Stepping Back into Ireland

After a short break back home, I’m hitting the road again — and jumping right back into my “100 Days in Europe” series. It’s Day 63, and I’ve just landed in Dublin, ready for part two of my summer travels: Ireland, England, Scotland, Alsace, the Black Forest, and the great Swiss cities. (Be sure to let your traveling friends know that I’ll be posting daily about my experiences and observations, both here and on Facebook.)

After a long Vancouver-Dublin flight, I opted to Uber to my hotel. (Part of our guidebook research is to see how Uber works in each country.) In Ireland, taxis are protected from Uber’s aggressive competition. When you Uber in Ireland, you have two options: If you “Uber Taxi,” you get a taxi (the fare is the same as a taxi, but you don’t need to pay cash or tip; my fare for the 40-minute ride was €33, or about $37). You can pay much more to “Uber Black” (a chauffeur-driven car, formal and costly).

Paul, the driver, called my cellphone to confirm the pick-up spot, and said in a heavy Irish accent, “I’ll meet you at the turd lane.” I said, “The what?” He said, more clearly, “The TURD lane.” Before I asked him to repeat it a turd time, I remembered how the Irish pronounce “th” funny and said, “OK, see you at the third lane.”

Hopping in the taxi, it was immediately clear: This is the land of great craic (conversation). And I was reminded right from the airport how much fun it is to simply be in Ireland, where I enjoy the sensation that I’m understanding a foreign language, and where people have that charming and uniquely Irish “gift of gab” — they love to talk, and you’re glad they do.

I asked Paul about the economy, and he said, “Grand” — pointing out how the skyline was filled with cranes and Dublin seemed to be one huge construction site. But he then explained how he’d had a poor childhood. “We had seven kids in the house. It was ‘first up, best dressed.’ People were so poor back then. For shoes, your mum would paint your feet black and tie on a ribbon.”

I always have a few big questions to affirm or explore when I ride a taxi. I asked Paul about the North/South, Protestant/Catholic “Troubles.” He said, “Long gone.” I told him my hunch was that the Troubles were more economic than religious. Back then, Britain was richer than the Republic of Ireland, so the North feared leaving the UK. But now that the Republic of Ireland is doing better economically than Britain, the fear in the North is gone. He said, “You got it right.”

But then he added that with Brexit, the fate of the Emerald Isle is up in the air. Paul couldn’t imagine a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But now, with Britain leaving the EU, they’ll be required to create a hard border (as the EU is, in principle, against giving Britain any special treatment, and the EU is, by law, surrounded by hard borders).

I asked him what’s the big news in Ireland, and he said, “Just last month, we elected Leo Varadkar, our prime minister — he’s the youngest ever, 38 years old, openly gay, and the son of an Indian immigrant.”

Reaching my hotel, Paul asked me if I was Canadian. I said, “No, why do you ask?” He said educated Americans sound Canadian to his ear. He added, “You listen well — an underrated skill these days.”

Stepping out, I noticed I was really jet-laggy. I paused, inventoried my luggage, and checked my wallet. (Since I got pickpocketed two weeks ago in Paris, I can’t stop thinking about my wallet, which has been the worst thing about that whole episode.) I bid Paul farewell, and then remembered my personal rule here in the British Isles: When crossing the street, don’t just look right — look every possible way before stepping off the curb.

Thanks for joining me as I step out into the second half of my 2017 travels. Stay tuned for more from Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, and Switzerland.