Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Art of Navigation

People who have known me for some time will know that I am not exactly a star at navigating. This is mainly due to the fact that I have never driven a car in my life and therefore always travel on public transport. The great thing about travelling on public transport is that you don’t have to pay any attention to how you are going to get where you want to go, because there is a designated driver, and you can spend your time doing interesting things like reading a book or looking out the window at pretty landscapes or cool buildings. The downside is, ofcourse, that if you have to get somewhere in a car, even the simplest destination becomes troublesome.

I’ll give you an example.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Birgit from Holland and her daughter were on vacation in Ireland and they came over to visit me for a couple of days. We met up in Dublin city centre for a drink and then went to pick up the car she had rented to drive around Ireland. This is were the problem started. She asked me for directions to my house. Now don’t get me wrong, I know where my house is and I know how to get there. Just not in a car. We drove down O’Connell Street and she asked me where to go. I pointed in the direction of my house and advised her to take a certain street. To my surprise it turned out to be impossible to enter that street from where we were. This is not something you notice when you spend most of your time walking.
I then told her to take the next street after that, and it turned out we had to circumnavigate an entire city block to get there. From there on, it went slightly smoother, and I only had to adjust my advise once or twice more after that. Mind you, this was to get to my own house. Another fine example took place a couple of years ago, when a friend and I drove to a wedding somewhere in the Dutch countryside and I was the designated navigator. I was doing pretty well, if I say so myself, until we got to a stretch of road that had a roundabout on it every 2 miles. Something else you don’t pick up if you do not drive yourself, is that ‘the second exit on the roundabout’ basically means that you keep going straight ahead on the same road after the roundabout. This confused me to no end and it took me about 15 minutes and 10 miles of detours to figure out what the route plan actually meant by ‘second exit on the roundabout’.
The bottomline is that I am not really good at navigating roads. Put me in any European city and I will get lost at least 4 times during a weekend. Even in a relatively small city like Bratislava, I had to ask for directions a couple of times, but I blame that on the fact that a pint of lager costs 1 euro there.

On the other hand, I am excellent at navigating public transport systems. I can find my way across London with my eyes closed as long as I use the Underground.
I had mastered the connections on the New York subway system within an hour and this brings me to the following point:
In America, I don’t get lost. Never. The reason for this is twofold: first of all, American cities are build in a grid. All streets and avenues are at right angles from each other and because of this you always have 2 reference points to look at, unlike most European cities, where you will find yourself in a maze of alleyways, lanes that go round and round, and streets that end up in squares that shouldn’t be there. No such thing in the USA. If you are not sure where you are, walk to the next street corner and you will have your 2 reference points that will allow you to pinpoint exactly where you are on your map. The only European city where I have encountered something similar, is Glasgow. Still, a lot of people in Glasgow look lost, but that may have different reasons.

Another reason why navigating in American cities is so easy, is the naming of the streets. In European cities you will find yourself walking around streets named after 19th century statesmen, long forgotten battles and assorted local revolutionaries. In America they do something much more practical. Let’s look at Manhattan for example: The Southern tip of Manhattan is the business district where you will find Wall Street, the site of the World Trade Centre and all the other financial big shots. Above that, the first street is called 1st Street. The one above that, is called 2nd street. I assume that you can see where this is going, so I’m going to skip the rest until we reach the tip of Inglewood in the North, next to the Bronx where Manhattan ends at 227th street.
You see how easy this is? Bottom: 1st Street. Top 227th Street. Want to go to 101st Street? Must be somewhere near the middle.

By now, you must be wondering why I am bringing all this up, and the reason is that a couple of weeks ago, it was my friend Kylie’s birthday. We were all going to go to Galway for the weekend and we were to leave on the Saturday morning. As it had been my own birthday the week before, I had a gift certificate from my favorite bookstore burning a hole in my pocket, so I set out on the Thursday night to spend it. I set one foot across the doorstep of Chapters on Parnell Street in Dublin (Conveniently located about 30 seconds walk from The Woolshed) when my phone rang. It was Kylie and she asked me if I had any plans. Sensing the opportunity for a drink, I said that my plan was buying books, but that that could wait until later. She asked me to come to a pub down the street from where she works, so I agreed, got my instructions and set out to find the pub. The first part was easy, because it involved walking to the Woolshed and going round the corner. From there, looking back on it now, it was about a 4 minute walk and involved 1 left and 1 right turn. Somehow, I managed to mess this up. This is probably due to the fact that I was to take a turn at a convenience store. In Dublin, there are about half a dozen convenience stores on every city street and so I didn’t quite get it right the first time. After calling twice more, I managed to make my way to the pub,
458. The Tap.
where I found Kylie, and 2 other friends, Meagan and Lynda (yay!). The Tap is a nice pub, has 2 sections, a decent jukebox and a generally nice atmosphere. Nothing too fancy, just a decent neighbourhood pub. We had a couple of drinks and then decided to go to the Woolshed for diner. I had a chickenburger and it was really nice. We had a couple more drinks and called it a night. Now if you take into account that I there was with 2 Australians, you will appreciate the extent of ‘ a couple of drinks’. Anyway, we had a good time and the weekend in Galway was good fun too.

Another place I visited recently, is a small restaurant that I had noticed in the ‘Day&Night’ Magazine that comes with the Irish Independent every Friday. I get that paper for free at work, and the magazine is really informative on what’s happening in Dublin in the week to come. My favorite part is the ‘Going Out’ page which features a restaurant review and a pub review every week.
I first found The Woolshed on this page, so you will understand how much I value this page. (I would have found the Woolshed myself eventually, but still, they first made me aware of it)

Last week, this section featured a new Burrito Bar in Dublin. Dublin has hundreds of restaurants, but somehow it is hard to find decent Mexican Food.
459. Boojum

It received 4 out of 5 stars from the normally pretty careful reviewer. So I knew I had to go.
And oh, was I happy that I did. Big Fat Burritos, with rice, fresh guacamole, delicious black beans and spicy salsa. I had the shredded beef burrito and it was the best burrito I have eaten in years. And, mind you, I have been on vacation in California last year. It was awesome, I can’t find any other words. I had 2 Coronas with it and went back to the pub a happy man. If you are ever in Dublin and are craving a burrito, don’t look any further. As the reviewer said in her end notes: If somebody can show me a better burrito in Dublin, I will eat my sombrero.

So, that’s another 2 on the list. I will be adding more new places to the list early next week, because I’m heading to the Irish Midlands this weekend and, as I have never been there, all pubs will be new to me.

See you soon!



  1. Haha, where do we get the bad navigation skills from?? I'm exactly the same! I get lost with the Satnav on.. And even when I drove somewhere maybe 5 times before I can still get lost!

  2. See, that's the point about using public transport.. someone else will get you there.

    Or, at least, that's the plan.

    No Driving for me though!