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Everyone told me how green Ireland is. And they were right! As soon as I stepped on the Aer Lingus plane, everything was green. The seats were green. The flight attendants’ uniforms were green. And, thanks to the in-flight meal, even the passengers were green.
After dinner, four flight attendants sauntered through the cabin armed with teapots, asking at each row, “Tea? Tea? Tea?” They sounded like a flock of very confused birds.
When they got to the front of the plane, a large black man responded “Yes?”
It was Mr. T.
(You’re full of crap. -Editor)
The flight, which left at 7pm Baltimore time, landed at 6:30 am Ireland time. I slept on the plane not at all. Thursday would be a long, tired day.
Last year, when we landed in Venice, it was instant culture shock. Everything looked different, smelled different, and sounded different than anything we’d ever seen before. Minus the flying monkeys, we might as well have been in Oz. (As in “The Wizard of Oz”, not as in “the don’t drop the soap Oz”)
Dublin, as it turned out, was a different story.
As the taxi wove through traffic, I watched a familiar landscape of red brick rowhouses, coffee shops and bars whiz past the taxi windows. A Starbucks. A Burger King. A Subway. I began to wonder if they didn’t accidentally fly us to Boston instead.
Just then, a double-decker bus hurtled towards us on the wrong side of the road. The cab shuddered as the bus flew past.
After prying myself from the ceiling, I gripped the door handle as if my life depended on it. Which it very well may have.
That settled it. Someone driving on the left could only be from Boston.
Our driver, oblivious to the very large steel projectiles speeding towards us in the wrong direction, told us how he takes his vacations in Spain because, “It’s nice to wake up in the mornin’ with the sun shinin’ on ya.”
As another truck bore down on us, I covered my eyes. The driver, unfazed, turned up the radio. It was “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. How fitting.
“cause every hands a winner and every hands a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
I began to wonder if Kenny Rogers wrote the song in the back seat of a Dublin taxi.
Just then, the driver chimed in for the chorus.
“You gotta know when to hold em…”
I dug my fingernails deeper into the door handle and became very, very religious.
Somehow, we reached the Camden Court Hotel in one piece. I jumped out of the back seat, staggered to the sidewalk, and raised my hands to the sky.
“Thank you Jesus!” I shouted.
A group of Irish businessmen on their way to work looked at me, then to the sky. They crossed themselves, just in case, and continued on to work.
After checking in at the hotel, we hit the streets of Dublin. It really is Bizzaro Boston. They have Starbucks and McDonalds and TGI McFunsters.
They also have TJ Maxx’s doppelganger, TK Maxx.
And Johnny Rocket’s evil twin, Eddie Rocket.
Dublin has a main shopping drag called Grafton Street, which looks suspiciously like Georgetown.
At the top of Grafton Street is St. Steven’s Green Shopping Center, which looks suspiciously like Towson Town Center.
And next to it, is a park called St. Steven’s Green, which looks suspiciously like Boston Public Garden.
Dublin’s nightlife hotspot is called Temple Bar. It’s the lovechild of Thames Street in Fells Point and Cross Street in Federal Hill, with a few extra street performers thrown in for good measure. The street is cobblestone and lined with bars and restaurants and I can’t shake the feeling that I haven’t left home yet.
For a place 3000 miles away, Dublin is eerily familiar.
Walking around, I learned that the problem with people driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t so much the learning to drive as the learning to walk. You see, when crossing the street, you look in the wrong direction for the traffic. When all looks clear from the right, you step into the road and are met by a blur of tires, steel and angry horns, approaching from the left.
It’s such a problem, that the Dublin government has even attempted to idiot-proof the act of walking:
Thanks to a few near-hood-ornament experiences, I learned very quickly to look both ways before crossing a one-way street.
At Trinity College, we saw The Book of Kells.
The book is an elaborate hand-drawn manuscript of the four gospels made in the year 800 by a group of very talented calligraphic Monks. (You might even call them Art Monks.)
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures of the book, because it’s very self-conscious about its age. So here are some pictures that I stole from other people.
The calligraphy, while impressive, is not nearly as impressive as the measures the monks took to make the book.
The book of Kells was created well before the invention of paint. So to get the bright blues and reds and golds, the monks had to mash up flowers, stones, barks and gums. According to William Dalrymple, from travelintelligence.net:
“purples and maroons came from a rare Anatolian plant crozopheria
tinctoric; the blue was from crushed lapis lazuli, brought along the Silk Road from the mines of Badakshan in Northern Afghanistan.”
The vivid reds were made from (I’m not making this up) the crushed bodies of pregnant insects imported from the Mediterranean. Painstaking doesn’t even begin to describe the process. The pregnancy tests alone must’ve been murder.
The pages of the book are not made of paper, but a knife-scraped calfskin called vellum. The collection is 680 pages in all. To create that many pages, the monks slaughtered and skinned 185 calves. They cleaned the skins, then hand-cut and bound them together to create the book. So not only is the Book of Kells one of the most beautifully illustrated manuscripts in the history of the western world, it also tastes like beef jerky. Unfortunately, the museum has a very strict “look but don’t taste” policy.
The content of the Book of Kells is also historically significant. Because the Monks chose the topic of the Gospels, the book is timeless and draws 200,000 visitors a year.
It would get considerably less attention if the monks had gone to the trouble of skinning calves and crushing pregnant insects for an early manuscript of “He’s just not that into you.”
With all due respect to the Art Monks, no one visits Dublin for the old books. So we left the college and cut across town to visit Dublin’s true art. The kind served in a pint glass, and brewed
in a place Called St. James’ Gate.
My Dad had never had a Guinness before (Gasp! Shock! Horror!). But before you pity him too much, consider this: how many people can say that their first ever Guinness was straight from the Guinness brewery? Not a bad way to experience your first pint of the black stuff.
The Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate was like walking through a giant Guinness ad. The first floor introduces you to the four ingredients that make Guinness: Irish barley, hops, yeast (the same strain that they’ve been using since the 1700s) and spring water from the Wicklow Mountains. Next, you go upstairs and learn more than you’ve ever wanted to know about the brewing process. I’ve never spent so much time learning the merits of wort.
The next floor displays the history of Guinness advertising, complete with John Gilroy’s original sketches and artwork from the famous 30s and 40s Guinness ads that appear in every pub in the world (“Guinness for strength,” “My goodness, My Guinness,” etc.)
Finally, your brainwashing is complete. You climb another flight of stairs and stumble zombie-like into the Gravity Bar, moaning and chanting “Guin-ness. Guin-ness.”
Fortunately, the bartenders are quick to oblige, and one minute, 59 seconds later, the perfect pint is poured.
(His first Guinness!)
The Gravity bar is the best part of the tour, and not just because of the free Guinness. The room is all windows, with a 360 degree view of downtown Dublin.
Everyone told me that the Guinness in Ireland tastes better than the Guinness in the States. And it turns out that this is true. This Guinness was smoother than any of the pints I’ve ever had back home. It didn’t have the bitter finish at the back of your tongue. This Guinness was smooth, like iced coffee.
After a quick bite in Temple Bar, we walked back to the hotel along the South Bank of the River Liffey (That’s Irish for “the Liffey River”).
We got back to the hotel at 6:00. Having slept not at all on the plane, I was pretty much delirious. The goal was to stay up until 10. I think I lasted until 6:03.
A few more photos from the day in Dublin:
(Welcome to Dublin! If the cars don’t kill you first, the overhead wires might!)
Dublin has some odd window displays:
(It’s David Blaine!)
(The bathrooms have strict dress codes)
(I’d rather not know why there is Vaseline in the drainspout.)
Since the flight landed at 6:30 am, we were in the hotel for breakfast. There, I was treated to my first taste of the traditional Irish breakfast. A fried egg, potatoes, mushrooms a horrible baked tomato half and assorted parts from a pig.
Quite frankly, it was a pretty horrible way to start the day. After a breakfast like this, you want to climb straight back in bed.
For an early dinner, we went to Farrington’s in Temple Bar. It was our first traditional Irish Pub. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the pub was more or less exactly the same as all of the pubs back home. Lots of dark woods. Vintage Guinness ads and old pictures on the walls. We could’ve been in Cleveland.
I had a Beef and Guinness Stew with brown bread and a side of Guinness. It was pretty good. Not great. But this is not a foodie trip.
Like the Pictures? Buy the Prints. For more Ireland photos, visit Brian Eden’s gallery.