Vol. 5 Num 709 Sat. May 27, 2006  

Travel Writing
Notes on Dublin

Don't fly into Dublin at 5:30am on a shoestring budget. The city centre buses don't start running til 8:45am, and so first you'll stand outside for a good half hour, stamping your feet in the April chill, finally read the fine print on the schedule, and then spend the next two hours nodding off in the airport lounge.

Do take your laptop or book to the beautifully remodeled National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street. The reading room upstairs has a cathedral ceiling and wide tables outfitted with curiously but conveniently dented cushions that will comfortably cradle your inanimates.

Don't eat alone at the vegetarian restaurant, Cornucopia, on Wickham Street, because their servings of sweet potato daal, brown rice, and two salads are so large that you won't be able to finish, though you'll want to.

Do take the tour of the Chester Beatty Library at the Clock Tower of Dublin Castle (yes, that's its actual address). The little old Irish woman giving the tour will tell you about the two Buddhist monks who spent six weeks in the library, sitting in their orange robes, cross legged and barefoot, moulding a spiritual structure out of sand, taking breaks only to smoke cigarettes outside in their Nike trainers (to show everyone they were normal human beings), and finishing by carrying the painstakingly created sculpture to the Liffey River and pitching it in (to show that everything in life is transient). Spend some time on the top floor gallery, which gorgeously honours three great religions (Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity), through the lens of religious art. Sir Beatty did not use his hard and cleverly earned wealth to acquire first edition copies of Shakespeare or Beckett. He was interested in beauty, first and foremost, and his stunning collection spans multiple religions and cultures.

Don't throw your crime evidence into a bog because as the Museum of Archeology and History will tell you, the anaerobic and acidic conditions of peat bogs help preserve many natural elements. This beautiful pale blue Victorian museum has (among many many other riveting exhibits) a whole section devoted to items that have been recovered from bogs, including clothes, which rarely survive the test of time.

Do eat alone at the ritzy Clarendon on Chatham Street. It's a splurge but sit on the first floor landing at sunset where you can watch all the Grafton Street shoppers and bikers head home while you eat soya fried squid.

Don't take any vehicular form of transport, other than to/from the airport. Dublin is imminently walkable, and on sunny days, the stone and brick city is quaint and glowing.

Do splurge 7 Euros to visit the Writers Museum, unless you're really not interested in writing. The sophisticated audio tour offers a detailed and fascinating history of Irish literati (who all seemed to have attended Trinity College), all of it carefully arranged in a wrought Georgian mansion on Parnell Square North. And when you're done, you can stroll across the street and sit in the tranquil Garden of Remembrance with its tumult of tulips and rippling mosaic pools.

Don't leave the third floor of the Museum of Natural History, AKA "The Dead Zoo," for last. If you're pressed for time, quickly peruse the stuffed versions of Irish fauna on the ground floor, the stuffed mammals of the world on the first floor, and the vertebrate animals on the second floor. But then climb up to the third floor balcony and immerse your creepy crawly self in the invertebrate section, which displays 10,000 different insects and crustaceans (out of a collection of more than 2 million!), many reproduced faithfully out of glass (because their soft bodies cannot be stuffed).

Do stop by Moore Street Market for all your fresh veggie, fruit, and flower needs. The vibrant displays alone will make your eyes happy, and you can ward off an attack of winter scurvy with their luscious citrus selection.

Don't bother going to the Museum of Decorative Arts and History, even if it is free (like every other National Museum of Ireland!). Unless you're into old coins, silverware, and period furniture and dress, housed in a plain stone castle, you'll find it terribly boring.

Do stay at the Ashfield Hostel on D'Olier Street for 13 Euros a night and free WiFi in the lobby. Their location is central, their bathrooms clean, their bunk beds firm, and their staff brisk and cheerful. Plus the guy at reception will offer you coffee and breakfast at 4am while you write travel stories.

Abeer Hoque won the Tanenbaum Award for nonfiction (San Francisco) in 2005.