Off the Beaten Track: Tim

One of the best things about travelling is getting away from the main touristy sights, and finding hidden gems wherever you go. I couldn’t have picked a better place, because Dublin, Ireland and Europe are certainly full of them, so here are my top places that you should go if you’re trying to see something that probably doesn’t have its own Instagram hashtag.

Dublin

Unlike the big cities of London, Paris or Rome, Dublin feels a lot like everywhere is off the beaten track. The entire city feels cosy with its Georgian Architecture, rich history, pubs and interesting laneways to get lost in. One of my favourite things to do was finding a quiet corner in St Stephen’s Green to sit for lunch, or hiring a bike a riding around Phoenix Park on the edge of the city centre which is the home of the President of Ireland, American Ambassador and a herd of wild deer.

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Just one of the many cute brick laneways
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The site where the Pope delivered mass to over 1 million people in Phoenix Park in 1979

Ireland

The four corners of Ireland are full of magical sights from the Giant’s Causeway in the North to the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara in the West and mountains of Dublin in the east. But there is one special place that I feel in love with, and that was The South. I was lucky to have a good friend Rachel who drove us on a long weekend road trip down to Counties Cork and Kerry. It was such an incredible time, the jazz festival was on in Cork so every street and pub was alive with swinging music and a visit to Blarney castle was necessary with its beautiful gardens, and of course to kiss the Blarney Stone. But the real magic was in Killarney National Park with its lakes and waterfalls and the ring of Kerry where we climbed a 1200 year old stone fort, passed ruined castles and saw the most spectacular sunset over the Atlantic. The Ring of Kerry is rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world and it was truly an unforgettable place, with barely another soul in sight. It’s so remote that it is even designated as part of An Gaeltachta, the areas in rural Ireland where Irish is still spoken by some as their primary language.

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Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park
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The 1200 year old stone ring fort
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I can now claim the “gift of the gab” from kissing the Blarney Stone!

Europe

Rumour has it on a good day you can look east across the Irish Sea from Dublin and see Wales. If you keep gazing east you have all of Europe at your beck and call and with the beauty that is Ryanair a weekend to Europe can be cheaper than a cup of coffee (flights to Paris, Brussels or Cologne were sometimes literally 5 euro). But that’s so cliché, so when we were looking at where to travel instead of studying during study leave my good friend Ben sought out the little Baltic nation of Estonia. This is a magical place where 70% of the population believes that trees have spirits, and is home to one of the best preserved medieval town centres in the capital Tallinn. We went in winter so there was pristine snow everywhere and the most beautiful Christmas Market in the world set up in the town square.  Other favourite places to explore were the Maritime Museum where you could climb inside a submarine and man an anti-aircraft gun, the KGB prison cells from the era of Soviet occupation, and a 14th century restaurant with delicacies such as boar, elk and bear. But if you want to get even more off the beaten track than that then I highly recommend a day trip to the Lahemaa National Park where we walked on boardwalks across untouched frozen bogs and through snow covered forests, and explored an abandoned Soviet submarine base and stately manors. And if you’re looking for a good night out, sign up for Kongo’s Epic bar crawl for an unforgettable night of fun, we even ended up getting free entry to a concert of the famous Estonia hip-hop group PTLN.

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The Most Beautiful Christmas Market ever in Tallinn
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The spooky Abandoned Soviet Submarine Base
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The bogs of Lahemaa National Park
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The medieval towers of Tallinn Old Town

And Beyond!

So again I have to shout out to Ben for coming up with the craziest ideas of places to go for a weekend away, because while most people look east to the Continent, there are few who dare turn their backs to head off the edge of Europe to the west. And so I found myself in Reykjavik, Iceland. And what a whirlwind adventure it was. Reykjavik was filled with colourful houses, quirky shops, museums and the iconic Hallsgrimkirkja church. The whole country has less people than Wellington, and 80% of them live in Reykjavik so the rest of the country was entirely deserted with breath-taking and spectacular scenery. We hired a car and went far beyond the tour bus routes to huge waterfalls, glaciers and black sand beaches, and camped in the car under the stars gazing at the Northern Lights. It was the road trip of a lifetime, and if you ever find yourself in Iceland the top spots are the Reynisfjara Beach (aim for sunset it was spectacular), the Svartifoss and Gullfoss waterfalls and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. It was an unforgettable experience and probably the highlight of my entire exchange! So there you go, a few places that I thought were pretty cool and you should check out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world!

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Hallsgrimkirka church
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The Sólheimajökull Glacier
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Sunset over the Reynisfjara black sand beach
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Svartifoss Waterfall

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Campus Life: Tim

University College Dublin is a self-contained campus that was a real surprise for me when I first arrived. All classes, the libraries, gym and residences are walking distance across a pedestrianised campus all centred on The UCD Lake. Living on campus was really easy and fun, being able to go to cool cafes or find a quiet space to study if I needed it and I’d always see people I knew around. The campus accommodation was also really fantastic; I was less than 5 minutes from some of my classes and I made great friends with my flatmates. All students at the university also get a free gym membership to the exercise halls and fitness classes, and for only €4 you can have access to the pool and saunas too.

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Ashfield Student Residence
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My awesome flatmates!

On campus there are dozens of clubs and societies that you can join which are all set up in a big marquee during Fresher’s week (which was weirdly actually week 3 of semester). For only €2 you can join any of them, from the faculty societies to ones for drama, classics, languages or whatever you can think of. And they all have a multitude of free stuff which definitely makes the price worth it. Of the ones I joined, the Engineering society, Study Abroad and Erasmus Student Societies were definitely the best. The Engineering society held pub crawl nights, had free coffee and tea during study break, organised site visits for us Civil Engineering nerds out there and to top it all off in the second last week of class they threw the Engineering Winter Formal. These were all hugely fun events where you could meet lots of people who weren’t just exchange students and who were studying similar things.

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At the Engineering Winter Formal

The Study Abroad Society and Erasmus Society hosted a heap of fun events at the beginning of the semester to get to know other exchange students such as networking (always with free food) to get to know people and campus tours. But they also hosted more exciting tours with discounted prices around iconic Dublin attractions like the Guinness Storehouse and Croke Park, and further afield to Glendalough, Belfast and Northern Ireland, or Galway. An added bonus was that as a member of the Erasmus Student Network you also got 15% off Ryanair flights and a free checked bag which made travelling further afield to Europe so much better too!

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Galway town
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The Giant’s Causeway
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The Titanic Museum in Belfast

Considering Campus is 30 minutes by bus from the city centre you get to know the public transport system of Dublin really well. With a Student Leap card you get discounted fares on all buses, trains and the Luas tram across County Dublin. From UCD into the city there are buses regularly during the day and even more at peak times, with the 46A, 39A and 145 all taking you straight into town. If you’re up for a bit of exercise the DART commuter train station is a 20 minute walk away in Booterstown on the coast, or the Windy Arbour Luas stop is 30 minutes in the other direction. Dublin is just like Auckland though that when the traffic is bad enough, the walk and DART or Luas can actually be a faster way to get in and out of the city than being stuck on a bus.

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The Luas tram

Of course like any university there are heaps of other events to attend such as weekly law society debates or quiet spots to sit and study with a coffee. You’ll never be short of something to do!

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Food, Glorious Food: Tim

Food, Glorious Food:

When you think about European cuisine I wouldn’t blame you for thinking of Italian pasta and pizza, French coq au vin and croissants, a German bratwurst or Spanish Paella. When you think about Irish food I would bet $100 the first word that comes to your mind is potatoes. And that the second word is also potatoes.

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The Irish cuisine section of the supermarket

Yes, it is true that Ireland has a huge history associated with the potato (a quarter of the population died or emigrated during the Potato Famine of the mid 1800s) – but I’m here to convince you there is more to food here than just this humble vegetable.

Coming from New Zealand I found the food to be incredibly… the same. Years of British colonialism does that to you, with classic meat and three veg reigning supreme, your favourite fast food chains on every corner and the normal mix of international restaurants and cafes found at home. However, there is one difference. In Ireland, the pub dominates everything. There is a pub everywhere you turn in the city, suburbs, small village and sometimes in the middle of the countryside. An entire area in the central city is even named after a pub, of course the famous Temple Bar. While you think these pubs might be places just for a quick pint of Guinness after a long day, they do some incredible pub food, too. Which let me tell you – it is just what you need on a cold night. So here’s my rundown of the top 3 Irish pub foods that you are guaranteed to get everywhere…

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Temple Bar

  1. Fish n chips. You can’t go wrong here with fresh fish, the ubiquitous potatoes and a side of mushy peas (which are actually a lot nicer than they sound).
  2. Beef and Guinness Stew. There is only one word to describe this traditional Irish dish, and its hearty. Simply beef, potatoes, celery and carrots all swimming in a delicious gravy almost always served with fresh bread.
  3. Shephard’s Pie. Inevitably also served with potatoes and vegetables, just what you need to warm the heart and soul.

You can find these foods anywhere, but some of my favourite pubs have been in the smallest of villages in the Irish countryside filled with locals where it almost seems like you can taste the tradition in the lively atmosphere, or even just enjoying a simple Fish n’ Chips from the takeaways at the seaside.

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Fish n chips in a pub in a seaside town just out of Cork

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Hearty beef and Guinness stew, and pie

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You can’t go wrong with Fish n’ Chips by the sea!

Talking about Irish food wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also mention the desserts, and the importance of the humble bottle of Bailey’s.

From a Bailey’s cheesecake to a Bailey’s hot chocolate or an Irish coffee (actually made with whiskey) there are some really delicious ways to finish a great meal. Even if you don’t like coffee, it should be at the top of your list of foods to try in Ireland. And this is coming from a non-coffee drinker myself!

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Bailey’s cheesecake with an Irish Coffee

There is of course a rise in gastro-pubs which offer a more modern and fancier twist on these pub classics, and there’s a huge range of fantastic European and Asian restaurants across the city giving a real multicultural feel – where you can find something that everyone will like!

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To be honest… the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had!

Perhaps most peculiarly, Dublin has recently got a taste for, of all things, burritos and doughnuts. With Tolteca, Boojum and Zambrero to name a few there is a bunch of places you can go for all your taco bowl needs, and you can stop off at Empire Donuts, The Rolling Donut or my absolute favourite Off Beat Donuts for a sweet treat after. These fast and delicious places are taking the city by storm with the most incredible doughnut creations and a Boojum food truck practically living permanently on campus. Speaking of campus, there are a bunch of food options for lunch or dinner any day with cafes, Subway, the Centra convenience store (you have to try the chicken fillet roll for only €2.95) and a food court style restaurant, so there’s never a shortage of new food to try everywhere. So when you get sick of potatoes, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas of food to try if you ever find yourself in Ireland!

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Heaven on Earth at Off Beat Donuts

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Who knew Oscar Wilde was such a fan of doughnuts?

 

Accommodation Awards: Tim

There’s plenty of student accommodation around UCD, but I was still lucky enough to be able to get a room in the University residences on campus considering the sheer volume of people who applied. Of all of the residences though, my one is obviously the best with Ashfield Student Residence standing out in the category of student accommodation and being worthy of several awards this year in the Biannual 360 International Accommodation awards. So without further ado;

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Ashfield Student Residence
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The inner courtyard

The “Weirdest wall artwork” award
Each apartment in Ashfield is spacious with six bedrooms with ensuites and an open plan kitchen/dining/lounge area. They’re arranged in four buildings around a central courtyard with about 20 apartments each and being brand new last year are modern, clean and kitted out with fancy appliances. However some interior designer must have gone mad at the cheap IKEA wall art as every room has mysterious artwork nailed to the wall. Every night I have to sleep under the watchful gaze of a Macaque monkey, while dinner is presided over by strange deer/people hybrids standing around a car. But I suppose you get used to it.

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The bedrooms are super spacious
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I’ve never had my own ensuite before!
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He watches while you sleep
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Even when you eat, you can’t escape the deer-people

The “You never know how much you miss an oven until you don’t have one” award
Yup this is a pretty big one. Toaster, kettle, microwave, stovetop all check but alas there is no oven. For a nice big modern kitchen that was a bit of a shock upon arrival, but aside from mum’s dearly missed lasagne recipe I found that you can still make a lot with just a stovetop. Rice, pasta, couscous, stir-fries, eggs, steak and more are all still on the menu, and anyway if I get really desperate I can always buy a microwave meal for one to get me through the cold winter nights to come.

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Lament of the lost oven

The “Most convenient convenience store” award
This is actually a shout out to one of the other residences on campus here; Merville Student Residence has a convenience store in it, like literally in the same building. Midnight snacks and emergency milk have never been so easy, and plus they do a mean chicken roll for lunch.

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It barely even counts as leaving the house, so pyjamas are totally acceptable in the store right?

The “However the nearest actual supermarket is a half an hour walk away with no direct bus” award
I mean Centra is great, but sometimes doesn’t quite cut it.
Although fantastic, it has to be said that even moving to the other side of the world has not allowed me to escape the housing crisis as Dublin has it even worse than Auckland, with rent for a semester (particularly on campus) costing up to €4000. Overall though I think it’s worth it. Being on campus means that you’re in the thick of everything that’s going on, and it’s an easy walk to any classes, the health centre or gym. My flatmates are awesome, we’re all exchange students so have become good friends and with 24 hour reception there’s no worry about if anything goes wrong and no concerns about security.  If I’m going to be stuck here for the next 10 weeks, I think I’ve got a pretty good deal.

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First Impressions: Tim

Well, after almost a year of planning and prepping and 7 weeks of travel through the UK and Europe I’ve finally made it to the other side of the world to University College Dublin in Ireland! I’ve been here a grand total of two weeks now and it’s been full on getting everything set up and launching back into classes. From having to last-minute change papers (or modules as they’re called here), visit the Immigration Office to approve my visa and the endless bureaucracy of setting up a bank account, to the excitement of being in a new city and country and exploring all of the things Dublin has to offer there has been a lot to take in!

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To start the story off, UCD is located about a 20 minute bus ride south of the centre of Dublin on a self-contained American-style campus, but it’s still super handy to get into town with a Student Leap card giving you discounted fares on public transport across the city. In the centre of the campus is a pond complete with fountains and swans, with the main axis of faculty buildings stretching away down either side. The campus is surrounded by sports fields, student accommodation and plenty of green space and trees to relax and read on a sunny day, and if you sit still for long enough an inquisitive squirrel might even come over to say hi! It’s a truly different experience to Auckland, the campus feels like a real community and it’s enjoyable to walk around the modern buildings between classes or grab lunch in the restaurant and you’re never far from something going on.

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Checking in to accommodation was easy, and kicked off orientation week which was packed with campus tours, welcome events, faculty orientations, a Céilí (traditional Irish dance), walking tour of the city, exploring the pubs and clubs in the evening, but most of all meeting so many people from around the world and Ireland too. There were too many events to be able to go to them all but the highlight for me was definitely trying my first pint of true Irish Guinness at the storehouse brewery in town, with grand views across the whole city.

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Weather in Ireland is a bit fickle though, and it was a shock to the system being back in the wind and rain most days (I even had to break out the hat and scarf on the first day of class), but there have been some stunning days thrown in and some adventures already. To cap off the first week I took a road trip to go camping with some new Irish friends to the Cliffs of Moher which tower 120m above the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland. It was pouring with rain when we first got there but we got to wake up in our tent to stunning views along the coast and a brilliantly sunny day which all the more made up for it. Oh and castles. On the drive home we even stopped in a country pub to watch the All Ireland Gaelic Football final, which was louder and crazier than any rugby match I’ve ever seen. I could barely understand the rules or the other people in the pub shouting at the TV but it was a sure-fire way to launch into the full Irish cultural experience! I have a sneaking suspicion the next four months are going to be a lot of fun!

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