Never promise to go on a trip after an afternoon of drinking margaritas.
Or, just eight months later, you might find yourself -- as I did -- careering around an ancient city with 4-foot-wide cobblestone streets in a 6-foot-wide car with a 72-year-old man wearing a hearing aid and yelling at the top of his lungs, "Beep! BEEP! BEEEEEPPPPPPP!!!!" as a polite way to let you know that you just took out yet another road sign / mailbox / bicyclist with your Zippy Starfire, as he charmingly refers to the Opel Zafira you rented.
Of course, it's a miracle that Dad even made it to Ireland. I'd booked him a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, where we planned to meet up at the airport and then travel together (on a different airline) to Dublin. When travel day arrived, it was a gorgeous April afternoon, and the sky was a vivid shade of blue, which I remember very clearly because I'd looked up to it and wailed, "Why, God, WHY???" when his flight out of Pittsburgh was abruptly cancelled due to high winds -- forcing him to lose a day of his vacation and forcing me to set off for Dublin without him, but not before re-booking him on the next available flight . . . for the bargain price of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.
[Side note: He's offered countless times to pay me back. Naturally I've refused, not because I don't need the money, but because if he pays me back, then I cannot bring up that ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS every. single. time. I speak to him for the rest of my natural life or until I pay off the credit card, whichever comes first.]
Anyway. I arrived in Dublin, picked up my not-so-little red Zippy, and set off for the apartment I'd rented in trendy Temple Bar. I've driven on the left countless times in the Caribbean, but this was my first attempt at driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right. It was also my first time trying to navigate a tangle of tiny, one-way streets -- not a single one of which has a street sign larger than 12-point type, all conveniently placed on the sides of buildings roughly three stories up -- using a GPS that gave all directions in meters and had a severe case of Tourette's: "Turn left on--- Turn right on Fishamble--- turn left on Fish--- turn left--- right! left!--- Turn left on Whitefriar--- Make a u-turn--- Fishamb--- Turn--- Turn right on Whitefr--- Golden--- left on Whitefri-- U-tur---Goldfriar--" All while the map spun wildly in circles and while I was on the phone with the owner of the apartment, who was trying to guide me as I helpfully hollered into the phone, "I'm near a pub! No, a church! And now another church! And now a pub!" Eventually I'd spent so much time driving around in circles that things actually started to look familiar but, unfortunately, none of those now-familiar sights was the apartment I was searching for. Finally, defeated and near tears, I found not the apartment, but the owner of the apartment, Ruth, standing on the sidewalk (near both a church and a pub, I might add), and begged her to slide into the driver's seat.
Do you know what happens when someone who's never driven an automatic in her life tries to drive one? Pretty much the same thing as when someone who's never driven a stick-shift before attempts to do so, only instead of a burned-out clutch, you end up with a burned-out brake pedal . . . and whiplash. For her part, Ruth just kept mumbling over and over, "There's wine at the house. There's wine at the house. There's wine at the house."
Finally, incredibly, we made it to the apartment in Adelaide Square, just steps from St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Stephen's Green. I'd chosen the apartment because it had an attached garage for the car, so we could tour the countryside the during the day, as well as a central location so we could easily walk to dinner in the evenings after a long day of sightseeing.
By now I'd been travelling since the night before, so at long last I kicked off my shoes and sank into the comfy couch. After checking in with family and friends, I noted that the weather had deteriorated, culminating in an afternoon to match my mood.
Still, I needed to explore the neighborhood to get my bearings and, more importantly, I needed a stiff drink and a warm meal. The Swan was just a block away, and because the happy hour rush hadn't started yet, I had my choice of seats and was welcomed like an old friend.
An authentic Victorian pub that is descended from a medieval inn, there has been a continuous license on or close to the site of The Swan since 1661, when Sir Francis Aungier developed what was then Dublin’s widest street. (And still not wide enough to accommodate a car.)
There, I discovered my new favorite sandwich, the Irish toastie, which is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich featuring four of Ireland's most famous ingredients -- Irish bread, Kerrygold butter, cheddar cheese, and traditional Irish ham -- all toasted to gooey perfection and usually served as a mid-day or late-night snack. That's right, a full-sized grilled ham and cheese sandwich as a snack. I knew I was going to like this country.
I also discovered that the Irish really know how to mix a drink . . . because they let you do it. Order, say, a gin & tonic or a Jack & Ginger, and you're served a glass of the spirit along with a small bottle of the mixer, so that you can mix the drink to your desired strength. As someone who routinely finds her drinks either too weak or nostril-searingly strong, this simple, practical way of serving cocktails allowed me to tailor my juniper berry-studded G&T to perfection.
The next morning it was time to return to the airport to pick up Dad. Unfortunately, however, after the harrowing drive from the airport into Dublin the day before, I never wanted to get behind the wheel again. I seriously contemplated paying a stranger to return the car (and me) to the airport, thinking Dad and I would just Uber back to the apartment (and, presumably, everywhere else we wanted to go). But if I am a bad European driver, I am an even more stubborn one, and so I steeled my nerves and set off for the airport, giving myself 1.5 hours for a 30-minute drive to allow for becoming hopelessly lost due to my stuttering GPS and the non-existence of legible street signs.
I used all 90 minutes.
Still, I arrived at the airport with all four limbs and all four tires, and I was still busy patting myself on the back when I realized I'd driven around the parking garage at least three times and still hadn't found a spot that I could maneuver the car into. I'd chosen the Zippy because it was a midsize four-door (better in the case of an accident, I figured), but the parking spots in Ireland seem to have been designed to accommodate three-quarters of the average-sized car, minus the side mirrors and assuming that you don't plan to actually exit the vehicle. Lest you think I'm just not great at parking, allow me to present Exhibit A:
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to maneuver into a spot, and even more unsuccessful attempts to find two empty side-by-side spots to make things easier, I'd finally rolled down my window to ask a stranger if he could park my car for me when I spotted it -- a spot roughly as wide as a doorway, wedged between a pole and a car . . . but a small car. I approached the spot, jumped out to tuck in both side mirrors, jumped back in, closed my eyes, and hoped for the best.
Pickup complete, Dad and I returned to the apartment mostly without incident (if you call one grazed curb, three wrong turns, and six bellows of "BEEEPPPPP!!!" to be "without incident"), where we realized that the spot I was assigned in the apartment's parking garage wasn't sized for an actual car, either. Herewith, Exhibit B:
Happier to have my feet on solid ground than Sandra Bullock at the end of "Gravity," we then set off -- on foot -- for lunch at the famous Temple Bar.
The place was mobbed -- as touristy spots always are -- but we managed to snag a cozy corner table and order up a Guinness and a whiskey sour, the latter being a surprising rarity in a country known for its whiskey.
I also introduced Dad to the joys of the Irish toastie.
We poked around Temple Bar for a bit after lunch, stopping to buy all things leprechaun and shamrock as we went.
Later, we found ourselves back at The Swan, where I introduced Dad to my bartender friend and we toasted to our first day in Dublin.
That evening, I'd planned for us to have a Dad-Daughter Burger Night at Bunsen, a cute spot in our neighborhood known for serving burgers, fries, and nothing else. Not only was Dad wholeheartedly on board, but he actually thought Dad-Daughter Burger Night was a real thing (rather than something I'd completely made up as an excuse to go eat burgers), which proves that the apple indeed does not fall far from the tree.
And if I'd ever wondered if maybe I was actually adopted, that suspicion was dispelled when we both bit into our burgers and four eyes simultaneously rolled back into our heads.
The next day, it was time to get into that blasted Zippy Starfire again. And it wasn't an easy process -- I'd get in the car while Dad waited outside (we couldn't open his door due to there being .25 inches between car and concrete wall), then we'd pop out the side mirrors, buckle ourselves in, don our helmets, and program the stuttering, spinning GPS, fingers and toes crossed for luck. (Next time, I'll rent a car with a sunroof for easy access in and out.)
I'd planned a day trip to Howth, a bustling fishing village on the Howth Peninsula east of central Dublin, where I'd booked an elegant waterfront lunch at Aqua, followed by a visit to the nearby Cliff Walk.
Dad had been having trouble walking for most of our trip -- a hip replacement and a heart valve stent will do that to you -- but as we approached the scenic Cliff Walk, the man took off running like there was a cheeseburger at the end of the rainbow.
It was a pretty arduous climb, but the views were well worth it.
We'd spent hours taking photos on the Cliff Walk, and by the time we returned to the car, my phone was nearly dead. Unable to get back to Dublin without Google Maps, we headed into Howth to find a pub with an iPhone charger. That required pulling into a bike-sized spot in the nearby parking lot , which resulted in the unfortunate loss of yet another piece of the Zippy.
(Apparently it's called a lower deflector, which is very misleading since it did absolutely nothing to deflect that curb I hit.)
Finally, iPhone fully charged, lower "deflector" ensconsed in the back seat for (hopeful) later reattachment, and safely back in Dublin, we headed out for pre-dinner drinks at the oldest pub in Dublin, the Brazen Head.
The Brazen Head dates back to 1198(!), when it served as a hostelry. An advertisement from the 1750’s reads, “Christopher Quinn of The Brazen Head in Bridge Street has fitted said house with neat accommodations and commodious cellars for said business.” Today, the owners have fitted said pub with neat whiskey and commodious amounts of Guinness.
As usual, Dad was a bit standoffish.
The weather had been steadily improving since my soggy solo arrival, and it was a beautiful night for a walk. We headed over to Al Vesuvio, a cozy Italian spot tucked away in an 18th-century vaulted stone wine cellar.
If the obsession with cheeseburgers wasn't enough of a giveaway, the fact that neither of us could go more than two days without some red sauce further cemented the fact that I am indeed my father's daughter.
In more ways than one.
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