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Round the World Travel

St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a gigantic holiday all around the world.  Not because he is such a popular saint but because he is the patron saint of Ireland and the prolific Irish people are scattered worldwide.  The latest US Census shows that 34 Million Americans claim Irish descent.  The population of the Republic of Ireland is less than 5 million; Northern Ireland is less than 2 million.  Australia has more than 2 million people of Irish descent.  This mass migration started with the Irish famine years of 1845-1849 which were related more to political and social issues than food production.

To place this in perspective and talk about the holiday in places I have lived: USA, Ireland, Greece, Czech Republic, we first need some background.  Wearing of the green stems from suppression of the Irish by their English overlords in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The Shamrock became a secret badge for those who wanted to remain Celtic.  The first known Saint Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City 13 years before the American revolutionaries declared their independence from Britain.  That city is still the site of the biggest parade even surpassing Dublin.

In 1962 the city of Chicago set a new standard when they dyed the Chicago River emerald green.  Since then monuments around the world have been turned green to honor this day including the Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building, pyramids in Egypt and even the proud Eiffel Tower.  I am guessing there is drinks company money behind all this since the holiday has evolved into a major drinking occasion.

When I was a child in Oregon, USA St. Patrick’s Day was right up there with April Fool’s Day as a fun holiday.  We got to pinch anybody who wasn’t wearing green and sometimes pinched the girls anyway claiming we did not see their green.  Later as a young man it was a great excuse to go out drinking on a week night.  Decades later upon relocating to West Cork, Ireland I discovered the holiday was a much bigger deal in the US than in Ireland.

Sure the men all wore a large clump of Shamrock on their lapels, not just a fake sprig, so that they could start “wetting the Shamrock” early down to the pub.  But that was it, a busy day at the pub.  Just the big cities like Cork and Dublin held parades.  But Americanization affects a lot of cultures and since the 1990’s the holiday in Ireland as expanded from its traditional roots.  That is when the government sponsored tourist boards changed the one day event into a multi-day festival that attracts large numbers of tourists.  My favorite is the parade in Ennis, Co. Clare--true community spirit!

So when I relocated to the Greek island of Paros I suffered a major holiday setback.  There was zilch happening on 17 March.  Even the night club called the Dubliner was not yet open for the tourist season. In recent years the beer distributors have expanded their promotions to the Greek bars but still the only major event is in Athens and sponsored by the Greek-Irish Society.

In 2009 I sensed an opportunity to expand Irishness on the Greek islands in the 250th anniversary of the founding of Guinness Brewery in Dublin.  On September 24 at 17:59 GMT people worldwide were to raise a glass of the dark stuff in a toast to founder, Arthur Guinness.  At that time I was with a group at a traditional Greek taverna at the sea front. All heads certainly turned when we lifted our black cans that I had smuggled in.      

Then I moved to Prague which has several fine Irish pubs and where I was surprised to learn that the Czechs drink more beer than the Irish.  I am not surprised to see that here too the official 17 March event has been made over to a full week-end of drinking. As I purist I will have my toast to all things Irish on the day.   Sláinte


P.S.  The rest is of this page is just filler.  It once served a purpose :-)

Round the world travel is becoming increasingly popular with gap year students and seasoned travellers alike, both for the reasonable price and the hassle free travel. Whether you’re heading east or west there are numerous destinations to wet your intercontinental appetite, so here are some of the best countries to visit if you’re travelling far and wide.

New Zealand – Often overlooked in favour of its larger neighbour Australia, New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful place to visit. The rolling green hills, deep valleys and large lakes are truly breathtaking, and were used in the filming of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. If scenery is your thing then New Zealand is a must. And if you’re looking for great beaches too then New Zealand will not disappoint, with miles of coastline on the north and south island to enjoy. If you’re heading to the south island then Milford Sound is a must see. Famed by Rudyard Kipling and often seen as the eighth wonder of the world the tall peaks and serene water make it the country’s number one tourist destination. A two and a half hour cruise will cost around £45 per adult in peak season and £10 for a child. The boats take you past the huge mountains and you can often see a whole host of wildlife, including the native penguins resting on the rocks at the foot of the hills.

Argentina – Thanks to its diverse scenery and weatheArgentina – Thanks to its diverse scenery and weather conditions, a visit to Argentina can be like visiting many different countries. The country is home to a rich number of possible destinations, and boasts some of the world’s best natural sights too. The Valdez Peninsula is perfect for those who like to get their feet wet and explore beneath the waves. The town of Puerto Madryn is a good place to visit, as from there you can book dive courses, search out the best fishing places and try your hand at sports such as windsurfing. A number of animals live in the Valdez Peninsula, so expect to see penguins, seals and whales if you go looking. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world which are still in a state of advancement, whilst others around the world are melting at previously unseen rates. A boat trip to the glacier for the day will cost around £80-£100 and often includes lunch, so search around for the best price and package to suit your needs.

Thailand – A popular destination for gap year travellers, Thailand is good for the variety it can offer its tourists. You’ll find cheap hostels for those on a budget as well as luxury hotels if you’re splashing out. The nightlife is one of the main attractions, with the famous full moon parties and cheap drinks attracting throngs of tourists, especially in the summer months. Dive courses are offered at competitive rates, so shop around for the best price if you’re interested in doing one, as you’ll often be able to barter the price down a little. The beaches are spectacular, with clear blue water and white sand as well as snorkelling opportunities for those who wish to see some sealife but not pay for a scuba session.

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