After a slow start today we said goodbye to my parents and headed into Dublin’s city center. After stowing our bags in a shop with a friend of my father’s, we walked to the Natural History Museum which recently reopened after 3 years due to a collapsed staircase. Known as the “Dead Zoo” to Dubliners, it is a real Victorian time piece and is as much a museum artifact itself as any of the pieces in the collection. It opened in 1856, but much of the collection dates back as far as 1792. Some of the locations listed as the origin of these items include British East Africa (today that’s Kenya), Formosa (Taiwan), and Celebes (Sulawesi, Indonesia).
Unfortunately because there are no emergency exits from the top floors, part of the museum is still off limits, but about 2/3 is accessible. Plans to build a €14 million annex which would provide wheelchair and pram access, etc., have had to be shelved as there is no money to pay for it.
Dublin has a number of public transit systems. There have always been buses, although this now includes a network of blue coaches which provide excellent fast service to and from the airport to all major parts of the city. They opened a new line a few weeks ago that goes very close to my parents house and this is how we got there when we arrived. Mainline rail has also been around for ever. the DART is a commuter train that’s a bit more recent, but has been around for quite a while. The latest addition was the Luas, a city/suburban tram system with two (non interconnected) lines. The Red line runs across the north central part of Dublin and eventually winds its way south east to the distant suburb of Tallaght. What I find particularly interesting is how the addition of something like a Luas line can totally change the character of a city. Areas of Dublin that were really rather drab, if not almost no-go areas are now trendy and easily accessible. Of course in an integrated urban development plan transportation is just one part of urban renewal, but it was interesting to walk across the River Liffey from the familiarity of the southside and have lunch in a trendy new development that used to be an abandoned warehouse in a very rough neighborhood when I lived in Dublin. A sign of the times is that this place is only about half occupied and we wondered whether the shuttered stores were waiting to open, or had just closed.
We hopped on the Luas tram and within about 10 minutes were at the National Museum at Collins Barracks again. Today we had a bit more time to enjoy some of the collections including a gallery that put the 1916 Easter Uprising and subsequent Civil War around Ireland’s independence in perspective. We also saw a number of galleries that dealt with the Irish military experience from early days in British armies all the way up to modern UN peacekeeping missions. There was even a section on the Irish in the American Civil War.
We will be visiting 3/4 of the so called PIGS economies this trip (Portugal, Ireland, and Spain, leaving out Greece) which are the worst hit in the European economic crisis. Catching up with my old college friend Eugene and his 3 year old daughter Elaine our conversation turned to the downturn and how it is affecting people. While the financial services sector is a disaster, ironically the broader economy is doing okay. Eugene is a University Physics lecturer and said that even though the overall unemployment rate is about 12%, all his graduates are getting jobs. Housing prices are about 1/2 what they were at the peak, so this is a horrible time to have to sell, but a good opportunity to buy. My parents told me about someone they know who passed away. Their children tried to sell what we would call their condominium in a smart part of Dublin which had been valued at €2 million. All they could get for it was €500,000. Ouch.
With the Irish Government desperate for revenues, new taxes are creeping in. Speaking of taxes – if you thought $4/gallon gas at home was expensive, try paying €1.50 per litre, which equates to more than $8 per US gallon. This is just one example of how it is expensive (from a US perspective) to live in Ireland. During the last presidential campaign, I was amazed to see John McCain keep referencing the corporate tax rate in Ireland as a model for what should be charged in the US. Ireland has long had a policy of keeping corporate tax rates artificially low in order to attract foreign businesses who will then provide jobs to its workers in a country with relative few natural resources. In just about every other area, Irish tax rates are very high compared to the US.
Eugene met us at Bewley’s (full name Bewley’s Oriental Café), a Dublin institution for generations. My high school, literally called The High School, was build on a farm Bewleys owned to house their own herd of Jersey cows to produce milk for their various enterprises. Good tea and coffee, and excellent cake!
We made it back to the shop just before closing time, picked up our bags and walked around the corner to the nearby Blue Coach, which came within ten minutes. About 25 minutes later we were at Dublin Airport (the old Terminal 1 this time) checking in for our BMI flight to London Heathrow.
Flying in Europe has become much less expensive. I thing we were able to buy our one way tickets for something like $50 net each, which was a bargain, especially since BMI includes a baggage allowance with the ticket. Although most of the low cost airlines like Ryan Air, EasyJet, etc offer very low airfares, you pay separately for baggage, which can easily end up costing more than the airfare if you aren’t careful. So if you are shopping for flights, make sure to take baggage costs into consideration.
We arrived at our friends Michael and Marcia’s in North London pretty late, but looking forward to meeting up with my brothers and sisters-in-law tomorrow.