Ireland: Land o’ Green Landscapes, Towering Burger Kings, and Guinness Stew

I spent a chilly and exciting weekend in Dublin, made even better with a day trip to the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and surrounding sites. Friday was spent navigating the Dart train from our Airbnb in the adorable suburb of Donaghmede. Once in the city, we did a bit of shopping on Grafton Street and got and dinner at Bobo’s, where an incredible Britney throwback playlist accompanied our cheeseburgers and fries. I may or may not have been the most excited about the ice water – oh, ice, how I’ve missed you! So far, the people here have been more than gracious, the presence of dozens of fast food chains has been surprising, and the urban city streets remind me of home.

Saturday morning began with a taxi ride into the city at the crack of dawn to catch our bus for the day trip, which we booked through Dublin Tour Company. Luckily, a quick stop at McDonald’s and a relaxing bus ride gave us the energy to take on the day. There were cows and sheep sleeping in the sun, and even a little group of lambs frolicking around. Our first stop was at Dunguaire Castle, where the low tide created a unique setting for our 15-minute photo op. Next, a drive through the Burren, where limestone peeking through the grass created the feeling of driving on the moon. Fun fact: scenes in Star Wars were filmed here because of the almost lunar landscape of the area. We stopped at Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 5,000 year old tomb that was “older than the pyramids”. They don’t really compare, in my opinion, so this wasn’t exactly too surprising (still beautiful though!). The wall of loose stones was one of hundreds that divided the Irish landscape. Each built over 2,000 years ago, they are only intact because the holes between the rocks allow the wind to blow through.

Next, we stopped in Kilfenora to take a look at the famous Irish High Crosses in a cathedral built in the late twelfth century. The beautifully preserved Celtic crosses date back centuries, and surrounding town was small and sweet. A short drive to Doolin landed us in front of Gus O’Connor’s Pub, home of some famous Guinness Beef Stew that is a must when visiting Ireland. 10 euro and a few short minutes later, my first truly Irish meal sat in front of me. It was one of those meals that you are sad to finish, because you know you will likely never find anything quite like it again.

A short drive through Lisdoonvarna was made memorable by an anecdote from our guide, James. Each year, thousands flock to this tiny town of less than 800 people, which hosts a matchmaking festival that lasts the entire month of September. It is hosted by one of the few remaining matchmakers in Ireland. Read about it here – I’m not joking! Around 2 pm, we made it to the destination we had anticipated all day: the Cliffs of Moher. It must have been some luck of the Irish, because the weather was amazingly sunny and clear for the day. While we just about toppled over because of the wind, I was awestruck over the towering cliffs that have also served as the backdrop for my favorite Harry Potter movie.

Energized but windblown, we boarded the bus and drove down the Atlantic coast towards Galway, making a short stop at what our tour guide called the “mini cliffs.” Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, these cliffs were entirely open to explore, without any of the barriers or walkways. This made for an entirely different experience (a much scarier one!), and I was becoming more and more grateful that I wore my Nikes that day. I slept for the rest of the bus ride, only waking up watch a dog named Rex that runs down his driveway to watch the buses go by each day. Our night ended with a dinner that, honestly, was expensive and strange, since a lot of places stop serving food after a certain time at night.

Sunday seems to be a lazy day in Dublin, since we waited outside a doughnut shop for its opening at 11, and most of the stores did not open until noon. Hours like that are begging people to sleep in, which is something I could easily get used to. After some fresh and doughy goodness, we walked to Trinity College to explore the campus of one of Europe’s top universities.

After taking some pictures around the campus, it started to hail, so we decided to head over to the National Gallery of Ireland. It is a free art museum home to lesser-known pieces by well-known artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Delacroix. The streets surrounding the museum were begging to be photographed, and the brightly-colored doors helped to differentiate the seamless row of apartments.

We stumbled upon the famous Molly Malone statue on our way to the bus stop. Based on the fictional woman from the unofficial anthem of Dublin City, I was a bit annoyed to see the bronze hue rubbed off her chest – clearly tourists frequently decide to get handsy. As we started to feel our hands and toes freezing, we decided to hop on bus towards Dublin Castle. To our surprise, the public transit buses were beautiful double-decker buses that provided a great view of the city as we cruised down the street. With just a few minutes to spare before we needed to head to the Guinness Storehouse, we made a quick lap through the square of the Dublin Castle, which mostly dates back to the eighteenth century. Only a  single tower from the original castle from the eleventh century remains, which was quite different from what we were expecting.

We finished our weekend excursion in Dublin with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, our main destination for the weekend (other than the cliffs). After learning how Guinness is made and how it came to be so popular, we came upon my favorite part of the tour: historic Guinness advertisements. After enjoying a mini Guinness in the tasting room, we headed upstairs to learn how to pour the perfect pint. I was shocked at how sweet and smooth it was, since I am usually not much of a beer drinker. Since we needed to wake up at 2:30 am on Monday in order to fly back home in time for class, we decided to cut the night short with a fast dinner at KFC. Until that moment, I did not know how much I needed fried chicken strips in my life.

While this weekend was both freezing and exhausting, it was so refreshing to travel somewhere that was so starkly different from Italy. With English speaking people, reliable transportation, and American chain restaurants like Subway and Papa John’s, Dublin couldn’t be more different from Rome. Traveling here for a weekend allowed me to gain a better appreciation for them both, and I’m already itching to return to Dublin in the future.

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