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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

UK, Dublin, and Numbers

IRELAND | Tuesday, 16 February 2016 | Views [509]

I've struggled with what to write about the UK and Dublin. I had a great time, but the problem is that they felt too familiar to say much about them. My muse is a combination of strangeness, solitude, self-reliance, and idle time. There wasn't enough mystery or challenge to give much impetus to my imagination. I understood the language (mostly) and I was with friends who took excellent care of me. It was very enjoyable, but it was an entirely different kind of trip than I had in Portugal and Spain. I feel that I have nothing to say that would satisfy the eager tourist. Instead, I can only describe the parts that stood out to me.


The UK

The UK was unmoved by the fact that Portugal and Spain had wooed me with temperatures between 60-70 F (15-20 C). Feeling no obligation to follow suit, it drizzled and gusted around 35-45 F (2-7 C), but it felt much colder than that in the first few days until my body adjusted. My nose clamped shut, then started running perpetually, while my eyes tried to wash away the pricking cold. While I shivered in my merino wool layers and Himalayan hat, I wondered at the local population who were sometimes wearing only t-shirts or light jackets. As compensation for the weather, the UK provided me with tea rooms. So many glorious tea rooms! At home, most coffee shops serve tea, but I have to search and search for a real tea room. But in Leamington Spa, where I stayed with my friends, and throughout Warwickshire County, it seemed that every 3rd shop served either modern loose leaf tea flavors or traditional cream tea with scones or delicate afternoon tea. It was absolute heaven to me, though it did make me miss my husband quite a bit. Tea has always been "our thing," so I sent him a picture of nearly every cup I had in an attempt to share the moment.

My favorite things in the UK were not the big tourist attractions. My friend took me to Cambridge where a friend of hers who lives and works there gave us a personal tour. It was an invaluable experience to have a guide so knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic. I was honored and grateful for the time and effort she spent on our behalf, but what I was seeking was not to be found in those hallowed halls. Instead, it was found in the kitchen of my friends' house, learning how to use their appliances, seeing how their house differed from mine, understanding how they managed work-life balance, going grocery shopping and to their favorite local pub with them, and hearing about their everyday lives. It was found wandering around the ruins of a nondescript abbey and old cemetery next to a playground in Kenilworth while my friends' kids played on incongruously modern climbing frames, seesaws, and swings. It was found looking down the jagged line of an insignificant low stone wall that fell away into the hills and valleys of the Cotswolds while wind stronger than any I have ever felt grabbed at us and pushed us all back into the car. It was in being with friends who made me a fan of Weetabix and Jaffa Cakes, and who were willing to share a piece of their lives with me over a home-cooked meal and a glass of wine or a favorite Scottish whiskey.



In Dublin, I was a tourist again, and I didn't have any expectations of it, except that I didn't think it would be much different from the UK. The Irish accent is more melodious than the British accent, and it was difficult to understand at times. Some people were gruff and impatient, but most Irish people we encountered were friendly and seemed to be more talkative with strangers than British people. At first, Dublin was unimpressive. The Dublin Castle was unimposing and the Temple Bar district was surprisingly small. To me, it looked much the same as any other European city and it felt like we had seen everything there was to see in the first day. It was only slowly that Dublin's charms began to break through.

I had read that Sweny's Pharmacy from James Joyce's Ulysses held a daily reading of Joyce's works, so I decided to visit it. I am not a James Joyce fan, but I couldn't pass up the promise of famous local literature being read inside a historic pharmacy. It is no longer a working pharmacy, but it has been preserved to appear as it did when Joyce was alive. It is small, with barely enough room to walk more than 10 steps, and it houses several copies of Joyce's works in various languages. When I arrived, there was only one other visitor quietly reading in the corner and the volunteer working there. The volunteer was a lady of perhaps late 40s with a soft but intelligent face, inquisitively kind eyes, and a welcoming smile. She asked what brought me there, where else I had been, about my travels, and told me to feel free to look through the drawers filled with old prescriptions. When the other visitor left, and it became apparent that no one else was coming for the reading that day, she asked me if I would like her to read the passage from Ulysses about the pharmacy. Of course I agreed, and in her lovely Irish accent, she gave me a private reading of a passage that included this paragraph:

"The chemist turned back page after page. Sandy shrivelled smell he seems to have. Shrunken skull. And old. Quest for the philosopher's stone. The alchemists. Drugs age you after mental excitement. Lethargy then. Why? Reaction. A lifetime in a night. Gradually changes your character. Living all the day among herbs, ointments, disinfectants. All his alabaster lilypots. Mortar and pestle. Aq. Dist. Fol. Laur. Te Virid. Smell almost cure you like the dentist's doorbell. Doctor whack. He ought to physic himself a bit. Electuary or emulsion. The first fellow that picked an herb to cure himself had a bit of pluck. Simples. Want to be careful. Enough stuff here to chloroform you. Test: turns blue litmus paper red. Chloroform. Overdose of laudanum. Sleeping draughts. Lovephiltres. Paragoric poppysyrup bad for cough. Clogs the pores or the phlegm. Poisons the only cures. Remedy where you least expect it. Clever of nature."

How privileged I felt to have that work read privately to me, in the city where it was set, in the pharmacy it described, by a local of the same city almost 100 years after it was written! I can't quite describe how connected it made me feel: to Dublin, to the volunteer, to my pharmacy background half a world away. When she finished, the volunteer told me that the previous visitor was a Japanese lady who came to the pharmacy about twice a month. She never spoke, but bowed when she entered, read from their Japanese translation of Ulysses for about half an hour, and bowed when she exited. Our impromptu trio in that tiny pharmacy reached from Europe to North America and Asia in the blink of an eye.

Later on, I wandered back to the Temple Bar district, determined that I would do at least one touristy cliche and have a Guinness in Temple Bar. I had to go in alone, because it was not a place where my friends could bring their kids, and I didn't feel very confident about it. Who goes to a crowded tourist bar alone? But I mustered up the courage and went inside. It was so crowded, even relatively early at 7 pm, that it was impossible to tell who was alone or who was with people, so I didn't feel very awkward. I squeezed up to a counter and ordered just a half pint because I didn't think I liked Guinness much. To my surprise, I did like it! Maybe it was the atmosphere or maybe it just tastes better in Dublin, but for whatever reason, it was not bitter and it felt like drinking smooth velvet. Some live music started and I squeezed my way over to the little stage elevated in one of the corners. I'm not a big fan of Irish music either, but at the risk of sounding completely contrived, something about that band on that night was magical to me as I stood there alone in the crowd in Temple Bar. I was amused at their first few lively tunes and the energy they gave the crowd. Then I savored the haunting melancholy of "Molly Malone." The melody is still stuck in my head days later. I left early, before the crowd got too drunk and ruined the moment, so that I could keep the memory exactly as I wanted it.


The Numbers

I'm combining the numbers from the UK and Dublin because neither one fits the framework of hostels. In the UK, my expenses were low because I stayed with friends. In Dublin, my expenses were high because we rented an Airbnb house, ate out more, and I had to include not only the flight to Dublin, but also the flight back home.

UK Numbers: Here are my numbers from the day I left Spain until the last night in the UK, which includes eight full days.

  • Airfare from Seville to London (one-way): $97.03
  • Bus from London to Coventry: $29.20
  • Daily expenses (food, entertainment/attractions, other transportation, etc.): $115.22

Total: $241.45       Average: $30.18 per day

Dublin Numbers: Here are my numbers from the day I left the UK until I got back home, which includes five full days.

  • Airfare from Birmingham to Dublin (one-way): $66.21
  • Room in a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom Airbnb house for 4 nights: $217.39
  • Daily expenses (food, entertainment/attractions, other transportation, etc.): $284.08
  • Airfare from Dublin back to the US (one-way): $42.86 + 20,000 AAdvantage miles

Total: $610.54       Average: $122.11 per day

Combined: $851.99 over 13 days = $65.54 per day

Surprisingly, my combined average was almost exactly the same as my average of $67.56/day in Portugal and $66.51/day in Spain. I'm pretty pleased with that because I wasn't very careful and felt like I was ruining my budget, especially in Dublin. The UK and Ireland are much more expensive countries compared to Portugal and Spain. My Dublin average of $122.11/day is almost twice my previous averages and is more realistic for someone who does not want to stay in a hostel, but still has access to a kitchen to make breakfast and a few other meals.


That's the end of Trip 1, but there will be more trips to come! I might also compile a few stories from this trip before I move on to the next one. Being back at home lets me reflect on things differently than I did while I was traveling, so I will mull it all over and see what comes of it.


Tags: budget, cotswolds, dublin, james joyce, sabbatical, swenys pharmacy, tea, temple bar, travel, warwickshire


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