Dublin, Ireland: First Impressions

I have been in Ireland for one week and I still often think, “…I’m really in Ireland.”

Birds eye view

It was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived, and the view from the plane was incredible. As I was looking out the window at the acres upon acres of green hills I truly felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

After I got settled into the hostel (more on the hostel later), I headed out for a walk with a couple of German girls and an American girl who is studying in Italy. None of us had been to Dublin before so we grabbed a map, threw on our scarves, and prepared to get lost together. I’ve been told that Irish people are very friendly and helpful, but I also thought that being in a large bustling city people would be, well, city people. In Toronto, people generally have a “don’t talk to me” demeanor about them and I figured it would be similar here. I was wrong. We had only been walking for about five minutes when we pulled out a map at a major intersection to figure out where we were and where we should go. After just a moment of studying the map a man approached us and asked “What are you after?” I responded with something about how we were just wandering around, “Yes but what are you after?” he persisted. He then proceeded to point out all of the major Dublin landmarks that we could see from where we were standing, gave us tips on the area, places to eat, and a short history lesson. Irish people love to help, and they love to talk.

Dublin is a small big city. It has a big city feel to it and has lots to offer, but everything in the city center is within walking distance. One strange thing is that the streets are not clearly labelled, and even when you ask for directions people will normally refer to a main street as a starting point and then use landmarks as turning points. Signs are on buildings rather than above sets of lights or on a stand on the corner.

That night we wandered into a traditional Irish pub, sat in a cute little corner, and had delicious Guinness Irish stew. There are pubs EVERYWHERE. There are over 1,000 pubs in Dublin city. 1,000! That is a lot of beer.

Here are some of the most memorable moments from the first couple of days:

My first Guinness
Guinness on tap here is really creamy and smooth, and I enjoy it much more than Guinness back home. Most pubs I’ve been to have several stouts just for Guinness.

Walking Tour
The hostel I stayed at offers a free walking tour every day. I participated on the first full day that I was here and it was a great introduction to the city. We visited Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Christchurch cathedral, and more landmarks. The tour guide was a young Irish aspiring actress and was incredibly entertaining as she told us about some of Ireland’s extensive history.

Penney’s
Penney’s is this incredible store that has affordable clothes, shoes, accessories, home ware, and more. Incredibly dangerous. Every time I’ve asked anyone where to get something, they always say Penney’s. One girl had heard “Penney’s” so often in response to a compliment she’d give someone she actually thought that it was their way of saying “thanks”. It wasn’t until her friend complimented her haircut once and she said “oh penney’s” that she discovered it wasn’t a synonym for thank you.

Bus issues…
I decided to venture out to Roly’s Bistro to say hello to the couple I met in Vernon and to hand in my CV. All I had to do was catch a bus from the city centre and get off about 10 minutes later. Easy right? Well I never got there. First of all, the bus I was waiting for never arrived, and the other bus I could take was 25 minutes late. I asked the bus driver when I boarded if he could tell me when we were at my stop, and he informed me that the route was different today so I’d have to get off somewhere else and walk. I figured I was getting to know the city anyways and I wasn’t on a schedule, so I said that was fine. The driver ended up being very aggressive, slamming on the breaks, accelerating quickly, and honking persistently. At one point the bus stopped so suddenly that the elderly woman by me fell right into me, and we heard a crunching sound outside. A car door had opened and the bus driver ran into it and took the door right off. I took that as my cue to get off the bus and dropped my CV off at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. And that is my first impression of Dublin transit.

Buskers
There are people playing music all over Temple Bar, but my favourite busker was right by my hostel. Every time I walked by him I felt like I was finally in a musical. His music was the perfect soundtrack to my life.

Pub crawl
The hostel also offers a pub crawl for 7 euros. We went to five different bars, and even though it was a Monday night every place was packed. I LOVE live Irish music! We went to Whelans which is known for being the pub where Gerard Butler sings Galway Girl to Hilary Swank in P.S. I love you. My favourite stop was the Old Storehouse in Temple Bar. There were two men playing some Irish tunes and I could not stop smiling. There was one song in particular that they had the crowd clap along to several parts. I of course love audience participation so I got right into it. At one point they weren’t singing but they were playing the part of the song where we were supposed to clap, and I got a little shout out because my obnoxiously loud clap was the only one that happened. I may not play any instruments, but I take clapping very seriously.

Traveling is so interesting because of how quickly travelers connect with each other. I went on the pub crawl with the same girls I had been hanging out with at the hostel and even though we’d only known each other for a few days everyone felt a sense of loyalty to one another. We more or less stuck together as a group and took care of one another, so even though I came to Dublin alone I was definitely safe and never lonely.

Stay tuned for a follow up post on how to settle into Dublin in less than one week. Cheers!

Unknowns

I am about to begin a huge adventure and I don’t think the reality of it all has hit me yet. Sure, I’ve done my fair share of research on Ireland and have tried my best to educate myself on Irish customs and history, but there are still so many unknowns and experiencing Irish culture first hand will be completely different than researching it.
(Fun research fact — there are no snakes in Ireland and there never have been. After living in Australia, I love this fact a lot.)

Fun facts aside, my question is, can you ever really prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for an adventure abroad?

I don’t think you can. Speculation is inevitable, but retrospect holds the real power. Martin Buber summed it up when he said:

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Yes I can spend hours on Google and blog surf everything I can think of about Ireland, but I won’t know where I’ll love to drink coffee until I get there. I can pack and repack 10 times, but I won’t know if I packed appropriately until I get there. I can watch P.S. I love you over and over and it still won’t prepare me for the Irish man that is guaranteed to sweep me off my feet with that amazing accent of his. I can make a list of places to see and things to do, but what about all the things I don’t know that I want to do yet? And then there’s all of the people I haven’t yet met who are going to change my life.

Am I excited? Heck yes I’m excited. I’m excited for the newness of it all and experiencing a continent that I have never stepped foot on. I’m excited to build new relationships, discover my new favourite pub, learn to love the rain, embrace new music, and be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I’m excited to find inspiration in the unknown and look in awe at my adventures in retrospect. Ireland being my destination is already a surprise and I have no idea what this adventure holds, and that is what I find most exciting of all.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Bryson sums up the exact reason why I love to move to new cities. I want little things like ordering a pint or doing groceries to be unfamiliar. I want to be surrounded by accents and new sights. I want to make every day an adventure.