Holiday at home


Yesterday continued my home vacation. It’s my annual summer fortnight off work. And save for the weekend in Galway, so far I have spent it in Dublin.

The good thing is that I have a visitor from Amsterdam, who has never been to mythical, mystical Dublin before. Now I am not claiming that she is in any way, shape or form reliant on me for suggestions about things to do – that Lonely Planet guidebook on Ireland has been earmarked and highlighted and analysed. She knows where she wants to go. But I, living here, know how to get there. Or so I claim.

The reality is, of course, that while I know the route to and from my house and work – and could travel them asleep as I do most mornings – my knowledge of Dublin remains a bit hazy. I’ve been back for over eight months. While I have made valiant efforts to visit places that never even registered with me, while living here during my lost years of residency in Dublin last century, there are vast swathes of the city that are a mystery to me. What better way to spend a few days in good company, pretending to be a tour guide, while actually witnessing things for the first time myself.

Yesterday her tour began with the Book of Kells. I called in sick for that excursion. I’ve seen it before, and while it is incredible, I knew about the queues.

We met at Dublin Castle, where for the third time in six months, I visited the Chester Beatty Library. It’s an impressive, atmospheric place. It contains the private collection of Chester B’s  and contains ancient, sacred texts and manuscripts, detailing the various religious faiths throughout the world. Despite my hardcore atheism I can appreciate a beautiful book. And my companion has a great interest and knowledge about old books. This was a great boon – to be with someone who could explain the etymology of books – this being something she has studied.

Did you know for example that only a small selection of ancient Greek texts survive, because they were written on papyrus, and time is not kind to papyrus. The texts of Socrates survived as they were transcribed onto parchment – dead skin.

Next was a daytime stroll through Temple Bar. Midweek, daytime in Temple Bar is a whole different ballgame to the nighttime experience. Lots of funky, quirky little bookshops and cafes, second hand clothing stores and record shops. On those narrow cobblestone streets. Nighttime Temple Bar is an entertainment area with throngs of people at the bars and clubs. During the day you can see what he meant when Bertie Ahern said that this district could be Ireland’s Left Bank (the words he used were in fact ‘West Bank’ but maybe he foresaw the nighttime version).

My visitor wanted to see Merrion Square so we meandered through town – not taking the direct route, as I was determined to show Dublin’s pretty face – therefore we avoided the tram works.

As we walked past the Dail (parliament) I spotted the Dead Zoo to my left. It was 4.10 – we had fifty minutes to see the inside. The Dead Zoo (or the Museum of Natural History to give it the official title) has been on my list of things to see for a while. But I wasn’t even certain where it was. Well no time like the present. The ground floor was Irish natural history – birds, rabbits, fish, deer. Upstairs had even better stuff – the lions, tigers, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, bear and rhinos. The rhino looked bizarre as his horns had been removed with a sign next to it saying that this was to avoid theft of the ivory. Having less than an hour to see all the taxidermy (or the Mummies) we only had a quick glance at everything. It shall be revisited.

Afterwards a walk around and through Merrion Square to visit Oscar Wilde’s statue. There is another statue in the park called Eire. I may be mistaken as I could barely make out the inscription – but I think it is a statue to commemorate a bakery. I’m probably wildly mistaken, but if this is a the case then it is the best statue ever. Bakeries are places of pure goodness and deserve more statues in their honour.

Our evening meal consisted of a Subway sandwich – turkey breast and ham with spicy cheese – in St Stephen’s Green. I was slightly afraid of the seagull giving my food the stink-eye. I also felt sorry for the female pigeon, battling off the advances of the several male pigeons squiring her. I didn’t want her to be getting a reputation now.

After dinner, like a pair of bedraggled urchins we made our way to the swanky National Concert Hall to see Rufus Wainwright. I felt slightly under-dressed in my tatty summer shorts. Making our way to the cheap seats, we arrived just on time and were serenaded by Rufus for a few hours. What a man.

On my way out again now. Today involves churches.

Hurrah for holidays.

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