It makes me feel bad to say it, but, unlike most of our friends back home, Ireland was not at the top of our travel list. We chose Dublin as our first destination because it was the least expensive gateway into Europe. But as with so many of the places where we’ve found ourselves by accident, we loved it! The city has a friendly and genuine feel to it, and the Irish accent makes you feel like everyone is your friend. There is almost a 1:1 ratio of charming pubs, and with signage in Gaelic as well as English, you feel immersed in Irish atmosphere.
We arrived to a typical Irish summer – rain – and made our way to our hostel (more on that later). At Trinity College, we toured the grounds and saw the Book of Kells. This is one of the oldest illumnated manuscripts in existence. This ornate version of the four gospels dates back to about 900 AD. The “Long Room” at Trinity’s library will leave any book lover speechless.
After a long, jet-lagged day, we decided to try and get an early night, so we returned to…
We learned the hard way that it is almost impossible to secure a couch-surfing host in Dublin during the high season, so we booked ourselves into a hostel called Isaac’s. This was very different from our hostel in Costa Rica, and probably what we can expect from the rest of Europe. We had a 16-bed, co-ed dorm which means eight sets of bunk beds. For those people who like the comforts of home when you travel, this ain’t it! The bathrooms are shared but only have room for a few people at a time. The showers were hot, but had only a pushbutton so the flow would stop every 60 seconds, and you’d have to push the button again. The whole place had a college-dorm-on-the-weekend vibe to it. We thought it was great! (Although Stephanie got a bit creeped out by the locker storage area which looked like something out of a Victorian insane asylum.) Continental breakfast was included, wi-fi was free, they had a guitar you could borrow if you wanted to be That Guy, and it was walking distance from everything we wanted to see.
The best part about being in a hostel is meeting other travelers, and swapping stories and recommendations. We shared our dorm with a couple of girls from the U.S. who had just come from several of the places that we will be visiting, and they had plenty of recommendations for us. They also had some funny stories about hostel life. Stephanie learned more about hostel life than she wanted to the next morning when one of the guys sharing our space was sacked out in an all-too-revealing position.
The hostel offered a free, guided walking tour, and our guide, Killian, spent over 2.5 hours showing and teaching Dublin’s history to us. He took us to places we never would have found on our own, and shared all kinds of interesting tidbits, such as the difference between Gaelic (Irish) and Gallic (Scots). We saw Dublin Castle, Trinity College (again), and the touristy and (according to Killian) not-worth-it Temple Bar. We saw a hideous bureaucratic building that was carelessly constructed on the site of a former viking village, ruining some fabulous archeological finds. The shame was that it was built in 1973 when people should have known better; but Ireland was still a 3rd world country then and had much bigger fish to fry.
We also saw the site of the very first show played by a little band called U2. After their gig they were turned away from the Clarence hotel accross the street for being too scruffy. They declared that someday they would own the Clarence. Today they do, and can often be found hanging out there when in Dublin.
Later, we connected with Rory – a seasoned veteran of the Dublin couch surfing scene. As we ate some killer fish & chips, more and more of his couch surfing friends joined us until we were a group of eight. Listening to some of their stories made us feel like this adventure we’re on was almost ordinary. One guy has bummed around the world for the last five years never knowing where he will spend the night.
On our 2nd night, we met Megan and Lissette, and conned them into going for a Guinness with us. I decided that as much as I dislike beer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a Guinness in Dublin.
Day three took us to the Irish Museum where we saw some of the treasures from Ireland’s past as well as the “Bog Bodies.” These are the partial bodies that were found buried in peat bogs, and remained remarkably preserved by the acidic peat since the iron age. Some of them even have hair and eyes left. It was pretty eerie and makes cryogenic preservation seem inferior! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clonycavan_Man)
We also took some time at the Chester Beatty Library to see some of the oldest known written works from all religions. The illuminations and illustrations were incredible especially considering the time.
In one pub, I got to talking with the bartender and was curious so I asked him his real opinion of Americans. After assuring us that he found nothing wrong with Americans, he did say that we sometimes get mean when we’ve been drinking, and we can be very loud. I had to agree with him on both counts. In general, though, he had a good feeling about Americans, and I think that these negative stereotypes are viewed good-naturedly by the Irish. When we stopped back into the pub later, he cried “Hey! It’s the yanks!” with a big grin.
Stephanie and I always like to compile a list of unique things that remind us of a place we’ve been to. Well, maybe they are not always unique, but they are unique enough to remind us of a place.
Things that say Dublin:
- pubs everywhere
- ticking time bomb crosswalk signals
- potted flowers (petunias) outside pubs
- Spar convenience stores
- shorts with tights
- constantly changing weather
- very green and things growing everywhere