Monday, March 26, 2012

London on Limited Time

I’m a big fan of getting comfortable in a new place when I travel.  I’m all about spending chilling in coffee shops, seeing what the locals do for fun, and wandering aimlessely until I lose and find myself again; I like to acclimate to a new environment, break in a new city like a pair of running sneakers (speaking of which, sightrunning is a great way to experience a new place!)

The only problem is, I’m on a student budget and a postgraduate schedule. Lengthy holidays are luxuries I simply cannot afford.

This is why I’m honing on my speedy travel skills.   A couple months ago I I practiced express sightseeing during a day and a half in Dublin, and a few weeks ago I got the opportunity to do the same in London.  I was on a weekend trip to the capital for a magazine conference with coursemates, but I was determined to squeeze some sightseeing in as well.  And I was successful.

I think the key to a short trip is not to pressure yourself into running doing the high-octane scavenger hunt of going to all the “must-sees.”  There’s no point in rushing from one attraction to the next just because somebody else says it’s important to see.  Besides, my mostenduring travel memories were made in parks, public transportation, and locals’ pubs, not in tourist stuffed museums.

So I spent the best part of my weekend just sort of galavanting around the South Bank, drinking pints with some real-life Londoners, and only visiting the sites I thought were really worthwhile (by the way, the Tate modern was a bit of a disappointment).  Even though I missed some of the attractions on my check list (I still really want to go on the Jack the Ripper tour), I don’t regret a second of the trip.

And besides, all those missed attractions are an excuse to visit London again soon.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Down on Dublin

I didn't love Dublin.

To me the place seemed dreary and bleak; the architecture was uninspired (with a few exceptions, of course) the weather was poor (and this is coming from someone who spent the last 6 months in Scotland), the booze was expensive (6 Euros a pint? Ridiculous!)and the folk music pub scene, while energetic, seemed phon, obviously catering to tourists.

This was pretty sad. I really was looking forward to exploring the viking city, as it's the setting of some of my favorite books- if you haven't read Ghosts and Lightning or In the Woods yet, get on that right away- and a place of great historic significance to Irish independence.  Who doesn't love a place chocked-full of memorials to freedom fighters?

But it all felt a little blah to me.  Maybe I didn't give Dublin enough time to grow on me. After all, I was only there 2 days. Maybe I was just put out because the Book of Kells exhibit happened to be closed for refurbishment the weekend I chose to visit.  Rather than dwell on the all that failed to impress me during my visit, though, I'd like to share a few highlights- things that really impressed me about Dublin.

Dublin's Pride in Irish Artists  I really enjoyed Dubliners' enthusiasm about great Irish musicians, actors, and writers.  In my short visit people constantly informed me that, for a small country, Ireland produces such a great variety of creative people.  Dublin's esteem for the arts is manifest in the Wall of Fame in the Temple Bar district,  an outdoor mural depicting 12 of Ireland's most influential musicians.

National Museum of Archeology
(Free!) National Museums- Like my adopted home of Edinburgh, Dublin is full of free museums to impress visitors when the weather won't.  After being turned away from the Book of Kells at Trinity college, I enjoyed stroll through the Archeology Museum and it really cheered me up.  With over 2 million artefacts to look at, the 45 minutes I spent browsing their collections only gave me a taste of Ireland's rich history.

Saint Stephen's Green-  As I said, bleak weather dampened my Dublin experience, but it definitely didn't prevent this public park from impressing me.  On a nicer day, I could have spent hours exploring its winding winding pathways and admiring its sculptures.

Famine memorial in St Stephen's green
So maybe I'm being too harsh on Dublin.  It certainly had some good points, and I might be wrong to judge without experiencing a wider variety of it's attractions (I never made it to the Guinness Storehouse!)  Perhaps on my next visit, I'll really fall in love with Ireland's capital.  But for now, I'm glad I visited, and even more glad I live in Edinburgh.