‘Tis just that an artistic and modern city with a fairytale background, complete with lush green countryside, flowing streams of Guinness, and magical spirits.
One website I found extremely helpful before embarking on my trip was www.hosteldublin.com. This website rates area hotels on several criteria, including location, security, staff, and fun. Simply enter in the number of nights you will be staying, and a list of available hostels pops up, along with any web specials. One important note when canceling--be sure to do so more than 24 hours in advance; otherwise, your credit card will be charged in full.
Upon arrival in Dublin, I got off the plane and took a city bus to the center. My hostel, Litton Lane Hostel, was down a very small side street. Before becoming a hostel, the building served as a recording studio and therefore was exploding with character. The walls were bordered with the faces of several famous Irish musicians in brightly colored squares a la Andy Warhol. I not only felt instantly at home in the quirky hostel, thanks to the staff, but excited about what I would discover around each corner.
I had chosen an eight-bed mixed male and female dorm for a 3-night stay, which included brekkie (Irish for breakfast). The most memorable guests who passed through my room were seven male Goths and a Peruvian acrobat. Other hostels recommended by travelers were The Barnacles, Kilkenny House, and The Avalon House. Just as an aside, if you are going to share a large dorm room, here are some important survival tools you should bring along: first, bring earplugs for the occasional person who snores, or nose strips if you are in fact that very person; a flashlight or lighter, depending on your budget, is key for night vision; and finally, as you are staying with others, it would be very courteous of you to bring an alarm clock with a vibrate option.
Two restaurants to check out in Dublin are Boticellis and O’Sheas. Boticellis is a minimalist Italian restaurant with striking white walls, pristine wood flooring, and several small Italian frescos hung about. A dinner special as a main course with drinks and dessert comes to about 18e ($23). When I was there, the restaurant was filled with all sorts: families, young fashionistas on holiday, older couples, and several people celebrating their birthdays. Now, you know a place is good when people decide to celebrate their birthday there! For a taste of the local food flavor, there is O’Sheas. It’s a small, cozy restaurant that has typical Irish meals for 15e ($20). Like many other food establishments, O’Sheas offers an early bird special at 5pm. Both restaurants are located in the now-touristy Temple Bar area, an area that was developed by Temple Bar properties in the early nineties, after Dublin had been chosen as the European Cultural Capital city in 1991. If you are really on a budget, many pubs offer "Carvey" lunch menus. These menus offer up homemade Irish delights at extremely good prices in a cafeteria self-serve format.
Now, when in Dublin, one MUST check out the drinking establishments. My first night, I had planned to go out for one drink. But as I soon found out, you can’t respectfully go out in Dublin for just one drink. The simplest way to find a good bar in Dublin is to head north of Temple Bar and follow the herds of people. My search landed me at Hogans, one side a traditional dark pub, the other filled with multi-colored lights and a club DJ. Hogans was the best of both worlds, and as a result, it got ridiculously packed at 11pm. About that time, a group of Dubs started to chat me up, resulting in my participation in a mini pub-crawl. Our mini-crawl included a visit to The Bankers till 12:30am and a hard rock/punk pub, The Foggy Dew, open till 2:30am. Another important note is that Irish pubs close early, so it's best to go out around 9:30pm. If you find yourself in a place about to close and you’ve only gotten through half your beverage, not to worry. Many pubs will remain open to allow customers to finish their drinks and simply close to outsiders. Expect to pay about 4e ($9) for a pint.
Believe it or not, there is life in Dublin beyond the lively Irish pubs. One must-see is St. Patrick’s cathedral. In autumn, the rusty fall colors contrast with the lush green of the cathedral’s gardens and the deep, dark charcoal gray of the outside walls. The timetable for St. Patrick’s cathedral changes according to season, and you will find the latest timetable on the cathedral’s website, www.stpatrickscathedral.ie. Entrance for an adult is a little more than 4e ($9). There is also the writer’s museum, where you can learn about such famous Irish writers as Joyce and Wilde. The museum also offers entertainment for children on the weekend. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 11:30am to 6pm, and entrance is only a few euros and well worth it! And to stop your stomach from growling while wandering the museums and cathedral, there is a lively open-air food market on Moores Street. This market is the mom-and-pop version of the more expensive and crowded market in Temple Bar. Finally, a real treat is St. Stephens Green, Dublin’s answer to NYC’s Central Park and Munich’s Englischgarten. After relaxing in the park, there is St. Stephens shopping center across the way, where you can find everything Irish. There you can find hand-woven wool goods, Celtic jewelry, and rugby and football jerseys. For a more permanent souvenir, there are even several tattoo shops.
If you are in town for the weekend, the best thing to do on a Sunday is take a bus tour of the countryside. Bus tours are a great way of seeing the sights with minimal physical exertion--important especially if you have spent the earlier part of the weekend in the pubs. I chose the Wild Wiklow tour with Wild Tours to Dun Laoghaire, home to the rich, famous, and their castles, and Sally Gap, film location of Braveheart. Tours run daily, departing at 9am and returning at 5pm, and cost is 20e ($25), meal not included. Our driver was an older Irish man, full of impossible IQ test questions and bad jokes. We ventured out of Dublin, traveling along the southern coast to Dun Laoghaire harbor. The sea was a slate gray and almond, cliffs surrounding, with a cold, damp breeze blowing, and yet there were several people bathing in the water. Apparently, bathing in the sea is a year-round activity!
After Dun Laoghaire, we headed to Glendalough (Gaelic for On Two Lakes). Dark autumn colors filled the trees as we walked through a deep emerald-green forest toward the lakes. The trees formed an archway up ahead alongside a flowing stream of what appeared to be Guinness dumping into our destination, the two lakes. After the hike and a hefty shot of Jameson, we were off to a pub for a homemade Irish lunch. Our next destination was Sally Gap, which gained fame a few years back as the backdrop to Mel Gibson’s epic about Scotland, Braveheart. Turns out the minister of tourism approached Mel Gibson about filming on the Irish frontier, also offering up members of the Irish army as extras. This proved ingenious, as it has brought in a generous amount of revenue from tourists. The film was mainly shot in the bogs, soft marshy land covering the mountains, and on the grounds of Guinness descendent Gareth Brown’s 400-acre estate. Our tour ended here, and it was little over an hour's ride back to Dublin.
The following day, I returned to Barcelona, my current home. The biggest impression I was left with of Dublin, or Ireland in general, is the warmth of the people, different than that of Mediterranean people. "Dubs" are like a cozy, small cottage with a blazing fire and thick quilt that rescue you from the cold. They want to take you in under their arms and warm you up, and I have to admit, I loved it!