It’s funny - we’ve been planning this trip for so long that we started to feel like we’d thought of everything and planned for every possible outcome. But some things can’t be predicted, and one of those things is energy levels. Neither of us had really predicted how poorly we’d sleep on the plane, or how much that would affect our state of mind on our first full day in the city.
Luckily that was easily remedied, because Dublin is lined with quaint cafes and hip little coffee shops as far as the eye can see. Our first stop - appropriately called Coffeeangel - gave us a chance to stop, breathe, and ingest some damn fine cups of coffee. Once we were sufficiently caffeinated, we set out in search of things to see.
Alex and I prefer to walk everywhere when possible - in Chicago we’ve been known to walk from Union Park to our home on the North Side when it’s warm out - so being able to walk around is hugely beneficial for orienting ourselves in a new city. Fortunately, Dublin is an incredibly walkable city, with most of the popular sites located in the compact city center, so we were able to get from our Airbnb to most everything we wanted to see without having to spend money on cabs.
Dublin was an ideal starting point for our trip because it felt both incredibly foreign and intimately familiar at the same time. When we met up with our friend Shane on our last night in the city, we went out to a bar that could have been just as home in Chicago as it was in Ireland - except, of course, for the football playing on a massive screen in the beer garden and the semi-incomprehensible accented voices permeating the air. In the same vein, navigating the rush hour pedestrian crowds in the city center felt a lot like making my way home from work on an average day in downtown Chicago, dodging tourists on the sidewalk and jaywalking in front of erratic cabs. Little things like that eased my transition into traveling and reassured me that, on a very basic level, people everywhere are pretty much the same.
One thing I should note is that if you’re looking for the Ireland of guidebooks and lore, with expansive fields of green pastures, crumbling castles and sheep as far as the eye can see, it exists, but it’s out in the countryside - you won’t find it in Dublin. Sure, there are ruins and ancient churches and bustling pubs dotting the streets, but the city itself feels a lot like a standard concrete jungle - it’s gray and there’s litter all over and parts of it smell weird. But this shouldn’t stop you from visiting. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys being lost - I like wandering, but I prefer to have a sense of where I’m going - but in Dublin I discovered the joy in walking down a street three times in a row and discovering something new each time. It doesn’t have the same kind of ancient, spiritual allure as rural Ireland, but it has its own, equally magical but totally unique, charm that should not be missed.
Three days felt like the perfect amount of time for Dublin, and both our Airbnb hosts and our local friend Shane validated that opinion. We were able to hit a number of tourist spots like Trinity College, the Temple Bar, and a handful of (free!) museums, monuments and churches within the city center, with plenty of time in between to lounge at cafes and pubs, but we never felt like we were pressed for time. There were a few tourist hotspots that we avoided - for example, the Guinness storehouse was, in our opinion, overpriced. Since we’ve both been to numerous breweries and wineries in the States, we felt more comfortable spending those 25 Euro at some of the traditional pubs lining Dublin’s winding streets.
One thing I wasn’t expecting when traveling abroad was the degree to which everyone is engrossed in American current events. Maybe it’s just because what’s going on in our country is so heavily covered in the media, but it seemed like everywhere we went people were discussing American politics. It had the interesting double effect of making us feel both incredibly at home and ridiculously uncomfortable. On our second day in the city, we were sitting in a coffee shop near Temple Bar when the baristas began discussing the Comey hearing. I had to do a double-take because I was so shocked to hear it being discussed thousands of miles away from home. I didn’t feel comfortable interjecting in their conversation - I didn’t want to perpetuate the idea that Americans are loud or intrusive or whatever it is the rest of the world thinks of us - but it was insightful and interesting to listen to their perspectives and see how sometimes politics can transcend borders.
There were other moments when I could tell we were being lumped in as typical Americans, despite our best efforts to fit in. On our first night in the city, our Airbnb hosts recommeded a traditional Irish restaurant close to the flat, and when we walked in we were promptly seated in the back along a wall decorated with American flags and posters of the Kennedy family. We thought it was hysterically funny until we noticed that the other two groups sat next to us were also American - and we cringed hard when one of them ordered ‘a Guinness beer’ and a cheeseburger. We’re not trying to pretend we’re not American or act like we’re better than anyone, but I definitely felt a little enlightened to why folks abroad seem to stereotype American tourists.
On a lighter note, there were other little things that made Alex and I feel right at home. On our second night out, we found a great spot in the corner of the Temple Bar (the bar for which the Temple Bar neighborhood is named) from which we could people-watch while sipping our Guinnesses. Over the course of the night, we witnessed countless Irishmen begin drunken renditions of American bar classics like “Sweet Caroline” and watched the house band perform classics like “Country Roads” and, bizarrely, a medley of Bob Marley hits. Sure, Temple Bar is a touristy area, but it felt great to see that the same songs can inspire a group of people to sing along whether you’re on the bottom floor of the Hangge Uppe or at a crowded bar in Ireland.
Maybe it sounds silly, but it’s so easy to imagine visiting a new country and expecting a total culture shock. Sure, in Ireland they speak English and things are relatively similar, but I didn’t expect it to feel quite so relatable. I haven’t felt homesick - not even for a second - and I think that’s because Dublin feels so much like home. Alex and I are both certainly excited to experience stranger and more foreign things as we continue to travel farther away from home, but for our first (highly jetlagged) days abroad, it was the perfect introduction, and I can’t wait to be back someday.