The Emerald Isle - Part Six

When we had finally made it to bed in the wee hours of the morning, it had seemed like a good idea at the time to not set an alarm. However, when the gloomy day sent no sunshine through the cracks in our curtains, there was nothing to rouse me from my slumber until after 10:30 in the morning. By the time we were both showered and ready to go, it was almost noon and we had wasted half of our only day in Dublin.

According to Google Maps, it was only supposed to be a 25 minute walk into the city center from our hotel, and the map we secured from the front desk quoted 15 minutes, so we made the decision to walk along the Liffey River to the lively Temple Bar neighborhood in search of food. Temple Bar is a restaurant and nightlife hub not far from Trinity College and the other sites we were hoping to see, so it seemed like a safe bet to us.

However, as we walked and walked along the relatively un-scenic quay with no sign of anything promising on the horizon. I started to get nervous. A look at the hotel map, which provided historic buildings as landmarks, appeared to indicate that somehow, we had overshot our target, so we headed further south to see if we could run into Temple Bar. The area we encountered, unfortunately, didn't seem thriving with eateries so much as locals shopping at street markets. It was clear that we were totally lost. The lack of street signs or street numbers wasn't helping our cause, and we hit upon a perfect storm of my stressors -- being lost and being hungry -- that conspired to put me in a foul mood.

Eventually, our study of the map caused us to guess that despite the considerable distance we had traversed, we might  not have walked far enough. We headed west, praying we were on the right track, and finally, I saw a steeple in the distance that I surmised to be that of Christchurch Cathedral, so we headed toward it. As it turned out, I was mistaken, as a reading of the sign on the building revealed, but by the time we had walked to it, I saw the unmistakable tower of an even bigger church even further down the street that just had to be it.

At last, I was correct, and from Christchurch Cathedral, we were finally to navigate to Temple Bar. By the time got there, I was extremely grumpy and Justin was so hungry that he was shutting down. As a result, we wandered the neighborhood without anything standing out to us, and unable to make a decision. Down a side street, a sign for an Indonesian restaurant called Chameleon caught my eye. For one, I'd never eaten that particular cuisine before, which piqued my foodie curiosity. Secondly, I'd seen Anthony Bourdain eat it on an episode of No Reservations, and it isn't often that I get the chance to do anything that Bourdain has done, even if we weren't in the right country. Lastly, I was getting sick of fish and chips, and their menu would offer something different.

Normally, when I travel, I observe a strict rule that I only eat the foods of the nation I'm in and exclude ethnic foods, i.e. French food in France, Italian food in Italy, and Spanish food in Spain, not Italian food in Germany, or Chinese food pretty much anywhere besides at home. I try to strive for authenticity in my dining experiences, but in that moment, I was ready for an adventure within our larger Irish adventure. After all, Dublin is a cosmopolitan city where the ethnic eateries seemingly outnumber the non-pub restaurants.

Chameleon offers a rijsttafel, a style of dining invented by the Dutch when they controlled Indonesia as a colonial power. It consists of numerous small dishes, served with rice and meant to be shared. We ordered an enormous seven-course feast that included beef rendang, one of the most traditional Indonesian dishes which was essentially a spicy beef coconut curry. It reminded me too much of Indian food, which I can't stand, and I much preferred the stir-fried noodles in a ginger-soy sauce.

There were delicious skewers of chicken satay and crispy pork wontons, a heaping plate of chicken wings in a spicy-sweet glaze, and a refreshing salad of mango, pineapple, and greens in a sesame dressing that was a perfect palate cleanser, as were the assorted pickled vegetables that graced the table as one of the many condiments that came with the meal. Perhaps the greatest surprise to me was the excellent wok-seared cabbage, even though I don't normally care for the vegetable.

Yes, it was an expensive meal at 65€, the priciest of the trip so far, but the food was both bountiful and delicious, the experience was unique, and the surroundings were quite romantic. They say that the dopamine rush generated by trying something new is comparable to the feeling of first falling in love, and that sharing novel experiences together is one of the best ways for couples to strengthen their bond. I'm glad that our relationship-building exercise turned out to be so delicious; my only regret was that it was almost 2:00pm by the time we finished it, leaving us a scarce three hours to see the sights on our list before the sun went down and everything started to close.

Quickly, we hustled over to Trinity College, noting a large presence of Garda, or Irish police. At first, I thought it was because we were standing in front of the Bank of Ireland building, but when I noticed chanting in the distance, I knew something was up. I remembered from listening to the radio in the car that there were anti-austerity marches planned for Dublin, so we concluded that that's what we had stumbled upon. Being tourists, we decided it was best to steer clear, so we pressed on to the university campus.

The 18th and 19th century buildings and courtyards of Trinity College constituted a lovely and stately campus. A graceful campanile stood at the center of the main quad, attracting numerous people in search of a photo op, including a wedding party. We, however, had honed in on the Old Library building with laser-like focus. Being a librarian, Justin has the same zeal for visiting libraries on vacation as I do for visiting cathedrals , and Trinity's library had been his top Dublin destination.

The structure is one of the oldest on campus, built in 1732, and notable both for housing the Book of Kells, Ireland's most notable illuminated manuscript, and the Long Room, a 210 foot-long space that is home to over 200,000 antique and rare books as well as busts of a great number of classical scholars. The room was once only a single story, but when they ran out of space for books the first time, they raised the roof and added a second-story arcade. After that, they presumably built another library.

 We were profoundly disappointed by their no-photography policy, but nonetheless forked over our admission fee for the privilege of seeing the space. We were first led through an exhibition that told the story of the Book of Kells, which contains the four gospels, written in Latin by only four different scribes. They were carefully written on vellum, and richly decorated with animals, scrolls, geometric motifs, and images of Christ and the four evangelists. It was decorated by a number of different artists in addition to the four scribes, using pigments and inks that were imported from all over Europe -- no small feat in the 9th century.

After the highly informative exhibit, seeing the actual pages from the Book of Kells felt like sort of a let-down. The artwork is so intricate that it is hard to appreciate in its normal size, and the lighting in the room was so understandably dim that it was difficult to see much.

From there, we walked up into the Long Room, and marveled at the sheer volume of books and their extreme age. While I wondered if anyone actually uses any of those books for research purposes any more, Justin, ever the librarian, tried to figure out what kind of organizational system they were using to shelve them. Satisfied with our tour, we made a brief stop in the gist shop before pushing on with our abbreviated tour of Dublin.

First, we backtracked to Christchurch Cathedral, which was high on my must-see list as the grandest church in Dublin. Though most Irish people are Catholic, Christchurch is an Anglican, or Church of England establishment, owing to the years Ireland spent under English rule. It was originally built in 1186, though much of its present interior dates back to an 1870 renovation.

I'm not sure that the interior was worth the price of admission, as it was woefully dim inside, and there was little of interest in either the stained glass or carved stone departments. The most interesting feature of the structure proved to be the crypt, where they had built a small museum of the church's treasures, and where they were staging a small exhibit of costumes from Showtime's The Tudors. I loved that show while it was on the air, so it was fun to see the amazingly detailed costumes close-up, and to learn that the majority of the show was filmed in Ireland, with the church scenes taking place at Christchurch itself.

There was also a famous, but unusual set of relics stored in the basement -- the mummified corpses of a cat and a mouse who were found in one of the pipes of the church's organ. Apparently, the cat chased the mouse into the pipe, they both got stuck, and they died there, forever locked into a tableau of predator and prey. Dublin's native son, James Joyce, mentioned the animal remains in one of his novels and now they are apparently somewhat of a local tourist attraction.

By the time we finished at Christchurch, we were rapidly running out of daylight, and it was close to 4:30. We wondered if it was worthwhile to try to see anything else at that point, but I hated the idea of only seeing two places in all of Dublin, so we rushed down the street to make it to St. Patrick's Cathedral, just barely in time for the last admission of the day.

Though again, it was too dark inside to make out any stained glass, the interior of St. Patrick's was far more impressive to me than that of Christchurch. The building is home to scores of memorials and monuments ranging from a simple plaque commemorating members of the Irish Guard who fought in World War I and World War II, to a grandiose marble relief dedicated to a single colonial campaign in Burma, or modern-day Myanmar, to splendidly carved wooden tombs dating back to the 17th century.

St. Patrick's was founded on the site where the eponymous saint was said to have conducted baptisms in a holy well, and a Celtic stone slab that once covered the well is preserved in the nave of the cathedral. Jonathan Swift, the author and political commentator who penned Gulliver's Travels acted as Dean of St. Patrick's from 1713-1745, and he is buried there, along with several plaques dedicated to his memory. Considering how much more I enjoyed St. Patrick's than Christchurch, I was glad we squeezed it in under the wire.

Since we were both still stuffed from our enormous lunch, we decided not to seek out another meal before heading back to the hotel. We had hoped to encounter some kind of bakery, confectionery, or appealing take-out establishment on our way back to the hotel, but the entire, bleak slog along the Liffey revealed absolutely nothing of interest.

Back in the room, I was dutifully attending to our travel journal, when I was possessed by a sudden and voracious craving for pizza. Justin looked online for a place nearby where w could procure one, but it became gradually evident that our best option would be Domino's delivery -- that's right, the same chain from back home.

Now, I had already broken one travel rule for the day with our Indonesian food adventure; could I be so bold as to break my cardinal rule of travel eating: no US-based chains? It turned out, the answer was yes. Not only did I really want pizza, I really didn't want to have to make the long trudge back into town to find somewhere to eat. Plus, we could order the pizza online without having to deal with anyone on the phone. It may have been the most shameful meal I've ever eaten while out of the country, but it was also oddly satisfying, as it sated a craving and provided a welcome taste of home after six days away.

It may have been a strange way to end our day, but all in all, I really didn't feel like we did Dublin justice anyway. I wasn't as aggressive with planning this leg of our trip, perhaps because part of me is harboring hope that we'll be back someday to visit Abel and Sinead. The driving portions of our journey seemed like a bigger priority, because I didn't think we'd be likely to go through the effort of renting a car if we ever did return. There were pros and cons to that strategy, and one of the cons was that I ended up not enjoying my time in Dublin (the wedding excluded) as much as I probably could have otherwise.

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