The Art of Cultural Tourist-ry

I’m beginning to believe that everyone who said it rains in Ireland was lying to me all along, well maybe not, since today was the most beautiful day thus far as it was 60, sunny, sundress weather.  Luckily, we spent a lot of the day outside and we started by touring the Gaelic Athletic Association museum and grounds.  I wasn’t that excited to go to this tour as no one knew anything about the Gaelic sports of Hurling and Gaelic Football, but this tour was by far my favorite one thus far.  I thought that it was going to be a self-guided tour of a museum, but it was the compete opposite.  Our tour guide Steven, who has played hurling since he was young, led us around the lockers rooms, warm up areas, luxury box suites and most importantly the stadium called Croke Park.  The stadium seats 82,500 people and is easily filled during the Irish All League Finals, which is basically the Superbowl of Hurling and Gaelic Football.  Croke Park is the third largest stadium in Europe with just Wembley Stadium and Newcastle being larger.  The field is the size of two football fields side by side and the seats are so high that the view is slightly convex so that the fans in the nosebleed seats do not experience vertigo while watching the game.  Most of the seats in the stadium are priced the same, regardless of where you are sitting.  The only exceptions are the seats in the middle of a section where VIP’s and the President of Ireland sit, and an area know as the hill on the end of the stadium.  The VIP section is more expensive than average, and the hill is less.  The hill is standing room only and it’s name comes from when people took pieces of cement and brick from the debris left over after the Easter Rising and created a giant hill to try and see the field better.  While the current hill no longer has pieces from the original hill, it is very symbolic to the Dublin fans and is the only area of the section where only Dublin fans sit exclusively.  Fans from both teams are dispersed amongst the stadium, and rival fans are allowed on the hill, our guide jokingly said he doesn’t know if they would come out of the game alive.  As in most cultures, these sports are an extension of the Irish culture.  The players on the teams do not get paid to play, but practice at a professional level.  They hold normal 9-5 jobs, and will practice with the team before and after work, with some players traveling 2-3 hours across the country to practice with their team.  For them, it is not about the money or the wins though, it is about the respect and positive representation of their counties.  Regardless of how good their county team is, they stay loyal and always play for the county that they are from.  The athletes don’t keep the same numbers, as numbers are reserved for certain positions, so if the players do not give 100% on the field, then they don’t know if they will be able to wear that number again.  There is also no home or away teams at any games, since the teams do not own the fields, so the team that alphabetically comes first in the gaelic alphabet is home and the other team is away.  When we went into the stadium we were able to sit in the VIP seats as well as the nosebleed seats.  Our guide said that the grass is cut everyday using pushing mowers and even though they have three people mowing at the same time, it takes them three hours, but prior to lawn mowers, the groundkeeper let sheep graze on the grass.  We were also able to try the sports and they are addictively difficult.  I only tried hurling, and even though I could not hit the ball, it was still really fun to try and shows how much athleticism these sports take, and honestly makes American athletes seem like wimps since the padding the protective gear the irish wear is minimal in comparison and the sports are much more physical.

The view of Croke Park from the nosebleed seats!
The view of Croke Park from the nosebleed seats!

After the tour everyone went for a quick lunch and then we all headed out to the Guinness Factory as it was the one place everyone wanted to visit while we were in Dublin.  The factory was almost like an interactive museum and while we walked pretty quickly through the first two floors, once we arrived at the taste testing we were excited.  We learned how to taste and drink Guinness and what goes into the beer that makes it taste the way it does.  The beer is an amber color, not black or brown, and when we learned how to drink it, we learned it has sweet hints of coffee, citrus and almond due to the malt, hops and barley.  Next, we learned to pour the perfect pint and that was the best part.  You hold the glass at a 45 degree angle and once the beer gets about 4/5 of the way to the top you tilt the glass upwards and then let it sit for a minute or so, then you fill it up the rest of the way.  Some random lady tried to steal my perfectly poured pint, but no worries, I gave her a stern talking to and took back my glass, cheers!

Learning to pour the perfect pint of Guinness
Learning to pour the perfect pint of Guinness

We took our glass and the certificates were received for learning to pour the beer and went up to the seventh floor to have 360 degree panoramic views of the Dublin.  I hung out with some of my other group members and then walked around the soak in the view with Sarah.  It was so gorgeous, but after realizing we had been at the factory for almost two hours we said goodbye and stopped at the gift shop before heading out.

View from the 7th floor
View from the 7th floor

Half of the girls decided to go to a restaurant called The Italian Connection, which was suggested by my friend Kendra prior to coming.  It was exactly what we needed and after we ate our pasta, we ordered some Bailey’s Cheesecake, which topped off the perfect meal.  On the way back from dinner we ran into some American guys who were taking the month to travel after being abroad in London for their studies.  It was almost a little weird hearing an American talk to me after hearing British and Irish accents for the past five days.  One of them happened to be from Boston and I chatted with him about how much traveling opens your eyes to your local surroundings.  He was saying how once he returns to the states, he wants to explore all of the littles towns and places that are so close to him that he never took the time to see.  I completely agreed seeing as I have seen more places and experienced more culture in the past five days than I have in the past year.  Overall, I feel like this experience has definitely made me want to move to somewhere in Europe after college.  Even though it probably wouldn’t be permanent, and I don’t know if it would even by Dublin, I feel like being here makes me realize that if you want to see grow and learn you need to take risks and chase the moments that make you feel invincible.  I also feel that today was a great representation of how I see myself as a traveler.  Everyone rags on tourists with their Nikons, guilty, and their wide-eyed wonder, but I find that to be awe inspiring.  It is so easy to be stuck in a continuous rut and not recognize or appreciate the beauty of your surroundings, but tourists often emulate this childish happiness.  While there are surly obnoxious tourists, what separates this from the travelers is the desire to be a part of the culture, even if it is not what you are use to.  I feel like the trip overall and in Dublin, since it is such a hot tourist destination, has been the perfect balance.  I am able to frolic through the streets, Nikon and all, but also spend chunks of my day learning and growing.  Tomorrow is going to be a early day as we are out of here at 7 am to transfer to Galway and go to the Cliffs of Moher and Trad on the Prom which is a traditional Irish step dancing performance.  I will be back in Dublin for one more day on the day before I return to the states, so this is not goodbye, but see you later magnificent Dublin.

All photography by Emily Houston


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