Sunday, 14 April 2013

Weekend in Dublin

This post is very late, I admit. I was meant to write this post in mid-February, but I got sidetracked by a mountain of university work and kept putting it off.

Being a relatively well traveled young lady, it was rather sinful that I hadn't yet stepped foot in Dublin, given how close it is to where I was brought up. I knew I had to rectify this soon. Fortunately my mother bought my boyfriend and I plane tickets and booked us in at a hostel, so I had no more excuses. Mid-February is notoriously dull. Cold winter, slushy brown snow, short days, no more festivities, summer seems like a long way off. Insert a wee trip to somewhere different, and... BOOM! It's so much better! Luckily my university offers a sort of unofficial reading week and calls it "innovative learning week". Much learning goes on, as I take it as an opportunity to travel and expand my horizons!

Enough rambling. Our flight was undoubtedly cheap, but uncomfortably early. We woke up at 4am, got the airport by around 5.30am, departed at 7am... We most probably resembled zombies for a couple of hours. The flight was short, and we arrived before 8am. We were at once welcomed in Irish, much to the excitement of my boyfriend who is obsessed by Celtic culture. This excitement was short lived, as we soon heard lots of Irish accents, but all of them speaking in English.

We got a bus to the city centre and had no trouble whatsoever finding our hostel. The bus driver was the friendly I have ever come across, he seemed super intent on helping us find our destination and knew the city extremely well. A two minute walk and we arrived at the Isaac hostel. Amidst many modern buildings, this hostel was delightfully traditional. Combine this with a clean kitchen, dining area, bathrooms and bedrooms, it was rather comfortable.It also offered that international hostel vibe that the wanderlust amongst us love: Friendly well traveled staff who know their city and are happy to share their knowledge with travelers, inexpensive excursions, maps pointing out where visitors come from, and a whole host of travelers from all around the globe. There was also a sauna, which we didn't use, a table tennis room, which we did use, and a free breakfast. The free breakfast consisted of cereal, toast, jam, butter, juice, tea and coffee. Nothing exciting, but nice to have it as an option.

We didn't have much time to assess where we were in relation to everything else on our first day, as a friend I met in Manaus three years ago rang me and said he was ready to pick us up. This was an extremely weird situation, meeting up with someone I befriended in the Amazon rainforest, who at the time had never set foot outside of it. Now he is studying English and tourism in Dublin. His flatmate from Slovakia was behind the wheel. The two of them decided to take us to Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains, something which had been on our hit list anyway.

It was so much nicer driving there without a tour group behind our backs. I had done some research, and it seemed as though we would have to rely on tour groups for day trips as public transport in the Irish countryside is infrequent, if non-existent. We had a beautiful day driving through pine forests, feeling the chill in the Wicklow mountains (very similar to the Scottish highlands in terms of landscape), and strolling around the two lakes and the Medieval monastery. After a very late picnic lunch and a drink in a local pub, we were worn out. We slept in the car, but were awoke for a final stop: Malahide castle. I am pretty used to castles, but there was a nice garden, and part of the castle is supposedly the oldest in Ireland. Walking through coniferous woods, we talked about Brazil, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Slovakia, the languages, the cultures. We talked about missing cupuaçu, mango and açai, the exotic image of the apple in Amazonia and numerous other differences. Returning home, we bought ingredients to make dinner from a nearby Tesco, and went to bed.

 We noticed the next morning that everything was closed til later, given that it was Sunday. We took an aimless walk around the centre, walking first past the spire, through trinity college, Grafton street, Saint Stephan's green, past the castle, Christ church and through temple bar. We had lunch at Cornucopia, a well-reputed vegetarian restaurant (I find out these things on happycow). Five euros for a delicious soup and some bread. I went for the fresh cornbread, having just found out that I can't eat gluten anymore (will be explained in an upcoming blog post). After a leisurely lunch, we walked through trinity college to the train station and from there took a train to Howe. It was the best day for it: Sun, very little wind, and very few tourists. We walked along the harbour, looking out to the isle of Lambay. I can imagine coming here often if I were living in Dublin. We headed back to town, went up some stairs and came across a ruined church and a graveyard, which offered another perspective of the bay. Heading back to the train station we stopped at the farmers market which was just closing. Lucky thing for us, as we bought a gluten free soda bread and got six scones free! Our picnic for the following intense day was sorted.

After briefly and coincidentally bumping into my Brazilian friend from the day before at the train station in Dublin we headed back home to eat dinner. I asked the guy at reception for bar recommendations, and he recommended the Brazin' Head. Being the oldest pub in Ireland, we couldn't refuse. It was a nice twenty minute walk along the river Liffey, passing temple bar and various other interesting looking districts. Arriving at the pub we noticed how full it was. People were drinking Guinness, eating Irish stew, and getting rather plastered. My boyfriend went for the Guinness, I opted for a magners cider. Both are available in the UK, though being in the city of origin means we had to go all local... Right? One pint of Guinness, and my boyfriend was giggly, peckish and rather exhausted. We just about missed the Irish traditional music, but got to witness the late night antics of temple bar on a quest for late night chips. Bed time in our little dorm!

We booked the Celtic Ireland trip, which forced us out of bed at 5am... We were with three Americans and a very cool Irish tour guide. As far as tours go, this wasn't too bad. No commissioned shopping stops, plenty of time to see everything and a very friendly and enthusiastic guide. We started at the hill of Tara, once an important religious site in its time. Though I am glad to have seen it, this was way more exciting to my boyfriend than to me. Such structures were widespread in the South-West of England, where I am from, and Maiden castle was far bigger and more impressive. This was only the start of our tour though, and I got some interesting surprises:

-Trim castle, where Braveheart was filmed (never seen it, my bad...)
-Loughcrew, an ancient cairn which was very interesting even to me. I have seen many of these from the outside, but this was the first time I have ever set foot inside one. There were some beautiful spiral images painted and engraved on the rocks inside.The landscape was beautiful too, green rolling hills brought to life by the low and dazzling winter sun.

After a spot of lunch (the others ate in a pub, we, being students, had sandwiches, but my boyfriend bought a pint to be social), we headed to Monasterboice, where we saw two of the biggest Celtic crosses in Ireland, and another old ruined monastery with a tower similar to that of Glendalough, but with a destroyed turret. The caretaker of the cemetery was an interesting character. Her garden was full of cats, apparently more than twenty live with her, and it didn't seem as if she wanted to stop there.

Our final stop was Drogheda. We saw the the mummified head of a Catholic martyr in the cathedral, before enjoying a soya chai latte in the supposed best coffee shop in town. After a long day we met up with my Brazilian friend for a quick Mexican dinner, before heading back to sleep.

On the last day we went to Trinity college to see the book of Kells. Amazing manuscripts, but all in all an unfair price. Eight euros was the student price, and of course, the only components of the exhibition were some lit up displays showing less detailed information on the manuscripts than that which can be found on wikipedia, and the manuscripts themselves, open on very random pages, far from the celebrated images it is so well-known for. The library was impressive, but again not really worth the price. I may just be used to the British system in which arts are funded,  but still... We said goodbye to my friends, walked a little feeling a little lost, and resorted to caffeine. After drinking copious amounts of coffee in Starbucks just to use the wifi (bad coffee by the way), we went on one last walk. I discovered Blazin' salads a little too late. It really was a treasure trove, full to the brim with delicious looking salads, vegan and gluten free cakes and pasties. I took away a vegan and gluten free cherry bake well. If I ever return to Dublin, note to self, eat here everyday! The little lanes and indoor market in this area were very typical of the city of which we had only just touched the surface.

It was time to leave. You know that feeling when there is stuff you haven't seen, but you know you are leaving soon so get in the "I'm not really here anymore" mode? We experienced that. We got the return bus back to the airport, drank some soya chai at Butler's chocolate café, browsed the pricy airport shops, and said goodbye to Dublin.

It was a lovely little trip, and a great way to refresh a low winter morale.