Dublin, Ireland for TP Meetup Dublin, September 2006
I went to Dublin this weekend to meet in person some people that I met on the internet. You may think the opening sentence makes this sound a little like a story that will end with me being featured on “Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator.”
Chris Hansen: Mr. Wesson, you did know the person you were chatting with on the internet was only 12, and yet you came here. Why?
Greg: Not to get a 12 year old girl drunk and to have sex, or anything like that.
Chris Hansen: Then why do you have condoms, a bottle of malt liquor and a DVD copy of “Girls Gone Wild 12?”
Greg: Umm… I was lonely?
No, in fact this weekend was purely innocent, at least from the standpoint of sex and underage girls. For those of you who read my blog and are unaware, the site that hosts the blog, travellerspoint also has a number of travel forums, where folks who like to travel can post experiences, ask questions and provide advice. I’ve been posting on the site for about 2 years now, and over time I’ve developed friendships with a number of people on the board.
It might sound strange to some of you, but certainly I’ve been to a few wedding of people who met on the internet, so I think making some new friends isn’t so weird. Plus, this isn’t by far the first time I’ve made friends with people online and later became friends in person.
In fact, back in the mid 80s I got my first computer and modem, and started posting on bulletin board systems (BBS) local to my hometown of Burlington like The French Connection and Amber Zone. At some point, someone suggested getting together for a BBQ or a trip to as amusement park, and, with some trepidation, I attended. I needed not to have worried, however, for everyone was very nice, and…
WAIT A MOMENT! WAIT JUST ONE MOMENT! Has anyone else noticed a disturbing trend in my blog entries as of late? They’ve all been about things that happened in the past – meals I’ve eaten or flights I’ve taken or bad things that have happened to me in the past. What’s all this reflection about lately? Here I am travelling to amazing places and seeing great things, and I’m talking about things that happened 5, 10, even 20 years ago? It almost appears as if nothing interesting is happening in my travels, which just isn’t true. Enough about the past, let’s talk about the present! As native Dubliner and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Paul Hewson, also known as Bono, lead singer of U2 says, “you glorify the past when the future dries up.”
So, whatever, I’ve meet people in real-life that I originally met online, from BBSes in the 80s, Internet newsgroups in the 90s and Internet forums in the 00s. Enough of the history lesson. Let’s talk about the present, or at least, the very recent past.
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The whole concept of heading to Dublin started with some of the other members on Travellerspoint, when it became aware that a number of people would be in Dublin around the same time. A few weeks ago, I was looking online at prices of flights, and found a cheap flight to Dublin from Philadelphia, so I though, why not head over to Dublin for the weekend. I’ve never been to Dublin or Ireland, and I like beer, so it sounded like a decent plan.
After an overnight flight, I arrived in Dublin at 9:00am. At the airport, I meet up with Gretchen and Kris, a couple from the mid-west of the USA who had just flown in and were touring around Ireland for a week, and Phil and Nikki, two local TP members who came out to meet us at the airport.
By the time we collected our luggage and picked up Kris and Gretchen’s rental car, it was already noon and time for some lunch. We went to Messrs Maguire Public House for some lunch and a pint. We had plans to do something after lunch, but somehow a single pint turned into multiple pints, and after heading out to feed the meter, we wound up at a different pub for dinner and more pints. At least, that’s vaguely what I remember, though I’m not certain I actually ate anything for dinner and I do recall a number more pints of beer. Another member, Jason, showed up at the pub, as well as a friend of Phil’s whose name escapes me now, but she seemed quite pleasant.
Around 10:30, after a red-eye flight and a day of drinking, I was ready for bed. Back when I had booked my flight, I also booked a hostel online. I felt pretty lucky to get something, especially something for 28 Euros a night. This past weekend, just outside of Dublin, the Ryder’s Cup golf tournament was being played, and most of the hotel rooms were booked. Those that weren’t booked were charging three to four hundred Euros a night! As I walked back from the pub, I was happy to know that I had a place to sleep in a town that was almost fully booked.
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“…there was no place for them in the inn” – Luke 2:7.
The staff at the hostel had no idea who I was. “Sorry, but I don’t have the reservation and all the beds are booked for both tonight and tomorrow,” he said.
Like Joseph and Mary, there was no room for me at the Inn. The company that I had booked the hostel with had, apparently, not passed on my reservation to the hostel. It wasn’t the first time this had occurred, apparently.
The staff was sympathetic, and made an offer. “I can, however, grab some blankets and pillows, and you can sleep on the couch for free.”
The bible is silent on what it was like to try and sleep in a manger full of animals, but I do know that trying to sleep in the common room of a hostel on a Friday night, on a couch that is located beside a pool table is not easy. Drunken revelers were coming from a night out in Dublin, and taking the opportunity for a game of pool. This continued until around 5 in the morning, and I slept fitfully. From five until seven, I got some sleep, but then the hostel staff started setting up for breakfast, and the crashing dishes kept me from getting any more sleep. I grabbed a quick shower and, feeling very tired, headed out to see Dublin.
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After wandering around for a couple of hours and checking out some of the sites in Dublin like Iveagh Gardens, St. Stephen’s Green, Temple Bar and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and after having a two bottles of Diet Coke, I meet up with the gang of last night, as well as a few new additions in Rich, Chris, Ed, Heather and Paul.
After a few group shots at Trinity College, we headed towards an actually tourist site, the Guinness Factory…
…though we did get somewhat sidetracked at The Brazen Head Pub, situated close to the Liffey River on a spot where there has been a public house since 1198.
That evening the whole group, joined by a woman named Chris (making it THREE people named Chris/Kris at dinner) had a blow out at T.G.I. Fridays (I know, I know… I travelled all the way from America to eat at the quintessential “American” chain restaurant) and later at Oliver St john Gogartys Pub in Temple Bar before calling it a night.
It was great meeting everyone, putting faces to the names of people who I’ve been chatting with for a couple of years, and getting a chance to share our love of travel during a great travel experience.
Looking forward to the next TP meetup!
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On Saturday night, I booked myself into a hotel at 180 Euros a night. I describe myself as a backpacker when I travel, but this is where I diverge from your average backpacker, I suppose. After the first night on the couch, I could have looked for another inexpensive alternative, perhaps trying to bum a couch off one of the locals or crashing in someone else’s hotel room or even travelling hostel to hostel looking for an empty bed. But I was tired and didn’t want the uncertainty associated with not knowing where I was sleeping that night. Add to that the fact that I was not on a gap year, round the world backpacking trip, but instead spending the weekend away from my very well paying job, I figured I would splurge on the hotel.
The Camden Court Hotel is a nice hotel, but I was the youngest person there by many years, and probably the only one not going to watch the Ryder Cup in person in the morning. But the room was large and comfortable, and the bed was very soft, and there was no pool table nearby, so I slept like a log.
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After a 6:00am wake up call, and flights from Dublin to Shannon and Shannon to Philadelphia, plus a 3 hour drive from Philly, I am back again in New Jersey for a couple more days.
I’m sitting here, thinking of the days that have just passed, and ruminating on what an amazingly blank canvas a place can provide in our brains. Depending on our mood, it can shape and colour a city to match.
After nearly missing my plane in Shannon due to some confusion about my US visa status, and waiting more than an hour and a half to get my bags once in Philadelphia, I was in a somewhat melancholy mood. I started my drive up north, listening to The Unforgettable Fire, one of the many U2 CDs that I had with me in honour of my Dublin trip. The album is quite subdued and moody itself, which just deepened the mood I was already feeling.
In my melancholy state, I looked back on my Dublin weekend, and seemed to remember sad things about it. The sky was grey and the rain fell lightly and frequently the entire weekend. I thought about walking through neighbourhoods of abandoned warehouse and factories belching smoke into the sky, and a few blocks later seeing children playing in the parking lots of dull looking apartment blocks which exuding the charm expected of soviet architecture.
My malaise had passed by the time I reached New Jersey, and was feeling quite chipper (probably thanks to the caffeine present in a litre and a half of Diet Coke) by the time I went out for dinner. Just as I was leaving Baja Fresh with my take out Mexican dinner, two simultaneous events happened, and Dublin was painted in a new light in my memory. The speakers in the restaurant started playing U2’s “All I Want Is You,” and the sun broke through the clouds, even through the rain was still falling in New Jersey.
It was a sun shower, and I was reminded of a number of sun showers that happened while I was in Dublin. I recalled the glow of the gold cross on top of St. Patrick’s Cathedral illuminated by a beam of sunlight against a sky filled with grey clouds. I remembered the lush green lawns of Iveagh Gardens. I remembered a father and son walking through St. Stephen’s Green. The little boy, probably no more than three years old, seeing ducks on the pond said to his father, “the ducks are my friends.”
“Yes,” the father replied, “the ducks are your friends, aren’t they?”
I walked to my car in that sun shower in New Jersey, and as I thought back to the weekend in Dublin, and all the thoughts of drab buildings and abandoned warehouses was replaced with memories of a beautiful church, lush green lawns and families, enjoying the park, and my fine weekend with good people sharing drinks in beautiful, old pubs.
That, my friends, is why you should be careful about what advice you heed when someone tells you about a potential travel destination. Listen to what they suggest about places to stay, restaurants to eat at or timetables of the trains, but be cautious about listening to their impressions of the place as good or bad. Depending on their mood at the time of the trip and at the time they are giving the advice.
I guess the best advice about a place is to go and see it, because you might really like it, even if no one else in the world does.