After deciding to take an early leave from our last host farm (read Patrick's Mold House Farm post), we headed to Dublin, our final destination in Ireland. We were thankfully able to change our ferry ticket from Rosslare to Cherbourg by ten days, free of charge, but the infrequent sailing schedule still left us with six days in Dublin. We hadn't really budgeted for such a long stay in the city, so we did a bit of shoestring exploring.
After nearly three months in Ireland, we were admittedly less than impressed by Irish architecture. The Celtic Tiger boom left the countryside dotted with staid, cookie-cutter homes that lack architectural variety or detail. The docklands and center of Dublin are uniquely beautiful in Ireland for their variety and interest of buildings.
Trinity College lies in the heart of Dublin's historic core, and we walked the grounds several times during our stay in the city.
Trinity College was founded in the late 1500s, and retains much of it's historic footprint while also successfully integrating newer buildings such as this marble-clad academic building and small wooden theatre.
Trinity also has a number of cricket greens, where white-suited collegiate teams compete regularly.
In addition to the formal, impressive buildings, Dublin has plenty of big-city quirks. We were pleased to see plenty of bicyclists and a fairly robust bike infrastructure system in place (by Irish standards). Another happy discovery was that, for whatever reason, Dubliners seem to be fond of burritos and Tex-Mex food, a rarity in other parts of Ireland. We came across a quirky burrito restaurant, Little Ass Burrito Bar, and had our first spicy food in months.
Only in Dublin, I imagine, can you find a shop with such a variety of mini whiskey bottles. Products by small distilleries and breweries are difficult to come by in most parts of Ireland, with Dublin regarded as the national hub for craft houses.
As the capital of Ireland, Dublin also has a large number of free national museums and galleries. We visited the National Museum of Decorative Arts & History, located in historic Collins Barracks. Built in the 1700s, Collins Barracks housed both the British armed forces and Irish army garrisons over three centuries.
The barracks were in use until 1997, when they were redeveloped and renovated for museum use. Many of the original details of the building were maintained and modern insertions, such as this steel mesh spiral staircase, were thoughtfully integrated.
We enjoyed the displays of traditional farmhouse furniture. To the right, an early model of a Murphy bed: a highback bench makes a simple conversion to a bed.
Another of Dublin's free historic sights is the library and reading room of the Royal Irish Academy, which owns one of Ireland's most extensive historic research archives. The reading room features elaborate antique desks equipped with magnifying glasses to view the historic documents, and white gloves and pillows to protect them.
We visited to view an exhibition of historic maps and surveys of Dublin and the surrounding countryside. Some of the more obscure and interesting documents included listings of each village's professions in the early 1700 and 1800s: "3 Haberdashers, 5 Soap Boilers, 48 Shoe Makers or Menders, 1 Brewer, 1 Architect, 29 Carpenters..." It was an interesting peek into what life might have been like.
We had another glimpse into Irish life through a visit to the theatre. For Heide's birthday Patrick took us to see Ballyturk, by Irish playwright Edna Walsh. The play was a challenging bit of theatre - surreal, abstract, stream-of-conscious - and it was performed to an absolutely sold-out crowd.
We realized that we could not afford to stay in a hotel for our six nights in Dublin, so we pieced together a varied itinerary. For our first two nights, we stayed at a crowded but pretty campground in the outskirts of the city's western boroughs. We encountered quite a lot of group tours at this camp, including this unusual "rolling hotel" or Rollende Hotel, which provides a self-contained experience for travelers.
Our next two nights took us much closer to the city, to a beautiful bed-and-breakfast in one of Dublin's older, upscale neighborhoods. The stay was a splurge for Heide's birthday, and we felt very welcomed at this family-run establishment whose proprietors were fascinated and pleased that we arrived by bicycle.
For our last two nights we stayed directly in the city center with Sarah and Baptiste, a lovely French couple we met through the online community Warm Showers. Warm Showers is a Couch Surfing type of hosting community, but specifically for bicycle tourers. Hosts offer what they can, which ranges anywhere from cycling advice and repair assistance, to a campsite in the backyard, to a spare bedroom and dinner. Sarah and Baptiste offered us the use of their comfortable fold-out couch, and we shared cozy dinners with them, swapping cycling stories. The two of them spent their recent honeymoon cycling the entire coast of Ireland with a tandem on a trip that took them two months and over some 1,500 kilometers. Inspired, this got us thinking about what our next ride might be.
Overall, our trip to Dublin was a wonderful break from our routine of cycling and farming, but we also are ready to get back on the road and back into the countryside. After nearly three months in Ireland, it is time to ferry back to France and to our last rides, and final two host farms. While we enjoyed much of Ireland, we have found ourselves missing France a bit for it's food and wine, culture and architecture, variety and scale.
Ireland is famous for it's unique mix of dramatic and bucolic landscapes, and in this regard we feel we saw some of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. Our rides along the southwest coast and inlands were stunning for the views of rugged coastlines and moors, wild grazing sheep, stout thatched cottages. The generosity and openness of Ireland's people were a constant pleasant surprise and, though our WWOOFing experiences here have been mixed, we feel that we have gotten a fair impression of Irish agriculture. We were fortunate to have had such a sunny summer in Ireland, and are looking forward to fall in France.