Mike got back safely from Minneapolis, so I’m happy about that. No more plane rides for him for awhile… he’s ready to just hang out at the apartment! 🙂 So back to our England/Ireland trip! I feel like I’m getting some momentum in these trip blog posts. 🙂 Mike and I thought long and hard about how to get to Ireland from England (well, as long and hard as you ever think on vacation… which actually isn’t very very long or very hard).
Traditionally trains have been our preferred and cheapest form of inter-city travel (i.e. on our Italy trip), but the Irish Sea kind of put a damper on train travel. After some research and talking we decided two things. 1. We were still sick of air travel after our nine hour flight to London and didn’t relish the thought of getting to an airport two hours early so that we could go through security again, wait for our plane to board, etc. 2. It was MUCH cheaper to take a train to Holyhead and then take the Irish Ferries ship (called the Ulysses) across the Irish Sea, and that would land us right in Dublin. Long story short, I bought our train/ferry tickets that night. Through the Rail and Sail program by Virgin Trains, we were able to get from London to Dublin for only 38 Euros each. Compared to 150 Euros each for airline tickets! We were instantly sold on the idea. It also meant that we’d be able to see the Welsh countryside, since the train to Holyhead passed through Wales. Fun! The next morning we checked out of our London Hotel after one final last full English breakfast and headed towards the Underground. The day was clear, crisp, and a little chilly, but the rays of the sun warmed us up considerably. Ten minutes later we were on the Subway and headed for London Euston station (we were getting really familiar with a lot of the London train stations at this point, having already departed from London Victoria and London Paddington). We were just about out of money on our Oyster cards, so it was just as well that this was our final Underground ride. 🙂 As usual, traveling by train in Europe was very easy. We printed out our tickets there and waited for the boarding platform for our train to be announced. Our train was actually about half an hour late because of some technical difficulties at another station, so when it finally rolled in we were more than ready to hop on board. I wasn’t very concerned about missing our ferry because we had an hour in between our Holyhead arrival and our ferry departure to Dublin. This luggage area of the train was pretty packed, but we managed to find room to stuff our suitcases. It helped greatly that the train wasn’t full so all of the passengers were able to put some of our luggage in the empty seats. (This wasn’t technically allowed, since more people can get on at any stop and the seats should be clear for them. Practically, however, as long as you’re willing to keep an eye out at each stop and move your luggage if necessary, it seemed to be fine.)
The Welsh countryside was beautiful!
Sheep dotted the landscape.
We started to pass signs that were in both Welsh and English… with Welsh written first.
The time went by quickly and we reached Holyhead around 1:30pm, half an hour later than usual given that we had been delayed in London Euston by half an hour. Our whole train seemed to be bound for Dublin (I guess I’m not sure why else you would go to Holyhead if you aren’t planning on taking a ferry. It seems like a pretty port-based town.) We were all ushered off the train en masse and directed towards a ferry ticketing station. I handed them Mike’s and my tickets, they checked our baggage for free, and we were all directed down some stairs to a waiting area. A few minutes later, a big bus pulled up and we all piled on. The nice thing here was that we didn’t seem to have to know anything… about anything. Everyone at Holyhead seemed to be proficient at getting people to Dublin. The bus drove us out on a pier and Mike and I started looking for the ferry.
I’m not sure what we were expecting regarding the ferry to take us across the Irish Sea to Dublin… but we were shocked when the ship came into view from behind a big building. Oh. My. Gosh. It was HUGE! Our bus drove right up to the ship… and right up a giant ramp onto the 10th level of the ship. Um… ok. So apparently we didn’t even have to walk onto the ship… the bus just drove on board. We found out later that at the time the Ulysses was built in 2001 it was the largest car ferry in the world. It can hold 2,000 passengers and crew, 1,342 cars and 240 trucks. Wow!! To say we were overwhelmed was something of an understatement. We were directed to some red stairs, which we walked up for several levels until we found ourselves very, very high above the water below and in some type of cafe/arcade game floor. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but most other people seemed to be stopping on that level rather than continuing up the stairs so we stopped too. There were all kinds of poofy chairs scattered amongst cafes, small tables, little shops. Another whole big room was full of arcade games. It really didn’t feel like a ship at all… it felt like a giant casino or something (minus the roulette tables, of course). 🙂 We walked around our level a little and then Mike wanted to rest a little. I explored a little more, getting us some bottled water and browsing the small shops. I hit the jackpot when I found maps of Ireland. Perfect! I browsed them and picked up three: one road map of Ireland, one that showed walking streets in the major Irish cities, and one that was just a walking map of Dublin. I went back to Mike, who was amused that I felt the need for 3 maps. What can I say? When you have a sense of direction as poor as mine you need to make sure that you always have maps on hand and that you know how to read them. One thing that we instantly noticed was that all announcements on the ship were given first in Gaelic and then, after a pause, in English. So interesting! The trip across the Irish Sea was only about two hours, and the ship was so huge I didn’t even realize when we started moving. We looked out the windows for awhile at the grey misty Irish Sea. It was so interesting… the weather in Wales had been sunny and gorgeous, but out at Sea there was a grey fog over everything. We passed some islands which I was able to correctly identify from my maps. Actually I joyfully read my maps for most of the duration of the ferry trip, while Mike just shook his head at me. It’s very hard for me to communicate how good I feel about having maps and reading them. I guess everyone has idiosyncrasies. The upshot of this was that when we arrived in Dublin I already knew where we were, where our hotel was, and where the most “happening” areas of Dublin were. Disembarking in Dublin was a little surreal. We found ourselves in a port building and we waited by a little baggage carousel for our checked baggage to come out.
While we waited for the baggage, I looked around and realized that, like Wales, all of the signs I could see outside through the windows were printed in two languages, Gaelic and English, with Gaelic first. With our luggage in hand, we walked outside the port building, not really sure where we going or what was going to happen next. It was beautiful and sunny out, so apparently there is only fog and grey mist crossing the Irish Sea… both sides of the sea were sunny. There was a huge line of taxis and hotel buses. It was actually surprisingly warm, so warm that I felt like we probably didn’t want to walk the mile and a half to our hotel, particularly since we had luggage. So we walked up to one of the taxis and hopped in. The taxi driver was so friendly! We chatted with him the entire 15 minutes of the ride. The Dublin traffic was pretty bad, and as our taxi driver informed us, it was getting towards rush hour. We talked about the Irish economy, and he talked about how hard Dublin was hit in the 2008 recession.
“If ye stay in the touristy areas ye won’t notice it,” he told us. “But if you wander off th’ beaten path ye’ll see lots of buildings… fallen into disrepair. We’re recoverin’, but we’re not fully reco’vered yet.”
We asked him about the primary Irish industries and he stopped to think. “Agriculture mostly,” he said. “Sheep, livestock and all o’ that.” He paused again, and then said, “And technology I guess. Google and a lot of them companies have offices here. Lots of big, glass buil’ings have gone up in the past few years.”
“Is that the Liffey River?” I asked, well aware of my Irish geography, particularly after reading maps for the prior two hours, as we crossed a beautiful wide river.
“The River Liffey? Ya,” he said.
He had lots of thoughts when we asked about things to see in Dublin. Unfortunately we were only planning on staying a single night in Dublin and heading for west Ireland the following day, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to see everything.
“Well, at least see the Temple Bar area,” he said. “Right on the banks of the River Liffey. Lots of bars and nightlife. I get down there occasionally m’self. There’s one spot down there… big boistrous place. Lots o’ music spilling into the streets and flying so many flags you can’t count. It’s bright yellow… ye can’t miss it.”
He easily found our hotel. “Ah, you’re on lower Gardiner Street,” he said. “That’s central to everything.” He made sure we had clear directions for getting to the Temple Bar district before leaving us. Then we headed up the few steps to the bed and breakfast where we were staying.
Before going any further, I think I need to talk about Dublin. Dublin is a very old port city originally founded by the Vikings in the 9th century. Its ancient name comes from the roots dubh (black) and linn (pool), thus meaning Black Pool. However, the modern Irish name for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath which means “town of the hurdled ford”. Consequently when you were wandering around Dublin, you didn’t see signs saying “Dublin” much; instead you saw signs that said “Baile Atha Cliath”. If you have any interest in the history of Ireland (and Dublin particularly) I highly recommend The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford. I’ve read it and it’s amazing. Because Ireland has so much modern tech presence but so much history, it’s a very divided city. You can wander some areas and see castles from 1100. You can wander other areas only a 15 minute walk away and everything feels new and completely modern. You can wander other areas where, as the taxi driver mentioned, everything feels tired, worn-out, and run-down. Interestingly, perhaps because of the tech industry and a surprisingly good economy compared to other countries, there are a large number of immigrants in Dublin. The brogue of the Irish people in Dublin is there, but it’s not overly noticeable. Mike and I commented that we heard far more Russian accents from the immigrants than we heard really intense Irish brogue. It felt like a city of changes… a city that has changed much and that will continue to change much more.
The bed and breakfast at which we stayed was owned by a Russian family. It was very nice, clean, and very cheap. We dropped our bags off in our room after noting the intense red of the carpet and the bedspreads, and then decided to make the most of our only night in Dublin. On our way out, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of Russians in the bed and breakfast lobby… maybe friends and family of the owners? Regardless, it seemed a little weird since they weren’t actually doing anything and just seemed to be hanging out. Dublin city map in hand, we headed towards the Temple Bar district. We got turned around once, despite my map, but a local stopped and pointed us in the right direction. Just like in England, everyone seemed friendly and open, even to strangers. There was a strong sense of community. We could hear Temple Bar even before we could see it.
Lots and lots of live music coming from lots and lots of Irish pubs! We stopped at one pub called Buskers. Our waitress was very friendly, and Mike ordered a Guinness and I ordered a Jameson (I mean, really, we were DUBLIN! What else were we going to order??).
After stopping at Buskers, we walked around Dublin a little. The River Liffey was gorgeous in the growing darkness!
There seemed to be a lot of statues in Dublin. We passed the Famine Memorial in the tax to our hotel and saw many others while we were out walking around.
Back at our hotel, we had our windows open and the cool night breeze drifted in. Lower Gardiner Street has a pretty active night life, so we heard lots of talking and laughing and music as we fell asleep. Such a fun and relaxing day! 🙂