The last three weeks have been a blur. Also terrible for my waistline. Inopportune timing, as well as unusual circumstances, have put me in three different countries over such a brief span. Rather than hog all the fun and the Skymiles (just kidding, goobers, those are all mine) my jet-lagged self figured it best to share my learnings while still fresh, and whilst I have one last pair of clean underwear left.
I tried to come up with a kitschy rating system, which primarily consisted of police presence, availability of late night snacks, niceness of the population, and hipster ratio, but the quantification of such largely fell apart. Still, you'll find some relevant mentions as we hop along.
Chapter 1: Dublin
Ireland was one of those yearly occasions where I get to mooch off of my wife's international job and tag along. She had a conference, and I have an ongoing love affair with pints of the black stuff.
When someone tells you they are going to Dublin, the response aligns with how people react to New Orleans. Let's just say that most of the top attractions are places where they make booze, and the rest serve it in substantial quantities.
But before we rush off to low-hanging fruit and stereotype the whole country, it is worth noting that Dublin is a booming tech hub. There are cranes everywhere. If you don't like the way things look now, come back in a year and enjoy the $20 sandwiches. One of our hotels was within a block of Google, Facebook and AirBnb offices. It follows along with my Bill Gates rule: if one of the richest people in the world puts a vacation home there, then you should visit. Likewise, if Zuckerberg sets up shop with his hoodie-wearing mafia, how bad could it be?
Everyone told me the weather was going to be awful. Then, the flippin' Irish Prime Minister came on stage at Allison's conference and told us we were in luck. The 3 actual days of summer happened to coincide with our trip. Hooray! But, for sake of this review, the weather in Dublin is always nice, because that's all I have ever experienced. End of story.
In rapid fire succession, here are a few other notable things about Dublin:
- Gaelic first in all things - much like Quebec and their French, any municipal sign is going to be listed first in a language you don't understand. Just have a good laugh at how many letters it takes to communicate the word "Photography" while waiting in the passport line.
- Some beautiful vistas are just outside the city. One of the most expensive "suburbs" is an area called Howth, which I highly recommend.
- People in Ireland drive on the left and walk on the left. Also, watch out for trams. They come at you fast once you are a few pints in.
- Locals apparently do not own sunglasses. This may fall in stark contrast to my weather review as listed above.
Chapter 2: Sydney
So this is where things get interesting. I had an opportunity with a customer that I couldn't pass up. This meant that I was off to Australia 4 days after returning from Ireland. Less than two days to explore a bit with my buddy Woody, and three working with said customer at their offices.
For starters, Sydney is beautiful. I was there in the middle of winter, but you quickly get the idea. My AirBnB host was concerned enough about a low of 60 degrees that they dropped off a heater. I think that pretty much sums it up. In review: 60 degrees, cold enough for a special delivery space heater.
Almost all of the people I met were super nice - both expats and folks who had lived their whole lives in Australia. Aside from the exorbitantly high cost of living, I can see why. Within a 2 hour drive, you have some of the world's most beautiful beaches, a super diverse food scene, a very approachable wine region, and more ways to gamble than you can possibly imagine. I put $3 AUS on a kangaroo to beat a hipster in 3-card monte.
But seriously, though, I'll be back. 5 days hardly scratches the surface. It also leads to unimaginable bowel confusion. In the meantime, if you decide to make the lengthy trek, here are a few notes to largely ignore:
- These goobers also drive on the left and walk on the left, just like our Irish friends. They will sit through day of cricket, but oddly eschew teatime as it cuts into their 35 hour workweek.
- Australians celebrate the Queen Mother's birthday (some states strangely choose different days), while England does not mark this as a public holiday.
- Although they look similar on TV, Australian rules football and rugby are entirely different sports. Aussie rules is known for employing a whole team of what we Americans call "punters that can tackle" while their rugby is like our football without timeouts or forward passing. It is oddly satisfying when a "Touchdown" consists of a person actually touching a ball down on the ground in the end zone to score.
- Do not bring your nuts, fruits and flowery things into Australia. After being fleeced for a $20 ETA immigration fee and extra form prior to my flight, it became ever-comical how tightly sphinctered they are down-under. My Delta flight lavishly gave all of their first-class passengers fresh Camellia flowers in a box to enjoy, then told them to give them all back upon landing, because they don't let that shiz into Australia. I also had to toss my $8 trail mix and 2 free bags of almonds. For reasons why, might I suggest Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. You would be amazed what 24 rabbits and a few blackberry bushes can do to a place that has never hosted rabbits and/or blackberries.
- The wildlife is next level in Australia. Snakes, jellyfish, crocs, sharks, spiders, ants - they don't play. Even the trees and plants can mess you up.
Chapter 3: Toronto
Yeah, so I'm not stretching super hard to make country (and continent!) number 3 an hour's drive from Buffalo. Still counts. My last, and final destination for the foreseeable future, is our hospitable neighbor to the north. That's actually where I sit in that second-to-last fresh pair that was mentioned up top.
In short, I like Toronto. It's all steel, glass, and concrete, but that is all fine with my tastes. I've come to appreciate a town that makes the most of their good months (someone deemed it "Winter or Construction Season"). Maybe that is whey there where approximately 15 at the indoor stadium watching the Blue Jays play tonight. Get it while it's hot! And by "hot," I mean a delightful 75 degrees. Everything is relative when 8 months of the year are candidates for mitten-wearing.
In line with my incomplete rating system, the people are ridiculously nice (apologize for ringing their bike bell nice) and I have seen very few cops. One assumes that an increased police presence is more inline with expected mayhem (like in Athens where I saw 2 cops to a motorcycle at every intersection). One of the officers tonight was wearing shorts and smiling like he was enjoying himself, which should basically cancel out if we are being honest.
My hotel is in the super touristy section, but a quick walk into town is a reminder that there is plenty to do, see and eat. My cab driver was proud to call this an "international city" and I totally get that. My first meal was a cost-effective Thai noodle bowl, the second a reasonably priced gyro, and the third a super legit brick oven pizza (with chili oil dippy sauce) and red wine by the ounce. Challenge accepted. In summary...
- The American dollar is kicking ass right now, so don't freak out over $7 CAD beers
- If you have shady dealings, I can see America from my hotel. Not sure how they can stop every paddle boat that comes across the border...
- After a grand total of over 2 hours in passport control with the previous trips, Canada was a cool 3 minutes. Thanks, neighbors. I needed that.
- I've been told that Toronto is the fake New York for movie purposes. This was proven 30 minutes after my arrival, when I walked through the set of the Umbrella Academy, which is filming for Netflix.
- Late night eating is encouraged here. They celebrate poutine, which is basically everything your mother told you was bad, but on fries. Get in my belly!
In summary, I keep expecting someone to look at my passport and say "What the Hell is wrong with you?" but only one immigration stop remains from the close of that opportunity. My sweet girls are starting to think they are single-mothered. I've baited them with stuffed-animal gifts, but their loyalty will soon fade. it is time to go home.
Happy to be back in Alabama tomorrow.
*In everlasting tribute to Anthony Bourdain - a man that inspired me to cook, travel, and lay down all pretenses at the door. Rest in peace. You will be missed.