a pair of grey combat boots, had torn on the inside seam between the rubber of the bottom and the cloth area where my foot went—and the rubber bottom of one was cracked in two. These were the same boots that had both of the bottoms of the heel come of at Oktoberfest—and they are only a month old! Sheesh. Worst 40 euro ever. And it was so cold and drizzly in Dublin that before I found a good solid pair of boots, I would wear two pairs of socks. But I did find a good pair of sleeker, more feminine boots that were more Timberland than combat, but they were warm and do their job and don’t look like they’re going to be destroyed in a month.

My friend Lily would kill me if I didn’t mention this … apparently busking on Grafton Street is portrayed in the movie Once, which is all she talked about on our Dublin trip. It’s supposed to be very romantic, but I haven’t seen it. It’s on my to-see list. Wikipedia tells me that Damien Rice, Glen Hansard (from Once and his own bands, The Frames and The Swell Season), and Rodrigo y Gabriela used to busk there. Our tour guide from the free tour said that U2 used to busk there, but he also didn’t know the names of U2’s bassist and drummer and I didn’t see U2 listed on the Wikipedia page so I’m not sure who to trust.

Even his statue is rock ‘n’ roll. Le sigh.

But rest assured, the Phil Lynott statue is alive and well on Grafton Street! You have to keep an eye out for it, since it’s not actually on the main road and is placed outside of a random bar that actually was one of the bars Thin Lizzy played at when they were just getting started. But the map I picked up at the tourist center had the statue marked so it should be easy to find. I stumbled across it when I thought I was in the general area of the statue and a friend just pointed it out to me.

8. Old Jameson Distillery

Not to sound like an alcoholic, but touring the Jameson distillery was really the other thing I was looking forward to doing in Dublin. And just like the Guinness Storehouse, it did not disappoint.

It was also above the River Liffey, which not many important tourist attractions are, so we had another interesting stroll in a part of Dublin we might not have seen. It was in a more industrial area of Dublin with a lot of big buildings and people in business attire. But we let loose once we went inside. We had the driest tour guide ever, and his sense of humor was such that sometimes we didn’t know if he was kidding. But the one time he wasn’t trying to be funny was the absolute best—he was waiting for everyone to settle down so he could start talking, and in the wait he just stroked his goatee and whispered, “I miss my beard” to himself. It was creepy, but creepier that we were the only ones close enough to have heard it.

I’m Jameson for a Jameson.

This guy thought we were crazy. We were always joking and making each other laugh when it wasn’t laughing time. But he still picked me and Lily to become official “Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters” at the end of the tour—though we did get him to smile when Lily dropped her hollow cardboard baton (that we would eventually use to put our rolled-up certificates in) twice during his presentation (earning a quip from him about how maybe he shouldn’t have picked her) and then during the tasting where I pretended to waft the tiny amount of watered-down whiskey in the shot glass instead of just sticking it under my nose like everyone else.

Oh yeah, the tasting. The Tasting. If you end up at the Old Jameson Distillery, you NEED to do this. It completes the whole trip. Plus, it’s more free whiskey so why not, right? When in Dublin…

I may not look it, but I am a Qualified Irish Whiskey Taster, thank you very much.

So at the end of the tour, once we learned about the importance of the triple distilled and, like Guinness, what was used to make the alcohol, the four men and four women were assembled in the bar and set down at a table where there were three watered-down shots of whiskey: Irish whiskey (Jameson, obviously), American whiskey (Jack Daniels), and Scottish whiskey (I don’t know the brand, and that doesn’t bother me because I learned Scottish whiskey is absolutely disgusting). We had to try each one (after smelling it and looking at its color) and then pick which one we liked the best. Jameson was flavorful, in a good way compared to the smokey, earthy Scottish whiskey and the slightly less flavorful and sweet Jack Daniels. I felt lame saying that Jameson was my favorite, but it ended up being true.

Now I’m gonna bring this with me every time I go to a bar.

So I’ll be a Jameson drinker now—and never, ever a Scottish whiskey drinker ever unless it’s like the only alcohol left on the deserted island I’m stranded on and Keira Knightley has already burned all of the rum and Johnny Depp has already asked, “But why is the rum gone?”

9. Jonathan Swift Everything

I didn’t end up going to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, but I knew coming into the city (and the country) that I could expect to see a lot of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.

And I did! There were random little plaques of James Joyce quotes from The Dubliners or Ulysses about Dublin, like the Dawson Street plaque on Dawson Street from Ulysses. There’s also a James Joyce statue in St. Stephen’s Green and there’s the James Joyce Centre and the James Joyce Museum. There’s a lot for James Joyce, which makes sense for a guy that wrote a lot.

Oscar Wilde was much appreciated too. I expected that, just because he’s such a character. There’s a memorial to him in Merrion Park right across the street from his childhood home—which is actually now American College Dublin so you can’t tour it, which stunk. I’d never even heard of that College but you could only get a B.A. in liberal arts there so maybe that’s why. Seems sketchy but a BA in Liberal Arts would be worth having if it meant taking an Oscar Wilde class in Oscar Wilde’s childhood home.

But I didn’t think good old Jonathan Swift would be so involved in Dublin history and pride, and that made me very excited for the guy that most people, even in my English-major classes, only know as the eat-babies guy. HE IS MORE THAN THAT and I was glad that Dublin felt the same way too.

For example, Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St. Patrick’s, so when we visited that we were treated to a lot of Jonathan Swift history and artifacts, like a casing of his skull and his face as well as one of his writing desks. He’s buried at St. Patrick’s along with his friend and possible lover Stella. I always liked their “are they-aren’t they” relationship, since Stella grew up always being friends with Swift and some people think they were secretly married or secretly in love. All I know is, Swift had one romantic relation that he broke off because of Stella and he was so heartbroken when she died that he petitioned to have her buried at St. Patrick’s so they could be together forever when he died.

You’d think that they would have kept his brain…

Not only were we given access to what essentially his workplace at St. Patrick’s, but we also got to trace his steps through 18th century Dublin. Apparently he thought it would be wasteful to take a carriage to Christ’s Church Cathedral, Dublin’s other medieval church (something I agree with, since I walked from one to the other on the same day and they’re only like four blocks away), so he used to walk up a passageway of 40 stairs by Dublin Castle to get to the church. The passageway used to be filled with beggars, and Swifty would use the money he would have spent on the carriage to give to the beggars—so obviously after a while the beggars caught on and the place then became so overfilled with hobos (and their stench) that Swift had to change his route. But according to the Dublin ghost tour that we took, sometimes you can still see his ghost walking up the stairs at night and modern-day beggars sometimes sleep in that corridor in the hopes of waking up in the morning and finding an antiquated coin in their cup, which apparently has happened.

Such a good guy! And such a good writer too!

10. Tower Records

-It’s not lame to recommend a record store abroad when it’s one like Tower Records. It’s two stories tall and has a café in it called “Sound Bites Café” and is promoted by the tagline “Sex, Drugs, & Sausage Rolls.” There weren’t any available seats when I looked but the food was all artisanal and organic and, well, kind of the food you’d expect a record store to put out in the age of Portlandia.

Bono would love it here, I just know it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I didn’t buy anything so I probably annoyed the hell out of the workers because I spent like an hour and a half just looking through everything. They had a really good selection of Irish folk music, which I really looked through because I don’t know anything about that outside of The Dubliners or the Pogues. I was very pleased with their David Bowie selection, as well as their differentiated American folk/American country/American sections (the genres were that in-depth).

It reminded me so much of Newbury Comics (the New England-based record store I used to work at during my senior year of high school and every December after that) that I kind of wanted to name-drop it and have the cool people behind the counter like me. But alas, I just went through all of the Irish music and took pictures and pretended to be a hip spy.

Oktoberfail, Part Two

My second Oktoberfail that I experienced at Oktoberfest last week has to do with the camping situation … the one I had built up so much in my head prior to actually visiting it, where the reality of the campsite (plus the rain one night) made it all come crashing down.

I am not a camper. I am not even an outdoorsy person. The last time I slept in a camp was when I was a sophomore in high school, and that was not even by choice. It was a team bonding exercise for my soccer team and it was only for one night, and no one got any sleep then anyway so it doesn’t really count as camping in my head.

It should be noted that I did not plan on camping at Oktoberfest when we started organizing the trip. But alas, my friends and I started booking stuff in August and by then it was too late to find any space for four people in any of the hostels in Munich or by the festival. So one of the travel guide sites we were on also recommended a camping site in an Olympic stadium … which did not really register as camping for me since it would be in an Olympic stadium, not a random forest or woods or river or whatever, and there would be showers and toilets and running water. But really, I was in it for the Olympic stadium.

The name of the place was Wies’n Camp, which is in Olympic Horse Stadium München-Riem. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, this was where all of the equestrian events occurred during the games. I’m not a horse-y kind of person (I do like things, I swear, just not horses or camping), but whatever, I knew this was the closest I was maybe ever going to get to the Olympics and I didn’t care (sad, but true … unless the Olympics or the world finally recognizes the sport of competitive speed-reading).

Plus, it was cheap, and it was kind of our only option. It was 35 euro per person for a four-person tent and I was naïve in thinking I wouldn’t be spending a lot of time at the campsite.

Oktoberfest all day! Party all night! Sleep when I’m dead … or on the train back to Paris!

As you’ve already read, none of those things happened. Oktoberfail.

Our six-hour train ride from Gare D’Est in Paris to Munchen Hauptbahnhof in Munich got us in the train station at night. So we knew we’d miss the Friday night of Oktoberfest, but we were in no hurry.

We arrived at 9:30 p.m. My friend Jenn got hit on by a cute German guy in lederhosen at 9:35 p.m. Maybe it’s because we were tired or hungry, but we just giggled the whole time we watched them interact and complained about how of course Jenn is the one to get the first guy.

However, none of us were too envious once we asked him for directions to our camp and he thought we were crazy for actually camping outside. At first, he thought it was just a translation issue and the “camp site” we were talking about wasn’t the “camp site” he thought he knew.

“Camping? You are going camping?” he asked. Yes.

“You are going camping outdoors?” YES.

“You are all going camping outdoors? To sleep under the sky?” FOR CHRISSAKE, YES!

He started cracking up once he knew that yes, we were all going camping outdoors.

It turns out it was so hilarious because “German girls don’t camp. And European girls don’t camp.”

“Well, these American girls do,” we said before ditching him.

Hmmph. We thought he was just sexist or something. Surely German girls, or at least European girls, camp! I mean, there isn’t a stereotype of American girls camping and none of use camped regularly, for the most part. But camping was a thing at Oktoberfest, or so we thought based off of all of the camping options that we had to choose from.

Campsite … don’t zoom in like I did and look at all of the weeds in the stands 😦

Whatever. We shook off Cute German Guy, both literally and figuratively, and we finally arrived at the camp after figuring out the Metro line and getting off at the most random, remote Metro stop ever to follow a crowd of people into the night.

But actually, the first thing we noticed once we arrived at the campsite was that we were the only girls in the registration center/bar/dance floor/bathroom makeshift building.As soon as we followed the loud American Top 40 music and cheering into the makeshift building and saw picnic tables, a bar, and an entire dance floor mostly comprised of guys (most of whom were wearing lederhosen), we all just looked at each other.

Well, okay, we weren’t the only girls there. It’s like there were only two handfuls of girls (does that mean ten girls? Because that’s what I’m trying to say but in an earnestly clever way) in the makeshift building … and we were four of them. And the other girls that were there were all standing next to boys, AKA were taken, AKA maybe weren’t there because they wanted to be there or originally proposed camping.

AKA, umm, maybe Cute German guy had a point…

We scoped out the scene while we stood pressed against the wall with our backpacking backpacks and waited for Lily to register us. It was a little dark in the room, but we were pretty sure there weren’t any girls on the dance floor.

This got me thinking.

Not about how, as The Hunger Games’ Effie Trinket might have said in this situation that the odds were ever in my favor. Not about how there was American pop music playing that was relevant when I first started standing pressed against the walls at parties and dances in middle school. And definitely not about how everyone in the place was hammered and we were all way too sober to be dealing with the crashing reality that this was not exactly what we were expecting.

Instead, I wondered: What’s German for “sausage fest,” anyway? Do they even have that phrase? They have to, since sausage is such a huge part of German food culture. Right? Does that mean that are there different sausages used to describe different sausage fests? Like, ‘Oh, last night was such a Bratwurst fest’ or ‘This is a total Knockwurst fest.’ Hmm. Maybe I’ll have to ask a German. I wish I had thought of this when Cute German Guy was around, since he seemed to be in the know about how German girls don’t camp! 

My Mindy Kaling-esque musing was interrupted when Lily came back with our tent number. We were #305—and after putting our bags away and worrying if anyone was going to steal anything, we decided to go back to the makeshift party and represent our tent and our country. Or something like that.

This fits 4 people and not 4 Rumpelstiltskins. It’s funny because it references a German fairy tale and the fact that we had to sleep in the tent.
LAUGH AT MY WIT BECAUSE I AM A GENUIS.

The dance floor was just the area to the left of the bar that was between the wall and the first row of picnic tables. It wasn’t a big area, especially when it was full of drunk guys all unironically dancing together in the same space despite the fact that there weren’t any girls on the dance floor—something I’ll probably never see back in the States!

We were kind of bopping on the edge of the dance floor just watching as we planned our mode of attack. And the guys that came up to us to ask us to dance didn’t do so by getting all up behind us and just grinding, which is unfortunately pretty standard at Drexel. The guys were still wordless (maybe a language issue? completely possible), but they’d hold their hand out for us to dance. It’s a nicer invitation, I think, especially because their dancing styles were how I imagine my grandparents danced when they were my age—my hand on his shoulder, his hand on my waist, our other hands entwined in the air.

Of course, the first guy I talked to was from France. What are the odds, right? C’est la vie. He was a fireman from a tiny French village about forty-five minutes away from Paris and he had come to Oktoberfest with a couple of other guys from his squad. Now, I don’t know if it’s because he was talking me up or because it’s actually the truth, but I walked away from that feeling like French firemen were so much more badass than American firemen, mostly because the firemen in France also function as EMTs and that the French government bends over backwards for their firehouses. See, I learned something cultural and interesting at Oktoberfest!

But because I knew I’d have an early morning the next day, I went back to the tent around midnight (aka before “Tik Tok” came on and the two friends that stayed on the dance floor were the only people in the whole building who knew the lyrics). Big mistake. It was FREEZING and miserable and cramped and I was wearing every object of clothing I had brought, minus my spandex tights and the pair of black gloves that got eaten by my backpack—so, Under Armor spandex shirt, long sleeved shirt, a fleece zip-up sweatshirt, non-hoodie sweatshirt, jeans, two pairs of socks, scarf, and hat. I did bring my winter jacket but it didn’t fit around my layers so I used it as a pillow and a blanket.

And that wasn’t enough! I don’t know if it was the cold or the fact that I had to pee so badly but didn’t want to go into the actual cold, but I didn’t sleep at all. At around five I finally got up, grabbed the spandex tights, and walked back to the dance hall to go to the bathroom and change. No one was there, it was dead silence, and I just walked to and from this building, but somehow during all of this I ripped a big hole in the kangaroo pouch of my sweatshirt. And the next morning I woke up and saw that the rubber layer of the heel of my boot was just chilling on the grass outside of our tent. I don’t even know how any of that happened but somehow I was already a hot mess without drinking anything at Oktoberfest.

Photo Cred: Brittany Handler

I already recounted my Oktoberfest activity here, so I’ll keep this post strictly focused on the campsite activities…which unfortunately are equally not WOOO OKTOBERFEST!!!! even though that’s what the atmosphere was like at night.

And I don’t know what they were during the day, because the next time I came back to the Wies’n Camp was at 2 p.m. and that was when we all stumbled into our tents and took a three-hour-long nap. What I saw after I woke up was that there weren’t nearly as many people in the makeshift building, but the people that were there all looked incredibly sober and no one was wearing lederhosen.

This was not the same camp we came back to at about midnight after walking around Munich with a Drexel friend I met up with who is studying in the city. The dance floor was now an actual dance floor and not the passageway it functioned as during the day, and the same drunk lederhosen guys were there dancing to the same American Top 40 songs with the same drunk lederhosen guys from the night before. Once again, only ten girls in the place and we were four of them.

And even though we did relatively little that day compared to what we could have done, we just headed back to our tents at around midnight. This was, once again, another big mistake because it rained the whole damn night. We didn’t get a ton of rain in the tent—just a little puddle by someone’s end of their sleeping bag—but it was still really cold and it’s depressing enough when it rains (for me at least) and to be stuck in a tent in the rain meant that I was not a happy camper (see what I did there? It’s not a cliché because it was true in that case!).

It was only drizzly the next morning, but we still went right to the train station instead of going back to Oktoberfest. One breakfast of beer that weekend was more than enough, thank you very much.

 Author’s Note: I feel terrible having to write this out, but I did have a very fun weekend, despite the complaining in this post. I’m just saying … I went to Oktoberfest and I got a tour of Munich with my friend, and what I did there was enough for me for my fill of Munich. I may not have spent a lot of time at Oktoberfest but I liked what I did every second of it and I have no regrets. It’s just if I get the opportunity to go again, I’m not sure I would go back instead of traveling to somewhere new and doing something new there.

That’s’ not to say I didn’t like Oktoberfest. I did! It wasn’t what I was expecting (well, I did expect all the drunk lederhosen guys), but it still turned out very good. The best part was meeting new friends and finding out cultural differences with the foreigners we were seated next to—something that is my absolute favorite thing to do abroad.

Furthermore, Oktoberfest weekend was a good bonding experience with my friends, and a great preview for what will happen during our week in Dublin next week for my Toussaint vacation. I’ll be in Ireland from the night of October 25 to the morning of November 2 (UM HELLO HALLOWEEN IN IRELAND), so you can expect more timely blog posts about Dublin around that time!

Oktoberfail

More than a week has passed since Oktoberfest ended and my liver has finally recovered … from the two liters of beer I drank all that weekend.

I know, I know. Believe me, I’ve had a lot of people judge me because I didn’t get completely wasted at Oktoberfest. The worst part is, I didn’t plan on drinking so little either. I thought I had prepared for Oktoberfest, but I didn’t prepare for Oktoberfest to have to start at 9 a.m.

Beer hall!

I don’t know if it’s because we were lazy or if it’s because we just told ourselves that it would be impossible to plan activities at a festival where we’d be drinking heavily, but we didn’t really have a set plan for Oktoberfest. We knew we had to get to the site relatively early so we wouldn’t have to wait in line to enter a beer tent. But we didn’t have an exact time of when it started, so we just planned on showing up at 9 and walking around for a while before we would try to enter a beer hall.

We only wandered for a couple minutes before one of the three other girls in my group wanted to follow a crowd of people wearing lederhosen and drindls (traditional Bavarian outfits that are nowhere near as slutty as their American Halloween costume counterparts). Little did we know we were actually in line for the actual king of Oktoberfest beer tents, Hofbräu-Festzelt, and the crowd we were following was actually 10,000 people that would fill the festival’s largest beer tent in ten minutes, according to the friendly Norwegians sitting next to us.

The inside of the beer hall.

We were also clueless about how much a liter of beer can be, especially first thing in the morning. Let me tell you, the term “breakfast of champions” takes on a whole new meaning when it’s 9:30 a.m.  and there’s a liter of strong German beer sitting in front of you.

But once again, that was just us. The Norwegians seated to our right and the Germans and New Zealanders to our left didn’t make any puckered faces. They had no problem yelling “Prost!” and clinking beer glasses when it was closer to 5 a.m. than 5 p.m. And the other 10,00 people were equally ready to wake up and smell the beer.

Within minutes of being served our beer, people started standing on the top of their picnic benches and chugging their entire beer or what was left of it. And the crowd was so into it, cheering the person on and clapping when they finished or, in a worst-case scenario, booing if they couldn’t. This happened about five or six times every hour, for all of the five hours that we spent at the beer hall.

The Germans and New Zealanders (the ones in the lederhosen, surprisingly). And The Beer.

Because it turns out that Oktoberfest is the happiest, most magical grownup place on Earth where it’s weird if you’re NOT day drinking, you DON’T really want to have beer for breakfast, and people will judge you if you CAN’T finish chugging a liter of beer in under thirty seconds or CAN’T drink more than three liters of beer in three hours.

I had two beers in five hours, and two of the other girls I went with only had one beer in the same amount of time. And I don’t know if it’s because we are girls or because we are Americans or what, but that was the perfect amount for me and my wallet—one liter of beer is 11 euros, or more than $14! And keep in mind that the human stomach can only hold about 32 ounces of fluid, which is basically one liter.

The trouble was, though, that in order to keep your seat, you had to keep buying stuff, either food or drink. So we ordered sparkling water and torso-sized German pretzels and even a half of a roasted chicken to split all between us just so we could stay without the scary waitress barking at us in German. I wasn’t even that hungry, but I just wanted to stay.

And I thought Americans had huge portion sizes!

The Germans next to us very helpfully ordered all of our nutritional demands, though they did tease us for not being able to drink as much beer as them.  In all of the five hours that we were there, they didn’t get up to go to the bathroom once. Talk about German efficiency.

They were genuinely distressed that we were leaving and didn’t want to spend all day drinking with them in the tent before going to a club at midnight—and didn’t understand that we would probably die or pass out if we tried to at least catch up halfway to them.

I don’t know what happened to those cute, friendly German guys in lederhosen. All I know is that we went back to our tiny tent and took a four-hour nap. My Oktoberfest might not have been like their Oktoberfest, but it was good enough for me.