When a friend told me that when you arrive in London for a flight to Ireland, you have about a mile trek through the airport, I thought he was exaggerating. Not so, it turns out. After an uneventful but delayed flight from JFK (*no one* appreciates business class more than me, it really will be hard to go back to flying coach overseas), we had to haul ass to make our connecting Air Lingus flight. The real nightmare was going through security, as you can only have one bag carry-on, so I had to shove my purse into my already bulging suitcase, get frisked by security guards after stupidly walking through with my cell phone in my pocket, and get stuck behind several large groups of people apparently unaware of the liquid ban and still trying to take enormous but half-full bottles of shampoo. But at least we didn't have to take our shoes off (that's how you can spot the Americans, they have us trained like Pavlov's dogs to remove our shoes in airports). I was nearly held back by Immigration, as I had no proof of my return tickets to New York, even though I was not staying in England more than a few minutes to catch my flight, British Immigration told me they could not let me through if I couldn't prove that I was leaving the country. They were not particularly moved by my logic that if they let me through, I would be leaving the country and no longer their problem, but they eventually let me through. We had to run to make our flight, which was only vaguely staring to board even though it was scheduled to depart in minutes. The Irish don't really *do* urgency. The Air Lingus terminal is amazingly dated, it looks like something from the not-so-distant future of the 1970s.
We arrived mid-morning on Friday, June 15th in Dublin, whose airport makes La Guardia look modern and luxurious. It was of course, raining. After a fair bit of confusion and standing around, we got on a city bus into the centre. We must have been the only people flying upper class and staying in a 5-star hotel taking a local bus into town in order to save a few quid, and when we arrived at O'Connell Street, the driver advised me that it "wouldn't be worth the 85p to take another bus to St. Stephen's Green, it's just down the road." In retrospect, I would have bitten the bullet and coughed up the money, as it was pouring rain and while the walk wasn't far, we managed to a bit lost but luckily had our trusty WindPro umbrella. It was actually the first and almost last time we used it on the trip, as wearing raincoats with hoods is more practical and easy, but I carried it around on my back like a sword most of the time.
Finally arrived at the Shelbourne, looking pretty wretched compared to most of the smart dressed people milling around the lobby. We were upgraded to a Heritage suite, which gave us access to the Heritage Lounge, which we took much advantage of during our stay. Not sure of what the usual price difference would be for a Heritage room, but the lounge makes it totally worth it: you get free WiFi, free food and non-alcoholic beverages, and a lovely view of St. Stephens Green. All of the front desk staff was friendly and Irish, yet most of the rest of the time the staff was foreign, making me wonder if they just trot out the Irish for newly arriving guests and then throw them back into the basement or something. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous, it has been wonderfully restored and I couldn't find a single flaw. Our room was pretty sweet, mostly for the bathroom, which I could have moved into:
We spent the afternoon wandering around Grafton Street and Temple Bar, which was busy despite the intermittent rain. I must say, we were surprised at how generic Dublin is. Maybe generic isn't the right word, it's a gorgeous city, but could really be any big city in Europe. It's probably the least Irish city we visited and I didn't really get into the city until we returned at the end of our trip, sort of like our trip to Santiago, Chile earlier this year. Santiago is a great city, but most people see it as a gateway to the Andes and Patagonia more than a destination. We were there for two weekends at the beginning and end of our trip, and we really loved it on the return. If it weren't for the smog, it would be a fantastic place to live. But I digress, back to Ireland.
As usual, we stopped at the hotel restaurant to look at the menu and laugh about what schmucks would pay the prices to eat there. Yet, upon further investigation, they weren't really ripping anyone off too much, Dublin restaurant prices are exorbitant. Cheapish/pub food is a minimum of 14 euro a dish, which may not seem that outrageous, but I wonder how the hell backpackers go to Ireland. Taking a page from the belated and beloved Pete McCarthy, who measures a country's economy by the price of their Singapore noodles (a dish I don't think I've ever noticed before but now constantly seek out), we checked out Chinese restaurants for our first meal in Ireland. We ended up having noodles at Charlie's, one of a chain of noodle houses, and a few pints near our hotel before collapsing at a respectable 11pm.
We woke up late the next day, which was Bloomsday. I expected it to be like St. Patrick's Day, except with more funny hats and less green. Yet no one in our hotel seemed to have a clue about it or what was happening, so we headed up to the James Joyce Centre to check out the events. We had missed the big breakfast and most of the lectures, so we decided to head to the zoo and Phoenix Park and hope for some impromptu pub readings later. I'm a big zoo person, and drag poor H. to every city's zoo while on vacation. The Dublin Zoo was quite nice, but many of the animals seemed a little depressed about the rain and do much outside except complain about the weather, no doubt.
It was too late to go to the Guinness factory after the zoo, but we did wander around the area, which feels like being outside the gates to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory:
Took the light rail back to the city centre and found Davy Byrne's pub, where Stephen Bloom stops for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy in Ulysses.
It's changed quite a bit since Joyce's time, but there were still plenty of people wearing funny clothes and drunkenly singing Irish songs: