I booked a flight to Dublin because it was the cheapest destination in Ryanair’s January sale. I thought cheap ticket = cheap holiday. Wrong!
Still my ignorance made for an enjoyable week away. I’d never been interested in visiting Ireland before because I felt it was geographically and culturally too close to Britain to interest me but I was wrong about that too. It took me till the second day there to figure that out though. On my first day, I went to Tesco. That’s not supposed to happen on holiday. On day one, the only difference I felt was the new currency and the fact that roaming on my phone meant I couldn’t use it as normal.
But I got to find out that the Irish are different from the British. They’re friendlier than even the Scots, in Dublin anyway. In Galway, to my mind, they had about the level of friendliness as in Scotland, which is already high. But Dublin was different. Shop attendants actually look you in the eye as they say hello and sound like they mean it too. People I stopped to ask for directions showed real concern and didn’t have that sense of importance masquerading as urgency you find in cities. Ireland has a better food culture than Scotland but to be fair, that isn’t necessarily saying much. Still, you can find food markets with an abundance of fresh vegetables instead of the mobile deli counters with astronomical prices you get in Edinburgh, where I live.
The good thing about a cold, wet city like Dublin is that it has a lot of cosy little places for you to tuck yourself into. I’d go back even for a day to revisit a couple of the brunch spots I found. Irish pubs abroad have a tacky reputation so I was surprised to find that the ones at home also fall into the ‘nice, cosy little place’ category. A lot of them don’t have the royalist names that are common in the UK. I whiled away a couple of afternoons at The Bunch of Grapes in Galway. In Britain, I’ve sipped other people’s Irish coffees before but never liked it. I had my very own for the first time in there and became an instant fan. To enjoy the music in traditional pubs you need to sit near the musicians because they don’t use amps. So twice I spent evenings in pubs with live music but didn’t hear a thing.
You know how you go somewhere and you see the locals doing something you find completely inexplicable? I saw two kayakers trying to paddle upstream on the river Corrib, just before it goes out to the sea in the Bay of Galway. At that point, the water is flowing so fast it’s creating actual waves. Easily the fastest flowing river I’ve ever seen. They weren’t getting very far and that may have been the point. The fun seemed to be to paddle as far upstream as possible, i.e. a few metres, before the force of the water overwhelmed their efforts and swept them backwards. They’d effectively surf for a bit then turn the boat sideways to slow it down and start all over again. It looked like fun. Very cold, wet fun. Not everyone’s cup of tea for a Saturday morning but nice to watch.
An important difference I found was in the way it rained. In Britain, it can rain continuously for what feels like days and the skies stay grey forever. It does rain more in Ireland, true, but not continuously. It might rain five times a day but it doesn’t last long and the sun comes out afterwards. I’ve learned to take small mercies like that where I find them.