May 17, 2004
Good news, after a talk with the manager, we secured a new room with two bunk beds and a private bath! Bad news, we had to check-out and store our bags in the locker room by 10 a.m. and then reclaim our bags and re-check-in at 2 p.m. That meant that our day was going to have to revolve around the hostel's schedule. We dressed for a day at the beach and planned a trip to Bray, the resort town on the coast of the Irish Sea south of Dublin. Picking over the paltry selection of cafeteria-style breakfast offerings (lame muffin, no bananas, and one puny juice box), we headed over to St. Stephen's Green, Butler's coffee in hand. The day was so gray and chilly that we cancelled our Bray plans, returned to the room to change into warmer clothes, and stored our luggage as instructed.
The Winding Stair Bookshop and Cafe just across the Ha'Penny Bridge seemed a good bet for bibliophiles like us and so there we went. Sneezing through the appropriately dusty aisles of the used bookstore and climbing up the eponymous stairs, we found the cafe on the second level. There were three other patrons sitting at the wooden tables and reading when we walked in. We decided to split one lemon and sugar crepe (6 euros!), helped ourselves to two cups of water, and sat on a bench near the window that afforded a nice view of the river and the Southside. We sat on the bench and flipped through a local music review magazine. We sat on the bench and watched our waitress eat a sandwich at the table next to ours. We sat on the bench and observed our waitress finishing off her sandwich. We looked at our watches, looked at each other, and finally, when one of the three patrons went to the register to pay, Amelie went up to the register to check on the status of our single crepe. Incredibly apologetic and fiercely embarrassed, our waitress realized that she totally forgot our order. She quickly offered to give us two crepes for the price of one or return our money to make amends for her gaff. We laughed it off and said that's fine. She ducked into the kitchen and then returned with our crepes and a full refund. The crepes were mediocre, but we felt so bad about our waitress feeling bad that we left the full amount on the table for her anyway.
Returning to the Northside, we hit the internet cafe to check out the week's forecast (brr) and perused through the outlet store Hairy Legs (meh). Suddenly, the sun came out in full force. The cancelled Bray plans were spontaneously reinstated. On our way to Connolly Station, we saw a number of people crowded around a single spot draped in flowers. Sensing something somber and important was going on, but not exactly certain what, we slowed down. Unbeknownst to us, today was the 30th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings where a series of car bombs exploded during rush hour and 34 people were killed in the two cities. The perpetrators were never caught, although the breaking news this week is that the Lord Mayor Royston Brady (whose mug was plastered all over town along with Proinsias which is pronounced "Francis" - I don't know why, maybe it's the metric system; ask Amelie's Dad) admitted that his father's taxi was used as a getaway vehicle. Hmm. We stood among the mourners for a moment during a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial near the train station before moving on.
At Connolly Station, we caught the 12:45 p.m. DART to Bray and enjoyed the 45-minute ride along the coast. The sun and the clouds had a long debate, but as the day became overcast and moist, we realized that the clouds won. And so we arrived at Bray on a gray, drizzly afternoon. As per our usual course, we walked in the complete opposite direction of the beach but were rewarded with a little tour of downtown Bray, its golf course, and a view of the Wicklow Mountains. Making a 180, we found the beach, but the wide swath of rocks and narrow strips of sand were completely desolate. No fairy floss vendors, no sun-bathers, and, for that matter, no sun. When the restaurant Katie Gallagher's came into view, we finally took the opportunity to have fish (mine was in finger form) and chips (with malted vinegar and new-to-me brown sauce). A perfect meal to warm us on the wintry summer day.
Back in Dublin, we scoured the pharmacies for Cooper's Inis Free perfume and lotions and potions that were commonplace in Ireland but exotic to us. Amelie found a sun balm in stick form at Boots Pharmacy and fell in love. I found my Klorane shampoo but refused to buy it until I had looked in every other pharmacy on, near, and beyond the shopping hub of Grafton Street. We kept ourselves occupied until 5 p.m. when we returned to our new (now third) room. When the luggage room, which was only unlocked every even hour, opened at 6 p.m., we retrieved our bags, used our lower bunks as make-shift closets, and for the first time unpacked our stuff.
Resting our weary bones on the upper bunks, I flipped through my Lonely Planet Dublin Condensed book looking for a place to eat while Amelie amused herself with crossword puzzles. Eureka! Aya, the "best" (and quite possible "only") sushi bar in Dublin, was just a few streets away! Voila! When we found it, we were rather intimidated by the whole conveyor belt sushi concept at first. Stalling for time, we looked at the menu posted outside, peeked through the glass doors, and eventually tip-toed inside. Once seated, we were subjected to the high pressure sales tactics of our waitress, crumbled, and agreed to the "all-you-can-eat-in-55 minutes-for-25-euros" deal. Gulp! Make that, gulp gulp gulp. A welcome drink and miso soup began the meal. Salmon and eel. The evenly spaced sushi plates snaked their way around the restaurant atop the silent, sliding conveyor belt. California rolls and tempura. The minutes crept by as our bellies expanded. Shrimp and chocolate cake. What? The food kept coming and we kept reaching, pulling a plate down, cleaning it, and putting it aside. Where was my TUNA?! Not soon enough, our 55 minutes were up. What were we thinking?! I felt like Homer being tormented in the Ironic Punishment Division of Hell. Complimentary green tea? God, yes, please. Stumbled home in a stupor, showered in the stop-and-go shower, and prayed that the sushi would stay down.
Next up: Kilmainham Gaol - the jail for Ireland's political prisoners, the poor, the martyrs, and the stone-cold criminals. And by "stone-cold," I mean literally . . . those limestone walls are freezing!