Sunday, March 6, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Day 1 in Dublin: Sláinte!

A wonderful day packed full of sightseeing, introductions, and beautiful exchanges. Dublin has given us so much already, it is hard to believe we have days left to go! Happy Mum's Day to everyone, and thanks to the wonderful people of Dublin for giving us an amazing day.

We started off by having a lovely breakfast, with the selection of cereals, yogurts, full Irish style hot dishes, and some pastries and breads like scones, croissants, and biscuits. Oh, and lots of lots of tea. It was wonderful.

After breakfast and getting ourselves ready for the day, we headed via our hotel's canal back toward the Bird Cage and St. Stephen’s Green for a quick pop through the park. We saw cute doorways, posh French bistros named after our friends, an adorable brick house nestled among the hubbub, swans, seagulls, and lots of pigeons. Diana made the mistake of standing under a pigeon clad tree, and ending up carrying some Irish good luck on her in the form of a bird dropping. Great! The park was peacefully calm on Mum’s Day today, so it made for the perfect backdrop for a pleasant stroll around. The green just pops so much more than in the States, and it never ceases to amaze me. The moss on the roof, the trees in full bloom already, the grass on the squishy, muddy ground. The green makes the whole place shine. It comes in unexpected places and makes me smile. 

Our nature walk finished, we walked across the street to the Little Museum of Dublin—only five rooms in a tiny townhouse, but packed literally to the ceiling with Irish history and culture. The first room ran from Georgian Dublin to the Easter Rising and the 1920s. The second room brimmed with cultural artifacts like TV shows, pharmacy stocks, actors and authors, and advertising from the 1930s onward. It was possibly the most I’ve had to look at in such a short time. But it was absolutely fascinating to see almost a century packed into a teeny tiny room, experienced just by turning in a circle.

The upstairs room was our favorite, since we got to use some of the original stamps from the Irish Times. I wrote my headline saying, “Bri for Prez”. I feel as though Americans would appreciate the humor. There was also a room dedicated entirely to U2, where I decided I could drive the crazy car from their “One” music video. I’m pretty smug.

Before getting on the bus, we stopped for our first lunch at Insomnia, where we each got a meal deal of a pre-wrapped sandwich and hot drink. I chose a “Mozzarella Soldier” and a chai latte. It was delicious. We wandered back over to the bus stop, where we made our first Irish friend! He asked why we were here, and we ended up having an entire conversation with him about our trip and how our classes work and how he thought that idea was amazing. He then directed us to where he and all of his friends go out, which was largely appreciated. We loved the classic feel of Doheny & Nesbitt, but we really do want to meet people our age and interact with them. Even after the bus arrived and we had found our seats, he got onto the bus and told the driver all about what we had just told him. Amazing. This was our first encounter of the day with Irish friendliness—it does not end here.

Next stop: Guinness Brewery, St. Jame’s Gate, Dublin. Everything there was black and gold and cutting edge—all three part of my ideal aesthetic. At one point, we actually got to see a virtual representation of being inside a pint of Guinness, and the whole room reflected a beautiful amber glow that mixed the unpredictability of fire with the slow washing of waves over the shore. It was amazing. We saw the world’s biggest pint (the glass walls of the central staircase), walked through the brewing process, experienced the wonderful world of iconic advertising (I would highly recommend this and this commercial to view—both chilling and inspiring), learned about the shipping development of the barrels of stout, and then ended our tour with a complimentary trip to the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor and, of course, a free pint to sample. Though I declined that privilege, I did soak in the 360 view of Dublin from the clear glass bubble. We could see Trinity College, Phoenix Park, Croke Park (home of the Gaelic Athletic Association), and the misty Wicklow mountains looming in the distance—along with everything else in between. Though the city is not as impressively expansive as Tokyo or tall as Chicago, I absolutely loved being able to see the mix of old and new, and the sheer antiquity of the entire city. Everything here has a story, which is so much more important than size or height. History and growth, that’s what matters.

A quick stop at the gift shop later, we chatted with a guard outside the brewery whilst waiting for our bus to return. This was our second encounter with the warmth of Irish people. He greeted us, asked us if we had gotten into the brewery (as there are usually long lines, on days other than European mother’s day), and then asked us where we were from. He told us he was from New York, and that Dublin must be warmer than Chicago. Then he advised us not to go to the jail, as it would be sold out. Then he wished us a good day and continued on his job. A wonderful example of a small but meaningful interaction abroad. It warmed my heart immediately.

The bus then drove us on to Phoenix Park, our final stop of the day. The green continued here, the largest enclosed park space in Europe. Though we didn’t see any Fallow deer today, we plan on looking some more until we can say hello to them. We did, however, see and climb the Wellington Monument, walk the fence lined streets, and see some more swans. We even stopped at a little Tea Room and bought some fruit cake, which I would not recommend but was still a cultural experience. Apparently, raisins come in everything. Noted and avoided from now on. But seriously, this place was so amazing. The cleanness and crispness and clarity of the air, the relaxed atmosphere, the opportunity to cleanse and think. This was the site of our third and final encounter with the joy of Ireland; whilst casually walking down the street like all the rest of the numerous park goers and tourists, a random green bus from our company honked its horn, and the driver blew us a kiss and gave us a wave. We had no idea who he was, we had no idea if he knew us. He just saw and took an opportunity to make us smile. Honestly, I looked straight across at the Wicklow Mountains and said, “I love it here.” Nothing could top us in that moment.

The good luck had definitely been delivered, however unpleasantly.

The tired pair of us slowly made our bus ride back to the hotel after a quick stop at Boots for some essentials like washcloths. Those apparently don’t come in hotel rooms here, but luckily they are available for only €1.49. Amazing. Dinner tonight was just as lovely, with a starter of carrot soup, a main meal of trout with caper sauce, and some great lemon drizzle cake. I ate too much again, but I did walk almost 13,000 steps today. I think I earned it. Gotta keep up my strength! Since we sat with the professors, we had a lovely chat with them about just about anything you could think of—from Supernatural, to mitochondria, to horseback riding, to the discipline of children, to celebrity crushes, to the stereotypes of musical groups. It was a great meal to end a great day.

Tomorrow, we head off at 9AM to see some more of Dublin’s icons up close: Dublin Castle, Christchurch, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I can’t wait to see even more of the great art and culture in this amazing city! As for today, I have to say to Dublin, borrowing the words from our favorite bus driver Gary, "Thanks a million!"

photo credit Diana Cleveland

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