Our trip to Ireland did not start out as planned. A simple flight from Berlin to Dublin was missed (thanks Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe), which forced us to think on our feet and sketch out a new way to get to the Emerald Isle. Luckily, everything worked out, despite the new plan involving catching a train to Düsseldorf and then flying out a day later. So much for the luck of the Irish. But that’s the point of traveling, right? To be tested in ways that you wouldn’t ordinarily face. Regardless, everything works out in the end. Always.
Upon landing at the Dublin airport, acquiring our new passport stamps, and buying our bus tickets into the city center, we were greeted with sheer friendliness. It seemed every person we encountered wore a smile and engaged in genuine conversation, whether with a friend or total stranger. This did not come to us as a surprise, considering that’s one thing the Irish are particularly well known for (aside from leprechauns and such), but to feel a sense of community in a foreign land, in a matter of minutes, is astounding to me. What took me months to achieve in Germany was practically handed to me nonchalantly in Ireland. And so began our adventure.
Morgan (my traveling companion) and I stayed at a hostel in central Dublin, which was fantastic given its convenience, but bothersome in some ways. One aspect of Dublin that I did not really realize was the size of the city. The city itself is not very big; most sights are in walking distance and it maintains a small town vibe, which is normally a huge bonus. However, the small alleys and narrow two-lane streets have a difficult time accommodating the surge in population over the past couple of decades. When crossing the road, you would have thought we were in Times Square or Shibuya, not a city with a greater metropolitan area population of 1.8 million. Views are clouded by cars or double-decker buses. Given the lack of space, I often felt trapped or stagnant in a crowd of bodies. Now, when you left the city center and branched out of the popular attractions and shops, there was a bit more breathing room. If there is one thing I can take away from the geography of Dublin, it is that their city government needs to hire some urban planners and invest in infrastructure. Thankfully, there were signs of that growth as the trams lines were under construction and roads were being widened. Nonetheless, if Dublin wants to continue being known as Europe’s Silicon Valley, it must become a city of the future, not just a city that hubs innovation, research, and development.
Our first evening in the city was spent relaxing. We had dinner at a restaurant that served “traditional” Irish cuisine, which was rather delicious, and we ended our evening watching the Ireland-Italy Euro Cup match in the pub next door to our hostel. I must say, to be in this type of environment to watch Ireland beat Italy and advance onto the knock-out stage of the tournament was perhaps my favorite part about my time in Ireland. Sitting in a pub, sipping on a pint, and feeling the electricity from the patriotism of the people around me was special. There was truly no better time to be in this country, and it just so happened to be our first night there! After the match ended, we decided to walk around the city center a bit to get acquired with our home for the next six days, and we came across a beautiful display of man and his love for his country: lads celebrating their win. They took to the streets, sang their songs to the boys in green, draped Irish flags around their shoulders and stood proud like the superheroes they were. They even at one point stopped traffic, but it didn’t even matter, because the person driving the car got out and joined in celebrating. It was a night of joyous bliss and festivities that even the police took part in the chants. A country united by the success of their football team. Amazing.
For our first official full day in Dublin, we decided to designate this as our day of tasteful drinking (it was Thursday after all #ThirstyThursday). We started at 11am with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. For me, this was not just an ordinary tour of a brewery. No, no. It was a pilgrimage to St. James’s Gates, where the perfect pour originated and the nectar of the gods is created out of handful of ingredients. My personal heaven, a place where stouts and black beer are king. The place where Arthur Guinness, a man so proud of his masterpiece, decided that for the next 9,000 years, his brewery would never leave the streets of south Dublin, where it was born and flourished. Truly the epitome of genius. The tour itself was self-guided, so you could browse at your own pace. Along the way, there are stops to try out different types of brews and little lessons in how Guinness gets its infamous ruby-red glow to it. After taking in all the historical goodies, the tour ends at the top of the factory, where the Gravity Bar awaits with a free pint and a gorgeous 360 view of Dublin. All good things come to those who wait. And boy, that may have been the best Guinness my lips have ever tasted.
After stopping for a bag of fish and chips, we continued onto the next stop in our drinking tour: the Old Jameson Distillery. I’m not much of a whiskey aficionado, but this is another tour that should not be passed. Unlike the Guinness tour, we were guided through the old distillery by a host, who gave us a historical look at who John Jameson was and what he wanted to achieve. Also, being the complete noob to whiskey I am, we learned about the process of making Irish whiskey and how it differs to its Scottish and American counterparts. It was super informational and you finish the tour with a taste test. What more could you ask for?
We ended our Thirsty Thursday with a Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl, which began in the Temple Bar area of the city. The premise was simple: we followed two musicians to various pubs, listened to them perform Irish folk music, engaged in lively conversation, and pulled back a few pints along the way. It was a cool way to see a part of a culture that you normally would not have the pleasure of experiencing. And especially since Morgan and I are musicians, we found the pub crawl to be super unique and inviting.
Here’s a video of one of the songs from the pub crawl! (I would have embedded it in the post but wordpress has gotten shady and you have to have a premium account to do that… :P)
The next day, Morgan and I parted ways temporarily. She went on a few walking tours and I reconnected with an Irish friend, who I met when I was in Warsaw. In a span of around 6 hours, we managed to walk over 10 miles (largely due to visiting Croke Park). And of course with my luck, when we headed over to Trinity College to check out the Book of Kells, it just so happened that Joe Biden was visiting and essentially the entire campus was blocked off. Great. But, we still managed to see the sassy as ever Oscar Wilde statue, Famine memorial, and Garden of Remembrance among other sights, so I can’t say my day was ruined by the vice president. It did pour down rain for a sizable portion of the day though. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to catch up with a friend! (Sidenote: later that night, Morgan experienced her first #CheekyNandos and I couldn’t be happier).
Fast forward over Saturday (which was spent in Northern Ireland, aka a separate blog post that has yet to be written), to Sunday, when we took a short trip to Cork in the south of Ireland. The bus journey took about three hours, but we couldn’t care less since there were a total of eight people on the bus, including the driver. Three hours to stretch out and temporarily go back to sleep until the Italian couple adjacent to you starts making out. Fun times. o_o Our sole purpose for visiting Cork was to visit the Blarney Castle and kiss the overly hyped-up Blarney Stone. We got on a bus to the small village of Blarney, just north-west of Cork. The town’s identity is surrounded around tourism and caters to the tourists of Blarney Castle. I’ll be honest, it always makes me a little sad when I visit places like this. Similar to how I feel about Schwangau and Neuschwanstein in southern Bavaria, the whole town has lost an actual piece of its past and has become commercialized. People visit for a few hours, only to leave with some photos and a t-shirt. At least when you visit a large city, you stay a few nights, interact with locals, and have a lasting taste of what the true character of the city is, but these little towns, like Blarney, that survive because of tourism, have lost the magic that originally flooded the streets. I don’t know. It’s still nice to visit and support local economies, but it’s just a reminder that people do live in these towns and deserve some respect when hordes of tour buses come into their home every morning, only to leave without looking back. Okay. /endrant
The Blarney Castle is seated in a beautiful rural scene. It’s old and gray, but demands attention and respect. There’s lush greenery and gardens surrounding the fortress, even a rippling brook flows beneath foot bridges. It’s extremely picturesque and straight out of a fairytale. We strolled over to the castle and as we approached, the soft melodies of a single violin could be heard. There standing at the foot of the aged stronghold was a girl wearing a long, green velvet dress. She honestly looked like Merida from Brave. Too bad we’re in the wrong country! Around the corner, we walked up the dusty path to enter the castle/the queue to kiss the Blarney Stone. Now, for those unfamiliar with the lore of the stone, basically on the top of Blarney Castle, there sits a stone built within the walls. If you bend backwards and kiss said stone, you will be given the gift of gab (aka great eloquence or skill at flattery). Now, why I paid money to kiss a dirty rock, I have no idea. But it is one of those fun touristy things that you just got to do. Despite the fact that we waited almost two hours in line, at least we queued throughout the castle, so that was pretty stirring, I guess! Be warned though, there are small nooks and crannies that you wait in (aka hallways) and the spiral stairs to the top are extremely steep and narrow. Probably not the best place for those who are claustrophobic! (or perhaps don’t visit on a Sunday when everyone and their mother is visiting!).
Our final day in Dublin was spent seeing some of the last of the sights we did not get the chance to see previously. Now that Joe Biden had left, we were free to enter the Trinity College library and see the Book of Kells. The four volumes of the Book of Kells reminded me of some of the books I had seen in Ohio State’s collection of rare books. Extremely colorful pages, adorned with gold accented letters and fine script that only a human could create. What was more remarkable than the books themselves was the Long Room of the library. Imagine a long corridor, entirely of mature dark wood, and on the side, stacks and stacks of original masterpieces authored by some of the world’s greatest minds. I felt tiny when I looked up and saw nothing but pure enchantment surrounding me. It was as if I was in Harry Potter (which I believe was filmed here partially?). The campus is equally beautiful, though small compared to what was normal for me at OSU. We then meandered to the Molly Malone statue, Dublin Castle, and ultimately, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Our time in Ireland went by in a flash. What started as a feeling of stress and frustration quickly turned into refreshment and comfort. We were welcomed in Ireland and the hospitality instantly alleviated any worries or doubts that carried over from our rough situation of getting there. We shared a pint and became a part of a community, or better yet, an identity, albeit only for five days. I’ll admit, the city of Dublin itself is nothing special. It doesn’t have the beauty of Parisian architecture or the spice of Barcelona or the nightlife of Berlin; however, it does have the magnetism of its people, which ranks far higher than any other city I have traveled to.