The International Writers Magazine
:Travel Stories

Lauren Almey

4:30 a.m. is an ungodly hour, but for a student like me, it’s actually satanic. It’s hell manifested as an alarm clock, urging me to scrape myself off a warm bed, venture into an Arctic - like bathroom and, oh God forbid, peek at a mirror.

However, being an undergraduate, and not, say, a commuter to work, or a crazy old person, this even-earlier-than-the-early-bird awakening was a one-off. The reason for it exceeded catching a worm, or going to London armed with a briefcase, or having medication to take. Yes, I was catching a train, and yes I would be passing through London, but that was to get to Gatwick Airport, and meet up with seven fellow students, to cross the Irish Sea and welcome in 2006 within the unfamiliar borders of Europe’s most expensive capital city. It was the student city break we’d always said we'd take, finally gone for, finally organised, finally here with the dawn of December 29th 2005… And we were going to Dublin baby.

Now don’t be filled with dismay at that phrase ‘student city break’, read on, and you’ll discover much more than a relation of drunken antics or fart jokes. We went to museums even. And an art gallery. And we didn’t just stroll down the street and come back claiming of fatigue, we explored half the city... Ah, phooey. Who am I trying to kid!? There were drunken antics a-plenty and possibly the worst case of flatulence in a confined space in the history of social etiquette.

But don’t worry! You'll still be regaled with tales of Irish life; Dublin’s picture shall be painted, its rug shall be weaved on a loom of authenticity...Sweet Christ it’s useless! A bunch of us went to Dublin okay, and here’s what we did…

Rarely does a journey begin with such a phrase, but Lord help us that’s how ours commenced, with myself and Kelly, the only females of the eight-strong group, having to block up our lugholes and so stave off the painful onslaught of that bane of a stewardess’s life, pressure-change-ear-liquid-thing. At least I think that’s the technical name for it.

Kelly’s other half, Sir Weblington (ok so he's not really a knight. Artistic freedom means I can fictionally elevate whoever I want for amusement purposes, so there), shared my dislike of that point where you feel the wheels of the plane lift off from the nice, safe concrete runway. Being a lot more sensible than I, he kept this quiet, but I stupidly informed the boys sitting behind me that I was more than just a tad nervous about being in a large, metal, inconveniently-not-invincible object for an hour.

And so I was subjected to much sarcasm, seat-shaking, and several ‘loose bolts’ gags for pretty much the entirety of the flight. What is with that sadistic streak in men, which makes them find a slightly frightened girl’s condition amusing? Luckily, I’m a gal who can appreciate humour surrounding illogical fears (I've been known to slaughter the odd spider or two), and so neither Chris, Rich or Alex had to de-board the plane maimed in any way. Which was a nice way to start, I reckon.

We found our pre-booked Litton Lane Hostel down a cobbled alleyway slap bang in the city centre.
All we literally had was a room, with four bunk-beds and eight sets of fairly shabby bed linen. I’m ashamed to confess, my first reaction was stupidly anal, my head making philosophical points such as, "Well it would have been nice to have some hangers," and, "No drawers? So where do I keep my drawers?"
The other creature comfort denied us by hostel living was the nicety of a decent, fully functioning bathroom. Male and female showers were separate, with mine and Kelly’s facilities conveniently located next-door. Of the two toilets, one was broken for the duration of our stay, someone’s towel remained unclaimed on the never-cleaned floor and often we discovered dubious shaved hair in the sinks.
But you know what? There was one loo that did flush, both of us had brought clean towels, and unless one of us had some hidden fetish, there was no reason to touch the disregarded stubble. Dublin reminded me that a person can, and in fact should, be perfectly capable of living without the materialistic things they are used to. Suitcase-living really is liberating, people. (Plus Kelly brought her hair-straighteners so we were sorted.)

The hostel's modest T.V. room was adorned with gig posters, U2 paintings and sleepy foreigners, who varied in their response to us throughout our few visits to the room. The larger kitchen was well-equipped for if we'd wanted to cook our own meals, but we were frivolous tourists so always dined out.
On our first evening we sat in there briefly and a foreign man was a little unfriendly to us. This shattered my 'hostel-virgin' dreams about engaging with well-travelled strangers, who would wow me with their anecdotes. However, this simply served to remind me that I should let go of any expectations, and just absorb each experience, hostel, city and all.


We dumped our luggage. We found Panama Bar, where we fed and watered, with the boys enjoying their first pints of 'proper' Guinness- ("Oh yes it’s much better than in England," "Oh rather!", "Burp.").
We crossed O’Connell Bridge with its multitude of bridges and found Temple Bar, Dublin's main stretch of bars, restaurants and obligatory neon. We walked down Grafton Street, which housed familiar high street stores and a few designer boutiques. Image: Temple Bar

We had the guided tour of Dublin Castle courtesy of the affable Thomas, who became an instant favourite with the boys. The recently refurbished castle was sweet if a little artificial.

Then it was time to find entertainment for our first night, and my God we were daring in our selection of pub- the Arlington Hotel Bar next door seduced us with its’ chalkboard promise of Irish music and dancing. This was a gorgeous, cosy bar in which we could chat, sip our eye-wateringly expensive drinks and relax.
Nick, our crew member with a glorious reputation for talking to whoever whenever however, proved once again the usefulness of his talent by quizzing a local for the locations of cheaper bars. And so our rabble cheerfully descended upon The Abbey Hotel Bar, complete with its merry locals, 3 Euro pints, and two of Dublin's funniest, warmest, most intoxicated elderly gentlemen - Steve, the ladies' man, and his pal Dave, apparent writer of a country and western ditty entitled 'Me and You and a Dog Named Boo' (scandalously ignored by the Ivor Novello awards). (Although it is actually written by someone called Kent LaVoie- Ed)

This fine duo welcomed us to their country and made our night. I don't think it an insult to credit them with our subsequent move into karaoke...Nick and myself got the ball rolling with a harmonious if somewhat unbalanced 'Baker Street', and soon the majority of us were belting out tracks like 'Hey Jude', and culminating with a group effort on 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. The undisputed Kings of Karaoke were, however, Rich and Nick, with their delivery of a catchy little Stereophonics number, throughout which one tried to find his rock alter-ego and the other tried to find his sober alter-ego.
Next Lesson, the Philosophy Behind Karaoke: drunken public singing is the best way to get a group of people to lose their inhibitions, and remind them that the opinions of strangers are irrelevant.

December 30th was Rob's 21st birthday. He wanted us up-and-at-'em first thing that morning. I, however, was firstly up-and-at-the-paracetamol.
We headed off eventually in search of fried foods, and found Cafe Kylemore, down O'Connell Street- hearty, self-service breakfast which included food items that Sir Weblington could only describe as "discs of meat." Kelly was not impressed with her first taste of Irish black pudding, but she's never been the congealed hog fluids type.

The Irish rain then relented, spurring us to climb aboard a Dublin Tour Bus. We hopped off at cathedrals, hopped back on, 'hopped off' again to look round what the locals call 'The Dead Zoo' (The National Museum), remained 'hopped off' to wander round The National Gallery, and then we were stranded after our tour of the Guinness brewery because the wonder-bus didn't run past four. Unbeatable view of Dublin from the brewery bar, by the way.

Next came the birthday boy's selection of eatery - Eddie an American-Someone-Or-Other's Fifties Diner, complete with plastic booths and jukeboxes (which didn't work, thieving Irish beggars...I mean, haha, how quaint.) If you're after simple, familiar grub, Eddie's isn't a half-bad selection.

Back at Litton Lane, things started to turn student-y. Yes, it was time for 'dorm fun'- throwing a foam ball around, sex jokes, cheap bottles of wine, slightly fraying tempers..! Thank Christ we got ourselves dolled up a bit and went back to the Arlington Hotel bar, in hopes of seeing the Irish dancing we'd missed the previous night. What we got was a half empty dance floor, frequented by large ladies in sequins. And that certainly ain't a specifically Irish tradition.

We then checked out Temple Bar, less busy than we'd imagined but sadly just as pricey. The bouncers we encountered there were less than inviting (eh Chris?), with Temple Bar becoming O’Brians pub and then, as recommended by three Irish sisters (cue a night of Corrs one-liners, oh the sophistication fellas!), we hunted the chilly city streets for Club M.

After twisting my ankles out of recognition with my badly thought out heels-and-cobbled-lanes combo, our gang finally fell upon said nightspot, only to be abruptly turned away by the doormen- let’s just say it was something to do with our non-local accents.

A little deflated, and probably taking it too personally than we all should have, the group divided, with some returning to the hostel, and some settling back in Panama. At night, this bar wheels out a D.J. and jazzes up its' dance floor, and so there we concluded our second night. N.B. Dublin gets major points for having a place called 'Supermacs', which stays open till 4 a.m. to satisfy the illogical cravings of merry revellers. You wait till I tell you what time McDonalds shut on New Year's Eve, you'll be booking your plane before I can say Chicken McNuggets.

No-one was up-and-at-anything on the morning of our final day, December 31st. It wasn’t till after noon that we were back at cafe Kylemore with its circular animal protein, and only after that did we take a look around the impressive Trinity College.

The rain was back, and the temperature had dropped even lower, and so unsurprisingly the group’s willingness to basically trek about all day had withered slightly. Even so, we visited Oscar Wilde’s birthplace and found only a plaque, telling us access was only available from a building not on our map. We warmed up with a drink at yet another hotel bar full of ambience on our way back to the city centre, and then decided the best way to take a look round the Smithfield part of the city was by tram. These run regularly and service every part of Dublin till quite late.

At Smithfield, we found fairly run-down buildings, a closed market, and another large museum, which didn't contain the Viking and Egyptian exhibitions we'd hoped for but other, interesting displays of Irish silver and antique furniture. No, really, I was interested. Nick and I particularly liked the layout of the building; I loved mazes as a kid, too.

A tram ride home and it was time to start thinking about our New Year's Eve shenanigans, i.e. FEEDING SOMEWHERE. Dublin city centre is odd; unless you want just a drink, or someone asking if you'd like to go larger for 30p extra, you are struggling for choice in terms of proper restaurants. Eventually we found Flanagan’s, advertising itself as both a pizzeria and purveyor of traditional Irish recipes. I highly recommend this place - not too expensive, nicely set out, damn fine Irish stew and Gaelic combos and very generous waitresses.

We decided to begin celebrating back at the Abbey Hotel bar, which had opened up a back room with more seating and an elegant open fire. The atmosphere in every single place of social activity in Dublin was superb; maybe it was just because it was New Year's Eve, maybe it was just because we all consumed copious amounts of alcohol, but the reasons were irrelevant, because everyone, us and locals included, was chatty, boisterous and fun, up to and beyond midnight. We danced, we laughed, we embraced, we clapped, we were united in a way that honestly moved me, and we didn't need to be sitting in each other's laps all night to feel it.

Now here's a question: have you ever eaten five McDonalds cheeseburgers in one go? Ok, have you ever fallen asleep on a hostel room floor whilst still eating the final one? Well Rich did, and proceeded to engage Nick in much drunken frolicking back at Litton Lane. Trust me, you don't want to know the details.
Image: Litton Hostel Dublin

'Dorm room fun' has to consist of getting told off by the hostel receptionist, and so we were, twice (I can't believe I'm twenty-two and having to use the phrase 'told off'!!). After more laughter, shouting, snoring, a bit of groping here and there, we were packed, and rested our weary, drink-heavy bones till our pre-booked taxis arrived at 5 a.m. to take us to the airport.

Whilst waiting for the check-in desk to open for our 8:15 flight, we sat at yet another McDonalds. I was furious at the lack of McNuggets in the vicinity. Our tiredness soon gave way to hysteria, with much laughter, a few Mafia boss impersonations, descriptions of the Eve's events to the more drunken individuals, a forgotten beanie-hat, and even tears all occurring before we'd even set foot on the plane. Thank God Rich was able to soothe us with his tin whistle-playing.

It was on my journey home alone after we'd said our airport goodbyes (when I must have been desperately bored and knackered or something) that I considered what the student city break had done for us.
Dublin had been a context of pure fun, pure freedom. In its' cobbled streets, Georgian buildings, breweries and histories, amongst its' doors, clocks, bridges and buses, we had rebuilt a few bridges of our own, patched up the odd fraying spot, and most importantly, rediscovered the good in each other instead of just the familiar.

I think that university life often mangles people, disassembling and then reassembling a person, accompanied by this intense, necessary pressure to come out the other side as something better than what you were to begin with. I know that going abroad for a couple of days on a glorified piss-up isn't going to guarantee my friends and I top degrees, or reformed character defects, or eternal friendships. But I think it has helped, certainly me, to review the past differently, regard the present more positively, and have a hope for the future that wasn't quite there before.

Friends who live together can be damn hard on each other because they know one other so well; sometimes, all they need is to put things into perspective is a fresh start, beginning somewhere like Dublin.

© Lauren Almey Jan 10th 2006

Lauren in her final year at the University of Portsmouth

Clarity after a Rainfall
Lauren Almey

As he headed in her direction...
Lauren Almey at the empty fairground

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