Blonde and Brunette were in Dublin to attend a two day travel bloggers’ conference. After Day One our extraordinary intellect had already absorbed the critical information from the conference for both days (remarkable) so we played hooky and went on a day trip out of the city.
Our first day in Dublin we’d met with with Simon O’Connor who is the co-director of the City of a Thousand Welcomes program. This is a wonderful service where, for free, a volunteer meets with you and takes you to tea at one of 3 participating sponsors and gives you customized suggestions as to (legal) places or activities you might enjoy.
In the past Blonde sometimes enjoyed things other than tea with men who were strangers, but she’s in her tea years now and Brunette was in a sleep-deprived fog so we managed not to ask Simon anything too unforgivable. He asked our interests and when we said drinking wine, eating chocolate, petting kittens and making snarky remarks he was a bit stumped. In an effort to be more helpful we then said “non-touristy places, water and food” and he produced an excellent plan.
We embarked on Simon’s plan via the Dart train from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire. Simon had informed us that the train runs along the coast so is an enjoyable ride and then he innocently mentioned the Forty Foot Bathers Club in Sandy Cove on the edge of Dun Laoghaire. The “club” is Dublin’s oldest – more than 250 years – swimming club and began as a place for men to swim nude in The Irish Sea. (Bummer ’bout Blonde learning this in the tea with strangers years…). The Forty Foot Club is a tad on the not-so-progressive side as it does not allow female members (so to speak) but women can swim there and some contribute to its upkeep (such as it is).
Simon also informed us that James Joyce had lived in close proximity to the bathing area for years and had set the opening section of Ulysses here, with the character Buck Mulligan describing the sea as “The snotgreen sea. The scrotum-tightening sea.”
Because James Joyce lived near the spot for years his former home is now a museum which had just been closed for renovations and is scheduled to reopen in February of 2014. (What a relief that we didn’t need to go in there and feign interest!)
The origin of the name of the bathing club isn’t certain but the prevailing theory is that it was named after the Fortieth Foot Regiment (of something or other) who had once been stationed at the now crumpled battery at the site.
Dublin’s weather was quite chilly, about 15C or 59F, on the day of our outing. The sea temperature was estimated to be at best about 10C, aka scrotum-tightening (and presumably severely shrinkage-inducing.)
Blonde decided that she was going to take the plunge – maybe. This resulted in Blonde and Brunette making a hasty trip to Penny’s, an inexpensive clothing store chain, so Blonde could assemble a “bathing costume” of tights and a jersey for 10 euros. And off we went!
The train ride was a very reasonable 2.80 euros each for a one way ticket and the journey out was about 45 minutes. We watched the sky get grayer and the clouds thicker as we traveled along the coast. (But then, to be fair, we’re also getting grayer and thicker.)
When we arrived in Dun Laoghaire we walked along the charming main street mostly asking for directions to the Forty Foot Club and getting a combination of warnings to not even attempt swimming there to an occasional “you go girl” sort of reaction. To reach our destination we walked along the Sandy Cove promenade. It’s beautiful, desolate and exceedingly Irish as it has poetry painted on the walls, not graffiti or suicide hotline numbers.
Our original trip suggester, Simon, had instructed us to be sure to stop and have ice cream at Teddy’s on the way to the Forty Foot. We discussed the wisdom of ice cream on a cold day when one of us was contemplating a death-defying swim and decided that the way to do it was to have the ice cream first. Skipping it was not seen as an option.
Teddy’s has been serving “Dublin’s best ice cream” since 1950. Teddy is a minimalist as the only homemade flavor now offered is the “99” and it’s vanilla. We couldn’t figure out what the “99” part meant other than that it’d been the name for a long time. We each got a “recession special” cone of about 3 euros apiece. Tragically, although it was enjoyable and possibly Dublin’s best ice cream, we found it be a pleasant if unremarkable sort of frozen custard. We were apparently in the minority, however, as it was a very busy place. (In “researching” this piece we discovered that “Edward Jacob, the man who started things in the 1950, now divides his time between Morocco and the south of France.” That somehow takes points away from the whole quaint tale we’d been told of a kindly local man making ice cream with a special machine. Oh well, we’ve fallen for worse stories.)
Ice cream consumed and shivers induced we set off for the Forty Foot Club. It’s a somewhat sheltered cove and quite a few not young local people swim there every day and believe that it keeps them healthy. If you can do it more than once you probably are healthy so it may be a chicken or egg thing but it somehow seems quite believable. They would get right into the water not screaming, gasping or acting as if they were doing anything unusual. They also changed, as did Blonde, in the “changing area” which is a line of zig-zagged benches with tiny walls between. However, as they are in the open air, coed and across from one another it’s important to be willing to be immodest but not an outright exhibitionist. As the swimmers, Blonde included, are mostly at an age when they have seen the routine assortment of body parts many times no one appeared to have an interest in peeking.
Brunette attempted to shield her sister with a jacket approximately a third the size of Blonde and in a strong wind, so speed became more important than modesty. Off with the old and on with the new!
The descent down the mossy steps was potentially quite treacherous but others had warned Blonde who gripped the handrail so hard there are probably still marks from her fingers in it. This wasn’t water to get into bit by bit so Blonde basically did a launch out into it. The water was bracing but not as horrifying as imagined. Blonde swam around a few minutes just so she could say she did it and have photographic evidence and then bolted back to dry clothes. The experience was actually enjoyable and a terrific way to perk up jet-lag droopy Blonde.
After drying off (Dear Westin, thanks for that hand towel you’ll never see again), getting back into dry clothes and throwing all of the wet stuff in a trash bin like stupid criminals trying to hide the evidence, Blonde and Brunette set off for saner pursuits.
There was about a 20 minute walk into the very postcardesque town of Dalkey, a Heritage Town. Along the way were Georgian and Victorian homes and a castle that seemed to abut a nursing home. The town is the home of the novelist Maeve Binchy as well as other arty-smarty types. It also has many award-winning pubs and restaurants that called out to us but we had reservations back in Dublin so decided to stick to our plans.
We bumbled, right at closing time, into the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Center that looked as if it would be very interesting to visit. We only had time to plead to use the ladies room and steal voyeuristic glances at the displays as we exited but wished we could have taken the time to learn more about the area than the little we had pieced together.
The Dart train back, from a station that has been in use since 1854, was a shorter ride but, regrettably, we didn’t get to see the dolphins that are rumored to often be seen from the train.
This little day trip, assuming that you swap out freezing swimming time for dining and sightseeing, can easily be done in 5 or fewer hours from Dublin and was a nice relief from Dublin’s exhausting congestion. If you do decide to have a swim you would be very wise to first update your will and also to bring a dry suit for your sea plunge. A scrotum heater (available at all leading sports stores) would be a wise purchase for gentlemen.