I am sitting in the café area of my hostel in Dublin, contented and relaxed… Ireland has been just amazing. I love this country – what little I’ve seen of it in the past two days, anyway. But before I talk about that, I figure I should pick up where I left off.
Where was I? Ah, yes, Scotland. Tuesday was another long day – we clambered onto a coach at 8:30am and drove about an hour to Dunfermline to see the very first Carnegie Library. One highlight to this little trip was when we crossed the Forth River – there’s a great big beautiful bridge spanning it, and furthermore, it’s yet another Scottish reference in a song from one of my favorite bands, Frightened Rabbit.
This library was another public one, but instead of feeling inspired like I had the day before, I felt a little sad. The library exists in a big beautiful building, and carries a lot of history with it. However, due to restructuring the in government of Fife, their lack of parking or easy access for the elderly or disabled, and the building of a huge new library just a couple miles down the road, my overall sense of the place was that of a library in decline. There was a lot of talk about budget cuts – as there has been everywhere – but here, the discussion seemed particularly centered on them. The highlights of this tour, for me, were: the extensive genealogical information collection, and the Robert Burns collection. In the special collections room where we saw the latter, the librarian was just so effusive and enthused by her job, you really couldn’t help but feel excited about it as well. After the library, we wandered around Dunfermline a bit. We wandered around Abbot House next door, and the adjacent graveyard. Shopped just a little, I bought a cute shirt for work… and then we got back on the coach, Edinburgh-bound.
The second half of the day was dedicated to the National Archive of Scotland. I have to say, I felt like this visit was one of the most structured and receptive of the bunch so far. However, since it was our very last scheduled tour before mini-break (and I’ve never been much of an archive aficionado), I was a bit ready for it to end. The National Archive of Scotland is actually a branch of the Scottish government, and they are charged with the preservation, protection, and promotion of the nation’s records. They see their mission to be educating, informing and engaging with the public. They maintain the records for every single legal transaction made within the country… every land sale, every contract. There are lawyers who spend a lot of their time in the archives, and consult these documents on a regular basis. They are working on digitizing much of the relevant parts of this collection, however, so as to expedite the process of consultation for those who need to verify ownership or contracts. The other thing that the National Archives seems to be best known for is the genealogical records – the entire ground floor of their original building is dedicated just to those who are looking into their family histories. Much of the most basic documentation is also available online, and you can request high-quality color copies of documents signed by a member of your family from the 1600’s, for example, for just a small fee and postage. The building itself was another very impressive structure – strangely, “very impressive” has become somewhat old hat to us at this point, which is another reason for me to come home to the more subtle beauties of my home state soon… I need to reset my standards of awe. Although, who knows, maybe the first Arizona sunset I see after my return will just bowl me over, since I’ve grown so used to grey skies!
On our way back to the bus stop, we stopped at H&M to poke around. Sadly, this turned out to be the site of my first property loss in the UK: after trying on clothes in the dressing room, I walked out without grabbing my bag with the shirt from Dunfermline in it, as well as a number of little trinket souvenirs. I remembered it mere moments later, but by the time I returned for it, someone had clearly decided that my loss would be her gain. I don’t think of myself as a naïve person, but I was really disappointed to have dishonesty demonstrated like that – not everyone would return something they find that isn’t theirs, and that just makes me sad somehow. Even though it was really my own fault, I was still really bummed out about it for the rest of the day.
The remainder of Tuesday was spent being cozy in Dalkeith Palace, uploading pictures and futzing about. Wednesday was a totally free day for us, and some people from class took off on their mini-breaks a night early. Carrie and I decided to take advantage of the free day in Edinburgh, and braved the steady downpour for some delicious breakfast and tea. To be honest, I don’t entirely remember what we did that day, but I know that we thoroughly enjoyed having no pre-set obligations!
We awoke at 4am on Thursday to be ready for our 5am cab – and after a whole host of airport annoyances, we were on our way to Dublin! Our plane was the smallest I have ever been on, and I got a little nervous about the flight right beforehand… luckily, I passed out for the entire hour of flight, only waking to the feeling of the wheels touching down. I spent our first day here feeling a bit dazed and overwhelmed. The past three weeks of non-stop activity is finally starting to hit me, I think. We ate lunch in a pub across the street until we could check in, and then got settled into the cutest little tourist hostel. I think I’ve been spoiled for all future hostel stays, to be honest – they have free wifi (woo!), free breakfast, a secure place to keep your belongings when you’re not there, comfortable beds, hot showers, a café area, and a little Japanese style garden in the back. I was just thrilled to have wireless access in my room – this is the first time in the entire trip that I’ve been able to lay in bed and use the internet. I can say that the slight separation from the ‘net has been good for me, overall. I am going to try to maintain that distance voluntarily when I get home… but we’ll see how that goes, haha. We wandered around the town a little bit, checking out O’Connell Street with all its shopping, and making our way up to a little park called Parnell Square. We browsed quickly through the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, and then had dinner and a couple of drinks at a pub. After a movie, we called it a night. I have never been so happy to not have to set an alarm.
Yesterday (Friday) was our big day here in Ireland – we took the DART about 20 minutes outside of Dublin to Howth. As soon as I got off the train, I felt lighter. There was ocean, there were boats, there was greenery – if it had been 20 degrees warmer, I would have thought I was in Laguna Beach. We walked along the pier to find the tourist office and grab a map, but got distracted on our way there by all the seals that were just bobbing along in the harbor, hanging out in the sun. They were so close to us, just breathing in and out in great gasps through their noses… one of them seemed to enjoy blowing out all the air just slightly underwater; it reminded me of being a kid and blowing bubbles in the pool. They were huge but somehow adorable, and their eyes made me miss my parents’ dogs. After we got our map, we had some delicious lunch – Carrie got the fish and chips she had been craving, pretty much as fresh as they could be!
We then embarked on a walk up along the cliffs… that turned into quite a little hike. Neither of us had come prepared with the right shoes, so our 2-mile hike around the edge of Howth Head was a bit more strenuous than it might have been. But we were rewarded by some of the most gorgeous views I have ever seen. I fell in love with Ireland on those cliffs, with the wind whipping around me. Just beautiful. I took one panoramic shot that I’m particularly happy with, because I think it comes the closest to capturing the scope of those scenes. I wish I had taken more now, because the single shots just don’t do it justice.
That evening, we wandered around the Temple Bar area, which is quite tourist-y in a lot of ways – we really enjoyed ourselves though, because the tourists themselves were really diverse and a lot of fun. We sang along to Johnny Cash in one bar, made friends in another, ate greasy pizza while sitting on a curb, and generally had a great time.
Today, we are heading back to London-town for our final week in the UK. It’s a bittersweet, strange feeling. I feel homesick in layers – first for London (where most of my belongings are awaiting me, where I can do laundry and go grocery shopping), and second for home (where everything else is: family, friends, cat, coworkers, job, house, yoga, books, kitchen…). While I am happy to be going back to London tonight, I know that I will be more than ready to return to my life in a week. I only hope my life is ready for me.