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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- Places to Go: Belfast -- The Spaniard, Katie Dailey's, The Cathedral Quarter, The Pothouse.
- Things to Do: Bars, Clubs, Tours, Surfing, Kite Surfing, Mountain biking, Horse riding, Coasteering, Camping, Biking, Hiking.
- Small Towns: Visit the small towns such as Derry and Letterkenny for a more geniune Irish experience.
- Northern Ireland: Tends to be less expensive to visit, and have less tourists.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
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Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to another conversation about All Things Travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host.
My guest today is Olivia Edward, a journalist based in the U.K., and the primary author of our new book, "MTV Ireland". MTV and Frommer's have collaborated on this series of guidebooks that bring fresh travel information to students and twenty-somethings.
Olivia is here to give us the lowdown on the hot, fun and unexpected things that you can do in Ireland. Olivia, thanks for being here. Welcome.
Olivia Edward: Thanks for having me.
Kelly: Sure, sure. So tell me first, what is it that makes Ireland such an attractive destination for young people? Of course, besides the fact that there is a pub on almost every corner.
Olivia: Yeah, the pubs are good. But I think the really exciting thing about Ireland, and it hits you straight away, is the youth of the population, because half of them are under 30.
Olivia: You can feel that, yeah. It's just this real sense of energy and optimism and not things being held back, like anything can happen. Which I think is quite surprising, because you think of Ireland as being all little old men, don't you, sitting in pubs drinking pints of Guinness. But it's not.
Kelly: Wearing tweed and drinking Guinness.
Olivia: Yeah. Well there is that, but then there are also the young people. They're all really committed to being Irish, and doing the traditional Irish music thing, and the Irish arts and the Irish language. It's another surprising thing, because I thought it would all be dying out. But it's very much still alive.
Kelly: So you can actually experience that when you're going over there.
Olivia: Oh, yes, completely. Especially up in the northwest areas, when you get away from the big cities. Even in Galway, you go there and the traditional musicians are not all old men with beards. They are young people. It's actually quite a trendy thing to do, because I think it's a proud thing to do. It makes it not a dying culture. It makes it a very alive culture.
Kelly: Honoring the history, but also building upon it.
Olivia: Yeah, completely. And there are also all the hip bars and everything else that comes with modern city life, in Belfast and Dublin.
Kelly: That's one of the things that I was really interested in when I was looking through the book, is that they talk about places to see a lot of traditional music, and Galway is certainly one of those places, because it's a real center for music. But I was really surprised to find out the really thriving, live Indie music scene that there is, especially in places like Belfast.
For example, you compared Belfast in the book, which I thought was a great analogy, to a soldier who has come home from war and is ready to party. Talk a little bit about that. What is it about Belfast and the energy that you feel there? There are bars and clubs and music and stuff like that.
Olivia: It's just a real feeling. They've had a bad time, and people used to not go out in the city center at all, because they'd be frightened of the bombs. But with the youth, there's a real feeling that that's done. That's behind them. They can make things change. They can make things happen. And let's just go out and have a good time.
And you go into the bars. There's this one brilliant one called the Spaniard, which I just love. It's a complete little boho place. They've sort of done that with all these old 45s. But it doesn't feel like it's cliched. It feels like they're making it anew.
And they have this optimism that wasn't alive in the 60s. But it made me feel that perhaps that's how things were. There's just all this energy and hope.
There is this great live music place called Katie Dailey's that has two clubs that lie right together and are very connected. And they're sort of known as the Holy Trinity of Belfast music scene. You can just pick up anytime and see something going on. There's also the Snow Patrol Band that has made it bigger.
Kelly: What's the name of the band?
Olivia: The Snow Patrol. They've just done a really good single with Martha Wainwright that's completely beautiful. But they're the one that everyone's proud of. Although if you're actually there, it might be unlikely that you'll see them. If they are at home, it would be a good gig to catch.
Kelly: OK. That's fantastic. And then the scene in Belfast certainly goes beyond the live music. You talk a lot about the dance clubs and the bars that are there. Are there a couple that you can recommend?
Olivia: Yeah. There's this area called the Cathedral Quarter. You can feel it's going to boom. It's very much the up and coming place. There are lots of old buildings there, and a lot of them are still graffiti and crumbling. But the ones they've taken and done up, some of them are stunning. One in particular being the Pothouse, which is probably one of the hippest clubs in Europe right now.
It's just this beautiful old pottery factory that they've made into this complete frosted glass architectural beauty. It's stunning, and it's a great place to be in. It's a restaurant/bar/club. You can spend all night there. It's really quite glam.
Kelly: That's fantastic. And you said this is in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast.
Olivia: Yeah. There's quite a lot of art stuff happening there, and it's also where the Spaniard Bar is that I mentioned previously. Not far from the dockland area where the Titanic was originally built. Very beautiful.
Kelly: Oh, OK. You've alluded to this before, but clearly Northern Ireland is politically part of the U.K. And relatively recently they've come to this place where there's more peace now. There were decades of violence between the Catholic minority and the Protestant majority. As you say in the book, people in the area refer to the conflict as the Troubles.
You had mentioned seeing some old buildings and graffiti and things like that. Are people still willing to talk about it? You said before that it's behind them and it's not that much of an issue anymore? Where do you think the prevailing mood is with regards to it?
Olivia: I think it's really mixed. You can go around the country and say, oh, it's all just beautiful. And then suddenly you'll drive into a town that has these sectarian areas. It's really quite a shook, because you come across these areas where, if it's a Protestant area, there's all these British flags flying and all the curb signs have been painted red, white, and blue. You can feel it's a statement, and it's quite in your face.
But I think generally, I would still say I wouldn't want to start a conversation about the Troubles, unless someone starts it with me. Because I think it's something you can wade into. And there's really so much you can learn there, by going possibly on one of the black taxi tours that go up into, say, West Belfast, which is the area that was the really troubled area, that's got both the Catholic and the Protestant sectarian areas.
Kelly: So you can take tours that will take you around there?
Olivia: Yeah, there are some really brilliant tours. Especially, there's one that you can go on with these ex-Republican soldiers. They will take you around for three hours and show you everything. Show the murals, sort of classical murals that have been painted and pitched at the hunger strikers. Show you where people were shot and where incidents happened.
But also, you can ask them all these questions that you've always wondered, about how it started, why it started, what's happening now, and just everything you want to know. Without this bias of the media. And you can get the answers direct, which I found completely fascinating. And they're very open to talking.
My worry would be, I think it's very easy to go into a pub and say, you know, I think they should, you know. You want to be careful, because you never know.
Kelly: Yeah, you just don't want to stumble into an uncomfortable conversation with anyone.
Olivia: Yeah, completely. And it's always easy, isn't it, to sum up other people's political situations when you're an outsider. You just need to sort this out.
Kelly: Yeah, here are four things you can do, and it will completely solve everything. It's certainly never that easy.
Belfast seems like a great example of a real city experience. But one of the things I was so fascinated by in looking through the book was how much you talk about Ireland proper and Northern Ireland being an adventure travel destination. That there's so many great, what you call adrenalin adventures, that you can take.
One thing I wanted you to talk about for a little bit is surfing. Because the notion that you can go surfing off the coast of Ireland is just fascinating to me.
Olivia: Really, did it surprise you that that was the case?
Kelly: Yeah, it really did. I guess I thought the weather was just way too cold for most people to go surfing. I was thinking the cold is...
Olivia: Yeah, quite a problem.
Kelly: I was thinking when compared with Hawaii.
Olivia: You've just got to have a really thick wetsuit. But it is brilliant surfing. Some people are mad because they said it wasn't as good as Hawaii, but obviously there's sunshine. It's really great.
There was a film about ten years ago called "Litmus". It was a very trippy film done by this Australian film collective called the Valdosta Experiment.
Kelly: Was it a documentary about the surf scene in Ireland?
Olivia: Yeah. It just travels to different places around the world. These guys go to offbeat surf places. It has very mystical, trippy, strange music. But one of the places they went to was Ireland. They went to this secret surf spot very near Bundoran. And if you go to Bundoran, they're very into this film. But it really put Ireland as a destination.
Kelly: It seems that what you were saying is that the best surfing is on the west coast of the island, because it faces out to the Atlantic.
Olivia: Yeah. And they wait for the hurricane season in America. That's when they get excited, awfully. Because that sends the storms. The pressure comes across the Atlantic and creates the really big waves. So they're looking from August to November, when it starts to get exciting there.
I think normally the waves would be about three foot. But get a good storm, and it will be 15 foot.
Kelly: And you don't necessarily need to be a professional or an expert surfer to be able to do this, because you do mention there are surfing tours that you can take as well.
Olivia: Oh, yeah. There's a beautiful place near Bundoran called Tullan Strand, which is this really flat, sandy beach. It's got dunes all along the back. But it's perfect for learning to surf and to kite surf, which is a big in thing, out there at any rate.
Kelly: And kite surfing is...do you surf with a parachute behind you?
Olivia: It's the one where you hold onto a massive kite above you. You're strapped into a surfboard, and you skip along the waves at crazy speeds and hope the kite doesn't fall out of the sky any moment.
Kelly: [laughs] What other on-land adventure activities would you recommend? I think there's also rock climbing, and certainly wonderful hiking.
Olivia: Yeah. Really, really good. There are just so many wild expanses out there. I think anything that needs land and mud and doesn't mind a bit of rain is a good activity out there. But off the top of my head, mountain biking, horse riding. There is some caving out there as well.
Another one, which is sea-based but is really hot right now, is the coasteering, where you scramble along rocks along the coast, and then you climb up a cliff and then jump off into the freezing ocean.
Kelly: Oh, my gosh.
Olivia: But it's fun and it's perfect for it out there, because it's all craggy.
Kelly: Oh, that's fantastic. And definitely a way to get out to some of the less-visited areas and really explore.
Olivia: Completely. When you get out there, people take you very differently. I did some biking out there, and when you arrive by bike, the attitude to you is very different. You're just welcomed in a completely different way.
Kelly: You're saying when you arrived by bike.
Olivia: Yeah. When you go someplace by bike, I think people are a lot more interested and open to chatting to you, because you weren't just another tourist coming in on the bus. You were probably seeing different things.
Kelly: Wow, that's very interesting. What's it like to bike on those very narrow Irish roads? Is it a little perilous? With cars?
Olivia: The most scary thing, I hated all the farm dogs. They would just be waiting ahead with their little eyes gleaming. And you're like, "Not again, please!" You have to peddle really fast past them.
Kelly: You're running the gauntlet of the little farm dogs.
Olivia: Yes, well, big...big farm dogs.
Kelly: Yeah. Oh, that's funny. Being out there and venturing out a little more into the countryside, you obviously encounter so many different places. What do you think is your favorite small town in Ireland?
Olivia: I think I really like Derry in Northern Ireland. And I think my favorite is probably Letterkenny which is not really small and it is also quite an ordinary town. But it's got really good pubs and it is completely untouristy, so you're really seeing just the very ordinary Irish town. It's the last one you sort of hit before the wilds of Donegal.
Kelly: So it is in county Donegal.
Olivia: Yeah, it is. It is sort of the highest one before things go into hills. It has got one amazing pub called the Wolf's Tamer. It is just this complete shrine to republicanism. If you want to know anything about the Irish struggle for independence, the guy in there is a really strong republican and he has just tricked out the whole place in the last couple of years with all these photos and medals and everything that has happened. And it is just very interesting.
And then further down there is this great place called the Kasbah, which is like a basement, live, dirty music, Hendrix blasting bar. It is also quite surprising; you're like, "what is this doing here in this really small town?" And then you hit this one at the bottom called the Cottage Niche it is full of boho students and then full of men as well who just sit there all day telling stories. It is great place to go in and hear all these Irish stories. Because a lot of Irish people, because of the situation before where they couldn't work, many had been all over the world and traveled and they've seen a lot and they've got a lot of tales to tell. And they told them very well.
Kelly: Yeah, they definitely have the story-telling gene.
Olivia: Completely. Especially after a few pints of Guinness.
Kelly: Yeah. So tell me a little about the food. I mean is it really lots of sausage and potatoes, what is your sense of the food scene there?
Olivia: I think it is really mixed. Out in the country it is still very much potatoes and meat and vegetables. And often over-boiled and often enormous portions swimming in fat. And you go, "Oh my god I can't eat that."
And then you go into the big cities and it is incredibly sophisticated in Dublin and Belfast, they've got everything. And it is very modern. And they are proud of their traditional dishes and they often are very good. If you are cold and it is has been raining, there is nothing better than having an Irish stew and it is cheap and it is delicious.
Kelly: And sitting in a pub and sort of getting cozy and having your stew and drinking your pint.
Olivia: Completely. And then there is the Oats of Troy for breakfast which is a sort of heart attack on the plate.
Kelly: Oh, sure.
Olivia: And that has got the pig blood pudding with it...tough to eat first thing in the morning.
Kelly: Have you tasted that?
Olivia: Yeah, I have. I have to say I'm not a big fan. But I did try it. I loved tiki with the oysters out there because they've got great fresh seafood and it wasn't until this last time out there that I actually had tried an oyster.
Kelly: Oh, really?
Olivia: With a pint of Guinness. And I thought it was delicious.
Kelly: Oysters and Guinness, the breakfast of champions. Wow, that's fantastic. [laughter]
Just in closing, I thought we would give people a few tips for saving money because Ireland uses the Euro as the currency and the dollar is still performing OK but slightly weak to the Euro so Ireland can be an expensive destination to visit. Is there advice you can give to people who are traveling to the country on a budget?
Olivia: Yeah, well first off, they actually call it themselves the rip-off republic. There has been real scuff about it. Yeah, the price is spiraling because of the economic success it has had. One of things is to go to Northern Ireland because it is cheaper. And then to go to the places where people aren't going to in enormous numbers, which are places like Derry, which are completely fantastic and almost mini-Belfast but don't have the numbers of tourists. So they are a lot cheaper. Amazingly, so.
The other thing I think is to get out into the countryside and do the camping and the hiking. You know, you don't need to spend loads of money to have a really good time. Eat the pub food at lunch time. You know when you can get a stew probably for under four pounds which is roughly eight dollars.
Kelly: Yeah, that is quite affordable and you get a nice hearty meal during the daytime and it is a great way to save money.
Olivia: Yeah, exactly.
Kelly: That is great and it does tie into what you were talking about, about getting out and doing things more in the countryside even biking, things like that would be a way to save.
Olivia: Yeah, the campsites are really cheap. You can have a simple life and live really well on not too much money. And I think once you start getting into the cities that changes a lot. And the bars are tempting so the money goes quickly.
Kelly: Yeah, sure, sure. Well that's great. And that is probably all we have time for.
I have been talking with Olivia Edward, one of the authors of our new book, "MTV Ireland" which is on sale now and again the MTV guides are a venture between MTV and Frommer's and in the coming months look for two more titles on sale, "MTV Italy" and "MTV Europe."
Olivia, thank you so much for being here, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.
Olivia: Thank you, it's been fun.
Kelly: It was fun. Join us next week for another episode of All Things travel. I'm Kelly Regan and we'll talk again soon.
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