Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Yes! The cymbals were crashing, the drums were beating and the brass was....brassing, as I began my 10-week visit to Dublin, Ireland. Aer Lingus actually got me to Dublin 15 minutes early, which was nice. Of course, they only offered food and drink on their flights if you paid for it, which was not nice. Anyway, I got into town around 10 PM Wednesday, June 20. The person I was staying with, Joe, picked me up at the airport, which was really thoughtful and saved me about 25 euro in taxi fares. We drove back to his cozy, recently-renovated row house, dumped my bags and the car, and headed out to his local, Brogan's, right on Dame Street, just off Temple Bar, in Central Dublin. The first round of real Guinness was on me. I met Ben, the proprietor of Brogan's, and, four beers later, since I hadn't had any food since lunch, we headed around the corner to a great little kebab restaurant. Aaaahhh, sustenance.

Home again, Joe had to try the palinka I had brought him. I think he's still burping remnants of it after all this time. For an Irishman, he seemed somewhat taken aback at the Hungarian national drink. I finally hit the sack around 1 PM. Joe's row house is nicely done up, with living room, kitchen and bathroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. My bedroom is really tiny, but then I don't need all that much room. Thank goodness.

Thursday morning I decided to walk to the school, which is on Westmorland Street, between the Liffey River and Trinity College, right in the heart of Dublin. Took me about an hour, as I apparently took the long way around. But it was a nice scenic walk, and I found Grafton Street, the main pedestrian shopping area, after not having been in Dublin for eight years. Got a tasty bagel and cream cheese along the way, then checked in at the Dublin School of English (hereafter the DSE) and met my bosses for the next two months. Also saw Will Dowling, another friend who had visited Budapest with Francis, my first Irish buddy and contact. Who, by the way, was out riding his bike one day recently and swerved to avoid a woman who walked out in front of him and fell and broke his arm and leg. Not a fun time for Francis. Anyway, I went over to the Tourist Information Center and got my bus passes sorted, plus picked up a bunch of literature on things I want to do here.

Had lunch at Pacino's Italian restaurant, and then it was mid-afternoon, so I headed over to the Oliver Saint John Gogarty pub and restaurant for more Guinnesses and a couple of hours of great live Irish music. Took the yellow-and-blue double-decker bus home, and shopped for food on the way at a place called Lidl, a German chain that offers food at ridiculously low prices.

Friday I was up early and bussed into town, then DART-ed out to Booterstown, south of Dublin, and walked to St. Andrew's College, which is where most of the classes will be taught. Just wanted to see if I could find my way and familiarize myself with the area, buildings, classrooms, etc. No worries, mate, although the entire trip door-to-door was just over an hour. Back to town and I braved the periodic rain to check out several sights on my list of things to see. First stop was Dawson's Lounge, billed as the smallest pub in Dublin. And it was!

"How small was it," you ask? I thought you'd never ask. I had to edge down the stairs sideways, then sidle up to the bar and squeeze onto my barstool. Just had enough room to rest one arm on the bar and drink my half-pint of Guinness, which was all that would fit on the bar. Of course, when it came time to give back some of that rented Guinness, I had to stand in the doorway to the men's room to use the urinal, it was that tiny and close to the door. Anyway, I made friends with John the bartender, so I can easily slip back there anytime -- as long as I don't gain any more weight!

Next stop was McDaid's pub, on Harry Street just off Grafton, which used to be Brendan Behan's hangout. I went in for one - yes, just one - Guinness, intending to kill about half an hour before the Chinese buffet I was after opened. Naturally, a middle-aged Irishman sat down next to me and we started talking and, yep, four Guinnesses later I staggered out of there and made it to lunch. The rain continued off and on all afternoon, so I figured one more pub wouldn't hurt me. It turned out to be Kehoe's, a really atmospheric old place. I was to meet Joe and his mates at Brogan's at 6, so figured I better get some more food into me before starting up with them. On the way to Brogan's I found Abrakebabra, a nice little chain of kebab stands, good for a light snack, which I had. (BTW - I was later informed the branch of this Middle Eastern food establishment near the DSE had an unfortunate incident a few months back, where one patron was stabbed by another; natrually, the newspapers began referring to the restaurant as "Stabrakebabra.")

Got to Brogan's just before 6 (you know I'm always early for almost everything!), and when I sat down at the bar Ben, the owner, came up and said "Hi, Gary." And he was already pouring my Guinness. Gotta love Dublin! So, I met a bunch of Joe's friends, and they were so friendly and outgoing and welcoming it pretty much wiped out the bad taste of that awful super bowl party in the states. I lost track of the pints I had that evening, I think it may have been six or seven. Finally I had to get more food, so I wandered around until I found the Hard Rock Cafe in Temple Bar. Just what I needed. A big old juicy hamburger. Great. Caught the last bus home and crashed.

Saturday it was off on the DART to Howth, a small fishing village about 20 minutes north of Dublin. Nothing special there, just a quiet morning by the Irish Sea. A light lunch of seafood chowder and prawns, then back to town where I made a reservation for a Storytelling Evening that same day and then spent the rest of the afternoon in Fitzsimmon's pub watching the New Zealand/South Africa rugby match. Nice.

That evening, I got to the Brazen Head pub and restaurant (Dublin's oldest, founded in 1198) around 6:30 to await the start of my Olde Irish evening, complete with dinner, tales of yore, poems, etc. The presenter was Johhny Daly. Apparently Johnny's entire family also decided to show up that night, and I met most of them. Even got invited to a soiree by his aunt. The show was fun and interesting and the food acceptable. But I still want to hear a real Irish storyteller one of these days.

Sunday I was invited to Joe's parents' house for dinner, which was a wonderfully hospitable thing to do for an out-of-towner. We got there around 6 and settled into the dining area, which was actually an octagonal room added on to the rear of the house. Seven sides of the room were glass, as was the roof, and the views into the rear garden were fantastically bright and soothing. Romy and David were the perfect hostess and host, and I believe I have found two more kindred spirits in the wilds of south Dublin. A really nice evening, and I hated to leave.

And Monday morning it was up bright and early to start my summer classes at the DSE. Out of bed at 6:30, bussed into the center of Dublin, walked to the DART station and DART-ed down to Booterstown, where I had a 15-minute walk to the college. All in all, still about an hour's commute. Monday was level-testing day, and the few teachers in attendance only stayed until around noon, monitoring the 60 or so kids as they took their tests to determine which level of English class they would be in. Caught a ride with another teacher back to the main school, just off the River Liffey, where I taught my afternoon class from 1:45 until 5:00. A lovely young Italian woman who wanted Legal, Economic and Business English in a one-to-one class for two weeks.

The rest of my first week was basically the same, except I taught my morning classes. I was awarded the advanced senior classes, which consisted of (at first) five 17- and 18-year-old students, four of them Polish and one Spanish. Really nice kids and with a good level of English already. Just needed to learn more colloquial English and expand their vocabulary. Anyway, after arriving at the college, it was teach from 9:00 to 10:35, 25-minute break, teach from 11:00 to 12:35, race down to the DART station and get back to town around 1:10 PM, inhale a quick sandwich or burger at a nearby fast food shop, teach from 1:45 to 3:15, 15-minute break, teach from 3:30 to 5:00. Whew! Too much work for me! I can last out the two weeks, then it's mornings only for the rest of the summer. Still need to see the museum exhibits, catch some theater (will do Arthur Miller's The Crucible next week) and check out the surrounding coastal areas north and south of Dublin.

Finally hooked up with my friend Francis on Thursday night, along with a bunch of his buddies, at Frank Ryan's pub, just off Smithfield Square in North Dublin and down a short little side street named Coke Lane. Cool little pub, very old, with the best pint of Guinness yet in Dublin. There were six of us guys, and I do believe we polished off 5-6 Guinnesses each over the course of the evening. A good time. Also checked in at the Guinness Brewery, but arrived at 6:15 PM and it closed at 6. Bummer. Maybe next time.

Friday was just another heavy teaching day. That evening I hooked up with Will and his wife Mary Clare at Brogan's for a pint or two, then we went over to The Palace Bar for a nightcap or two. Will was definitely in his cups, just like the guy we knew and loved in Budapest, so the night ended early. Another weekend, and I was ready for anything. Saturday morning I bussed over to the Kilmainham Gaol (jail, to you Americans in the crowd) and did the grand tour. Interesting place, and just as depressing and forbidding as all jails. Reminded me of Alcatraz.

Also thought I might see if the Guinness Storehouse was open and not too crowded, so walked there, only to find a line halfway around the block. Hmmm. I walked to the front of the line and asked the young attendant if I could just go to the Gravity Bar (seven stories up) for a drink, as I didn't need to do the tour. And maybe stop at the Gift Shop and pick up a shirt or two. He informed me that just to get into the building I had to have a ticket, which was not inexpensive. Now, think about that a minute. In order to go to the Gift Shop in the Guinness Storehouse and buy some souvenirs, I had to pay a fee. Hmmmm, again. Does the phrase "rip-off" sound familiar. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed in the crass and over-the-top commercialism exhbited by what used to be a fun company.

Decided I had to do the Literary Pub Crawl that evening, beginning at The Duke pub, just off Grafton Street. The Crawl was put on by two Dublin actors, Brendan and Ethna, who acted out scenes from the works of some of Ireland's most famous writers and poets. We hit four pubs: The Duke, O'Neill's, The Old Stand and Davy Byrnes. The Crawl was somewhat less than I expected, as the acting was limited to only two of the pubs. Of course, it only cost 12 euro, so I guess I was satisfied. The other two pub visits were devoted to what our actors referred to as "quality drinking time." We used the time to our advantage.

Of course, as often happens to me these days, when at Davy Byrnes Pub I started talking to Niamh (pronounced "Neem") and her fiance David (from Glasgow). A really nice young couple, getting married in the very near future and honeymooning in South Africa and Mauritius. Spent a really nice hour with them, two friendly and outgoing people. Hope I get to see them again. The Guinness inhalations continued during the evening, but I did manage to catch the last bus home. Sunday was warm but rainy (Gee, what a surprise!) and I headed into town to see the Dublinia exhibit of early Viking memorabilia and other Irish artifacts. Good show. Home early, as had to be up at 6:45 once again the following morning.

And the summer goes on. Will update again soon, and just hope the remaining weeks of my summer holiday and teaching experience are as much fun as the first 10 days. I plan some weekend excursions all around Ireland, so as soon as my afternoons are free I'll start getting out more. Until soonest....