April 12, 2016

Traveling with Friends: Part 2 - Dublin

I'm really wanting to get moving on these blog posts, so the lengthier posts that are absolutely filled to the brim with travel photos (like this one) are going to be mostly that - photos. Even if it doesn't seem like that's the case... haha. This blogging business is hard work in that it takes a lot of time, and I don't always have the energy or focus to write down the stories the way they should be written. But in taking from Elizabeth Gilbert and that wonderful book of hers called Big Magic, getting something done is better than attempting perfection and not getting anything done at all. I'm grabbing hold of that and running with it today.




December 21, 2015

After spending the day in Stratford upon Avon with Patrick, Kathryn, and Brandon, we spent the afternoon back in Birmingham packing for a whirlwind trip to Dublin. While I had been to Dublin once before back in September, I was the only one of our group who had any experience with that city. I never thought I'd be the one with more travel experience anywhere or ever, but there it was. I was excited to go back and see some new things as well as take the things I had visited previously a bit slower than the last time around.

We would leave later that night, the 21st, and come back late on the 23rd because that's when the cheap airfare had us flying to and fro. And while we're on the subject, airfare in the UK and EU can be stupid cheap. Our tickets were £25 each way, but we have seen them for £9! Say what! Flying in the States seems even more ridiculously expensive than it did before we left.

Our plane didn't leave until somewhere in the 8pm hour, but somehow we still didn't have enough time to get dinner before we left for the airport. I think we felt a bit rushed because it was technically an international flight and we hadn't ever done that here, let alone even been to the Birmingham airport. I can't remember what exactly it was (which is not helpful for future trips, by the way), but we didn't do a certain something with our carry-on luggage at the counter before boarding that you have to do when you use RyanAir. Or maybe it was passport checks? I don't know, but, despite my minor freakout when we realized it, everything turned out just fine. And then we had to get on the plane.

Ho. Ly. CRAP.

Never in my life have I experienced a scarier takeoff than when we left for Dublin. Mercy, it was SO windy! We took a video for our friend Matt (he has a tenuous relationship with airplanes and flying, so we thought it humorous). 




Once we got to Dublin city centre after the long bus ride from the airport (thank heavens for helpful locals), we ventured toward our hotel to check in and then find some food. The walk to our hotel was something else, though...

When in a new and unfamiliar environment while also looking like a tourist (the luggage-toting group of people is a dead giveaway in my book), I tend to go into what Patrick likes to call my "Go Mode"... which is basically me employing tunnel vision combined with super speed.  I also go into Go Mode when trapped amidst a large group of people - I bolt forward as quickly as I can, zigging and zagging through the crowd, leaving everyone I'm with several paces behind. I can't help it. It's a survival tactic, a defense mechanism. I wonder sometimes what will happen when I have kids and go into Go Mode. But I don't have kids, so my adult companions can keep up with me well enough. 

Anyway, it was dark and rainy and 11:00 at night and we were in the middle of Dublin city centre trying to make our way to our hotel. I wasn't expecting a Monday night to be a lively night out on the town, but I was reminded that it was Christmas break - partiers and drunk people mulled around as we steadily progressed toward our destination. As I was in Go Mode, I was trying not to stop and smell the roses; I just wanted to get to our hotel so we could eat (I'm awkwardly food-centered, okay?). 

We were getting pretty close to our destination as we approached a semi-large intersection. As we began to round the corner, I briefly looked up from underneath my hood on my right to see a gaggle of scantily-clad women in outrageous heels crossing the street. 

All of the sudden, and in one of those surreal moments when time slows down almost to a halt, one of those slow-motion moments, one of those two-seconds-that-feels-like-at-least-ten moments,  I saw the blonde woman in the middle holding a shoe in her hand as she looked bewilderingly at her palm, drunkenly cried out "oh my god!", her top pulled down practically to her navel, and a few of her cohorts flocking around her, holding her up at the elbows and encouraging the hobbling woman to the curb toward the nearest pharmacy. In the same moment, I noticed a slightly older man on my left - a bit dirty, missing a couple of teeth, very scraggly looking, definitely drunk. He was sitting on the edge of some stone structure, partially empty beer in hand, rocking back and forth while absolutely howling with laughter. I swear to you, he reminded me of those drunk pirate animatronic characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. It was horrifying and fantastic all at the same time. And then it was over.

But no worries, we had a few blocks to go. As soon as we turned the corner, we saw these two women (also scantily clad) standing at a bus stop. They looked sketchy enough and were definitely drunk enough, and then we saw one of them walk to a hidden corner, face away from the street, lift up her shirt, and do something to her stomach. Patrick assumed she was messing with a belly button ring. I assumed she was doing drugs. I suppose that both are possible, but I'm going with Patrick's assumption.

Basically, we really wanted to get to the hotel by this point. Hah! Thankfully, we weren't far away. Once we got settled, the four of us were absolutely famished, so we set out for a very, very late dinner. There weren't many options at 11:30pm on a weeknight. We found a police officer manning the door at a pub and asked him where he thought we should go; he gave us two options, one of which was a burger place that was closed. Off to Zaytoon we went!

Don't let the name put you off. Zaytoon was our only choice, but I'm extremely glad that it was. It is a Persian food restaurant that was open until 4am. So we went. And we feasted. And it was amazing. And I have no pictures to show for it.

Now, since being in Birmingham, I have complained a lot about the lack of late-night food options. America is all about the 24-hour breakfast joints, something I completely took for granted and kind of snubbed my nose at because they weren't local and they weren't amazing, and to be honest they're really really bad for you. But they exist. And when you get out of a concert really late at night or arrive at your destination after normal business hours and are nearing the point of being hangry, they're better than a nasty grease-filled pizza being delivered to you (I also have really high expectations of pizza. Burgers and pizza places abound in OKC, and I have been completely spoiled). So Zaytoon gets some major props for me for being open so late on a Monday night.

I also have barked about how these businesses would absolutely boom in a party city like Birmingham if they stayed open late, even if just on the weekends; Zaytoon proved me right. This place was packed, and for good reason, but it was spacious enough that it could be swamped and we still felt like we had both room and privacy, and we didn't feel pressured to leave and give up our table space. 

Can I also go on to say that I was quite proud of myself at this point? Growing up, I was extremely picky when it came to food. To be honest, it has some to do with my personality and a little bit to do with the fact that we were really poor and I didn't get exposed to a lot of "different" foods because we never ever ate out. Never. And my mom, being a single mom of two living in Southern California, didn't have the time, energy, or money to experiment with cooking foods that her children might or might not eat. I got better as I got older, but I've grown leaps and bounds in the past few years when it comes to trying new food. Then we moved to England, and I'm like a whole new person when it comes to trying different foods. I'd never had Persian food before, but we went for it and I was kind of sad that it was over. Surprisingly, I didn't feel terrible after eating so late, either! After dinner, we practically fell into bed. We had a couple of very busy sightseeing days ahead of us!

This was our plan:
22nd - Breakfast at the hotel, walk through Iveagh Gardens on our way to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, walk to the Guinness Storehouse, and find dinner somewhere that night (which ended up being The Hairy Lemon pub).
23rd - Breakfast, walk to Trinity College to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room Library, and visit Saint Stephen's Green before catching the bus to the airport and, thus, heading back to Birmingham.

And that was essentially what we did, with a few pictures of some monuments and Georgian doors in the mix.

Breakfast at the hotel was a full Irish breakfast each morning, and it was good. So fried, but so good. I eat way too much breakfast when on vacation because I would rather not risk being hungry with company and no suitable meal options in sight.
The Iveagh Gardens were absolutely beautiful for being in the middle of winter in the centre of a city. We just walked around and absorbed all the trees and all the green.
Saint Patrick's Cathedral was absolutely charming. I got to visit the outside on my first trip to Dublin with my mom, but this time we paid to go inside. It was all decked out in Christmas decor, and I actually cried while walking around this marvelous building, specifically thinking of my Grandmom (who was very, very proud of our Irish heritage) and how much she would have loved the cathedral. It made me miss her and my momma so very much, and they both felt incredibly far away as I wandered this historic beauty while wiping away my tears.
The Guinness Storehouse. Holy moly, that place was awesome and totally worth every penny we spent on our admission fee. They do a fantastic job of combining a tour of the brewery, making it an aromatic, visual, and textual sensory experience, while also providing a crapload of history in interesting and visually-pleasing ways. We ended up eating lunch at one of the cafes on one of the many floors, and it was surprisingly delicious. I didn't expect to enjoy my lunch from a tiny kiosk in a massive tourist trap that much! And then, to top it all off, you end your tour with a pint of Guinness (I am the lame person that gives mine away in exchange for something a bit less stout-y) at their Gravity Bar, giving you the opportunity to sip on your pint of Guinness while enjoying a 360 degree of the city of Dublin. We just so happened to go at sunset and it was spectacular!
Dinner at The Hairy Lemon was jam-packed. While it was a lot of fun and everyone raved over their food, I was quite upset about my meal choice. I had an inkling for fish and chips but, living in Birmingham, have been burned more times than I've had good experiences, so I opted for the Irish Stew. Mistake. Not because it wasn't good, but because it was so not what I wanted, and the people that got the fish and chips were raving about how incredible they were. Plus, I was starving, and I basically got a really expensive, really teeny bowl of vegetable soup with lamb bits and an overcooked baked potato. I was so annoyed. I should have gotten the fish and chips, dangit.
Trinity College: The Book of Kells and the Long Room Library. I'd been there once, but I couldn't wait to go back and bring Patrick and Kathryn (who is getting her Masters degree to be a librarian, by the way). The exhibit for the Book of Kells is extremely interesting to literary and history nerds, and it is done well. Actually seeing the book is fantastic. And walking into the Long Room Library is like walking into heaven. There's a quote from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon that describes it to a T:
"Overall, the library held a hushed exultation, as though the cherished volumes were all singing soundlessly within their covers."
AMEN and AMEN. This place is a book-lover's dream come true, and I've said before that I'm counting on heaven smelling like the Long Room Library. My first trip was rather rushed in time, but I was so excited that I was shaking. This trip, however, was as slow as we wanted it to be, and there were not nearly as many tourists. There also weren't any banners hanging as there were on my first visit, which totally makes the pictures better. Woo! The pictures of me with Kathryn and me with Patrick in the library are some of my favorites from the trip - Kathryn's face is priceless, and it's exactly how I felt the first time! Because we had a bit of extra time and Kathryn is much more bold than I am, she started chatting it up with the man that was working the library's information/security. He was a darling man, absolutely filled with knowledge, and he was nice enough to let the librarian-to-be get a picture of Stanley the mouse (which Tyler made for her for this trip) behind the velvet rope with one of the statues. He told us oodles of information about the library - about how the books are catalogued (by size!), about the passageways on the top floor, about the history, about the statues, about so many things. It was marvelous, and we lingered far too long and not nearly long enough. I could go on and on about the library (obviously), but move on I must.
Saint Stephen's Green was such a neat park, and it was far larger than I expected it to be! We loved seeing the ducks in the ponds and all the birds kind of taking over everything. We walked through the park, took lots of pictures, and ended up on the opposite end. Having exited where we did, we stumbled upon Oscar Wilde's house. What! So cool. And then we wandered around old town, essentially around the park's edge as well, and took far too many pictures of Georgian doors. Did you know that when Queen Victoria's husband Albert died, she ordered everyone to go into mourning with her and paint their doors black? Well, the rebellious Irish painted their doors alright, but they painted them with bright, bold colors in defiance. Cheeky devils. I like 'em. So that's why there are so many fabulously bold doors in Dublin. I just love those little factoids!




















































This is where you smelled the different ingredients of a Guinness - sooooo cool!




























































Books Upstairs bookshop. If looks could kill...



































And then we headed back to Birmingham. We ate dinner at the airport, killed our phone batteries with the airport's free wifi, and arrived to an empty Victoria Square because the Christmas Market had moved out of town - hallelujah! Even though Christmas Eve was the next day, we still had one more travel adventure before settling into our scheduled Christmas Day and Boxing Day recovery mode.