Guinness Time

May 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Europe, heritage sites | Leave a comment
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I spent a week at the end of January visiting a friend from Korea, back on his home turf in Northern Ireland. Our wonderful host took us around his old haunts in Belfast, his current haunts in Stabane and Derry, and even convinced his brother to drive us along the North Antrim Coast to the Giant’s Causeway before we bussed down to Dublin for a day prior to flying out to America.

Simon is from Strabane, once the most bombed town in Europe as it borders Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, though now you’d never notice it. Our time spent in Strabane consisted of eating huge portions of Simon’s mother’s tasty cooking, and visiting the pubs. It was time very well spent.

In Derry we took a walking tour of the city walls. The local guide was informative and entertaining, so the 90 minutes flew by. It was certainly well worth the money, and something I’d highly recommend. Tours run twice a day in winter, come rain or shine, Mon-Sat.The Fountain Estate; red, white and blue curbstones and lamp-posts indicate this is a Protestant area.Political murals in Bogside.We promised Simon we’d pose for the Mighty Candystripes!

It was interesting to see the places I had once seen on tv news when I was younger and to piece together the history I knew so little about, despite it being so close to me. In Belfast we took a tour bus, which similarly showed us the sites made famous because of the Troubles, as well as the shipyard which built the Titanic and the parliament buildings at Stormont.We stayed in the university area (in Simon’s sister’s house) where he showed us around the pubs, fast food outlets and other student dens. My favourite place of all was the Botanic Gardens; two glass houses of tropical greenery in the middle of winter. Surprisingly (or not, considering all the pubs that are about), Simon had never been there despite spending his student years in Belfast.He’d also never been to the Giant’s Causeway and only thought to take us there because everyone we met suggested that was THE place to visit. Since seeing photos in my childhood I had always wanted to go there, but the whole trip was made even better because we stopped off at lots of coastal spots along the way.Benone beach

storming Dunluce Castleshoreline at Dunluce

It was one of those lovely winter days outdoors; blasted by chilling wind and warmed inside by home-made soup in the visitor centre at the Causeway.

The Giant’s Causeway from cliff topstealing stones‘The Organ’‘Giant’s Boot’

Even though we had such a short time in Ireland, we felt we couldn’t miss out on a pilgrimage to the home of Guinness, so on the last day we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and departed – a little sadly – for Dublin.

Everyone always says, the Guinness tastes better in Dublin. I was a little skeptical about this. It’s an international brand, I thought, brewed on a large scale and exported worldwide; there can’t be that much variation. However, Guinness draught does taste completely different from Guinness in a bottle, or (God forbid, because it tastes so awful) Guinness in a can, so I was ready for the taste test in Dublin to find out.My first beer in Ireland (Northern, not Republic) was of course a Guinness, and…yes, it really did taste better than I remember it tasting in England, Korea or anywhere else I’ve had it for that matter. So, on into Dublin and I was fairly drooling at the mouth with the thought that Guinness could possibly be any better than it already was, and…it was!! I can’t describe how it’s different….lighter, creamier, smoother…something…but the Guinness in Dublin really is the best!Maybe it’s really true about the water source in St James’ Gate giving Guinness it’s special quality and being the reason Arthur Guinness first set up brewery here. The Guinness recipes served in the restaurant were also uniquely delicious (I’ve never had Guinness gravy quite like that). Certainly I wouldn’t object to a Guinness a day…Then again, I’ve never objected to a Guinness a day, it’s just pretty expensive and difficult to get out here in Asia.



March 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Posted in Europe, Trans-Siberian | Leave a comment
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On October 7th 2009, I set off with my boyfriend on a journey from Seoul to London, overland…

The good thing about travelling at this time of year is the lack of crowds; when we stayed in dorm rooms, we had them to ourselves and rates were cheaper. The downside to this season is the fact that most places are on limited opening hours meaning we missed out on things simply because we arrived on the wrong day of the week. The weather was never a problem as it was before winter really set in, but cold enough to give us a quintessentially snowy Siberia.

Below are expenses for two people, in local currency and dollars. Only local forms of transport are included in the tables. See notes below for inter-city and border-crossing transportation. ‘Other’ includes tours, admission charges, souvenirs (we did all our Christmas shopping on the trip), laundry etc.



Accommodation Food Transport Other
average 234








total 1,638 452 1,420 1,700

Train from Beijing to Mongolia 2,156 yuan per person (315.83USD). We had planned on travelling straight to Beijing, but all transport was booked up due to Golden Week celebrations and we were forced to spend three days in Qingdao. Every budget hotel we tried refused to take foreign guests so we ended up paying rather a lot for accommodation. Our taxi driver neglected to tell us there are in fact hostels in Qingdao. In Beijing, I can highly recommend Happy Dragon Hostel.


4 days

Accommodation Food Transport Other
average 14,425








total 57,700 122,650 19,000 106,000

Does not include 10 day all inclusive tour at 72USD per person per day, organised through Khongor Guesthouse. Train from Ulaan Bataar to Irkutsk 80,000 tugrik per person (55.46USD). In general, souvenirs were cheap – the value of ‘other’ is inflated because I bought warm boots and trousers, which later became indispensable for walking about in freezing Siberia.


26 days

Accommodation Food Transport Other
average 1591.2








total 41,370 18,381.45 4,188 8,040

We took sleeper trains wherever possible, saving money on accommodation. Prices per person ranged from 624 rubles (21.28USD third class) to 2,516 rubles (85.81USD second class) for journeys of 9 hours minimum. All train tickets were booked no more than 3 days in advance and bought directly from the stations; this is the cheapest option. Eurolines bus ticket to Tallin 650 rubles (22.17USD) per person. Not having traditionally been a backpackers’ destination, hostels don’t really exist outside of Moscow, St Petersburg and Irkutsk, so accommodation was somewhat expensive. At Baikal I would suggest IF Hostel in Irkutsk, which is newly-opened with friendly staff, and Nikita’s Homestead on Olkhon Island, which is a whole experience in itself that you would not want to miss. Also, Hostel Nord in St Petersburg is wonderfully located and has the best hostel kitchen ever.


9 days

Accommodation Food Transport Other
average 34.34 40.12 45.25 9.65
total 309.10 361.01 407.33 86.88

Cost is calculated in US dollars only, as each Baltic country has its own currency. Transport includes bus and train journeys from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius to Krakow. Daily transport costs were virtually zero as towns were small enough to navigate on foot.

In Krakow and Prague, we spent a lot of time visiting friends so accommodation and food costs were particularly low. For this reason I have not made a table of costs for these countries.

Regarding luggage, I took a 60 litre top-loading backpack and a mini-backpack (I’d guess 5-10 litre) which I used as my daypack. It was a little small, so I often crammed things in the ample pockets of my winter coat. I didn’t buy anything new before the trip, just took old clothes with me. Nothing was especially built for travel. Although everyone says take neutral colours when travelling, I took a couple of colourful or patterned items to brighten up my wardrobe. For me, not wearing earrings is like being naked, so I wore big hooped earrings, with a clasp so they wouldn’t fall out easily:

1 winter coat (wasn’t used until Mongolia)

1 zip-up micro-fleece

1 hoody top (very thin, warm and fast drying as it was made of synthetic materials)

2 thin knitted tops

2 thin long-sleeve tops

3 sleeve-less vest tops

1 pair of pajama bottoms

1 pair of skinny jeans

1 pair of light trousers, zip-off to become 3/4 lengths

about 9 pairs of socks and knickers, maybe 3 bras

1 bikini

1 pair flipflops

1 pair canvas slip-ons

1 pair hiking shoes

Bought along the way: fur-lined boots and fleece-lined thermal under-trousers.

The amount of clothing I took was fine, except between Irkutsk and Moscow when we couldn’t find anywhere within budget to do laundry (one place charged $4 per item of underwear!!). Instead we washed everything by hand in the bathroom sink, which got to be a little tiring after the umpteenth time.

Worn everyday since I bought them, the boots are now a bit worse for wear, as are my jeans and trousers (though I’m still wearing them). Although very useful, next time I’d bring comfy trousers that can be worn outside as well as inside (the pj trousers were really ugly and definitely not to be worn anywhere in public). Sweatpants would probably be a better choice. The canvas shoes were hardly worn, but were useful on the overnight train journeys when getting boots on and off takes too long. At the end of the trip, I threw away the vest tops, long sleeve-top, pjs, canvas shoes, and some of the underwear – they were all pretty old and rigours of the trip had done for them.

I also carried a toiletries bag, digital camera and charger, international adapter plug, small torch, ipod and charger, 1/2 a towel (I cut an old one in half since a hand towel is too small but a regular towel too big) and 1-3 books at any given time. With all of this, I still had extra space in my backpack, which was then filled along the way with gifts for people back home.

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