Friday, September 7, 2007

Irish Eyes-A-Smiling

After a hellish two-hour RyanAir flight where several loud and ill-mannered European children seemed to be concentrated around us, we touched down in Dublin airport. Keeping with form, Dublin’s skies were gray and overcast. Our moods brightened immediately, however, when we were welcomed into the country by a smiling immigration officer with a charming brogue. Stepping outside, we were soon greeted not only by cool, brisk air – a welcome change of pace from recent sweltering days spent in both Dakar and Lisbon – but also by the celebrated Irish friendliness at every turn.

After boarding an airport express bus, we were delivered in the late afternoon to the suburb of Ballsbridge just southeast of Dublin’s city center. Unbeknownst to us when we booked it, our hotel, the Dylan, was a brick manor converted into a chic, vogue boutique hotel recently discovered by Hollywood. Its former guests included Keira Knightley and Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. During our stay, the “stars” from the movie Superbad conducted press interviews in the Dylan’s restaurant. The next day, Kaberi saw our hotel’s outdoor bar in the background of publicity photos for the movie on People.com. Enjoying our brush with surreal hipsterdom, we settled into our top-floor suite with plentiful windows and mirrors, Frette sheets, wifi, plasma television, iPod speakers and heated bathroom floors.

After a rejuvenating shower, we again focused on satiating our hunger (with the day’s frenetic travel schedule, our day’s food rations had consisted of nothing more than stale airport muffins). Consulting the Dylan’s friendly concierge, Patrick, as to the best local venue for fish and chips, we were directed to The Cellar, an upscale stone bar in the basement of the Merrion hotel. Skeptical that we weren’t being given a recommendation for a local pub, we nevertheless were swayed by Patrick’s claim that The Cellar’s chef there had won European awards for his preparation of traditional fish and chips. Patrick’s faith was soon affirmed; our meal was absolute perfection, with light, perfectly-battered fish, crisply-fried chips and a tall glass of chilled cider. As we toasted our first night in Ireland, we had a good feeling about our next few days.

As Kaberi turned in for the night, Vik migrated to he lobby library for an 8:30 p.m. EST (1:30 a.m. local time) live fantasy football draft. Settled in the swankiest of surroundings with urban hipsters walking past, Vik matched wits with his Stanford buddies at the start of yet another football season.

Atypically-clear blue skies greeted us the next morning and Kaberi ushered a groggy Vik as quickly out the door as possible. We first walked across the street for a heart breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs at The Espresso Bar. Fully fueled, we then made our way down Grafton Street to Trinity College to see the remarkable Book of Kells, the oldest surviving texts of the gospels estimated to be over 1,200 years old. In a small entry hall, a series of informative exhibits presented the painstaking techniques used to create the books in medieval times. Up a set of stairs, on the next level, we were able to marvel at the detail and texture of colorful pages of the actual books on display behind glass. Afterward, we walked to Trinity College’s aptly-named Long Room to take in the splendor of its arched wooden ceiling, perfectly spaced busts of historical figures and bookcases overflowing with antique books (Kaberi was quite crestfallen at not being able to take photos).

Reemerging to newly-overcast skies, we strolled down O’Connell St and noted the passing statues and monuments, including a grinning James Joyce, a jubilant Jim Larkins, the post office building that served as the headquarters of the Irish resistance and the tall steel Spire built to commemorate the Millenium. At lunchtime, we reached the Dublin Writer’s Museum where a self-guided audio tour introduced us to the vast and prolific literary tradition of Ireland comprising such authors as Joyce, Goldsmith, Shaw, Wilde, and Behan.

At this point, Vik’s late night caught up with him and he begged off for a nap. In the meantime, Kaberi retraced her steps down O’Connell Street to retake photos under the reappearing sun and see the Abbey Theatre, the site of several celebrated literary debuts. After a jaunt through the Temple Bar area and a quick pitstop at Queen of Tarts, she made her way to the Dublin Castle and City Hall. The eclectic building styles of the old British administrative buildings were certainly jarring, not the least of which was the disconcerting Statue of Justice who lacked blindfolds and uninterestedly held her back to the city of Dublin (a telling metaphor for life under British rule). As the afternoon passed, Kaberi concluded her exhaustive walking tour with a search for an imminently-wearable Irish sweater and a stoll through Merrion Square to see the charming door knockers of Ireland’s who’s who.

A few hours later, we arranged to have a much-anticipated dinner at The Tea Room, the trendy restaurant of the Clarence Hotel, which is co-owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge (their investment rescued the Clarence from certain destruction some years earlier). As lifelong U2 fans, we were keen to check out the establishment (whose exorbitant room rates precluded our staying there) and to scan for the influences of its owners. Upon arriving, we thought that we had stumbled upon the wrong place. Looking tired and dull, with monotonous wooden paneling everywhere and no trace of cool interior design, the Clarence was not at all what we expected. Thankful that we had stayed elsewhere, we quickly seated ourselves in the hotel restaurant (which looked to be fashioned out of an old church nave) for dinner. Kaberi enjoyed the sampling of chef’s specialties from the market menu while Vik’s bland pasta entrée proved unimpressive. Afterward, we injected some much-needed personality into our evening by finding a nearby bar for a pint of Guinness and traditional Irish music.

The following morning, we spent hours on-line struggling to secure accommodation in Paris the following night due to the concurrent opening game of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. With the memory of Durban fresh in our minds, we fretted about once again having to change our itinerary to work around a pre-existing event. Luckily, our eventual solution did not require changing our plane tickets; we instead fashioned a piecemeal itinerary that comprised stays in three different parts of town.

Setting our sights once again on Dublin sightseeing, we headed to Chester Beatty Library to see its impressive collection of ancient religious texts and artifacts from around the world. Impressed by the breadth and age of the private collection, we spent an hour perusing the exhibits. Shortly thereafter, we stopped for lunch a brief lunch at the Mermaid Café before hiking out to the Guinness Storehouse on the far west side of town. Our progress was interrupted by Kaberi’s frequent stops to admire the architecture of several churches along the way. Upon finally arriving, we had to laugh at the ludicrousness of shelling out 28 Euros (nearly $40) to take a Guinness promotional tour. Only the excellent views from the seventh floor Gravity Bar with a pint of Guinness in hand made the visit worthwhile. After a stop at the ground floor Guinness store where Vik indulged in an out-of-character rugby shirt purchase, we hopped on two different local buses to return to our hotel on the other side of town.

That evening, we attended Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl, where the promise of beer and charming Irish storytelling trumped the need to rest our ailing soles. Led by two occasionally-schmaltzy actors, the tour brought us to a number of pubs frequented by famous Irish authors and featured reenacted excerpts from their famous works. Between the heavy brogue and the quickly-paced delivery (Ulysses in particular), we couldn’t always follow what was being said. Yet, the experience on the whole was a lively and pleasant diversion for the night.

On our last day in town, we used the precious remaining hours to locate a pub in the Temple Bar area for a final, traditional Irish meal. We then caught an airport express bus to make the surprisingly-slow return journey to the airport. While our time on the Emerald Isle was all too brief, we nevertheless found that we had accumulated a surprising volume of memories over the course of our three-day stay.

1 comment:

aabtzu said...

i think the Book of Kells is the smallest surviving book EVER. we could hardly see the thing.