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Dublin, Ireland

Dublin’s been on the cards for some time. After visiting years ago when I was still in nappy’s (well I was 13ish), I’d taken away fond memories of waiting in the rain for the famous brewery tour, freezing my nad’s off, whilst eating hot chips out of a wedge of newspaper.

What better time to refresh, nearly a decade later, than by visiting Dublin on St Patrick’s Day. Now, I’m not Irish, never have been. Nor do I pretend to have an Irish half brother to look cool. Believe me, some people try this. My plane passenger made a strong point of reassuring me she was in fact, an eighth Irish. An eighth! I bit my tongue. Do people honestly care? I don’t see a problem being English, turning up an hour late, drunk, to gatecrash an Irish party with the sole intention of having a laugh and drinking Guinness. St Paddy himself was Welsh anyway.

One thing that was apparent when looking for directions and advice, avoid the people decked out in green scarves, shirts and lepricorn outfits. These are the South African and Australian tourists, the lot of them. I was getting the feeling St Paddy’s was far more commercialised than I’d ever imagined. The famous ‘Temple Bar’ area seemed quite the money pit, with themed shops, restaurants and predictable Guinness exploitation. It’s clear whether they like it or not, ‘Irish’ is a brand in itself.

So in typical fashion, we made the Temple Bar Pub our first stop for the all important first pint of Guinness. I’m going to try and refrain from using the G word again, I can see its appearing in every paragraph…but what a pint that was. It doesn’t compare to the stuff back home (which I can only describe as like eating a roast dinner). If you don’t like Guinness in Ireland, don’t bother trying it again. This stuff was far too easy to drink; but I’m on holiday, so it’s ok.

The atmosphere, as expected, was upbeat. Actually, it was pretty f’ing mental. With hoards of bodies about town, and a rather strong police presence to keep things in order, (90 arrests this year) we continued to sample a number of typically smooth ale’s before meeting with our Irish friends for the two hour coach trip back to their home town.

I say town in the loosest sense, more a road with a few houses and a pub attached to it. It became obvious ‘we young English boys’ where the talk of the town. We had celebrity status for a good 15minutes. Undeterred by the staring, remarks on the oh so posh English accent, and the fact we use hair gel to make our hair stick up; we were warmly welcomed and really felt part of the family as the night progressed. We even got invited (or maybe told) to stand with the locals for the Irish national anthem.

It wasn’t long before the fiddle and squeeze box where heard in the next room, jackpot; Traditional Irish ‘diddly diddly music’ on St Paddy’s day. Perching on a well worn leather topped bar stool, in a dark rustic pub, was pretty dam sweet. The Irish music, friendly chatter and the roaring party atmosphere put me in a good mental state. There was something very warming and safe about it all, although that could’ve been the drink.

Waking early to the distinct lack of stale cigarette smoke made the morning much more bearable. The Irish have banned smoking in Pubs, something the English will hopefully be enjoying in a few years. Necking a huge breakfast, we set out on the tourist run of Dublin. Taking in everything we missed the previous night, we had quite a busy day, packing in the open top bus tour whilst dealing with stomach aches; pick pocketed wallets and the old chestnut of running out of time.

Oslo, Norway

Firstly; some background rules. The idea for this trip was to be a more ‘hardcore’ venture. This meant not booking a hotel. In fact, no digs whatsoever. We’d be staying awake for a rather long time. That’s the rules. Onwards then…

Now seasoned Ryan air sluts, we get the weekly spam email they send out. Noticing a cheap return offer, we booked it. No need to get time off work, this was a crazy dash out of the office onto the train and onwards to catch the early evening flight. The gate was closing as we legged it to plead with the officials. I’m being serious, I broke a sweat. We were boo’ed by passengers for holding up the plane, but we made the flight.

Landing in Norway was, well, eerily silent. I began to wonder exactly where Ryan air had dumped us. Without rushing into things, we looked at the options. No trains around, so a taxi or coach was on the cards. I jumped into a cab as it seemed by far the fasted option, but soon realized we hadn’t quite got the currency conversion correct. Well I hadn’t; forgetting to carry the decimal place. With the real figure working out closer to £240 for the centre of Oslo, I quietly exited the cab, head down, and boarded the coach.

30minutes later, still on the coach.

An hour slips by as we amuse ourselves with various things inside the coach, mainly the other passengers and cheap vodka.

1 hour 30miutes, still on the coach. Getting edgy. Begin to question the idea of visiting Norway for one night.

2 hours ticks over and we finally reach the centre. Relived it has come to an end; we’d spent more time in a coach than the plane! Morale had taken a big hit; We hadn’t much time to get back in the zone. Asking the first bunch of locals for locations on the happening places, we soon found plenty of bars, pubs and clubs to keep us more than busy.

Getting the first round of beers in was a heavy culture shock. £9 a beer. I protested to the barman, convinced he’d spotted my ‘I’m from England’ tattoo on my face and that he’d tried to rip me off (despite using my finest Norwegian). ‘No, this is Norway’ he replied. We left to try the next bar. Same beers ordered, same price charged. Vodka? £13 a single. There was no getting away from it. The budget was exhausted rapidly. I’d heard Norway was expensive, but this was a joke.

With the club shutting at 4am, we where out on the streets fending for ourselves. The mental battle over sleep deprivation started to kick in. Time to get cheap coffee from 7-11. We managed to get a bit of sight seeing done (?!) and as it became lighter, (around 6am) we ventured to an old military monument close to the waters edge. This was fantastic; the beautifully clear oxygen at the waters edge was something else. Sitting on the castle wall, hearing only the distance noises of fishing boats waking, the sun appeared and painted the surrounding buildings in a deep warm orange. We both felt a wave of energy. I was becoming emotionally attached to Norway. Who needs sleep eh?

An hour passes before we trek back into the centre for the all important cup of tea (costing 6quid) and large buffet breakfast (costing a further 14quid). The weather was perfect, blazing sunshine, releasing the endorphins and helping combat the lack of shut eye (now well over 24hours). Whilst we still had the energy, we purchased travel cards and scooted about the town on trams and buses, taking in the sights, walking along the harbor, and the general bits and pieces around the city.

Worried about mental and physical health, we settled down and watched a few amateur bands perform on stage at the towns square. This was the centre of Oslo, on a Saturday, and it was perfectly relaxed and easy going. No stress whatsoever. Oslo is such a perfect place to live. No trouble, amazingly clean air and plenty to do. It’s just so dam expensive for anyone that doesn’t live there yet.

The two hour coach trip was a chance to rest the eyes, but it still felt a stupidly long time to spend on a coach. Only in daylight you realized what the airport was about. It seems it’s been built solely for Ryan air planes, nothing else was here. This didn’t feel quite right. We’d coached through mile after mile of dead straight, field lined road, direct to the airport, which is where the road ended.

I was left wondering what effect the ‘cheap flight’ has had on the local Norwegian farming community, and what impact this lovely new airport has had on their way of life.

Eventually arriving home, crashing into bed, my brain worked out I’d been awake for a total of 41hours.

Hardcore baby.

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