I’m back! Not that I went all that far, just Ireland and Scotland and now London; in fact I am sitting in my hotel room (more on that to come in a fair few number of blogs into the future, have to stay chronological here) finally in front of my computer and figured, hey, why not let people know that they can stop emailing me asking for vacation updates because they are soon coming to a computer screen near you!
I believe I last checked in upon our arrival back in Oxford from Harlech, Wales, that craggy countryside with my 86 year old 6th cousin four times removed. A leisurely breakfast was had by all two of us before we ran some last minute errands and caught yet another form of public transportation: the airline bus to Heathrow. This time our airline was AerLingus, and let me say without going into detail, that it was the absolutely craziest and most intense security checks that I have ever experienced. I’m sure it took us a solid 80 minutes to jump through the various hoops. But at the end of it was Dad and Kevin!!! I am so excited to see my whole family together after the last three months of separation. And how awesome is it that we get to spend it in Ireland, starting with the city of Dublin.
From the instant we disembarked the plane and went through customs, I kind of had to take charge since I’m the one who has been here the longest and as such am most familiar with how people do things on this side of the Atlantic. So I found the bus to the city centre and then popped us in a taxi to our B&B. Mom, Dad, and Kevin apparently got a kick out of me conversing with the taxi driver. They thought it was really cute.
We didn’t want Kevin and Dad to go to bed yet or else they would be risking exacerbating the jet lag. It was also too early for dinner so we picked a street and walked as far as we felt like and ended up on the Dublin equivalent of Oxford’s Cornmarket Street, all the High Street type shops like Accessorize and M&S and Topshop and Burger King. Most of the shops were closed so we didn’t linger too long, just long enough for Dad to gush over how much he loved the architecture and how adorable all of the pubs were. It was really sweet and cute and not at all what you’d expect to hear from Dad.
We ate dinner at a pub called The Barge where the boys had Guinness of course and Mom and I went crazy ourselves, sticking with tap water. We live dangerously. Once back at the B&B, we all said goodnight, ready for a full day in the morning.
Breakfast being included seems to be the way of the land lately, and I am not complaining since they’ve been of decent quality. Immediately following the meal where I forgot to warn my whole family that pancakes actually means crepes without a fruit filling, we walked by St. Steven’s Park on our way to catch the Hop-on-Hop-off bus that was to guide our itinerary for the day. Those are so much better with a live guide even though sometimes you end up not being able to understand the guide because their accent is so heavy and Irish.
Our first Hop-off location was Dublin Castle, which wasn’t open, but even if it had been I think it would have paled in comparison to the other castles and manor homes that I’ve been to. I wonder if a side effect of traveling so much is that you get a little jaded and the places need to either show you something new or exceed your expectations. Which Dublin Castle didn’t even come close to doing, so we hopped back on and went to Kilmainham Gaol, a jail built in 1786 that housed some of Ireland’s most famous revolutionaries like the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916. I thought all the history was absolutely fascinating so I whipped out my little black notebook and began taking notes throughout the tour. Kevin almost started teasing me for it, but I think that the family is used to me being crazy and quirky when it comes to learning and knowledge so they barely commented. I’m definitely planning on getting some books on the people and events I learned about.
Our next tour was a self-guided one of the Guinness Storehouse (can you guess which family members were most interested in that stop?). The exhibits were really commercialized and overwhelming. Plus I wasn’t interested in how they make beer so much as whiskey (turns out that the first four steps of whiskey making are basically the saw as the whole beer-making process) so after the floor that discussed how they make Guinness I was bored and ready for lunch. It seemed that every dish at every restaurant was made with Guinness in some way. Lucky me. Then we went up to the Gravity Bar for free beers for our boys and two lucky random boys whom I gave our extra tickets to prompting them to immediately christen me “the most beautiful girl they have ever seen”, as well as a wonderful 360 degree view of Dublin. The city is so much flatter than the ones we are used to seeing and the tallest points in the skyline were church spires.
And we hopped back on, heading for more alcohol, the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery tour. It was the site of the Old Jameson’s Distillery for nearly 200 years, but became a museum in 1978. There is no working parts of the distillery anymore, and the process is shown with replicas and wax figures but the tour was guided and less commercialized than the Guinness tour, alone making it superior in my eyes. I also felt that it was more informative and that I could actually explain to someone else the whiskey making process. The tour ended with the much anticipated free samples. Mom had a sip of her Jameson neat and doubled over in a hilarious display of disgust accompanied with a mouth burning from whiskey. I had about two sips of my traditional British cocktail of Jameson, ginger ale, and lime so I didn’t even taste the whiskey, just the way I like it. Infinitely better tour, but one distillery is enough for me.
On our way to the distillery, Kevin realized that he left the bag from the Guinness gift shop on the tour bus. By an amazing stroke of luck that Dad attributed to the luck of the Irish despite none of us having any Irish blood and therefore are ineligible for Irish luck, the bus behind us was the same one we had left the bag on and as such were able to recover it before even leaving that part of the city.
It was a tad too early for dinner so we headed over to the tourist trap/apparent nightclub district that is Temple Bar. I don’t think that any of us particularly cared to visit a place full of overpriced chain restaurants masking themselves as typical Irish pubs. Dad really wanted to eat at the authentic Irish pubs, so we aimed back towards our B&B intending to stop in at a local pub for some grub. Haha, I made a lame rhyme and therefore I must be getting punchy. I think we found about three pubs that would’ve fit the bill perfectly because they were all packed with locals after their days at work and not a table was in sight. We ended up at The Clarendon, on Clarendon Street, a few steps up from the homey dive pubs, but with an open table and a dinner menu. I discovered that I love Irish soda bread!
All that was left of our time in Dublin was our final morning before we set off on the open road. Dad wasn’t feeling well on this last morning, so we left him behind after breakfast to the last few spots that I wanted to see in Dublin but that were closed the previous day. We took a slightly scenic route towards Mom’s chosen site of the day–the illuminated manuscript called The Book of Kellsat Trinity College. The reason for passing through Merrion Square was to see Dublin’s memorial and the childhood home of one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde.
Part of his memorial was two pillars with some of his most famous one liners etched in. I feel like I’m now part of the “Cult of Wilde” because I’ve now been to his house, memorial, and grave (in Paris). But I haven’t kissed any of it so I’m not that weirdly obsessed…yet.
There was a fair number of tour groups at the Book of Kells. They had some really interesting videos that showed how they drew and decorated the book and actually made the physical book. It must have taken so much patience and concentration! I thought it was interesting how they edited their mistakes with symbols and illustrations. I honestly think I would have enjoyed making such a book back then. After seeing the rest of Trinity College’s library, we walked to the National Library of Ireland for a small exhibit of WB Yeats. I;ve never read anything of his, but his life seemed so interesting that now I really want to read some of his stuff. Why is it that vacations always make my reading lists grow and grow?!
Directly across the courtyard from the library was the National Museum of Archaeology and History. It fell a bit below expectations. I was hoping for all these examples of Celtic intricate metalwork, but I was mostly disappointed.. The museum was pretty scant in those terms. There were some artifacts from the Ciking eras and settlements but by this point I was getting pretty hungry and when you are hungry in a museum, you stop reading anything about the displays and you stop caring, yet I haven’t learned my lesson not to go to a museum near a meal time because I won’t appreciate it to it’s fullest. One day I’ll remember that.
And with that we were done in Dublin! I was really happy to be gone honestly. I mean yeah there were a few cool sites and the city has a lot of interesting history, but the city itself wasn’t grabbing in the same fashion as, say, London, Paris, or Oxford. Those cities themselves make a lasting impression on you and make you just want to wander the streets aimlessly, not necessarily caring where you end up because there is always something beautiful to see. In Dublin, you need a purpose, a destination, a goal.