I didn’t spot any leprechauns in Ireland, but I saw plenty of magic, just the same. The landscape was everything I imagined: lush craggy hills dotted with heather, craggy cliffs melting into the sea, and small farms dotting the countryside. Sheep and cattle roamed on rolling meadows fenced by hedges.
But in Dublin where my longtime friend Pam Robinson and I were headed, the City Centre it was a bustling business center lined with upscale shops, trendy restaurants and Georgian and Victorian brick and stone buildings. The traffic was like any other capitol city, only it flowed from the “wrong” side of the street, which meant I had a few close calls crossing against the light.
But since no tiny green men leaped out from behind rainbows, the only pot o’ gold I found was a crock of Irish butter. Definitely a bummer because the mound of glittering booty could have offset the miserable dollar to Euro exchange rate, which severely cramped my style.
Pam and I were on a whirlwind tour of Ireland’s capitol city; we had only three days to take everything in, which meant we did miles of walking, a good thing because all that exercise balanced our food and alcohol intake. Or so we thought.
Our Continental 737 touched down at Dublin Airport, at 6 AM Monday morning Western Europe Time, which on Central Body Time—that would be mine—it was actually midnight in Nashville. For Pam, who’d departed LAX at 4 AM PST Sunday morning, it was ten o’clock Sunday night. As seasoned time travelers, we knew that in order to get our bodies “runnin’ on Dublin time” (apologies to Eric Clapton), we knew we’d have to force ourselves to stay up all day, then turn in early. It was going to be a long, long day.
After forking over 43 Euros for a forty-minute cab, which came with complimentary Garth Brooks music playing on the radio, we arrived at the Westbury Hotel in Dublin’s City Centre. We checked into the five-star, brushed our teeth, ignored the bags under our eyes—why couldn’t we have left those at baggage claim?—and headed out in search of breakfast and caffeine, not necessarily in that order.
The city was just beginning to stir, so open cafes were few and far between and we refused on principle to eat our first Irish meal at McDonald’s or Burger King. By the time we stumbled on Bewley’s on Grafton Street, we were ravenous and desperate, but still not enough to have an Egg McMuffin.
The coffeehouse dates back to 1927, and was once the favorite haunt of James Joyce, who mentioned it in his book Dubliners, which has nothing at all to do with the Irish folk band. It was in Bewley’s amid rich mahogany, stained glass windows, marble statues and the irresistible aroma of freshly roasted coffee (Bewley’s is the best selling brand of coffee and tea in Ireland), we sampled our first Irish porridge. The creamy pinhead oatmeal was topped with crème brulee-style burnt brown sugar and a generous chunk of Irish butter floating in a moat of cream. One bite and we were hooked.
A few hours and at least a hundred blocks later, the porridge stopped sticking to our ribs (it would later settle around my waist), so we popped into Robinson’s Pub—what can I say? Pam liked the name—downed a couple of cold ones and, because it seemed so Irish, ordered a plate of boiled ham, fried cabbage, and “champ” (mashed potatoes cooked with leeks). Suffice it to say, the lunch made my “once-in-a-lifetime, never again” list.
On further exploration of City Centre, where every public sign is labeled in Irish (Gaelic) and English, we discovered the statue of Molly Malone, of “cockles and mussels” fame. To Dubliners, the buxom fishmonger is better known as “Tart with the Cart.” On the Emerald Isle, it seems that no statue goes un-nicknamed. For example, the 398-foot stainless steel “Monument of Light” on O’Connell Street is referred to as the “Rod to God”; the statue of two women chatting on a bench with shopping bags at their feet near Ha’penny Bridge is widely known as “The Hags with Bags,” and the bronze casting of Thomas Moore standing next to the public toilet on a traffic island across from Trinity College is referred to as—wait for it—“The Meeting of the Waters” in honor of both Moore’s poem and the comfort station.
We strolled down Moore Street perusing the fresh fruit and fish displayed by the city’s famed barrow venders, stopped to see the Occupy Dublin protests against austerity measures, and gleefully explored Georges Street Arcade, massive red-brick Victorian market filled with long tables of assorted fresh fish and vegetables, cheeses, acres of olives, artisan breads, pies, fresh meat, sausages, venison burgers, salsas, purses, jewelry, you name it. All of it (except for the purses) looked scrumptious and tempting. Sadly, other shoppers had snagged most of the bread and cheese samples. Thank God there was a box of toothpicks parked next to the mini-barrels of olives! What can I say? A few of those sundried tomato-stuffed puppies tided me over until dinner.
Dublin’ up: check out part 2 of this article here.