Friday, June 28, 2013

Ireland, Day 1: Dublin

It's about quarter past ten (as the Irish would say) in Dublin. I am sitting in my hotel room with a small bag of rosemary and olive oil potato chips purchased in JFK airport before coming. I did not think I would be awake or hungry at this point. But the body frequently does not cooperate with the brain.

Certainly there is a reason for needing sleep. I took a shuttle to JFK airport on Wednesday morning. I did not realize that this would require a transfer to another shuttle in the middle of Times Square, but it wasn't a problem, everything worked out. I got to JFK in ample time--enough to wait on line for almost an hour and a half until the Aer Lingus check-in desk opened so I could drop by bag. The girl on line in front me predicted that when the did open, there would be only two people to wait on everyone, and one of them would be incompetent, so that would leave one person to deal with the line. She turned out to be psychic. Amazingly, I got through security in all of 3 minutes; the scanner didn't even beep at my hematite ring, which now attracts paper clips and other metal objects. After having lunch, I waited at the gate, and was surprised to see Bill, who is leading this Ireland trip and also the professor for my class. With him were Dawn (who I recognized from the graduate office), and Jodie (who I had never met, but has assisted with this trip for the last 3 years). We met up again after a very quick flight--Bill said the tail wind speed was up to 200 mph, and we were cruising at over 600 mph. Of course, this is one flight where we did not need to arrive early, as nothing is open in Dublin before 7 AM.

After having coffee in the airport and being met by Niamh, who is another leader on this tour, I got to my hotel at 6:30 in the morning, and was pleasantly surprised that a room was available. The receptionist warned me that just outside the window was the Luas rail line. I told her that didn't bother me, and was shown to a really beautiful room on the second floor. I'm used to London hotel rooms, where I'm grateful if the room is clean and bigger than a broom closet. Now I won't be able to look at London the same way again.

There is an old adage about "the best laid plans", and I didn't get to do half the things I'd intended to do my first day in Dublin because of a light mist that later became driving wind and rain. It didn't help that this was my first time in Dublin, and the maps that I have of the area are really not detailed enough. I managed to get down to Grafton Street to have some really wonderful Irish porridge at Bewley's Cafe for breakfast. I contemplated the map; I'd hoped to visit the Guinness Storehouse, even though I was told it was an overpriced tourist trap. It looked like a reasonably straight walk along the South side of the Quay to that area, but my first lesson about Dublin is that most straight lines on the map are baldfaced lies. There are so many roundabouts, and places where roads branch off, and it's hard to see where your road continues. I did make it to the Storehouse, which has 7 levels and is shaped like a Guinness pint glass. The tour was only moderately interesting; the best part was claiming a free Guinness at the Gravity Bar at the top, and looking out over the entire city of Dublin from the circular glass room. What horrified me were all of the unfinished pints of Guinness sitting around the room; many tourists come to see the place, but don't really drink. They take one sip, and leave the pint sitting on the table. It's really criminal to not finish a pint of Guinness. At least make a better effort, for God's sake.

Before getting on the lift again, I noticed a new Guinness advertisement that said, "It's alive inside". I think this is more disturbing than enticing. I'm reminded of the cheesy 80's horror movie, "The Stuff", which is about a weird parasitic substance found in a cave that is marketed as ice cream, taking over people who eat it.

I walked out of the Storehouse into driving rain, and was occupied trying to keep my umbrella from turning inside out, and trying to stay dry, and I was not terribly successful at either. To make matters worse, I headed up the road to get back towards the Quay, and went too far North, ending up in the Kilmainham area of Dublin, which was barely covered on my map. After about an hour of walking, I gave up and hailed a cab, who got me back to my next destination--a bookstore across from the Halfpenny Bridge, called the Winding Stair. I found my obligatory book of Irish ghost stories, and might have settled in for a glass of wine, but I found the store to be too small. Supposedly it has a restaurant, but I did not see where one would access that. I went across the bridge and had a pint at the Halfpenny Pub, as it was now lunchtime. I wandered around the Temple Bar area, eventually ending up in Grogarty's for lunch and some Irish music. Grogarty's was recommended by Bill for its food, but I was less than dazzled by their fare. But the Irish music was wonderful, especially when they started playing a set of reels. Probably 99% of the people in the pub were not from Ireland. Sharing a table with me was a German couple who were soon heading back to Dublin Airport to go home. I talked for awhile about American politics with the man, who was the only one who spoke reasonably fluent English. I felt a little bad for his wife, because she really couldn't participate in the conversation, and I could see that this frustrated her a bit. They finally had to go, and I had received a text from Niamh that the group from my school was going to be in town around 3:30. I ran into them near the Temple Bar pub, and we took a walk over to Bruxelles to have a couple of pints. Several of our group were drinking something called "Smithwick's Shandy", which is a Smithwick's sweetened with a red lemonade. The red lemonade is made with Red No. 5 dye, something illegal as an additive pretty much everywhere else. I didn't try it, as I'm not a big fan of sweet alcoholic drinks.

After a couple of pints with the group, they planned to go for dinner, but as I'd just had a big lunch and was thoroughly exhausted, I went back to my room instead. Niamh came with me, to make sure I didn't make any other unintended detours through town. We talked about the next day's arrangements--around the corner from my hotel is the central bus station, called Busaras in Irish. Niamh tells me that "Aras" means "place" in Irish.

Speaking of Irish, I'd asked Niamh (pronounced "Neeve")if people often butchered her name. She mentioned a Starbucks incident where she made the mistake of telling them her name, and then spelling it for them when they wrote it on her cup. The barista referred to her as "num-num".

I think if I'm disappointed about anything today, it's that I didn't get to take this evening's ghost walk, which I was looking forward to in a big way. But there was no way I was walking another 2 1/2 hours in the rain, and having the tour end in a part of town quite far from my hotel. As it is, I think I'd expected about 2-3 miles of walking, and ended up with 10 miles, quite unintentionally. I usually find that maps exaggerate the distances between places. In Dublin, it is the opposite--what looks close can really be quite far. Objects seen are not as close as they appear.

The Luas train is going by now, and it purrs very quietly. The drunks outside are much louder than the train. Now that I've had a snack, I'm pretty sure I can get back to sleep. I finished reading, "McCarthy's Bar", an account of Pete McCarthy's journey through Ireland. He visits St. Patrick's Purgatory, and after a 26 hour sleepless vigil, he finally lays down and can't get to sleep. He finally gets to sleep by imagining Ian Paisleys jumping over a fence like sheep, goaded by a cattle prod since he is notoriously resistant to everything. I will have to find my own equivalent.

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