This blog entry is not a recipe and is going to start as if we were picking up on a conversation….
So if you follow my social media, particularly Instagram, you’ll know that I was recently in Ireland. I flew back yesterday, both enjoying the comforts of the familiarity of home while missing what I consider to be my second home. It was the first vacation I’ve taken since July of 2017 and I made the most of it.
It’s 5AM on a Tuesday morning and I’m nursing my jet lag with a second cup of French roast coffee, a couple of snarls and some cold pizza for breakfast. I slept 8 solid hours and I’m still not sure which time zone my body is feeling right now. I flew from Newark to Dublin on an overnight flight and didn’t sleep a wink on the way there. I passed out into a relative coma for a good chunk of Thursday and then embraced my inner Viking and raided the city until I left yesterday.
Sidenote: by the way United Airlines, I fail to see the analogy between the Spiderman movie plug/comparison translating over to your airline. Trust me when I tell you that my local movie theater has far more comfortable seats and more than three mouthfuls of water if I chose that as my beverage. No marketing genius – this…
I flew out Wednesday night and arrived Thursday morning to the unmistakable sounds and sights and smells of Ireland. There is something magical about the moment you first venture out into Dublin, past the airport and the initial impact of signs in dual languages, perceived accents and the chaos of the airport and vehicles zipping by you. Heading out into the city, there is another layer of sensory satisfaction. The smell of sea air and the rain mingles with the grass and the concrete and the old and the new joining with the hum of a city brimming over with life and the gorgeous architecture. You can’t help but wonder who else has walked these streets and fallen in love on sight with this place. If you’ve ever seen something so beautiful that it made your heart flutter, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So how do you absorb as much of a city as possible in three days? You immerse. You go full tilt, head on, top speed, no holds barred – in. You go in. It’s that simple. Life is too short to travel skimpily or with anything less than the abandon and fever of a first love. Verizon Wireless totally screwed up my phone plan so out of pure childish temper – I did the unthinkable. I turned my phone off, completely. I walked around a foreign city with no cell phone – translate that as no distractions. No one was texting me. I couldn’t read emails from the office. No phone calls. This means total freedom to go back to how it was before I was tethered by technology.
I like to walk with a foot in each world. I love being in a city; it’s where I come to life, but my heart is in the country. I love my home but I will jump on the first plane going anywhere and wing it completely. I love getting my hands dirty with work one minute then indulging in whatever pampering I can get the next. I will unequivocally go into full tourist mode if it helps me get to know my surroundings a little better and Dublin is a perfect place to do this.
First things first; get a taxi. Go anywhere. Tell them you are a tourist then sit back and enjoy the show. They will tell you what’s good, what’s bad, why Kilkenney is the heart and soul of Hurling and how Galway cheated, how little they like their mother in law or spinach, that their wife is mad at them because they’re late for a birthday party, how the fare of the previous evening fell out of the cab, that they miss their own adopted home of London, what bars nestle a “good craic” like a diamond sitting in a jewelers box and what are an utter waste of time and the like. They are the world’s best form of entertainment for whatever glorious amount of time you have them in your world. I have yet to meet one that I didn’t want to sit down to dinner with, look them square in the face and say, “I’m buying, now tell me everything”.
Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, it is your moral imperative as a tourist to hit Temple Bar at least once. Go stare in shock at Molly Malone’s ample bosom (although I don’t remember that bit being in the song I learned as a child – she was a fish monger and that was no wonder, for so were her father and mother before. Shave and a haircut – D cup….nahhhhhhhhhh)
If you are going to thrive in Dublin, a good way to do it is to get lost – on purpose. Do this consciously and with deliberation. Pick a direction and walk. Just go get lost.
We stayed at the Westin Hotel on Westmoreland Street which was just this side of opulent without being stuffy. The staff was courteous and knowledgeable and able to accommodate almost any whim. The room was beautifully appointed; as a matter of fact, I’m currently in negotiations to move in to the walk in shower.
My husband is a planner. His plans have contingency plans. Me? I’m more of a throw a coin in the air, heads that way, tails this way kind of girl. I walked out of the hotel and turned right and from there, we got lost. We found Ha’Penny Bridge, Winding Stair Bookshop, the Oak on Parliament Street where they have an amazing seafood chowder.
From there we walked to Dublin Castle and I was once again reminded that the Butler name, my name, garners some interesting reactions in Ireland.
The tour is about one hour and is informative. It centers on the history of this city, from the Easter Rising to current politics to the history of one of the lesser known despots of the world, King John, to the literal interpretation of Dublin’s name – Dark Pool.
From here we walked straight to Temple Bar. It’s a nicer version of Bourbon Street with just enough circus side show to keep you humble. We ate at Gallagher’s Boxty House (try the boxty fries – YOU’RE WELCOME). Great food, our waitress was an ace and the prices were reasonable.
A ten minute walk brought us to O’Neill’s for some good old fashioned craic. If you don’t know what this is, it’s the quintessential Irish need for the holy trinity of soul sustenance; talk, dance and music and if a pint of Guinness or some whiskey is involved, that’s alright too.
On Saturday, we ambled again with a bare minimum agenda. I walked over to Trinity College to gaze upon what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, the Long Library. It is part of the Book of Kells tour which is also worth the crowds. I waited in line for an hour, giving my husband time to sleep while I tuned into the world around me. I heard French and German and Greek and Arabic and all of these people that surrounded me were bent on the same thing I was, knowledge.
In that vain, we went to the National Museum of Ireland where we explored the influence of Vikings and Celts which translates down into the city to this very day. There lies the remains of a man found in a bog. You can see the beds of his nails, the curve of his fingers clenched in a partial fist and I wondered, what was the last thing he saw. What was his name? Who did he love? Were his eyes brown or green or blue? What did his voice sound like?
It’s worth noting that St. Stephen’s Green is a must see as well.
Next, we toured Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which I think often does not get the due credit it deserves in terms of beauty as it’s overshadowed by it’s global counterparts. It’s a classic example of Gothic architecture. Jonathan Swift is buried there. I lit candles for loved ones in remembrance of those who are no longer on their journey with us and sat quietly in a side chapel; humbled into silence as holy places are intended to do, reminding us of how truly small we are in the cosmic scheme of things.
Dinner that night was at The Porterhouse in Temple Bar (our hotel was 1 block away). It came complete with the best mussels I’ve ever had and a cracking band.
This was our early night as we had to meet a tour bus the following day, Sunday, at 7AM. This is the point that I would like to scream to the rooftops about the pure professionalism and passion of Wild Rover Tours. It was a 13 hour day touring the north of Ireland. On our way there our driver, Handsome Joe and our guide, Tara, told us more history including those euphemistically called “The Troubles”. I urge you to read up on these if you have any interest or love of Irish history. As she described the indomitable spirit of this country, I began to have (not for the first time) a profound insight as to what my husband lovingly notes are my character flaws. Apparently a good chunk of my personality quirks are hereditary. Who knew?
The first stop was Belfast where you had a choice of a taxi tour of Belfast or the Titanic. Now when I tell you that my husband is a Titanic nut, I’m not kidding. He loves the movie, the story and even pointed out to me that weddings could be held there. “Isn’t that romantic?”, he said. “Nope”, says I.
I can’t say it’s my favorite story and perhaps that shaded my opinion of the museum. To me, seeing the place where this fated vessel was built and launched was far more poignant. It was humbling to know that this was the origin of that loss.
From there we journeyed to what is called the Giant’s Causeway and then onto Carrick-a-Rede. Both of these places require some considerable walking, so wear hiking boots or sneakers. It’s worth the burning in the back of your thighs as you climb stairs and hills and basalt columns that thrust up into the sky overlooking the Irish Sea. There is something wild and untamed in this landscape. The views of Antrim rival the Cliffs of Moher in terms of beauty.
Carrick-a-Rede is a rope bridge that crosses over to an island. Roughly one hundred feet in the air. Yes, you read that right. This was the first Father’s Day without my Dad. That fact hit me with full force as we drove north. He would have loved this. My father was the penultimate, iconic Irish man. He was big, burly, gentle, funny, wise, could tell a story like no other and for him I climbed the Giant’s Causeway and crossed Carrick-a-Rede and went to the other side of the island and yelled his name into the wind hoping it would carry all the way to Scotland and echo back to me, surrounding me with his laughter which is the only thing that mattered to me at that moment.
The drive back to Dublin was a three hour drive, which allowed me to sum up my very emotional day. A modern country has risen up around the etched lines of it’s ancient past. The landscape is singularly unique. There is a premium put on craftsmanship and tradition and remembrance that here in the United States we often ignore. We like things shiny and new and convenient and often dismiss the mechanics of how we got to where we are now whereas in Ireland, it’s etched into the very ground. The food, the music and the landscape all pale in comparison to the true life force of this land. The beating heart and soul of this country is its people. They’ve lived through every conceivable kind of oppression and still they laugh and they love with abandon.
I had a conversation with my friend earlier this week about the concept of home. Where is it? What’s involved? Is it a dwelling? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? To me, home is where you feel loved.
I love you too Ireland.