After a month of settling into Sligo and establishing new routines, it dawned on me just how fast four months was going to fly by. With that, I booked a weekend trip to Dublin to making a dent in my Irish must-see list.
At the risk of sounding completely strange, I’m going to go ahead and say it: trains make me a better person. No, seriously. Long train rides remind me to be patient and watching the landscapes roll past my window allows time for reflection as the train chugs rhythmically along to its destination.
Unlike planes, boats, and buses, on trains I actually enjoy the “getting there” portion of the journey. Trains are simple and cut out all of the rigmarole of air travel: you don’t have to show up early, you get lots of space and you won’t be screamed at for forgetting a bottle of moisturizer in your purse.
Three hours of gazing longingly at the emerald green landscape speckled with sheep, I pulled into Connelly Station. Strong literary and political history has coloured this city, so that it shines with the passion of the past, from the physical evidence of the 1916 uprising at the General Post Office to the banter of Oscar Wilde, quoted many times over on Dublin’s streets and stages. From Guinness and gruel, whiskey and Wilde, there’s plenty to experience in Dublin – but sometimes it isn’t all good ‘craic.’
After checking into my mega-complex hostel (seriously, this place was HUGE), I trotted off to explore the city and fulfill my craving for real Asian food. With a full belly of ramen, I stumbled back out onto the cobble stone street into the middle of Friday’s happy hour in Temple Bar, the must-visit spot for first-timers experiencing a weekend in Dublin... well, if you want to be the quintessential tourist that is.
I walked past the throngs of friends, spilling out on the patios in the cool spring evening. They all looked like they were having so much fun (or good craic as they say here). Despite travel blogs urging me to see pub life in Dublin, Temple Bar weekend celebrations felt inaccessible as a solo traveller. I’m not the type to grab a beer in a pub on my own at the best of times... let alone sidle up to large groups of people (who clearly all know each other) hand extended boldly, and ask if they want to be my friend. (Okay, that’s not how I’d actually do it, but you get my drift).
After a few hours of wandering, leering awkwardly at the fun-havers and feeling nostalgic for my friends back home (friend envy is the worst!), I made my back to the hostel where I figured I’d watch the rugby game while planning the rest of my weekend and (hopefully) chat with other travellers. But to my surprise, the mammoth hostel bar/restaurant wasn’t the friendliest – most people were glued to the big screen TV or the their tiny phone screen completely unaware of anyone else around them. Shortly after 11pm, I threw myself a spectacular pity party and retreated to my dorm, using Saturday’s serious tourist-ing plans as rationale.
About 3am the lights flashed on in the dorm. From my top bunk, I lifted my eye shades and grumpily explained that there were small lights on each bunk so could they please turn off the ceiling light. Are you kidding me? The lack of dorm room etiquette had me wondering if they had ever stayed in a hostel before. Tummy rumbling, I woke up a few hours later, genuinely questioning whether I was mad to continue to sleep in hostel dorms over thirty. Not the best start to the day but nothing brunch couldn’t remedy. Contrary to dieting pledges, food does fix everything in my world!
Armed with a full belly, my first stop was the empire of Irish “Black Gold” – the Guinness Storehouse. (Thankfully, in Ireland, it’s totally reasonable to start drinking at 10am. The storehouse is seven floors of information about Guinness’s history, how it is made, and how it rose to acclaim and worldwide recognition. Once at the top-floor, I enjoyed a pint of the black stuff from Gravity Bar, offering 360 degree views of the city. While the beer was brilliant, I couldn’t help lamenting the fact that I was on my own, jostling for a spot near the window while trying to avoid being engulfed by jolly pairs of travelers and families. Once I found a perch for optimal people watching, I forgot the fact that I was all by myself and enjoyed the mosaic of people from near and far that had come to enjoy a pint.
Next stop: Kilmainhaim Gaol. If you have any desire to understand Irish history – especially the juicy bits about resistance to British rule – then a visit to this former prison is an absolutely necessary. For me, this was a much needed crash course since I’m embarrassed how little I actually know about Irish history. For example, great famine was not because there wasn’t enough food but because of British overlords. History class fail. This famous prison has captured a special place in the history of the Irish struggle for independence. Known for incarcerating many famous figures, the building was erected in 1789, and its long existence has given it plenty of time to witness the unfolding story of the entire country.
My own whining now in completely check, I decided to begin my journey to conquer my solo-pub-goer-fears for a classic Irish mid-afternoon pint and re-group with plans for the weekend... and of course rest my tired feet. While googling what else to do in Dublin (I didn’t come very prepared!), I stumbled upon an evening beer and whiskey walking tour and after my previous evening of loneliness I decided that I would suck up my group-tour spite and join in. It was a pleasant surprise – tasty beer, tolerable whiskey (whiskey’s just not my thing!), and a wee bit of ‘trad music’ (local lingo for traditional Irish music). The perfect antidote for friend envy... not to mention a restless night in a hostel dorm. When I stumbled home hours later, I was out for the count.
Can you believe that was just one day of my Dublin weekend?
With restored spirits the next day, I set off early for a stroll around Trinity College Dublin before plans to meet an improv classmate for brunch (who ended up cancelling which further aggravated my sense of solitude). A mix of classical and contemporary architecture spread around elegant gardens, the Trinity campus was still and peaceful, waiting for the students to surface from their boozy slumbers (and thankfully not yet infested with tour groups either!). Walking around the campus was a strange experience of what could have been. When I was considering going medical school, I almost moved to Dublin. In the morning stillness, I glimpsed into what could have been if I had chosen the red pill instead of the blue pill. How different my life would be!
Trinity’s Old Library holds the famous Book of Kells medieval manuscript believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The pages are made of high-quality calfskin that has been stretched and dried and covered in lavishly decorated text. We humans do such crazy things! The Book of Kells was interesting but the Long Room was truly a sight to behold: stacks of rare and ancient books that seem to go on endlessly, the busts of famous philosophers / authors / scientists adorning the rows. Total nerd porn. You’ll feel a bit like Belle in Beauty in the Beast, wanting to sing and dance around. (But sadly you can’t... strict code of silence and seriousness only).
A few more treats including a crème brulee donut and a new pair of shoes and I was back on the train to Sligo. While I loved the sights of Dublin, I left with a heavy heart. I can’t quite say that it was homesickness because I didn’t want to be home: it was people-sickness. I missed my friends and family and wanted them to be here to share in the experience. Buffered in my little town of Sligo, I don’t feel lonely or isolated but in venturing out of my bubble and expecting the greatest fun imaginable as is hyped in Dublin travel stories, I was met with ‘down’ moment since leaving Vancouver. I knew it was only a matter of time. But thankfully, a cup of tea and call with friends from home re-anchored me. Plus I had the memory of a fish riding a bicycle from the Guinness Storehouse and who can stay sad thinking of that?
"A woman needs a man like a fish need a bicycle" - Guinness
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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