Celtic Circles

DUBLIN, IRELAND: November 19-22, 2013

Leah: Ah, the Emerald Isle…and emerald it truly was. I was flabbergasted by just how green and lush everything was at the end of November, from the grass still carpeting the ground to the flowerboxes delightfully arranged outside the brick rowhouses that still bloomed with colors normally reserved for summer. The accents were delightful, the language familiar and everywhere we looked the magic of the holidays was in the air. Even more exciting was the fact that our bus from the airport was winging us swiftly toward Dublin’s downtown O’Connell Street stop where we’d be meeting Ciara, the volunteer coordinator for Hetta Huskies and our gracious host for the next few nights (pronounced “keer-ah,” and not “see-ar-ah” like some of us non-Irish Hetta folk previously thought).

We first began corresponding with her over a year ago when we were thinking about applying to Hetta Huskies to volunteer and she was actually the person who gave us the green light. Ciara was an absolute angel online in terms of answering our myriad questions and putting us in touch with Emmanuelle before we arrived, so we were gutted when we learned that our paths wouldn’t cross during our time at Hetta. However, we had mentioned to Anna that we’d be swinging through Dublin and didn’t have lodging locked in, at which point she got in touch with Ciara who agreed to have us stay at hers. Hospitality aside, we were also thrilled that we’d be staying with someone who had been one of the original Hetta volunteers three years ago and would happily talk dog with us for hours on end without thinking we were certifiably insane.

Ciara welcomed us with open arms straight off the bus with an ear-to-ear grin and an energy that enlivened us after our travel day from Amsterdam. We hoofed it back to the charming 2 bedroom flat that she shares with her flatmate Jenny, which was only a 20 minute walk from the city center in the Arbour Hill/Stoneybatter neighborhood. Upon asking where we should leave our bags, Ciara promptly helped carry them upstairs and deposited them in her own bedroom, informing us that we’d sleeping in there and using that space for the duration of our stay while she took the couch downstairs. Never mind that this was the middle of the week and she’d be going to work every day—she had already packed a suitcase and more or less moved downstairs. She turned a deaf ear to our protests and even handed us a set of spare house keys, all while informing us that she of all people knew just how much a clean, quiet, cozy space meant after the insanity of Hetta and that under no circumstances would she change her mind.

Extremely grateful but still feeling guilty, we meekly followed Ciara downstairs where we walked to the grocery store for some dinner fixins, whipped up some tea and commenced to picking her brain while filling her in on the newest Hetta news. As one of the original volunteers and someone who has returned every year for the last three, Ciara was in a unique position to tell us stories about how it all was in the beginning (especially the wretched state of the Valimaa farm and the dogs right before Anna and Pasi had taken it over). We also learned that she was one of the people who had literally saved our favorite dog, Theta, when she was born in 2010. She and her littermates became inexplicably and seriously ill as young puppies and Ciara and a few others got up every two hours for days on end to administer a glucose drip in an effort to keep them alive. Theta and her sister, Zeta, made it, but unfortunately the other two females didn’t; needless to say we were glad to meet the woman who gave our favorite girl a chance at life.

Ciara continued to regale us of tales of volunteer drama through the years and even allowed us to peek at her extensive spreadsheets and ranking system wherein she weeds out who will be a good fit at Hetta from the multitudes of applicants who apply from around the world. However, something I appreciated the most was a frank discussion we had one night about life post-Hetta and post-travel; Ciara has also traveled abroad long term and had to re-enter the working world. She’s currently a civil servant who excels at her job and has garnered many accolades, most recently applying for and securing a position based in Brussels, Belgium—an opportunity open to only three people from the entire country. Yes, she really is that amazing! I could talk to her about my fears and hang-ups that stem from being out of the traditional workforce for so long, my anxiety about creating a life after we return home and some of my other career-related personal demons.

In return she helped assure me that it will all work out, that I need to not sell myself short and even suggested some books for me to read when I’m ready. All this from a woman who left traditional education at the age of 15, enrolled in university years later than her peers, self-identifies as a former raver, has lived and traveled abroad for long stretches at a go, manages a thriving husky farm volunteer program remotely and remains the epitome of a generous, lively, successful individual. Oh yeah, and then there’s her Facebook page, Dogs on Dublin Streets dedicated to the dogs she meets on the streets of Dublin where she’s able to practice her budding photography interests, interact with dogs and interview their owners—how perfect. I know I’ve basically spent the whole post so far talking about her, but our time with Ciara defined Dublin for us. I can’t convey how much it meant to spend time with someone who not only understands the mental space we’re in and shares our love of dogs/Hetta but reveled in showing us Dublin, right down to the evening walking tour she gave us on our first night.

However, there were other highlights from our time in the capital, most notably a blast from the past in the form of Aoife (pronounced “Eef-uh” for those of you unfamiliar with Irish language pronunciation). The oldest daughter of our final (and dearly loved) WorkAway hosts in New Zealand, Aoife’s mom is none other than Joan, the woman we talked about a few posts ago and someone we still stay in close contact with. Having lived in New Zealand for the last ten years, 16-year-old Aoife jumped at the chance to return to Ireland and study abroad for a few months. She was keen to re-discover her family and culture all while living with her grandparents in a small town an hour outside of Dublin; seeing as how we had such a brilliant time with her in NZ (she loves Game of Thrones and wants to be a Women’s Studies major), there was never a doubt about meeting up.

As luck would have it, our Dublin arrival happened to coincide with the release of Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another shared passion among the three of us. We made plans to rendezvous at a downtown cinema for a late afternoon showing, where we found prime seats surrounded by hoards of tweens and teens (pretty sure Steve and I were the oldest ones there) and proceeded to lose ourselves in the long-awaited installment. Post-movie we enjoyed an Italian dinner and picked Aoife’s brain about what it was like to live in Ireland after all this time (her Kiwi/Irish fusion accent had us cracking up), how she’s looking forward to the holidays (a Northern Hemisphere holiday season is quite the welcome change from the sunny and hot Kiwi version) and talked about everything in between. She’s also such a confident, charismatic teen that we found ourselves constantly forgetting her age. Our evening over and Aoife safely on the bus back home, we were thrilled at having spent time across the world with a member of one of our favorite families. Proof yet again of how WorkAway opportunities have shaped our trip memories and experiences for the best.

Steve: During our four days in Dublin we did quite a bit of walking and a lot of sightseeing. We took in the Temple Bar district, O'Connell Street, Trinity College, St. Stephen's Green, and a myriad of other museums and sights. But what visit to Dublin would be complete without experiencing the perfect pint? On our first full day in town we made sure to visit the Guinness Storehouse so as to check it off this beer connoisseur's list. Our pilgrimage to St. James's Gate included an informative self-guided tour up through the original Guinness site where excellent displays explained everything from the creation of each batch of Guinness, to the history of its distribution all the way through the evolution of their marketing campaigns. Last but not least we ended our tour on the seventh and top floor which is aptly known as the Gravity Bar. Here we were able to savor a perfectly-poured pint—several in my case since my love isn't fond of Guinness' black oil!—all while taking in an unbeatable 360° view of Dublin. All in all money and time very well spent.

On our last evening Ciara regaled us with a treat typically reserved for the weekend, the traditional Sunday roast. Apparently she hadn’t put one together for years but with seemingly little effort we ended up with a perfect roast chicken, potatoes and veggies. After some more enjoyable dinner conversation, good food and good wine—and speaking for myself, quite fat and happy—we bundled up for the piece de resistance, a trip to a local club to see her friend’s metal band. As you would assume I was quite miserable (cue sarcasm).
A brisk walk from Ciara’s place along the River Liffey and we quickly stepped up to the Gypsy Rose, a multilevel bar that hosts live music on the top and bottom floors. We descended into the bowels of this rock haven and found ourselves in about as cool a club as I’ve been to in Southern California. Unfortunately we missed Ciara’s friend’s band, but fortunately there was plenty of Guinness and some decent-to-excellent hard rock music still to be had. Although the intention was not to have a super-late night out, we ended up seeing the bar close as the post-band rock medley was just too good. It seemed awkward to me at first but the Irish can really get down to a lot of the hard rock music that most others just head-bang to. Then again a Guinness or two doesn’t hurt that endeavor as I can fully attest.

Completely knackered but high on life we got up the next morning, packed our things and said our goodbyes. It really shocked me how quickly our stay in Dublin came and went; it truly is a beautiful, vibrant city and will always be remembered by us as playing host to the end of an era in our lives. Starting with our first online communique with Ciara from Costa Rica in October 2012, all the back and forth leading up to and during our Hetta episode, and finally an informal couch surfing stint in November 2013, this truly was watching our trip come around full circle. It is not the end though, as we know that we will be keeping in touch with the indomitable Ciara and I can all but guarantee that you’ll hear her name in blog posts to come. So with that I leave Dublin with a sláinte...cheers!

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