Cheers to The Hill…

I can admit when I’m wrong. It isn’t always easy, but I can do it. A little over a year ago I wrote a post lamenting that my local pub, The Hill, was under new ownership and I feared that it was going to turn into a pretentious hipster mecca. I worried that, while it was no doubt a good business move, it might not be the best thing for my little tucked-away corner of Ranelagh.

People, I was wrong. SO WRONG.

I liked the old Hill but I wasn’t a “regular.” Frankly, to be a regular you had to above the age of 70 and also, male. I was always met with stares when I entered – not sure if they were because I’m a woman or because I’m not 70, but there you have it. But still, the Guinness was good.

This past week, I was at The Hill on three separate occasions. Last Saturday, me and a couple girlfriends had an impromptu evening out. My friends worked their way through the entire gin cocktail menu and I had roughly seven proseccos (but who’s counting, right?). Then on Tuesday, I took one of those same friends there for her birthday – we had a nice dinner and capped the proseccos at two this time. And on Friday, my boss was in from Paris for a weekend away with his husband and I met them there at 4pm for an early start to the weekend. We stumbled out five or six hours later, well-fed and “hydrated”.

So yeah, now I really am a regular. And I love it.

The Hill has become my go-to place. Sure, the bearded hipsters do indeed go there for the craft beer but on any given night, the place will be filled with 25 year-olds, 75 year-olds and everyone in between. It’s truly become a neighborhood gathering place.

The pub culture is one of the first things I loved about Dublin. The pub really is an engrained part of the social fabric here and to now have a pub that I truly consider “mine” gives me that much-coveted sense of community and belonging.

When one is an expat, the notion of community and belonging can be hard to come by. We so often feel like we are on the outside looking in, a part of things yet set apart because aren’t from here (wherever our “here” happens to be). Nearly five years into this Irish expat adventure, I do still sometimes feel like an outsider, but not when I’m at The Hill.

So, cheers to The Hill. Thank you for making me feel so welcome. And I’m seriously sorry for being such a judge-y wanker at first.

http://thehillpub.ie

 

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Angels in Disguise…

Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.

                                                                  – W.B. Yeats

This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.

I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.

Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:

  • At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
  • On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
  • On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
  • On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
  • When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New  York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
  • When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.

In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.

Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.

 

Goodbye to the Hill…

The other night I met my friend for a drink at The Hill pub in Ranelagh. The Hill is famous. It has been a part of Ranelagh since 1845. It even appeared in a book by Irish author Lee Dunne, called, Goodbye to the Hill. Every Dubliner, not just those living in Ranelagh, know it. Which makes it very convenient when I am telling taxi drivers or delivery people how to find my house – I literally live right around the corner from it.

The Hill has always personified the traditional old Irish Pub to me. While they only served little airplane bottles of wine, they poured one helluva pint of Guinness. The only food they served were tiny bags of peanuts or crisps. The bar was usually lined with regulars – male and well past seventy years old.

Since moving into this house, I’ve always brought my out-of-town guests to The Hill for a proper pint – and they’ve always loved it. I’ve developed a fondness for The Hill during my time in Ranelagh. It’s always been scrappy and unprententious – and rather empty. Part of its charm was knowing that I could walk in, even on a Saturday night, and there’d be a table (okay, several) available. Not being one for crowds, or even people, I loved this. But it’s hard to imagine how the owners made any money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when I was there earlier this week I learned that The Hill is under new ownership and is now going to be a gastropub specializing in craft beers. I am not sure how I feel about this. I like that I can now order an actual glass of wine. I like a nice craft beer as much as the next person. And it’s still The Hill, so I think it’s safe to assume that their Guinness pour will remain unchanged. The kitchen isn’t operational yet but within a few weeks, they will serve what I’m sure will be lovely gastropub food, that I’ll probably enjoy more than the tiny packs of peanuts that made up the old Hill’s menu.

But as my friend and I were chatting, I noticed first one, then another, then a few more bearded, hair-gelled, skinny-jeaned hipsters walk in and make themselves at home – something I doubt they would have done during the previous Hill’s incarnation. It was all I could do to resist the urge to tackle them and take a razor to their stupid, pretentious faces.

I’m sure that I will drink and eat at this new Hill. I imagine I’ll still bring my out-of-town guests there. But I can’t help feeling that this change may not be for the better. Ranelagh has, I think, suffered quite a loss.

 

 

 

 

Love/Hate…

I was having lunch last week with a fellow American expat who also has a blog (An American In Dublin) and we talked about a blog post he did one month after moving over here listing the five things he hates about Dublin.  Now, this was followed a week later with a post listing the five things he loves about Dublin but it’s that “hate list” that his readers really responded to – both positively and negatively, even to this day.

I don’t think that just because you choose to live someplace instead of being born there means that you aren’t entitled to an opinion regarding what you like and don’t like.  And having a list of things you hate, doesn’t mean you hate living there.  After all, no place is perfect.  I’ve been here a year and a half and I thought it might be interesting to think about what I love and hate about this city in which I live now that I have been here for a while.

Now, before you post angry comments or send me cranky emails telling me to go back where I came from, read the entire post because, as can happen in real life, what I hate is followed very closely by what I love.

Hate is a strong word.  I would prefer to name this list “Five Things I Strongly Dislike” but that would be a wuss move, so hate it is.

FIVE THINGS I HATE ABOUT DUBLIN:

1. The Immersion – The concept of the hot water immersion is something that stymied me my first week in Dublin and I still don’t really understand it.  The technology certainly exists for hot water to be heated and remain heated for the user to use whenever she feels like it – without turning on a timer or flicking a switch.  I’m told it would be prohibitively expensive to heat water all the time.  But does it need to be?  I can’t help but think that water is heated in this manner because it’s always been heated this way and why bother changing it.

2. The “It’s Grand” Attitude – As an American, I know that I am used to a certain level of customer service but I have found that over here instead of the notion that “the customer is always right” it’s more “if I ignore the customer for long enough perhaps they will go away and leave me alone.”  I am not saying every person or company with which I’ve done business is like this, but it happens often enough that it really does annoy me.  I will not apologize for the fact that when I pay for something, be it rent, broadband service or a cheeseburger, I expect to get what I pay for in a timely manner.

3. Littering – I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been walking down the street and I see a person open a pack of cigarettes or a candy wrapper or whatever and just through the wrapper on the ground without a moment’s hesitation. I don’t understand why anyone would do this – it’s lazy and disrespectful.  There are rubbish bins placed all over the city – I doubt someone is ever more than a five-minute walk away from one of them.  And even if there isn’t a bin nearby, put the stupid wrapper in your pocket or bag rather than throw it on the street.  Dublin is such a beautiful city – and it deserves to be treated better than this.

4. Recycling – I have had the concept of recycling ingrained in me for as long as I can remember.  I know that everything I am used to recycling may not be able to recycled over here but there still seems to be a general lack of caring about recycling in this city. Even when there is a recycling bin nearby, I see soda cans, recyclable packaging and the like in the rubbish bins instead and it drives me mad.  I understand that recycling bins or bags are not always available, but I don’t understand when there is one and people still chose to just throw the recyclable material in the rubbish.  Are the five extra steps really going to break you?

5. Drivers– I have complained about drivers in Dublin in a previous post but this one still deserves a mention on my “hate list”.  Drivers in Dublin seem to only care about themselves and getting where they need to be – never mind who might, literally, be standing in their way.  Even when making a turn or leaving a car park, drivers over here appear to only look forward and the concept of slowing down for pedestrians, to make a turn, or for any reason really, appears to optional at best. Like it or not, the roads are shared with pedestrians, bikers and other drivers and those who drive really need to remember that before someone gets hurts or killed.

So, yes – there are some things I “strongly dislike” about Dublin.  But the list of what I hated about Los Angeles was much longer, believe me.  And, as I said earlier, living someplace does not mean that you have to love absolutely everything about it.  But to that end, there are quite a few things that I do love about this city and, not one to dwell on the negative, I choose to close out this blog post with my “love list”:

FIVE THINGS I LOVE ABOUT DUBLIN:

1. The Weather – Having moved here from Los Angeles, people might be surprised that I prefer the weather here in Dublin. I hate extremes of temperature and weather, both hot and cold.  Dublin is perfect for me – it never gets very cold (remember, I grew up in Buffalo so when I say cold I mean COLD) and it never gets super hot.  Yes, we can sometimes experience four seasons in one day but I don’t really mind that either.  I found the weather in LA to be, frankly, boring.  Here in Dublin, the weather is interesting without being extreme – perfect.

2. The Pubs – It may be a bit clichéd to say you love the pubs in Dublin but I can’t help it, I do.  I love hanging out in them, talking to friends for hours on end. I love how comfy and cozy they are – especially the ones with a fireplace. I love how the people spill out of them onto the streets if the sun is shining or if Ireland just won some important match. The pub really does have a central role to life here in Dublin, kind of like the cafe in Paris. And I have adapted quite well to this aspect of my expat life.

3. The History – There is a castle in the middle of my city.  Can anyone in America say that? I love history and, living in Dublin there is history around every corner. And being a writer, I especially love Dublin’s literary history – Oscar Wilde, Samuel Becket, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, the list goes on… It’s hard not to be inspired when surrounded by the history of such people.

4. My Neighborhood – I live in the area of Dublin known as Ranelagh and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  Ranelagh is like the neighborhood in Brooklyn that I could never afford to live in. It’s charming without being elitist. It’s cool without being hipster.  It has great restaurants, pubs and parks and everything I could possibly need – grocery, pharmacy, doctor, hardware store, book store, butcher, bakery, wine shop – nearly at my doorstep. As long as I live in Dublin, I don’t think I will be able to live anywhere else.

5. The People – I felt welcome the moment I arrived in Dublin and that is because of the people – they love to talk, they love to laugh, and they even wanted to hear my story. The people in Dublin are quite possibly some of the nicest, kindest people on the planet. Not only the friends I’ve made and the people I work with but even the strangers. The default setting for people here in Dublin appears to be friendly and, when people are friendly, it just makes everything easier and more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

So, there you have it my dear readers – what I hate and what I love about this city I now call home. And, as I said earlier, just because I don’t love everything about Dublin doesn’t mean that I don’t love Dublin. Quite the opposite. I really do love this city and consider myself very lucky to be here. No, it’s not perfect and some of those imperfections annoy the hell out of me but that just makes it feel more like home.

 

Where everybody knew my name…

A few posts back, I reviewed a lovely little cafe in my neighborhood called Door 51.  I went on and on about how much I enjoyed this restaurant, how it was the first place I felt at home in my new neighborhood, how the owner and waitstaff already knew me by name. Even after starting work, I made a point of going in there at least once a week. I loved the food. I loved the people.  I loved Door 51.

But as of this past Tuesday, Door 51 is now NoodleMee – an asian fusion restaurant and take-away.  Imagine Norm going to Cheers and finding a sushi restaurant in its place. That’s how I felt.  I literally started crying when I saw that Door 51 was no more.

At first, I was worried that the owner had been forced out of business.  Luckily, that isn’t the case.  NoodleMee has the same owner and waitstaff, so no one lost their job.  But I lost my neighborhood hangout.

I wandered into Door 51 during my first week as an expat.  I was very lonely and very worried that I’d made a huge mistake.  The welcome I got there made me feel better, made me feel like maybe I was going to be okay, and that made Door 51 a very special place to me.  And now it’s gone.

I’m learning that, as an expat, places like Door 51 are important.  They help make me feel more at home in this new city, they keep me connected to my community, they give me a place to go if I’m feeling lonely.

So, I’m actively seeking a new place to call my own – preferably one that serves american-style bacon..

 

Dining Out In Dublin – Tribeca

My neighborhood of Ranelagh has no shortage of really lovely restaurants, ranging from cozy cafes and sandwich shops to high-end steak joints. But there is one particular restaurant in Ranelagh that is somewhat of a Dublin institution: Tribeca.

Tribeca is tremendously popular.  So popular that we even had a bit of a hard time getting a reservation for a Sunday afternoon.  They are known in particular for one specialty: chicken wings!  That’s right, the girl from Buffalo lives right down the street from the most popular wing place in Dublin.

But how would the Tribeca chicken wing hold up when tasted by the wing connoisseur that is myself?  We shall see.

The place was packed when we walked in, and it smelled like chicken wings.  You Buffalo peeps know what I’m talking about – that combination of fried chicken and hot sauce that invades your nostrils and clears your sinuses.  Ah, the smells of home!

I was surprised when I ordered the wings that I wasn’t asked how spicy I wanted them, but I decided to just go with it and try the wings exactly as Tribeca makes them.  A bit later, a heaping basket of wings was placed in front of me.  Seriously, the order is huge.  And, happy happy joy joy, they came with a side of bleu cheese (no ranch, no honey mustard, no other heathen dipping sauces) and two large celery stalks (not the celery sticks a purist like me prefers but better than nothing or, gasp, carrot sticks).

And the wings were good.  Quite good, actually.  I’ve noticed that Frank’s Red Hot Sauce is available in grocery stores here so I think Tribeca is the real deal when it comes to the hot sauce recipe they use.  The wings weren’t as big as what you’d get from Duff’s or Big Daddy’s or any other pizza joint in the greater Buffalo area, but honestly, those mutant wings worry me sometimes.  Can you imagine the size of the chickens with those wings? Genetic engineering at it’s finest.

So, while they were smaller, they tasted really, really good.  For me, I would have wanted them quite a bit hotter and the next time I go, I will ask for extra, extra hot.  But in fairness, you are talking to a gal who wants her eyes to water when she eats her wings and I don’t think Dubliners are there yet.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that I can get a little taste of home just down the road.  Now, if they only delivered…

Tribeca, the famous Ranelagh wing spot.

Tribeca, the famous Ranelagh wing spot.

http://www.tribeca.ie

Christmas in Ranelagh

When it became clear that I would be moving to Dublin, I knew that choosing the neighborhood I would live in was going to be one of the most important decisions of the entire move.

I chose the village of Ranelagh for many reasons – it came highly recommended by people who know Dublin, I only have to go three stops on the Luas (tram) and I’m at St. Stephen’s Green (Dublin’s centre), it has everything I could need within walking distance, and frankly, it’s just adorable.  Ranelagh is the type of neighborhood in which I have always wanted to live but could never afford.  Here in Dublin, the perfect neighborhood is attainable for someone like me.

Last night was Ranelagh’s Christmas Tree lighting.  Normally, I would stay away from anything involving a crowd, but this sounded like fun – Christmas-y, village-y, fun.  And it was.  This wasn’t some Disney-esque tree lighting ceremony with a laser light show choreographed to Mannheim Steamroller.  It wasn’t even as elaborate as some of the Griswold-worthy house decorations one can find on any given neighborhood in the Greater Los Angeles area.

There were 200 people there, tops.  There was free mulled wine for the adults and hot cocoa for the kids, as well as mince pies.  I’m not sure what a mince pie is, but they must be delicious because by the time I got there, they were all gone.

There was a children’s chorus that sang just slightly off-key, the Ranelagh Singers who were really quite good, and of course, good old Santa Claus.  We counted down from 10, the lights came on the tree and that was that.

I loved it.

    Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!