St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street and Bewley’s Café, and the Hop-On Hop-Off bus

IMG_0620After an amazing visit at the Irish Fulbright Commission this morning, we sauntered back to the city centre, gently winding our way along Baggot Street and past beautiful Georgian town houses with beautifully painted wooden doors – a lovely, slow walk in cool Irish air beneath moody gray skies. Peter takes the lead in helping us chart a path. A long, slow walk and lots of fresh air was just the ticket, after a long travel day for students yesterday. They were enchanted by St. Stephen’s Green – where we stopped for a long wander before heading to Grafton Street and a group lunch at Bewley’s Café. The Green is a lush and beautiful natural oasis in the midst of a bustling city centre full of people (mostly tourists), noise and traffic. They wandered and explored, finding joy in small beauties – the pair of white swans gliding slowly on the glassy pond, the bumpy, leafy trees with built-in foot holds (just perfect for climbing, if one dared), freshly-cut grass and clean, newly-dug beds ready for planting flowers, soon, and the slower rhythm inside this wee bubble just off the busy hub of Grafton Street. We happen upon a multilevel stone enclosure and they are charmed into exploring all the nooks and crannies – investigating the beautiful Henry Moore statue of W.B. Yeats. It is wonderful to see them happy and engaged in this place. I show them where Bewley’s is and they disperse, agreeing to meet a little before 1pm.

IMG_0604Some of them wander back to the park and others do some window-shopping. I wander into Eason’s bookshop and purchase two of the newest Hot Press magazines (Irish music industry publication) and go early to Bewley’s for a cappuccino and a quiet read –lovely. We all meet up again and have a delicious and convivial lunch – pleased at discussing the morning and what tomorrow will bring. It is a delightful meal and we agree that, after our Hop-On Hop-Off bus ride, we’ll go back to the hotel for rest (or other excursions) and meet in the hotel lobby at 7pm to discuss and reflect on the day, do some cybersleuthing and research in prep for the day tomorrow, and write/edit today’s blog posts.

IMG_0605Austin, I see, has already uploaded the photos he took today into Drop Box and created a folder for each of us, to share – fabulous! I upload some of my photos into the file he’s created for me and take a look at his. It will be great to share different perspectives from a shared experience. The Hop-On Hop-Off was a great introduction to the city and a lovely way for students to begin to map the city and develop a new awareness and understanding of the history and culture of Dublin and a different sense of place and identity – in a new country.

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Students have all arrived

IMG_0547This is a Protestant church around the corner from our hotel, across the street from the beautiful and somber Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. It’s being refurbished so I can’t go inside, but it is a lovely building and a beautiful sight on the way to and from the hotel.

All of the students have now arrived and we’ve met for a brief orientation. They’ve all had a long travel day plus – some of them flying from Denver to Chicago to London Heathrow to Dublin, others flying from Denver to Chicago to Toronto to London Heathrow to Dublin! Then, taking a bus from the Dublin airport to a bus stop a few blocks away, and a short walk to the hotel.

A few of them have traveled and/or lived internationally, but most of them have not and this is their first trip abroad. Navigating all that this kind of travel entails is not for the weak of spirit, and they’ve done beautifully on this first leg of our Maymester!

I am re-reading a favorite book on this trip, Frances Mayes’ beautiful travel memoir, A Year in the World: Journey’s of a Passionate Traveller. I adored her inaugural memoir about starting a new life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun. In this new memoir, with Mayes’ beloved Tuscany as a home base, she travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles – and to the Mediterranean (Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa) – it is a delectable and beautifully written book. After a particularly harrowing series of travel disasters on one trip (it happens, but you learn to just go with the flow), Mayes’ husband, Ed, says –

“Not for nothing is that etymological connection between travel and travail.”

My friend, Dr. Susan Wheatley, loves to travel but her constant good-natured refrain when discussing the subject is “travel is hard work”. Too, too true. And worth every hardship – every sour bus driver, every lost piece of luggage, every sinus infection, every delayed or cancelled connection, and every would-be (but always foiled) pickpocket.

Mayes and her husband decide to give up their tenured professor positions in the Bay Area of San Francisco (not an easy decision) to travel and explore the world. How lovely. She writes –

“Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice, free to visit the stately pleasure domes, make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for an hour at the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna dei fusi. You open, as in childhood, and – for a time – receive this world. There’s the visceral aspect, too – the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth.”

I’m so eager to see what these honors students will choose and receive – what they will learn and experience and carry home with them – lessons and treasures to be explored and enjoyed again and again in the years to come.

Tomorrow, our first day, begins with a public bus ride south to the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a visit to the Irish Fulbright Commission. The wonderful Executive Director, Collen Duby, has arranged a tour of the facilities and a visit with some Irish Fulbright students. This will be a great opportunity for my students to engage with Irish students their own age and exchange ideas about what it means to pursue an education and academic and cultural experiences in the world. Colleen is a good friend from my US Fulbright Scholar year based in Limerick, and I am exited to see her and the Dublin office staff again! They were all so wonderful and helpful during my Fulbright year. I am excited for the students to begin thinking of themselves as practicing cultural ambassadors.

We’ll then walk to the Grafton Street area for a group lunch at the famous and fabulous Bewley’s Café – a personal favorite. We’ll have a lovely place to enjoy a delicious meal and share first impressions. After lunch, we’re all hopping aboard a Hop-On Hop-Off bus to enjoy a restful birds-eye view of the city and get a mapping overview of the layout of the city centre.

After some rest, we’ll all meet back up at the hotel to have a learning/research session where we reflect on the day, discuss what’s been seen and experienced, draw connections and make initial inquiries, do some cybersleuthing and research, contextualize, re-reflect, and write blog posts.

How wonderful does that sound for our first day in Dublin?!