Photo of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, from my own collection. 🙂
I have always wanted to travel to Ireland. I expected to feel a deep connection to that land.
The only vestige of the culture in our home, really, was the love of potatoes. My dad used to marvel at my grandma, who would literally put three or four types of potato dishes on the table during holiday dinners. My mom and her sister could both make wicked fried potatoes.
Oh, and there was also some mild distaste for Catholics. My family is Protestant, and when one of my uncles married a Catholic, many years ago, rumors circulated that she put Jack Daniels in her morning cornflakes instead of milk.
Drunks who think they “literally” eat Jesus. That’s what my family taught me about Catholics and not much else.
Anyway, Ireland. It always seemed like the place to go, and I finally made it.
I didn’t choose to go in late December. One of my friends was going on a corporate trip, so I tagged along. Or more accurately lagged along, because the corporate part was over by the time I got there, and we spent a few days after traveling around.
Here are few things I found interesting, and a few tips that might help other travelers.
I love Starbucks. Muslims often tell me we need to boycott Starbucks for supporting Israel. Several times now I’ve had email conversations with Starbucks people telling me that isn’t true. So enjoy your latte, which you can do in lots of places all around the world.
Dublin has the distinction of being only the second city I’ve ever visited where you can sit in one Starbucks and overlook another Starbucks. The first time I saw this, I was in Chicago.
How could anyone not love a place like that?
I jumped ahead because Starbucks features so high on my list of priorities. But before I got to Starbucks, I took an Uber from the airport and discovered that, like most Uber drivers everywhere, mine was really cool. Friendly and talkative, originally from Pakistan.
My whole life is filled with Pakistanis, so that felt like home.
When you get an Uber in Ireland, it will be an official taxicab. Ireland allows the use of the Uber app but not freelance drivers. Only licensed cabbies, which I thought was a reasonable compromise. I like the free-for-all American model better, but this works.
Unfortunately, my friend likes to watch the news. I hate the news and generally avoid it as much as possible. We heard–over and over again–that in the UK, there is a debate over Uber. Some consider “black cabs” to be iconic and don’t want Uber to replace them, and worry the competition is unfair to cab drivers.
Something like that. I didn’t pay really close attention, but the way they talked about it on TV drove home for me the difference between the UK and America. Even though people here sometimes criticize our government as a “nanny state,” I think it’s a lot more applicable in Europe. America is the wild west as far as entrepreneurial endeavors, and I’ve never heard anyone question whether Uber should be allowed!
I have no idea how the debate ended. I was just glad my forced news listening ended when the trip ended, and I don’t have to hear about it anymore. 🙂
The bottom line is that it’s easy to get around Ireland, or at least around Dublin and the surrounding areas.
If you don’t want to take an Uber, there are plenty of buses and trains. The train system is smallish and very simple. I think it’s the easiest train system I’ve encountered in any country, so there’s no reason to be intimidated. They even warn passengers at every single stop to “mind the gap” between the train and the sidewalk. Mind the gap…mind the gap…mind the gap. You’ll get used to hearing that.
I really enjoyed the train rides in their own right, as I often do. The trains were not crowded. They were a tranquil means of seeing Irish people going about their daily lives, and taking in views of the city and landscape.
I wouldn’t want to rent a car in Ireland since they drive on the “wrong” side of the road.
Behind the wheel, I’m pretty sure I’d be a danger to myself and others. Even being a pedestrian can be hazardous because you wind up looking the “wrong” way for oncoming traffic. The Irish try to mitigate this issue by literally painting “Look This Way” on the pavement in crosswalks with an arrow showing which way you should turn your head. How thoughtful! 🙂
The Irish people are nice, which isn’t terribly unusual since I’ve found the common people to be nice pretty much everywhere. But I would say in general, Irish people are extra nice. They are friendly and compared to Americans, they seem calm. You hardly see any Irish people freaking out over anything, and they generally have a sunny disposition.
If you’ve ever wanted to meet someone who fits the stereotype of the Irish 100%, you should have been with us when we were waiting for the shuttle back to our hotel one evening.
A tall man approached us at the shuttle bay, all bundled up in a parka, and wearing a furry hat with reddish hair poking out around the sides. He had a jolly disposition and apparently decided we needed help–and company. He stayed with us, first to figure out the shuttle intervals, and then to pass the time.
Frankly, at first, I was a little afraid of him because he was getting so physically close and being so loud, and he smelled like alcohol from several feet away. He advised us to just not worry about the shuttle and “go and have a pint,” and then chirped happily about all sorts of random things. Hmm…
But as this went on, I realized he was completely harmless, and perhaps even though he was protecting us, or at least guiding us, being the bumbling tourists that we were. He actually waited the full 20 minutes until our shuttle arrived, and as we boarded, he stood with a big smile on his face, enthusiastically waving goodbye.
I shall forever remember him as quintessential “Irish Guy.” 🙂
I can hardly believe it took me this long to get to the food. One of my favorite things. 🙂
In short, I found the food in Ireland to be diverse and excellent. I had some of the best hummus I’ve ever had in Dublin, surprisingly enough. And some Persian food that was so awesome, I wished I could make myself hungry again, just so I could eat the whole meal a second time, start to finish.
On the very first day there, I wanted to have what I thought was a traditional Irish meal of fish n’ chips. Seems Irish doesn’t it? Except that a Jew in England introduced fish ‘n chips.
So a little off as far as origins, but it was delicious. We had taken the train to the seaside town of Howth. The day’s main activity was climbing a muddy hill. I’m surprised how many people were out in gloomy, damp weather climbing the same muddy hill. It’s so wet in Ireland that even way up high on the hill, it’s muddy, and that makes it slick and treacherous.
Fortunately, because there were no bathrooms on the muddy hill, we had to turn back. Once we got into the town, we went to a restaurant recommended by the locals called Octopussy. If you are ever in Howth, I recommend you give it a try.
One of the oddest things I encountered in another restaurant in Ireland was a “tea” consisting of nothing but fresh mint leaves and water. I got this because I misunderstood the waitress, and thought she was bringing actual tea with fresh mint to accompany a piece of sticky toffee cake.
This tea-free mint “tea” was actually quite good, and the cake was even better.
Here are a couple more images of Howth, which is a pretty little town. I don’t know if it’s considered a suburb of Dublin or not, but it takes about 20 minutes to get there on the train.
Notice how, though it was sort of a gloomy day, the sky was sometimes streaked and lovely. One minute it would look gray and ominous, and literally the next, the sun might be shining and clouds would be so colorful, the sky looked painted.
Kilany and Dalkey
I asked my Uber driver if there was any place I should absolutely see before leaving Ireland, and he said Kilany and Dalkey. These are seaside towns about a 20-minute train ride from Dublin.
In Kilany we walked a well-worn path, and again climbed a muddy hill, but this time, the view was worth it. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see palm trees, which surprised me. This area seems cold for palm trees, but I guess it’s because overall, the climate is mild.
Seattle in the Pacific Northwest seems pretty similar. Rainy, but the temperatures never dip really low so they can grow a lot of things that would freeze to death here in the Midwest.
This thing (pictured below), atop the same hill, was called an “obelisk,” though it’s different from what I’d normally picture. Lots of people were there, and the colder morning had given way to a warm afternoon. Children were grumbling that they were roasting, and their parents were insisting they stay bundled up, rather than risk losing their hats and coats.
It’s hard to dress for the weather in this area because it changes frequently within a single day, or at least it did while we were there in late December. Layers. You really should dress in lots of layers, which you can peel off as necessary.
Someone has referred to Kilany as a “suburb,” but it’s quite different from what I think of as a suburb here in America. There are lovely houses in rolling hills, and there are old churches, so this is not a “cookie cutter” neighborhood thrown up by a developer in recent times.
Some homes nestled in the valley…
And a lovely old church, which looked prettier in person…
Notice how the sky looked when I snapped the photo of the church. Within a very short time, once again, we saw the lovely painted sky.
Okay, this part is extra boring, but I do want to give people a couple of travel tips.
Not many places in Ireland take American Express, but Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted. I personally didn’t change ANY money, and I got along just fine using my credit card.
However, I would recommend you have Apple or Android Pay set up on your mobile phone. At one point, it was the only means we had of paying bus fare, so it definitely comes in handy.
Bleh. I’m glad that “boring travel tip” part is over!
Dublin is not a glamorous city like Paris or Vienna, but it does have loads of charm. You can walk pretty much everywhere, and it feels safe. I would walk alone at night and feel safe anywhere that I was in the city.
Americans who are nervous about going overseas should consider visiting Ireland. It’s about as intimidating as Indiana, and it’s probably safer.
There is not much of a language barrier. We had to ask a few people to repeat themselves, but it wasn’t a problem. Most people were very easy to understand.
I liked how they called an elevator a “lift.” I think we should adopt this term here in America because it’s shorter and more intuitive, and just sounds cool.
There are a series of famous pedestrian bridges spanning the River Liffey, each with a history worth reading about if you’re into that sort of thing. Below is The Ha’penny Bridge bridge at night.
Parts of the city were decked out with Christmas decorations. Below is the famous Temple Bar, all lit up at night.
I think the Temple Bar building is really old. It’s been all sorts of things in Ireland’s history, ranging from a church parish in Medieval times to a brothel in the 1700s.
At one point it had fallen to urban decay and was going to be demolished.
Finally, the government sponsored a gentrification project and the whole area was transformed into a historical district with a robust nightlife. I don’t drink, so I didn’t go into any bars.
I found the statues commemorating the Great Famine along the River Liffey to be haunting and fascinating. One of the statues was a dog, but I it was hard to capture all of them at once. This is was my best shot…
Of course, you will also find some castles and castle-like structures. The Dublin Castle is famous, but I think the modern brick addition diminishes it greatly. So instead, I’ll share a photo a building I thought was especially lovely and castle-like (or maybe an actual castle?)
I think mobile phone cameras are amazing these days. I took this photo on my Galaxy S8…
I really, really dislike modern architecture. To really express how much I dislike it would take a whole lot more really, really….but I nevertheless took a picture of this stuff, because it seems sort of famous.
It’s the most modern among the pedestrian bridges, with some hideous building behind it. For some reason, this is a popular photo among tourists.
Dublin really has quite a mix of architecture, old and new, and that was true of the area where we booked our hotel.
We stayed at The Marker Hotel, right next to Dublin’s Facebook headquarters in the south docklands, which I think is now considered a trendy area. I definitely recommend this hotel because the rooms are spacious, comfortable, and well appointed. The staff is amazing. Lots of things are a short walking distance from this hotel, including Starbucks. 🙂
Though I didn’t feel the ancestral connection I had anticipated, I really enjoyed Ireland.
I don’t think late December is the ideal time, but it was still quite lovely and things were not at all crowded as they may be during the tourist seasons. I really think anytime you get a chance, you should visit.
I’ll leave you with a video I took of a street performer singing in the midst of the Christmas shopping hustle and bustle. I thought he was pretty good, and I also panned around so you can get a feel for what it was like.
The video is only a little over a minute long. Enjoy. 🙂