I was told Dubliners are friendly. What I actually experienced was more people who will come and talk to you or about you on the street in every context. Sometimes it was sweet like that nun who called out a blessing for Emily from across the train tracks, other times it was helpful directions when I looked lost. Most alarmingly as I was travelling alone with a toddler, many people were rude and upsetting to the point where I felt really uncomfortable and unwelcome, the murder of Sarai Sierra fresh in my mind. (I HATE that I let news media hysteria get to me by the way). I was edgy and extra protective of Emily for the whole trip when on the first day someone decided it would be super fun to scare a baby and screamed obscenities into her face then darted off into the crowd. Maybe I've gotten used to reserved Germans. Who knows. But it felt like several people just wanted to take a dump on my sense of wonder because taking pictures of things and exploring a new city is a crime and practically occupation.
But then, there is Ariel House.
We stayed in a Victorian guest house, for 59 euro a night (about 80 USD, or cheaper than a lot of chain hotels). With free wifi, concierge service and free tea service in the drawing room, I didn't see a reason to pass up the 11 euro breakfast. It was divine. Food cooked to order, plus fresh buffet options, and little extras for Emily (the staff were so sweet to her). After all that, they comped my breakfast just because, putting 33 euro back in my pocket. I loved it. Loved. it. I've never stayed anywhere where the staff made me feel like I was family or where the bed was as comfortable. It was half a block from the DART station, so we were able to sleep in a quiet residential neighborhood, but get anywhere we wanted in minutes.
Emily and I spent most of our time wandering, and found lots of beautiful Anglican churches (I don't think I happened upon one Catholic church), a gutted 18th century mansion turned into shops and cafes, and lots of cool 200 year old architecture.
The statue of Molly Malone, or as the locals call her, "The dish with the fish."
Against my better judgment on our first full day, we took the recommendation of several people and spent one completely pointless morning in the fishing village of Howth. It was cold and windy and save for a few businesses to support the locals, nothing was open. We walked past some fish markets and looked at the boats, but that's all there really was. I found a little coffee stand, and asked for directions to the castle I was told about. The directions seemed odd, but were reiterated with annoyance (It's on the street? That's not right). I followed them anyway for a half mile or so and only found a Presbyterian church built to look like castle. WTH? How is there any confusion in a tiny village with almost nothing to see but an abbey a castle and fish? I didn't want to walk all the way back to ask someone else, and I didn't see any signs for an actual castle, so in a mood that was growing as dark as the rain clouds above us, I said screw it and walked more than 3k through a stretch of suburbia to the town of Sutton and got back on the train there. Muh!
After heading back and recaffeinating, we wandered toward the National Museum. It's small, but there were cool exhibits, and we got to see restoration work being done on a Caravaggio. I also stopped in my tracks when I saw a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary. Upon closer examination, it was actually a gorgeous piece of papal propaganda. The pope who commissioned it is seen in the bottom of the painting. The official story went that his hand was chopped off, and through divine intercession by Mary, it grew back because he was just that super awesome of a pope. Miracle!
One of the other attractions we saw took us to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the adjacent library, the Long Room. Neither allowed pictures which killed me because there was so much I wanted to photograph. It's basically displays of enlarged details of intricate Celtic knot work from the texts, plus other early religious works from Ethiopia, along with a good bit of background information. In the last gallery the book is displayed under glass for viewing. From there you are funneled into the Long Room, a library that is seemingly more for show than anything else. Rows of shelves to the high ceiling are lined with books that don't look any newer than the 19th century. Gorgeous.
From there I weighed our options based on Emily's happiness and my crankiness. Bus tour? Bah. Historical Gaol tour that takes a long time on the bus and foot to get to? Meh. We finally hiked to the Viking and medieval part of the city as it was the last good chunk of Dublin to see. We headed first to Dublin Castle only to find it closed. Several important people were milling by the gates surrounded by plain clothes security detail, so I didn't dare take any more pictures than this one.
We came to a museum about Dublin's history. It was either that or a distillery, and I was pretty tired, so we wandered in. Dublina is really neat and interative. I think it would have been great for Emily if she was older. We learned all about Viking settlements all the way to present day archeology techniques. I definitely recommend it if you have an hour and kids to infotain.
In all, I think this trip was defined by trying unsuccessfully to blend in an observe when solid plans and good company would have served me well, since I got pegged as a gross tourist anyway. I researched very little and wish I knew more of where the locals spent their time--though I did get pointed to Queen of Tarts on Dame Street and it's cake heaven. If I visit Ireland again, it will be other areas, and definitely with my husband.