Monday, March 8, 2010

The Green and not so Green Things of Ireland

Even though Dublin, Ireland is the first of the many weekend trips I have planned, I really fell in love with the city. The first impression, however, was not exactly welcoming. I flew out with my roommate way too early in the morning (we left for the airport around 3 am) and when we landed, it was foggy, so foggy we could barely see anything beyond the plane's wingspan and I could look directly at the sun. I really thought the weekend was going to be spent feeling my way around the city, barely seeing anything because of the fog.Interestingly, the fog is just a normal part of the early morning greeting of Ireland. The fog began to clear up as we rode the bus into the city of Dublin.

I half expected Dublin to be completely covered in green, shamrocks, and leprechauns....stupid American stereotypes....Dublin is a much smaller city compared to London. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming. I felt more at home in Dublin than I ever did in London. Unfortunately, the Irish accent was not exactly easy to lipread, so I depended on my roommate to do most of the communication. Not everything was green, imagine that! The pictures below are of the River Liffey, one of Dublin's famous bridges.

The first day was a bit chaotic, we had a hard time finding our hostel, but got to see most of Dublin wandering around. It so happens the hostel we chose was actually in Temple Bar, one of Dublin's hot spots for nightlife! After we checked in with the hostel and dropped our backpacks off, we looked around most of Dublin's tourist sights. Dublin is a smaller city, so it made wandering around much easier. We were able to get everywhere by walking. The only time I touched a bus was from the airport to the city and back to the airport. One of the first places we went to was Trinity College. Trinity College was absolutely beautiful. The Book of Kells is actually held at the College's campus. I thought it was interesting, but the most appealing factor about Trinity College was its Long Hall, a two-story hall filled with books. It was absolutely beautiful and glorious. I could only imagine how many scholars had climbed up the ladders and pulled out a book from the top shelves. It was absolutely beautiful and intimidating. I must have stayed in that room for about 20 minutes, just staring at the books, the wood work of the frames and ladders, and the books and the age oozing out of them.

I am standing in the middle of the plaza at Trinity College. On the right side is the building where the Book of Kells is and where the Long Hall is located. As you can see, it was absolutely beautiful outside. The sun was shining and I got my Vitamin D, loads of it!

Next, we walked to St. Stephen's Green. It was absolutely breathtaking, I enjoyed walking around the park. It was a bit crowded that day, probably because of the gorgeous weather. There was an arch right at one of the entryways, it is a memorial of the Irishmen who died defending Ireland and its independence.

At St. Stephen's Green, I saw the first sign of spring, flowers! This is one of the many pictures I took, I was a little obsessed with these flowers. My roommate gave me weird looks after taking at least 30 pictures of the same flower...haha. The funniest thing happened at the park and I learned a lot by witnessing this. At St. Stephen's Green, there is a massive pond area where many birds and ducks reside along with two beautiful swans. As I was taking pictures of the place, I noticed that one of the swans running/flying towards another swan. It did not look like a happy reunion, it was more of an attack than anything else. I saw this happen a couple of times. It looked like the swans were running on water and it sounded very much like horses running. The sounds coming out of the swans' mouths were not pleasant. After a few minutes of watching them run at each other and laughing at the weirdness of the situation, I learned that there was a third swan that came to the pond uninvited and the male swan of the pond was not happy about the invader. I walked over to the other side of the pond, where the swans seemed to be. Two swans of the ponds were swimming/pacing back and forth on the edge of the pond with their wings curved in ready-to-attack mode and the third swan, who was the invader, was on the sidewalk with its neck extended out all the way. What really cracked me up was that during this whole thing, there were people trying to feed the two angry swans bread. Some were so close, close enough to get their eye poked out, and they were oblivious to the fact that perhaps, the reason why the swans were not eating their bread was because they were angry. There were also people trying to get a picture RIGHT NEXT to the third swan....people can be stupid sometimes!
The angry protector of St. Stephen's Green (above) and the invader (below). Lesson learned: Do not mess with swans!

After exploring most of Dublin, we headed back to the hostel. I complained about how I hadn't seen any leprechauns and how disappointed I was about that. Lo and behold, there was a giant leprechaun standing at the corner of our hostel, waving at us. :) I had to get my picture with him!

We got up pretty early the next day and ventured out to the west of Dublin to find the Kilmainham Gaol, simply because I had put it down as the top 10 things to do in Dublin. I had no idea what it was, why it was important, or even why it was a tourist site. We get there, buy our tickets, and wander around the museum waiting for the next available tour. Thanks to the museum, we were able to discover that the Kilmainham Gaol was a prison and apparently, a famous one too! Walking around the jail was really interesting, fascinating at most times, and downright disgusting at other times. The most famous prisoners were the men who started the Irish rebellion in 1916, they were executed at the jail and it was the worst move the British has ever done. The arrests and executions inspired a national cause for the Irish. Many movies have been filmed on site, the picture below is one of the most famous areas of the prison. The movie, In the Name of the Father, used this scene a few times in its movies as well as the HBO show, the Tudors.

To be in Ireland and not see the national drink's storehouse, you must be crazy! The Guinness Storehouse was our next stop. A fascinating two hour tour, a free beer, and a 360 degree view of Dublin were all a part of the Guinness experience. I personally am not a fan of beer, but it was interesting learning about the hard labor that went into making Guinness. Did you know that today, over 10 million glasses of Guinness is sold everyday in 150 countries?

Afterwards, we saw Dublin Castle, a place that only has one original tower still standing. The rest of the castle blew up when it was attacked. What's really funny is that it was hit in only one tower and it so happens that one tower was where all of the explosives were stored. So when it was hit, the explosives went off, damaging nearly the entire castle.

A weekend in Dublin was perfect, we were able to cover most of the city by walking around. The weather was absolutely perfect, which helped elate my love for Ireland. I definitely want to come back and see more of Ireland, especially the cliffs of Moher, the wild shamrocks, and see some serious Irish dancing! Perhaps, I might run into some leprechauns! I also would love to bike around Dublin, especially during the summer and see all the sights again.

As the Americans like to believe the Irish say this on a daily basis - Top 'o' the morning to ya! (They really don't...really).

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