Published: March 17th 2009March 16th 2009
I should preface this by saying that I’m coming up on being up for 2 days with a 2hr (broken) nap on the plane. My flight was fine - got a nice plane (757) that had the personal TV in the seat. Even had a 110V outlet at my seat. Nice! It was hard to sleep with all those options, but I figured it would be better to catch some zzz’s on the plane than waste my day sleeping. Turns out it was a REALLY good thing I did that, between the delay at the airport and not being able to check in right away. It was such a short flight (relatively) that I felt like I had hardly closed my eyes and we were landing. Even though we landed an hour early (at 7:30) it took me until 9 before I was leaving the airport. For customs, they had an EU and a non-EU line. Of course the EU line was empty, but the non-EU line stretched back so far that it ran into the end of the building and started doubling back. It must have been at least a tenth of a mile. When I tried to get on
I'd just like to point out that the sign for the church is sponsored by Bailey's Irish Cream
line I just kept walking and walking and walking… After reading a whole chapter in my book, I made it through customs and was able to just swoop in and pick up my bag (a nice change from fighting those annoying people who insist on blocking the entire belt just waiting for their bag - a huge pet peeve of mine). From there I hopped on the airport shuttle and it was a pretty quick (and cheap!) ride into the heart of Dublin.
Dublin is a nice city in that almost everything you could want to do is within a mile radius from the Temple Bar area or Trinity College. And conveniently, our hotel is located just a few blocks from there (well, we paid for the convenience, but soooo worth it!). The walk to the hotel from the shuttle was about ½ mile (well, should have been if I knew where the heck I was and which direction to go! Good exercise at least.) Once I got there, they didn’t have a room for me to check into until at least noon (it was about 10am). So I dropped off my bags and made my way back out
Nice quote from Oscar Wilde
for an impromptu start of my sight-seeing in Dublin. I had perused the Rick Steves travel guide (free library book :) on the plane, and took one last look to pick out a route of travel. I tried to do avoid stuff I knew Lisa and I would be doing (she gets here tomorrow) so I just headed for the hop on hop off tour bus and started winging it.
I had never done one of those tour buses before, but it wasn't a bad way to go. It was free transportation all day with a very entertaining guide. Well, the guide was great for most of the day, but on my last trip, the driver must have gotten lazy because he just played the recording (definitely not as good). It's very weird being in a completely other country and being able to speak to everyone in English. Actually, since I've never been to Scotland or England, this was the first time I have traveled abroad to somewhere where English is the first language. Every time I had to talk to someone I felt like they wouldn't understand me. Maybe it's because all the signs are in English and
A spyhole from the door.
Gaelic. And I mean ALL the signs. So far, everything I've seen from street signs to menu items has been bilingual. I have only heard one person speak a phrase of it so far, but it's certainly written everywhere.
I picked up the bus at St. Patrick's Church (we're doing the church later so I just got the bus there) and started my tour. My first stop was the Kilmainham Gaol (jail). It had been open from 1796 until 1924 and is one of the most important historical sites in all of Ireland. Featured prominently in the exhibit were the stories of the criminals during the famine and during the rebellions. In a nutshell, Ireland (Eire) has had a very troubled past. It was settled in 8000BC, inhabited by the Celts from 500BC to 500AD (the only part of Europe the Romans ignored), had some brushes with the Gaels and the Vikings, then were taken over by the English around 14th century. Since then, Ireland has been under English rule, but with multiple rebellions in 1641, 1798 (the biggest), and the most famous Easter Rebellion in 1916 (the only successful one). After each rebellion, there were executions of all
Cool sculpture of guy breaking up the stones (their form of hard labor)
the leaders involved. This is where the gaol came in. It was the site of over 400 hangings, to include the leaders of all 3 rebellions. Actually, Easter Rising was quite unsuccessful (was quelled by the English), but with the martyrdom of the leaders, public sympathy took over and secured the fate of a free and independent Ireland. (PS, Northern Ireland still thinks they should be part of Great Britain, thus the violence).
During the Great Famine in the 1840s, the gaol became wildly overcrowded by the tons of petty thieves, mostly jailed for stealing bread. As young as 8yrs old, there was no discrimination in punishment. Many were shipped off to Australia to act as free labor (about 4000 total according to our guide). The rest were cramped into tiny cells in a freezing cold building. Many more succumbed to disease than fell to the executioner. And many of those were only incarcerated for weeks or months for stealing food to eat. During the famine, 1 million died from starvation, and a few million more emigrated to the US and Canada to find food/work. To this day, the population in Ireland is down from over 8 million pre-famine
It was so freakin cold in there...
to the current 6 million.
The gaol is also well-known because it is one of the biggest empty jails in Europe. Because of this, it’s frequently the site of movies or tv shows. In the Name of the Father shot there, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts) shot there, the Tudors shot there for the last 3 seasons, and a few others. It’s very recognizable. As convenient as it is for shooting, it’s frickin freezing to visit. As it was, the weather was a breezy 45F today, but was even colder inside the jail, if that’s possible. The walls are made of limestone, which supposedly soaks up the water and keeps it even cooler and damp in there. It was miserable. I’ve been cold all day. And this time I was dressed for the cold! It was an interesting tour, with a trip through the museum at the end (eerie reading someone’s last letter to his family just before he’s hanged) and a good dose of Irish history. I learned that the Irish flag somehow came from France, but that the orange is for the Unification supporters (Protestants who want to be part of Great Britain) and Green
Running along the right wall is a pipe that carried gas -- their only form of heat and light (once it was invented) since there was never any electricity there
is for the Nationalists (Catholics who want to run their own country independent of England). The white in the middle symbolizes the hope that the two will be able to live in peace. I also learned that before the guy invented the drop-down door in the gallows that snaps your neck, it could take up to 4 hours for a person to die by hanging, often taking at least 30min. Holy crap.
After the gaol, I hopped back on the bus (so handy!) and listened to our mobile tour guide until I reached the next spot worth jumping off. A few of the things I wanted to do were closed on Mondays (namely the National Museum) so I decided to go to the Writer’s Museum. Unfortunately, I missed my stop, so it required a little extra walking. But along the way I ran across a cute little café that was a perfect mid-afternoon snack. While I was at the gaol, I couldn’t figure out why I was so unfocused and had ADD. When I was on the bus going to the Writer’s Museum, I started falling asleep. Then I remembered how much sleep deprivation I was dealing with and
A view through the spyhole
suddenly the poor concentration made sense. If I was gonna continue my touring, I would need some serious coffee. Lucky for me, an Irish café was just what was called for. I sat down and had a fantastic scone (nothing like Starbucks at all!) and a VERY strong coffee - but dang it was GOOD! That plus the little sandwich I snagged a the gaol, and I was refreshed and awake for the afternoon.
The Writer’s Museum was actually pretty decent. There are quite a few famous writers from Ireland, many specifically from Dublin. Of course there’s James Joyce, famous for Ulysses and the Dubliners - both set in Dublin. And there’s Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde just to name a few. The price of admission also buys you an audio tour, which probably would have been great, but I was just not focusing. The coffee can only do so much. The whole museum was only a few rooms. It’s a cute little Georgian house that has glass cases of signed books, manuscripts, typewriters, and even a chair that Handel supposedly used to use. I took my time wandering through, and
This is the hallway where they kept the rebellion leaders
finally made my way out around 4:30. I set off down O’Connell St (a main drag) that has some sights my guide book mentions. I ran across the Memorial Garden (commemorating all the people who died in the Easter Rebellion); the Gate Theater (Orson Welles started there); a bunch of statues, the most famous of which was Daniel O’Connell who had a serious part in the independence of Ireland; the Millennium Tower, which was built after the statue there was blown up by the British - supposed to be the only non-political statue in Ireland, and the tallest sculpture in the world (well, according to the tour guide recording on our bus). I wandered down into the “market” which is actually just a bunch of stalls lining a pedestrian street of stores, all selling fruit and veggies. Don’t get me wrong - I love fruit, but an entire street of different vendors all selling the exact same produce? Weird… I bought some goodies for later (no great bargain, but not bad either). On my way back to intercept the tour bus for a ride back to the hotel, I ran across a pet shop. My curiosity was piqued because, since
Charles Parnell's cell -- he was the big leader of the Easter Rebellion. Now there's a major street named after him in Dublin
it wasn’t America, who knows what would be in there. Would you find monkeys? Tigers? Eagles? Who knew… Turns out it was all reptiles, fish, and birds. Nothing too exciting at all. And for all that, I missed the bus. I got to the stop JUST before it pulled away, costing me 30min of just sitting there waiting for the next one to leave. No matter, I hunkered down and waited. Made it back to the hotel in one piece, checked in, and got settled.
The Radisson is not a bad hotel to begin with, and this one is brand new. A nice combination. The room looks pristine. I didn’t feel like going back out for dinner, so I just stuck with the hotel restaurant, and to my pleasant surprise, their food was fantastic. A French bistro type place (at restaurant prices). I debated between room service and restaurant, but the manager offered me 15% off to eat at the restaurant, so downstairs I went. It was a nice meal and a nice finish to a great (and busy) day. And that was my first day in Dublin.
There are more photos below