My sister and I were supposed to go to Cork today, but we were both too tired to get up early enough. Lesson in overdoing it, learned. Instead we slept in as long as we could without feeling guilty. I tried a coffee at Starbucks and it was so disgusting that I had to throw it away full. The beans were over-roasted beyond belief and the coffee over-brewed. When traveling, there’s nothing I miss more than a nice weakly roasted cup of American coffee. But with all of the excitement of being somewhere new, you must learn to tolerate all you miss while away from home. Later on the in the day, we began seeing stickers everywhere that said, “Buy Irish, NOT Starbucks!” Another lesson learned.
Instead of following our itinerary, we took the day and explored downtown Dublin on foot. The city was beautiful but not well maintained. A good portion of the public infrastructure was under construction, with huge gates and barricades lining and redirecting most of the walkways. There were lots of loose stones and unmarked bumps/cracks that I kept tripping over. There was quite a bit of litter and plenty of unintentionally graffitied walls. But despite all this, Dublin was magnificent!
I couldn’t help but reason out that most of the aspects that took a bit of glamour away from the Irish capital could likely be due to the season. With summer comes clearer skies, warmer weather, and tourists. Where I live in Northern California, we get similar weather patterns to much of Ireland. During the autumn and winter months, it is far too wet for public maintenance; so most infrastructure work gets done in the late spring and through the summer when the rain is significantly thinner. And, unfortunately, a spike in tourism in the summer months could result in a spike in litter and general waste. Dublin, all is forgiven.
But as I said, Dublin is magnificent. There is an energy in the city unlike anything I have ever experienced. Life here feels fun, playful, casual, carefree, vibrant, and artsy. Dublin also lacks the pretension that I’ve experienced in so many western European cities. I think I have met more kind and open people in one day in Dublin than I have in the weeks I spent in other cities. It seems as though people feel more comfortable speaking to each other here, regardless of where they’re from. I definitely feel so much more comfortable starting a conversation with a stranger in Dublin than I did in places like Amsterdam and London. And people have been starting conversations with my sister and I. We met a couple from San Diego that gave us attraction advice, a mother and daughter from Italy, and a couple of college students from New York in just the first day.
We spent most of the day walking around the city and exploring. Around 1pm, it started pouring on us. I didn’t mind the rain because it was still quite warm but we popped into a restaurant called The Bailey for lunch anyway. We went in pretty wet and as I was rubbing the fog off my glasses, several staff kept asking us if we were okay. A couple when we walked in and few more when we sat down. The food was good, perfect for a rainy day actually. I was able to find a gluten free version of traditional Irish soda bread paired with a vegan chickpea stew. Traveling with allergies makes trying traditional dishes a rare occurrence, so naturally I was pretty excited. And it was delicious!
After lunch we spent some time at St. Stephen’s Green. It was a nice walking park with lots of easy routes and a large pond. At the pond was the largest swan I have ever come across and her little elderly friend. He was a skinny man hand feeding her pinches of bread. She was gladly accepting the treat and snuggling up to him and various tourists, but she kept going back to him as if he was her home base.
We ended the night with a pub crawl in old town. Our guide was hilarious and lots of fun. According to him, the first pub we visited was named Darkey Kelly’s after Ireland’s first female serial killer. The pub is the site of the brothel she ran before she was burned at the stake for witchcraft. Some time after her death, in the mid 18th century, several bodies were found under the floorboards of the brothel, which led to the conviction. It was such a cool story for a cool pub. Inside we were greeted by live folk music and a traditional atmosphere.
The second bar we visited was called The Old Storehouse. Here we were also able to view some live music by a local group called Hibernia. The group took modern popular songs and redesigned them in a traditional Irish fashion using the tin flute. It was such a great experience and I was even able to purchase an album. The specialty drink at this pub was a Whiskey Red, which consisted of Irish Whiskey and Red Lemonade. Before we went in, our guide told us that Red Lemonade is something that can only be found in Ireland and is shrouded in urban legends — including a popular one from the 90’s claiming that the red color was because the drink was carcinogenic. After a little research, I learned that the drink isn’t actually banned in other countries; but it definitely makes for a fun story!