Ireland Day 2: Camilla and Me
“Fé Mhóid Bheith Saor ” (Sworn to be free)
National Motto of Ireland
The hotel at which we’re staying is modern and fairly new. The staff is not what we might have considered traditional Irish. They didn’t step-dance over to our taxi to help us in with our luggage and they didn’t have a Guinness waiting for us at the reception desk.
The staff is mainly Eastern European, mostly Russian immigrants, which makes me feel a little like we’re in the movie Eastern Promises. I keep expecting Vigo Mortensen to pop up at any moment to show me his tattoos. They’re polite, very efficient and while they never actually work themselves up to a full smile – very pleasant.
I learned that there are no elevators in Ireland. They have ‘lifts’. I learned this by accident as I seem to learn most things lately. It looked like an elevator and had the appropriate up and down arrow buttons like an elevator. It even had a sign posted telling you what to do in case of an emergency. I thought the sign said,
“Do not lift in an emergency,” and I thought. “Great!” I didn’t want to lug the suitcases back outside anyway. But the sign actually read, “Do not ‘use’ lift in case of emergency” and that is when I realized that Ireland has lifts, not elevators.
Our lift talks. When the door opens, a female voice says, “Door opening” and “Going up” or “Going down”. Once you’re on the lift, she says, “Door closing” and at each floor, “Ground floor” or whatever floor you’re on. She’s good – she never gets the floor wrong.
You might have thought the voice would have a bit of an Irish accent or at the very least, sound like Natasha from Minsk but it doesn’t. It’s British; very refined, very proper and definitely not in a mood to be amused.
The lift is all business.
It reminded me of the way the Royal Family speaks so I’ve taken to calling our lift – Camilla – after the wife of Prince Charles. It sounds like her, so every time I get on or off the lift, I always say “Hello Camilla” and “Thanks Camilla,” when I get off.
Once in our room, we dropped the bags where they fell and ordered room service, after which we crashed. Six hours later, feeling a touch more human, we decided to go out for a bit of a look at Dublin and then some dinner.
We had originally thought to stay in and just eat in the hotel restaurant but the menu was a bit of a challenge. It offered things like ‘schnitzel with blood pudding and slow cooked belly’ and ‘lamb rump with tender lamb liver.” Blood pudding didn’t sound very appetizing and I’ve never eaten belly before, slow cooked or otherwise, and couldn’t really come up with a good reason (or even a bad one) to start eating it now. And there was no way I could get behind the lamb’s rump thing. They can call it what they want but it’s still lamb’s ass and left over bits of organ that they were probably just going to throw out anyway.
I wanted Chinese; Maggie wanted to go a real Irish pub for traditional Irish food. We debated it for a bit and then went to a real Irish Pub for traditional Irish food. Our marriage is very much like our government – it only provides the illusion of democracy.
We ended up in what many would consider a cliché of an Irish pub only it wasn’t a cliché; it was the real thing upon which the clichés are built. It was small, intimate, welcoming and noisy; all dark wood, music and, of course, Guinness signs. If you think you’re getting in and out of Ireland without bumping into Guinness a couple of dozen times an hour, give your head a shake. It’s as much a part of Ireland as shamrocks and more common than leprechauns.
Maggie opted for something called coddle for dinner. I had never heard of coddle before but make it a practice never eat anything I can’t identify unless I’ve had quite a few drinks first so I opted for the steak and mushroom pie. It was excellent. It was tender and served hot with a flaky pastry and full of what the airline chefs have never heard of – flavour.
We did a little shopping for things to take back for the grandchildren. I love having grandchildren. They are a great excuse to look at toys and other fun things again. After picking up a couple of gifts, we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel where we watched some news before calling it a night.
Day two came early, at least for me. I went on the hunt for coffee before Maggie woke up. I usually go out early when we’re travelling and bring her back a coffee and a newspaper because she’s got a very fixed morning routine does our Maggie.
It’s not easy to find coffee in Ireland. I don’t know what that stuff is that they call coffee but it isn’t coffee. I think they take considerable license with the term coffee because I don’t believe it’s even made from coffee beans. Instead, I believe that what they call coffee is actually something they brew from the dregs scraped from the bottom of the vats in which they make Guinness.
God help us but it’s strong and bitter. It’s so strong that you can pour half a cup of milk or cream into it and never change its colour. In Ireland, no matter what you add to your coffee – you’re having it black.
I was gone for an hour, although Maggie would never have known it. When Maggie falls asleep even an attack by the North Korea’s Kim Dim Sum isn’t going to wake her up. I finally found a place that sold something they called coffee and pastry so I bought her a cup of whatever it is, two croissants and two Irish newspapers.
That earned me some significant brownie points which I like to stockpile because both Maggie and I know I’m going to need them at some point.
After Maggie headed off to her conference, I posted my Day 1 article, went down for breakfast and then got cleaned up and went for a wander. I appreciate that first impressions are often deceiving but you only have first impressions of something or someone once and usually they’re the most lasting so here are some of my first impressions of Dublin.
Dublin is a wonderful mix of old and new. Cobblestone streets stretch out side by side with modern paved roads. Very old buildings of stone and wood stand beside small towers of glass and steel but no matter where you go; the contemporary is surrounded by history.
You never lose sight of the fact that this is an old, historic city.
Dublin is very clean. There’s no litter. The city employees crews that walk about with large push carts into which they sweep up whatever debris they find but it isn’t just their efforts that keep Dublin neat and tidy; it’s clear the residents take more than a little pride in their city.
The second thing you notice is that people don’t lollygag about. Forget that stereotype of the Irish strolling casually through life. These folks don’t walk so much as stride. It’s as if they all have to get to the same meeting at a specific time. Gender, age, even physical ability is irrelevant. People step out in Dublin to the point that the breeze by me like I’m walking backwards although Maggie says that isn’t all that difficult to do.
Some of these folks move so quickly, you could get wind burn as they pass you if you’re standing still.
Skinny jeans and short skirts with black tights are common fashion for women while jeans or casual slacks like Dockers are fairly common for guys. What I haven’t seen is anyone wearing their baseball hat sideways and the crotch of their jeans down around their knees. There are probably some ‘gangstas’ in Ireland but I haven’t seen any yet which also means that I have been spared gangsta rap music.
I knew that the official language of Ireland was Irish but assumed that meant English. I was wrong. Irish is a Gaelic language that dates back centuries. About 20% of the population is raised with ‘Irish’ as a cradle language and a majority of people in Ireland speak it as their second language. Both Maggie and I were surprised to hear Irish Gaelic being spoken by young people in pubs and shops as we wandered about.
Stupidly, we just assumed they all spoke English with the same accent as Bono from U2.
English is, however, the main language spoken and while not the official language it is, for all intents and purposes, the language of every-day life. Russian seems to be the third. There is a significant population of Eastern European immigrants.
It’s chilly here. The temperature is around what it is back home – just slightly above freezing although they don’t still have snow on the ground like we do. Most people are still wearing coats and scarves but what I find amusing is that while they dress to stay warm, the sidewalk patios are full. They are a determined lot, the Irish are, and there they sit huddled together around tables under space heaters trying to stay warm while laughing and talking through chattering teeth.
I’ve heard of rushing the season but this goes beyond enthusiasm.
One thing that stuck in my brain was that the streets don’t have potholes. Oh, I’m sure there must be some somewhere but we haven’t seen any in our travels. In Ottawa, you don’t have to hire a guide to find potholes – they find you. A couple of months ago, one actually swallowed a car whole and while the city argues it was a sinkhole, I think that’s just semantics.
Here in Dublin, the roads are not under constant repair and I believe that it is because they use a different kind of asphalt than we do. I base this on some personal research I did earlier today. I didn’t actually set out to do asphalt research, it was kind of thrust on me when I tripped and fell. I figured that while I was lying on my face on the street, I might as well examine the asphalt with the thought it might be useful information for city staff back home.
Through my blurred vision, just before the concussion set in and I lost consciousness for a few moments, I determined that they do use a different kind of asphalt. It’s definitely more durable, has a coarser aggregate and might also be made with Guinness. Don’t dismiss this as signs of temporary delirium brought on by banging my head on the ground. This is serious comparative research that just might change how we live in North America. Certainly we might start spending more money keeping our cities clean rather than wasting money filling potholes on streets that only get ripped up three months later for some repair or other.
The Irish seem to have some confusion over which side of things they want to travel on. They drive on the left side of the road but walk on the right side of sidewalks. It could be worse, I suppose. In some Middle Eastern and Asian cities, they drive on whichever side of the road they feel like on a particular day and some don’t have sidewalks.
The thing that has most impressed me, however, is the scale of the city.
Dublin isn’t a quaint little backwater on the edge of continental Europe. It’s a modern city with plenty of world-class businesses and a thriving arts and sports community. It has its share of all of the things we associate with modern cities including sprawling suburbs, major roadways, sophisticated public transit and tall buildings but and it’s a big but; none of that has diminished the sense of community to the point of becoming impersonal.
In Dublin, you feel like you are in a very large town rather than a city. It’s human in its scale and its lifestyle. Tall buildings don’t overwhelm the downtown core and there is a rich blend of historical and modern architecture.
Faith is still a significant part of the Irish society. There are very old churches and cathedrals everywhere.
People live and work downtown which means that the pubs and restaurants, which are everywhere, are constantly full of people from the area and that also help to build a sense of community.
Unlike most Canadian cities which roll up their sidewalks at 6:00 pm or earlier except for a couple of specific areas, Dublin is awake and alive and well into the evening. In that regard it is like Paris and London and New York without all the pretension that too often goes with those larger cities.
For me, Dublin if not a grand city is a pretty city and I could live here quite comfortably. I’ve found the Irish a pleasant people who seem for the most part a polite and friendly people who smile easily and often – and they really do have a twinkle in their eyes. That isn’t just another cliché dreamt up by novelists.
Tomorrow, Maggie finishes her conference around noon so we hope to explore the city a bit more extensively in the afternoon. We’ll definitely be hitting a pub at some point – in Dublin that is considered de rigueur.
So I think I’ll go and change the bandages on my head and call it a day.
Goodnight Maggie – goodnight Camilla. I’ll see you both in the morning.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The written content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others
Let’s connect on Twitter: @maggsbear or send a friend request on Facebook to: Maggie’s Bear