10 things to see in Havana.

When visiting Cuba, it’s important to remember that the best things to see and do are more than often free. Unless you speak Spanish, museums and the like are going to be boring so here are my top 10 things to see (and do) in Havana;

Salsa: Everywhere you go, no matter what time of the day, you’ll hear the great music and see people dancing. It’s the happiest music and after a while you’ll find yourself unconsciously dancing along with it. Salsa lessons are available in the city if you’re a complete beginner.


Take a ride in a vintage car. The image that most people associate with Cuba are the vintage cars. They literally are EVERYWHERE. Most serve as taxis so it’s very easy to arrange. Be careful though. ALWAYS negotiate the price in advance. Also, if the weather agrees, consider an open top car and tour around the city.


See cigars being rolled.  Everyone seems to be smoking cigars in Cuba. Drop into to the Cigar “museum” (I use that term loosely because it was really just a guy rolling cigars) and watch the guy rolling them before heading upstairs to the cigar store.

Eat at a private restaurant. Some restaurants in Cuba are state owned and others are privately owned. The private ones have the best, most delicious food you’ve ever eaten.

Sit back and enjoy a mojito. Mojitos are literally the thing to drink in Cuba. In a bar, close to closing time, we asked for beers to be told that the only drink we would be served were mojitos. They wouldn’t even serve water after a certain time. Bizarre but true.

Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Havana so  why not visit his old haunts including the Ambos Mundos Hotel, Floridita Bar and his house.

Walk the streets and take in the architecture. The architecture in Havana is amazing. Get lost and wander the streets taking in the variety of influences. Havana is relatively safe but be careful of beggars who engage you in conversation and won’t let you go without a donation.


Walk the Malecon. The Malecon is an area by the sea where Cubans hang out at night. It makes for a great walk but be careful of the waves which were dumping water a block away while we were there.


Drink coffee in the National Hotel. The National Hotel is an impressive building which boasts stunning views of the sea. Explore the gardens and enjoy a cup of coffee at the cinema cafe.


 Go to the beach. Just a few kilometers from Havana are some great beaches. With crystal clear water, this makes for the perfect, relaxing day out.

A tale of the long wait…..swapping a foreign licence for an Irish one

No more driving the road hoping not to get stopped, I finally have an Irish driving licence! It only took 7 week and a lot of stress but it’s finally here. Here is all you need to know about swapping a foreign licence over to an Irish one.

What do I need to do?

  1. You need to make sure that your country has an agreement with Ireland. You can check on the NDLS wesbite, https://www.ndls.ie/holders-of-foreign-licences.html#holders-of-licences-issued-by-recognised-states
  2. Go to the embassy of that country and get a translation. This cost me 3 euro in the South Korean embassy in Dublin. It was a painless process that just involved showing my Korean license, filling out some forms, presenting my i.d. and I had it within 20 minutes.
  3. Go for an eyesight exam. Print the eye test page from the NDLS website, take it along with you and get your eyes tested. Then get it signed and stamped. As a student, this cost me 20 euro. * Be aware that in some towns, it can take 2 weeks to get an eye test.
  4. Fill out the application form. You can find this on the NDLS website.
  5.  Gather the following documents Passport, Birth certificate, bank statement, Public Services card. This covers the requirements to prove photographic identity, evidence of residency, evidence of address and evidence of PPSN. You can find the acceptable forms of documents here, https://www.ndls.ie/images/Documents/DrivingLicence/driver-licensing-in-ireland-a-guide.pdf
  6. Go to the nearest NDLS centre and hand in these documents. It is advisable to book an appointment online to avoid long delays. The payment fee is 55 euro.
  7. In the case of people swapping a South Korean driving licence you need to decide if you wish to keep the D categories on your licence. If you do, you need to print the medical check forms and complete that. If you don’t, you need to fill out the Surrender forms. You can find this on the NDLS website.

My story:

I applied for my Irish licence on the 4th September. I walked in off the street with everything you could possibly need and sat with the lady. She had never swapped over a South Korean one and was thoroughly confused by the entire thing. She rang everyone and their neighbour and even though I had all the required documents, it took 2 hours to complete the application!!!! I didn’t mind too much as she kept apologising. She warned me that it would probably be sent back as she really didn’t know what to include with the application and she gave me a number to call in three weeks to check up on the progress.

Almost 3 weeks later, I receive an email from NDLS stating that their was an issue and could I possibly send on the original translation from the embassy. Understandable. As it was my only copy, I sent it by registered post which added a cost of 6 euro to the bill. I thought this was the only issue and expected my licence in a week or two.

Two weeks later, I receive another email from NDLS asking if I want to keep the D categories on my licence. If I do, then I need to get a medical check. If I don’t I need to fill out the surrender form. By this stage, I had had enough. It was a vicious cycle of no one knowing anything. So I called them to voice my opinions. It takes about 5 minutes to be connected while they go through every option under the sun. Then I was put through to a lady and I explained the situation. Was it too much to be told of all the issues in the one go? I don’t have the time or money to be filling out and posting additional forms. She was not at all sympathetic so I decided to write a complaint via their website but surprise surprise, I still haven’t received a reply.

I had no choice but to send the surrender form and finally today, after 7 weeks of waiting and 85 euro out of my pocket, I have the licence!!!!!

My tips:

  1. Don’t be in a rush for it because this is a long process.
  2. Don’t expect people to know what their doing, because clearly they don’t.
  3. Be ready to send on additional forms.
  4. Send the original of the embassy form but keep a copy yourself.
  5. Walk in off the street at a random time and you might be lucky enough to find a space. It worked for me even though I had been told that there weren’t spaces for 2 weeks.

Feel free to comment on your experiences or ask any questions!

Coughjordan EcoVillage, Ireland

I’m back in Ireland and with the nation turning more green and a range of alternative living options available, I decided to visit Cloughjordan Ecovillage to see sustainable living in action.


How do you get there?

By Car;

Moneygall is in North Tipperary and approximately from Moneygall. From the motorway, take exit 23 to Moneygall and then follow the signs to Cloughjordan.

When you arrive in Cloughjordan, the Ecovillage is approximately half way down the Main Street. It is at a small 4 way intersection, opposite a church.

By Train;

Cloughjordan has a train station that services routes from Dublin, Heuston and Limerick via Nenagh. For timetables, please go to irishrail.ie

Do you have to take a tour?

While you are free to drive into the village and look around, you must remember that there are people living here and to respect their privacy and security, it is recommended that you take a tour. You also won’t get the full benefit of knowledge if you just ramble around alone.

There are free tours every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. I met the guide at the Main Street entrance or you can meet at Sheelagh na Tigh which is a little cafe on the Main Street.

If you have a group or you wish to participate in a workshop or so on, you can email edvisits@thevillage.ie They have these kind of visits all the time and are very accommodating to groups.

What is an Ecovillage?

From their website, http://www.thevillage.ie;

Ecovillages are urban or rural communities of people who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more.

The Ecovillage in Cloughjordan is the first of its kind in Ireland and leads the way for the future of sustainable living in Ireland. It is located on 67 acres and has a community farm, woodland, allotments, houses, hostel and Enterprise centre.

The best way to understand is to take a tour and learn from the guide and that’s what I did earlier today.

My Tour.

The tour starts with a little introduction of everyone in the group. My group had 2 foreigners and 2 Irish so a nice mix of people. Looking at the map, it was pointed out that the village is divided into thirds. One third to houses and apartments, one third to the farm and allotments and one third to woodland.


Immediately upon walking down the little hill, it is explained that the height of the buildings keeps with the height of buildings in Cloughjordan itself. I was most surprised to find an Ecohostel called Django’s on the left just past the entrance. This unique hostel is open to the public, year round and you can find out more on their websitehttp://www.djangoshostel.com

Djangos Hostel seen on the left.


We continued walking and saw examples of the various types of houses built in the village. Among others there are Cob, Timber Frame, Hemp crete and all cedar houses. All houses are low energy and share hi spec broadband as well as a community heating system. The village has a 2gha rating which I believe is the lowest in Ireland and they are working on lowering that number.

The community heating system is very interesting . Two 500 Kilo watt wood fired burners supply every home with heat. The cost is divided among the residents.

Energy is also provided by solar panels which can be seen on the tour.
We continued on to the allotments. It is here that you can see research in action. One resident has his own allotment where he is researching growing techniques and so on.


On the apple walk, you’ll find every type of apple you can imagine. Luckily, we were allowed to eat some of the ripe ones and they were juicy and delicious. There’s something to be said about eating fruit straight off the tree. Our guide even brough along a spreadsheet with all the information on all the apples.


When we managed to pull ourselves away from eating the apples, we started into the yellow raspberries.

Eventually, we continued on our way and off to the farm. This is a community farm where members can collect their vegetables every week. Anyone can become a member so check out their website if you are interested.

We finished our tour by sampling some more delicious fruit that we found on the way.

A few things struck me about the village. The people seem extremely innovative, motivated and dedicated. Along the way, we were introduced to projects and plans that were either ongoing or in the process of approval.

The aim of the village is learning. Everyone is open to learning about sustainable living or teaching it to people like me on tours. For example, the drainage system is quite unique. In several areas, depressions can be seen. These are called Swales. When severe rain comes, the water is collected in these swales and they fill like lakes. Then, the water can slowly permeate through the ground. This prevents flooding to the village.

This is the way of the future and the possibilities are endless. I was so inspired to hear of the work already done in the village but can’t help but think of the possibilities for the future. With new methods coming on board all the time, this village is only just growing.

Worth a visit?
Absolutely. I learned so much from my visit and found it quite innovative. It would be a great visit for families also. You can find out more details on their website http://www.thevillage.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.


Thank to all your voting, Whatawaygook made the final!

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to vote for the blog. The good news is that it made the final of Blog Awards Ireland 2015!
This is a big step, a serious achievement and one that took me a little by surprise. Last year, my blog made the long list and went no further. When it made the short list this year, I was delighted and didn’t expect it to make the final. But, the email arrived on Tuesday and Whatawaygook is in the final 10 in the Diaspora category! This wouldn’t have been possible without all the readers and followers voting so huge thanks!

I believe the awards ceremony (where we find out the winner) is later in October so stay tuned to my Twitter account for more details. You can follow me @Iamshaunabrowne


Whatawaygook needs you! Help get me to the Blog Awards Ireland final!

I cannot believe I made it to this year’s Blog Awards Ireland shortlist for Best Diaspora blog.Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement. It’s because of you that I made it this far.  It’s my first year to make it to the shortlist and I would love to proceed to the final. You can help! Simply follow this link and vote for “whatawaygook” I’m the last on the list so that will help you find me.

Share this with your friends, family and anyone you know and let’s make this happen!

One more link for good luck!


Cvote for me

Suwon Toilet Museum.

There’s no way I could leave Korea without going to the toilet museum in Suwon. How many toilet museums are there in Ireland? None.

I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a trek. The closest station is Sungkyankwan University station, 2 stops from Suwon station. From there, you can get a taxi to the museum.


There is an indoor museum and the outdoor area across the road. The indoor part is a little confusing and really only has 2 floors to look at. If you have children, there are plenty of things to see and do, including a children’s play area.


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Unfortunately, most of the writing is in Korean so not the best if you speak another language but there are plenty of visual images to keep you entertained!

Across the road if the outdoor park, which is entertaining but a little small. We spent ages out there taking pictures and would have spent longer if the weather was a little cooler.

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Overall, this place is worth a visit, even if it’s just to say that you went. It’s a free afternoon but I’d only go back in cooler weather. Although it’s a little small, with the right group of people, this is a great experience. You can check out the toilet museum website here.

Living abroad- The best decision I ever made.

There was no reason for me to actually leave Ireland. I had everything, a great family, a great job, great friends, great opportunities but I also had this great desire to see more, do more and learn more about what I was capable of achieving, what I was capable of becoming.

People thought I was crazy, my own father included. He was terrified that I’d get killed in a North Korean attack.Some people thought 22 was too young and I’d be back in a few months.  Most people thought I was going to Croatia and when I clarified it as Korea, they usually replied “where’s that?” But off I went and now, six years later, I look back on that as the best decision I’ve made.

To read this blog or look at my social media, my life comes across as being fun filled and adventure packed. And it is but it’s also not without the challenges that come with life in general and certainly life abroad. Those are the challenges that have molded me into the person I am today. They’ve forced me to push myself to achieve more, get outside my comfort zone and constantly look for new opportunities and mostly to keep from getting too comfortable or complacent.

I no longer look on problems as problems, merely challenges that I know I can overcome. As a foreigner in Korea, the smallest tasks are difficult, everything from paying your bills to getting a health check. At the start, I thought I could do everything myself and was never a big fan of asking for help. After a while I learned my limitations, knew what I was  capable of and when I needed to ask for help.

Living abroad, it’s very easy to be just another foreigner, a face in a crowd. But when it’s time to leave, you want to say that you contributed something to your new community. You learn to challenge your perception on the limitations of your capabilities. If you had told me 5 years ago that I’d be the Chair of the Irish Association in Korea, I would never have believed you. But, through my desire to get a solid, regular Irish music scene started in Seoul, I achieved much more than I thought possible of myself. I look at the growth of the Irish music scene here wonder if any of it would have been achieved if I had been happy just playing to the walls of my apartment?

My greatest fear when I came here was failure and now I welcome it. I’ve learned that you’re not always going to succeed in everything you set out to do.Samuel Beckett put it nicely when he said

Ever tried. Ever failed.No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

There will always be hurdles, challenges and set backs but without failure you can never really appreciate success and life abroad is full of failures. You have to celebrate the small achievements, grow a thick skin, take a lesson away from the experience.  Attitude is the difference to life abroad. If you look on every little  situation  as a huge problem, you might as well go home. When I met people who live abroad and people who travel a lot, it never fails to surprise me how great their attitude is. They’ll make positives in a bad situation, they learn from mistakes, they go with the flow and they adjust their plans accordingly. They also have this great ability to laugh at themselves. I’m certain that for me, these are not skills I would have picked up if I had stayed in Tipperary.

The word “home” has taken on new meaning to me now. I’m actually looking forward to spending some time back in Ireland because for so long, I’ve taken what was right in front of me for granted. There are so many great places that I never bothered to visit. I have gained a new appreciation for home and when I return, I’ll go out and explore with new eyes.

Undoubtedly, living abroad has changed how I look at things. My perspective is different. The world is a very big place and certainly much bigger than my corner of Tipperary or Ireland in general. When you live abroad and travel, you see so much of what’s out there just waiting to be discovered. You get to be part of something bigger than where you come from. You learn new cultures and new ways of seeing the world. You meet a diverse range of people and have new adventures and together these build up to creating opinions based on experience. .

Living abroad isn’t for everyone but don’t limit yourself out of fear of the unknown.What you achieve by living abroad far outweighs any negatives that come with it.  I believe Polar explorer, Ben Saunders put it best when he said;

And yet, if I’ve learned anything in nearly 12 years now of dragging heavy things around cold places, it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge, from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. In life, we all have tempests to ride and poles to walk to, and I think metaphorically speaking, at least, we could all benefit from getting outside the house a little more often, if only we could summon up the courage.

How my Irish driver’s license got “discarded” by Seoul Global Centre.

This is the story. I went to Seoul Global Centre (S.G.C.) in 2011 and exchanged my Irish license for a Korean one.The Korean license is valid for 10 years, until 2021. Great, brilliant. I was told that to get the Irish one back, I simply had to return to the SGC and exchange it. Lovely.

I’ve been happily motoring around in Korea for 4 years. Never once in that 4 years have I got an email or letter or anything to say that any time period was up or that a deadline was approaching or whatever. Now that I’m returning to Ireland, I went back yesterday to exchange the license only to be informed that this wasn’t possible. Obviously, I asked why and was told that everyone who gets a Korean license signs the paper that says that it will be discarded after 3 years unless you come to pick it up.This has seemingly always been the policy. Do I have recollection of signing this paper? No, it was years ago! Were they able to show me the papers I signed in 2011? No.

I tried talking my way into getting it back. Since I’m leaving Korea no one would know if she just opened the safe (where I’m certain it still is) and gave it back to me. She was having none of it.

I thought about crying which I am just too positive to do.

I thought about sitting on the chair and refusing to move until she gave me the damn license. This was ruled out based on the amount of security hanging around. No one wants to get arrested before they leave a country.

I thought about jumping over the desk and just pulling the safe open and getting it forcibly but that was disregarded because I don’t have a desire to cause a scene or get arrested.

So, I left and went to my embassy to ask them what I can do. I just have to do what I did when I came here. Go to the  Korean Embassy in Ireland to get it verified and then follow the directions on this very helpful website;  http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/travel_and_recreation/motoring_1/driver_licensing/exchanging_foreign_driving_permit.html

I did call Seoul Global Centre this morning to ask whose policy it was and they said that it was a Government policy. I also asked why it was 3 years as opposed to 10 or 5 and she said that she didn’t know herself.  I can’t find any more information about it online.

While the situation is obviously not desirable, it was caused by my own ignorance. The very bright part of this story is that my Irish license is expiring in September anyway and now my Korean one is good until 2021 so all good on that front! I am certain that they still have it in the safe and that they haven’t actually thrown it away but “discarded” is the term for not giving it back to you.

The lesson is that to anyone who has got a Korean license by swapping over, GO BACK AND GET IT WITHIN 3 YEARS! I don’t know if you can then reapply to keep the Korean license for longer or how it works so if anyone knows, please leave a comment below.