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Monday, 31 October 2011

Eh...where am I now?

As the plane taxied down the runway, all I could see was grey drizzle and mist out the window. New York in the rain isn't the worst thing in the world but it did make me doubt that I had actually even left Ireland. Once the bus from the airport emerged from the tunnel, I couldn't keep the smile off my face as we passed through the familiar streets of downtown New York. Almost felt like coming home. But I digress....

Saying goodbye to my mother was a bit tough, I did well up a bit while waiting to check in for my flight. Then all my upset was blitzed by rage. My stupid suitcase was overweight so I had to pay €75 to get it checked in. Should have just gone with getting a second bag instead. Live and learn I suppose! Flight was fairly uneventful; I watched 3 supremely shit movies and didn't enjoy the food (surprise surprise).

I found the hostel easily enough and got myself checked in and settled. And decided to head straight to Hoboken. Again, the familiarity when I was coming out of the PATH station was crazy. I strolled on up to the Dubliner but found that I didn't recognise any of the staff. The food menu hadn't changed and the Quesadillas were as delicious as they always were! Headed to the Shannon then to see Cathy and Cormac, nothing changed there thankfully. Then it was off to Whiskey Bar to see the wonderful 7Mornings perform (pictured below, fantastic gig!). It felt like I'd never even left the place!

I was sensible enough to leave at a reasonable hour and head back to my hostel and was able to get up on Friday morning for a tour of Central Park. Who knew that there was so much to see in one park? I learned loads. It is completely man made, there is nothing there that was not designed and constructed. There is a conservancy now of private individuals who provide 85% of the funding in order to maintain the park's pathways and bodies of water. Good job they've done too. This is probably my favourite photo, I didn't even know this statue was in the park!

I also got to visit the Plaza hotel - the scene of some of my favourite movies! That was pretty exciting. Also went into FAO Schwartz; not really my thing although I did get kind of excited when I saw the Harry Potter section. And I managed to get this wonderful picture with a lovely toy soldier. I kind of want one to take home with me....

Since I've arrived, it has been raining, snowing, sunny; it's been just like home to be honest. 4 seasons in a few days!! To see the rest of my photos see here....First 24 hours in NYC

Moral of the Story - while it can be sad to leave the place you call home, it doesn't mean that you will never find a home somewhere else!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go....if you don't know the rest of the words, just check it out here -
John Denver's infamous song.......

So, the big day is finally here. Time for me to spread my wings, broaden my horizons, expand my mind, etc. etc. blah blah blah. I'm sure all of those things apply to me also but the real reason I'm going? Boredom. Everything was at a bit of a standstill. My friends are getting engaged/married/having babies/buying houses/heading off on their own travels. I was just working away Monday to Friday, spending too much money in Fitzgeralds (not that I didn't enjoy it!) and just generally stuck in a Groundhog Day style situation. Only problem was, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing differently in order to make things 'right'.

I had always loosely planned to take a major trip around the world. As per the aforementioned overspending in my favourite bar, I did not quite get the money together for that kind of trip. Instead, I decided that I should get a work visa and head somewhere that I knew a little bit about, had some friends over there already, spoke the same language as me.....where better than the very same country that I had been working for 2 and a half years sending people to?? Plus, I figured somewhere like Toronto would offer a good springboard to visit other places in the US as well, which also really appealed to me. Unlike most of my peers, the Australia thing doesn't grab me the same way, although the recent promotions we ran in work made me think that I'd made a massive mistake in terms of choosing my destination. Plenty of time in the future for that though!!

First, I head to New York for 5 days. Hopefully I will actually get to do some of the tourist activities that I missed out on the last time, the hostel I'm staying at seems to organise some great tours. Plus I'll get to visit my friends in New Jersey which will be amazing. AND Helena & Brian will be arriving in from the Mexican honeymoon for one night that I will be there so that will be great craic. Then it's off to Toronto. I've been taking little bets with myself as to when I'll remember that I'm not on a holiday. I know that Gillian will help to get me settled as soon as possible, as well as being her Tourist Nazi self and making sure I see everything amazing (as well some boring nerdy stuff) that there is to see in her hometown, which I'm very grateful for ;)

I am sad to be leaving my family and friends, as well as a little bit terrified, but I'm looking forward to it at the same time. Besides, I won't be gone for too long. Back in July for another wedding and then we'll see how I'm fixed for staying a second year...or heading to Oz or NZ or having enough money to extend my travels a little further afield.

Moral of the Story - For this one, I'll leave you with some words of wisdom from one of the wisest men I've ever met and advice which I intend to adhere to while travelling. 'Be good, be kind, be truthful, be free....and don't forget to bring your own toilet paper on the plane.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

My Leaving Party/The End of an Era

So, the time had come for me to officially start saying my goodbyes. Decided to kill as many birds with one stone as possible by having one party and inviting everyone I know. Thankfully, everyone I know didn't turn up. Fitzgeralds is not really big enough for that. Sounds egotistical but for some reason, I know an awful lot of people, most of whom love a good excuse for a party. Many of whom do not even need an excuse.....

But I digress. I spent most of the last day in the office swanning around, saying good bye to everyone and generally getting quite emotional. The most emotional moment was possibly when dear Terri, Michelle and Claire presented me with their own little goodbye present - a hipflask for me and a new bow for Henry.

My manager Sheelagh presented me with a very snazzy hat (although Sketchy Petchy informed me they are called 'touques' in the Great White North) and mittens in order to keep me warm during the inevitably cold winter that I was condemning myself to.

Recording my out of office was very strange. I don't like to think of someone else having my 1666 extension number. I did the Devil proud with that one.

Everyone popped up for the traditional cake and goodbyes but all most of them were waiting for was to get to the pub and have a few civilised drinks in order to give me a proper send off. And a proper send off it was.  A pure whirlwind of trying to make time to have a few words with everyone in between posing for photographs and serving behind the bar. Not to mention getting up to sing a few songs with the band. Now that wasn't really in my plan, although the last few leaving parties we've had have all resulted in the person who is leaving singing 'Don't Stop Believing' with the wonderfully talented Totally Wired. The last time I tried to sing with them was at my birthday last year. I had consumed copious amounts of whiskey and was unable to remember the words, even with the lyrics written in front of me. Not a complete success. This time, I chose my own opening number 'I Will Survive', followed by 'Don't Stop Believing', 'Spancil Hill' and, of course, a wonderful duet of 'Horse Outside' with dear Emmet. There were some other tunes also but, to be honest, it all kind of blurs a bit as the night wore on.

Plenty of laughs, dancing, a few tears also, particularly when I was presented with my leaving present from the Fitzgeralds staff. You know you've spent too much time in a bar when they give you a Newbridge Silver charm necklace when you're leaving the country. The charms were lovely, a good luck charm and a cocktail glass. Deduce what you will from that symbolism......

Moral of the Story - do make the effort to get to know your local bar staff; when you're having a leaving party, invite everyone you know. A handful may only turn up but they'll be the ones that you know you'll keep in touch with forever. Whether they want you to or not.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

When Henry Met Helena

Me and Henry on one of our many nights out together.....

As Henry will be coming with me on my travels and most likely featuring quite heavily in my blog, I thought I should introduce him properly to those of you who may not have met him yet and will be wondering 'what in God's name is she doing with a toy dinosaur?'

Back in February, myself and some dear friends were taking a trip to London for a weekend to get us out of a particular funk we'd all been in at work. It was crazy busy and we were all feeling the pressure so a nice break was called for. Leaving the office that Friday evening, we were possibly the giddiest people in the city. Picture a group of 6 year olds leaving a birthday party after ingesting at least 2kgs of sugar each and you'll come close to what we were like that evening. 

After a rather hilarious journey to the airport (where I'm sure everyone else on the Aircoach was just itching to ask us to shut the hell up), we topped up our excitement with some delicious free drinks in the Business Lounge - passes to which are still a perk to enjoy while working in the travel industry! One short plane journey later and we had arrived in Heathrow airport. While waiting for our bags, we noticed a lonely toy dinosaur waiting by the luggage carousel. After a few furtive glances around, we determined that there was no one around who seemed to be missing a dinosaur and in the playful mood we were in, nothing seemed more natural than to take him with us. 

We did spend a few minutes trying to figure out what to name him; George and Henry were the 2 names that we eventually had to choose between and Henry won out. When you see him in person, he looks like a Henry  really. We played an excellent game on the Tube on the way to our apartment 'who can stand up the longest between stops and not fall over without holding on to anything'. Henry won obviously but only because his centre of gravity is so much closer to the floor.

He came everywhere with us that weekend, the London Bridge Experience, out clubbing. When we took him to lunch, I put him in the middle of the table. The waitress came to take our order and I introduced her to Henry. Obviously trying to play along, she asked if Henry would like anything to drink. I, being the lovely person I am, turned around and said 'of course not, he's a dinosaur'. Poor woman.

Since then, he's sort of become the office mascot. He's been to every office party we've had since then. He's been bowling in Bray. He celebrated Canada Day. He's even rubbed shoulders with the stars of Radio Nova (that's a whole other story!). A lot more lies in store for him, I'm sure.

Moral of the Story - when you find a random child's toy, don't just discard it. It could become a good friend.....or even just a conversation starter at parties!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Buenos Aires Grill review

With my departure date from Ireland creeping up faster than I would probably like, I am trying to squeeze in time with as many of my friends as possible just in case I do decide to stay away longer than intended. One such arrangement I had made was to purchase a fantastic Menupages Deal for the Buenos Aires Grill in order to treat my dear friend Michael for his birthday and give us a chance to spend some quality time together before I leave. The restaurant was fairly quiet which sometimes doesn't bode well but for the price we were getting our 3 course meal, I was happy enough either way!

Before I get the full review underway, I suppose I should mention a few minor 'faux pas' that occured, these are reasons why I shouldn't be let out in public too often. Especially not to nice places......
  1. Choosing a table by the window. Floor to ceiling windows that gave everyone walking by the opportunity to gawk in at us. Luckily, the restaurant is on a street slightly out of the way and it was a relatively quiet Thursday night. I am not a fan of people watching me eat. At least we weren't on the raised platform......
  2. Ordering a bottle of wine each. Now, in all fairness, a bottle of the house wine was only €3 more than the half bottle. In these recessionary times, we're all looking for more 'bang for our buck'. It was a good thing I wasn't in work the next day.
  3. Lighting the candle on our table. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, creating some atmosphere and what not, when I called the waiter over to check what wasn't included in our meal deal with the voucher we had, I managed to set the voucher on fire. I was still able to use it which is the main thing ;)
  4. As a result of Michael's hiccups and my wicked heartburn (after downing an entire bottle of red wine to myself), I demanded that the waiter bring us some bread soda and a glass of water. An old trick that my mother taught me to get rid of almost anything that is wrong with your digestive system. However, it must have looked a little strange when the waiter arrived back with a small ramekin full of white powder and placed it in the centre of the table.....
Despite all these hiccups (ah hiccups, literally! Just spotted this when reading back over, I love when I do things like that unintentionally), we managed to actually have a lovely meal. I had the scallops to start (a little surprised that they were included in the deal, surprised and delighted), he had the fish cakes. It almost fell into the trap of having too much rocket on the starter plates when it really doesn't need it. The scallops were cooked very well (always a fear of mine) and the buerre blanc sauce with them was a perfect accompaniment.  I did taste the fish cakes also and they were full of flavour with a couple of different fish tastes coming through. Onto the main event, which was obviously the steak. I went for the 8oz fillet, he went for the 12oz striploin. We both ordered our steak medium - unfortunately, my fillet was rather thick and slightly over-cooked for my liking around the outside but the flavour was fantastic and it was a really delicious cut of meat. His striploin was cooked absolutely perfectly. The chips were proper thick chinks of potato, although the side salad was a bit of a disappointment. I tried the Argentinean Chimichurri sauce which was a little oily for me but had good flavour. 

By the time we were ordering dessert, I don't think either of us were quite sure we really wanted it. But it was included and you never waste anything!! I chose the chocolate lava, he was boring and went for the ice cream. To be honest, we were both fairly well oiled at that stage, it wouldn't have mattered what we were served. I would have preferred the lava cake to be a little softer on the outside and should have ordered it with ice cream instead of cream. I don't even like cream!

Overall, the service was great, the food was delicious, the wine was flowing, the conversation was....well a little slurred by the end of it. We did manage to come up with a wonderful idea for what could become the best hostel in Dublin - Hostelle Mickelena. That is a subject for a post all of it's own....

Moral of the Story - don't order a whole bottle of wine with dinner. Either way, good company can make any mouthful of food taste better. Thanks Michael!! Check out the restaurant's website here also

Saturday, 8 October 2011

What's wrong with jumping on the bandwagon?

In the joyous rapture that followed the Dubs nail-biting win over Kerry in the all Ireland, I was quite annoyed to see a group on Facebook entitled 'jumping on the Dublin team bandwagon even though I've never watched a GAA game before'. I would never make a conscious effort to buy tickets to any of the matches as I would not consider myself a staunch GAA supporter and would not wish to deprive any die hard fans of the chance to experience the Croke Park atmosphere. However, just because I do not go to every match and hang flags outside my house does not mean that I am not allowed to bask in the glory of my fellow countymen when we win a competition that means so much. I watch the matches at home or in the pub when I get a chance, I may not be able to name every single player but I understand the rules and should be allowed to enjoy a game, such as that All Ireland Final without being made to feel guilty by anyone else!!

Similarly, I was given a bit of grief because I went to the Aviva stadium to see a friendly between Ireland and England. Not going to lie, I did get somewhat distracted by the very desirable figure of Tommy Bowe standing less than 20 feet away from me. Just because I enjoy watching the men in shorts and still have no idea why scrums are awarded or how they are won doesn't mean that I deserved to be there any less than anyone else.

There are those who look down on 'newbie' rugby fans who only began following the rugby team when they started doing well and have now become fanatical in anticipation of how far we can go in this World Cup. As far as I'm concerned, whether it's soccer, rugby, golf, tennis, whatever. Anything that can create a bit of unity and/or happiness in these turbulent times, is just fine with me and should be with everyone else.

What I do NOT hold much sway with is any fan who turns their back on their team just because they didn't win. Following today's match against Wales, there are bound to be some of those who take the view 'ah, they threw it away, they couldn't handle the pressure, they built themselves up too much, etc, etc, etc.' Cue exact same conversation should the soccer team not qualify for the European Championships after their less than totally convincing win last night. While it scares the bejesus out of me sometimes, you have to admire some of the English Premier League soccer fans faith. Win, lose, draw, they would die for their teams. Not saying we need to go that far obviously......

Moral of the Story - local and national victories should be shared by everyone, as should the losses. So today, instead of lamenting our exit from the world cup, we should celebrate how well the lads did and remember that for some of them (BOD, ROG, POC to name a few), this was likely their last chance to win a World Cup. Now that's gotta hurt.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?

Once again, Joe Duffy and Liveline 'break' another controversial story Seriously? Students have been doing ridiculous things like this for years. I was tempted to partake in similar competitions myself at college but when I saw that one of the items on the list that I would have to eat included that condiment I loathe above all others (ketchup), I decided to take a step back. While there may not have been live goldfish on the menu, there were some pretty vile combinations and I made a conscious decision not to put myself forward. It is highly unlikely that the son of the woman who rang to 'Talk to Joe' was forced into participating in one of these competitions. He made the choice to enter and while it is unfortunate that he became ill afterwards, he should have had some indication of his own digestive limitations and known when to call it quits. If a plate of raw chicken were to be placed in front of me, in a competitive situation or not, I'm pretty sure I would have the sense to say 'actually, I'm kinda full. I think I'll stop now'.

In a similar, and equally ridiculous, story, it has emerged that people were encouraged to submit photographs of themselves with serious sunburn in order to earn money towards a holiday. Obviously serious health risks are involved here also but again, while there may have been an incentive to take part, no one was strapped to a sun lounger and left out on a beach on the one sunny day of the year we've had so far.

**Addition to this blog on the 6th October. There is ANOTHER article today about 2 people being hospitalised for eating a killer curry in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fair play to the restaurant, their disclaimer is fairly explicit.... 'Kismot Restaurant will take no responsibilities for the bodily functions after you eat the curry.....If you die whilst eating or as a direct result of eating the curry, members of the table will share the cost of your Kismot Killer. If you become ill due to the Kismot Killer or if you find that you are experiencing any problems  with your lover(s) then under no circumstances are you entitled to blame Kismot Restaurant or any members of its staff'. Enough said really.....

Moral of the story - people are imbeciles. Do not be a sheep and do something of personal risk to yourself to make yourself look cooler. Joe Duffy will get you.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Driving in Ireland - barrel of laughs I tells ya!

Some people say that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. I disagree although I do think it becomes harder the older you get. Something like driving for example. A lot of people get that urge to learn to drive as soon as they are of legal age. I had no such urge. I was born and lived in the suburbs of Dublin, always had decent access to public transport, particularly once the LUAS opened. I never needed to drive. It was actually a completely unnecessary expense to my life. However, at the ripe old age of 24 and 10 months, I decided that it was time and that even if I wasn't going to own my own car, it would do me no harm to at least get my licence. I also had vague notions about going away to work for a year somewhere and knew that a driving licence would be a handy asset while travelling. I could go into my experience of learning to drive but we'll save that for another time me thinks. Suffice to say I passed my test first time......boom.

So, as a newly qualified driver (as in, had literally only been granted my licence 3 weeks) I decided to get on my high horse and declare that 'Yes, of course I am ready to take the company car on the road around the country for 4 days. Just under 700km all over the country, roads I've never driven before, not a problem.' The company (more fool them) said that so long as I was comfortable with it, then it shouldn't be a problem. And it wasn't. To start off with anyway.

So, loaded up the car from my office with all the marketing materials I needed for the events, checked that I had my memory stick with my all important presentation on it, etc, etc. I was ready. Started the engine, checked my mirrors, signalled to move out and away I went. No problems. Got on the motorway, through the tolls, made it into Cork City - even with the one way streets and mad traffic, I was still doing quite well. Drove into the car park behind our Cork Office to pick some materials from them. First time in a windy car park, still doing well. See a spot, pull in. Realise I've misjudged the angle to go to reverse the car to straighten up. Reach my hand out for the gear stick, shift into what I think is reverse.....nothing happens. I try again, and again, and again. Now, in my mother's car that I had done most of my practice in, you just move the damn thing. In my instructors car, there was a button you pushed and then moved it. I could not make head nor tail of how to work this one. Started to panic a little bit. I was in a massive estate style car and half of it was sticking out of the parking space. The one saving grace was that there was enough space for other cars to get around me!

I stuck the hazard lights on, got out of the car and lit up a cigarette to calm my nerves (ignoring the multitude of 'No Smoking' signs all around me). Then, being the sexist I am, I watched the cars go around me.....woman driver.....woman driver.....woman driver.....two young-ish lads 'Oh, excuse me? Do you know anything about cars? I can't seem to put mine in reverse?' Cue guffaws of laughter from both males in the car. I laughed along and explained how it was my first time in the company car and I hadn't thought to check if there were any little differences that might affect my ability to drive like a normal person. One of them very kindly sat into my car (and it did take him a couple of seconds to figure it out) pulled up this random ring around the base of the gear stick, put it in reverse and then parked my car for me. I stumbled into the office to tell the girls and we had a good laugh about it.

Managed to reverse out of the spot OK when I was done, minor victory for me. The next 5 hours passed without incident. Gave a presentation to around 280 people, answered questions for about an hour. Very pleased and tired but ready to wind down with a few pints. Was driving back to my hotel to drop the car and get changed. Of course, I was staying in the most awkward part of the city with a super steep hill, Managed to parallel park on the hill with little difficulty but decided that I could be closer to the curb. As I was manouvering, the handbrake jammed. By this time, I was thinking 'Screw it, it will still be stuck int he morning, I'll deal with it then'. Stomped into the hotel, spruced myself up and headed back out to meet my friend for a few well deserved pints. In the lift on the way out, a random guy started talking to me. Before I knew it, I was blurting out a question that I had already had to utter that day.....'Actually, do you know anything about cars?' 'I suppose so, yeah. Why?' 'Well, my handbrake is after jamming and I'm not sure if there's something wrong or if I've done something wrong..... I'm supposed to drive to Limerick tomorrow.' 'Are you parked near the hotel?' (Frantic nod from me) 'Sure, come on, I'll take a look at it for you'. Knight in Shining armour or what! All it needed was brute strength. He released the handbrake on his first go, and then waited with me while I tried it a few times myself to make sure that I could do it before heading off, chuckling to himself.

I'm a woman who believes that one good turn deserves another. After my couple of pints (where my dear friend Tommy nearly wet himself when I filled him in on the various incidents of the day), I headed back to my hotel where I spotted my Knight in the bar with some of his mates. I saw he was drinking Heineken so I bought a pint at the bar and dropped it over to him to say thanks which he was delighted with. I would like to think that it was because of that good deed that I had no problems for the rest of the week on the road.

Moral of the story - if someone does you a favour, show your appreciation. Karma will revisit you, honestly.