Ok ok, I know. I was in Ireland in September, and it’s now March, and “where’s the blog about your trip?!” Here it is, so you gibbons can quit your whooping. I took some (poor quality) videos on my phone throughout my trip, mostly as proof to my Mother that I was still alive and the messages I sent her weren’t actually from my captors/murderers/pimps. I hope you enjoy my falderal.
Ireland was everything I expected it to be and more. It’s a fascinating place, largely because it’s one where individual perceptions rarely vary too far. With most locations in the world, everyone is eager to give their opinions and stories, perceptions and favorites; but all of those experiences differ between people. When I went to France, many told me that going up into the Eiffel Tower wasn’t worth the wait or the money, and that the real splendor was seeing it from the ground all around the city. I decided against their judgement and clamored up the metal staircase behind a group of 20 raucous French 3rd-graders and didn’t regret a moment of it. If you were to ask me if the diving is good in Belize, I would advise against it: a few rays, a few fish, a few rocks, but nothing you haven’t seen before. However, I met a couple on the dive boat who said they travel to Belize to dive every year because it’s their favorite location. In Ireland, however, everyone seems to have remarkably similar experiences. I’ve heard tales of people who were rained on for a solid two weeks in the middle of summer and still had the time of their lives. I met a couple in a B&B who said it was their 22nd trip back to the Emerald Isle, and they had never once been disappointed. While I’m sure there are people who have had less than stellar experiences in Ireland, I can’t seem to find them. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of being away from regular life or the thrill of a new place, but I was able to think more clearly, breathe more freely, and really absorb my experience, rather than just traveling from landmark to landmark and checking them off the list.
My adventures in Ireland began when I touched down in Dublin and couldn’t see a damn thing. Fog. There was so much fog it felt as though it was raining. I hopped in a shuttle van to the rental car lot with 6 other strange travelers, most of them American. Within 2 minutes of our 12 minute ride, the driver had somehow conducted introductions of everyone in the car, given a few basic tips on driving on the left-hand side of the road, explained the difference between black and white pudding, passed out maps of Dublin, and was deeply into a hilarious Q&A with the backseat when we arrived. There was a collective, “aw,” but we all exited the van and said our goodbyes and well-wishes to each other. If you allow it to, Ireland will turn you into a nicer person than you were before.
My brain kicked into problem-solving mode as I hunted out my rental car in the lot. I have driven a manual transmission car for years, but never with my left hand on the gear shift and never on the other side of the road. My travel method can be generally described as: buy a language book, be aware of major threats, figure out the rest when you get there. I located my tiny red Fiat, with its wimpy engine and many zip ties that fastened the passenger’s side hub cabs to the wheels. Wimpy as it was, I developed an anthropomorphic fondness for it, and I named it Seamus.
So I survived the rental car parking lot and successfully navigated the Irish highway system into Dublin proper. The driving itself is not at all scary or difficult. The new spacial awareness, however, is downright terrifying. Coming from the US, I was unaccustomed to allowing my car to come so close to other cars, walls, cliffs, etc., and there were many times I was shocked not to hear the screeching of metal against a pole or other obstacle. I could have sworn I just hit that pole, but nope – I had just never experienced maneuvering a vehicle with only a 2-inch margin of error. I was forced to find my courage in a parking garage.
And yes, I was instinctively reaching for the gear shift with my right hand. It was my first day, alright?! I finally checked in at the Croke Park Hotel*, and took a 45 minute nap, and then a shower to try and shake off the jetlag. I spent the rest of the day walking through Dublin. I somehow joined a small group of retirees and explored with them for a short while. By explored, I mean we compared maps and tried to orient ourselves for a solid 20 minutes. They were lovely, good-natured people and together we found our way into the heart of Dublin. I branched off and headed straight for the one thing I was determined to see in Dublin: Trinity College Library. Oh, friends. I can’t express how glorious and reverent this place is. If you’re a book lover or history/anthropology buff, I highly recommend it. To get to the library, you’ll pass through the The Book of Kells exhibit, which is well-done and very informative, although be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there. It’s very possible to flit through to the library, but the historical and culturally significant information there is worth taking the time. Below are a few images I took while in the library when I wasn’t standing still, slack-jawed and drooling.
I spent the rest of the day wandering Dublin, eating fish and chips, and generally being a tourist. Dublin is a very interesting city, and I enjoyed my time there, although it was no highlight of the trip. Out of the European cities I’ve been too, Dublin is the dirtiest, hands down. The smell of urine meanders boldly down most streets, and the buildings and walls are covered with a special kind of seemingly permanent grime. While listening to the radio in my car the next day, there was an entire segment of listeners calling in to discuss the issue of public urination in Dublin, and many contributors were of the opinion that it’s just a fact of life. So while Dublin is teeming with culture and history and good times to be had by all…wash your hands.
I left Dublin the next morning and headed to Belfast with little-to-no idea of where I was going except “north.” Throughout the entire trip, I was very surprised at how easy it is to navigate the roundabout-laden highway systems in Ireland. I found myself many times without a map or a functioning GPS, and still never got lost once. If you have to, you can get around Ireland just fine with a brain, a functioning pair of eyes, and a few tidbits of local advice.
Adventures in Belfast and the remainder of my time in Northern Ireland will be continued soon.
*Hotel and B&B reviews will be written soon. Eventually. I’ll get to it, I swear.