By Purva Bhatia
An evening spent pub-hopping in Dublin might end up being a tad expensive but the proverbial Irish humour comes for free. In fact, it's ubiquitous: right from billboards on the side of the streets and graffiti on pub walls to the track of the audio guide at the Wax museum. And almost never a conversation with an Irishman (or Irishwoman) is bereft of a witty play of words. "Quite," agrees Michael, an old hand at a local pub. "And thank God for that — it's helping us survive these troubled times," he adds thoughtfully.
Times are tough in Ireland, not quite as bad as the catastrophic potato famine which racked the country in the early 20th century, but the economic crisis has taken no prisoners. Surprisingly, even as the dailies dish out gloomy fare about job cuts, there isn't a pervasive air of resentment. "Everything will be fine. Whatever happens, happens for the better," says Michael with defiant optimism. It's not easy to get the Irish down.
Almost as uniquely Irish as their sense of humour is a pint of Guinness. Indeed it wouldn't be preposterous to say that there's something mysterious in the contents of that dark, viscous, tasty brew which makes the Irish so impervious to life's vagaries! Made from barley and hops, the stout seems to provide all the answers and induces a uniquely uncloying brand of laughter which echoes on Dublin's streets way after dusk. The Guinness Storehouse, a brewery and a major tourist attraction, has acquired almost a shrine-like status: You can't visit the city and not pay your obeisance. And God forbid you find the brew (like I admittedly did!) a bit bitter use the Irish sense of humour and get away!
But the craic, beer and pubs are not what Dublin is all about. It's not a city that wears its charm on its sleeve and will get under your skin when you're not looking. As with all old cities, the best way to get beyond the superfluous touristy track is to explore the city on foot. I'm a bit late to reach this realization, only after I've blown a precious €16 on the city tour bus ticket. While the tour hardly does justice to the sights and sounds of Dublin, it is a prudent option if you're short on time.
The hop-on-hop-off bus takes you to as many as 22 spots across the city. I get off at Oscar Wilde's statue — the first stop on the route. Dublin has an obsession with statues: scattered all over the city and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. Wilde would have been proud of this one: it's as much a homage to the man as it is to his eccentricity — lying supine on a stone in a park right across what used to be his house (and is now, appropriately, a library).
Looking at people lounging about on a perfectly languorous sunny day, I'm tempted to park myself on a bench and let Dublin's literary air and Wilde's presence get my poetic juices flowing.
As any literature student will be quick to point out, Dublin's literary pedigree is not just about Wilde. The city has been home to veritable heavyweights including James Joyce, Wilde, Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats. Obviously, the concept of a literary walk in the city is a no-brainer. Aimed at those who're inspired by the city's writers' roll of honour, this tour takes you to, among other places, Trinity College (which houses the ancient Irish masterpiece, the 'Book of Kells'), and Dublin's Writers Museum, which has paintings, manuscripts, letters, rare editions and mementos of many famous authors.
Exploring further, one cliché that rings out loud in my head is that there is something for everyone here: there's history in the well-preserved mansions, castles, cathedrals and fascinating museums; the other side of the Liffey River offers something to those looking for a glimpse into the Dublin of yore. The city has upmarket shopping streets for shopaholics and souvenir hunters; theatres and avenues to satiate the most ravenous culture fiends; beautifully manicured parks for those who just want to lie about and soak in the atmosphere, which inspired some of the greatest writers ever. And if the air alone doesn't suffice then there's always a surfeit of themed pubs and their eternal springs of Guinness draught.
There are numerous tours to cater to people with diverse interests. If you're looking for something off the beaten track then I would highly recommend a walking tour with Pat Liddy, a historian well-versed in Dublin's history and everyday life. And before your trip draws to a close, take time out one evening to stand amongst Dubliners at the Ha'penny Bridge over the Liffey.
It's difficult to put a finger on just what is so heartwarming about Dublin. Certainly, there are no dearth of reasons to fall in love with the city: whether you're just walking about the cobbled pathways in the older part of town, chatting with complete strangers in the parks and gardens, gulping down copious amounts of Guinness in these amazingly convivial pubs, watching a play, or just sitting near the Liffey and letting it all pass you by, this city will charm you inside out. But at the end of the day it's the people who live here that make this town as charming as it is!
Getting there: British Airways, Air France, Air India, KLM Royal Dutch, Lufthansa, Etihad and Qatar Airways, among others, connect all major Indian cities to Dublin. However, there are no direct flights at present; the airlines connect via hubs like Amsterdam, London, or Paris. From Dubai, Emirates has launched a daily service to Dublin, deploying an Airbus A330-200, offering first, business and economy class.
Weather: The warmest months of the year are July and August, when temperatures range from 15° to 20°C, while January and February are coldest.
PURVA BHATIA was a business journalist for four years with a top media house. She quit to become a travel writer and photographer and now writes on travel, lifestyle and hospitality. She is equally passionate about travel as much as she is about writing.