Verdict: Broke and broken

 

In the first of a new series, Rosita Boland hears tourists' expectations as they start their holiday in Ireland - and their final rating as they prepare to leave. First, four lads looking for clubs

Before

It's a Wednesday morning in Dublin, and at Barnacle's backpackers' hostel, in Temple Bar, four friends from the village of Heel in southern Netherlands are checking out. It's the first time in Ireland for Iwan Loeffen (23), Thijs Ariaans (24), Loek Hellebrekers (23) and Folke Van Alphen (23), trainee estate agents and urban-planning students.

The first two days of their two-week holiday haven't lived up to expectations.

"We expected Temple Bar to be bigger and have more pubs," says Van Alphen, sounding annoyed. "There is not so much to do for the youth in Temple Bar on a Monday and Tuesday; it must all happen at the weekend. And Dublin is very expensive - €23 for a dorm bed."

So they're hitting the road with their map of Ireland and a list of hostels, to have as good a time as they possibly can on their budget of €1,000 each. Pubs and clubs are what they're after.

They're heading to Wexford first, which they chose because it has a hostel and is beside the sea, explains Loeffen, with a backpacker's logic.

They've ruled out hitching, as there are four of them and they would have to split into pairs. They want to go to cities and big towns, where they expect good nightlife. They plan to take buses. "In the Netherlands, if you are a student you get free travel. Is it the same here?" asks Hellebrekers hopefully as they pick up their rucksacks and head for Busáras.

After

Twelve days later, at the Rainbow Hostel on Marlborough Street on a rainy Monday afternoon, the four lads are preparing to fly home. Loeffen looks up from his post-breakfast coffee and announces: "I am broken! A broken man and a broke man."

"Two heavy weeks," confirms Hellebrekers. "I am ready to go home," says Ariaans, and they all agree.

After leaving Dublin they spent two nights in Wexford, three in Cork city, two in Killarney, half an hour in Limerick, two nights in Galway city and, finally, three more nights in Dublin. They used Bus Éireann all the way.

When they heard about floods in Galway they planned to stay overnight in Limerick instead, but when they arrived, says Hellebrekers, "we thought it was a hellhole, so we got on the next bus to Galway anyway".

They stayed in hostels throughout, with beds ranging from €13 a night to the €23 they originally paid in Dublin. The Rainbow is cheaper: €19 a night for a place in a 12-bed dorm. It also takes a lenient view of drinking on the premises - it is above a pub - which is another reason why they didn't return to Barnacle's. They paid €15 for their hostel in Galway, but "we didn't like it, because there were too many rules and the curfew was too early - 3 a.m.," says Ariaans. They judged hostels by the cleanliness of their toilets and showers. "Mostly, the showers were not good," they say.

As Ariaans and Hellebrekers are studying urban planning, they were particularly interested in Ireland's infrastructure and its urban areas. "It is quite necessary to rebuild all your roads," says Ariaans. "They are very bumpy. Especially the Cork-Killarney road."

Van Alphen says: "One old lady nearly flew out the window of our bus because the driver was going too fast on such a bad road." He was struck more by the amount of construction work in Cork than in Dublin. "It is very strange that they allow cars to go through the centre of Cork instead of making it only for people to walk through."

While watching rural Ireland from bus windows he was also struck by the "terrible houses people build in the countryside. Ugly concrete boxes that all look the same".

They thought Killarney was beautiful but very touristy, as was Galway. In Killarney they rented bikes for a day and cycled to the Gap of Dunloe. They also went to Blarney Castle. Did they kiss the stone? There is a collective grimace.

"Too big a queue," says Loeffen. "Too dirty," says Ariaans.

"Sightseeing was not our main reason for coming to Ireland," says Hellebrekers. "In Galway they expect everyone to take a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher, but we didn't," says Ariaans.

What they did come to Ireland for, the pub and club scene, they enjoyed, particularly a night in Cuba nightclub in Galway, about which Van Alphen suddenly becomes mysteriously quiet while the others laugh heartily. It appears romance was on the itinerary that night. By turning up early they got in free to most clubs. They stayed in for only two of their 14 nights.

They ate out just twice, both times in Indian restaurants. The rest of the time they cooked in the hostels, as it was cheaper. From the things they spent money on they reckon the price of living is about the same in Ireland as it is in the Netherlands, but their impression is that Dublin is very expensive and that beer everywhere is much more expensive. "Five euro for a pint of lager in Dublin," exclaims Loeffen, outraged. Although they never drink Heineken at home, it was the only thing they drank in Ireland, as they hated Guinness. They all spent their €1,000, and more. Their holiday worked out at about €100 a day, they estimate, with a good half of that going on beer.

They are very clear that Ireland's history, landscape and culture were not the reasons they came here. "Nature is more attractive to the older type of tourist," says Hellebrekers. "Or Americans," adds Ariaans.

Would they come back to Ireland?

"There are other places in the world to see first," says Van Alphen. "Maybe when I'm older and can enjoy the scenery, but it will be somewhere new next holiday," says Hellebrekers. "I would like to come back when I am 50 or 60 and see the nature," says Ariaans unconvincingly. "We have done Ireland now," says Loeffen flatly. "We are broken. It is time to go home."

Next Thursday: the Norwegian couple attracted to Sligo by Westlife