Below the notes from my recent visit to Ireland. I thought that if I had to be in a cold and dark place like Amsterdam, then I could as well be in Dublin… a city that has been high on the list of places I wanted to visit for few years.
The idea behind this trip was to travel for few days on my own, and the €30 return ticket by Ryanair did the rest.
Note: this post is in form of a diary, Lots of ‘I went there and I did that”. You’re warned.
Thursday 14th, Dublin
On the way to the city center from the airport I see it: the Irish green. That intense, vivid green coming from a grass field hit by some rays of sun. From the bus window I can feel that the temperature is low, the sky is terse and of a lighter blue.
My first activity is a non-touristy one: I get my beard trimmed in Grafton Street for just €5 in one of the many barber shop around the area. The place is in a basement, with low ceiling and a beautiful mix of old times and hipster touch.
Now I feel human again and ready to get lost in the city. I notice that all the restaurants and bars have conveniently on display their menu with price list.
I reach a place recommended by Lonely Planet just to find out that is a overpriced sandwich cafe. I’m in lower Camdem Street, an area full of local businesses promoting the local economy and a vibrant community feeling.
I enter a pub full of old folks drinking beers and watching horse races on TV: the perfect spot for my first Guinness!
In the evening I’ve to invent something to kick-off my social life in Dublin, so I join a Meetup called Have a beer, meet other Hackers and Founders! Funny enough, there’s the same meetup in Amsterdam but without the ‘Have a beer’ part in the title: this is how they roll in Ireland. It’s a pleasant evening with a bunch of geeks coming from all over Europe… I get a glimpse of life as an expat in Dublin.
On the way back to the hostel I stop to River Bar where there’s a Salsa party going on, but the level is pretty bad and I don’t stay long.
Friday 15th, Dublin
Hard work in the morning and then I’m off for the SANDEMANs free walking tour. The free walking tour are the best way to quickly get to know and understand a place. Period.
The company is good and after the tour we end up in the recently opened Whiskey Museum.
I’m informed that the word whiskey started being used to indicate an high quality product compared to whisky and ended up differentiating the country where the liquor is made:
Countries that have E’s in their names (UnitEd StatEs and IrEland) tend to spell it whiskEy (plural whiskeys)
Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky (plural whiskies)
(source The Kitchn)
Personally I don’t like any of the Irish whiskeys at their tasting. Long life to Scottish and Japanese whiskies, with their smoky-oaky-doky superb taste!
I dance the evening away at the River Bar club, where there’s absolutely no Irish person around: Latin Americans, Spanish, Italians, Brazilians, Moldavians and Scandinavians are enjoying the party.
I’m informed that Ireland is the only country of Europe where Brazilian citizen can get a student visa that allows them to work.
Saturday 16th, Dublin
It’s weekend woo-hoo! I head off to Kilmainham Gaol for the prison tour. There’s a 2 hours waiting, perfect time to meet a fellow web entrepreneur and DCer Adrijus. He looks typical Irish but he’s actually Lithuanian, and runs a business specialized in designing ebook covers. Cool dude!
The prison tour is excellent and helps to understand the recent Irish history. Maybe it comes with age, but I’m getting more impressed by places where people were executed.
To shake off the feeling I walk to the Guinness Storehouse (pro tip: get the ticket online and save a couple of €) and I visit the old Guinness factory. It’s a huge marketing operation, reaffirming over and over the Guinness brand. Very similar to the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, I think the Dutchies made a better job presenting and entertaining the visitors.
Anyway, this is a place not to visit alone, I felt a bit bored.
It’s Saturday night and I taste an excellent stew with Guinness at The Celt pub, recommended by someone working at the hostel. The girl at the entrance is Italian, and I hear Spanish all over me. I have an interesting interaction with one of the few Irish man around, that tells me about God and Devils, that he experienced that and all the rest is bullshit. He goes on and on and I feel trapped. With a smile I slink off and jump in the street.
I go to the Salsa place but there’s disco tonight. Bummer.
Sunday 17th January, Galway.
Fantastic morning run. The city still drunk when I cross the Liffey river and run on the desert river path pointing west.
I reach the huge Phoenix Park and I can feel that I’m running uphill – or at least my legs can feel that! I see a wild deer crossing the road and a squirrel. I find myself running in the wet grass, tripping on nothing and falling in the mud.
I never fell while running before. I stand up and laugh hard. I look around to see if someone is laughing with/at me, but the few people and too far to care… I hope someone saw me, at least I didn’t fall for nothing!
By the end of the morning I’m on a CityLink bus to Galway (pro tip: book the ticket online to save a couple of €), on the other side of the island, hoping to see the Irish green. That green I saw on the first day, on the way to the city from the airport. But there’s no Irish green today.
The day is gray and rainy, so I don’t feel too bad about sleeping on the bus instead of looking outside the window.
“Are you visiting or you moved here?” – seems a common question in Galway. I left Dublin to see a more genuine side of Ireland, but the story is the same: the Irish youth is moving out, and Spanish, Italians, Brazilians are moving in, playing the eternal game of the immigrant looking for a place to stay, looking for a job, looking for friends, looking for a better life.
I’m at the Kinlay Hostel, a modern and huge structure in the center of Galway.
It’s 3pm when I have my first Irish breakfast in a real Irish pub: from the outside looks small, but inside is a dungeon of rooms and areas full of noisy people watching the soccer match. I’m a spectator of the spectators, I study them and I don’t care what’s on the big screen.
The rest of the rainy day goes lazily behind my notebook, doing some work I won’t be able to do tomorrow as I plan to visit the cliffs of Moher.
I leave after 9pm searching for food, just to discover that here, even if full of Spanish people and tapas restaurant, people eat very early and most of the kitchens are closed down already.
My dinner is a 4-cheese pizza, but at least accompanied by a bottle of local Galway Hooker beer (name after a traditional boat from this area, funny I know) and finished with an Irish Coffee.
I feel lonely today. Surely I am.
I’m asked again “Are you visiting or you moved here?”.
Monday 18th January, Galway.
When I woke up my only comrade in the 5-beds dorm is long gone. I look outside the window. It’s not raining, and this is enough to make me jump out of bed: cliffs of Moher here I come!
I usually avoid guided tours in favor of more adventurous and genuine indi experiences. But in Ireland, first time I see that, the public transport is more expensive than tours!
By 9am I’m in the New Coach Station embarking a Galway Tour Company bus. The €20 day tour proved to be a very enjoyable experience, mainly thanks to the driver & cicerone that filled the journey with down to heart stories and anecdotes.
We stopped in few places in the Burren area along the way. The area itself is surreal, with limestone formations surfacing all around, the soil long washed away by the rain and blown away by the winds – two natural elements surely not missed here.
In fact, without this tour I would have never known that the Poulnabrone dolmen tomb was built, God knows how, by our Neolithic ancestors approximately 5,800 years ago. They had nothing back then, but the natural respect towards death.
That makes it simply the oldest human construction I ever saw.
There are a Chilean (very friendly) and a Porteño (very unfriendly) in the group.
After lunch we reach the highlight of the day (even if my mind is still stuck at the 6,000 years old tomb), the famous cliffs.
There’s a visitor center hidden inside the hill, a bit bizarre but not as bad as anticipated by Lonely Planet and by the bus driver.
We climb up to the view point, the day is gray but we’re lucky with the visibility: the scenery is breathtaking.
We’re standing over 200m above the sea, the cliffs are a giant natural wall hit by giant waves. I’m looking one of the marvels of nature, yet there’s Wi-Fi to let the over 1 million/year tourists send pictures home in real time.
And on the way back to the visitor center I’m contemplating that everything I saw today is changing: the limestone is eroded by the wind, the cliffs are eroded by the sea. And what Emilio told me yesterday about impermanence seems prophetic.
But I’m especially thinking that I should come back in summertime!
What’s this noise? A bunch of kids are screaming and having craic here in the hostel. To hell with them. I better go sleep.
Tuesday 19th January, Galway.
This morning my comrade was still in the room. I’ve a Skype call at 9am. A light breakfast, some Internet and I run off for the Galway free walking tour, the last thing I want to do here.
Well, I’m the only participant and the young girl puts away the big sign ‘free tour’ and says we don’t have the quota to run the tour.
I ask her to show me around anyway, and she gives me a 10 minutes walk, not that walking around Galway takes much more anyway, explaining me few things.
I’m informed that lynching comes from Sir Lynch, mayor of Galway that once upon a time killed his own son convicted for murder (this seems to be an Irish invention, according to Wikipedia).
She leaves me close to the unimpressive Spanish arch, that I fantasized about for the last few days causing my own disappointment.
It has nothing to do with Spain and all to do with traders coming from there.
Next to the arch there’s the Galway Museum, that I visit because it’s free entrance, like most of the museum in Ireland (and, by pure coincidence, in UK). It’s interesting and things are well-presented, but since I didn’t pay a penny it automatically has no value for me (entrepreneurial tip: keep it in mind if you’ll have to price a product). Looking around to Irish (and Brits) I find the confirmation that free museums have no direct effect on people culture.
For my simple mind, the best thing of the museum is the cafe where I get a matcha latte vanilla for almost €3, and then one wonders why Japanese developed the kamikaze. I spend some time reading a Terzani, Yes, still that one.
Walking back I finally see the real Galway: a lively city with street music also in winter.
Back to the hostel for some high-quality high-intensity Internet work, and then off to catch a bus back to Dublin.
This time I’m not sleepy, but the sun is long gone so I can only imagine some Irish green. I read, listen podcast, abuse the Wi-Fi on the bus and by the time I reach the capital I’m dizzy.
Just in time to check-in the amazing Abigails hostel, where I’m the only occupants of a luxurious 5-beds dorm – my €17 private room with bathroom in the city center.
I spend the evening at Mulligan’s drinking Guinness and talking about Android, how-to become an ambassador, communication in the age of social media and social media in the age of communication.
I’m informed that Finnish and Lithuanian language descend from Mongolian language (this seems to be true, according to Wikipedia).
Wednesday 20th January, Dublin.
It’s rush hour when I’m running along the Liffey river, back to the Phoenix Park. The grass is frozen but the day is beautiful. What a fantastic run!
This time I see a whole herd of deer and I don’t fall down.
All the amazing (probably only for me) pictures are here: