What to do on a rainy day
I have a confession to make: I am a book nerd. I volunteered at my local library from the time I was 12 until I was 16: around 250 hours total. When I was seven, I read the encyclopedia for fun. Most of my favorite childhood memories involve books. I’m especially fond of children’s and young adult literature; I pre-ordered the last three Harry Potter books and waited in lineto pick them up.
So, when I saw the handwritten sign on the front door of the Winding Stair Bookshop that said “looking for someone to manage the store for six months during maternity leave,” I was tempted for a moment. Then I remembered, I’m in Dublin, Ireland. I already have a job in Copenhagen, I’ve never managed a bookstore, and the weather in Dublin rivals Copenhagen for dampness and cloudy days. I didn’t apply.
We were lucky our during our first two days in Dublin. My colleagues and I flew in on a Wednesday afternoon in August. We were blinded by the sunshine, which lit up the River Liffey and the lovely white ironwork of the Ha’penny bridge. It was definitely a bummer that we had to spend the next two equally gorgeous days in a conference room (though to be fair it was an amazing and inspiring conference with some awesome people and speakers). After the conference was over, I stayed on for a couple days to explore the city with a colleague and a couple friends I made at the conference, Rachel and Casey from Austin.
Saturday was chilly, with rain in the afternoon. Sunday was worse.
So what do you do on a rainy Sunday, where the weather is complete shite, other than bunking down in a pub and drinking Guinness until you can’t feel your legs? Luckily, Dublin is a city with many indoor activities. And many of these activities have to do with books. This led us to our literary tour of the city.
But first things first: breakfast. My colleague and I fortified ourselves with pastries and coffee from Brother Hubbard.
Side note: I am completely obsessed with this place, which is an adorable cafe serving delicious breakfast food in the morning and mediterranean-inspired dinners at night. I ate here three times during a five-day trip.
After a strong cappuccino and a lovely cinnamon roll, we were ready to visit the big tourist attraction: The Book of Kells.
Housed at Trinity College, the Book of Kells dates back to AD 800 and is actually not one book, but four volumes containing the Gospels of the New Testament. We showed up at Trinity College around 10 am and were a bit discouraged by the longish line, but decided to wait since we had an umbrella and didn’t know if it would be any shorter later. Luckily, the line moved quickly, and soon we found ourselves walking through the exhibition that explains the history of the Book of Kells as well as the tradition of bookmaking among the monks, and the meaning of some of the more well-known illustrations in the book. Most fascinating is probably the amount of colors that the monks were able to make from the limited natural resources around them.
The actual book is in a dark room under a large glass-covered table. It’s difficult to see due to the many people crowding around. I’d heard that it’s underwhelming and I think that’s a fair assessment.
After the Book of Kells, however, we moved on to the Long Room in the Old Library, an enormous long hall filled with 200,000 old manuscripts. It is stunning: two stories of shelves packed with books, ladders to reach the high shelves, and gorgeous wooden vaulted ceiling. I felt a little bit like Belle when she sees the Beast’s library for the first time (“I’ve never seen so many books in my entire life!”).
Back outside, we realized we were just in time for the opening of the little Winding Stair Bookshop, located just underneath the restaurant of the same name. While we weren’t able to eat at the restaurant (hint: book ahead!), we’d walked past the bookstore several times and were curious to poke around inside.
The Winding Stair Bookshop is quiet, cozy, and definitely a place where one could while away a few hours with a book and a scone. According to the website, it’s “one of the oldest surviving independent bookshops in Dublin”. Small but packed to the brim with books and even a tiny cafe, it has a good section of contemporary fiction as well as works by Irish authors. My colleague and I looked longingly at the comfy armchairs in the window, but we were meeting up with our friends at a pub for lunch so we decided to make our purchases and move on.
While we gorged ourselves on traditional Sunday roast, my friends and I discussed our favorite reading experiences. Rachel and I bonded over our love of Harry Potter and children’s literature. We decided to stop by Ulysses Rare Books on the way to the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square. Rachel was on the lookout for a first edition of The Princess Bride, while I had my eye out for another copy of Alice in Wonderland to add to my collection.
Ulysses is quiet and not as cozy as the Winding Stair; it feels a bit solemn and serious. There was no music, and we were the only people there except for a young guy sitting at a desk who gave us a polite nod when we walked in. We wandered around slowly, checking out a first edition of Animal Farm; a second edition of Mary Poppins. I was tempted by a first edition of The Great Glass Elevator (only 170 Euros!), but my traveling lifestyle isn’t a good match for a manuscript that needs special care and storage.
Our rare book sightings sated, we set off again toward Marrion Square, but were distracted by another bookstore, Hodges Figges, which is huge and has a great selection. We each scattered to our favorite sections. Rachel was thrilled to come across a collection of Harry Potter books with beautifully designed covers; I picked up another copy of Alice and Wonderland, so I could leave with a souvenir from Dublin.
We didn’t actually make it to the Oscar Wilde statue, because at this point we had to leave for the airport. But I hope to visit Dublin again. Maybe I’ll see the statue next time, or check out the Dublin Writer’s Museum. I don’t even think I’ll mind if it’s raining, as long as I bring a good book.
If you want to follow my footsteps on this literary tour, visit GPSmyCity to download a map to this article. It's available offline, which is great if you won't have data while you're traveling! If you decide to purchase the map, I'll make a few cents, which goes toward the cost of maintaining this blog. Click here to download the article app or to check out other guides for Dublin!
Originally published on Medium.