Make It Yours

October 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

I remember the morning of my first full day in Dublin. I awoke at 3am to the sound of a couple of hard-partying roommates stumbling into my hostel dorm. Then I couldn’t fall back to sleep because the man in the bunk adjacent to mine wouldn’t stop snoring.

A set of commuter train tracks was parked right outside the window of the dorm. I heard every train that passed.

This gave me ample time to think about what I might do that day. I didn’t want to go to any dead author’s house. I didn’t want to go on a tour of the Jameson Distillery or the Guinness Storehouse. I didn’t care about cathedrals, museums, or the Book of Kells. I like to go out for drinks, but a pint of beer costs around five Euros in most Dublin pubs.

I was unmotivated at that point in my travels to see the sites others say I should. And I wanted to come home. I missed my loved ones. I was fed up with traveling solo.

I began to feel out of sorts. I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of my short stay. I came to Ireland because the only affordable flight I could find back to the States on such short notice departed from Dublin. I’d also been in France for a month and needed a change of scenery.

Then I asked myself a question.

What makes a city?

I sense there’s more to Dublin than leprechauns, booze, and James Joyce.  I don’t think it’s fair to reduce a city to a select handful of icons. (But whatever brings in the Euros, right?)

It’s the people. People are the reason all those icons, the ones people come out in droves to see, exist. It’s the people who build up those icons and imbue them with significance.

What people am I talking about? I’m talking about the people who live in cities, but I’m also talking about the people who visit. Residents and visitors exert equal influence here. Both need to make sure that cities don’t begin and end with the sights.

People need to make cities theirs.

Dublin isn’t the city for me, but I like to think I made it mine temporarily.

Things improved. I ate. I found plenty of unlikely culinary inspiration in a city where pubs are on every street corner: traditional Irish brown bread and scones, rhubarb yogurt, sea salt ice cream, and excellent vegetarian and vegan foods. I went for walks in the crisp fall weather and watched the leaves begin to turn in St. Stephen’s Green. I witnessed many impromptu musical performances on Grafton Street and in Temple Bar. I perused the shelves at this place. I savored pints of properly poured Guinness.

I borrowed the title for this post from a tagline printed on the free street maps that the Dublin Tourism Office offers visitors. The Dublin Tourism Office seems to have picked out the version Dublin they want people to experience. Figuring out how to work around these kinds of arbitrary expectations, I’ve come to learn, is an essential part of travel. For me, it’s where most of the joy in travel lies.

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