Letters from Myanmar – Yangon

This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about” Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)

Myanmar is referred to as Amarapura, the Land of Immortality, Yadanarbon, the Land of the Gems and Suvanabhomi, the Golden Land. And we are off to discover how each and every of this skilfull names suit Myanmar and breathe from each of its corners. First stop of this ride Yangon.

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What we did

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Golden Pagoda dates back to 588 BC and it is said to be the oldest stupa in Myanmar if not the world. The complex o Shwedagon Pagoda is accessible on four majestic stairways. The stupa is 99m height and is encircled by the sequence of the planetary posts each representing a day of the week along with its associated heavenly body and animal (in Burmese astrology Wednesday is divided in two, thus resulting eight “days” in total). Around the terraces you will find a replica of the Buddha’s Tooth (a copy of the original held in Kandy, Sri Lanka), the Magic Ruby Enshrined Buddha, the Child-clutching Brahma, a reclining Buddha and plenty more.

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Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda is right in the centre of the British style organized streets in Downtown Yangon. Local tradition says that the pagoda was built during the lifetime of the Buddha himself. The pagoda is reachable on four staircases located on each cardinal point. Entrance for tourists is 3 USD and the view is especially beautiful in the afternoon when the sun sets.

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Downtown Street Wandering

Downtown is a display of colonial architecture with entire streets and houses all lined up like in the 19th century.  There are shops and street vendors on all the streets between the 19th Street and the Pansodan Street.  In the evening street food stalls and street “restaurants” with plastic tables and chairs are lined up on both sides of Mahabandoola Road and the streets between 32nd Street and 18th Street with all sorts of barbecue, noodles and fruits.

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Bogyoke Market

Foreign-friendly market built in 1926 covering everything from souvenirs, gems, jewellery, clothing this bazaar looks like a must for shopaholics.

Where we stayed

We stayed at Clover City Centre Hotel Plus. Small entrance lobby with reception at the third floor but otherwise a great spot for a short stay in Yangon. Room was big and clean. Air-conditioning working properly; TV with a few channels, water and coffee complimentary and the well needed safe. Location is great on 32nd Street which makes you stay 5 minutes away from Sule Pagoda and walking distance to 19th Street (one one side) and 50th Street (on the other side).

Where we ate

We went to 50th Street for pies, Bar Book for coffee, 19th Kosan Street for beer, the Black Hat for dinner and live music and 999 Shan Noodle Soup for the best noodles soup in town. Click here for more details on our eating & drinking in Yangon experience.

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What we think about Yangon people

We loved the people in Yangon. They seemed nice and honest and did smile a lot. Most of them wear the traditional longyi – the sarong like lower body garment worn by both women and men. Thanka (the bright yellow face paint) is also usual in Yangon. Kids are curious like in all places and do expect people in the pagodas to ask for pictures with you :p.

Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Yangon

Click here for our Top experiences in Yangon

For more photos of Yangon just click here for our Facebook page.

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Tips & Tricks Yangon

Tips & Tricks Yangon

  • the best views of the Shwedagon pagoda are towards sunset. Just reach around 4:30 pm to allow enough time to visit the complex and than just relax waiting for the sunset and enjoying the changing colours of the stupa; entrance is 8000 kyat for foreigners (roughly 6 USD);
  • choose a place to stay in Downtown; it will make it easier to reach Sule Pagoda and even Shwedagon Pagoda;
  • walking is your friend in Yangon; for longer distances (including for returning in the evening from Shwedagon Pagoda to Downtown) just grab one of the cabs you will easily find on the street; they are pretty cheap (as an example a trip one way from Downtown to Inya Lake was 3,500 kyat – roughly 3 USD);
  • pay attention to the floors in the pagodas especially if it’s raining or the caretakers cleaned the terraces;
  • a small umbrella could prove useful towards the end of the rainy season although there are plenty of places to take cover;
  • you can find these days money exchange machine in the Yangon airport as well as money exchange offices; there are plenty of ATMs all over Yangon and some places even accept payment with cards (Visa seems to be accepted usually);
  • there are no traffic lights for pedestrians; for cars the traffic light is located usually on top of the street in front of the cars; if you want to cross the street usually use the corners and cross when the cars have a red light if possible; same rules as in other Asian countries would apply, look before you cross, don’t run just walk and try to estimate the right time to pass; if in doubt follow a local.

Food & Drinks Yangon

Random order :p:

50th Street – located somewhere between 50th and 49th Street (better enter from Merchant Street might be faster); the bar & restaurant seems a bit of a Irish or Australia inspiration, sitting area, bar area with tall chairs, TVs playing a ruby match with New Zealand starting with the usual hakka; food is diverse from pies to pizzas and pastas and some local food selection also; great cold beer; a little spicy the prices compared to other spots but worth a trip; great WI FI.

19th Street Kosan; located in the bustling China Town where at night streets are crazy crowded with locals and some tourists enjoying food at the plenty of street food stalls; the beer is 640 ml – big Asian style ones; haven’t tried the food as the plate with fries was to dirty to touch however seen tourists also eating at this place so must be good; the place is small with a few tables for the bar part an there seems to be their place also on the left and right side of the bar with eating areas; no WI FI.

 

999 Shan Noodle Soup – you will find this place on 34th Street at the end near the Yangon City Hall; the place has soimg_20160918_122523_editme tables downstairs and tables at the first floor; food is great; must try the noodle soup; sticks and tablespoon you will find in the wooden box sitting around on the table; ah yes and if you are a tea lover there is a hot metallic pot on the table just waiting for you to try; no WI FI.

Bar Boon – in front of FMI C        enter at the end of 3o something street; this coffee places that also serves food seems like a great retreat for tourists; coffee is amazing; terrace with tables in front and also some tables inside; WI FI available though low quality.

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The Black Hat – near Sule Pagoda in Sule Plaza there is this bar & restaurant which is graciously called the Black Hat and where waiters and waitresses wear of course a black hat; the places is decorated in a combined style with Greek style columns, bar with tall stalls and those type of eating tables with sofas on all four sides to remind one of the American buffet style; ah and there is even a piano; the food is great, we had lentil soup, pork ribs and our Asian favourite spring rolls; the walls are decorated with movie stars and singers from the 60s / 70s and Elvis is a star; the piano man and his band start at 8 so plan accordingly.

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Valcea Village Museum

It’s a hot summer day and like on every other sunny day we are having lunch underneath the mulberry tree in front of my grandparents’ house. For a foreign eye this would seem like a small house with three rooms of not more than 3 square meters each but for us this is home of the happiest moments of our childhood. We know each and every corner, we got out of the rooms through all its windows when we were small enough to fit, we ate on a three feet table on top of grandma’s bed when it was winter and cold outside and grandma was weaving at her weaving loom filling the room, we spent nights of gossiping while “beating” the milk to make butter in the middle room of the house where everyone used to gather for cooking, eating and small talk, we sat lazy on the porch reading books when it was raining outside or lining up tobacco leaves, we painted walls and cleaned everything up on Easter time, we shared donuts freshly cooked by grandma in the middle of the night all toped up with laughter and happiness in our small sanctuary called “odaie”, we searched through the pockets and bags of grandpa coming back from church with small gifts for the kids and the ever not missing flowers, we fought for that place behind the heating machine to get warm after coming home from caroling out in the snow, we washed our little faces with cold water every Easter night and dressed up just to get ready for “getting light” in a proper way, we packed small bags to give away the morning of the Easter day for our ancestors and shared the only fish we got from one of our relatives or neighbors at the church just to make grandma happy because she used to think this will make us fast like a fish in the year to come, we guided ourselves from many nights spent having fun with our friends by that light that grandma always used to leave on in the porch for the kids to come home, we ran in and out of this small house saying hellos or goodbyes so many years until we grew so tall that we were almost the size of the entrance door but the house never grew to small for us or our memories.

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Like our story there are tons of other stories of childhoods and lives spent in the Romanian traditional village

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in small houses where everything was circling around one room or two

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where life was spent more outside in open air

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where every object had its purpose and it was used almost daily and not forgotten in the back of a drawer for years to come

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where it was perfectly ok for the chicken, the cat or the dog to enter the “middle room” as it was equally ok to eat with bear hands or from the same plate.

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Valcea Village Museum has gathered in time an impressive collection of houses from different areas in Romania and recreates on an 8 hectares area the functional image of a traditional rural settlement with all its social-cultural institutions including a primary school built at the beginning of the XXth century

Valcea Village Museum

a wooden church from 1785

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a swing from Stoenesti commune that my other grandma used to call “wardrobe” and said on Easter kids could ride it for eggs

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an inn

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a pottery shop from the XIX century

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a sheep yard

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a bee keeper’s place

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The Museum is so well arranged and preserved that you feel like going back in time in that garden, on that day, on that summer, in front of that small 3 rooms house and grandma is calling to go pick-up zarzare :p.

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How to find it?

Valcea Village Museum it’s located near Valcea in Bujoreni Commune. You can drive or you can even take bus number 7 from Valcea and it will drop you right in front. Starting from the month of April the houses may be visited also inside and workshops are organized. And if you are lucky the nice historian that take place of the place will share stories about the school, the houses and cherished old times traditions. All you have to do is ask :p

For more pictures check out our Facebook page here.

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Addicted to happiness, a story about Crete

I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.” is what Nikos Kazantzakis was saying in Zorba the Greek. And if you read the words below from our friend Cristina Mihalachioiu we can’t promise you won’t fall in love with Crete and go searching for happiness…in the small details.

“First time I was in Grece, I went to Crete. I stayed in a tidy hotel with a sea view, located on the bar street of what I think to be the liveliest city in Crete: Hersonissos. I could smell the sea from the balcony and stare at the mountains from the window.

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The beaches are not the widest, to say the least, but the sun is welcoming and the waves are hugging you into a cameleonic embrace. There were many days, during my other visits in Crete, when the sea literally changed color from green to turquoise, from blue to black. It’s especially magic during the spring, as it is quiet and controlling. It has a life of its own this sea and it is simply surprising.

Now that I told you about my big love, the Aegean Sea, I’ll tell you also about my other love, eggplant burekakia. It’s an amazing dish – I don’t know if it’s Cretan or Greek, never cared – based on eggplants and feta cheese (I know the entire recipe, but I’m keeping it for myself 😊). This I discovered in a magnificent restaurant called Argo. I think it was there were I fell in love with Crete – they say: “there are people coming to holiday in Crete and there are people coming for holiday in Argo”. I’ve met a lot of the latter and became myself one of them.

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But this piece is about Crete and how amazing Crete is. You see, we’ve come to such a strong bond, that Crete has slowly became a part of me.

The sea is not what Crete or Hersonissos is all about; while the port side is better known for its tavernas, but especially for the bars and clubs along the sea, there is also Hersonissos village, up towards the mountains. It’s pretty traditional, there are special nights and tours organized for tourists. But what I recommend is for you to rent a motorbike and ride it up the mountains. And then stop. Stop to gaze at the sea from above. And now you’re addicted to happiness…

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Coming back to another type of happiness – nightlife in Hersonissos, I think even Greeks find it the best. You have to see it for yourself and not forget to stay responsible. You’ll see you’ll find it extremely difficult with all the joie de vivre around yourselves, but you have to. Otherwise, you risk staying on a bench in front of the hotel for three hours because your friend has the room key, she doesn’t answer her phone and the reception desk opens at 7:30 a.m. :p

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And if you get to Crete you must not miss Matala and Chania and for history lovers Knossos.

Matala is in Southern Crete and has this amazing silver beach, with weird pierced rocks around and used to be a place where the hippies would gather back in the days. You travel there through sloppy roads in the mountains, through olive trees plantations and red lands and it’s worth it every minute of the journey.

Chania is the second largest city in Crete (after Heraklion, the capital) and has this amazing old harbor area very well preserved which deserves at least one afternoon of doing nothing and just enjoing the food in the tavernas around.

Knossos is very well preserved and recommended to ancient ruins lovers only. Otherwise, it’s very hot in the summer and if are not a fan of the type, you would be annoyed.

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Bottom line – the sea, the sun, the food, the Cretans, just amazing and you can only see by yourselves.”

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Puglia region and the love for the South

There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life”. As you hear these words of Federico Fellini in your mind your feet are carrying you on cobblestone streets and you enter this labyrinth of creamy houses, flowers, stairs…clothes and bed sheets hang from windows or in front of the doors right there on the street…it smells like freshly baked bread from that focaccia in that small shop on a street corner…voices accompanied by hand gestures cut the air around in the port area and the fish smell doesn’t bother you at all…pointy rooftops of trulli houses surround you…a well-practiced movement of hands piles up those Italian pastas you just heard about… orecchiette…someone is talking to you in Italian comfy and relaxed like you naturally understand every word and the thought of sharing a coffee on top of the streets of Matera with that nice old lady that would tell you the most amazing stories makes you feel sad you have not learned Italian yet…

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Where are you might you ask? Well, you are just cruising around Puglia region in South Italy. The Adriatic Sea is right there in front of your eyes and the heel of Italy’s “boot” will unveil in front of you small cities filed with stories, history and the Italian passion of life. Oh yes…of course…and loads of focaccia and seafood to shift your appetite and make you crave for something so simple as bread and tomatoes.

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Intrigued? Take a sip of espresso, heat that oven and throw in a pizza and while is baking read away…

Bari

Bari is an amalgamation of modern and old greeting you with streets for shopping and relaxing while tasting cakes and coffees or just wandering around for window shopping while in the same time teasing you to wander the old city with small streets, churches in unexpected corners, twists and turns, old city walls and small restaurants catching your eye with those traditional Italian plates the most famous of which are Patate, riso e cozze (potatoes with rice and mussels) and all sorts of orecchiette.

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The port area in the morning light with the calm Adriatic Sea, the fish all laid down on tables and those mid-age Italian men having their coffee, drinks and playing games or just gossiping with lots of hand gestures it’s a must.

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And if you are really lucky you can also see in the morning old Italian ladies preparing the homemade orecchiette and knowing this lovely Southern people one might actually invite you in to take a sit and learn some of Italy’s traditions.

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Matera

Matera is home of the Sassi a charming historical centre dating back over 7000 years with dwellings carved in stone, cobblestone streets inviting you to get lost and sometimes running on top of other houses just to make the wandering even more spectacular, churches, archways, stairs running up and down, terraces and corners to stop for incredible views.

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Once you exit the Sassi a new city lies ahead with souvenir shops, small terraces where Italian ladies enjoy a quick espresso perfectly going with a smoke and some gossip, focaccia from the street shop eaten with your hands with a better taste than anything else, a guy signing his guitar to make some extra money or who knows maybe to get noticed…Matera is, no wonder, a favourite spot for filmmakers and soon to be European Capital of Culture.

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Alberobello

Beautiful Tree” (if you guys want to translate it) is a small town with just about 11,000 inhabitants famous for its trulli. What’s a trullo? Well it’s a small house with a conical roof made out of stones piled up one on top of the other. The origins of the design seem to be linked with the high taxation on property people of Puglia used to pay and this dry wall constructions where created to allow dismantling when the inspectors were in the area. Some of these elf size houses have particular symbols painted on the cones including a series of Christian symbols.

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And if you get in the area of Trullo Sovrano there’s this cool trullo house home of a shop of Italian food products where this nice gentleman will tell you a few words about the trullo home and its rooms and invite you to taste all types of Italian liquors you are in the mood to try on…we promise the taste is so precious that you will be tempted to ditch the clothes you carried in your backpack and fill it up with liquor bottles, packs of orecchiette and biscuits.

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Locorotondo

The “Round Place” has a circular historic centre.  The village is considered amongst the most beautiful places to visit in Italy with a labyrinth of white alleys, white houses with the most beautifully decorated numbers graciously showing details of the street where the house is located.

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No cone roof tops in the historic centre (you can gaze at them from the viewing point looking towards Locorotondo countryside) but you will find here the special pitched roofs called “cummerse”. And if this doesn’t convince you know also that Locorotondo produces some good white wines still or sparkling.

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Martina Franca and Trani

Martina Franca has a historic centre surrounded by stone walls with remainders of Baroque and Rococo styles to be fund in the gates, the piazzas and the churches. The streets are small and picturesque and the place is also renowned for white wine.

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For a different view of Puglia you can try Trani a fishing port, historic buildings and boats in the harbour playing around with the sunset light to give you enough time and space to breathe and dream.

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You can reach Puglia region by plane to Bari and from Bari you can easily take a train (under 2 hours) for all the above destinations.

For more pictures from Puglia check out our Facebook page here.

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Food & Drinks Dublin

We tried to experience a variety of place while in Dublin so we went eating Irish food, Spanish food, Moroccan food.  Our favourite places for eating where Boxty House, El Bahia and Auld Dubliner.

1. Gallagher’s Boxty House

Right in the heart of Temple Bar area there is this restaurant with ground floor and underground in their own words “the humble spud made beautiful”. We don’t know about beautiful but the food is well worth a visit. Salmon & Mussel Boxty with dumplings, aromatic spices finished with Lemon & Cream is to die for.

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2. El Bahia

You will find El Bahia near Grafton Street on the first floor. Look closely not to miss it! The food is traditional Moroccan and is one of the best food tasted. The tanjine meals and the Moroccan coffees are worth the trip. Make sure to check the schedule – lunch is served until 3 pm and dinner after 5:30 pm.

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3. O’Neill’s

O’Neill’s is a nice traditional pub serving both tons of beer and food. With choices for all tastes be advised that they serve Irish food which means the plate is big enough to serve 2 so come hungry. We did love our pork ribs with a combination of vegetables including mashed carrots and potatoes all flavoured differently to add up to the joy of eating.

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4. Salamanca

Right on Saint Andrew’s Street and across from the O’Neill’s Pub you will find Salamanca. Spanish restaurant that serves tapas, Spanish food but also Irish food. We did love the goat cheese starter.

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5. Stage Door Café

You will find this place on Essex Street right in the Temple Bar area. The breakfast is very good with great prices and the décor of the place will surprise you.

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6. Keoghs Café

Located on Trinity street it offers great cappuccino and wide variety of muffins for muffin addicts.

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7. Murphy’s – for best ice cream. We tried

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Tips&Tricks Dublin

  • we visited Dublin for New Year celebration; the hotels seemed kind of expensive this time otherwise the weather was rainless save for one day in the entire week when it poured the whole day; make sure you’ve got raincoats and umbrellas;
  • if you get a hotel near the Temple Bar or the Docklands you can easily walk around the city; and if it’s too hard to walk at some point or you just feel like being lazy just hop in one of the Double Decker buses there are plenty of them all around a trip costs somewhere better 1,50 to 2 euro and you can pay directly in the bus;
  • Temple Bar and Trinity College area have plenty of restaurants and pubs; for shopaholics there’s Grafton street and some streets near the Leprechauns museum;
  • Guinness Storehouse has 7 floors so it will take you some time to run through all of them; maybe save 2 -3 hours for this experience; there are places for eating also;
  • Jameson Distillery is a cool trip through the world of whisky with tasting at the end; make sure to book online before going;
  • Dublinia is a fun experiences for all ages but especially for kids as they have plenty of games and experiences to test out;
  • Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells is something we did not got to visit as it was closed for winter holidays; but from the reviews it seems worth visiting; do give it a try;
  • Entrances to main attractions are rather expensive (somewhere between 10 and 20 euro) so expect to take some money out of your pocket if you want to try the Guinness Storehouse experience (20 euro), Dublinia (13.5 euro combined ticket with Christchurch) or Jameson Distillery (17 euro).

Top 10 Dublin

  1. Temple Bar Pub in Temple Bar area with live music and Guinness beer;
  2. Getting lost on the South Circular Road amongst houses with colourful doors;
  3. The view from the Gravity Bar of Guinness Storehouse;
  4. Wandering the world of the Vikings and the Medieval era inhabitants of Dublin in Dublinia;
  5. Leprechauns and fairies stories in Leprechauns Museum;
  6. Whisky tasting in Jameson Distillery;
  7. The Emerald green you find all around Dublin and especially the Aran wool knitted clothing;
  8. The Double Decker buses;
  9. O’Neill’s Pub and their big plates of Irish food;
  10. El Bahia restaurant near Grafton Street.