Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guinness and Leprechauns

Confession time. I didn't actually have any Guinness when I was in Dublin. 

Phew. Now that I have that off my chest, I'll continue...

The first thing I truly noticed in Ireland was, no lie, a rainbow. After we landed at Dublin Airport, I was too distracted by going through customs, getting Euros from an ATM and finding the Airlink bus into the city centre. So it really wasn't until I was on the coach that I truly got a look at Dublin. And the first thing I saw? A rainbow.

I mean really, seeing the largest, brightest rainbow I've ever seen--it looked like it was a neon light, contrastingly beautiful against the pale gray sky--in a country known for leprechauns. Can you get a better welcome?

I should have taken the rainbow more seriously because where there's a rainbow there's rain, right? And rain it did.

But back to the coach. We got off right down the street from our hostel (Abraham House) and got checked in. I have to say, Caledonian Backpackers, the hostel we stayed in when we went to Edinburgh, has definitely made my expectations impossibly high. (To read about our hostel in Edinburgh, click here. The hostel we stayed in in Dublin was nice--there were only 6 beds in out room, there was an en-suite bathroom and for the most part it was clean and hospitable  However, it just seemed like it needing something. Some pizzazz maybe, whimsy perhaps, or even just a touch of fun. Something.

After making our beds and getting our bearings, we decided to head out for dinner. With no particular place in mind we headed down to O'Connell St, a major road not far from our hostel. We walked for a while, finding nothing that interested us foodwise, but we did find a man doing chalk art. And not just any chalk art--art nouveau. It's not everyday you see a man on the ground drawing a Mucha print in chalk. As we stood there he began packing up his things--rolling up the paper he was drawing on, gathering his chalk--and we weren't sure why. The reason soon became clear, as I felt a splash of water on my neck. It was beginning to rain. I guess when you make your living doing art outside you make it your business to know when its going to rain.

So it started to rain, but still we powered on, looking for some food to satisfy our growling stomachs. The rain only proceeded to get harder and harder, but still we walked. We eventually gave up and decided to turn around and just eat at a pub down the street from our hostel.

In the end, it was a good decision with delicious food, but it got off to rough start. When we walked in, soaked through, we had no idea what was going on. There were no tables available so we were just standing there awkwardly, looking around for somewhere to sit. We did end up finding a strange and awkward half table slash ledge with stools. But after that, we had no idea what to do. At most pubs you order and pay at the bar, but this was a pub/restaurant with a specific restaurant room and there didn't seem to be any place at the bar to order.

We were able to snag a table of some people who were leaving and surmised that a waitress would come and take our order. At this point, I let out a sign of relief  The awkward had passed. I went on to order and have the best meal I'd had in a month and a half. It was roast chicken with mashed potatoes, stuffing, roast carrots and potatoes, all covered in gravy. I ate everything on my plate, and for those of you who know me, you know that that never happens. Like, ever. Especially not since we'd been here. I don't know if it's because I was starving from travelling all day, freezing from being in the rain, comforted by the familiarities of the food or if it was just a really great meal, but I can still remember how delicious and amazing it was.

It was back to the hostel after that to prepare for the next day. Unlike Edinburgh, we didn't really have much of a plan, and also unlike Edinburgh we didn't have Libby's iPhone maps to tell us where to go. Not a good combination. Especially since I, with no sense of direction whatsoever, ended up in charge of the map/figuring out how to get where we're going. I'm sure I put myself in this position because of my need to be in control. I think I did okay at it, but maybe Caitlin, Libby and Austin would say otherwise.

Because it was Sunday, we found a church nearby (St. Mary's Pro Cathedral) at which to go to mass (a Catholic church this time for Libby). I was already confused because I'd never been to a Catholic mass before, but you add in the fact that the priest spoke in an Irish accent very quickly and I basically had no idea what was going on. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but I was pretty confused at some parts.) There was one instance during the "Prayers of Intention" when you are supposed to respond after every line and I had absolutely no idea what the response was. I kept trying to listen and figure it out but to no avail. I could hear/see Libby, Caitlin and Austin saying something but couldn't understand what they were saying either. Turns out my friends were just mumbling along because they had no idea either, not even Libby who is Catholic. So I felt a little better.

Now, Sunday morning it poured. My shoes were soaked in the fifteen minute walk to the church and my feet were freezing. When we went to Scotland I wore my boots but my feet hurt from all of the walking, so this time I decided to wear my Sperrys. They fare well in light rain but in the pouring rain they did not protect my feet from the wet at all.

We determined that pouring rain was not the best weather to do the free three-plus hour walking tour we were planning on embarking upon so instead we decided to do some indoor attractions.  We got to the museum area and had about half an hour until it opened at noon so we walked around for a bit.

We went to Merrion Square to see the Oscar Wilde Memorial Statue, which was honestly kind of creepy. The way he was lounging on the rock in his green evening jacket gave me a Hugh Hefner vibe. So not the best kind of vibe. But I will give the statue one thing--it stands out. Frequently statues of important people all look the same and are easily forgettable. It won't be easy to forget the Oscar Wilde statue.

By this point we'd killed enough time so we returned to the National Gallery of Ireland around 12:20. We were looking at the paintings when the strangest thing happened. At 12:52 they made an announcement: "The gallery is now closing. Please make your way to the exit and thank you for visiting with us." What? The gallery had only just opened. Why would you pay all of the employees and all of the other costs just to be open for less than an hour? I don't even know.

So, expelled from the National Gallery we had an hour until the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology opened (remind me again why Sundays are always our main day on these trips?) So we had lunch and then explored the Archaeology museum.

A lot of it was typical museum stuff which was all well and good but there was one exhibit I found sickeningly fascinating. It was the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibit. In the sense of history I can deal with the idea that there were human sacrifices. But this was another story. When the people were killed in the human sacrifices, they were thrown into bogs. These bogs actually preserved the bodies, making their bodies partially intact. Some still have hair and you can still see the curilng of some of the bodies' toes. And keep in mind these bodies are from 400-200 BCE. The bodies also appear to be squashed as though crushed by a very heavy piece of machinery. It's hard to explain, but it was a little bit disturbing.

After the Archaeology museum we went to the National Leprechaun Museum where we learned all about different types of Irish folklore. It was different from what I was expected because it wasn't that gimmicky -there wasn't a lot of green and stereotypically Leprechaun paraphernalia (although we did get a picture with a Leprechaun).  A lot of the stories told were classic Irish folklore. Also, did you know it's very difficult to find Lucky Charms in Ireland? I guess this is just another example of us absorbing another country's traditions and ideas as our own.

Speaking of, a tour guide told us that it was actually Americans who made St Patricks Day what it is today. It used to be a holy day of prayer in Ireland but then they got wind of how we celebrate it, and then adopted our customs. So it could be argued that St Patricks Day as we know it is actually an American holiday. Our guide thanked us as Americans for St Paddys Day, so there you have it.

That night we had dinner in the Temple Bar area of Dublin and then went to a comedy show. Comedy Crunch is a free comedy show I read about on HostelWorld.com that boasts free ice cream. So really, how could we not go? I investigated a little further to ensure it was legit and wrote down the address. In reality, the show was not at the address provided so, soaking wet and freezing we were about to give up when we decided to wander down a random street and saw the Comedy Crunch logo. The show was actually in the basement of a pub. But I promise it was legit.

Sitting next to us was a most interesting couple. Already pissed at 9 on a Sunday, they didn't have much control over their mouths. We learned where they were from (Devin, England), why they were in Ireland (for a rugby match), where in America the woman had been (Denver, Colorado), how old the woman was turning in a few days (48) and much more. The man told us about his time in the Marines ("But you can't talk about that here" he said, leaning in) and the woman kept saying "My boyfriend is such a tart," apologetically. The woman had just enough time before the show started to give us an impassioned (drunk) speech about living life to the fullest "before you get old" (she was very sensitive about her age and that's why I was getting annoyed when the first comedian spend a long time calling her old, calling her granny and basically just being an asshole).

I was afraid I wouldn't get some of the jokes given the culture difference but it wasn't too difficult to understand. I didn't really like the first comedian because he was kind of mean in his comedy delivery, more so than I thought was necessary as I stated before. The second comedian was a bit more of a prop comedian and he was pretty funny and the third was okay but kind of forgettable. The fourth and final act was by far my favorite.

They were a duo, Totally Wired, the self-proclaimed least famous boyband in Ireland. They did musical comedy, which I love and were actually quite hilarious. After they learned how many Americans there were in attendance (at least 12 or so, and this wasn't a huge venue) they performed what they called "America's oldest folk son" which consisted of a Native American chant and a rousing "We were here first!" at the end. I was dying at this point. Although they were quite vulgar (but let's be real, what adult comedy show isn't?) I really enjoyed their act. After the show we walked close, quickly and carefully back to our hostel because it was almost midnight.

The next morning we did the first hour of the free tour we were going to do the day before. It was a much nicer day and the tour was actually really interesting. For me at least, it is difficult to pay attention during tours for long periods of time because I lose interest but our tour guide Cieran was very engaging and funny. As an independent worker earning only what he earns in tips, he made sure the the tour was engaging. One particularly interesting part was when he described all of the terrible things England did to Ireland then shrugged and said "You can't argue with history."

Also on the tour we met a young couple who asked where we were from. When Austin told them she was from NC, they asked where and we discovered that the live in Greensboro, only half an hour from where we all go to college in the States. Add in the fact that the man from the comedy show last night lived in Oxford until he went to Uni, and I realized just how small the world can be.

We had to leave the tour early to get lunch before our flight, but I wished we could have done the entire tour. We actually met Austy's friend Kaitlyn for lunch was was fun and she showed us around Trinity College (where she is studying this semester). It was much prettier in the sun (or rather, without the rain.).

I have to admit: although I enjoyed my time in Dublin, the trip didn't give me a very high opinion of Ireland or its people. For starters, it was very rainy or overcast most of the time we were there (though I suppose that is typical weather for this part of the world). The city also wasn't pretty like the other cities we've visited so far. It was newer looking, dirtier and just not as aesthetically appealing (but again, that could have been the rain). And then you have the people. Many people were very pleasant but there were a few that sullied my perception of the Irish. On Friday we were walking down the street when a guy, probably around our age, hit Austin in the face. For no reason. Other than the fact that he was drinking of course. I just... who does that? We also saw a woman hitting a man one night and there were a lot of angry people who verbally lashed out at cars, pedestrians, you name it.

So, all in all, not the best perception of Ireland on this trip, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I just need to visit a more rural (or at least less urban) part of Ireland. In the end though, it was a fun trip and I can check Ireland off my "Places to visit" list.

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