They’re everywhere. Some are tall, some are short. Curvaceous and slim, or built lower to the ground (for speed).
Some warm and inviting, some icy and standoffish. They’re strong, or subtly so. Some are a bit weak until you least expect it.
You’ll find them everywhere. Grocery stores, coffee shops, and bars. They’re always in bars.
They come from all over the world, well travelled and experienced. Some have seen a lot. Others haven’t left their hometown in their entire lives.
Some are tanned (some more than others). Some are very (very) pale. The pale ones tend to be the most dangerous, in fact. They’ll be bubbly and exciting, or smooth and alluring. Harsh, startling, and surprising, sometimes. Or simply calm, simple, and…let’s face it, boring.
Blonde, black, amber. The dim light in the bars catch and play off them, enhancing their beauty and mysteriousness. Light hitting the pale body sends a spark, a glimpse of iintrigue and curiousity. You probably shouldn’t approach, but you inevitably do.
Dark, creamy, or even my favourite, red (everyone’s got a type). They’re everywhere, and a foot from your door they’re impossible to avoid. Though I’d recommend avoiding the reds. They can be bad for business. When you get your hands on one, you can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind grows cloudier as your wallet grows thinner. But you hold onto that smooth, cool, shapely body in the thumping dark of the bar, your only link to comfort.
I’m talking about beer. Well, liquor in general. What’re you thinking about?
I’ve been on the road for nearly a month now, and I’ve drank my body weight in beer, whisky, and…well, mostly beer and whisky. Oh, and cider isn’t a girl drink here, so I’ve had a few of those, too.
This hasn’t been an intentional booze tour, it’s simply an unavoidable part of the hosteling life. The simple fact is that drinking is a social thing (or, if drinking is a solo thing for you, there’s a bunch of numbers you can call). Hostels are a social thing. You don’t get a spot in an 8-bed dorm without making the acquaintance of at least a few people. Again, if you don’t, why are you in a hostel?
The general method is this: you roll into your hostel at…let’s say noon. You’re the only one in the room, so for a brief moment you’re the sole master of a 20×20′ room. You do a brief scan of the bags – I don’t mean digging through them or anything, you just look at them from your bed. First thing I – as a Canadian – look for is the stereotypical flag-on-the-bag. Generally, you won’t see one. That’s not to say there aren’t many Canadians on the road (there’s tons), we just don’t seem to do it that much anymore. I always find myself looking at people’s bags as they walk by, hoping to see a little red-white-red-white-red hazy blur on the pack. At the very least I feel a pang of pride if someone’s lugging something bearing the Mountain Equipment Co-Op logo. Canadian pride, in corporate logo form.
For the record, The North Face seems to have gained a huge portion of the backpacker market since 2008. I can’t figure why; it seems to be more expensive than most outdoor product companies. I’ve got a few theories, but I’ll save them for another post.
I’ve digressed. Sorry.
Back in the hostel, right. After your brief scan of the room you’ll maybe try opening the windows, a vain attempt to dissipate the room of the previous night’s foul, salty stench. It works about 30% of the time. At this point, you’ll be across the room at a significant distance from your own bed. This is when you hear a clatter at the door and someone bursts into the room.
Here’s a rough breakdown of the kind of people you meet at this point:
One person enters:
– German backpacker. They’ll be quiet, alone, and will politely nod. They’ll find their bed, breathe in a deep sigh of resignation, and set their bag on the bed. It’s almost like they just realized they’re sharing the room and that disappoints them. Assuming they must have been doing this for a while now, you think they’d be expecting it by now. Nope. They may also be Austrian, Dutch, Danish, or Swiss. More rarely, a solo Spaniard may come your way. If this is the case, it’s a special thing: before you is the quietest Spanish person in the world.
– Someone already in the room, coming back in a hurry for something. Usually it’s a girl looking for her brush, or someone who forgot to brush their teeth, or (strangely commonly) someone breathlessly bursting in, flopping on the floor. A second later, they jump up in victorious rapture, clutching a forgotten item. Sometimes, it’s a plane or train ticket. Other times it’s a sock. You’re given a brief grin and they’re gone again.
– The cleaning person. I like seeing them. Means the room gets cleaned.
Two people enter:
– The couple. God damn, I hate the couple. Not always, because I’ve liked a lot of the ones I’ve met. So why do I say I hate them? Maybe it’s because they shuffle into the room, mutter a “hello,” then proceed to talk to each other in hushed tones. It’s like they’re trying to discuss state secrets in a public place. But lean in a bit and get a shred of the conversation and you’ll find that the conversation has no bearing on anything at all. “It’s cold outside, oh my god.” “I wonder if there’s someone in the bathroom.” “God, I need to wash my hair…should I before we go to the bar?” (for the record: yes it is, no there isn’t, and yes, you should.) Why keep this hushed? All the whispering makes others think you’re discussing who in this room you’re going to quietly kill in their sleep, continuing your amphetamine-fueled, Bonnie and Clyde-eque rob-and-murder-cation across Europe. You’re bad people.
Or maybe it’s simply a jealousy thing. I’ve been in your position and part of me misses it. Hell, a huge part of me misses it, and I’m struggling with that. On the other hand, I remember being a travelling couple, and while the permanent companionship is something I crave, I also remember never being able to meet other people. A couple is off-putting to solo travellers since it’s automatically a two-on-one conversation, should one arise.
I’m not crapping on couple-travel here – I encourage it! Just, be more open and talkative to others. I’ve been on both sides, and I wish I had read what I’m writing. We’re not scary people, solo travellers.
The last thing I’ll say about couples is this: don’t be that couple. You know the couple. “Babe” this and “honey” that. It’s entirely disgusting. So much so that I just wrote (and subsequently deleted) an entirely too-long paragraph about how obnoxious it can be. Just be considerate to the bitter people in the world. We smile, but we really don’t like you. Sorry.
– Two Australians. This is a great thing. When you meet two Aussies, get your pub shirt out. Because you’re going to the pub. With the Aussies. In fifteen minutes.
It goes simply enough: You’re sitting on your bed, and the Aussies appear. There’s a big, rough hand stuck out in front of you before the door has even shut behind them. You’re all introduced, and they love telling you where they’re from. Especially if they’re from the west coast. Aussies from Perth, or WA in general, seem to be extra proud of their hometowns. After pleasantries are exchanged, you’ll likely be told about their plans for the evening (or they’ll ask yours), and congratulations, your one is now three. And at the pub there’ll be more Australians. Lots more. They’re the Agent Smith of the backpacking world.
– Two Americans. Be wary here. No offence meant to the Americans reading this, but you guys seem to travel in pairs, and the experience can go a lot of different ways. Like the Aussies, I could dedicate an entire blog to meeting Americans on the road, but I’ll try to be as concise as possible here. I’ve had wonderful roommates in an American duo. I’ve also had awful ones. The kicker is that you guys change as soon as you enter a bar, see girls, or have a sip of drink. You become so loud. And it’s not a constant loud like the Brazilians can sustain. It’s more of a staccato, bursts-of-static loud. It’s startling. I’ll get to you guys in another post. Trust me: I have lots to say.
Two Chinese girls. You’ll never know they’re there, except when you need the bathroom. Then you’re aware they’re there. Very aware. Do you camp in there? Are you even using the facilities? Did you fall? It’s real concern, on my part.
Three people enter:
The travelling hen party. Three girls burst into the room, laughing and talking and clinging to their room keys. They flit around the room in a panic looking for beds near to each other. O. M. G. It’s all giggles and laughs and a YOLO sense of abandon. Except that it’s not. It’s hilarious for me. The cattiness! Once one goes into the bathroom, the other two just dig into the absent girl. Forget digging into her, this is proper mining. She’s such a bitch, a slut, a whole barrage of things. Then the toilet flushes and the target comes out to a pair of smiling faces. Then one of the others goes into the washroom and the same thing happens. Three times. Basically, the three BFFs entirely hate each other. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch, and it happens all the time. Especially if you’re sitting there with headphones on. Just the filth they spew when they think you can’t hear is hilariously vile. It really raises some valid questions about cultures and friendships. (For argument’s sake, guys can be catty, but generally it’ll be to the face of the third guy. And the third guy is usually kind of a prick anyhow.)
Three Aussies. See above.
Four people or more:
Congratulations. You’re the single bed in a room about to be demolished by a school group of Spanish, German, or Portuguese students. You will not sleep tonight. I thought, foolishly, that a group of German kids would be nice and quiet and respectful – as many Germans are. Well, they’re not. They’re the loudest group of kids I’ve met so far.
So that’s the kind of people you can expect to find. It’s by no means a complete list, or the most accurate, but I’m working with the data I’ve been given.
Where was I going with this?
Oh right, drinking. Sorry.
The drinking culture in the UK and Ireland is hard to discern. The stereotype of the drunk Irish person isn’t really true. They get just as drunk as Canadians, Americans, or anyone else that likes a bit of tipple. The problem is the transient nature inherent to travel. You meet people, you drink with them. What else do you do? You don’t go with a new acquaintance to the library to read Garfield. No, you go to the pub. And when you get there, you realize a wonderful thing:
This shit is cheap. A pint of Guinness in Canada averages $6-7. Sometimes, if it’s a special night, it can be a bit cheaper. A Heineken mini-keg is around $30. I bought a pint of Guinness here in Ireland (in a town called Ennis, for what it’s worth), for €3.20 ($4 CAD). And while that’s the cheapest I’ve found it, I’ve never paid more than equivalent to $5. As for the Heineken mini-kegs, I saw one on sale for €15. And it’s still technically an import here. Also, up in Belfast I had ten cans (tall-boys) of Harp for £9. If you don’t convert that to Canadian, it’s a really good deal.
Wine! God, wine is cheap. I’m waiting to get into the wine until I reach Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. Because a bottle we’d pay $30 for back home would be €6 here. Or maybe less.
From what I can tell, the drinking culture isn’t hardcore as it’s made out to be. It tends to be the foreigners doing the loud stagger home. Essentially, the fact that you got piss-drunk in Dublin you’d naturally think that this is par for the course. But think back: did you hear any Irish voices that night, not counting the bartenders? You didn’t. Australians, loud Americans, Canadians, accented broken English. Not one Irish voice in the crowd.
I did find a pub crawl that went away from the Temple Bar tourist trap here in Dublin. It hit a bunch of local pubs, with Irish music and local patrons. And when they saw the cane, mother of God.
“What’s the cane fer?” they’d ask.
“My vision sucks,” I’d reply.
“Yer at the pub, though!”
“Yeah, I know. Just because my eyes don’t work well doesn’t mean I can’t have a pint or two.”
“Well! Yer a crazy bastard, you!”
“What’re you drinking?”
The barman would then be signalled and a new pint would be thrust into my hand. This happened many times over the course of a night, on top of the pints I’d already bought at the start. To this day, I’m not sure if I spent three or four nights in Dublin last week. I have to check my Visa bills, honest to God.
A few tips and thoughts for the road:
– If you’re in Belfast, try a drink called Buckfast. Don’t ask, just do it. Google it, if you must.
– You’ll find Guinness easily in Dublin. Go to the Guinness Storehouse. Take your free pint ticket and go pour your own. You’re wasting your ticket if you just exchange it for a pint at the Gravity Bar up top. Go there, too, though. The views are great, and they have Guinness.
– Go to Temple Bar once (specifically The Temple Bar, in Temple Bar). Just once. It’s flipping expensive, and purpose-built for tourists. It’s not as old as it looks (the cobblestones were placed there in the eighties for a heightened sense of “traditional Irish charm). It’s a “so you can say you did it” thing, I guess.
– If you’re in County Cork, God help you if you order a Guinness. Guinness isn’t an Irish beer, it’s a Dublin beer. You’ll want a pint of Murphy’s down in Cork, which is damn near to a Guinness, if a bit sweeter. I like the hoppy finish of Guinness better, myself, but Murphy’s is still a damn good pint.
– I haven’t tried (because I don’t like shots or novelty drinks), but I’d advise against ordering an “Irish Car Bomb” here. This really should go without saying.
– Really, if you’re in Cork, don’t order Guinness.
– Americans, you bastards really love your Jägerbombs. I commend you for dropping the whole popped-collar douchebag thing from your style of dress, but the vestigial drink of douchey choice still hangs around. Let’s work on this.
Maybe taking a few days to Galway will help my liver recover.