This past Spring, my boyfriend and I took a trip across Europe in celebration of him graduating and getting a new job, along with my need to explore. Over the course of nearly three weeks, we explored five countries, eight cities and their surrounding towns and parks. It was an ambitious trip, and we were exhausted by the end, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. All Travel Logs focused on the trip will be linked with #Akron2Europe. I’ll also provide some small tips that helped make our lives easier.
Dublin, oh Dublin, be still my heart. Dublin has always captured my fascination. When I was a teen, I read a romantic fantasy novel series by Karen Marie Moning that was set in Dublin and since then I’ve been determined to set foot in the Irish city. It completely lived up to my expectations, and then some. This lush, green country with its hills, diverse city centre, and kind, but no nonsense residents captured my heart. This is a place that I would go back to again and again.
Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. A little more than 80% of the population is White Irish, while the other 20% are non-nationals, mostly from the UK, Poland, China, and the Philippines. It has a population of over 506,000 and about 1.2 million residents in the wider metropolitan area. Most of the residents speak English, but what surprised me the most was that Irish, or Gaelic, was still in use. I had no idea that the Celtic language had not gone the way of Latin. It is also surprisingly very progressive. While there, the city was in the midst of voting for an abortion referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution focusing on the restriction of abortions. It won in a landslide victory, with 66% of the voters voting yes. But that’s not all. Ireland has an openly gay Prime Minister leading the country, and became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage.
Needless to say, I fell in love with this country. We ended up arriving during a rare hot, sunny week and did not run into a single bit of rain the entire time. People commented on the strange good weather they were having. Airbnb was a big help on this particular leg of the trip. We stayed with a wonderful couple with the most Irish of names, Helen and Seamus. Helen prepared tea and biscuits for us when we arrived and every morning made us a wonderful Irish breakfast. She was honestly one of the kindest people that I had ever met. Seamus had a thick, rolling accent that reminded me of my family members who live in the South. It was warm, rough and full.
From the moment we stored our bags, we were off exploring. We only had about three and half days there and we wanted to make the most of it. It was a good 25 minute walk to the city centre where all the action was, but there was so much to see that it didn’t feel too long. One of the first things I noticed was the human-scale design of the buildings and the way they build their bike lanes. There were no skyscrapers reaching for the sky and they seamlessly accounted for different forms of transportation. The sidewalks were wide and there were protected bike lanes on some of the main streets that were on different levels than the road.
This was my first taste of the proper way to design public spaces for people in Europe. In the middle of the neighborhood where we stayed was a large park that sat across from the neighborhood library. Children from a nearby school played in the designated children’s playground, as adults strolled through the park or used some of the outdoor exercise equipment. A refrain of mine on this trip was that Ireland created the color green. Everything was so lush and alive.
In the city centre you could find pockets of green space where people were lounging or watching others play soccer. We spent some time scouting the area before stopping at Trinity College where the Long Room is housed. The Long Room is a stunning, 65 meter library that stretches towards the ceiling and houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. It is one of the most spectacular libraries that I’ve ever seen. I’d love to peruse the shelves and discover what secrets they hold.
I could spend an entire blog post talking about the library, but that would be irresponsible of me because Ireland is so much more than just that space. You can feel the history in this place. From the cobblestone roads to the graveyards and ruins of monasteries, this is a place steeped in history. Settled by farmers and home to Celts to being conquered by Vikings, Ireland has changed hands a number of times over the centuries. Currently, the isle is split between the independent sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. America has deep ties with the isle through the immigrants who moved to America for a better life during The Great (Potato) Famine in the mid-1800s.
We had originally secured a car to drive around the countryside, but after driving through Iceland, I had no nerves left to tackle driving on the opposite side of the road. We ended up saving some money and joining a DoDublin Tour. Normally I avoid all tourist attractions, but in a new country where getting out into the countryside would be a challenge, I was happy to break that rule. The less stress to deal with, the better.
The tour we selected was to Glendalough and Powerscourt. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. It took nearly seven hours round-trip as we rolled on a big double decker bus winding through Wicklow County. We passed the Docklands’ countless sheep before we reached the historic, monastic city of Glendalough. This place is a site to behold. We weaved our way through the old graveyard and ruins of the old 6th century monasteries before hitting the trail to the lakes which unfolded before us. Honestly, Ireland created the color green.
After this stop we wound our way around The Great Sugarloaf (Beannach Mhór) Mountains and into the town of Enniskerry, where Powerscourt is located. The Powerscourt Estate and Gardens was formerly a 13th century castle that was converted into a mansion by the 1st Viscount Powerscourt in the early to mid-1700’s. After a tragic fire and falling into disrepair, the estate was restored to its former grandeur. Now, the estate is open to the public and its gardens are some of the best and most diverse in the world. We snagged a really great lunch there and were able to spend around an hour exploring the estate. It is truly a beautiful place.
The rest of the time was spent eating, drinking, and exploring. The food here was not bland by any stretch of the imagination and pretty standard in terms of expensiveness. I had some of the best bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) that I’ve ever had. I drunk some fine Guinness, although the newer microbreweries and whiskey distillers starting are even better than those that have dominated the market in the past. For dinner one night, we went to Boxty’s in Temple Square, a tourist haven, but the food was some of the best that I had on the entire trip.
On the last full day, we decided to take it slow and visit the visited The National Botanic Gardens of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland. The gardens were around 10 minutes by foot from our Airbnb and Helen gave us some of the most thorough directions that I’ve ever seen anyone give. We didn’t have to pull out our phones the entire walk. As we strolled through the neighborhood, we did get a chance to see a different side of the city. It was a Saturday and many of the children were taking their first communion. It was a slower pace than the inner city, but the area still buzzed with activity.
The National Gallery of Ireland is an incredible art museum with a range of works that reflected both Irish and world history. There was a painting of a Toy Seller by William Mulready that fulfilled something within me that I hadn’t realized that I was craving. It’s rare to see images of black people who are not slaves or servants in works as old as this . To find an image like this in Ireland of all places is making me reevaluate the way that I perceive art in museums and the intentions of curators. It was an experience that truly stands out above the rest.
Ireland is one of those places where I feel like I will never get enough of it. This is honestly just the tip of the iceberg for me with this country. I plan on going back several times over the next few years and truthfully, I would hop on a chance to live there. Next up from this trip is Amsterdam and Zaandam!
Thanks for reading,