Words and photos by Gabriella Bauer, a public health major from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who studied abroad in Dublin during summer term 2016.
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Dear Future CAPA Students:
Let me start off here by saying that you are about to embark on one of the best experiences of your life in perhaps one of the best cities in the world.
As I sit in Dublin Airport awaiting my 6-hour flight back to Boston and eating my last pack of Haribo candy in delicious nostalgia, it feels as if I’m leaving home rather than going home. Although I have no regrets and there are few things I would change about my experience overall, there are a few pointers I wish I would’ve known in advance which would have made it that much better.
My biggest tip, first and foremost is: do not over pack! In a city like Dublin with a plethora of thrift shops, shopping (cheap and upscale), gift shops, and every type of store or international market you could ever imagine, it is far better to initially under pack than the alternative. Bring a near-empty suitcase with your absolute essentials, and then buy everything you may need there - especially since you, your friends and family will most likely want souvenirs! If you really want to do it right, pack your essentials from home in a small suitcase and put that one inside a larger suitcase that you can fill to your heart's delight with Irish treasures to take back home.
Photo: Antoinette's Bakery
There are simply not enough good things I can say about the food, people, and overall culture that encompass Dublin. If you suffer from food allergies, intolerance, or follow a specific diet like myself, Dublin has you covered; they cater to everything from gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, halal, and dairy free. Don’t be scared to try new cuisines or eateries that are a bit off the beaten path, as touristy areas like Temple Bar and O’Connell Street tend to have higher prices and poorer quality food in comparison to Camden or Aungier Street. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I can honestly say I never had a bad cup of coffee or meal in Dublin, and have had just as much fun (if not more!) exploring my taste buds than I did pubs or clubs.
Photo: From Dublin Food Co-op
First and foremost, stay away from any commercialized places that you can find anywhere in the US, such as McDonalds, Subway, and Starbucks.
Coffee: I bought coffee literally every single day for two months, and each cup was uniquely delicious and satisfying. The Bald Barista is a great all-around coffee shop, complete with a strong wifi signal in a cozy setting that’s perfect for getting work done over a nice Irish breakfast and delicious pastry… and if you’re lucky enough, you will actually get to meet The Bald Barista (yes, he’s actually a real person with “The Bald Barista” tattooed on the back of his head!). For both the tea and coffee enthusiast, Wall & Keogh on Portobello Street is a novel experience, with hundreds of aromatic teas and enticing flavors that you can actually open and smell individually. The Cracked Nut on Camden Street has great quality, strong, artisanal coffee that will surely crack a smile on your face even after a long night. Another excellent, and most affordable, cup of coffee I’ve come across is only €2 for take-away at Café Sofia’s - a little hole in the wall cafe on Camden Street that is ideal, especially when you’re in a hurry.
Photo: Cornucopia - 19-20 Wicklow Street
Food: Like I said, every meal I’ve had in Dublin has far surpassed my expectations. If you’re looking for healthy, filling, and tasty food that is “cruelty free” (aka vegan or vegetarian), Cornucopia on Wicklow Street never disappoints. For satisfying a sweet tooth, Antoinette’s Bakery has the most incredible gluten-free and vegan pastries that enabled me to enjoy dessert after avoiding wheat and gluten for the past five years. For good late night eats when everything else is closed, Zaytoon’s mouthwatering kebabs will put a screeching halt to your hunger pangs. If you want to try something unexpectedly delicious that will send your taste buds on a delightful excursion to the unknown, head to Jerusalem for the superior staff, ambiance, tasty food (reasonably priced), and expansive menu.
However, if you do love to cook or want to save some money by preparing your own meals, I recommend The Dublin Food Co-op (Dublin’s largest organic food supplier), Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer St, or any of the health food shops on Camden Street such as Liston’s. Tesco also has (surprisingly) good local produce and a food selection that is great value and super convenient.
Photo: Jerusalem - 77 Camden Street Lower
The last tip I want to give you is do not be a slave to your smartphone or social media! You will notice early on that the culture in Ireland differs greatly from the US in that they are not nearly as technology obsessed. Therefore, Irish people tend to make better eye contact, listen more, ask more questions, and be more engaging and communicative in general. Whereas it’s a social norm in the US to constantly be Snap-chatting or “checking in” to some form of social media, you will be much better received and taken seriously if you are not constantly on your smartphone (and more likely to make new friends!). With the exception of snapping the occasional photo or two, you will get much more out of the overall Irish cultural experience by giving your smartphone a rest and making a conscious effort to stay present in your immediate environment.