I think I’m finally recovered from jetlag/trip shock enough to spend my relax time on a blog entry instead of watching Irish television (congrats to Clodagh Roper on making the quarterfinals this week on “An Jig Gig,” btw).
In general, I have this to say about Ireland:
1. the people are friendly and witty;
2. the weather is plesantly dreary;
3. the paninis are dependable; and
4. sheep, cows, and horses cohabitate freely in its pastures.
Now, to catch up on our trip:
Seth has pretty well covered our flights over and our first day in Dublin. I will add that, continuing our track record of random celebrity sightings, we saw George Lopez at Heathrow!
I enjoyed the walking tour we took on Tuesday immensely, though it didn’t help orient me to the city as much as I would have hoped. Dublin city centre is a crazy maze of short winding streets – totally disorienting, but with lots of charm. I remember walking around at night in Temple Bar (the sort of “nightlife” district near Trinity College) when Seth and I came here for one night 12 years ago, and thinking it was just like NYC, but smaller. I definitely didn’t find it as intimidating as I remember then, but I’m also older. This was further made apparent on the “pub crawl,” where I spent probably too much time worrying about the tiny Spanish girls that immediately got drunk.
Day 2 in Dublin, we visited the Chester Beatty Library and the Guinness Storehouse.
The Chester Beatty Library is an amazing collection of rare books, manuscripts, and some related artifacts, which was bequeathed to the city by an American millionaire who had made his fortune in mining in the early 20th century (he had moved to Ireland, with his vast collection, for tax purposes in 1950). The collection includes some of the oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament, one of the most important collections of Qur’ans outside the Middle East, and a bunch of other fascinating stuff, including about 950 Chinese snuff bottles, which I know nothing about, but apparently we were very privileged to see 650 of, which were mounted on special exhibition to coincide with the annual convention of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society (20-23 October – sorry, ICSBS members only). Anyway, I highly recommend a visit for all bibliophiles, or anyone interested in any of the world’s major religions. Or snuff bottles.
The Guinness Storehouse tour, which I had done no research on and was mistakenly under the impression was actually a tour of the Guinness brewery, was entirely befuddling. It’s either so postmodern as to be completely lost on 99.9% of the European teenagers who appear to make up most of its visitors, or it’s the biggest sham in public exhibition I’ve ever seen (and that includes Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage in Las Vegas). Look at the website yourself and decide. There are eight floors, which are designed as concentric balconies overlooking a large atrium, the negative space of which creates the shape of a pint of Guinness. It is simultaneously overloaded with factual information about the minutia of the brewery business (an entire exhibit on the coopering of beer barrels?) and completely devoid of content (an entire floor called “The Choice Zone” which comprises a touch screen quiz on the effects of alcohol, and a theatre where you can watch film highlights of various sporting events or public programs Guinness has sponsored, indicating its social responsibility). The advertising and marketing archive was interesting. And ultimately, I was underwhelmed by the taste of the fresh pint we were served in the 360-degree view “Gravity Bar” at the top level, which was the whole reason for going. Maybe I was just exhausted from my participation in the cultural dialog by that point.
Day 3 in Dublin was largely spent driving around County Meath north of the city, visiting the neolithic sites of Knowth and Newgrange, followed by an unsuccessful search for the Hill of Tara, and getting stuck in the pm commuter traffic jam. Knowth (which is pronounced like “mouth” but with an “n” instead of an “m,” not like “know” with a “th” at the end) and Newgrange are both classified as “passage tombs” and date to about 3000 B.C. They’re basically small burial chambers which were covered with huge cairns made of river rock and accessed by a small passage tunnel to the outside. They’re ringed with huge stones covered in neolithic art carvings – one of our guides said that something like 2/3 of all of the neolithic art in Europe is in Ireland. These structures were massive undertakings, which must have taken generations to build (considering people only lived to be about 30 in those days), and so much is still unknown about their purpose, significance, or even how they were constructed. But the nomadic farmers who built them brought materials from at least 70 km away (the nearest natural source for white quartz) and aligned their entrances with the rising sun at key point in the year (e.g. the winter solstice). Truly fascinating.
The Hill of Tara is the archaeological site that, according to tradition, was the seat of the Irish Kings. We wanted to visit it because Garvan (from the walking tour) had told us that there’s motorway construction proposed through the area and it’s probably going to get basically plowed over. To the best of our knowledge, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe it’s not such a big deal, because it’s clearly not important enough to the Irish people to put up some reasonable signage. Sorry if that’s a bit harsh – I was tired.
So, after making our way finally through the traffic to a new hotel on the northern outskirts of Dublin for a night of rest, the next day we sped across the country to Galway, just in time to make the 2pm massage appointments we had booked for our anniversary at The G hotel, a very classy establishment – more on that later.