Feel like a turkey doing the same thing every Thanksgiving? Here’s some food for thought: Go elsewhere next year.
For a radical change of pace, we left the country. For about twice as much as it would cost to fly to visit relatives in North Carolina, we decided to go to Dublin, Ireland, for the long holiday weekend. Said relatives were not offended.
Dublin was a part of Europe that was relatively easy to get to from our perch on the east coast of the U.S. Subtracting two days for travel left us with three full days to see what we could see.
After snow toyed with our departing overnight flight and our nerves, we made it there Thanksgiving morning. Extremely sleep deprived and cranky because our seats didn’t recline, and the seat backs were minus movie screens. That U.S. Airways – American Airlines merger seems to be working out well. Not. But that’s a story for another day.
Day 1: Bleary, collapse into a nap at the home of Hans and Deirdre Geisler, courtesy of Airbnb. They have grown children and a fabulous place within walking distance of downtown Dublin to themselves, a historic townhouse straight out of House Beautiful. With the proverbial wood floors you could eat turkey and stuffing off of. In the bathroom, no less.
I discover the candles scattered around the house are for more than show. Hans, a meticulous and caring sort, makes it his business to light them every morning. He says it gives each day purpose. I like that.
A caressing shower with carrageenan moss soap — made from Irish seaweed — gently revives me. Armed with maps and a crash-course in Dublin neighborhoods from a real local viewpoint, we’re off to find some semblance of Thanksgiving dinner in what’s left of the holiday.
We go in search of what passes for real Irish fare, which means heading down to the tourist area, where they pour it on. A place called Boxty’s doesn’t disappoint.
We go all out, ordering Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage. With a side of the most decadent mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. So wonderfully good you know they’re wickedly bad. Topped off with so-so chocolate cake and ice cream.
Not the usual, but still, we stuck to tradition. The tradition of feeling like beached whales by the time we were done.
We walk off some of the spuds.
It might not have been Thanksgiving here, but Christmas season had definitely begun. Downtown was adorned with decorations in Irish Gaelic, which I’m told is still taught in schools.
Then it was off to Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre, sort of the equivalent of the city’s Broadway. A big part of Ireland’s personality that I’d read about in Leon Uris’ Trinity.
(I’ll admit everything I knew about Ireland was based on that over-the-top novel that romanticized every little thing about the nation’s history. Most of it focused on the bloody struggle to break away from Britain.)
Turns out the original Abbey burned down in a fire, replaced by what looked like an office building. And the play, which I didn’t realize when I booked it, was an experimental work relegated to a lesser stage at the Abbey — think way off-Broadway. It was college level theater at best, and I was trying not to nod off.
What kept me awake was, it was still Dublin and The Abbey. With the ghosts of famous playwrights past. I was loving it.
Day 2: Knowing we have but one full day in Dublin, Deirdre and Hans ply us with enough fuel at breakfast to last the entire day: scrambled eggs on toast, scones, fruit, yogurt.
Hans saves us the public transit hassle by dropping us off at the first must-see on our list, especially having read Trinity …
.. The Kilmainham Gaol, a museum that was once a notorious prison, home to a cross-section of society from bread thieves to revolutionaries whose executions sparked the uprisings that hastened Irish independence from Britain.
The rebels linger everywhere in spirit, tucked in between Starbucks and H&M.
Anyway, as you’d expect, the gaol cells were sufficiently bleak.
This cross marks an execution spot. We’re told one revolutionary leader was allowed to marry just hours before receiving his punishment (bullets strategically aimed at a piece of cloth taped over the heart). Another too weak to stand for his send-off was allowed to sit.
More walking past lots of cathedrals and such dating back to medieval times.
Lunch was fairly respectable bagels and lox at the kosher Bretzel Bakery, itself the crumbs that remain of what was once Dublin’s Jewish Quarter – Little Jerusalem.
Down the street is the Irish Jewish Museum, which has limited winter hours and was closed when we were there.
Its expansion in the subject of some controversy, with many neighbors claiming it’s going to change the neighborhood and hurt property values.
From there, off to the James Joyce Centre in the middle of an emerging Asian neighborhood, because how can you go to Dublin and not have an encounter with some of the literary Irish greats?
The place was an attempt to make something big out of not much. It was a strung-out version of his life, with some rooms full of furniture, knickknacks and some of his books.
I think a better use of the space would be to explain what the heck his books — particularly Ulysses — are all about. I bought a T-shirt to help get me in the mood to write. I’m still waiting…
After endless hours of walking, my body turned on the brakes. Couldn’t go another step.
This just so happened in front of an adorable little ice cream shop: Murphy’s, straight from Dingle, in County Derry. “Dinner,” I told Mitch, dragging him in with me.
Mitch held out for real food. But I was tangled in a web of marketing spiel. When I heard the milk came from rare, indigenous Kerry cows, (even earned a rave from National Geo!) I was a goner. Sorry, National Geo, but basic vanilla and chocolate didn’t do a darn thing for me. I felt so … cowed.
Day 3: On our last day, we hop a train before sunrise to the other side of Ireland — Galway, on the Atlantic Ocean. Touted as a pretty place with lots of personality.
It could have been Amtrak, except the stops were announced in Irish Gaelic and English.
I told myself that the countryside, which went by at a crazed clip, looked greener here than home because this was the Emerald Isle. Uh-huh.
Another U.S. tradition followed us: Black Friday. Yep, even though there was no Thanksgiving Thursday. Go figure. Galway, a wee place in comparison to Dublin, was mobbed.
They say there’s always something going on in Galway, and there was. A protest over water rates collided with a dancing for cancer benefit.
We snuck off, making our way toward the ocean. On the way was the Spanish Arch, a remnant of the old walled city.
Which also had its brushes with the English crown.
Just beyond is the Claddagh, meaning shore, the part of Galway said to have started out as a fishing village with its own king.
And according to legend, its own logo, which stands for friendship, love and loyalty. Step into any jewelry store there and you’ll find it in abundance.
Christopher Columbus supposedly passed through and prayed at a church that’s been going strong since the Middle Ages. One of the parishioners was a Jane Eyre. Best as I can tell, this Jane didn’t inspire the novel.
Back to the present, amazingly fresh raw oysters at one of the neat weekend markets made a fabulous breakfast. Really.
Along with a homemade doughnut from a guy who said he was Jewish and from Manhattan’s Upper West Side. What was he doing there? What else, he asked, in a manner that suggested he wasn’t fibbing about his roots. A relationship.
Next day, back to Philadelphia, barely making the flight. As it turns out, Dublin is one of a handful of airports outside North America that requires U.S. customs and immigration clearance. Saves time back in the states, but means going through security not once but twice.
So if you plan to visit Dublin, be advised: There’s a reason they tell you to be there three hours before the flight back to the U.S. You’ll need all that time.
Onboard, same highly unimpressive plane. But thankfully, our seats were close to the loo. And there were many visits. Overindulgence, no doubt.
Which means it was your typical Thanksgiving weekend. Mission accomplished.