While staying in Dublin for a few days, I decide to hop on a big green bus and take a tour of Western Ireland. I heard from many people that the countryside is filled with atmospheric villages and lush greenery, craggy hills and jagged cliffs galore. Western Ireland encompasses quite a few counties, including Clare, Donegal, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, and a few others that can all be covered in one day. I can barely understand my tour guide as he leads us to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. His thick Irish brogue and sarcasm leads the way as we wind through empty, deserted lands and pass by abandoned farms. He tells us how badly Ireland was effected by the ‘boom-to-bust’ economy, something I couldn’t help but notice even in the nicer areas of Dublin around St. Stephens Green. ‘For Let’ signs dotted nearly every colorful door. (The story of the colorful doors by the way, is that Irish husbands often came home late from the pubs, too drunk to remember which house was theirs. So the wives painted their doors different colors in order to differentiate.)
The Cliffs of Moher are quite spectacular. Incredible! Enormous! They are so enormous that it is difficult to wrap your brain around them. Even looking down at one cliff, my eyes couldn’t find a resting spot. They are just so big. I stood there on the cliff, trying to take in one of the other cliffs, and my eyes just kept darting around. They couldn’t figure out how to take it all in at once.
Back in Dublin, I chose to stay at the Fitzwilliam on St. Stephens Green. The staff are ever so gracious, the breakfast is bountiful and beautifully presented, and the beds are incredibly comfortable. In fact, I think I enjoyed the hotel more than Dublin itself. My room came replete with a deep bathtub, and I gorged in it every night, all the while listening to the sound of ‘Friends’ in the background. After 3 months of absolutely no television, I was elated to have a bit of American TV. It’s amazing what a good soak and the sound of Joey’s voice can do for one’s state of mind.
Wandering around, I could feel how much the recession effected the city. One of the most interesting things is how few immigrant workers there were in stores, restaurants, etc. Back in the states, we see immigrants everywhere, whereas in Dublin I noticed very few. I found few high-end luxury stores, although many of the restaurants were overpriced. There didn’t seem to be a middle ground between a very, very fine restaurant and a pub. (Admittedly, I was only in Dublin for a few nights and didn’t allow myself very much time to locate the city’s best eats). I did, however, discover a great sushi restaurant on the other side of the river. It was packed and bustling, and after months of Italian food, I couldn’t wait to chow down on a salmon roll and a bit of brown rice. The night before my tour of Western Ireland, I dined at a posh restaurant right along St. Stephens Green. My meal was quite good… sea bass and a side of rocket salad with shaved parmigiano. The service at the restaurant was excellent. One of the waiters told me that I would be blown away by Western Ireland and that the accents in the south will be incomprehensible. In retrospect, the only part that truly blew me away were the Cliffs of Moher, but perhaps this is because I was visiting in the cold, grey, winter month of March. The accents were indeed incomprehensible. Halfway through the tour I stopped pretending that I could remotely understand the guide, and I couldn’t wait to be warm in my big bed back at the Fitzwilliam, eating fancy pillow chocolates and indulging in a hot bath.