« Let the madness in the music get to you, life ain't so bad at all if you live it off the wall | Main | Always with the resolutions »

June 30, 2009

Dublin!

ireland-mollymalone.jpg

Yes, that's the place. I didn't plan on going to Dublin, I actually had a flight booked in January to somewhere else and ended up having to cancel it at the last minute. So when I called the nice lady at the airlines to figure out what I could do with my unused ticket, maybe go somewhere in mid-June, I just left it up to the Gods Of Cheap Destinations. Take me where you will! The lowest priced destination available for that date was Dublin, so that is where the Gods sent me. And it seemed like a good spin of fate, Ireland is a country I've never visited and they speak the same language and I enjoy Lucky Charms. A lot.

So, I went there and it was lovely! I understand why so many people choose Ireland as a vacation destination (and I always forget how much simpler it is to travel where you speak the language) but I was surprised at how few actual Irish people I met in Dublin. I think I met three. Most everyone else who was working at the hotel or bar or restaurant wherever I went was Polish or Malaysian or Swiss, the room service guy was French, and even the tour guide for the open-air bus (just around the city center) was Polish. There was a recording in an Irish accent, though, for the tour portion. I guess the Polish fellow just drives the bus and takes the tickets. I've been practicing learning Polish for a while now (I have weird hobbies, people) so it was kind of fun -- although odd -- to be ordering wine in a bar or saying please and thank you in Polish while in Dublin, Ireland. But fun!

The first rule of thumb when going someplace new is try try as you might to book a hotel with a balcony:

ireland-view.jpg

My hotel overlooked St. Stephen's Green and that's the beginning of Grafton Street to the left. Grafton Street is a pedestrianized shopping area, it reminded me a lot of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, touristy and fun:

ireland-grafton-street.jpg

I loved the flower stalls set up everywhere:

ireland-grafton-flowers.jpg


And of course I did the tourist stuff, saw Trinity College, hit the highlights, all that stuff you can read about in Frommer's.

ireland--james-joyce.jpg
The required James Joyce mention.

My favorite way to get a quick overview of a new city is by playing cheesy tourist on one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours. And that's where I met the Polish driver and also got a great view of the city, mostly to myself! The top of the double-decker tour bus has two rows of covered seats near the very front and the rest is open-air seating, and with the sporadic rain that day I was the only one up on the top of the bus. It was fine and dry under the small plexiglass covering in the front row, but no one else joined me upstairs which was fine by me! I had fun being the total tourist and taking pictures of anything and everything.

ireland-open-top-tour.jpg

After that I hoofed it. Dublin itself is a really walkable city, you can get just about anywhere on foot and it felt much safer walking around by myself there than walking around alone in most parts of Los Angeles. Of course, as in any city I don't walk around with a hundred-dollar bill pinned to my butt while all alone at 4 a.m. in a dark alley, but normal precautions were more than enough to keep me safe in Dublin. I'm always surprised how much cautionary scary stuff you can read about traveling (internet forums: I am looking at you) but I've felt more scared for my life at the Wal-Mart in Panorama City than any of the overseas trips I've made alone. Just use your common sense, if you have any ... that's what my dad would say!

There's plenty of shopping, though I just went with a carry-on bag again, so I didn't do too much shopping. The city center is filled with a huge variety of places to eat and drink just about any time of the day or night. I'm discovering that sometimes the tricky part about traveling solo is eating meals alone, but Dublin was pretty easy. There are so many little bars that have good menus it just didn't pose a problem. Paris is like that, too, with all the street cafes you can just stop in anytime and get a little bite to eat and a glass of wine. I usually take a book with me or people-watch out the windows, but dinig alone is definitely easier for me in a more casual setting and Dublin had plenty to choose from.

Aside from taking the Dublin city hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus, the other ridiculously touristy thing I did while I was on vacation was to book a day-long bus tour of the Irish countryside. This was new for me -- I have never once taken a bonafide guided bus tour. (I don't think the hop-on-hop-off buses count. Do they?) Usually I prefer to drive around a new place to get a feel for it (and I think if you can drive in Los Angeles you can drive anywhere) but there was the little matter of the stick shift being on the left and driving on the wrong side of the road while also trying to find my way around. Alone. Yeah. I voted on bus tour.

So for 25 euros I boarded a bus with a bunch of strangers (also a double-decker bus, but this time the whole top area is enclosed, too) and I wasn't sure how I felt about this whole thing -- being trapped in an enclosed space with strangers is my idea of hell -- but it went great! No one was weird or skeevy, the tour guide was actually Irish and he was very chatty and knowledgeable, and it was a great way to relax and see the countryside. We went down along the ocean, curving around the beach towns to the south and stopped at a beautiful place called Powercourt Castle. Everyone got plenty of time to walk around on their own and eat lunch and meander, then we all got back on the bus and drove back through the Wicklow Mountains.

Here's Dublin Bay:

ireland-dublinbay1.jpg

Look closely ... people are SWIMMING in there! It can't be over 50 degrees in that water. You crazy Irish!

ireland-dublinbay2.jpg

Pretty beachside park:

ireland-coast2.jpg


Gorgeous Powerscourt Castle:

ireland-powerscourt.jpg


The grounds:

ireland-powerscourt-walk.jpg


Required Artsy Fartsy picture:

ireland--artsy-fartsy.jpg


So that was fun and everything was very charming and pretty and since the tour guide was Irish, I met my first official Irish person. yay me. And I could keep posting pictures of that but I figure you can get most of the tourist highlights better in a guidebook than from me, to be honest. You see, I had a very specific view of Dublin in mind, a mission! Dah dah dumn!

My mission was yarn, plain and simple.

Irish knitting is legendary. Complicated cables, aran knits, hearty fisherman sweaters and delicate baby blankets. Irish knitting is known all over the world, even to people who have never picked up sticks and string. So I just assumed the whole city would be a playground for the yarn hungry.

Wow. I was kind of wrong about that.

I started my yarn crawl with what I had cobbled together on the internet, four shops in Dublin's city center, all within easy walking distance of my hotel. The first shop, Blarney's Woollen Mills on Nassau Street near Trinity College ended up being a bust. They had plenty of pretty knitted garments but no yarn or knitting supplies:

ireland-blarney1.jpg ireland-blarney2.jpg

I was a little disappointed, but on the north side of the river Liffey right across the Ha'penny bridge is the other Woollen Mills store, and this one has yarn:

ireland-woolenmills.jpg

ireland-woolenmills3.jpg

But not very much yarn:
ireland-woolenmills2.jpg

That shelf of yarn you see in the picture is the whole selection for the entire shop, and it's a fairly large sized-shop. They have buttons and sewing doodads and a selection of hand-knitted goods:

ireland-woolenmills1.jpg
The Woollen Mills is located just on the north side of the Ha'penny bridge, 41 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin

But the yarn selection was very small and most of it was chain market stuff that I can get here at home. I was starting to get a little disappointed. But the next stop was not just a yarn shop, it was also a little education about Irish Yarn.

Meet This Is Knit:

ireland-this-is-knit1.jpg

ireland-this-is-knit2.jpg
This Is Knit is located on the First Floor of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, South William Street, Dublin 2

This cute little yarn shop spans across a walkway in the Powerscourt Townhouse shopping center. And one of the nice ladies inside -- my second real Irish person! -- explained to me that the wool on the sheep in Ireland is too coarse to be used in handknitting. She said that Irish wool is either exported for other uses (rugs, maybe) or some farmers just burn it in the fields because it's so worthless. I was astonished. Because ... you know... Irish knitting! I just assumed it came from Irish sheep. And the friendly lady in the shop showed me the brand of yarns in the store that are spun and dyed and created in Ireland (but made with imported wool). They're very pretty Aran tweed colors, and I bought some skeins to take home for friends. More importantly, I felt like I had just learned some kind of knitting secret, like unmasking Zorro or something.

I don't know if the wool situation also explains why there are so few yarn shops in Ireland's capital city. Or at least from what I could find. Is knitting not a big hobby in cold, blustery Ireland like it is here in the hellishly hot San Fernando Valley in California? Because we have a yarn shop every four miles. Not that I am complaining mind you. I am just curious.

So my last stop on the yarn crawl was Hickey's, located on Henry Street, which is more of a JoAnn's type fabric shop but on the basement floor they did have a corner with some yarn in the back:

ireland-hickeys.jpg
(That guy in the doorway kept following me around the shop like I was about to steal something.)

ireland-hickeys-yarn.jpg

That was my mission for the afternoon, seeing the city from yarn shop to yarn shop. It was a good day in Dublin, mostly because I didn't buy very much and my luggage was still able to close and make the trip home. I was just very surprised, I guess I'd imagined that Ireland would be full of yarn shops and knitters and crazy cool varieties of homegrown yarn. Shocker! Maybe I just didn't stumble on the underground knitting scene or something. Maybe it's different in the countryside? Maybe in Ireland people prefer scrapbooking or origami or cake decorating as their hobby of choice? I have no idea. You Irish folks out there have to let me know what you think. While I was wandering around looking for the first Woolen Mills place, I asked a lady in the shop down the street if I was on the right road (I was) and she asked me what I was looking for.

"A yarn shop," I told her.
"What for?" she asked.
"Well... for knitting."
She looked at me crossways for a second. "Are you a knitter, then? I thought only old grannies did any knitting!"

Hrmph. I didn't count her in my tally of real Irish people I met. She was from... probably somewhere else. Probably.

So, in conclusion, it was a brief trip but a great one. I would definitely return to Ireland except I think I might try renting a car (yikes) and getting out of the city and seeing more of the beautiful countryside. I'd like to see these alleged sheep who have fur made of nettles and iron or whatever.

ireland-templebar.jpg

ireland-eddie-rockets.jpg
Johnny's Irish cousin, I presume?


Posted by laurie at June 30, 2009 5:42 PM