March 24th, 2009
The tourguide informed us more times than I can count that 62% of the population is under 32 years of age.
I can believe it.
Also, that the number of tourists exceed the actual population by some obscene number that I can't remember, but I think it was a good 6 times more, or so.
And that I can most definitely believe.
Maybe it's because I had spent the last 3 months in London -- A city that is no stranger to tourists, but a city that owns itself. London does not bend over for foreign visiters or seek to cater to their every whim. You go to London, the city does not come to you --
But as I walked down the streets of Dublin and couldn't help but think "kitch."
The main streets are wide and patterned with paving stones. O'Connell Street strikes a pose with its towering spire that marks the way back to our hostel. Irish flags flutter from every pub, on every corner, down every street. Pizza shops, corner stores, and bag shops line the cobblestones of Talbot Street. And every time I side-step one smoker, I'm hit in the face with the next plume.
City sweepers never sleep in this city. They can't. We walked down a freshly cleaned O'Connell street and 2 hours later there were cigarette butts littering the ground. People think that Parisians smoke a lot, but Paris has got nothing on Dublin.
One bus load of tourists gives way to the next and Temple Bar is chock full of drunken college students doing their best to not remember a single minute of their trip. There are more tour buses and taxis on the streets than average cars. People mill around in groups and snatches of different languages and accents are picked up as I walk by.
If green, white, and orange weren't blasting me at every step, I may very well have forgotten I was in Ireland. Where were the Irish?
Robin and I tried to find them. We walked until our feet were about ready to fall off and then we turned around and walked back, stopped at one of those pizza joints, and hunkered down for some Van Helsing in the common room at Jacob's Inn.
Earlier that day we visited the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough -- home of some the grandest beauty I have ever encountered. You'd recognize it if you've ever seen Braveheart or P.S. I Love You. In that day I discovered why people come to Ireland. Why this country can get under your skin. And why you're guaranteed to come back at least 3 times in your life. Our guide, Damien, told us that. 3 times, guaranteed.
I believe him.
I don't know if I can even begin to describe the majesty of those mountains or the way the sunshine tumbled off the hills into the glistening water. You just have to go. Stand on an outcropping of grass, away from the groups of Italians, feel the wind whip through your hair, sting your eyes, and just simply look,
My only regret is that the heather wasn't blooming. If it had been, the fields would have been a riot of blazing purples, whites, greens, and yellows. We got to see some yellow, but had to imagine all the rest. But then, I have only one trip under my belt. Sometime in the next 2 I'll see that purple. I just have to now.
On our trip back, Damien told us that we needed to be individual travelers, not tourists. I couldn't agree more. It's difficult, but worth the time to do something beyond the money-sucking traps that are the tourist hotspots. Maybe it's why I'm not in love with Dublin. You can't help but be a tourist. There doesn't seem to be much option for anything else.
And so we took Damien's advice and avoided Temple Bar. Instead, we headed to the River Liffey, took a right after crossing O'Connell Bridge, and 5 bridges later we were to encounter Bridge Street and the Brazen Head. Right, 5 bridges down, including 2 footbridges we came to . . . not Bridge Street. So, maybe the footbridges weren't supposed to count. Another 2 bridges and 20 odd minutes later we came to . . . some other street. We were beginning to think Damien either didn't like us, or the man simply couldn't count. Whatever the case, we ended up a good 8 bridges down with no Brazen Head in sight, sore feet, rumbling stomachs, and 2 hours gone from our lives.
I'd say that was the epitome of my experience of Dublin. All this build-up and hype for some real Irish passion only to be utterly let down.
But I will come back. Not for Dublin, but for Ireland. Because I encountered it up in those hills and by that lough. And I know it probably exists in Dublin, too. You've just got to scrape off the layers of tourists before you can really see it.
But if you don't, and you get stuck in that tourist trap - you sink, you drown, you die.
Damien meant it as a reference to the peat bogs, but I'd say it's pretty apt for Dublin, too.
You Sink. You Drown. You Die.
If you ever go to Dublin, remember that phrase and for the love of everything good in this world, don't get sucked in. The traveler inside you just may die.