It’s a new day! I had a great night’s sleep in the Generator Hostel (yes, try one sometime), I grab a coffee and a Panini (again, a staple traveling here when you want to be on the go) and walk one block down to catch the Hop on/Hop off bus through Dublin Bus Tours. It’s €19.00 for a day, but they give you the second day free (at least during my trip). It’s well worth it as there are two routes with commentary as to where you are in the city and what there is to see at that stop. You rarely wait longer than ten minutes for a bus and the drivers are very helpful. Oh, and they’re double deckers which allow you to sit inside or outside. Finally, if you speak another language, or maybe you just want to learn one, bring your headphones as you can plug in and select one of ten languages other than English.
As I board a route map is handed to me. The map lists many of the highlights of this city and the Writers Museum catches my eye. As it’s only a couple of stops away, it seems like a good place to start. I hop off the bus and hop into the museum. It’s a small building built in 1780 as a private house. The entrance fee is €7.50 and well worth it. It includes an audio walking tour handset.
I begin on the ground floor which leads me through the stories of Irish writers beginning in the 1600’s. The tour features the life stories and artifacts – including typewriters, letters and, of course, books – from various writers including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Beckett and W.B. Yeats (I’m a new fan of Yeats). I’m amazed to read the histories of these incredible writers which include some being executed for leading rebellions, others being imprisoned for inciting discourse through their writing, and still others being jailed for sodomy (no, being a homosexual wasn’t a crime, but acting upon it was. Hhmmm). I’m in awe of these men and women, many of who accomplished great things at very young ages and I learn much more about Irish history. In the 1600-1700’s much of the censorship was political and, after, that the censorship became more influenced by the Catholic Church. The official Censorship of Publications Act was established in 1929, and was relaxed in the 1950’s. It was never fully repealed and is still in effect which, to this day, allows for the Censorship Publications Board to prevent publication of some works.
After making my way through the ground floor I climb the stairs to the first floor (in Europe the first floor isn’t the ground floor. This, and the whole driving on the left side causes me to feel permanently lost) which houses the Library and Gallery of Writers, which are more about the rooms than the displays in them – and the rooms are stunning. Before exiting, I head down to the gift shop (of course) and back out to catch the bus to my next stop, St. Stephen’s Green.
St. Stephen’s Green or “The Green” is the largest city square in Europe (sure looks like a park to me). It’s a beautiful place filled with trees, flowers and statues and is perfect for a picnic or a quiet moment. All of this green in Ireland is overwhelming to this desert dweller.
After a short walk through The Green, I move on to Trinity College. While I hadn’t considered this a must do before I went to the Writer’s Museum, I certainly do now after reading the histories of all of incredible Irish Writers who attended this school. I keep hearing people speak about the Book of Kells and, being a big fan of history, I decide to visit Trinity where the Book of Kells is housed.
The Book of Kells is an ornately, handwritten manuscript believed to have been created close to the year 800. It contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text. It’s written on vellum (calf skin) using around 185 calves. I wait in line outside for ten minutes before a group of about twenty-five of us are invited in. We enter, pay the €10.00 fee and are led on a self-guided tour through displays of antiques, religious artwork and textiles as well as information on how the books were written and bound – we even learn about the ink used – before entering the room with two of the volumes on display. People of various nationalities (none Irish that I can tell) gather around small, glass-covered display tables with the books housed beneath. Bored teenagers lean on the glass with their brochures covering much of the view. Their parents drag them reluctantly from table to table before exiting up the staircase to walk through the library with books housed high on shelves reaching to the ceiling. After a quick walk-through, I exit the building (through the gift shop, of course) feeling unimpressed. While having no deep religious meaning to me, I admire beautiful churches, mosques and other religious institutions for their art, beauty and history which is why I chose to enter the display. While I suspect that it may have been impressive to some deeply religious folks, what I found was a crowded, tourist display that, for me, was disappointing. I also wonder how those great Irish writers would feel about this religious display, to which tourists make a pilgrimage, at the college they all attended, as many of them were persecuted for acts and writings which were interpreted as going against religious preachings. Perhaps I should have seen this before I’d visited the Writers Museum.
After the book of Kells experience, I need a drink. I hop back on the bus and head over to the Guinness Storehouse (which, to some, would be their own religious pilgrimage) to see how they make this stuff and why it tastes so darned good over here. A few minutes on the bus and I arrive at the promise land. As I walk inside, I pay my €18 fee and gather towards the center of the lobby area where a Guinness staffer gives a short introduction and points out the lease housed under glass in the floor. On December 31, 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on an old brewery (wow, a man with no fear of commitment) for the bargain price of €45 per year. In 1799 he decided to buck the trends and brew nothing but Porter. It was a success!
Before long, my group is turned loose to explore the self-guided tour of this museum/brewery (thinking museums would be a lot more popular if they all doubled as breweries). Throughout the tour I learn about the nine-day process of making this magical drink (perhaps I’m enjoying this stuff a little too much), how the casks that hold the brew are made and about the transportation of Guinness (they built a ship!). I enter a room with four cold, steaming columns where a guide explains the various smells exuding from them; hops, roasted barley, malt and beer esters are involved in the brewing process, and that Guinness should be served at 42 degrees Fahrenheit (5-7 degrees Celsius). He pours us a shot glass full and we enter the next room where we’re taught the proper way to drink a Guinness (stand up straight and don’t slurp the foam). Following that, we have the opportunity to go and “pull” our own Guinness to drink but, with a line longer than the one for the Book of Kells, I head straight up to the Gravity Bar at the top of the factory where they serve a free pint of Guinness along with a 360 degree view of Dublin.
Looking out on this city, I realize it’s winning me over. No, it isn’t Limerick or Galway. It’s a larger (not huge) gritty city with residents just as friendly as all others I’ve visited in Ireland so far (seriously, Irish hospitality rocks!). I realize any of the unfriendly people I’ve met are tourists as I notice that one out of every three or so people (including myself) are walking around with a map in their hand. There’s a lot of great things to experience here.
I hop back on the bus to stop by the hotel to freshen up before a night on the Seine (nope, I’m not in France).