You step into a busy Dublin intersection, yawning and bleary-eyed.
You got there on a bus that you were sure was inches away from at least six cases of vehicular manslaughter.
As you travelled south from the airport, you zipped across this gorgeous landscape. The sun was out and shining and all around you were these wonderful rolling hills in soft greens and yellows. It looked like something out of a Windows desktop background. There were some sheep, but mainly cows — so many cows.
(But the serenity that these pastoral views gave you is occassionally punctuated by holy shit your bus was being driven by a maniac.)
All of the highway signs — and then all of the road signs — were translated into Gaelic. You wondered how prevalent this language was, anyway, and you made a mental note to research this when you got a chance. (You made this same mental note every day for the next week. You make this mental note as you write this blog post.)
And anyway, you’re now on what the airport bus referred to as the “City Center”, and you are surrounded by a pleasant chaos. Roads twist and turn in varying states of upkeep. There is cobblestone everywhere. Centuries-old churches appear to coexist alongside Subways.
You spend a couple minutes wandering, and it’s unclear (and likely) if you’re walking in circles. There’s a lot to take in, but first thing’s first: you need coffee or else you are going to die.
You turn onto a shopping avenue and find yourself surrounded by a Clarks, an H&M, a Starbucks, a department store, and a couple hundred Irish shoppers who have much cooler footwear than you. Walking into a Starbucks after being in Ireland for all of forty minutes feels like defeat, so you drag your luggage into the cafe of the department store. There’s a young couple there, an older woman reading the newspaper, and two vaguely bored-looking employees. You order a cappuccino: they give it to you with a tiny biscuit perched on top.
The cappuccino’s pretty good.
You have another couple hours to kill before your AirBNB reservation is ready, so you decide to stick with your mission of coffee consumption. You walk across the streets of Dublin for a mile or two in hopes of finding an interesting cafe. Some notes:
- The cliche of Irish bars having that gold serif font on black background? Yeah, it’s well founded. You run across O’Sullivans, and Paddy’s, and The Mutton Lane, and The Poor Relations, and enough others to seed some sort of Irish Bar Name Generator.
- Dublin is metropolitan, which is one of those things that makes sense because it’s a bustling European city but you don’t really think about it. You hear more Asian accents than Irish ones; you are (with some guilt) thankful that you’re far from the only people carrying luggage in tow.
- The architecture, like the streets themselves, feels at once ancient and chaotic. All buildings are old, but that’s all they have in common: you have fancy restaurants next to boarded up houses; tiny bookshops next to Zara’s; grungy pubs next to slightly less grungy pubs.
- Instead of “For Lease”, apartments with empty rooms advertise that they have rooms “To Let”. This looks like “Toilet” and will never fail to amuse you.
Anyway, you finally happen upon Cafe Insomnia. It looks great, and advertises free WiFi, and its name couldn’t be more apt. You pop in. You get another cappuccino and stumble your way upstairs, where you find an A/C outlet. You recharge, too — you let yourself get swallowed into an oversized chair. Three hours pass uneventfully.
You make your way to your lodging for the night, an AirBNB owned by Quan. Quan’s out of town, but her friend meets you outside the building (after you manage to get lost a couple times).
Sorry about the state of the place, she offers in a thick French accent. I still need to clean up and put on some new sheets.
You are unconcerned about the state of the place. At this moment, all you care about is that you have a place to throw your luggage. Centuries-old pedestrian streets are unkind to roller bags.
After a moment’s rest, you wander outside and back towards the City Center in search of lunch. Yelp offers a nice restaurant above a bookstore that’s described as intimate and authentic, but the entrees start at thirty euros and you’re feeling something more along the lines of sandwiches.
You find a wonderful sandwich place that is not above a bookstore, but still has a second floor. You get a corned beef that is purple for reasons passing understanding but nonetheless delicious, with some tomato soup. (Tomato, naturally, is pronounced the other way over here.) You spend around twenty minutes waiting for the check; the act of paying for your meal is a delicate one that will continue to mystify you throughout the week.
Time passes. You get back to your apartment. You shower, you nap, you putter around on the Internet. It is suddenly approaching sunset and you head outside, in order to appreciate the waning daylight but more importantly find a good meal.
At dusk, Dublin feels like an abandoned movie set, glamorous but almost too quiet. The sun throws itself across the river and the jagged walkways; then, when the sun is gone, the streetlights flicker on to take its place. The cobblestones are smooth and glossy from foot traffic, making it look like it has just rained. You feel as though you could walk these streets for hours.
Your sense of direction still needs calibration, though, and instead of arriving at Trinity College you end up outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. It is, of course, breathtaking, even when obscured by the night.
You’re hungry, now, though, and “wandering aimlessly in search of pretty buildings” has transformed into “wandering aimlessly in search of food”. You’re not feeling quite adventurous enough to jump into pub fare on your first night, so you find a vaguely American steak place for which you are incredibly underdressed. You get a steak and some Spanish red wine (the pronunciation of which you butcher.) You get some port for dessert.
You feel full.
You pull up a map to figure out your way home and are delighted to discover you ended up pretty close to where you started out. This is good, because it has started drizzling a little and the wind has picked up. You are ready to be wearing sweatpants.
On your way back, you imagine the people behind the echoes that are thrown out of these open windows onto the empty streets. There is cheering and hearty laughter. There is a dog barking. There is commotion and camaraderie. This city is so aural, even in its downbeats.
It is past midnight now. There is still noise outside your apartment, from revelers in decline and revelers just getting started, from couples and friends and classmates and strangers. But you have no trouble falling asleep.