Interrail pit stops- my European findings

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As I sit here, a mere day from my graduation, the impending reality of a worry-free summer and the possibility of filling it with more adventures from abroad hits me. Where shall I jet off to next? Shall I return to Asia? Interrail for a third time? Or do I take on a new challenge before my graduate mortarboard cap even has a chance to reach the floor?

Such contemplations always lead me through the same thought process- where shall I go, how do I get there, and where do I stay whilst I’m away? The latter of these three has always been the one I struggle with most. I’ve always had to put serious thought into my accommodation as there are several factors of importance: location within the area; facilities; social activities; and of course the all-important question of price. All of these are crucial in my decision to stay somewhere. As I look back in retrospect on my European travels, some places stick out far more than others. Here’s but a sample of some of these gems and the reasons I hold them in such high regard.

1. The Odyssee Hostel, Berlin.
Located in Eastern Berlin, this hostel offered a lot. The facilities were modern and clean and though I stayed in a large dorm, security and space was certainly not an issue. With both an in-hostel kitchen and a Kaiser’s supermarket just down the road, cooking for yourself was made nice and easy- very convenient when travelling on a budget! In terms of experiencing Berlin, the former industrial complex turned alternative hub that houses restaurants, bar and clubs such as the ‘Raw Tempel’ nightclub was only a 10-minute walk. This is a great alternative to the similarly nearby Berghain, probably now just as famous for its ridiculous queues as it is for it’s techno. The Odyssee also offered a ‘Happy Hour’ session for it’s guests where big bottles of beer were a measly 1, making it incredibly easy to get nice and tipsy before hitting the Berlin nightlife.

The reception/bar area at the Odyssee with the visible ‘Happy Hour’ sign
Photo: Odyssee Website

Price: €15-20 per night in a dorm

2. Hotel Canyon Matka, Macedonia.

Looking down on the secluded Hotel Canyon Matka

A hotel that is a true favourite of mine. Already written about extensively in another one of my articles, this is a gem hidden amongst the Macedonia countryside. With a lakeside location and a view from the rooms that looks out upon said lake, the scenic beauty is an obvious attraction for this hotel. Complimenting this idyllic lake is the many different hikes and water sports available- I myself tried my hand at kayaking. With an in-hotel restaurant serving up great food at great prices, a lot of it freshly caught in the lake, you can find yourself with virtually everything you could need here. For a more in-depth review of the hotel, here’s my article reviewing my memorable stay at this fantastic hotel.

Price: Dependent on time of year, best to ring/email to enquire

3. Greg and Tom’s Beer House, Krakow.

One of the dorms at Greg and Tom’s
Photo: James Antrobus. Flickr.

In a city as beautiful and historical as Krakow, one might not expect to see a hostel whose sole purpose is to get its guests well and truly inebriated and to party Polish style. Whoever Greg and Tom are, their hostel certainly lived up to the name ‘Beer House.’ Though not completely kitted out, it offers everything you could need for a few days stay. The dorms are spacious and simplistic, consisting only of bunkbeds, and the showers, though shared, are kept nice and clean. All in all, the bulk of your time here will be spent either in the bar/restaurant area down stairs or in the kitchen/dining space available to guests upstairs. Here, guests can enjoy dinner included in the price of the room (perfect for travelling on a budget) as well as enjoy a drinking session thrown most nights by the hostel that inevitably leads into a bar crawl and eventually to a club- something definitely worth doing!
For some of the abundant non-boozy activities that Krakow has to offer, go no further than the reception at Greg and Tom’s. From here, you can book numerous tours and excursions including tickets and travel to the must-see Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. Likewise, the hostel is situated within Krakow’s Oldtown and is the perfect base from which to explore the attractions of the city – it’s a matter of minutes from Krakow’s ‘Rynek Główny’, the beautiful main square of the city.

Price: 10-14 per night in a dorm

4. Hostel Mostel, Sofia.

The outside space of Hostel Mostel
Photo: Jwalsh. Flickr.

Prior to my stay, I’d heard a lot about this hostel from various website suggestions and from the works of the famous blogger, ‘Nomadic Matt’. It was not to disappoint. The location, for me anyways, was completely ideal. Close enough to the cities attractions and bustling main streets and yet far enough away as to not be caught up in the noise and aggravations of the same streets during the night. Despite being in the centre of the city, you couldn’t help but feel as if you were completely cut off from the outside world. On its doorstep is a local produce shop where you can buy food and drink, and next to this is a free of charge ATM. It was perfectly situated for guests both leaving and returning to the hostel. Once again, for those on a budget, this is another ideal hostel. Meals were available and although not totally free, they were incredibly cheap. Bar crawls with the option for drinking at the hostel beforehand were also available for a small fee and proved a great way of socialising with other travellers. Such big social and outdoor areas also meant that if you didn’t fancy a drink it was still easy to meet people. Private rooms are available in a range of numbers but I myself found that the dorms were great value compared to others I have stayed in across Europe. Not only were they big in size but they were comfortable, clean and security was far from an issue. Nomadic Matt hit the nail on the head when suggesting Hostel Mostel.

Price: €10-16 per night in a dorm

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‘Osteria Sottoriva,’ Verona. – a suggestion from a local

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Entrance to Osteria Sottoriva

Writing about Italy has always seemed of great ease to me. The home of such a rich and visible history; the producer of maestros such Pirlo and Totti; the catalyst for the Renaissance of art and culture across Europe. It is truly a country able to offer something to just about any interest.  Add to this growing list a place synonymous with food.

Having already established itself as one of the finest eateries in the city across various web forums, ‘Osteria Sottoriva’, located just near the Casa di Romeo, certainly did not disappoint. Having used the hit online hospitality service ‘airbnb’, my girlfriend and I struck the motherload when our hosts also provided for us a list of their own restaurant recommendations. Wanting to use the advice from our local source, we stuck to their sugesstion and on the third night came across this little eatery.

We’d been told explicitly to ‘get there early – it’s sure to fill up!’ and fill up it did. Opening at 6pm, we figured that turning up at 6:10pm would mean we’d have the pick of a few tables. Oh how wrong we were. With only one candlelit room of about five tables, all packed tightly together, we were luckily offered the final two spaces on a table with another, Italian couple.

The Menu and the ‘Little Help’ Section

Given that neither of us are fluent in Italian, a rustic little place like this, run and frequented by locals, could have posed a few problems. This did not prove to be the case. Not only were the staff well adept at English, but they also provided a menu with a section titled ‘Little Help’ that explained not only the food on offer, but also the Osteria policy of ‘No Bookings’. Customers may be asked to move tables together to make room.

This provided an atmosphere I have little experienced in England. There was a perfect balancing of intermingling and separation, allowing your dining experience to be both public and a private.

After making the difficult decision of what to order – my girlfriend going for the lasagne whilst I went for ‘Le Crespelle’ (similar to crepes) – the wine and parmesan were brought out. It’s so typical of Italy that one can order half a litre of red wine for next to nothing. To place beside that one of my favourite cheeses created a sight as beautiful as any Da Vinci painting.

Wine and Cheese night anybody?

That old saying, ‘you eat with your eyes first’, was certainly true; however, my mouth was far from disappointed. The prongs of my fork could only just contain the multitude of flavours that oozed from the egg pasta pancakes. A combination of vegetables and rich ricotta cheese sounds simplistic and yet was nailed to perfection.

Our main courses, Lasagne (right) and Le Crespelle (middle)

Not having much of a sweet tooth, I’m never one for ordering dessert, which in this case was just as well because our waitress brought out complimentary coffee shaped puddings which, to be fair, weren’t all that bad. These, alongside the complimentary bread and just the general friendliness of the staff, made us feel treated, like we were being really looked after as customers. Add to that the more than reasonable price and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. I know for sure that when I return to Verona, Osteria Sottoriva will be one of the very first places I visit.

The ‘Telegraph Travel Show’: a brief insight

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The entrance to the Telegraph Travel Show

**This article was originally written for and posted by The University of Warwick’s student newspaper, The Boar, and can be found on this link.**

Whenever I open up Instagram, usually in the midst of a lecture too much to handle, the scroll is always pretty much the same. A few comical memes appear on my home screen, a few likes are dished out here and there and then this process is repeated routinely until the ‘recent posts’ are no more.

However, occasionally this practice can offer up some surprises and it was in the midst of this browsing that I came across something a little bit different in the form of the Telegraph Travel Show. The following of well-known traveller Gunnar Garfors had not only notified me of the event but had also granted me free tickets. As if this wasn’t enough incentive to go, upon arrival I was greeted by a goody bag filled with the weirdest assortment of stuff, some more expected than others- the Lactose free milk was certainly a surprise!

The event itself was a three-day affair to be held in London’s ExCel. As it would happen, Garfors would be a guest speaker on day one, Friday 13th January. Comparable to university careers fares, the various stalls were set out in grid formation and assigned to different companies offering excursions and opportunities across the globe. Some companies offering the more adventurous trips were able to compliment these opportunities through innovation in their stalls- ‘Peru safari’ for example brought one of their 4×4’s to promote their trips.

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Peru Safari’s 4×4 truck brought along to advertise the company.

Of course, with such a layout it made it easy to wonder around between countries deciding which one you wanted to visit next. However, if you’re like me and can’t decide on where to go, the ‘Genius Bar’ in the centre of the show is the perfect place for you. This bar boasted a collection of travel experts willing to give advice in a range of areas, including which stands were best to visit in the show. If you’re completely lost in your travel plans or stuck for inspiration, they were the people to see.

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The Genius Bar at the centre of the Telegraph Travel Show

Another prominent feature of the show, labelled the ‘Destinations Theatre’, played host to an array of specialist guests covering a wide scope of travelling themes. All those I saw were exceptional but Garfors was very much my highlight. He is one of the few able to claim to have been to every country and did so as a hobby traveller, meaning he also maintained a full-time job alongside this. At 37 years old upon completion, he is the youngest to have achieved this feat. It was after having read his book, ‘198: How I Ran Out of Countries’, that I was hooked on his stories about his time in some of the worlds obscurest locations, so when I learned his talk was titled ‘Why I am Going Back to the Least Visited Countries in the World’, I was naturally intrigued.

He started with a brief discussion of who he was for those who didn’t know and then detailed the countries least visited and why he would go back.

Garfors dicussing his time in Afghanistan visitng a Burkha shop

I found both Garfors and his anecdotes so intriguing, particularly on what he calls ‘The Stans’, that I’m now all but determined to visit Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan in the near future.

Admittedly, ‘Travel’ may have not been the most applicable term. Perhaps the ‘Telegraph Holiday Show’ would have been more appropriate. This is not to suggest any sort of disdain towards the show- it was well worth a visit if not just for inspiration alone! However, as a final year university student looking to do some sort of volunteering work abroad, I found myself to be of a rare breed. The show was packed with middle-aged couples looking for a cruise or a company tailored holiday. There wasn’t a single volunteering stand! If you’re still in the student mind-set and reluctant to spend vast amounts of money, this is perhaps the place to window shop your options as opposed to booking anything.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele: a (brief) pizza lover’s tour of Napoli

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Now the feasting of Christmas is over and the accompanying fasting is soon to begin, I find myself reclined in the same gluttonous comfort that has debilitated me before. Such a feeling transports me from Christmas time in my Southwestern home back to my Italian travels from summers before. Where today roasted turkey sits firmly in my stomach, previously, it was Neapolitan pizza that sent me into this loll.

Naples, as im sure you are aware, is well renowned for its expertise in pizza. Thinking myself somewhat of a connoisseur, I was determined to do my research and sample the top pizzerias within the city according to the various forum websites out there. Little did I know what lay in store for me.

Of course, I hadn’t come to Naples simply because of my love of pizza. I’m also a current Classics student and so the rich variety of history and artwork throughout the city was vastly appealing. It just happened to work out fantastically well that next to the majority of these landmarks stood a highly-rated pizzeria just waiting to be sampled. When in Rome…well, Naples.

The first of these I came across was en route to one of these famous tourist attractions. Pizzeria Aiello, positioned right next to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (the Naples National Archaeological Museum to the non-Italian speaker), gave me a slice of what to be expected from the city- pardon the pun.

Small eateries such as this are by no means a rarity in Naples. As well as Aiello, I stumbled across a few that were of the more innovative sort- Pizzeria Giuliano in particular stands out due to its English inspired pizza, aptly named ‘Pub’, that was topped off with the adventurous sausages and chips. It may sound a little odd but trust me, it’s worth a try. Alongside this they also offered an equally adventurous Italian counterpart by creating their ‘Lasagne’ pizza. Two types of pizza that shouldn’t really work and yet somehow Giuliano managed to pull it off.

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The busy dinner service at da Michele. Photo: Flickr. yashima. 22/06/11

Though I had tried what seemed like an endless amount of pizzerias in a very limited amount of time, there is one that will always stay with me. ‘L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele’ was quite simply, outstanding. Much like the other pizzerias, da Michele is sandwiched between bustling streets littered with landmarks and shops alike. It’s been in this prominent little location on the Via Cesare Sersale since 1930 and it’s not hard to see why. All I had to do was walk ten minutes in pretty much a straight line towards the city centre from the Garibaldi train station and there it was. Every review I had read showered it with praise, making me think that it’s reputation and central position meant it was going to be busy. Very busy. By the time I’d turned up for my first taste it was packed out the door with punters. The only thing i could do was wait…and wait…and wait.

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My order number at da Michele.

They had a very down to earth system when it came to the queue. A simple green slip of paper with a number on it reminiscent of a raffle ticket acted as our reservation guarantee. Mine was ‘72’ and because I didn’t know the first number they had served when I arrived, I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence. When I was finally called to a table, I was absolutely buzzing. 

It seemed to be the sheer simplicity of the place that was its greatest attraction to me. Much like another hidden gem of mine, the Pho Binh restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, I was greeted with only two options upon the menu, Pizza Marinara or Pizza Margherita, with the option of doubling the amount of Margherita used. This could be rephrased in an English sense as ‘no cheese, cheese, or lots of cheese?’. The recipe and method has little changed since the restaurants beginning, but why ruin a winning formula? As there were four of us dining we decided to ask for a combination of the three, ordering a Marinara, two Margheritas and a double Margherita.

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The Margherita at da Michele. Photo: Flickr. Sami Keinänen. 1/11/07

We could see directly from our table the kneading and flipping of the dough and the crafting of the pizzas before they were placed in the clay oven. A matter of minutes later and we were in play. It’s hard to describe exactly how good these pizzas were. Exceptional? Superb? Fantastic? I suppose any one of these will do.

We took a very brief break from our devouring of these pizzas to look up and see that on the wall was a face we all recognised. Julia Roberts, who famously ate here in the travel memoir turned film Eat Pray Love, looked down upon the diners from a photo upon the wall commemorating this. It seemed we were in good company when it came to appreciating the pizza here.

The whole experience- authentic diner and pizza combined- more than justified the number of awards upon the sticker filled door we passed on our way into the pizzeria. Having that many consecutive TripAdvisor awards is no coincidence. da Michele is a place that I will always look to return to whenever I’m back in Naples. It’s a pizza lovers paradise that i cannot recommend enough. 

The Hotel ‘Canyon Matka’, Macedonia.

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I remember returning from Interrailing a couple of years ago, absolutely shattered and yet still with the energy to tell every one of the thousands of stories to just about anyone ready to listen. They all greeted me with the same questions: how was Budapest? Amsterdam? Berlin? Every single one of these European hotspots received avid attention, unsurprisingly so. Yet the one place I wanted to talk about more than any other, the place that surprised me so much, was the one place no one had even considered. Macedonia.

Sandwiched in the midst of Europe, this small, overlooked nation revealed unto me and a few friends the wonders in which it beholds. Hot weather, a view, and a massive lake- what more could you want? How about a four-star hotel? Well then, you’re in luck.

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One of our first views of Matka Canyon

Much like a mirror of the country itself, the hotel ‘Canyon Matka’ finds itself hidden amongst surroundings receiving little, if any, attention from English tourists. We ourselves were not exempt from this. Before embarking across Europe, we did some, but not a lot of planning when it came to the route. Essentially, we had a list of the major places everyone wanted to see, the others we figured we could just wing while we were out there; if anyone had heard of something worth seeing then we could deviate from this route and go and see it. It was very liberal. Fortunately for us, this led us to Macedonia.

On a train in the middle of Eastern Europe, we came across a page in a guidebook we had ‘acquired’ from a hostel detailing this lake, ‘Matka Canyon’, that was surrounded by mountains and some medieval heritage. Perfect.

Having arrived in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, rather late in the evening, we had to spend the night there in the part of the city known as ‘shanty town’- a pretty sketchy experience with a story to be told another time. As soon as morning broke, we were keen to find our way out to Matka and so asked the lady at the hostel for the different ways in which you could get out there. Luckily for us, there was a regular bus that left as early as 7:00AM and was only the equivalent of around fifty pence for a one-way journey. Forty minutes later, we arrived at the canyon.

The very early stages of our planning foresaw us staying in what were described as wilderness refuges along the sides of the lake, presumably designed for small groups to camp in. However, as we scaled the incline up to the dam and moved beyond it, we were hit by the sudden emergence of a medieval monastery, next to which was the hotel ‘Canyon Matka.’

The initial approaches by the concierge to entice us in to stay were rebuffed in favour of finding these lakeside retreats- admittedly because it sounded like a pretty cool thing to do. The more he spoke, the more we were swayed, and as soon as he mentioned that we could get it at a cutthroat price because today was the last day before the start of the season, we were sold. He also mentioned something pretty amazing- we would be the only guests.

The exact figure in Macedonian Denar escapes me, but I know we were paying around the same price as we would have in a hostel, but instead we were getting a four-star hotel in a canyon. That’s £7-£8 and we had upgraded to first class. Result!

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Sporting a Toy Story bag on our hike

The rooms here were all totally unique in size and style and each offered different views of either the lake or the mountains. With only ten rooms to offer to guests, the hotel was a quaint little retreat more suited to the likes of the Caribbean as opposed to central Europe.
The hotel itself had a wide range of activities they offered as well as others that they liaised with the local community living beside the lake. The first of these we chose was a monumental hike across the mountains upon direction from the hotel. As mentioned, beside the hotel was a medieval monastery, St Andrea’s. This was but one of a number of identical monasteries scattered throughout the gorge. The hotel gave us the directions to a route that wound around the mountains and led us to a few of these. After nearly four hours of climbing in the blistering heat, we decided to stop after reaching one on a peak directly opposite the hotel. From here, you could look right down upon the hotel itself. We even managed to somehow connect to their WIFI and attempt to facetime one of our mums- if only she’d picked up!

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Looking down on our hotel from the hilltop monastery

That evening, after a much needed shower, we found that the hotel’s claim about us being the only guests there was indeed true as we ventured down for dinner in their restaurant for a three-hour stint in which no one else was seen or heard. This of course meant we were truly treated like kings. We ordered all manner of freshly caught main courses- the most memorable being a fish literally scooped out of the fish net aquarium that was right next to the veranda our table sat upon.

The setting would have been perfect had it not been for the Enrique Iglesias CD that the hotel had on loop. Turns out there is a limit to the amount of times you can listen to Hero. It was clear though that all the staff were glad we were there as they kept bringing out complimentary food and drink for the four of us. I believe by the end of the night we had had two free bottles of wine, three free shots of vodka, and two bowls of homemade crisps. This was probably of course to keep us well topped up so we would keep spending money but we didn’t seem to care. In comparison to the UK this was all still pennies. We ordered more drinks and snacks and even left a decent tip to which the waiter’s face lit up- money well spent!

After a rather ropey morning, the second day was spent doing activities that were again on the hotel’s recommendation. A local Macedonian who spoke absolutely no English offered us a boat ride downstream to a collection of deep caves. Keen to check them out, we of course accepted and set off. This time, it was to be the four of us, and some rather quirky Argentinian guy who just wouldn’t stop taking selfies.

The boat ride was outstanding. We drifted on down the river not only soaking up some incredible views, but also seeing how the peoples lived within the canyon; the rickety wooden houses even had small balconies held up with wooden beams that extended into the lake.

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The lakeside houses of the local community

Though I was quite keen to see the depths of these caves we were headed towards, my enthusiasm was soon sapped when the guide mentioned to us that it housed rather a lot of bats. I hate bats. Though I found myself ducking down repeatedly in fear from the over flying bats, I did manage to see the cave from all sorts of angles. Every cloud.

The day, and our time at Matka canyon, was topped off with us kayaking back towards the hotel. Though I can’t claim to be very good at this, as I’m sure my friends can attest to, it was a great way to see a large part of the river at our own leisure. The water was practically crystal clear and we were informed it was actually safe to drink, which we took full advantage of. Matka truly did have a wide variety of adventures to fit all kinds of interests and needs.

So, as a final note, whether you’re looking for seclusion, a holiday of activities, or just a relaxing stay without breaking the bank, the Hotel Canyon Matka is more than the perfect place. We found our stay to be the highlight of what was an exciting two and a half months across Europe. It’s somewhere that I’ve recommended to everyone I’ve met about to go Interrailing, and it’s somewhere I shall keep on recommending to those I meet in the future. I cannot stress enough, It’s quite simply amazing.

Interrailing 2014: a tale of four white boys tackling a continent

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With just a little under two weeks until I embark upon another interrail excursion, I find myself wondering why I never wrote a piece encompassing the experience I had the very first time I went. In traditional ‘Gap Year’ fashion, me and three friends postponed our university education to embark on what would be a two and half month gallivant across Europe. Inevitably, we returned with an abundance of photographs as well as video footage. Rather than write a huge piece on the many different countries, experiences, and escapades that the four of us got up to, we figured we could use this material to edit together a montage video encompassing it all. The end product? A five minute video linked in to this article.

Since returning and inevitably joining university, I’ve been asked the array of questions that face anyone who has taken a gap year: ‘why’d you do it?’; ‘what did you do?’; ‘would you recommend it?’ In response to the latter, the answer is a resounding yes! Here’s hoping the video is not only entertaining, but goes some way into answering these questions and inspiring others to take a trip similar to this.

LinkEurope 2014 Interrailing Video

Video credit- Person395 (Jack Richardson)/ Youtube

St Patrick’s Day 2016- 24 Hours in Dublin.

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I think everybody is aware of the significance of St Patrick’s Day to the Irish, and so when myself and two friends discovered we could fly to Dublin and back for £17 and experience the party in Ireland’s capital, we figured ‘why the hell not?’

Being university students, the aim was of course to spend relatively little. With this in mind, we thought it best to just skip booking accommodation all together, hoping that if we wrapped up warm we’d easily make it through the night- the beer blanket would undoubtedly help too. This also meant that there would be no bags to check in on the way or pick up upon arrival; we could get straight the pub and join the celebrations. After quickly stopping to grab food and some ridiculously bright green t-shirts reading ‘St Patricks Day, Ireland’, this is exactly what we did.

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Outside the Temple Bar.

We started by venturing towards the busy ‘Temple Bar’ area, with the eponymous pub filled to the brim, and the ensuing queue getting ever longer. Despite the apparent impossibility of us actually getting in, the street was packed with locals and tourists alike, giving it a distinctly special atmosphere and making us already glad we came to share in it. Eventually we managed to squeeze our way into a bar along the strip called ‘Buskers’ and order our first proper pint; we’d had a drink whilst roaming around the streets but we didn’t really count that as our first. Having been to Dublin before, I’d mentioned to my friends how the taste of Guinness in Ireland was far superior to the stuff we get in the UK and I hoped they’d agree. Luckily they did. We finished our drinks and managed to smuggle out our glasses as a memento of our first pint in Dublin on St Paddy’s Day- the only souvenir I really wanted.

Following this, the three of us decided we would have another wander of the streets, which were now filled with the largest amount of drunkards I had ever seen. We quickly found another pub in which to wet our whistle and this time we were joined by three Americans from the University of Alabama- a guy and two girls- presumably over in Ireland for the same reason as us. Being of a similar age with similar interests, it was easy becoming acquainted with them and we soon found ourselves going from bar to bar as a collective, despite one of the girls being so drunk she was refused entry on one occasion. Soon we found ourselves in a music bar where the six of us met two French students. It was here we spent a considerable amount of time talking, drinking and watching the live music- before we knew it, it was 2 o’clock in the morning.

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The Black Stuff Itself.

This was the beauty of St Patrick’s Day. We arrived as a party of three young Englishmen and before we knew it we had more than doubled in size and now consisted of three nationalities. Everyone was there for the same common purpose; to have a good time. The atmosphere was friendly and enjoyable; all of Dublin seemed filled with people just looking for fun.

As I have already mentioned, we didn’t think it necessary for us to book accommodation. This hadn’t been a problem until we came to leave the music bar in the early hours of the morning. Hoping to be granted somewhere to sleep, we walked with the Americans back to their hostel and thanks to a mixture of concealment and pretending that we too had the required wristbands, we were smuggled into their hostel. Their plan was to house us in the communal lounge but unfortunately for us it closed at 1:00AM, meaning that we soon found ourselves back outside wandering the streets again.

Everywhere was still bustling with people but despite the eventfulness, the cold was becoming a little too much for us. We had researched all the places near the centre that were open 24 hours a day beforehand, and opting not to go for the local snooker clubs, we made our way to a reliable safe haven- Mcdonald’s. Considering it was 4 o’clock in the morning, this was without a doubt the busiest Mcdonald’s I had ever encountered. It was also arguably the rowdiest as it contained a host of intoxicated customers and napkins concealing the vomit that had decorated the floor.

Night was swiftly turning into day and we decided we wanted to watch the sun come up from the Dublin docklands. In a rather groggy and lazy manner, the three of us followed the river from the city centre down towards the docks. At around 6:30AM, we looked backwards towards the centre of Dublin and saw the sun come up. We had somehow made it through the night.

Given that we still had the entirety of the day ahead of us before our 19:45 flight back to Birmingham, we figured now would be best time to do some of the major attractions such as St James’ Gate Storehouse. For anyone who has previously done this, you’ll no doubt be aware that the end of the Storehouse experience provides you with a complimentary pint of Guinness- something we were not too keen on this early in the morning after the night before. We decided therefore to visit Kilmainham Gaol first.

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The Victorian Wing of Kilmainham Gaol

Though the jail was originally built at the very end of the 18th century, it is perhaps most famous for its housing of the 1916 Easter Rising criminals. This intriguing claim, alongside the €2 entrance fee for students, meant it was somewhere we did not want to miss in our short time in Dublin. I’m certainly glad we went if not for the Victorian wing alone. It was a graphic reminder of how the prison itself functioned and the restrictive measures imposed upon the inmates. It seemed to me that it belonged more in a period drama than in reality and so it was fascinating to see up close and personal. It’s no wonder that sites such as Trip Advisor have rated this the top attraction in Dublin.

We then decided to follow this with another of Trip Advisor’s top 10 recommendations in the Guinness Storehouse at St James’ Gate. Though we of course enjoyed this experience, in truth, our current state and lack of sleep meant that we somewhat drifted through the first half that explained how Guinness was made in favour of getting to the second half. The tasting. This certainly perked us up a bit.

With the tasting done, we soon swapped the small, pint shaped shot glasses for a properly sized free pint of Guinness at the gravity bar atop the storehouse. The only thing better than a pint, is a free pint. It was pretty extraordinary enjoying a distinctively Irish beverage whilst looking out at the entirety of its capital from above. The novelty of course had to end at some point, so we filtered down alongside the other tourists before heading back to the airport in time for our flight.

The grand total of 25 hours 45 minutes we spent in Dublin was a truly unforgettable experience down to a combination of factors. Not only were we able to combine year round tourist attractions with the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations, but we were also able to do it in a hugely affordable manner. It was a couple of days I’m not likely to forget and something I’d recommend to anyone.