When in Dublin: An Ancient Fishing Village and Game of Thrones Tour

I loved Dublin. Between Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and stumbling upon Irish dancing in an old church-turned restaurant, the city was full of heritage and life. That said, we know I also love me a quality day trip, and Dublin offers some of the best day trip options around. First stop: Howth.

Howth (Pronounced “Hoat” by the locals) comes from the Norse word for “Head.” It was settled (invaded, settled, you say poayto, I say potahto) by the Vikings circa the year 819. Again, I’m floored by the fact that things were happening in the year 819. America is so young you guys. Now, the fishing village is technically a suburb of Dublin, though far more charming than the cul-de-sacs and minivans the word brings to mind. Howth is full of fishing boats, Irishfolk swimming despite the near-freezing waters, and fresh seafood. Like, boat-to-plate fresh fish.

Howth is a perfect walking village, and we mostly hung around by the fishing docks watching the boats come in and marveling at the swimmers. We opted for Beshoff’s fish and chips, a Dublin area classic, for lunch, though there are definitely some fancier, delicious looking seafood restaurants. My recommendation: find your fish lunch of choice, take your time eating it, then go for a walk around the village and the docks. If you’re from a desert or other sea-less place like me, just watching the boats do their thing was plenty charming and entertaining.

Howth can easily be combined with Malachide or Dun Loaghaire. We stopped by the Malachide Castle on our way back into the city, former home of the Talbot family and nestled amid a lovely garden. Well worth the visit.

Yes, I am a Game of Thrones fanatic, and yes, much of the show is filmed in Ireland. A tour of the filming locations, complete with complimentary cloaks and daggers, was a necessity for this Dublin trip.

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This day-long adventure takes fans through Tollymore Forest, where many of the scenes in the North and Beyond the Wall were shot. Castle Ward Estate, aka Winterfell (combined with a whole lot of CGI, as it happens), is next on the tour after a pub lunch. The waterside area around the castle dubbed as the Riverlands in the show as well. TV magic! We also toured Inch Abbey, the ruins of a cathedral where Robb was declared King In the North. #tbt.

A highlight of the tour by far was meeting Thor and Odin, two wolf dogs that made their TV debut as the Starks’ direwolf pups. I love dogs, and I especially love big dogs, and if I didn’t live in an apartment in New York City I’d rescue the biggest dog I could find. So these fluffy, majestic boofers were a dream to pet in real life. Plus, their owner, who’s also a wildling on the show, was super nice. His brother played Ramsay Bolton’s main guard when that was a thing, and their father was a Dothraki in Season One. Basically HBO walked in and changed this Irish fisherman’s family’s life forever, all thanks to the fact that they happened to own a litter of wolf dog puppies. TV magic.

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There were still plenty of places we didn’t get to explore around Dublin, since we only had three full days there. All inspiration for the next trip.

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Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat

So you’re traveling through southern Thailand, based in Phuket or perhaps Krabi right now, and you want to see Phang Nga Bay. You’re correct – Phang Nga Bay is a must if you’re within a two-hour drive. And the best way to hit the sites? A day-long boat tour stopping at different islands for an hour or so at a time.

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We booked our tour through Tour East. It included a van pickup from our hotel in Phuket (the cheapest hotel yet at $15/night with all of the amenities), a speedboat tour of four of the islands (including James Bond island, of course), canoe tour through Panak and Hong Islands, and lunch in a floating village. Totally ideal for a nine hour tour.

The day started off to an excellent start when our tour guide introduced himself as Sexy Linda. Moral of this post: when given the opportunity to take a tour through the coast of Western Thailand or really anywhere via someone named Sexy Linda, DO IT. Mind you, this person was totally male-presenting and identified as male, and just happened to be called Sexy Linda. I was into it.

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The first island of the day was Koh Khai, a lovely little spot with lots of fluorescent green tropical fish swimming around it. Luckily, Sexy Linda provided us with snorkel masks to observe the fish and the coral with. The island also had plenty of feral cats and Coca Cola vendors. Everything you need at 10am on a Thai morning.

Next up was my personal favorite part, the canoe tour of Koh Panak and Koh Hong. These islands are full of moss-covered limestone caves, I.e. The most beautiful stuff of your life (especially if you’ve grown up in a desert). Most of these caves are so small that you can only get to them via canoe, hence that aspect of the tour. And guys. This was Pure. Magic. Some of the cave entrances were so low that we had to lay down in the canoes to fit through them, which was an adventure in itself. Being so close to the water is so calming and peaceful, and once we entered the caves they were all far bigger than I expected. Like I said, pure magic.

After canoeing came lunch on Koh Panyee, the village on stilts. This place. Was. So. Cool. First of all, our lunch was so fresh and delicious (like everything in Thailand thus far), and consisted of Tom Ka Kai Soup, spring rolls, yellow curry, and some kind of unidentifiable coconut dessert. Koh Panyee is fascinating not just because it’s a “floating” village, but because the whole village practices Islam and is therefore a lot stricter than the rest of Thailand. Women had to have shoulders and knees covered, for example, a la the Buddhist temples, and there was no alcohol allowed on the island. (Never fear, though; Sexy Linda made sure we knew that the next island included on-site bars.) We visited the floating soccer field where some Australian tourists were playing soccer with local kids, which was just great to watch, and lots of shops advertising fresh coconut and Thai pearls.

The final two islands of the day were Koh Ping Kan (James Bond island), and Kai Nai, the aforementioned island bar island. Koh Ping Kan is famous because the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) was filmed there. Honestly, it was just as beautiful as the rest of the islands, but since I haven’t seen the film, that part of the charm was lost on me and the tourist to island ratio made it the low point of the tour for me. It did have a nice little hike, though, and let’s be clear – by low point I mean I only enjoyed it very much instead of incredibly much. So. Still a win.

Kai Nai, the final stop, featured some delicious Thai cocktails, hammocks, and a pearl shop. I bought *wildly cheap, authentic* pearls for my sister and myself, and we spent most of our stay on this island swimming in the unreal turquoise-colored water.

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Oh, now might be a good time to mention that Doug and I pretended to be British for the whole trip, as some sort of only slightly sociopathic challenge for ourselves. By the time the nine hours on a boat were coming to a close, and we were getting fatigued, I had to often elbow him to remind him that as far as the South Africans and the New Zealanders on our boat knew, we were from the motherland on an extended spiritual journey. I remain convinced that we pulled it off; Doug thinks we were found out from the beginning. WHO’S TO SAY?*

*(Hello, nice South African family who was on our Phang Nga boat tour on January 3, 2017. If you’re reading this, it’s you. You’re to say. Please tell us if we were convincing Brits.)

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Regardless of whether or not we successfully duped a boatful of people into believing we hailed from another nation, the Phang Nga Bay boat tour was a standout highlight of our Thailand trip. When visiting the area, especially if you’re stationed in Phuket, I will not forgive you if you miss this. Neither will British Natalie from Brighton.

 

Escaping Scammers or the French Police – We’re Still Not Sure*

*Okay, we’re 99.89% sure they were scammers. But there’s still that .11% chance that I’m a wanted fugitive in Paris, and that doesn’t NOT make me feel like a badass.

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Picture this: It was June 2016. I was traveling with my mom through Western Europe after doing the Scottish Play in Scotland (yep). My mom used to live in Montpellier and does *not* like Paris, but this was a trip I had originally planned to take with an ex, and Mama G saved the day by taking his place when we broke up. So Paris, la ville de l’amour, it was.

 

By the time our little incident took place we’d been exploring France’s capitol for two days and had exclusively walked or taken the metro everywhere. We bought a little packet of five disposable metro tickets each, and up until then had thrown the individual ticket slips away after each ride. So far, no problems, no machines asking to take the tickets on our way out of the metro (the way there are in London, for example), and no signs indicating that we should hold onto our tickets anywhere. So when we exited the metro at the Eiffel Tower station – the most touristy metro stop in the world, for sure – I thought nothing of having trashed my little slip of paper.

That is, until a large French hand stopped me asking to scan my ticket. My mom happened to keep hers because she’s constantly one step ahead of everybody, but I, subpar mortal human, had thrown mine away like I was used to doing.

“No ticket, 75 Euros,” Large French Hand Man said.
“No,” I said, “That’s never been a rule before.” He shrugged, and held up a laminated manual stating that this was, in fact, the rule. Mind you, there were about five of these “officers,” and they all had very official-looking vests and ticket scanning machines. Plus walkie-talkies. Walkie-talkies = legit.

My mom tried speaking to them in French, but since they knew we spoke English and were therefore tourists, they were having none of it. Because I am belligerent and smart, I declared that we were not going to pay, that this was connerie and a scam and we didn’t believe it. I believe my exact words were, “This is bullsh*t, this is a scam, there’s no way we’re paying.” I tried to push my way through the wall of gruff Frenchmen but a couple of pairs of hands grabbed me at once and shoved me back in place.

“You pay, or we call the police, and when the police come it’s 180 Euros.”

“Fine,” I said, like a smart person. “Call the police. They won’t come, because you’re a scam, and we won’t pay anything, because this is a scam.”

The vest-wearing bully then rapidly spoke into his walkie-talkie, evidently summoning the police.

I was starting to feel shaky because I, like most rational people, am not a fan of being womanhandled, and I was beginning to seriously doubt my convictions. I mean. The guy had a very official-looking walkie-talkie with which he could communicate with the police. On one hand, I knew it was a scam, and yet on the other, I was becoming more and more sure that I had just landed my mother and I in Parisian jail for the remainder of our trip. I was somehow equally positive of these two antithetical scenarios at once.

Meanwhile, other tourists were being caught in the same trap, and most simply paid the fine. This was making me even more mad, both at the scammers and at the people who weren’t joining my rebellion of two.

After ten-twenty minutes of detainment, my mom asked (in French) how long it was going to take to for the police to get here. I need to take a moment to give a shout out to Beth for remaining totally calm during this encounter, and blindly following my haphazard lead. Not many people would, or should, do the same.

“I don’t know,” the man said, annoyed that he should have to waste one more second or breath on us idiot American tourists. “Could be twenty minutes, could be two hours. You know the Euro is on, lots of police needed there and not here.”

Ah, yes. Sound logic. If I were a French policeman, I too would rather be watching soccer – sorry, football – than dealing with delinquent American riffraff.

And then, our moment came. A group of ten or so Spanish-speaking tourists exited the train at once, and all five ticket scanners were needed to corner them. We were suddenly under only vague surveillance.

“Mom, run,” I hissed, already flying down the stairs, summer skirt clutched in my hand to ensure maximum mobility. The men were shouting after us, loudly and in French, but we flew down the steps and sprinted around as many zig-zaggy alleyways as we could find. For good measure, I put my hair in a bun and took my jacket off, essentially turning me into another person. I think I have a real future in espionage.

Finally, very shaky, we ducked into a cafe as far from the metro station as we could stand to run and caught our breaths over some overpriced Perrier. We walked the long way around the Eiffel Tower, because I’d be damned if I was going to let some punks ruin my tourist moment, and then walked the thirty minutes or so to our Air BnB since we were rather scarred from the metro for the day.

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After reclaiming our dignity in the Jardin de Tuileries, we looked on TripAdvisor and saw that, lo and behold, this ticket-scanning system was one of Paris’s biggest scam problems that summer. It might still be happening, so if you’re planning a trip, be wary! And if you do accidentally throw your ticket away in a moment of learned behavior, just follow my lead! Yell at the authorities and then run from them!

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Pro tip: cover your eyes with macarons and you won’t be able to see anyone’s bullsh*t

For dinner that night, we ate at the recommended restaurant within walking distance of our lodgings: Cafe Metro, of course.

I have since learned that while they WERE likely scammers, this fine is a real thing. You must keep your metro ticket on your person, despite the lack of warning signage. (Macron, can we maybe take a sec and revise how this is handled?)

And deep, deep, deeeeeep down, there is a tiny law-abiding anxious traveler that is convinced that despite the sketchiness, despite the TripAdvisor accounts, these men were, in fact, doing nothing more than upholding their civic duty (although gruffly and as rude as they come).

If so? Tant pis.