Dublin notes

[I spent about a month in Dublin this past spring, and wrote most of this post then. I figured it’s high time I got around to publishing it.]

What I enjoyed most about this stay in Dublin were the little bits of daily life: the grocery stores, the pubs, the friendliness of the people. Spending hours wandering around a giant bookstore full of English books. Cheddar cheese. But naturally I fit in couple touristy adventures, too. We hit several of Dublin’s big sights on our first trip to Ireland, but there was still plenty left to see this time around.

Dublin Sights

Kilmainham Gaol – This no-longer-in-use jail is slightly outside of town, but worth a trip if you’re interested in learning more about Ireland’s political history. The tour was informative and interesting.

Old Jameson Distillery – The €13.50 entrance fee feels like kind of a rip-off, especially since real distilleries tend to charge much less if anything at all. But if you’re up for a Disneyfied version of a whiskey tour, it’s definitely a good time. Be ready to volunteer enthusiastically when they ask for tasters near the beginning of the tour – everyone gets a shot of Jameson, but only a chosen few get to do the taste-test comparing American, Irish, and Scottish whisk(e)ys.

National Gallery – this art museum has a fabulous collection of old masters, impressionists, and Irish paintings. And free entrance! But the best part was the security guard who out of the blue just wanted to let me know that I was “very welcome” in Ireland. When was the last time a German said something similar to you, I ask?

Gogarty’s – in the center of Temple Bar, Gogarty’s offers live Irish music every night of the week in the cozy upstairs bar. Touristy, yes, but the craic is still excellent. Drinking Irish ales by the pint is part of the full cultural experience, which you will surely want to have. Actually there are tons of pubs that offer free live music all over Dublin, so don’t feel like you have to stop at just this one.

Hugh Lane Gallery – a fabulous little art collection plus an excellent exhibit (including his reconstructed studio) on Francis Bacon, everyone’s favorite crazy fuck artist.

Book of KellsEm dragged me here. The book itself wasn’t even on display (I think it’s being restored), but surprisingly I enjoyed the exhibit, which talked about the book’s history and production.

Dublin Eats

The Mermaid Cafe became my favorite restaurant in Dublin after a meal of creative, elegant food in their relaxed atmosphere (great service, too). The seats near the windows make for excellent people-watching.

We also had a nice meal at The Church, a former church which has been beautifully converted into a bar and restaurant. The prix fixe menu felt like a good value in a city as expensive as Dublin.

In more casual dining, I quite liked Juice, a vegetarian restaurant with a good selection of creative international vegetarian and vegan fare. The lunch special was a good deal.

I completely fell in love with Dublin and its people. I’d go back in a minute.

How should we prepare for Oktoberfest?

Complete the following sentence:

In anticipation of Oktoberfest, we should ______.

A. Start drinking more, to build up our tolerance.

B. Stop drinking entirely, to let our livers rest up before the big event.

C. Other (please specify).

It’s less than a month away!

A short guide to Munich’s public transportation system

[Note: if you’re not planning on using Munich’s public transportation system anytime soon, I recommend skipping this post. Instead go look at some funny t-shirts from Gatlinburg.]

Even Germans are bewildered when they first encounter Munich’s public transportation system in all its glory. The various zones, trams, S-bahns, rings, U-bahns, and Streifenkarten are enough to leave anyone’s head spinning when trying to purchase a ticket on the fly. That’s why I put together this post containing the information I think would be most helpful to tourists and other visitors to Munich. Basically, I’m tired of repeating myself to visitors.

First for the good news: MVV (the company that runs Munich’s public transportation) has a relatively useful English website, which includes route maps, ticket prices, and a recently-improved Journey Planner. You can input your origin and destination (in the form of addresses or stops) and receive one or more suggested routes (along with PDF maps and fare information).
There’s also an independent iPhone app which shows local transport as well as Deutsche Bahn trains.

The other good news is that Munich’s transportation system is rather comprehensive and integrated. You can take buses, trams, U-bahns (subways), and S-bahns (urban rail) all on the same ticket. The travel part is relatively easy. But choosing that ticket? Not always so easy.

Munich’s transportation network consists of four zones, which are further subdivided into four rings (or circles) each, for a total of 16 rings. The zones are denoted by the various background colors in the map above. Travel is on the honor system most of the time: it is up to you to buy and validate the right ticket for your needs. Chances are no one will look at your ticket, but if you are checked and found to be without a valid ticket, you will pay a €40 fine.

Tickets can be purchased from machines in all S-bahn and U-bahn stations, as well as at some tram and bus stops. At major stops, such as the airport and the main train station, you can also buy your ticket from a real live person (assuming you can find the MVV counter). Most trams and buses have ticket machines on board, as well, although the ticket selection is more limited. Tickets purchased on board a bus or tram are usually valid immediately; most other tickets must be validated with a stamp. To validate (activate) a ticket, stamp it in one of the machines (usually blue boxes) that can be found as you enter the S-bahn or U-bahn system or on a bus or tram. Passes (day and 3-day) must be stamped only once, on your first trip using the ticket. Be sure to carry your ticket in a place where you can find it.

As a tourist, chances are you’ll be staying within the Innenraum (center zone – white) for all of your travel needs, with the exception of trips to and from the airport and/or Dachau. Personally I prefer to get passes that are good for the whole day (or longer), so I don’t have to spend time buying individual tickets or thinking about how many rides I plan to take in a given day. Even if I end up overspending by a couple euros, to me it’s worth it to just buy one ticket and be free to roam all day.

There are dozens of ticket options, but as a tourist or short-term visitor to Munich, you are likely to find the most useful tickets are the ones listed below. Note that the word ‘Partner’ in a ticket name means the ticket is good for up to 5 people traveling together; these tickets can be great deals. Note also that in Munich, a day ticket (Tageskarte) is only valid until 6am the following day, rather than for 24 hours.

Getting around central Munich:

  • Innenraum (white zone) day pass – €5
  • Innenraum day Partner ticket – €9
  • Innenraum 3-day pass – € 12.30
  • Innenraum 3-day Partner pass – € 21
  • Single ride – € 2.30
  • Single ride Kurzstrecke (very short ride) – € 1.20

Between Munich airport and anywhere in the city center (follow the signs that show an S in a green circle after you get out of luggage claim):

  • Day pass (good for airport ride and any other trips you take that day) – €10
  • Partner day pass – €18
  • Single ride – €9.20

Between Munich city center and Dachau:

  • Day pass (Munich XXL – white and green zones) – € 6.70
  • Partner day pass (Munich XXL) – € 11.80
  • Single ride – € 4.60

(Prices quoted are current as of August 2009, more or less. For the latest price info, see MVV’s website.)

If you’ll be staying for more than three or four days, it may be worth looking into weekly or monthly tickets. These get a little more complicated because they are valid for specific rings rather than specific zones. See this MVV page for more info.

One last note: many ticket machines have green buttons towards the bottom with wording that screams something like “Hey dumb tourist, buy these tickets!” Those tickets are combination passes good for public transport and discounts off of various sights. They are more expensive than regular tickets, so if you’re tempted, do some calculations in advance to determine whether they make financial sense for you.

Ask the Expat: practical Oktoberfest advice for first-time visitors

Can you post some guidance for Oktoberfest ahead of the event this year for those of us who want to attend? (At least I no longer think it’s in Oktober :) )

OK, so my last post containing Oktoberfest tips was not particularly comprehensive. This time I will do better.

To start with the very basics, Oktoberfest is a giant festival consisting of beer tents, rides, and vendors selling carnival food and souvenirs. It takes place at Munich’s Theresienwiese (often referred to as the Wiesen or Wies’n) and runs for around 16 days starting in the second half of September (this year it’s September 19th – October 4th). Entrance is free, and everything else is pretty expensive. Tents open at 10:00AM (9:00 on weekends) and close at 11:30PM. There are 14 large tents and a handful of smaller ones.

You have to be in a tent (or on a tent’s patio) and sitting down at a table to get beer. (OK, so there’s also the beery-go-round, but that’s not what you came to Oktoberfest for.) This sitting-at-a-table-waiting-for-beer is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Pretty much all of the tents get full to capacity every day of the festival, at which time the doors are closed and guarded by big, angry (and sometimes bribable) bouncers. This happens by the early evening on weekdays and by about 9:05AM on weekends.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to get inside a tent, it’s now time to get down to the business of finding yourself a seat. Many tables will have reserved signs on them, usually with a starting time for the reservation. If you are there well in advance of the reservation time, you may usually sit at the table and be served beer, and the waitress will kick you out at the appropriate time. All tents have a section of tables that are never reserved, usually near the center of the tent.

Hacker Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest, Munich

Unless you’ve arrived at 10:00AM on a Monday, don’t expect to find an entire empty table all for you. Choose a table with some available space, ask the people there if the seats are free (Ist hier noch frei?) and sit down. The waitress will be by more quickly than you expect. You’ll find a crumpled, soggy menu somewhere on the table. It will list a variety of heavy foods, a couple of non-alcoholic drinks, and beer, which only comes by the liter and in one variety. Be glad you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to drink.

If you want to be able to easily find a seat, the best time to go to Oktoberfest is on a weekday in the morning or early afternoon. As long as you keep consuming food and drinks (and you sit at an unreserved table), you can stay as long as you like.

At times when the tents are full, it’s still often possible to find a spot on a tent’s patio. There you can eat and drink, but you’ll miss out on the music and atmosphere going on in the tent. Although tents are usually full by the early evening each day, sometimes they open up again later on, after the early shift of drinkers starts crawling their way home.

If you insist on attending Oktoberfest on a weekend without a reservation, do this to get into a tent: arrive at the Wiesen by 8 AM, choose a tent, and stand in the large mass of people outside the door. When they start letting people in a little before 9, make a run for the tables and start looking for one without a reservation sign (or one that is reserved just for the evening – you’ll be ready to leave by then). Cell phones are useful in this scenario, as the people in your party can split up and whoever finds a table first can call the others. Enjoy that 9 AM beer.

All of the large tents have live music for most of the day (starting around 11). The daytime band is usually oompa-like and somewhat traditional. At some point during the afternoon they will be switched out for a younger, hipper band which will assault your ears with Walking on Sunshine and Cowboys und Indianer. This is usually the time when the dancing on the benches commences. Be prepared to jump up and join in or find your head surrounded by gyrating leather-clad asses.

And on that note, I think I’ll wrap this post up. I’ll post a couple of follow-ups in the coming weeks as Oktoberfest draws nearer. If you have any specific questions, ask away!

Ask the Expat is a semi-regular feature here at This non-American Life. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

My readers think I’m a pervert

A reader (and friend) sent me these photos of a building in Munich. She said she thought it’d be perfect for my blog.

As if I would post such an obscene thing.

What do you think this building is for?

Expat bloggers to descend on Munich. Wanna come?

I keep forgetting to post about this, but the event is fast approaching. On the weekend of September 4th – 6th, expat bloggers from all around Germany will be coming to Munich to hang out, chat, drink, eat, walk around, and chat some more. I am all kinds of excited to get to see some of my favorite out-of-town bloggers (such as TQE and the Regensbloggers) again, as well as to meet some others (such as Snooker and Mausi and Heidelbergerin) for the first time.

New folks are more than welcome, so if you’re a blogger in Germany (or somewhere nearby) and would like to attend, go sign up on the Expat Bloggers in Germany Website to learn all the dirty little details.

Cuish. Magazine. Expedite.

I am in all kinds of love with this NYTimes piece containing a list of code words for use in telegrams. They are infinitely more sophistimicated than the LOLz and WTFs from our age of text messages and Google chats. Hell, I might even start twittering if we all agree to start using words such as ‘morisco’* and ‘babylonite’**.

I actually have a Twitter account, but so far the appeal of using it has alluded me. Sure, every once in a while I like to read through the tweets of the few friends I’m ‘following’, but any more than that and I fear it would become a hideous time suck of proportions greater than my Google Reader and Facebook combined.

Do you Twitter? If so, please explain to me its advantages over, say, telegrams.

*Money no object.
**Please provide bail immediately.

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