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August 04, 2017

A Date with Dublin’s Lush Landscapes And Glittering Waterways

Text by Saumya Sinha. All Photographs courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Feast your eyes on the blooming parks, beautiful Georgian architecture and striking street art in the city

I try to be judicious when describing a city as magical, but after just four days in the Irish capital I’m sure Dublin deserves this accolade. Besides the world-famous breweries and pubs — the ultimate passion of the Paddies — the Gaelic town has a lot on offer. This is the city where James Joyce set his highly acclaimed novel Ulysses, where Gulliver’s Travels began and where Oscar Wilde was born. Home to some of the most celebrated wordsmiths, Dublin’s lexical landscape comes as no surprise. But it’s the energy of the buzzing local markets, the humour contained in centuries-old history, a flavoursome bite of the freshly baked soda bread, and above all a taste of the unmatchable Irish hospitality that cast their irrevocable spells on me.

Vintage Wonders
As someone who is thrilled by the idea of solo travel, I jump at the opportunity of using my first few hours in the city on an independent tour on the hop-on hop-off buses. Once aboard, I prop myself on the open top of the double decker to get the best views of the vibrant city. As we journey through some of the attractions, I’m amused by the live commentary of the guide-cum-driver who sure has the gift of the gab or, as the locals would say, has kissed the Blarney Stone! From the comfort of my seat, I appreciate the glorious expanse of the Trinity College, obsessively overuse my camera as we pass the iconic Guinness Storehouse and fall in love with the many beautiful bridges on the River Liffey that flows through the city. I make notes of all the places I would come back to when I have some me-time and the lanes I would wander aimlessly in, just soaking in all the beauty.

The bus tour comes to a fulfilling end and our itinerary kicks in with a visit to The Little Museum of Dublin set in a beautiful Georgian building. Created through public donations, the museum tells a remarkable story of the Irish capital. Overlooking St Stephen’s Green — a bustling shopping centre — it charts the 100-year-old history of Dublin. Everything from old newspapers, telephones, quirky look-at-me posters and antique beer bottles transport me to the early 20th century. I stumble upon products from the 1900s, a whole room dedicated to the Irish rock band U2 and the first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses! And I know in that instant, one visit won’t be enough. After this fun history lesson comes a delightful dinner at a brasserie buzzing with locals and travellers. Food is served with liquor and laughter…. Dinners last long as we indulge in and relish every course, hours go by, the cacophony of chatter filling the air as if there’s a celebration taking place at every table. Our guide admits jokingly, “Irish people just don’t know how to go home!”

Mummies and bells
The next morning brings with it one of Dublin’s most celebrated events, Bloomsday, which commemorates the life of Joyce! We can’t wait to see the locals all dressed up, out on the streets, rejoicing in true Joyce style, wearing fancy hats that would give Schiaparelli a run for her money! However before that, with the smell of barley roast still fresh in my mind from the brewery tour the day before, I head to the Christ Church Cathedral for some spiritual sustenance, before we begin to drink up religiously! Built in 1028, the cathedral pulls us in with its stunning stonework and interiors. We are welcomed with tales which are part spooky and part hilarious such as the stories of the theft of a man’s heart and another one about a mummified cat chasing a mummified rat which we later actually see, embalmed there for all posterity, when we enter the 12th-century crypt located below the church. I’m told that it is one of the oldest surviving structure in Dublin and also one of the longest crypt in Britain. Short on time, we hurry towards the narrow winding staircase that leads to the Belfry tower that offers a fine view of the city. After learning the history behind the famous circular arrangements of the 19 bells, we are allowed to take a shot at ringing them. These were traditionally used to regulate the lives of city dwellers, announcing the time and spotting fires, among other things.

Making our way ahead, we land up at Dalkey Castle and Heritage centre, a popular attraction featuring recreations of Viking and medieval street scenes. We are lucky enough to run into some friendly chaps from the medieval era who invite us to dine with them! We watch as a medieval woman — dressed in an ornate red gown — extracts a fellow traveller’s tooth totally against his will. Of course, none of this is true! These are all actors in full costume pretending to be Dubliners and bringing some dramatic scenes of the past to life.

It is time now to join the Bloomsday festivities with the locals, over lunch in Glasthule, a nearby suburb. There’s no place as merry as Dublin on Bloomsday! Men in straw boaters and crisp linen suits and women in Victorian-style skirts and blouses with parasols in hand fill up the streets with singing and dancing. An unexpected visit from a dapper elderly gentleman dressed as James Joyce gives fodder to our Facebook feeds. Amid much laughter and singing, the cheer of Bloomsday grows on us as we linger on for a merry open-air lunch at the Cavistons restaurant.

Do as the Dubliners do
I’m all for being up-to-date on Twitter and my Instagram feed never fails to impress but at heart, I’m more old school than I’d want to be. Hence, the third day of my itinerary got me really excited! It is a guided, walking tour of the city followed by lots of free time for independent excursion. So I bid adieu to Google Maps and arrive determined to reclaim the art of getting lost in friendly locales. We make our first stop at Trinity College — Ireland’s oldest university, and then move on to the city’s cultural centre — the Temple Bar square. Defined by its cobblestone path with off-shooting streets and narrow laneways, the square is packed with pubs, cafes, galleries and boutiques. Some retail therapy at fashion haunts like Indigo & Cloth and Wendy’s Wardrobe makes our spirits soar. We stop every minute to take multiple photo breaks and inspect the expansive and vibrant graffiti that dresses up several walls here. The Meeting House square, in close proximity, turns into a foodie’s paradise every Saturday where buskers keep the locals entertained. After indulging in some cheese and whisky tasting, we move on to Sheehan’s for some delish fish and chips. Having eaten to our hearts’ content, each of us heads out wearing the explorer’s hat. I can spend all day traipsing through the various lanes of Temple Bar square but there’s something that piqued my interest at the onset of the tour and I head back there. At nearly 65 metres in length, the Long Room in Trinity College’s old library is filled with two lakh of the Library’s oldest books sheathed in oak bookcases. One look at the decadent gigantic room and I’m left flabbergasted! This is what Pinterest dreams are made of! The literary nerd in me feels right at home here. Needless to say, I leave the long room converted into a Hibernophile, a lover of all things Irish.

Dead interesting
Our next stop is all about ‘dinner with a difference’ as we are about to join 1.5 million inhabitants of Glasnevin Cemetery. After a short bus ride we find ourselves around a long and well-dressed table set at a museum inside a graveyard. As eerie as it sounds we are surprised by the beauty of it all. You can spend hours and hours at the cemetery but the best way to see it is via a guided tour and ours starts right after we’ve stuffed ourselves with the best salmon and sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever eaten. I realise that this city may be unpredictable with the weather and a bit rustic in places but when it comes to food, Dublin never does dull. For the most part, it has so far been the city of baked potatoes and soda breads but it is flying the flag for plush dining like never before.

We begin our stroll through the cemetery with our guide whose tales are peppered with typical Irish humour. She brings the place to life by sharing hair-raising stories about the dear departed. We engage in some fascinating facts about the woman who died once but was buried twice and the man who opened Sydney Harbour Bridge when he wasn’t meant to and a lot more.

Tryst with history
To immerse yourself in the local culture, landscapes, sights and sounds, it’s hard to beat a bike tour. Our fourth and final day begins with easy-paced cycling. A ride to the Grand Canal is my very own Alice-in-Wonderland moment. We also visit George Bernard Shaw’s house and gaze at the impressive doors of many residences in Dublin and sigh at the strict rules that kept them from being as colourful as they are today…. Beautiful weather, old-fashioned brick houses, lots of corners to sit by and read a book…this laidback vibe of a Sunday morning in Dublin quickly grows on me. By the end of the bike tour I know that I want to live here and do this every day.

Peddaling away, we reach our last stop — the National Gallery of Ireland, for some artistic musings. Call it Irish luck as our trip coincides with an ongoing, one-of-a-kind exhibit that brought together 60 famed paintings from around the world. As many as 10 works by Johannes Vermeer are included in the exhibition, which represents almost a third of his surviving oeuvre — making it the third highest number of works by the artist ever assembled in the world! We uncover the story of the paintings on the walls and try to read between the meticulous brushstrokes, ending our tour on a creative high.

All good things come to an end and so does my stay, but the reverberating effect of the city’s vigour lives on. We say our goodbyes, raising an imaginary stout of Guinness. With Joyce’s Dubliners tucked in my arms which I picked up from Hodges Figgis — one of the oldest bookstores in the city — I let the leprechauns of my imagination replay the highlights of my trip in my head. Dublin has managed to maintain the spirit and history of Ireland in a remarkable way. As I leave the city of a thousand welcomes, the city where the locals seem friendlier than friends, I know that there are gorgeous laneways waiting to be explored, rivers to sit by, pubs to party at and brunches to indulge in. And even after all that if I had a chance to do it all over again, there is not a thing that I would change.

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