Dublin: a great city and Celtic Tiger number 2

Thursday 5 – Monday 9 March

Thursday – Edinburgh to Dublin

I woke up in Edinburgh. Thankfully the night before I had checked the time of my plane to Dublin and realised it was a lot earlier than I had thought – always good to double check. Up at my usual 6.30, another restless night but in a good way – my mind whirring over nice stuff as I am effectively on holiday rather than my usual apprehensive thoughts about the past or stressing about work stuff ahead. Out for my morning coffee and a bun plus some reading and pooter work before catching the bus to the airport. Nice bus and free wifi – very civilised.

Rapid check in at Edinburgh airport and onto their free wifi (two hours compared to 45 minutes at Heathrow) which I used to do a mini-blog specifically between Sunday in London and Wednesday in Edinburgh. Fascinating little flight on one of those small planes that only holds about 30 people and has two propellers. Two seats each side of the aisle and I found myself sitting next to a rather large lady though she did share her fruit pastilles with me – perhaps she felt guilty. The propellers make so much noise and there was turbulence whilst we flew. The young Italian couple near me were clinging on to each other for grim death. All a bit homemade: the little trolley of refreshments pushed down the aisle and the pilot/co-pilot having to come out to use the toilet at the other end of the plane (he was actually quite nice).

I spent some time at Dublin airport just chilling before getting the bus into the city and getting off at the wrong stop. I had to walk further than necessary but eventually found my hotel in a bit of a less trendy area of the northern part of the city. Dumped my stuff and off to explore. I was last in Dublin about 30 years ago (it was the year the space shuttle Challenger exploded) and what a change. It was grim and Catholic in those days, being gay was still illegal and there were secret gay bars and meeting places.

Now Dublin is a very cosmopolitan city – liberal, sexy, lively and young. Indeed, it is a bit of a hipster paradise which suits me fine – lots of good looking chaps with beards and some very nice redheads. Tons of coffee shops (yippee!). I had a little explore particularly concentrating on finding out the gay places as well as Temple Bar which felt quite bohemian and chilled. I wondered along the Liffey enjoying coffee and wine before finding a cheap Italian restaurant followed by a coffee at a coffee shop open till 10pm then crashing out at my hotel. Still busy out on the streets – I thought Dublin would have closed down much earlier.

Friday – The Queen of Tarts, National Museum of Ireland, Alan, and walking around Dublin

A decent night’s sleep even though the hotel felt a bit like a Travelodge – my partner definitely would not have liked it, not la-di-da enough for him. It is strange how often in a hotel you sleep poorly on the first night but then get into much better sleep the next nights – that is exactly what happened to me. Up and showered then out for coffee. More exploring concentrating on the highly recommended ‘Queen of Tarts’. What a find – a wonderfully old-fashioned homemade cake shop. I treated myself to a fab apple crumble tart. Pottered around the city concentrating on the National Museum of Ireland (as well as checking out book shops). The museum has some very interesting stuff but it is mainly concentrated on ancient and early medieval history. Slightly disappointing in that there is more to Ireland than just that and presented in a traditional museum style – glass cases, drawings, etc.

Lunchtime, I met up with my mate Alan who also attends the Calpe retreat. A nice catch up over lunch and then wandering around Dublin. It is actually a quite expensive place though the current exchange rate meant everything in sterling is a third cheaper. We drifted around coffee shops and Alan also introduced me to the beautiful city open spaces especially Merrion Square and St Stephen’s Green as well as strolling around Trinity College. We saw Louis Walsh (X-Factor judge) on Grafton St – he was quite petite but then so are most celebrities when you see them in real life.

The evening saw us in a very stylish wine bar above some shops (though going up the staircase felt a bit like going up to a brothel), the Irish Film Institute which is a lovely space to chill in then finishing off the night at a stylish gay bar – The Front Lounge. Alan poodled off home to Kilmainham and I went back to my hotel to go to bed around 11.30. Still busy on the streets though Temple Bar felt a bit more scuzzy at night – lots of English stag and hen parties getting pissed and puking up. Ho hum, the English abroad…

Saturday – National Gallery of Ireland, Pierce, Alan again, and getting merry on the Dublin gay scene

I was awake by 7.30. Up and out to Starbucks to (ab)use wi-fi and have my morning coffee. Pottered around reading and doing pooter stuff before getting to the National Gallery of Ireland just after it had opened – before the rush. I had been warned it was being done up and it was actually hard work to identify where the galleries were. I get annoyed with so many museum and gallery staff who just do nothing and certainly not anything as useful as telling where visitors they can go. There was a small and temporary exhibition of the main catalogue which was perfectly fine but then I found a very nice exhibition of favourite paintings from their collection chosen by famous Irish writers. The only let down was the lack of detail on why they had chosen each picture unless you specifically looked at the book to accompany the show.

Back to the Queen of Tarts (though the larger one in Cow’s Lane rather than the little one on Dame Street I went to yesterday) to meet my friend Pierce. Very busy and a short wait but then a good catch-up alongside coffee and cake. Pierce is very busy at work and was actually going into the office after seeing me to catch up on stuff. He pointed out a few more of the sites then, after he had gone, I spent the afternoon chilling with coffee and reading particularly around Temple Bar and the Irish Film Institute again. I kept a check on the QPR match against Tottenham but another 2-1 defeat – think we are going to get relegated back to the Championship. Back to my hotel to charge my phone up and start my blog on Dublin then out to meet Alan again. I had tried to catch up with another Calpe friend, Jack, but his phone was out of order.

Alan and I met at the Spire and had a walk around, Alan telling me about the landmarks and local history. We ate at a very nice Greek restaurant then went for a wander to help our dinner digest. I saw one of the city’s two cathedrals as well as the outline of where the original city was. Then we hit the scene. First bar was Panti’s named after and owned by the well-known Irish campaigner and drag artist. Good though quite a young crowd. We met up with Alan’s mate Pat then hit the Front Lounge where we had been last night. Far more civilised and I was getting more sozzled. We finished the night at the bar of The George (not the club part) – affectionately known as ‘Jurrasic’. Like a lot of ‘older men’s bars’ such as the City of Quebec in London, it was actually a nice mix and very friendly (i.e. lots of pissed people). We left around 2am and I wandered back to my hotel quite drunk. There was two other guys waiting to get in the hotel and it took the reception a while to notice we were there and open the front door.

Sunday – Dublin Castle, The Hugh Lane, iffy meal, and something totally out of the norm

Drunken sleep so several trips to the toilet to get rid of the increased fluid intake. I woke early, made myself a cup of tea then drifted back off to sleep until about 9. Rehydrating shower and off for coffee. Text from my beloved partner ‘Have you woken up face down in a bog?’ Witty and pertinent as the Museum on Friday did have an exhibition of bog bodies found in Ireland. So I phoned Dave and had a catch up – apparently he has been very busy whilst I have been away – hmmm.

I decided to have day alone not because I do not love my friends’ company but simply that I wanted to relax and catch up with myself. Sometimes feel like I need time to be just with me, I am very comfortable with my own company – splendid isolation! Based on Alan’s and Pierce’s advice I went around Dublin Castle. Very interesting, the seat of British power and I am sure an unpleasant history but now very sanitised with a nice tearoom. More pottering and I ended up in the north of the city at the Garden of Remembrance and The Hugh Lane – Dublin City Gallery. This had some very good bits like its World War One prints exhibition, Renoir’s ‘Les Parapluies’ (one of my favourite paintings), and Francis Bacon’s studio. But unfortunately there were too many rooms with hardly any art and staff who seem to think their job is not to communicate. It really pisses me off the way so often art centres are dull and lifeless.

Back to the hotel to charge my phone then out to dinner. I had been tempted by a restaurant called ‘Mexico to Rome’ – a fusion of Italian and Mexican cuisine. Alan had told me it was not too good but I gave it a try and he was right. Cheap and cheerful but I think I would have enjoyed a more distinctive meal on my last night. Holidays are about taking stock and I decided to do something completely different to normal. I decided to go to the pictures, not to see my normal arty foreign-language films in black and white but to see an American horror movie in colour. ‘It follows’ is slightly arty but very much in the traditional teen gang horror flick. It is about a monster that stalks people and is passed to them by having sex. Perhaps a metaphor for diseases but the way people see things was very reminiscent of some mental health problems. Not drop dead scary but amusing enough and it was fun to do something so out of my usual comfort area. Could have done without the fuckwits with their food wrapper noises (I swear they were eating crisps) and the guy whose mobile phone went off – and he answered it.

Monday – back to London

So packed my stuff, out of the hotel and on the busy airlink bus – I forgot lots of hen and stag parties would be going back. Pretty easy check-in and security and I have written this blog sitting in Dublin airport using their very generous free wi-fi. Nothing to report on digital or language skill development or exercise, well it is a holiday. I finished the Terry Pratchett book and Damon Galgut’s very good ‘Arctic Summer’ – more about this in my next normal blog. It’s been a good few days and I would highly recommend Dublin – friendly and good-looking people. It feels like being abroad but everybody speaks English. Indeed (and perhaps this shows my ignorance) but I did not realise people in Ireland drove on the left and had the same three-prong plugs as us – doh!

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