Dublin, Ireland. August 14-19, 2019
Dublin has never been on my top ten list, but R. has always wanted to go back (it was the first European city he ever visited) and tempted me with the fact that there was a big science fiction conference happening there this summer (yes, I’m a nerd, or geek. I forget the difference). The program looked great – not only lots of writing panels but authors I know from the Bay Area would be attending, and presumably we could meet up for drinks and dinner, which would be fun.
The flight over was predictably annoying. I can’t ever sleep on planes without getting a neck ache, so I broke down and bought an inflatable neck pillow. What a joke! Fully inflated, it pushed my head too far forward. Deflated, it closed around my neck like lobster claws. I did not use it and did not sleep.
Ah…who doesn’t love the sign saying you are going to Paris? Leaving from SFO.
Unfortunately – to get the good fare – we had to go through Paris Charles De Gaulle which is always a nightmare. The airport is huge. Plus, we had a short connection –just one hour – which always stresses me out. Fortunately everything worked out perfectly. R checked on his phone when we landed to find the gate and terminal of our next flight and we rode the train over to it with enough time to spare to get a quick sandwich. Oddly, we had to ride a bus out to the middle of the tarmac to get on our plane, via stairs. I didn’t know this was still a thing in this era of super security.
Finally – Dublin! We had a super talkative cab driver who gave us an overview of Irish history, disparaged the English, caught us up on an amateur Irish sport that fills an 85k person stadium. Sadly, I didn’t catch what the sport was. I could barely hear him and had been up for I don’t even know how many hours at that point. Interestingly, every cab driver we had pointed out landmarks where the English did something horrible. I’ve never experienced this before–being in a foreign country where events from the last century were a go-to topic of conversation with strangers. Did it have anything to do with us being from the U.S. I wondered, and having had our own troubles with the British?
Old neighborhood with Google rising
We arrived at our amazing hotel in the Docklands, an area that was a scary place that our cab driver would never have visited when he was a kid. Now it’s the equivalent of Mission Bay in San Francisco, a neighborhood that sprang up out of nowhere in the last few years. Our hotel was next to a big Facebook office and Google is building just across the canal. The area is much more interesting then our Mission Bay. Way better architecture. San Francisco is way too conservative and it drives me crazy.
Theater, our hotel, apartment building, grand canal
Fortunately, a friend of ours arranged a dinner and night of Irish storytelling at a local pub, so we couldn’t nap/fall asleep for 10 hours and ruin our chances of getting onto the time zone. Still, we were a bit rough around the edges. I took a bath which helped with my sore neck and revived me. Trying to take a tram to the event did elicit new city confusion and mild arguing. “What zone are we in, what zone are we going to, how do we buy a ticket from this damn machine, are we supposed to punch our ticket when we get on the train…” ARGH. We did figure it out.
We got to the place early and ate chicken satay and sweet potato fries and regained our composure. The evening of storytelling was really nice. Food, drinks, Irish history, and good company.
Harp-shaped bridge across the river Liffey
Full disclosure. I didn’t know much Irish history before this trip. No history course I took ever touched on it. I did a crash course via a six-part BBC documentary which left my head reeling. I’m not going to summarize other than to say…many different peoples from different areas, many settlements, much fighting.
The storyteller led with, “Ireland has always been a poor country…” The funny thing was, I hadn’t yet seen that, thanks to being in our odd, new neighborhood. I saw tech companies and cranes everywhere.
View from the hotel roof
Is the tech boom helping average people in Ireland? One cab driver guess-timated that only about 30% of the employees at the tech companies are Irish. I can see why the country as a whole would be skeptical about a tech bubble, given that 150 years ago, the potato famine caused 1 million deaths and 1 million more people to leave the country – a 25% reduction in population overall. Many of the traditional stories she told weren’t morality or cautionary tales, but along the lines of “awful things happen that you have no control over so get used to it.” Yikes. I hope the current tech and building boom is a boost to Ireland in the long term.
This is not the mall street, but the Temple Bar area (much more interesting)
Thursday we took a walk around town after breakfast trying to find the shopping street R. remembered visiting as a kid. We found it – but it was no longer cobblestones and was mostly chain stores, albeit many European ones so it still felt exotic. Still, it had my kiss-of-death store, Swarovski crystal, which makes me want to turn and run.
The true crime magazine section in a bookstore was huge. I had no idea.
After that we headed back to the convention center and went to a couple panels. Bad idea – we nearly fell asleep – and even worse idea – decided to go have a pint in a pub to “wake up.” Hmm. I did have my first pint of Guinness in Ireland, and liked it. I’m not sure if it actually tasted different (the huge factory was just down the road) or I was just in the mood. I generally an not a beer person.
R. gave up and took a nap and I went to the rooftop bar of our hotel intending to start this travelogue, but it was too much of a party scene to work (it would have been weird to pull out a computer). It was a nice day with big fluffy clouds and after I got over my huff of them ignoring me for half an hour (assuming I was waiting for someone) I relaxed and enjoyed the view. I met R. downstairs for dinner when he woke up.
The convention center
Friday I went to a few panels, then forced R to go see the book of Kells at Trinity college. A visitor next to me remarked, “I didn’t mind the queue but it wasn’t worth 14 euros.” I was disappointed for not quite the same reasons. I had no queue since I bought advance tickets, but the book was a letdown, small and in a dark room and you could (obviously) see only two pages. The old library beyond was great though, and contained my initials multiple times.
There are multiple mm’s in the photo, trust me.
When attempting to leave the college grounds (there seemed to be only one way out) we were caught in a huge downpour and took refuge in the entryway to the graduate reading room. I’ve never seen rain fall in sheets before – not like this with a flat, wide viewing area. It was awesome.
The weather in Dublin is nuts. I hate to extrapolate from less than a week here, especially given we had a heat wave in San Francisco while we were gone, but, ??!!??
It’s been windy the whole time. Hair in my eyes, hold-your-hat windy. I have to think it’s often like this because when I asked the hotel staff they seemed puzzled, like, wind? What wind?
The rain. It can be warm, low 70’s and sunny and then pouring a moment later. Then sunny. Again I have to assume this happens often because I took refuge under a big tree in Merrion square park with people who clearly live here (kid, dog) and they seemed to know in five minutes it would be over and it was. I made it to a shopping street when it dumped again so I popped into a shop for a cup of tea. It cleared up but by the time I’d stood and found a place to dump my cup, it was raining again.
Anyhow, after the Book of Kells, we stopped at a pub for a late lunch. It’s so strange. It was my first time in Ireland and to me, an Irish pub has always been a Disney-esque theme bar, fake and trying too hard and I’ve never liked them. Now, I was in freaking Ireland and the pubs are just pubs and they are Irish pubs by definition! So much confusion for me to be in the real thing that looks exactly like the fake thing. I was amused by a mid-40’s couple next to me making out like high-schoolers. You go! Everyone in the place seemed legit Irish, which led me to a question I can’t answer…
What do Irish people look like? Who is Irish and who isn’t? This is part of the EU with people from all over. Is super-exaggerated make up Irish, or are those women from Russia? High heels or sneakers? What about that buffed dude with the tattoos? I hear many accents and languages and can’t guess who lives here and who doesn’t. That’s my brain, trying to figure things out, and I couldn’t.
I’m so glad I found a way to put this in the post. He must be legit Irish.
Saturday we blew off the convention entirely in favor of sight seeing. We took a regional train to Malahide, a seaside town half an hour from Dublin that was promised to be charming, and was.
I could show charming…but how about this window display instead? What is going on with these outfits? This was not a used clothing store. All brand new.
We didn’t make it all the way out to the sea, unfortunately because as we walked along the narrow bay, we saw a dark rain cloud approaching and feared a deluge like the one we experienced at Trinity college the other day where an umbrella would have been no help at all (and we only had one umbrella.) We hurried back towards town and en route hailed a cab to take us to the castle.
We didn’t tour the inside of the castle, but instead spent time on the grounds and in the pretty walled garden (which included a butterfly garden!) It was really nice to be on the great lawn, castle in view, with no other tourists in sight.
I like using portrait setting on the iphone on plants
A castle and lawn, all to ourselves
That evening we had dinner with a friend from Scotland that I ran into the day before at a panel. Finally, we managed to meet up with someone. Though there were many people we knew at the conference, they were very hard to pin down. It was tough to make plans in advance as most of us had never been to Dublin and would have no idea where to hang out until we were there, so I figured plans would happen spontaneously. That didn’t happen for the most part.
We popped back to the convention center to check out an 80’s dance party, which was a bit too well attended. The room was crowded, hot, and stinky so we called it a night.
Sci fi author John Scalzi catches my eye as he DJs during the party
Sunday I took a long morning walk, trying to get a better sense of the neighborhoods. From what I could gather, most older buildings in Dublin are one to three stories. Many places seemed to have had yards in the back in the past, but built extensions onto the houses – so no more yard.
The canal I walked along was really lovely, with locks every couple hundred feet and bridges dated from the late 1700’s. Saturday night we’d been by this same canal and seen boats, which the cab driver said took people cruising and drinking. That would be fun!
I hid out in a coffee shop during a sudden downpour, then made my way to meet R. On Grafton Street – a nice outdoor pedestrian mall area. I wanted to see St. Patricks cathedral, but it was Sunday and closed to tourists mid-day. I assume they were having services. I wasn’t crushed. I’m sure it would have been nice but I’ve seen many cathedrals and will see many more. They feel a bit obligatory vs. being my favorite type of building.
I attended a few more conference sessions in the afternoon, then we had a great pizza dinner in the neighborhood with the tiny houses near our hotel.
All in all, I can’t say I know much about Ireland after my short stay. Everyone was very nice but I mostly interacted with service people, many of whom seemed to be from Eastern Europe (heavy accents, name tags read Vladimir and the like). Conversations I overheard seemed pretty typical – people going about their business, trying to make plans, talking about work and sports and politics. I feel pretty comfortable in English-speaking countries, so I didn’t have the thrill of fear and excitement that comes with trying to do even a simple thing in a more foreign country.
Would I want to live in Dublin? Probably not, though that is based on zero information. I don’t like pubs much, or sports, though I’m sure many people who live there also don’t. If i were in Europe I’d rather be more centrally located. And the weather is pretty annoying, it’s not very warm in the summer and downright cold in the winter. The landscape is gentle rolling hills (as far as I saw) which isn’t quite jazzy enough for me. I’m glad I went…and probably won’t go back unless it is for an event. I didn’t fall in love with the city.
Swans in the grand canal at night