Travelogue, Day 27
Why we always wait until the very end of our vacations to visit the city I don't know. No, that's not quite true -- we tend to arrive and then immediately rush out into the countryside instead of hanging around in the city to avoid having to drive in lots of traffic immediately, and so we can get a better introduction to things outside of a major city, since most major cities tend to be a lot the same.
Dublin is an amazing city, though, and in retrospect we should have spent another day or so here. We spent most of our time on the south side of the Liffey, which centers on the vibrant and lively Temple Bar area. A few decades ago, this was a Bad Part of Town, avoided by most everyone as crime-ridden and slowly falling in to slums and disrepair. Now, though, it is a city center with restaurants, pubs, live music, and a fantastically revitalized downtown area. Walk down the main street at dusk and there is a live session on nearly every corner, hundreds of people milling around in the streets. The weekends are like enormous street parties and you're likely to see celebrities in hotel lobbies and nice restaurants. Not that we did (see any celebrities, that is), but apparently Bono and the rest of U2 are still common sights down here.
We've got a hotel just outside the city center, primarily because it offered off-street parking, which can be hard to come by in Dublin. Usually we'd search out a guest house or even a B&B in the city, but we couldn’t find anything that close enough to let us walk. We're about ten blocks from the end of the Temple Bar area and most of the major sites on this side of the river, so we caught a quick breakfast in the hotel and headed off into the world.
Most guidebooks recommend trying to see the Book of Kells, housed at Trnity College, as early as possible, to avoid the huge tour busses that swarm into the exhibit after breakfast. We've so far managed to avoid being part of the Tourist Crush, and our luck held today.
College students the world over are the same
Students were preparing for exam week at the college, so the main square was packed with people and bicycles and the main buildings were teeming with people. The Book of Kells is displayed in the main library, in a very interesting and informational exhibit. The book itself is displayed in an environmentally controlled glass case, and the pages are turned dvery so often so you can see the fabulous illuminations. It's worth a trip up to the famous library, too -- a magnificent barrel-vaulted room housing the College's collection. It definitely feels like a library should -- wood and leather and tall shelves and tall windows. The aisles are cordoned off with velvet ropes, though. Can't actually browse through the shelves.
We were actually in Kells about two weeks go, where the book was ostensibly written (and where they have a very nice fascimile)l but the origianl is carefully preserved here in the library. We managed to squeeze in before a tour bus arrived, and scooted back out again. It was a bit wet and raining, so we took in an audio-visual presentation in Ireland in one of the auditoriums and grabbed a quick bit to eat in the cafeteria so Mark didn't faint dead away from hunger. Seriously -- he has to be fed about every four hours or he turns into Crabby Travel Companion. He's like a hobbit:: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, supper, tea, dinner, etc. We carry food everywhere.
I'm glad we did, because we had the world's longest tour at Dublin Castle -- with one of the best tour guides that we've ever had. She was having such a good time with the tour, and was so personable and …spunky is the word that comes to mind. The castle itself is barely castle-like at all: only one of the drum towers remains, and the rest of the castle has been largely replaced/rebuilt as office buildings. It's not until you descend into the lower levels that you can see any of the stones from the original foundations and the tiny, grungy slip of water that is all remains of the River Poddle, eddying around the base of a gatehouse wall underneath the rest of the buidling. Excavations in the cellar have found several earlier incarnations of the castle itself with walls and arches filled in over and over. It's rather an intersting change from the stately rooms above.
A few blocks away is Christchurch Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic bishops in Dublin. The gray exterior belies the lovely stonework inside. I've always loved cathedrals; there's somethning about the tall, graceful arches and vaults in the stone ceilings that makes these solid buildings seem airy despite their size. It's kind of fascinating to me how a stone building can actually be larger inside than it is outside, Tardis-like, but I swear it's true. There is a stone bridge that spans the narrow road, which connects to the old market building -- now a multi-media extravaganza called Dublinia.
Like Disneyworld, only smellier
Ok, maybe not an "extravaganza", but it is awfully fun. Sights, sounds, and smells, of what Medieval Dublin would have been like, with dioramas and displays of common clothing, food, jobs, and houses. It was kind of fun to wander through, and the top floor has a cool diarama of the whole city, as it would have looked in the ninth century or so. I'm a sucker for maquettes, so we had fun (although no picture) before heading down the narrow road to St. Audoens church.
We could only take a few pictures outside of Audoens, which is well known for its decorated interior, but a few more steps along the cobbled road led us to the last remaining gate and section of Dublin's medieval city walls. Like most medieval cities, Dublin was once surrounded by stone walls, sometimes up to 20 feet tall, with gates at the major roads. The gate is no longer here, of course -- I imagine it was a huge wood and metal barrier, long since lost to the rain and time -- but the thick arch still stands on this back street, behind the stone church of St. Audoens, and stretched for a few hundred feet in either direction. Other than Athenry, most city walls have been incorporated into newer buildings or demolished for building materials. It's surprising that this remnant of the city still stands, what with all the new construction and renovations.
Joining the club life
And new construction and renovations are what Temple Bar is about -- this area along the riverfront has been entirely reborn as trendy shops and restaurants, pubs and live music. It seems to be a the favorite destination for that quintisential UK event: the Hen Party. I swear, we saw no less than ten different groups of women, usually wearing some sort of costume (angel wings, matching t-shirts, that sort of thign) careening from pub to pub with the embarassed bride in tow. We never saw any of the matching stag parties (oh, seriously, I really do think they should call them Cock Parties, you know?) -- I assume that the men were in a sports bar and simply esconsed for the evening with a never-ending serious of pints.
Curious, we pushed our way into a couple of the bigger pubs and listened ot the music for a bit, but Mark was hungry and we just wanted a bit of quiet, so we wandered down the narrow alleys utnil we found alittle Italian restaurant and squeezed in for a bottle of wine and some very good pasta before wandering back to the hotel.
It occurs to me that I rarely worry about safety while travelling. I probably should, but I get awfully complacent travelling with a big, brawny Viking like Mark. Never worried about wandering the streets in Egypt, didn't think twice about walking ten blocks or so from Temple Bar to the hotel. No muggers. So much for all the breathless warnings on every travel channel and travel guide to hide your money in your undewear and carry steel-mesh backpacks. Hah!
Long beds, comfortable pillows, and a shower that blasts with the force of Niagara falls. Goitta love hotels.
lost in ireland 2005 travelogue and photos © rfingerson