Searching for the Vikings

Wednesday, August 23 - Day 22: Dublin, Ireland

When we went to breakfast, a couple asked to share the table with us, since the other tables were full. Of course we said yes. They turned out to be a nice couple. It’s a given, since they were Canadian, eh. Today turned out to be another short-sleeve shirt day, temperature wise. The sun peeked out occasionally.

Failte. That means “Where’s my third Guinness?” We’re in Ireland, another country we have never been to before. The ship is docked in an industrial area three miles from downtown, so the good news is that they have shuttle buses right on the dock to take you to the downtown area. The bad news is that they charge twenty dollars per person. Ah well, we knew going into this trip that it wouldn’t be cheap. At least the shuttle tickets are good all day, so we can go back and forth to the ship as often as we want.

Now, let’s do some arithmetic. Bear with me, I won’t make it too hard. The ship is docked 3 miles from downtown. They said that the bus ride takes about 30 minutes. Get out your calculators… yes, that’s 6 miles/hour. Not exactly speedy. However, that was a fictional estimate. The bus ride actually took 50 minutes. That makes it 3.6 miles/hour. “Why?” you might ask. Well there seems to be one main road, along the riverside, from the dock downtown. This road was sort of the main street in the city, passing the major buildings and bridges along the riverside. In one direction, not the one we were going, it seemed to move pretty well. In our direction, not so well. Every traffic light we encountered, and we encountered a lot of them, would go green for exactly the amount of time it took one, yes one, vehicle to enter the intersection, then it would turn red and stay red for five minutes. Fun. I don’t think we’ll be making a lot of use of those shuttle tickets.

The bus dropped us off opposite a small park called Merrion Square, which had a nice statue of Oscar Wilde, resting nonchalantly on a rock. The first thing we did, which is the thing every tourist in Dublin does, is we walked to Trinity College. It is mandatory that a visitor to Dublin must wait in a long line and pay a hefty entrance fee to go to the Trinity College library to see the “Book of Kells”. Just as it is mandatory that a visitor to Paris must wait in a long line and pay a hefty entrance fee to go into the Louvre, just to see the Mona Lisa. You don’t really have to be interested in Renaissance art, or even like art at all, but you are required to see the Mona Lisa so you can tell everyone that you did. The Book of Kells is the Irish Mona Lisa. Yes, there are long lines. Yes, there are fees, not too hefty, just ten Euros for a senior citizen.

Now, to be truthful, I wasn’t all that interested in seeing the Book of Kells. Yes, it is a very old beautifully illuminated manuscript, in perfect condition, one of kind almost. But I had read, and we had been told by Barbara (our Location Guide), that all you got to see was one page. I was interested in seeing the Trinity College Library. I had seen pictures online. It’s one of those very old beautiful libraries with thousands of extremely old books on old wooden shelves. It was a photographer’s dream. We love old libraries. I had also read online that you didn’t have to wait on a long line or pay a fee to see the library. Wrong. We found out from a guard that now you have to buy a “combined ticket” to see both or either, and the line to buy the tickets was the long one. Sigh.

We didn’t, at this point, want to wait on long lines, so we decided to come back in the afternoon and see if the lines were shorter. The other thing I had wanted to see in Dublin was the Chester Beatty library. I had read online that this was something worth seeing, but by the time we got to Dublin, I had forgotten what it was about it that was worth seeing. Checking our maps, we found out it was part of the Dublin Castle, so we headed in that direction. We then found the Chester Beatty library. It was a fairly unimpressive building. Above the front door was a sign that said “The Art of Friendship. Japanese Surimono Prints”. Not exactly an Irish thing.

We went in. Entrance was free. There was no line. We went upstairs to the second floor where the exhibits started and went into a room containing the exhibit “The Art of the Book”. I said I wasn’t going to use my superlative codes anymore, so how about stunning, magical, magnificent, and a few more. Books, prints and some other artifacts from Asia, the Mideast, and Europe. The Asian art in particular was gorgeous. It turned out that Chester Beatty was one of the premier book collectors of all time. We had never heard of him. It was obvious from the exhibit that he had very good taste, and a lot of money. The room was very well designed with very low light in the room and the objects in the glass cases lit up well. We wandered around and were stunned. No pictures allowed, darn! (real expletive censored)

Then we went upstairs to “The Art of Friendship. Japanese Surimono Prints”. A sign explained that in old Japan, there were poets who wrote a certain kind of poetry, and that people would commission beautiful woodblock prints by some of the most famous Japanese woodblock print artists with the poems written in beautiful calligraphy on the prints. Now Japanese woodblock prints are world renowned and are in many major art museums, but at the time they were made, they were widely available and not rare. These surimono prints were a different matter. They were commissioned specially, in small numbers, and never sold but exchanged between friends, hence “The Art of Friendship”.

I adore Japanese woodblock prints. I’m in good company. They were collected by other enthusiasts like Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and many other famous artists.

This was another mind blower for me. The prints were magnificently beautiful. There were dozens of them. Chester Beatty had collected over 300 of them. Some of the most renowned Japanese artists, like Hokusai, were represented in the collection. Who knew that this was in Dublin. Boy, am I glad I had written down that we should see the Chester Beatty library.

One other note, it said on a sign that Chester Beatty had been an American mining engineer.

By now, it was around noon, so we decided to do the next mandatory touristy thing in Dublin and that was to go to the Temple Bar. The Temple Bar isn’t a bar, but an area, which contains a lot of bars, or pubs, and restaurants, and shops. A tourist mecca. We figured we’d find a nice, traditional Irish Pub, with live music, and have lunch. Tricky. The Temple Bar area was chock full of tourists, and contained many traditional Irish restaurants, such as the ones that offered pizza, falafel, burritos, empanadas, sushi, tacos, pasta, burgers (lots of these), Turkish food, Greek food, Thai food, Indian Food, Cornish Pasties, etc., etc. There were also a lot of places that looked like Irish Pubs, and had names that sounded like Irish Pubs, but when you looked at the menus they served burgers, hot dogs, wraps, salads, chicken wings, etc. It amazes me that people will travel all the way to Dublin, Ireland to have American food.

We walked a few blocks, taking pictures, until we were a little way away from the most touristy part, and found a place, called the Auld Dubliner, that looked more authentic, despite the name. It looked like an Irish Pub outside. It looked like an Irish Pub inside. It had a live singer/guitarist. It had a bar and a few tables downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, and most importantly didn’t have pizza, burgers or tacos on the menu. We went in to the downstairs pub  and sat on stools at a high table, and a young man came over and with a real Irish accent asked if we wanted drinks. I asked for a half-pint of Guinness, and Donnie asked if they had her favorite, Pear Cider. They did.

Now, a little story about Guinness. Barbara, (you should know by now, but I’ll repeat it to make sure, our Location Guide) had said that if you had ever had a Guinness outside of Dublin, especially in the US, or even worse, had it out of a bottle or a can, you had no inkling of what the real thing was like, and even if you didn’t like it, you should try a real, slow-poured, Irish Guinness. She also mentioned that they make 10 Million pints a day. Now I must admit that I did have a Guinness once, in the US, and didn’t like it. I found it way too bitter. I won’t, out of embarrassment, say exactly where I had it, but it was an “Irish Pub” located in a very large park-like place in Orlando Florida. (See why I’m embarrassed.)

So back in the Auld Dubliner, I decided I had to take Barbara’s advice and try a real Irish Guinness, but I worried that I might not like it, so I ordered half a pint. I’ll end the suspense, I liked it. The waiter/barkeep came back for our food orders. I have been mostly avoiding writing about what food we ate because I think it’s probably boring for you readers, but I’ll just say that Donnie had “Beef and Porter Pie” and I had a “Dublin Coddle”. I won’t describe it. Google it. Both were very good. I tried Donnie’s, and it was excellent. We sat and ate and listened to the singer. He was pretty good, but we noticed that he didn’t have an Irish accent. Then we realized that he wasn’t singing any Irish songs. We enjoyed the music, even if he was singing Bob Dylan and John Denver classics.

When Donnie went up to the bar to pay our bill (we noticed that this was the accepted method) the young Irish bartender was busy with other customers, but, to catch his eye, Donnie held up her credit card. He noticed her and winked at her. Then when he came over to her and took her card, put it in the little, ubiquitous, European credit card machine, and turned it to face her, he winked again. So when the machine displayed choices for the amount of the tip, even though we had learned that people don’t usually tip in Europe, she gave him a fifteen percent tip. Sly devil.

We walked back to Trinity College and got on the line. It seemed to be about as long as it was in the morning, but maybe was moving a little faster. It did. We were only on the line for about fifteen minutes. We got to the head of the line, bought two senior tickets for ten Euros apiece and went in. First, there was a big room with lots of panels with very enlarged pictures of the Book of Kells and lots of explanatory text, sort of arranged in a maze that you had to maneuver through. There were a lot of people reading the explanations, but we made our way through. Then you got to a smaller room, with more explanations on the walls, but in the middle was a low, glass topped cabinet, containing four volumes, surrounded by people. We tried to get a close look, but the people weren’t moving. By peering between the bodies, you could see some old pages, some of which looked like the manuscript pictured on the panels in the first room, but the other volumes looked less interesting. We never really found out which was the Book of Kells, or if all of them were. From there, you went up some stairs into what a sign said was “The Long Room”.

Yes! This is what I wanted to see. The long, high, old, beautifully decorated Old Trinity College Library. Best of all, even though there was a sign at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the room that said “No Photography”, at the top of the stairs there were several signs that said “No Flash Photography”, and there were a lot of people in the room taking smart phone pictures, and the guard said nothing. I was having a photographic high. We spent some time in there. I even liked the musty smell of the very old books. As I had predicted, the Book of Kells was a big disappointment and the Old Library wasn’t.

When we got outside, we realized that this college campus was inundated with tourists. It was a real college campus. There were signs all over the place for this department or that department, but the place was full of tourists. I felt sorry for the students. I imagine that if the Book of Kells were moved to somewhere else, they would have their college back again, in peace and quiet. I’m quite sure, from many previous examples, that nobody goes to old, beautiful, libraries, except us.

We walked back to Merrion Square, and this time we went into the park and took pictures of Oscar, and some pillars with many of his wittiest quotes. Then we crossed the street and got on the shuttle bus back to the ship.

Dublin is a very big, very busy, cosmopolitan city, not unlike London. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of pedestrians, so it’s a far cry from Eidfjord, or even Reykjavik.