For the first time in my three years of near full-time travel, I finally hit a travel wall. I didn’t want to admit it to myself but I had been traveling too much. This was something I didn’t even think was possible. How could I do too much of something I loved? The realization hit me midway through my month long trip to New Orleans. I was having trouble sleeping, feeling sick for no apparent reason and was generally just a little tempered. The month came to an end and my next trip started almost immediately. I needed a break but first I had three more bucket list items to complete, St Paddy’s day in Dublin, visiting St Petersburg and visiting Moscow. God help me, I was in over my head! :-)
I arrived in Dublin with a feeling of both excitement and apprehension. I was excited to see my friend Phil, an inspiration of mine who had lived in Dublin for almost ten years, and a bit worried about the drinking culture I was about to enter. The Irish friends who I have had drinks with in the past (although not Phil) are in a drinking league of their own. For them, drinking wasn’t a pastime, it was a way of life. Given my impending burn out, this life list item was not exactly what the doctor had ordered.
Like many of my life list items, Dublin surprised me. It was fantastic! Despite the heavy economic and social troubles of Ireland, the mood of it’s capital city was high.
The first day there, I woke up early and walked around the city. On multiple occasions, strangers spontaneously started chatting me up. It was refreshing as they were not trying to get anything from me, they were just generally interested in my life. This went on for hours.
Later my impromptu tour of the city was interrupted and then elevated by a spontaneous hail storm. I was in a happy mood and actually enjoyed the minor downpour. Like a true idiot, I listened to Irish music and “jigged” my way around the city. At one point, a stranger joined me and taught me how to do a proper jig. :-)
That night, my friend Phil made it into town. Phil was the first person I met when I moved to Barcelona. At the time he was renting out one of the rooms in his apartment on the room sharing service, Airbnb. His family and I have been close ever since. It has been both an exciting and a proud experience for me to watch them take the one room they rented out to me, to their current status of renting out six entire apartments through AirBnB and becoming two of the top AirBnB hosts in the world. (That is not hyperbola, those words are from the CEO of AirBnB. You can read more about their story here)
Phil and I got started in a hurry. He had a lot of pubs he wanted to show me and a lot of friends he wanted to introduce me to. Throughout the rounds, I discovered the multiple “flavors” of Guinness (different consistencies of the orignal), a half dozen amazing little pubs and a group of fantastic Irish friends. The Irish pub scene was like nothing I had ever seen before. Each pub was an institution. There were regulars, unwritten rules and and established culture revolving around each pub. I loved it!
In perhaps my favorite example of reaffirming a stereotype ever, we sat in a happening pub in Dublin and grabbed a Guinness with one of Bono’s cousins. I didn’t let it show then, but as soon as I realized the situation, I couldn’t help but start writing this post in my head. It was just too much fun.
By the end of the night, our group had led a hefty effort in an attempt to finish all of the Guinnesses in Ireland before the start of Paddy’s day. We didn’t succeed but it was a hero’s attempt.
The next morning, the holiday (and life list item!) officially started.
Unlike the locals celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Dubliners get out of the city on the day of the holiday. The town quickly fills up with tourists but the energy remains high and still manages to feel authentic. There is a large parade in the morning, which draws most of the attention, after which the crowds disperse into the city’s many pubs.
Phil and I used this drunken migration to our advantage. We started out at one of Phil’s favorite pubs (The Hairy Lemon) and watched all of the crazy paraders get rained on from the comfort of a TV in a warm and dry pub. We secured a great seat and continued our raid on drinks. After the parade ended, the crowds came to our pub and we sat back and enjoyed our seats and the spectacle around us.
Right before we left, a partially drunken old man came by and sat with us. He explained in a proper drunken accent that his father had owned the bar we were in and that he had actually been born there. We enjoyed a round together and then he proceeded to get to the drunken point where he started to share stories that really weren’t meant for anyone but a phycologist. Politely evading further conversation, Phil and I made our escape.
I felt obligated to check out the famous Temple Bar (both the place and the bar itself) and dragged my hesitant friend with me. It was exactly as you would expect. It was absolutely packed, full of young tourists and past the point of being any fun. We grabbed one beer and then quickly left. The one aspect of Temple Bar that surprised me (perhaps for the worse) was the age of the crowd there. It was completely filled with kids 13 to 16 years old. Honestly, it was a little uncomfortable. The police stood around and half heartedly tried to stop it. They knew if they tried harder, it would start a mob and cause a bigger problem.
That night, we left Dublin proper and boarded the DART (metro) headed toward Dalkey. We went to a small local pub (Finnegan’s) and struck up even more grat conversations. We met some great people there and finished our St. Paddy’s day on an exceptionally high note of conversation and debauchery.
It was the single best St. Paddy’s day I have ever had.
The Surprise Ending
Surprisingly, it was the day after St. Paddy’s day that was my highlight of the trip.
Phil and I started the morning late and ventured out to go meet up with one of my cousins. I hadn’t seen this particular cousin for close to ten years so we had a lot of catching up to do. I met her two new children, her husband and reminisced about family and holidays. It felt great to catch up and brought a much appreciated “home-like” feel to an otherwise party centric trip.
Originally the plan was to meet up with my cousin and then go back to my hotel to catch up my mounting work items. Phil and I caught the DART in the direction of the hotel with the plan to do this. Checking his messages on his phone, he looked up at me with a smirk.
“Remember the pub from last night?” he said menacingly.
“Which one?”, I said already knowing what was about to happen.
“My friends are there and we are going to go meet them.”
It was time for round two.
We went to the pub and met up with Phil’s Irish friends and extended family. I had an absolutely fantastic time celebrating the day after Paddy’s day with them. We did some rounds at the pub and then headed into the small town to enjoy dinner at their home. I met their family, ordered in some tasty food and sat around chatting about virtually everything. Without skipping a beat, they made me part of their family. I was both humbled and appreciative at the same time.
Throughout my trip, there was one aspect of Irish life that stood out to me. Ireland has the most pervasive culture that I have ever experienced. It is a relatively small country with a relatively small population (in fact, at any given point there are more tourists in Ireland than there are Irish people). Even still, it’s culture is one of the most popular and most often imitated in the world. Throughout the world, people tell stories about clever leprechauns, four leaf clovers and the luck of the Irish. I am yet to go to a major city anywhere in the world and not find an Irish pub.
I think the reason for this is two-fold. First, the Irish have immigrated all over the world. Simply put, they are everywhere. While likely a part of the reason, this doesn’t do their world famous culture justice (there a lot of cultures that have immigrated widely and simply absorbed the cultures they find). The second and more important reason is that they have got a lot of things right with their culture. It is worthy of being imitated. Be it their family values, story telling abilities, resourcefulness or simply noteworthy nature, the Irish have created a culture that others want to celebrate. Thus, the popularity of St. Paddy’s day.
With my spirit renewed by an unlikely Irish bunch, I continued my journey to a very different city, St. Petersburg, Russia. I didn’t know it then, but my attitude was about to change. I was headed somewhere that I later found out I didn’t want to go.