Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monthly Column - Indulge in Quebec

My latest travel column from the Wicked Local papers...

The border guard’s guttural accent pricks up your ears before the ink on your passport has time to dry. In that instant, America and the English language evaporate into fleurs de lys. You’re in French-Canada and you better start translating.

Read the article at: 
Wherever It Takes: Indulgence behind the walls of the Walled City - Danvers, MA - Danvers Herald

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Images from the Emerald Isle

Ireland is a lot of things, but picturesque should be listed right at the top of the list. After only three days on the Emerald Isle, I had snapped almost 400 photos. From the witty banter in a Dublin pub to the breezy green bastion at the edge of oblivion along the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland is at a constant pose. If you're lucky enough to catch a blue sky, all the better. But a dark, haunting beauty fills the clouds along the coastline, just the same as it swirls in the clouds of a pint of Guinness. Architecture, religion, nature, culture, beer, food, history - no matter your subject preference, Ireland provides with heart and humor. See Ireland through a lens - but just don't forget to pop your head out and see it with your own eyes.
Here are some of my favorites.

 The Perfect Pint - Guinness Factory tasting room, Dublin

Irish Luck - Guinness Factory tasting room, Dublin

The Harp at Night - Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin

 Day Harp - Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin

Castle Through the Trees - Dunguire Castle, Ireland

O'Neill's Pub - Dublin, Ireland

Strength & Honor - St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

At Prayer - St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Trinity College - Dublin

 The Cliffs - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

 Castle on the Cliff - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Path Along Oblivion - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

 Corcomroe Abbey - The Burren, Ireland

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gaining Perspective in Yosemite

Check out my latest monthly column about gaining perspective in Yosemite National Park.

Click here for story


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Any Pub in Dublin

The Irish can’t stand it when you stereotype them. They know the world expects them to be Guinness-drenched, overly hospitable chatterboxes. It’s not that they take offense; they just humbly prefer you refrain from pointing out their best qualities and join in.
It doesn’t take much to feel at home in Dublin. That may be due to my Irish heritage, but more than likely not. It may be amplified a little, but certainly not exclusive. You know that annoying thing people say on March 17 every year, whether you’re in an Irish pub, a beach-side tiki bar or a techno-thumping night club: “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day!”

That statement has much more credibility and truth to it no matter what day it is, when you’re actually in Ireland. The people there will encourage you to welcome others with open arms and chat the night away over too many pints of Guinness draught. And suddenly you’re one of them, feeling right at home embracing the Irish way.
The best way to do it? Just pick a pub. Any pub in Dublin is better than every bar in America, so you won’t go wrong with any one you choose. Or, if you’re like me, any eight you choose.
My Sunday in Dublin began quietly enough, meeting some friends for coffee and strolling around the grounds of the magnificent Trinity College. When we saw the line to see the Book of Kells stretching around the entire courtyard, our plans had to be changed. As much as I wanted to see the old library inside, I was not wasting a Dublin day in a two hour line.

Our group found itself at The Duke, a typical Irish pub serving typical food and typical beer. But typical is a compliment here because anything less or anything more would be unauthentic and out of place. In terms of time spent at pubs in Dublin, I tended to measure hours or minutes in pints. But there really can be no quantitative value assigned to a pint. The consumption rate depends on equal parts of the quality of the conversation and the heaviness of what’s inside that pint glass.

Our group - myself, my wife Danielle, our friends from London Katie and John, my college friend B.J. and a few of his family friends from home in the States – slipped into easy conversation barside at The Duke, asking the bartender about the rules for the upcoming Irish Football match and if he ever watched the NFL (no). Three pints later, Katie and John departed for the airport and the rest of us sauntered into the sunny Irish afternoon in search of a pub we’d all heard of, O’Neill’s.

After obtaining bad directions from a local (and yes, I believe this is required of every tourist in Ireland because we had been forewarned by several people, including a bus driver, that the Irish will never say they don’t know and just tell you regardless of accuracy), we spent a half hour walking in the wrong direction before turning around, retracing our steps and landing at O’Neill’s about 5 minutes from where we started.

If you can only visit one Irish pub in Dublin, snag a seat at O’Neill’s. It is not located in the famous Temple Bar area but it is on a back corner near an old church and a side street where tour buses pick up day passengers. One of O’Neill’s draws is the building itself. It is a pile of old, wooden rooms scattered on top, next to and around corners and crannies. On one trip to the bathroom we found an outside roofdeck and a set of stairs that led to a whole other hidden side of the pub. O’Neill’s seemingly just keeps going.

On this particular Sunday, the crowd was more locals than tourists due to the Irish Football semi-final championship playoff match between Dublin and Mayo. If you’ve never seen an Irish Football match, and I never had, think of a mix between soccer, rugby and felony assault. It was easy to see why the patrons at O’Neill’s clad in blue/white (Dublin) or green/red (Mayo) had more energy than a Red Sox v. Yankees playoff game. Despite being in Dublin, we found ourselves rooting for the underdog, Mayo. Dublin, we were told, is the equivalent of the New York Yankees, a powerhouse who won the championship last year but in this match was way behind early. Equal parts astounding athleticism and savage head shots, the match required several pints and caused quite a few oohs and ahs. As we left O’Neill’s, undeservingly satisfied with Mayo’s victory, I felt I could get into a sport like this.

From there we strolled through the famous and infamous Temple Bar area of the city. It is an area full of pubs and restaurants, a neighborhood for nightlife and revelry. We picked through the decorated and hopping Oliver St. John Gogarty’s, named after one of the city’s influential writers and difference-makers, before turning up to a pub called Buskars for a pint.

At this point we knew the road we were on and were willing to walk it. The only logical destination was the neighborhood’s namesake, the Temple Bar.

If O’Neill’s was a classic pub, serving classic food while cheering on a classic Irish sport, Temple Bar was its crazy, drunk uncle. The pub was jammed with people, both locals who watched the game and a deluge of tourists crammed around the musicians rattling off traditional Irish songs.

We found a tiny square of floor one layer removed from the bar and stood our ground. In a situation like this, when spillage and bumping is inevitable, the best thing to do is make friends with your neighbors. They did so for us. The two older gentlemen sitting on stools in front of us started chatting with BJ and we quickly engaged in conversation about Dublin v. Mayo (see, it helps to know what’s going on in the city you’re visiting) and anything else that came to mind. At one point my wife tried to take a picture of the massive array of bottles behind the bar, prompting the ribbing from one of the men that she was actually trying to snap a keepsake of the attractive male bartender. She assured me that wasn’t the case.

A few pints and few sing-alongs later, we left Temple Bar and a few friends behind us on our way to Finnegan’s nearby. At Finnegan’s we encountered a priest, a lawyer, a cop and a firefighter – no this is not the start to a joke. They were related, from America and of Irish heritage, of course. And coincidentally, one of them went to school with one of my wife’s best friends – Katie, who had left us a few hours before to fly home to London. The connection prompted a few pints, as it typically does, and the pints prompted a few comedic encounters with the bartender, as they typically do (we would see this group of Americans the next day on our day tour to the Cliffs of Moher, realizing the “small world” theory to its fullest).

Finnegan’s thinned the herd. Myself, my wife and B.J. were the only soldiers left standing. But the night was far from over. We decided to take an unknown route home and in doing so, stumbled, literally, on a bar B.J. had been looking for since his arrival on the Emerald Isle. The Stag’s Head, with its comedy club in the basement, made for the perfect last stop to our evening. We grabbed three seats at the bar, chatted up our bartender Neal and settled in for a few pints of Guinness. Neal convinced my wife, who had said she was done for the night, to have just one more, “wee pint.” Just cursed him, as she took the half glass from him.

“This is all your fault, Neal,” she said, along with a few choice and inappropriate curse words.

All Neal could do was laugh and say that she was not the first woman to say that to him, so he was alright with it.

We left Neal and the Stag’s Head out the door we entered, onto the cobbled back street intersection that acted more like a courtyard than traffic stop. As we departed the pub, we passed through a large crowd immediately outside the door. They were locals, some were sitting, some standing, all were singing, yelling, chatting and all were around the age of 60. I knew that because of the birthday cake on the overturned wooden barrel in the middle of the street.

“Happy birthday!” I yelled and got a raucous cheer in return.

“Want some cake?” And suddenly we were part of the family. I spent an hour talking to a man named Paul, or Peter, I’m not sure. It was late and as good as Guinness is, I don’t think it helps increase your memory. He lives in France, from Ireland of course, but sent seven years living in Somerville, Massachusetts. When he told me what street, I knew exactly where his house was. This small world thing was starting to scare me.

Regrettably, we departed from our newfound friends. With pubs shuttering their windows, it became apparent the night had finally come to an end. I had drank, hugged and chatted my way across greater Dublin, in a fashion some people would consider wasteful or crass. I consider it getting to know the city, the people, the culture and their delicious birthday cakes.

If you were counting, I referenced only seven pubs. There was an eighth somewhere in there. I’m sure of it. We counted on the walk home that night, wrote down “8” and fell asleep. But for the life of me, my wife or our friends, we cannot remember the name of the eighth pub. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. It simply reaffirms my belief that any pub in Ireland is better than any bar anywhere else.