Monday, December 26, 2011

Ireland I - Dublin and the Hostel

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50 miles, July 15

We backtrack through Newry, skirting the Carlingford Lough then bee lined for the Republic of Ireland border. Because we avoided the downtown area we didn’t expect to encounter the army, but ascending a hill there was an army base and four soldiers trotted across the road, bolting uphill into tall grass. Traffic was diverted through a “Control Zone” where cameras and observation towers watched our progress. As if that wasn’t unnerving enough we also had to relieve our bladders. Thankfully the frontier crossing went quickly and half a mile later we pulled into a side road.

The Mourne Mountains view from north of Dublin. Photo credit: Drimnagh Birdwatch
Andy and I withdrew 100 Irish Punt (pounds); 60 cents equals 1 Punt, similar to England’s exchange rate.

All signs are in Gaelic and English. The hills are behind us now – this feels like a different country. As we walk the shoreline near the campground the Mourne Mountains are light blue pastels on the horizon.

40 miles, July 16

Andy left the tent early for his ritual bathroom visit. I lie awake listening to the raucous crows on what has become a morning habit. I struggle to get back to sleep. Then a scratching noise coming from near my head startles me. Andy left the vestibule unzipped and we store food in this extra space at the tent entrance. I suspected that the crows had taken advantage of easy pickings. I rolled over and came face to face with a good sized fox. He was paralyzed for a moment until I yelled and he bolted away. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I didn’t have my glasses on and had all but convinced myself that I’d mistaken the animal for a dog when Andy returned, all excited, “You wouldn’t believe what just ran by me!”

Mid-afternoon we cruised into Dublin and left our bikes at an International Youth Hostel. Using a simple map provided by the staff, we walked the busy streets just as the sunshine emerges. Double-decker busses grumble by, emitting foul diesel clouds onto pedestrian and street vendors. The thick of young people with short cropped hair, round glasses, dressed in black, crowd the sidewalks. We are wary of pickpockets, warned at the hostel, and clutch our fanny packs to our stomachs. Signs overwhelm our vision, so used to the greenery of the countryside: Tennent’s, Guinness, Confectioners, and lots of furniture dealers. It’s our first large city since leaving Seattle over two weeks ago. We continued on, dodging employees loading chairs and couches into trucks.

Dublin Castle. 
We entered the Dublin Castle grounds at 5 p.m., immediately drawn to the inside of an ornate church. All the colors of a rainbow streak through the stained glass, coupled with intricate stone carvings and sculpture that come to life like dripping cave ceilings. Goosebumps prickle my arms. An age of beauty and craftsmanship coursed through me, but then we were suddenly ushered outside because the chapel was ready to close.

Christchurch Cathedral. Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the glaring western sky we squinted our way past Christchurch Cathedral, a magnitude of stone and glass. The building grounds were ancient, the oldest section from 1030.

Shops close by 5 or 6 p.m. and we do not find a large grocery at all because there are none in Dublin, at least not in the inner city. Every other block boasts a “Confectioner” or “Tobacconist”, a tiny grocery. Each stocks everything from toilet paper to spaghetti to small tipped cardboard boxes of fruits and vegetables outside the front entry, like a garden spilling onto the sidewalk. Vendors pull metal garage door-type awnings to the sidewalk, slamming shut their wares.

Burned out cars on Dublin's streets.
Photo credit: Citizen's Free Press


Andy and I were edgy, aware of ambling through a district devoid of stores, trash littering the streets and alleys. Three vehicles on a vacant cobblestone thoroughfare had been burned; only a skeleton remained. Without wheels, the frames seemed to sink into the street. We asked two women pushing strollers, directions to the hostel then picked up our pace.

The hostel is an amazing place. It was once an old church with attached buildings that encompass an entire city block. The bicycles are safely stored in a shed in an enclosed courtyard. In the evening sunshine people relax in patio chairs, drying tents, writing in journals. Many different accents drift over tendrils of cigarette smoke; stories swapped as if around a crackling campfire. I mended a pair of black cycling shorts while Andy darned his yellow wool sweater.

Dublin's International Hostel

The hostel is divided into sections: TV room, kitchen, restaurant, lobby, housing bunk beds to accommodate 450 people! Rather then pay additional for a “couples room” we are currently tucked away in the restaurant until we are tired enough to retreat to segregated dorm rooms.

The restaurant’s kitchen is located under an arch – the church’s alter. Wooden tables and chairs line the rest of the building in rows, the placement like former pews. One long table extends perpendicular down the center aisle to the opened arched “front entrance”. The last of the sunshine has dipped below a horizon of buildings, the cool evening whisking shadows onto that table where Andy and I reside. We’d eaten at the hostel’s cafeteria, but afterwards munched our way through a cache of fruit, bread, soup and cheese. Our appetites are enormous: we eat every two hours.

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