One of my favorite people to travel with is Barb. She's one of my best friends and we've been to seven countries together (including Hungary, obviously, along with my knock-off "Prada' sunglasses that were purchased at a market in Senegal. As always, I am the height of fashion.).
The seventh country we added to our list was Ireland. When I lived in London, she visited for ten days and we decided to head to Dublin for three of them. Neither of us had been before, and it was an easy hour away from Gatwick, so why not!
Our adventure began before we even got to the airport. We had arranged to meet at Blackfriars Bridge at a disgustingly early time of the morning. I was nursing quite the little hangover, and arrived about 10 minutes before the Gatwick train was due. As time inched closer and closer to departure time, no Barb. And still no Barb. I was too nauseous to deal with this stress but concern still floated up. Where was she? This was the best train to get us to the flight in time, if she missed it would she miss the flight? I don't want to go to Dublin without her! Thankfully, just as the train pulled in, there she was, with a tale of getting lost on the tube.
We got on the train and collapsed into seats. I felt awful. A 4am alarm is much too early when you were at the pub until midnight. My own damn fault. Anyways, one upside to feeling so bad was that my typical pre-flight jitters were under control. I am terrified of flying and normally spend weeks before a flight stressed about it. But this morning, thanks to far too much evening cider, concern over a 35,000 foot plummet was far from the front of my mind.
At Gatwick, the gates are a little unusual: rather than handing your ticket to the agent right before you are to walk into the ramp, you hand it to them at the entrance of the gate. Aka you cannot just sit in a random gate, you must be in your own. Barb and I arrived in the line to get into our gate, both half-asleep. After a few minutes, we were roused from our "standing slumber' by a man who looked not dissimilar to Russell Brand arguing with the ticket agents about something. He grabbed his bag and stormed back off into the hallway, away from the gate. Barb and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and she half-jokingly whispered, "you don't think he's a terrorist do you?"
As we had not booked our tickets together, we were seated apart. I had an aisle while she had a window, but she very kindly swapped with me so that I could see outside (I panic in planes no matter what, but the panic attacks are much worse if I don't have a window seat. I need to be able to see the horizon). I settled into my new seat, she kept going to hers, and I glanced out the window at the clouds outside. Much later than usual, my nerves began to get to me. "Great, a hangover and terror. This will be a fantastic morning." I thought grumpily. The middle seat next to me remained empty to the point that I decided I would not have a seat buddy. And then, that's when he re-appeared.
That's right. The crazy man from the gate was to sit next to me while I spent the next hour scared. "This is my karma for asking Barb to give up her window seat," I thought miserably as he sat down. My misery sank further as the captain welcomed us to the flight with the words, "it'll be a bumpy one today, everyone."
And sure enough, it was. And let me assure you, dear reader, I am no fun to sit next to on a plane. I will make my seat mate talk to me if we hit any turbulence whatsoever during take-off, or anything more than light turbulence after that. And this day, my target was the Russell Brand lookalike who was seemingly oblivious to our danger as he wrote furiously in a journal.
However, as with most of my seat partners, I did not have to actually make him talk to me because he glanced over at me once he realized I was clutching the arm rests and shaking. He smiled, took his headphones out, and proceeded to talk to me all about how "everyone dies eventually, why not die in a plane? That's more unique than cancer!" He did take my hand that was violently shaking and hold it tight, for which I gave him a brief but tense smile. And with each bump, he whooped, held our hands in the air, and hollered, "is this the one?!" Despite myself, I shakily laughed.
The plane had settled down by the time we were over Wales, and I was able to enjoy the mountains sticking up out of the clouds while Mr. Brand-alike went back to his journal. At one point I got a bit snoopy and looked over at it - it was covered in musical notes on the sides, and seemed to be every single thought that went through his head. It was clearly a journal, with things like "I woke up at 5am" in it, but covered with "umm"s and "hmmm"s. I was intrigued but also didn't linger too long, because the man deserved his unique private thoughts after helping me get through the bumps.
We then crossed the Irish Sea over to Ireland. Despite what this picture shows, it was relatively sunny as we began to make our descent, and soon we were on the ground. "Well, see ya!" My seat mate cried to me as he bounded off. I waited for Barb at the end of the jetway, and together we walked towards the public transit area with the buses that would take us into town.
There are a few bus options to take into Dublin from the airport. We chose to spend a little extra money and take the more direction option, the Airlink. As we waited in line to buy tickets, my seat mate suddenly appeared at the back of the line and shouted over everybody, "Oye! What bus takes you to Dublin?" Barb absolutely busted out laughing, which caused me to as well. The woman who was working the rope line was less than amused, and though she pointed him in the right direction, she made several snide comments to the rest of us about him. I took the moment to regale Barb of my flight, which led to more laughter.
The Airlink took over half an hour to get to the city. We got out just south of the city center, and meandered through St. Stephen's Green on the way to our couch surfer's apartment. It was a lovely city park, made all the lovelier by the fact that it was mid-January yet very, deeply green. They don't call it the Emerald Isle for nothing!
The rest of our experience with our Couchsurfing host, a man named Franco, can be found in my "Couchsurfing" blog. That is another tale that would simply add far too many words to this already long post. But, trust me, head on over there and take a read. He was a real trip. I'll wait here
Ok, now that you're caught up on that: once we had finally dropped our things off (in his admittedly large, comfortable room. I will give credit where credit is due), we immediately headed off again. From a tourist sight standpoint, we did not do much. We simply wanted to explore our surroundings, take in the architecture, and grab a couple of pints at a local pub. As we sipped, we decided it would be fun to have her dig out Tinder and see what the Irish men had to offer. Our favorite profile was this bad boy, and the two of them exchanged dinosaur puns the rest of the trip.
We were tired from the early flight (and my body was still recovering from the overindulgences of the previous evening), so we were back at Franco's and in bed relatively early.
The next morning, we were up and out
relatively early (Barb because she is a morning person, me because we went to bed at, like, 8 the night before). Our first stop was a visit to Trinity College Dublin, which had been on my short-list of graduate schools. I not only wanted to see the campus in order to fulfill a "what if" desire, but I also wanted to see The Old Library. Dating back to the 18th century, this library is any book lover, history lover, architecture lover, etc's dream, or at least appeared to be from pictures I had seen.
The university is in the center of Dublin, and was easy to find. We followed my phone's GPS directions to the library, towards the back of the main green. As we entered the building, it looked remarkably...modern. There were two women working the desk, and we approached them to ask about visiting the library. "Oh, it's only for enrolled students!" Cue a blank stare from me and a laugh from Barb.
Based on our reactions, she quickly realized that we meant the old library, and pointed us across the green. I thanked her, but before we left the room Barb, ever the quick-thinker, asked her if she knew where we could find a printer, as we had to print our RyanAir tickets back to London the next day (an explanation as to why can be found here). Rather than telling us of a print shop, she cheerily responded, "Oh, I can do that for you!" and a few minutes later we were thanking her profusely and neatly tucking our tickets into our bags. We were very grateful to her not only for allowing us to avoid having to find a print shop, but also for doing it for free (Dublin is lovely but expensive as hell). And then we made our way across the green to our actual destination.
Or my destination, anyways. Barb and I have different ideas of what we like to do on vacation and she hadn't wanted to spend the money on the entrance fee. So she stayed outside and enjoyed the sunshine while I entered the dark building.
The Old Library also houses the Book of Kells, which is a 1,200 year old illuminated manuscript of the New Testament. The ticket to see the library and the book is €13 (though I paid €11 with my student ID). The library uses the book to market itself, claiming that the ticket fee is to see the manuscript but in reality it seemed as though most visitors were in the room with the Bible only briefly before making their way to the main attraction: the library itself. Myself included. I've seen other illuminated manuscripts (for free, thanks to the British Library!), I wanted to see the library of my history-obsessed dreams!
And oh, ohhhhh. I was almost overwhelmed with the beauty of the room. The wooden arches, the old books, the old ladders and statues...it made history come alive for me. Anyone could imagine themselves as Belle, singing about books in this room. Anyone could imagine themselves as an academic in a grand university (of which, of course, Trinity College Dublin is). It was just a splendid experience. 15/10 would recommend, even with the entrance fee.
Not wanting to keep Barb waiting in the campus courtyard too long, I took one last longing look at the wood and old books and went outside. The sunshine felt good after the time spent in the old building. We then walked off to explore the center of the city.
As we walked, I knew that I had made the correct choice in going to grad school in London. Dublin was much smaller than I was expecting, and I prefer large cities. That being said, Dublin is much better than London in two distinct ways: the second I will mention in a few paragraphs, but the first is the people. Londoners are often a bit unfriendly, whereas Dubliners are the sweetest people I think I have ever met on the road. The woman printing our boarding passes was just the tip of the iceberg.
One thing that surprised me about the trip was how much I struggled with understanding people. If I was speaking with an Irelander one on one, it was fine. But if we were just eavesdropping on a group, I caught maybe 20% of the words. Their accents were much thicker than anything I've heard in movies!
Across the River Liffey we found Barb's favorite thing in the city: the Famine Memorial. It is a collection of statues that are, well, creepy as hell. But that's the point. There are men, women, children, and even a dog that are tall and scary-skinny. As the official Visit Dublin site points out, there has never been a more impactful moment in Irish history than the famine of the mid-19th century. 30% of the Irish population at the time depended on the potato for survival. When the crop failed, combined with political and social issues at the time, it was an unmitigated disaster. Between starvation, disease brought on by starved immune systems, and emigration, Ireland's population decreased by nearly two million people, or 25%, between 1840 and 1850.
I have never been more impacted by a memorial than I was by the Famine Memorial. The only other one I have visited that gives a sense of the tragedy it is commemorating is the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The usual monuments of marble or cement monoliths are interesting enough, I suppose, but really don't do anything justice. This one did.
We then crossed back over the river as the winter clouds rolled in. After a brief stop at a charity shop in order for Barb to try and find a book or two to buy (she had accidentally left her Kindle on the plane), we continued south to St. Stephen's Cathedral. Admission was €7, though with a student discount it was down to €6. Once again, Barb did not want to spend the money so I went in alone while she relaxed on a bench in the church's courtyard.
It was a bit smaller than many other cathedrals I have visited in Europe, especially considering that it is the head of the Church of Ireland. In addition to its size, a unique feature that immediately stuck out to me was the floor - just look at how colorful that is! Usually cathedral floors are just basic granite/slate etc. Maybe there will be a simple design, such as the black and white tiles in Notre Dame. But I couldn't think of another cathedral with a floor like this. If you know of one, please comment!
In terms of more unique features (though perhaps not as unique as the floor) were the flags hanging over the choir's seats. I do not know what the flags represented (I didn't see a signed explanation and Google has proven difficult in the quest for this knowledge), but they were right up my aforementioned history-loving alley.
I exited the cathedral to a downright chilly January afternoon. The morning's sun had long since left, and Barb and I were ready to get inside and see the most Dublin of all attractions: the Guinness Storehouse. It did not look like a tremendously long walk from the cathedral, which meant that we decided about halfway there that we had gotten lost. We flagged down a young, red-haired man out on his bike and asked him where to go. "Oh, sure, just keep going down this road and you can't miss it!" He said merrily. Like I said, I cannot overstate how nice Dubliners are.
And sure enough, there it was. A slightly longer walk than expected, but we got there. It was a hefty admission fee - €25 for adults, though we both had student IDs so we got in for €18.50 (still a lot). It is a well done museum, with state of the art exhibits, but...well, I don't think the art of beer making is a mystery to most people who will be visiting a brewery. It was a lot of "first we take the barley and then we filter it and then we..."...you get the idea. But this information was, again, exhibited well so I can't fault them for presentation!
What was interesting to learn about was the history of the company itself, along with the impact it had on Dublin. Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 (!!!) year lease in 1759 and it grew from there. It remained family run, or at least had a member on the board, until 1992 (when Arthur's great-great-great-great grandson died) I don't know why the family no longer is on the board, neither the museum nor Google answered that but from what I could gather it was more because it's been 260 years rather than anything dramatic. The family seems to have mirrored other rich families of the era: by 1900, the company offered the best benefits package for its employees and pushed for other businesses to follow suit. The family was also very philanthropic with their wealth, the results of which can still be seen today - it was they who bought, landscaped, and created St. Stephen's Green and encouraged other public green spaces to become places for leisure. They also paid to help restore libraries, the cathedral, and even donated one of their houses to the government (now the Department of Foreign Affairs). Ah, to have a world full of millionaires who want to help their fellow man instead of shooting cars into space...(not that I can pretend I didn't watch the car go into space...but still...)
The most fun part of the Storehouse tour was the last room, when you are put into groups of 12 and taught how to properly pull a pint. Not to brag, but I was the best in the class.
And then we were given a free drink token (which helps to alleviate that entrance fee). We made our way to the top floor of the brewery, which is a two-story bar that offers spectacular views of Dublin. Unfortunately, we were up there after dark so photography wasn't a great option. We found a barrel in a corner on the second floor to sit around, and sip our pint while peering out the little window we were sat next to.
We decided it would probably be cheaper to get our next pint elsewhere, so we left and found a pub, The Bleeding Horse. It was a lovely place, with all the wood trimmings that one would expect of a pub. We made our way to the second floor, wove our way through the skinny hallways that created a bit of a maze, and sat in a corner booth. A young man came over and handed us menus. We both ordered a Guinness, and I ordered a venison Guinness stew that came with a piece of bread and potatoes (because of course it did). It was by far the most delicious meal I have ever had in a pub. I tend to not order food in British pubs, as I have never been tremendously impressed, but if this stew was any indication, I will not be extending that wide berth to Irish pub fare.
Barb wanted to go home after one pint, so we paid the (pricy. I liked Ireland but warning, it's a bit of money (a bit o'money, ha, ha...)) bill and headed off. I wanted a couple of more beers, so we stopped in at a store in order to buy some. I grabbed two, headed to the counter, and was promptly told that liquor sales stop in Irish stores at 10pm. It was 10:01. I'm not even kidding. But legality is legality, so we just went home to Franco's. I went to bed while Barb hung out with our fellow Couchsurfing guests and Franco and his friends until quite late.
The next morning, we bade farewell to Franco in the form of a gift of eggs (he was still asleep). We then walked back through St. Stephen's Green towards the city center. We had a few hours to kill before we were due to take the bus back to the airport, and decided to further explore this area that we had only briefly looked at the day before.
We first went to Temple Bar. Known for its night scene, we instead spent our time perusing a used-book stall and chatting with the man who ran it. We then headed back across the street and walked the pedestrianized roads of the center. At one point, Barb asked to use my phone to call Gatwick and see if anybody had turned in her missing Kindle. I wandered the street while she made the phone call, and returned to find her waiting with a rose for me. "Here you go. I found it on the ground!"
As we continued to wander, we saw a sign advertising the Irish Rock & Roll Museum. Barb laughed and said, "what do you think is in there, just a giant poster of Bono?" And when we turned a corner a few blocks later, we stumbled across the museum and yes, the entrance was indeed flanked with a giant poster of Bono.
The last thing we did was go to the Disney store, partially because I love Disney, partially because we were a bit bored, and partially because it was cold outside and we still had an hour to kill. On the second floor of the store was an interactive video area, and we each chose a song to play and then we sat down. While we enjoyed our selections, a group of teenage girls from Spain approached and made their own choice from the list.
How do I know they were Spanish? Well, the song they chose was "Let it Go", but sung in 25 languages. They squealed when the Spanish portion rolled around, and then lost their ever-loving minds when Catalan sang "it's funny how some distance makes everything seem small."
And then it was time to head back to the airport. We took the city bus this time rather than the AirLink. We were also able to sit next to each other for the flight (more shout-outs to Barb for this. The seat next to me was empty and I yelled across the plane for her to come over, and she begrudgingly agreed out of love. Girl knows how unpleasant I can be to sit next to). Luckily for both of us, the flight was fine and we were back in my London apartment before we knew it.