I was going to write this blog post about sleepovers – I’ve had a resurgence lately, with loads of friends coming to visit this term. There’s something simultaneously uncomfortable about sharing every waking hour with another person and so, so fun too. Your conversations alternate between the sublime and mundane, your cooking reaches new heights as you egg each other on (no pun intended) to add ridiculous ingredients, your normally private routines face public scrutiny as you tease each other about how long you take to get ready and how much you sleep.

It’s been an absolute joy to show Ireland to my friends, and makes me realise I know this place  better than I thought. Dublin is the least “exotic” foreign place I’ve lived in or travelled to – certainly compared to Lilongwe or Reykjavik, where I spent summers during undergrad. I think that Dublin’s familiarity, however, makes it feel more manageable. I’ve never lived in a city with the expectation that I’ll visit every corner of it, but I somehow want to do that in Dublin – and Ireland, writ large. As a result, Google Maps has become my most used app by far this year. I continually daydream about where I could go by pinning cafes, bars, and hikes on my “IRELAND Places To Go” map. Once I do go, places shift onto my “ireland” map (inconsistent naming style, but whatever), where I write notes on what I thought. While I’ve refined my pub favourites and upped my cafe standards, one place has remained strong from the start: Albert College Park. 

My favourite part of DCU is living right next to Albert College Park. It’s the same size, if not bigger, than our campus. There are meandering paths lined with rows of tall pines, sandwiched between playgrounds and glistening sports fields. I wrote the following on January 23rd: “Today, I went for a walk and experienced what I could only call a sound bath. There have been advisory winds in Ireland for the past five days, and I had to stop several moments as the wind hit me. But the sound in the trees was that of a BOOM! I didn’t even register at first that the noise wasn’t merely wind; it was the branches of the pines swinging to and fro. It was all encompassing and other people stopped to just listen, too.”

In the middle of Albert College Park lies what I would call the platonic ideal of a cafe: the Tram Cafe. The Tram spills across a garden area and indoor cottage made of stone. The outdoor area has green tin roofs that extend over tables so that you can sit there, even when it’s raining. It’s always populated – perhaps because it’s always somehow beautiful, no matter the weather. The inside is a kitschy cafe in the best way possible, with a real wood furnace that blasts on winter days. There are white stone walls, windows with miniature white lace curtains, and wooden tables with baroque style chairs. Tea cups and china plates rest on wooden shelves, and long metal bells hang from the wooden rafters.

I think this was the first place I felt beauty in Ireland – a surprising statement, given how famed the country is for its beauty. But Dublin is less glamorous than one might imagine, and I wasn’t instantly charmed when I first arrived. Part of my warming up to the city has involved shifting where I spend most of my time: away from the city centre and closer to the seaside towns, as well as smaller neighbourhoods like Stoneybatter. Most importantly, I’ve become attached to Glasnevin, where DCU is located. 

Glasnevin feels like the geriatric capital of Dublin. (Case in point: the Tram cafe always has groups of gossiping grandmothers, some of whom are keen to chat even while I’ve got airpods in, laptop ups) Populated by old, low-rise brick townhomes with a few cafes and pubs scattered in between, its main sites include the Botanical Garden and Glasnevin Cemetery. I’ve come to really like Glasnevin and its adjoining neighbourhood, Phisborough. While I initially complained about my bus commute into town, I’ve come to appreciate how Glasnevin’s residential nature makes it feel much less commercial than city centre. Now, Dublin has a different meaning when I first arrived and mostly took the bus into the city centre. And I think the Tram is one of many places I find beauty within it. 

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