Ireland — Dublin and Galway

My first time here, and the reason is a Symposium on Molecular Biology and Evolution, held at the Convention Center Dublin (CCD). The CCD is a recently built, ecological gem of Dublin, work of Kevin Roche, winner of Pretzel prize for his work.

The thrill of adventure and discovery, always fills me with enthusiasm! Ireland is notorious for particularly unwelcoming, windy, cold and rainy weather, and to be honest, the weather forecast for my stay over there (17 degrees and showers every day) managed to slightly decrease this sense of adventure. But, all worse for the best though, once expectations are left at home, surprise surprise! there’s no disappointment and good things happen.

After a 2h flight from Zürich and a short shuttle bus ride, I am already at the check-in desk of my hotel, right across the CCD. The staff is very friendly, exhibiting right from the beginning the Irish hospitality.

Samuel Becket Bridge spans over the Liffey river and makes my way to CCD only a 5 min walk. Along the banks of the Liffey, the memorial of the Great Famish stands as a reminder for Ireland’s worst moment in history, when more than a mil ppl packed up their goods and left Ireland for Canada, in search of a living. Nevertheless, today’s Dublin is a very modern and contrasting city. Bustling streets, colorful front end doors, modern architecture mixes with Georgian buildings along the banks of the river. The spear shaped Monument of Light astonishes with a 120m height, in the middle of O’Connel street.

If you’re a fan of natural fibers, then you’re in the right place. Several regions in Ireland process the wool of cute black head/legged white fur balls. Some of the most famous tweed manufacturers are in DonegalFoxford and in Avoca(slightly pricier than the others), while the Aran Island produces the almost emblematic sailor woolen knitwear, that keeps warm and dryish in the same time (wool properties).

Celtic symbols, necklaces and jewelry, tin or golden plated silver mixture, you’ll find it everywhere. Pretty expensive – later on advised not to buy from Ireland – but convinced me to take one home.

You thought you know how to jumpstart your day with a good breakfast? well think about it twice, cause Irish will teach you a lesson! From cereals and fruit with yogurt, to scrambled eggs, sausage, beans and rice pie, they make sure you don’t start your day with empty stomach!

Be it in the elevator, on the street or at the counter of the shop (are you ok – now-? typical Q in the shop), fair skinned, red haired, scouting blue eyes. It won’t take long until someone addresses you, so keep always a smile on, cause you never know when you need it (soon for sure). Straightforward, easy going attitude soon starts up a conversation with the tourist that opens its mouth and fails to blend in the local accent. I’d like to think that this welcoming warmth has its roots in curiosity, honesty, altruism or a weighted combination of these. Whichever the case, it is definitely one of the most impressive phenomenon that made me want to return.

Beer’s not a favorite drink? Fresh draught Guinness is still a must try. I personally prefer red wine over any other alcoholic drink, but I must say, whenever I’ll pass by, I’ll have a stout! The fresh dark brown brew, with just a little mousse on the top, is delightful and while you enjoy it, without noticing, you simply forget about daily issues and get into the local spirit.

The symposium was super tiring! Somehow I also managed to walk a lot during these days and by the end of the 3rd day I just felt dead tired. It was an intensive workshop and truly big, with parallel talk sessions from 8:30AM till 8 PM.

While walking around I came across Earen book store and without noticing I picked up 3 books: Dubliners by Joyce, Fairytale for who knows when I’ll have time and you wouldn’t guess what else… The Origin of Species of Darwin! In his recent talk at EPFL, C. Papadimitriou made a note on how popular the book became in England after the first publication and how even grandma’ could go and get it from the shelves of the book store. He recommended it as a reading, and my surprise was big when I had this deja-vu. So I bought it for future reading.

I gave myself a 2 day gap between the conference’s end and my return to Switzerland and well in advance, I signed up for a 2 day trip to the west coast of Ireland, namely a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Burren – Galway – Connemara and Kylemore Abbey – Dublin loop, before getting back to work!

I chose to travel with Dublin/Galway Tour Company, based on the Trip Advisor reviews they got. I’ve never seen before a company relying so heavily on Trip Advisor reviews, but it was worth it. Yes, looks line and ad, and no they are not paying me for it! They already did with their service I’d say!

So we set off on Wed early morning, after a plethora of food and drinks at the ‘Taste of Ireland’ soirée in Trinity College, social even part of the symposium’s program, from the Tourist Info Center Old Church near Suffolk Str. Dublin. In a stretch of merely 3h, we were in Galway, took a city tour and in the afternoon went to visit the cliffs. Bottom line of the city tour: ‘If you can see the Burren from Galway it means it will rain. If you cannot, it means it is already raining’ :)

Curiously enough, on the trip I ran into CJ. Later on I learned she had participated too at the SMBE, totally unexpected even with such a high number of participants! The first part of the trip was a blast! I mean the whole day trip was a blast, but the first part, made the strongest impression on me. From Galway to Burren (first stop before the cliffs) we traveled with …well short memory, the guy on the other end of the phone, and it was my best bus trip EVER! I was laughing with tears the whole way! He usually sits on the other end of the phone, but this time (not sure why, he was the one transferring us). On the exceptional transfer bus, we were ‘like beans in the pot’, so there were not enough seats, and this is how our fellow Dan ended up being ‘the Man’. He volunteered to stand, and made the ‘mistake’ to say ‘no big drama’ – and that’s how it all start. The driver made sure to crack a few more jokes on him for this affirmation, but hey he got to see everything in HD from the front row and besides, he was the … Man! for that hour. Blue, green or turquoise? hard to tell Dan? but no big drama :).

The sights both at the Burren and the cliffs were very nice, though the weather was pretty capricious alternating between sunny and foggy. The guided part of the tour is very thorough. ‘wind was blowing and rain was falling’: geological structure of the rocks, history and New Found Land, hat designer Philip Treacy and Elton John, we got all we need to know about this corner of Ireland.

We were not short on Irish humor for sure and I must say I fell in love with it!

When we reached the Burren, we switched to Damien’s confi bus and that was the 2nd most entertaining road trip I’ve ever had. Irish humor and whiskey in the jar! more that one’s brain can take, endless information flow all the way back to Galway. We learned about Máire ní Mahon and made a stop at Poulnabrone Dolmen the Celtic tomb to take a tour on… ‘Ireland’s brain’ one might say.

Supposedly we learned a lot about Irish traditions and culture, and especially about the annual matchmaker event in Lisdoonvarna. Not to be neglected for a putative future escapade.

Back in Galway a quick check in at the hostel and went for the previously agreed drink with our dear Damien and Greg, our new Australian friend – funny accent :)

Again the night was a blast for fun as well as for my head! Guinness and Jameson with Pale Ale and here we go, all set for the 2nd part of the trip, Connemara and Kylemore Abbey with its Victorian style luxurious gardens.

But early in the morning before the departure, I decide to go down to the docks and check out the preparation for the Volvo Ocean Race Final. So on my way, I bump into Damien! What a nice surprise! He welcomes me with a warm good morning hug and some useful tips for the day and then we say bye. At the departure for Connemara, I also meet our previous day’s funny driver, and he tells me how he saw me going on my walk that early morning. This is very heart warming, it is a striking openness from these people’s side which I haven’t encountered in a long while, and it feels good to not have to try to read ppl’s face, mind and go guessing all the time.

The second trip started off slightly less motivating that the previous one, at least from humor point of view. The weather became typical Irish for the day and cleared up only by the end.

Though the fairy’s tree and oyster culture in the x lake was interesting story, though most of the trip was about the Silent Man’s shooting scenes.

The last night in Dublin, we spent it in Barnackle’s, Temple Bar area. Had a very nice friendly discussion around an Irish dinner and then we parted and everyone continued his own journey. Are we going to meet again? future will show… they say the World is small.

Tip: when booking female only room, one increases its chances to actually end up with less ppl in the room than when you go mixed.

Once I get off the plane, a chocolate melting, clothes burning heat strikes me as a welcome. I guess the air conditioning from the train was supposed to make the transition from cool 166 of Dublin to the hot summer >30 of Zürich(at least it felt like that).

Bottom line: I had a good time and I would recommend Ireland to anyone who’s up to experiencing Irish humor and hospitality, cooler weather and a pint of Guinness.

What to wear? A smile is the sexiest you can wear!

End of story … Cool beans!


 More pics here.