I didn’t realize how hard it would be to write about Dublin.
For some reason, I find this strange. I mean, it was over six months ago. There was no permanent physical damage. There are bloggers out there who’ve had far worse things happen to them and show a strength and resolve that makes me tend to categorize Dublin as a minor incident, about which I should have no difficulty writing at all.
Yet here I am, struggling to figure out where to begin. Or how.
So much so that the day I started writing this (Sunday), I managed to faff (one of my favorite words the Brits taught me) so much that I didn’t open the laptop until 3:00 in the afternoon. I wonder if procrastination can be listed as a resume skill?
* * *
You know what else makes it strange? I’ve told so many other people already. Friends, family, strangers. So why is this different?
Actually, I know why, but I have no idea how to put it into words. I’ll try anyway.
Somehow, when I’m recounting events to someone else, it’s easy to separate myself from it. I’m detached, compartmentalizing what happened into a dry tale. Reeling off a series of events that took place in a cut-and-dry, just-the-facts-ma’am kind of way.
Now I’m alone in my bedroom, having put a bunch of words in a word processor and re-writing this intro for the nth time. What I’ve discovered is that when I’m here alone thinking about what happened, it’s a hell of a lot harder than telling the story to someone else.
And that completely explains why it’s different.
And totally doesn’t.
* * *
Dublin wasn’t even on my original travel itinerary.
Sure, Ireland was on my long, long bucket list of lifetime travel destinations, as I’m sure the Emerald Isle is for a lot of people. I’ll be perfectly straight right up front and admit that it wasn’t all that high on my personal list, though. Truth be told, I headed to Dublin after London as a matter of thrift and convenience: it was simply a hell of a lot cheaper to fly from Dublin to New York, and thence to home in California, than to go through Heathrow.
I was in Dublin as a matter of being financially prudent. Or cheap. Whichever term you prefer.
* * *
I’d arrived in Dublin in good spirits.
By that point in my travels, I’d been traveling for about five months and I was tired, ready to see the familiar territory of California again. Yet spirits were high: I was full of interesting ideas, projects I might tackle, directions in which I might take my career and, ultimately, my life. For the first time in a long time I was feeling ambitious, creative. Even though the future was totally uncertain, I was excited by the possibilities, which is something that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Plus, I’d met a girl. That kind of thing does absolute wonders for the ego.
* * *
I departed my hostel in London early one morning, making the long walk (always fun with heavy bags) to the Tube station to get to Euston Station in time for my 8:10 Virgin Train to Holyhead. Once again putting American public transit to shame, the train pulled out of the station at 8:10 on the dot and, after leaving London city limits, whipped through the English countryside (they can travel at up to 125 mph (200 kph)), in quiet comfort all the while. As much as I enjoyed my trip on the Coast Starlight a few years ago, rail travel outside the States really is a wonder to behold.
At Holyhead I boarded the massive Irish Ferries Ulysses ferry. It was similar to boarding an airliner: checking luggage, heading down a huge tunnel with hundreds of other people… only instead of a crowded pressurized tube you stepped on board a multi-deck ship with restaurants and comfortable seating. At the same time I was boarding, I knew that on the decks below me were rolling on cars and semi-trucks. The ship can carry 2,000 passengers and crew, 1,342 cars and 240 trucks.
I grabbed some lunch (overpriced fast food, unfortunately) and wandered around the boat to find a good place to sit. There are some points traveling solo that you really miss having a travel partner for completely practical reasons. Having to give up a good seat and take all of one’s belongings with them just to go to the loo is most definitely one of them.
The remainder of the day was standard travel stuff: docking, picking up luggage, getting some local currency (the Euro, in this case), buying a bus ticket to the city, walking to the hostel, checking in, grabbing dinner, falling into bed. Yes, some parts of travel are exciting, but moving from place to place is sometimes exactly as mundane as it sounds…
* * *
Even though I was only to be in Dublin for a couple of days, I wasn’t so tired from my travels that I was going to spend the whole time at the hostel. I headed out the next morning, over to Trinity College Dublin. It was a bit cloudy and overcast as I took the walking tour of the campus, founded in 1592 and full of buildings of brick and stone, then made my way to the library to see the Book of Kells.
After grabbing a simple lunch at the campus cafeteria, I walked over to the National Museum of Ireland, looking at various exhibits on the history of the area. Finally, I ended up at the Natural History Museum, which turned out to be little more than two whole floors of dead, stuffed animals in glass cases. The locals, I would later learn, refer to the place as the “Dead Zoo”.
With the midsummer sun still high in the sky at 5:30, I decided to simply wander the city a bit. I took a few pictures before deciding to do a little reading. Consulting my tourist map (and remembering the widely-known advice to avoid North Dublin), I decided to head to one of the nicest and most highly-recommended public spaces in Dublin: Merrion Square.
I walked into the park, pausing briefly at the memorial to Oscar Wilde, then headed a little deeper into the park to find a good reading spot. The sun had gradually emerged over the course of the day and, not having put on any sunscreen, I eventually found a shaded bench facing out over the wide grassy field that made up the middle of the park. I cracked open my “History of New Zealand” book and started to read.
After a while, a young woman arrived (Irish A, I’ll call her (yes, I know, I’m crap at thinking up nicknames for people)), sitting on the other end of the bench. Travel, for whatever reason, had helped to ease my natural shyness measurably, and it wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation. It turned out that she was from Dublin, a street performer who did juggling and was waiting for other street performers to arrive. As it turned out, I’d happened to be in the park on a Tuesday, when the group met up to practice and learn tricks from each other. In fact, on of her friends (Irish K) showed up a short time later, chatting for a bit and delving into his own book.
* * *
99.9% of the time, I could have accurately predicted well in advance how the story would have gone next. One of the gifts of travel is being able to meet and learn about remarkable people around the world. I’d read enough travel blogs to know that it happens all the time. Hell, it had even happened to me, on the Great Barrier Reef.
So, 99.9% of the time, here’s how the story should have gone: I happened upon a group of street performers in Dublin. I watched them practice. Took some photographs. Maybe they even taught me how to juggle a bit. Then we all ended up at the pub before I headed back to my hostel, tipsy and happy and with a good story to write down the next day.
I’ve been told by a lot of people that it’s that other .1% that makes travel interesting. It’s that other 1% that makes up the good stories, the memorable ones. And perhaps I’ll think differently 5, 10, 20 years from now. Right now, though, the interesting story isn’t enough of an upside for me, and I wish it had all gone right instead of wrong.
[Sorry to leave you there, but this has rambled enough for tonight. More to come in a day or two.]