We have found Uber to be a reliable transport for us in many places we’ve traveled. Because we didn’t know what London traffic was going to be like on a Friday morning, we decided to use Uber to take us from our London Belsize apartment to the Euston Station. It always amazes me when it seems that Uber arrives almost before I finish putting in the details. Even with the rush hour traffic (do they call it that in London?) it only took us about 10 minutes to arrive at our destination. Euston Station is huge!
It has an enormous departure board and we had almost two hours to kill before we left (Yep, I allowed way too much time once again!) so off we went in search of coffee. Because of the number of people who use public transport and limited space, European airports and train stations don’t announce departure platforms until it’s really close to boarding time. We had opted for a rail/sail option to go from London to Dublin. We thought this would allow us to see more of the English countryside as well as much of Wales which it did and we were lucky to be sitting with Brits who pointed out interesting sights along the way.
The Welsh language is difficult to for non-Welsh to pronunce but the greatest challenge of all is: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the longest city name in the world. The locals shorten it to Llanfairpwll which is pronounced “vire puth.” We were heading for Holyhead, Wales, four hours away and from there we would sail on the Irish Ferries for another three and a quarter hours arriving in Dublin in late afternoon.
The train pulled into the station across from the ferry dock where our bags were checked in without charge! The boat was huge and we were lucky to have a sunny day for a smooth crossing.
We were really surprised at how small Dublin seemed to us. We stayed in a hotel given that like London we were only in the city for a few days and from all that I read I couldn’t figure out a safe, central and affordable apartment. The hotel turned out to be perfect. We did our usual Hop On Hop Off bus to get our bearings.
We find the little tidbits shared by the tour guides to be fascinating. In London we had been told that when prisoners were taken to the gallows to be hanged, the wagon would often stop and offer prisoners a last drink. This drink was said to be the source of the saying, “One for the road.” Likewise, if they chose not to have the drink, they stayed on the wagon, thus the saying, “Staying on the wagon” for a non-drinker. Unfortunately I learned when researching these sayings that these stories have their origin on the internet. In Dublin the tour guide told us that the veterans, in 15th and 16th centuries, had very small pensions so many of them had to beg and they found when they put their soldiers’ caps out people were more inclined to donate. This is the supposed origin of “cap in hand.” Whether it is true or not, it makes for a good story.
There are several tour companies; our hotel had recommended the yellow line, CityScape. Big mistake. It was great when we used it for the overview of the city. Harry was a delightful driver/tour guide. But the next day when we used it for general transport (the tickets are good for a continuous 24 hours) we found that this company’s buses were few and far between and after waiting for more than half an hour when one of their buses did appear, with few people on it, it flew right by us! We asked questions, we walked, asked more questions, walked some more and finally took a cab to Trinity College!
Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I.That’s eighty years before Harvard and a hundred years before William and Mary. It is the oldest college in Ireland and one of the eight ancient universities in the UK and Ireland. I was immediately struck by the students providing information and offering tours to visitors. They were dressed in robes, the way I pictured students from a time long-past. A big attraction to Trinity College is The Book of Kells which is an early manuscript of the four gospels. It dates from somewhere around 800. The calligraphy is beautiful. According to Wikipedia it is regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. Because we are not religious some of its awe was lost on us. We did however love the library itself. The books are organized according to size and the shelves extend from the floor to the top of the very high walls. It is breathtaking!
Often the most spontaneous choices we make turn out to be among our best. As we walked through Dublin we saw a small theatre advertising the musical Once. It received many Tony awards and looked really fun so we checked to see if there were any matinee tickets available (given that they are usually significantly cheaper) and as luck would have it there were for that very afternoon. The Olympia Theatre dates from 1879 and is spectacularly beautiful. The setting for the play was very simple focusing on a bar in center stage. Interestingly, this served as a actual bar for the audience both before the play and during intermission. The play was wonderful!
There were two churches we wanted to visit in Dublin. The first was St. Patrick’s Cathedral which was outside the walls of Dublin when it was built in the late 1100’s. It was in this cathedral that we saw the organ that Handel played and also part of the original manuscript of his Messiah. The Cathedral’s most famous Dean was Jonathan Swift. (I only knew him as a satirist, not as a church dean.) We were also surprised to find that St. Patrick’s was an Anglican (Episcopal) Cathedral having changed from Roman Catholic after the Reformation. I had assumed it was still a Roman Catholic Cathedral.
The second was Christ Church Cathedral which was inside Dublin’s city walls in the early 1000’s. Like St. Patrick’s it was built as a Roman Catholic Church and then changed during the reformation to an Anglican Church. The combined choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church first performed Handel’s Messiah in April 1742 in the Music Hall of the Fishamble Street Hall in Dublin. Of particular interest were the crypts of Christ Church. There we saw a mummified cat and rat that were found in the organ’s pipes in the middle 1800’s. They are affectionately referred to as Tom and Jerry.
Both churches have obviously had a lot of restoration in the past thousand years. And surprisingly alcohol has helped preserve their past. The Christ Church renewal was largely funded by George and Henry Roe, from Roe Distillery, between 1862 and 1882. They donated more than 250,000 pounds which would equate to more than 2.5 million dollars in today’s money. Likewise, the funding of St. Patrick’s restoration was dependent on Benjamin Guinness, who contributed approximately 150,000 pounds in the 1860’s to its restoration.
One of my favorite parts of Ireland is the music. We had gone to the Brazen Head on our first night because of its reputation as a bar locals frequent with great music. It was definitely popular with the locals but even with all its nooks and crannies we found it difficult to find a table. When we finally found a wee table we were not familiar with the Irish custom of people, generally young men, who walk up and set their beers on your table without acknowledging the presence of anyone, while they stand nearby. A waiter took pity on us and asked us if we’d like to move to a different room where he had found a table for us. After ordering dinner we noticed a couple wandering aimlessly just as we had and asked if they wanted to join us. They were a lovely couple on holiday from Norway. And while the traditional music never did commence we enjoyed our conversation with our table mates. On a different night we found the Temple Bar at the Parliament Hotel that had great food at reasonable prices with traditional music and Irish dancers.
What fun! On our final night we found yet another bar and when they began singing “Cockles and Mussels”, we decided we should go seek out the statue of Molly Malone. The Molly Malone, from the ballad, “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on Molly Malone…” Again she’s more legend than truth but that too is part of the culture!
We were surprised at how many more Americans we have met in Ireland and the UK than we have elsewhere. Maybe because it’s summer? Maybe because the Irish and Brits speak English? I’m not sure. We even encountered a couple from our home of Big Rapids Michigan, because on this morning I had chosen to wear a sweatshirt with the name of our local university on it and they immediately commented on it. Small world! Repeatedly we have been told that people like our American accents. One afternoon as we were returning to our hotel, we realized that there was an elderly man standing in front of the hotel quietly asking over and over, “Would someone walk me to the corner?” Bob offered and the man told him that the sun was so bright (not sure that’s often a problem in Ireland) that with his very limited vision he couldn’t see. While guiding the gentleman to the corner he recognized Bob’s accent as North American. He was thrilled to be able to share with Bob his knowledge of US geography. We continue to meet interesting people serendipitously!
Every city has some interesting signs and we definitely found some here that made us smile:
Others are more thought provoking and speak of the history:
Some things are culturally different: When Bob got his haircut he was asked if he wanted coffee, tea, beer or whiskey.
Sometimes we just had to look twice:
As usual the days flew by and now we’re headed to see more of Ireland outside their beautiful capital city.