I left Belfast via train to Portadown shortening my cycling trip by one day. The initial plan was to cycle to Dundalk, then Drogheda and arrive in Dublin Sunday night. I wanted to leave on the evening train to Shannon. I changed my route when I could not find any night accommodations in Dundalk.
I would still be in Northern Ireland (NI) at the start and cross over into the Republic. NI is very cyclist friendly with a numbered path system. In Portadown I caught route No. 9, which runs along a canal and is restricted to cyclists and pedestrians. A perfect path for a leisurely bike ride on a sunny Sunday afternoon (yes, that was a Freddie Mercury reference).
The difference in the landscape between Northern Ireland and the Republic is subtle, but striking. In NI the landscape and lawns are well-manicured and most of the land is enclosed with big, sharp, metallic, pointy fences and gates. Even the sheep and cows look less fluffy, skinnier and well-groomed. The demeanor and humor of the people also is more direct. It's a little less entertaining than the wittiness found in the suburbia of Connemara and Dublin.
Dublin - is it what I imagined?
I finally arrived in the suburbs of Dublin after going 93 miles during two rainy and dreary days. I dropped off Jamie at my airbnb.com before heading to town via the metro with the Rugby fans and women in stilettos.
I wish I could say I'm blown away by Dublin because it was just how I have always imagined it: cute pubs, drunk witty locals discussing politics, traditional Irish music and a great night life.
How can Dublin, though, compare to what I have experienced?
I've seen Doolin's Fitzpatricks Pipeplayer on a Sunday night and places like Westport's Mat Malloys (although I could have skipped the hen parties and drunk bachelors). Even this morning's vivid conversation with some Irish lads about the recent election in Conlee's Grasshopper (very cute pub), just 12 miles outside of Dublin. After all of that Dublin felt cold and like a major shopping mall to me.
Temple Bar was a miniature Times Square with a Hard Rock Cafe. Grafton Street had Starbucks and T.G.I Fridays on some corners and chain souvenir shops on others. I joked cynically with the souvenir shop clerk about whether or not the wool socks I was about to buy were from Bangladeshi or real Irish sheep.
"They might be Honduran sheep!" he answered. "It will be tough to find anything local produced in Dublin. In the small towns yes, but not here."
Keep in mind when reading this that I do live in one of the biggest cities in the world. As a true New Yorker, it's hard for any city to compare to our town!