Dia Duit or Heileó (in Gaelic) from Ireland! Last week
I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it here because I had a five-hour delay in the Buffalo airport. But when I landed at JFK about the same time as my scheduled departure to Dublin, the Aer Lingus agent said (with the same accent as the Lucky Charms character), "You’re in luck – the flight is delayed five hours," Another five hours?! I’m not sure I would call that luck. At least, I didn’t have to wait 24 hours for the next flight.
HANGING IN JFK
Now I just had to find a way to kill my second straight five-hour airport delay. There was no line at check-in, so I had plenty of time to schmooze the agents
to get upgraded. Although I
had the girls rolling, they wouldn’t budge on the freebies. However, I did get them to block off an entire middle row for me (luckily the flight wasn’t packed), and that was even better than a business class seat. Because the flight was delayed so long, Aer Lingus gave passengers $15 food vouchers to be used at any terminal
restaurant. I was so hungry I used mine at the first one I came across: Sbarro. I also bought dinner for the person behind me in line, because with vouchers you don’t get change and I can’t eat $15 worth of pizza. I still had over four hours to kill, so I bought a day pass to the Aer Lingus lounge
for $30. It was well worth it. Not only did they have a wide selection of drinks and light snacks, but also plenty
of comfortable chairs, free internet and a shower. The shower
was key for me. I stunk from a long day of traveling so before I got on the plane I took a long hot one -- even though I had a feeling I would get athlete’s foot.
JFK TO IRELAND
to Ireland was easy, although we had to stop in Shannon for 30 minutes to drop and pick up passengers (I love how they don’t tell you this when you book the flight). Our
JFK to Shannon took 5 hours and 50 minutes, while
Dublin was a quick 30 minutes. I was worried about the Aer Lingus service, because my seatmate on the Buffalo–JFK flight told me Aer Lingus was the worst carrier she ever flew, but I didn’t find it that way at all. Maybe my seatmate didn’t smile, because the flight attendants
were really nice to me. However, the chicken dinner
they served does rank as the worst airplane food I’ve ever had. I was going to take it home with me to do DNA testing, because I’m still not sure it was really chicken. It might have been one of those rubber chickens you see on TV. I know what you’re thinking: At least they served food. Honestly, it would’ve been better if they hadn’t.
The national name for Ireland is Éire. The country
is an island half the size of Arkansas, with a population of just over four million. The island is divided into two major political units: the Republic of Ireland (where I was) and Northern Ireland (where Belfast is located). The native language is Irish Gaelic but only a very small percentage of the people speak it. Though Gaelic was once regarded as a dying language, it is slowly making a come back. Now most street signs are written in both
English and Gaelic, and Gaelic is being taught in schools. Everyone speaks English (although some accents are so thick you don’t know what the heck they’re saying), and the locals are really friendly. Ninety-one percent are Catholic, but not that many practice the faith. The currency is the euro (as of October 22: 1 Euro = $1.19 USD).
AIRPORT TO THE CITY
Dublin International Airport
is seven miles north of the city center. Our €20 taxi ride to our hotel took about 30 minutes. I could have taken the AirCoach
, which operates every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, for €7, or the Dublin Bus
for €5 (there are a number of buses, so ask the travel information desk in the arrivals area for which one is best for you). Most European cities have trains to the airport. I was bummed Dublin doesn't.
I was pretty darn stoked to be in Ireland. It was my first visit, though I have always wanted to go. I was sent there and to another country (we will get there next week) by Eurail
with a small group of journalist to test out Eurail Passes. Our hotel for the first three nights was The Davenport. It is in an excellent location: in Merrion Square, within walking distance to many of the city’s most popular sites. On the outside
the deluxe hotel looks like a fine Georgian townhouse, even though it was originally a church that dates back to 1863. The inside
of the hotel is elegant, with traditional
interiors. I had internet access (10 euros for 24 hours). There are 115 guest rooms, the service is excellent, and a full Irish breakfast
is included (similar to an American breakfast, plus brown bread, baked beans
, blood pudding
, and Canadian bacon). Rates begin at 99 euros. The Davenport Hotel
, Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland; 353-1-6073500 (from the U.S., dial
The second thing I did after putting my bags down was go for a walk
, to get a feel for the area. The first thing was to phone my dad to tell him I made it to Ireland. Calling him was not only easy but affordable, because I used my GSM cell phone. A GSM phone allows me to call the U.S. for only 50 euro cents ($0.60 US) a minute, and to call within Ireland for 20 euro cents a minute. Not only is it a lot cheaper than American cellular phone plans, but with an Irish SIM card I get a local number. That means my Irish friends don’t have to call internationally to get me. The best part? All incoming calls are free, no matter where they are from -- even the United States or Australia. For more info check out www.CellularAbroad.com
. Tell them Johnny Jet sent you, for a $10 discount.
The first point of interest I came across was Merrion Square
. It’s a lovely park a block away from my hotel. Merrion Square is considered one of the city's finest examples of Georgian squares and is a perfect place to read a book just like Oscar Wilde used to do (actually, he still does -- there’s a statue
of him). The second park I found was just a few blocks away: Saint Stephen's Green Park
. I took a nice stroll around the large pond
filled with ducks. I admired the beautiful flowers
, and checked out the garden for the blind that includes scented plants and signs labeled in Braille. How thoughtful is that?
One of Saint Stephen's Green Park exits
leads to Dublin’s most popular shopping area: Grafton Street
. It is named after the first Duke of Grafton, who owned land in the area. Now the street
is blocked off to cars. Shoppers find
plenty of places
to spend money and pass time -- especially in Brown Thomas
, a large fine department store chain. What makes this street so interesting is the wide variety of street entertainers. I saw a whole slew of characters, including rock singers
singers, a harpist
, a tango dancer
and Jamaican performers
. I felt like I was on the 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica. I had no idea Ireland was so diverse. I heard it’s just recently that Ireland has become home to so many outsiders. This occurred when Ireland joined the European Union
, which opened the borders for people to come and work. I was surprised how many Eastern Europeans working there (most of the maids in our hotel were Polish or Latvian).
MOLLY MALONE & TRINITY COLLEGE
At the end of Grafton Street are two notable Dublin landmarks. The first, a statue
built in 1988 of Molly Malone
-- a busty fictional
fish monger – is a popular meeting place. The other is Trinity College. Twelve thousand students fill the 40-acre campus. It was founded in 1592 (making it the oldest university in Ireland), and was strictly Protestant until 1793 (but the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow parishioners to enter until 1970). Legend has it that the provost (George Salmon) said that women could enter the college only over "his dead body," and the day after he died women were allowed in -- but that’s not exactly how it transpired. Trinity College has had many famous scholars, including Edmund Burke, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker
and Oscar Wilde
. And I have never seen a campus so popular with tourists. Students and private companies offer walking tours that take you past famous alumni statues and incredible architecture. The most popular
attraction is the Old Library building, where the Gospel Book of Kells
(an illuminated manuscript of the Gospel) is housed. Trinity College Dublin
, College Green, Dublin 2; tel.: 353-01-608-1000.
LITERARY PUB CRAWL
I visited Trinity College
when I took the two-hour Literary Pub Crawl. It takes place every night from April to November at 7:30 p.m. From December to March it’s Thursday through Sunday, also at 7.30. Year round, there are Sunday noon tours. The tour is run by actors
, and is popular because Dublin is so famous for its literary pubs
eight of them). The night tour draws up to 60 participants; the Sunday tour is a lot less rowdy and crowded (about 15). We were fortunate to have the founder as our guide. He introduced
to us the writers (Joyce
, Beckett, Behan, Wilde, Mary Lavin, Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan...), then performed scenes from their works. It was interesting
, and there’s more walking
than drinking. We covered a half-mile in total, and only hung out in a couple of pubs long enough to grab a drink. At the end of the tour is a quiz. Would you believe I won the grand prize
? I represented America well. Price: €11 adults, €9 students. The starting point can be found of Grafton Street at The Duke Pub
(9 Duke Street). The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
; tel.: 353-1-6705602; fax: 353-1-670560.
I am a finicky eater, and for some reason I had the misbelief that Ireland does not have good food. I was happy to learn I was wrong. There are plenty of fantastic places to eat in Dublin, serving all kinds of food from Indian to seafood, and everything in between. One night in Dublin we went to a really tasty and not expensive Indian
restaurant called Jaipur (I loved the Tandoori breads). We all ordered
and passed them around so we could taste everything
, 41 South Great George's St., Dublin 2; tel.: 353-1-677-0999.
SEAFOOD RESTAURANT IN HOWTH
Another place which we dined was 20 minutes away in a picturesque
fishing village called Howth. We
used our Eurail pass to get there for free, by taking DART
(Dublin Area Rapid Transit). It was easy, clean, safe and free for Eurail pass holders. We ate at a harborside restaurant/inn called King Sitric
. It was well worth the trip, especially for seafood
lovers -- everything
was so fresh
. I loved the stunning views
overlooking Balscadden Bay, and the assorted chocolates
at the end
. Ummm umm! Prix fixe dinner cost €52. King Sitric
, East Pier, Howth, County Dublin; tel: 353-1-832-5235.
Next week we finish off our trip to Dublin, and take a couple of side trips to the countryside. We’ll have videos too!
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