Saturday, 12 May 2018

Easter Ireland - Part 1 - Dublin

Hello holidays and hello Ireland!
Houses in the suburbs of Dublin.
Site of the first Irish pint for the visit!
Easter had come early this year, which is always a blessing to a teacher in Europe - normally holidays are the second week of April, I got the last week of March off this time. The first term is an easy one - you start in mid-September and work till the 22nd of December or so, with a few public holidays in between as well. The last term, after Easter to the end of June is the home-stretch really - you know your classes and your students, you can count the days till it's summer and there are more holidays in this period too, especially the long May weekend. It's this period, from January to April that is the hardest - cold weather to start with, going to work in the rain, then Spring arrives and the kids just want to be outside and not a public holiday in sight. Thankfully, whether you're religious or not, Easter arrives and you say a big Hallelujah because you're finally going on that holiday that you've been planning since the first week back at work! After coming back from Africa, I didn't take any Christmas holidays, so now was the time to get away and do something really exciting and something foreign. I am still amazed at how beautiful and interesting Catalonia is, but I don't really consider it foreign anymore - it really is my second home. I know the language, the people, the food and have been to so many places here, it's familiar and comfortable as a pair of of slippers yet still new, shiny and as exciting as pair of running shoes fresh out of the box. To do something that's a little different, this Easter break I was heading to Ireland with my girlfriend - both the Republic and the North. We would fly into Dublin, spend two days there before heading up the coast to see the Giant's Causeway as well as visit a local friend in Belfast.

Dublin on the Liffey.
Ireland has had a big leap in tourists - from nearly 7m in 2005  to over 10 million in 2017.
One of the many colourful pubs in Dublin.
A very crooked bar.
Ireland is always a place people enjoy going to. I'm not sure why everyone likes it - it's not really for the weather, let's face it. Is it the friendly people? The wonderful black stuff called Guinness? The green hills and small towns? I'm not sure what it is either but I love Ireland - it is green (because of the rain), the Guinness always tastes better, the towns and villages are beautiful and the people are friendly. There is a magic about the "Emerald Isle" that everyone falls in love with. I first visited in 2005 when I was on my Working Visa in the UK - I had just finished up working for the pub in Surrey and it was time to move on. The plan was to drive up to see friends in Lancashire before going through Wales and to the port of Hollyhead to get the ferry to Dublin, then drive round the little island up to Belfast and either find work there (as it is part of the UK and my visa would work there), or continue on to Scotland. The plan went as far as getting to Dublin then it all fell apart - I met up with friends and we went to a pub. End of story. Well not quite - although I only managed to drive around half of the country before my funds ran out (sadly I drank all my hard-earned cash away over a week in Dublin), I had a great time. I saw a lot of Dublin, drove south along the coast, seeing Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and back to Dublin. It was a great time, I was only 24, I didn't have much cash or a great camera, but I had good a trustworthy little Citroen (with a 950cc engine and 4 gears!) and good walking shoes. I loved it so much and my memories have stayed with me these past 13 years. Now for the return - let's hope it lives up to the memories of a Guinness drinking 20-something Australian backpacker!

One of many, many cool pubs in the Temple Bar area.

A cheeky cafe.
A Celtic cross in St Patrick's.
A Dublin door.
Last time I got the ferry over from Wales - I always love ferry trips. You park your car, packed into the hold of the ship with loads of other cars, directed in by the sailors. You get out, climb some stairs and you're on the deck with the fresh air and gulls. You watch the shore get further and further away, the harbour's waters churned up by the ferry from behind and the wind blowing in your face as you look forward to where you're going. This time was a plane from Barcelona with a budget airline. There is no need to name this airline, as everyone in Europe knows who it is - they are usually the cheapest but also the biggest bastards when it comes to extra charges. Their baggage policy changes faster than the wind and the size of their 'measuring device' gets tighter even as you're placing your bag in! This time I had no problems however - they now allow one small bad for free check in and one for the cabin, which is perfect for me, as I have a large camera which counts as a bag. The word 'free' doesn't go with this airline, so I was worried (along with half the people in the queue to board) but was given a tag on the bag and allowed on. The service is brusque at best and their planes more than often late. We arrived late (of course) but apart from that (and their raffle ticket selling) the flight was ok so I headed towards the visa check at immigration. I hate airports that have 2 queues, one for EU passports and another for the 'others.' The second queue was overflowing and it would have taken me longer than the damn flight to get through, so I skipped it and went for the European line - using my Australian passport with my Spanish residency worked so off I went, trying not to think of the other poor suckers still waiting to enter the country. Picking up the rental car was a hassle, an expensive hassle. I booked a car through the airline at a very cheap price (too cheap to be true obviously), so I had to dish out more money before getting the car, as I'd only paid for the car but no insurance... patience tested and an oath sworn never again to fly with these bloodsuckers, I heading off to Dublin.
Temple Bar - the home of the most expensive Guinness in Dublin.

One of the many beautiful little bars in this city.
Pub and pints!
Temple Bar.
I was last here in 2005 and much has changed since then. North of the Liffey, where I'd stayed previously, was a pretty rough area and there wasn't much there. Driving around this time I could see a lot of new buildings had been built, there were far more people on the streets and it looked safer. I saw the pizza place where i got my first meal in Dublin, which I remember as a quattro stagioni (4 seasons) which was a disappointment as it had 4 toppings but separated onto the four slices (not 4 seasons in one day in Irleland). 6.8 million people visited Ireland in 2005 but today's figures are nearly double that at just over 10 million people. The streets were busy too, especially in the Temple Bar area. I had to visit the bar again and have a Guinness there no matter how touristy and expensive it is. My girlfriend and I say down, luckily grabbing a table (barrel) to sit at as the whole place was heaving. Our drinks order was taken by a friendly Mexican waiter and came back in 10 minutes, which isn't bad timing as a real Guinness should take no less than 2-3 minutes of 'resting.' He did short change us - I gave him some coins with a note to help with the change, but he took that as a tip. I got him to go to the bar and do it properly but he still expected a tip... I had to give him something to make him go away so I threw a few coins at him - no way was I going to really tip the guy when 2 pints cost nearly €13! The area around the Temple Bar (a bar and also a district) wasn't heavily populated right up until the 17th Century, as it's position close to the river left it vulnerable to attack by the native Irish. It is believed that the name Temple Bar come from Sir William Temple who moved to Ireland in 1599. He was a very important man, being the Provost of Trinity College, and he built a house and garden on this location. His son, Sir John Temple, acquired more land in the area and developed it thanks to a new sea wall, this the whole area became called after the family.

The Temple Bar at night.
A stone face on St Patrick's Cathedral.

Taking a break in the cathedral gardens.
St Patrick's Cathedral.
Wandering the old cobbled streets of Dublin is lovely. Although it's busy with people going to work, there aren't as many tourists as Barcelona - I just let me feet take me where they wanted to, my camera in hand, and was never disappointed. I found myself at Dublin castle and ducked in to have a look. Dublin Castle was first on the orders of King John of England in 1204 to defend the city. Buildings were added in the courtyard and upgraded to stone until in 1684 there was a large fire that ruined most of the castle - in fact the only remained tower is the Record Tower. Unfortunately I no longer really resembles a typical castle, but the Great Courtyard, where the Royal Apartments are, is quite beautiful. The castle was the seat of the British Government in Ireland until 1922 when it became a free state. The building was then used as a court of law and then for special ceremonies - it is now a tourist attraction. I didn't go in due to time constraints this visit, but it's on the list for next time. Everyone's heard of Saint Patrick of course and his church is here in Dublin. Again, due to time and money limits, I didn't enter the church this time (nothing is cheap here and I do hate paying for churches and cathedrals), but it's a must to see even if from just the outside. Although not a pretty building, with it's dark grey slabs of stone and sharped angles, there is something about it and the more you look at it, the more you like it. That was for me anyway. There is a lovely garden just to the side which makes a great place to hate a sandwich on a very typical mossy Irish park bench and relax for a bit before hitting the streets again.

The Chapel Royal, part of Dublin Castle.

Cheeky bird - either he doesn't read English or Gaelic, or he just doesn't care.

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Trinity College is a site in this city that is very much worth some of your time. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and modelled after Oxford and Cambridge, it is a beautiful thing and walking around the grounds is a pleasure. It is considered the most prestigious college in Ireland and also among the most elite in all of Europe. To get in, you walk through very large gates, through a gatehouse and then you're in the main square, called Parliament Square. The Campanile stands out is very popular with the tourists, being a large, stone clock tower and a symbol of the university. At 30m high, it is impressive for that alone, but it is also very beautiful even if its design is a little hard and square for some people - 18th Century stone architecture can be that one, but I like it. There are numerous buildings to look at, including the chapel, but the most visited building is the great library. One of the oldest buildings in the College, it is most famous for housing the Books of Kells - a 9th Century gospel book in Latin. My first trip here years ago, I paid the steep admission price (which is now probably steeper at €11) to see this book as well as the inside of the library itself which is truly spectacular. The main chamber of the library, The Long Room, is 65m long and has a wonderful wood panelled, vaulted ceiling that just draws your eyes up and keeps them there. There are books everywhere and contains 200,000 of the oldest books in the library. Trinity college nearly sued Lucasfilm due to the resemblance to the archives in the Jedi Temple in Episode II, but dropped the case - who would want to be associated with that film anyway.

The Old Library in Trinity College.

Walking the streets of Dublin is the best and easiest way of seeing the sights.
You'd be surprised what you find in Dublin.
There is so much to see in Dublin considering its size. Easily walkable too - I never catch the bus or even the tram to get around the city, preferring to let me legs take me. It's not hard walking either, as the city is very flat, but it is hard walking past so many pubs. We were lucky enough to find a parking space in the city, not far from the hostel, and out of the busy centre. It was a quiet little neighbourhood with small, dark-bricked terraces with colourful doors. This is very much a Dublin thing, more so than London I think - bright red doors, shiny, brass knockers and the rest of the house quite dull or just original Georgian brick, which although brown and dirty, has a certain charm to it. After my first day walking around the city I was knackered! We had one more day in the city before hitting the road and heading up to Northern Ireland towards Belfast and the coast. So far, Ireland was living up to my memories.

One of the many cute cafes in the city.

Grafton Street - Dublin's main shopping street.

Birthday Weekend

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