8 February 2006, Wednesday / Co. Dublin
Unlike the last time I traveled to Ireland, my Aer Lingus flight from Chicago wasn’t very full. I read a little and then slept (as much as one can be said to sleep on a plane), and flew through the night. We arrived in Dublin Wednesday morning at seven—and I was surprised to note it was still dark! (This must be a consequence of Ireland being so much further north than Tennessee is, but I never did get used to this late-lingering darkness that completely disrupted my internal alarm clock.) Nonetheless, the well-lit city was pretty from the air, especially the lights along the water’s edge in Dublin Bay.
I breezed on through Customs and found the Irishman waiting for me on the other side, and it was very nice to see him indeed!
At last—someone to help with the luggage!
We picked up the rental car (EuropCar this time, arranged by my AAA travel agent, as I’d read it was cheaper to rent from America than from Ireland), and off we went. I am rather blasé about these things now, although many of you will remember that on my last trip I was quite apprehensive about driving on the left. There is a certain comfort in returning, as I have, knowing it’s not all that odd, really, driving on the other side, knowing I can do it without trouble. We even got a free upgrade this time, from a Ford Focus to a Mondeo, which was considerably roomier and definitely more uptown in terms of looks.
It was cold and windy, but I was prepared for this. I’ve lived in the American South for a long time, and before that California, so I’m not by nature used to the chill, but the answer is, simply, layers: a camisole, a turtleneck, a vest or another shirt, a lightweight coat. You’d be amazed at how much warmth is held when you wind a scarf around your neck, too, even if you’re inside (a habit I got into). And don’t forget a hat and gloves when you don your coat!
The Irishman’s neighborhood is only about fifteen minutes from the airport, but we were making the journey in the middle of the morning rush hour, and it took considerably longer. It was fun to watch everyone scurrying off to work or school, knowing I was just beginning a long, leisurely vacation; the bumper-to-bumper situation bothered me not one whit. You’ll recall there’s a B&B just around the corner from Gerry’s house, and I’d made reservations to stay there again, at the Blaithin (Bla-HEEN) House.* It’s homey and comfortable and convenient.
We stashed my bags at Blaithin and went off to the Irishman’s for a nice big Irish fry-up, and kids, I’ve been waiting for this for two-and-a-half years: bring on that white pudding! White pudding, you may recall, is an important part of that Big Irish Breakfast—and it’s the best part, as far as I’m concerned. Popular in Scotland as well as Ireland, it’s a large-diameter sausage made of finely ground pork, suet, bread, oatmeal, and traditional spices (though each butcher has his own recipe). Sliced off in rounds and fried, it has a soft, spreadable consistency, which makes it delicious on toast. I could make a meal of it! (The traditional Irish fry-up consists of rashers [lean bacon], eggs, broiled tomato—which the Irish pronounce toe-MAH-toe—sausage links, black pudding [blood sausage], plenty of brown bread, and white pudding—more than enough to keep one going right on through ’til dinnertime!)
Thus fortified, I’d caught my second wind and was anxious to start my vacation! In practical terms this meant going into Dublin (the Irishman lives in a neighborhood in north Dublin, so, yes, technically I was in Dublin; but what I mean is go downtown to where the action is—or, as the Irish would say, go into the city center). We mostly wandered around the Temple Bar area, which stretches along the River Liffey. Essentially an arts district, the area is home, by day, to art galleries, theaters, funky shops, street vendors, and trendy restaurants and pubs, and at night is packed with people partaking of the craic at the many nightclubs and pubs. (You can read more about it here.) We also wandered through the Grafton Street area (this is Dublin’s main upmarket shopping area; the major department stores and designer shops are here) to get to Trinity University, as I wanted to hit the gift shop there.
From Trinity we made our way to Poolbeg Street and Mulligan’s pub, an unpretentious, old-fashioned real Irish bar. We sat near the front, with the sun streaming in the windows; it was quiet in this late afternoon lull before the after-work regulars began to arrive. So it was here I had my first sip of the black stuff upon my arrival in the Republic … and oh, it was good, so very good to be back.
You’ll be interested to know that Chinese take-out restaurants in Ireland serve curry, an anomaly I find intriguing (since I generally think of curry as being Indian food). Of course, they also serve chips (fries to us Yanks) too. I know all this because we ordered Chinese in that night … later while Gerry cleaned up, I sat on the couch, holding up one-third of the conversation and pretending to be awake.
Then, just as I thought I might have to be carried “home” to my B&B, a very special treat arrived in the person of one Orla H. The Irishman had introduced me to his youngest niece (and her three older siblings—Neil, Eoin, and Clare—children of his older brother, William, and his wife, Gwen) via phone a year ago, and we’d been friends and e-pals ever since. Orla is, in a word, fun. But why stop at one? She’s bubbly, she’s funny, she’s bright, she’s sweet, she’s eighteen years old. And did I mention gorgeous? Her brother Neil was content to let Orla rule the conversation, but, Dubliner that he is, he got his subtle licks in. I found him intelligent and witty, as all my favorite Irishmen are.
The highlight of my evening? Learning how to tie my winter scarf like an Irish girl! You see, here in the South our woolen scarves are more decoration than protection; an homage to Jack Frost, perhaps, but little more. We wind them once around and throw the long end down our backs (we did this in California, too, where I grew up). In the Midwest, where scarves can be essential in a blizzard, they use a double-wrap maneuver, with both ends hanging forward, often to be pinned firmly under a coat. But in Ireland (and Paris, too; more about which later), they do it differently.
In my last visit to the Republic, you’ll recall, I learned that the Irish can spot us Yanks a mile away: ye shall know them by their clothing, you might say. Well, let me assure you, in Dublin in February they know us, in part, by our long, flopping scarves. And since I want to try to blend in as much as possible, I asked Orla: “How do you tie your scarf?” She knew immediately what I meant, of course, and promptly gave me a demonstration. It’s simple, really; embarrassingly so. Ask me sometime and I’ll show you.
So that’s it. We haven’t really gotten started yet, you know! Tune in next time, when I’ll try to refrain from whinging about the shower at my B&B.
* It’s closed now, sadly.