Friday, February 28, 2014

The Land of Luck

Shamrocks, rainbows, and leprechauns, oh my! Did I fall into a bowl of Lucky Charms? Nope, just dipped my toes into Dublin and the rest of Ireland over the weekend. I say dipped because one measly weekend is not enough for the breathtaking beauty I witnessed. I could use at least a week of leprechaun love. There were about 15 of us that traveled to Dublin on Friday night and we checked into a hostel I had researched located on the outskirts of the Temple Bar (aka year-round St. Patrick's Day celebration) district. It's called Kinlay House and I hesitate to recommend it to anyone else. The proximity to everything we wanted was excellent, however, the Wifi was awfully temperamental, the heat in at least two of the rooms was nonexistent, and only frigid water flowed in the showers. I managed one shower on Saturday evening, bending my back in such a way so that only my head was doused in the icy cascade. The tundra water elicited shrieks and shivers from Nat on my left side and Kylie on my right. At least we suffered together!
I went to bed relatively early on Friday night so I would be fresh for the tour we had booked in the morning. Nat, Vanessa, Kendra, and I met up with Paddywagon tours and went on a coach bus to Northern Ireland. Outside the windows on the drive, the Irish country side unfolded like a lumpy green quilt with stitching of darker green. We juggled the abrupt switch from euros back to pounds with experienced traveler aplomb when we arrived at our first stop, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The views were better than anything I've ever seen in my life up to this point. The fact that an entire country can suddenly stop right at the edge of the water and not go any further invoked such a feeling of majesty. This wasn't a coast that slowly meandered down to the water, mixing with sand and shells before being claimed by the ocean. There was a clear divide between coast and sea, as evidenced by the sheer drops from cliffs to waves. I could see the Caledonian Isles from the edge of another country.
After the rope bridge we climbed back on the bus to continue down the coast to Giant's Causeway. The local myth is it was caused by a feuding Irish giant and Scottish giant, but in reality, the unique stone formation is a true natural wonder of the world, and is listed as a world heritage site. 40,000 columns of stone rise from under the water, the highest is 12 meters and all but two are hexagonal in shape. A tidbit our guide forgot to mention was the horrendous wind. Nat's beanie flew off of her head, into the roiling waves, and I struggled to maintain my footing on slippery rocks against the persistent gusts. I took picture after picture, determined to capture the wonder in a still moment. My efforts were futile. But the pictures I have are almost as good as the real thing. I scavenged for seashells and swooped up one with green accents in honor of the Emerald Isle. We browsed the gift shop after battling the wind back up to the visitor's centre where I purchased some postcards for the folks back home along with two magnets depicting the adventures we'd had. My refrigerator is going to be the best-dressed someday.
We jumped out at a photo spot to see Dunluce castle off the coast on the way to Belfast. It was a quick stop, but the ruins of this castle were not to be missed!
Our guide, Martin, drove us to Belfast, filling us in on the tumultuous history of the city due to religious tension between Catholics and Protestants. He assured us that all had been peaceful for 16 years and we had nothing to worry about. Nat and I exchanged wary glances...we've both been alive longer than there's been peace in Belfast! We passed the most-bombed hotel in the world, the Europa. In total it was hit 30 times, once 3 times in a particular week. If we had more time I would have gone to the Titanic museum, but I consoled myself with a visit to the Titanic memorial outside of City Hall. From Belfast, Martin turned the bus toward Dublin and I glued my eyes to the window. We drove back around dusk and I gaped at the endless green mounds dotted with houses. One even had legitimate smoke coming out of its quaint Irish chimney. Some had lights on and it looked as if a leprechaun had strewn the contents of his pot of gold over the enchanting hills.
We arrived back in Dublin around 8 PM, over 12 hours from our departure time, and immediately sniffed out some dinner. We found a gourmet burger kitchen in the Temple Bar area and I ate a chicken sandwich with some of the best bacon I've encountered since leaving the States.
Back at Kinlay House, after the ice cold showers I recounted earlier, I snuggled into my freezing bed in three layers, a scarf, my earwarmer, oh, and Nat. We decided body heat would be the best defense against hypothermia. She abandoned ship halfway through the night, but by that time we were sufficiently warmed.
Our second day in Dublin dawned a little rainy, but it didn't stop us from wandering to Dublin castle and then to the Guinness Factory and Storehouse. Guinness was huge! We went to each floor and learned how they brew the beer before a master pint puller taught us how to pull our very own pints. I volunteered to demonstrate to the group and didn't fail! My pint had perfectly formed foam at the top and I carefully drank one sip in the manner we had been taught. In my opinion, any way you drink it, Guinness isn't so hot. Could I have a vodka soda, please?






After Guinness we took ourselves to one of the most magical places on this earth. The Trinity College Long Room. What I wouldn't give to have free reign in that room. To rummage gently among the shelves. To scale the ladders in Belle-like fashion. I sat on a bench, surrounded by two stories of ancient books and wished I could set up camp. I finally tore myself away to find the River Liffey running through the city. I sat on a bench and watched the water go by under the Samuel Beckett Harp Bridge, munching on the sour gummies I bought from Temple Bar candy store. Soon after walking the main shopping avenue, O'Connell Street (could it BE anymore Irish?), I hopped on a bus back to the airport, armed with Pringles and a Cosmo magazine for my night at the airport. Four of us didn't fly out until 6:25 AM. I don't recommend sleeping in airports if at all possible. Lesson learned. However, I would wear the same pair of socks for 36 hours again if it mean I got to go back to Ireland. I felt like such A Very Lucky Girl in A Very Lucky Country.

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