Friday, 26 September 2003
This was shopping day, a trip planned to do nothing but wander the streets and shops of Dublin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling particularly well (was it Parnell’s Revenge?), but I soldiered on … because, hello: shopping.
We started back at Trinity, because I wanted some of the university’s T-shirts and sweatshirts to bring home as gifts. And since Trinity sits smack-dab in the middle of town, it was convenient to the other two main shopping areas we were to visit, Grafton Street and Temple Bar.
Grafton Street, in fact, has Trinity at one end, and Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre (the closest thing to a mall that I encountered on this trip) on the other. The blocks in between have been closed to traffic, creating, in effect, an outdoor mall. It’s downtown Dublin’s main shopping area, and offers everything from designer boutiques (think Prada) and high-end department stores like Brown Thomas to little hole-in-the-wall stores selling used CDs and the like. Most of the shops open on the street, but there were also arcades to wander, with open-air stalls of vintage clothing and other intriguing items. It was glorious!
The Irish seemed to me to be very fashion-conscious—there were lots of clothing stores. I also noticed that they weren’t wearing jeans as much as Americans do, which reminded me of the lunch I had with Gerry’s colleagues Pat and Brendan, who’d told me they could pick out Yanks by their ubiquitous jeans. I could certainly see why. I also noted that young women were poured into their slacks, and men also wore their trousers to fit, not baggy like American boys tend to do; Pat and Brendan had also mentioned the baggy pants phenomenon as a way to spot Americans.
So we wandered down Grafton Street, past the statue of Molly Malone (she of the well-known Irish ballad of the same name: “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty / I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone. / She wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow, / crying ‘Cockles!’ and ‘Mussels, alive, alive oh!’”), which is called variously “The Tart with the Cart” or “The Dish with the Fish” by the locals (I’m not going to repeat what they call the statue of James Joyce and his walking stick—that’s a hint—on O’Connell Street, ha). Again, the weather was fabulous (in late fall the weather should have been wet and cool-ish), and the street buskers were out; we walked from a string quartet to an electric guitarist to a flautist in the space of three blocks, which was just lovely.
We also browsed through Temple Bar, a maze of cobbled streets along the river that I would characterize as an arts district, as it’s filled with nightspots, theaters, restaurants, galleries, design and crafts stores, bookshops, and other fun, funky little shops.
In the end, I got to do everything I wanted, browsing bookstores (probably my all-time favorite activity) and art galleries, shopping for CDs (including the soundtrack to the flick we’d seen the night before, which is excellent, I must say) and Christmas ornaments (I have quite a collection, from the places I’ve visited in the last thirty years), and, finally, purchasing an etching of a Dublin scene. Dublin is a great city for shopping!
Unfortunately, I was feeling worse and worse, and we returned home in mid-afternoon, where I was put to bed with a hot whiskey-and-tea toddy to sweat and shiver my way through a DVD of When Brendan Met Trudy, a great Irish film full of sly humor (if you ever get the opportunity to see it, you should). Then I slept for a bit, and when I woke I felt better. After taking in a football (soccer) match on the telly, I hobbled back to my B&B for an early night.
Saturday, 27 September 2003
I was beginning to suspect I might have a serious packing problem—it was all those postcards and souvenir books, hahaha!—so I spent some time on this morning just making sure it would all fit. My carry-on luggage got to be heavier than I would have liked, but what was a girl to do?
We’d frequently driven by a place Gerry called the Casino, located in the Marino neighborhood of Dublin, on our trips in and out of the city, to and from the movie theater, etc. … so this was to be my last act as a tourist. Bridie accompanied us.
The Casino, or “little house” (shouldn’t it be “casina”?) was originally a part of the large country estate of Lord Charlemont, and was built starting in 1759. Charlemont, the official guide book says, was “widely recognized as one of the most enlightened and cultivated men of his day … As a man of the eighteenth century enlightenment, he loved his country and devoted himself to its social and cultural improvement … As a man of culture, he loved Italy,” which was during that time felt to be the origin of all high culture.
So he purchased the Marino estate in 1756 and set about the re-formation of the demesne in an Italian style, which included an informal garden spread over many acres, and a variety of ornamental buildings, amongst which the Casino was the chief. Although the main house is long since gone (torn down in 1921), the Casino survives because it is an architectural marvel, built by the premier architect of the day, William Chambers. Today the Casino is acknowledged to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Ireland.
The building’s squat, compact exterior gives no clue to all that’s concealed inside—you see, the Casino was also intended to be a residential summer house. The guidebook goes on: “From here one could view the landscape in the most sumptuous surroundings, and provide formal and informal entertainment as required. Reception rooms, private rooms, bedrooms and attendant facilities are all arranged within its three-storey interior. We might even add to this a fourth storey, as the roof was left flat so that it could form a viewing platform, providing an even more expansive view of the district … It is always a surprise to find this variety of interiors in a building which, externally, betrays only one floor and suggests only one room.” There are a total of sixteen rooms inside.
It was quite charming! Because it was well after the tourist season, we were the only ones there, and we got an extensive tour from the young woman (I can tell you she was Greek, because we asked, although she spoke with a delightful, cultured Irish accent) who was on duty. She was very knowledgeable, and took a great deal of pleasure in the subject. She showed us all sorts of fascinating, innovative features of the house, such as chimneys disguised as urns and hollow columns that held plumbing drains, hidden doors and windows, and tiny rooms designed to appear large (and they did!).
Neither Gerry nor his mother, who grew up in the area and remembers picking blackberries on the Marino estate as a child, had ever been to the Casino, so it was fun to experience it with them.
That afternoon I was fed a “Dublin Coddle,” which is a thick soup of potatoes, onions, sausages and bacon; Gerry had started it the night before, as it requires long simmering at low temperatures. It’s nourishing and filling!
Sunday, 28 September 2003
Dublin to Nashville
And so … I survived being pooped on by a bird, snuck up on by a sheep, two flat tires, and losing my beloved necklace … but leaving wasn’t easy. Ireland is a place I could return to over and over. Ireland is a place, quite frankly, I could live.
Turning the car in was painless. The Avis staff were quite pleased with the price I’d gotten on the new tire (as earlier mentioned, I was appalled). I’ve since read some statistics on the number of accidents each year, and the percentage of drivers involved in them (40 percent!), so I now am proud of myself for negotiating the roads without a mishap, and without scaring Gerry too often. 🙂
Once one passes through security at the Dublin Airport, there is a veritable mall of fun stores to prowl, including one devoted entirely to Guinness souvenirs. Additionally there’s the duty-free shop. (The biggest drawback to traveling alone is that one can’t say, “Would you mind the bags, dear, whilst I go spend up the last of the euros?”) Another important piece of business to handle in the airport is to turn in receipts (and forms) to be reimbursed for the local tax (VAT) … I was credited for almost $60, and would have gotten much more had I thought to ask for the forms when I made my purchases. I’ll know better next time.
My connection in Chicago was a mess—four international flights arrived at precisely the same time, and some folks on those flights needed to make really tight connections, so there was a considerable amount of pandemonium, what with people freaking out and all. (Although not me.) In a separate issue, my departing flight was pushed back twice, which means I didn’t leave Chicago until over an hour after I’d expected to be loading my car up in Nashville.
And speaking of that: it was very weird to be back driving on the right again! It took me a couple days for that to become “normal.”