It wasn’t the Literary Pub Crawl. It wasn’t The Martello Tower in SandyCove. It wasn’t even a stroll through Trinity College Dublin to commune with the spirit of Swift and feel the rhythm of The Celtic Twilight beating in my breast. But The Viking Splash Tour in Dublin was shamelessly side-splitting fun and uncommonly good value in an wallet-stranglingly expensive city.
As you can guess, I approached the Viking Splash with some scepticism. Wearing big plastic hats with horns? Raising your arms in mindless glee and roaring obnoxiously in unison with the person next to you like a European football hooligan at the nearest passerby? Willingly, joyfully strapping yourself into a former military vehicle (some of the Viking Splash people carriers were used in the D-Day landings) to splash down in the murky waters of the Liffey? Surely this wasn’t for me? Surely this was for other Americans? Tourists. Those still inclined to call themselves 85% Irish Americans. Not for a radio-4-listening (Americans read NPR), Guardian reading (for Guardian, read New York Times, I think) culture vulture like me. I’ll take a stroll through Merrion Square and The National Gallery thank you very much.
There are probably two important things important to bear in mind. The first is that having a young child gives you licence to do whatever childish touristy stuff your sense of self-respect and dignity might not normally permit. Second, it turns out that the Viking Splash Tour is not the tourist-pandering game of dress-up that it appears to be (actually that would be the disappointingly cheap and unhorrifying Edinburgh Dungeon), but a floating comedy hour, guided by a born-and-bred Dubliner with a healthy dose of razor sharp wit and sarcasm that kept me convulsing until my sides hurt and my eyes streamed tears of laughter.
Our guide and driver, Anto, with a thick ‘Dooblin’ accent that I’m quite sure was his own, began with the premise that we were all Vikings — thus the tacky hats — surrounded by Celts, a foreign people so inimical to our being that we had to vocally rage against them, proceeding to catalogue the most loathsome types of Celts, among them Cappucino Celts (those dressed head-to-toe in highstreet gear sipping lattes on the sidewalks), Competitor Celts (those that had chosen other bus tours around the city), and Lost Celts (the ones standing on street corners looking at open maps in consternation). We dutifully roared like fierce Northern warriors. So ingeniously tongue-in-cheek was the whole idea sold to us that you couldn’t help but get into the spirit. That’s my excuse: I did it for irony’s sake.
Anto proceeded to narrate us through historic Dublin with the same subtle irony and humour that is the very best part of the native character, from waving at another bus driver letting him into a lane and claiming he was a former parole officer who had done his job too well and had to make his living working for Dublin Transport, to requesting one of the passengers lean over to grab some copper piping off of the roof rack of a nearby van, “Cause that would fetch near enoof eighty Euro like, ya know?”, to explaining Ireland’s dire financial position through the local government’s choice to commission the new abstract ‘forest sculpture’ in the Docklands, “When a headcase lends a headcase eight million euro to pay a spacer, there’s something wrong like, ya know?… I mean it loits up at noit and it’s pretty but it’s not eight million euro pretty, ya know what I me-an, like?”
Which is not to say The Viking Splash Tour is not an educational experience as well. We were given the context to Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ whilst passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I now know why Dubliners have traditionally been called ‘Jackeens’ and I can rattle off with confidence the various nicknames by which the statue of Molly Malone at the bottom of Grafton Street has been known to locals. The Tart with The Cart, The Trollop with the Scallops, The Dish with The Fish, The Flirt with The Skirt, the poetic imagination of the Celt is clearly limitless.
And of course, towards the very end of your hour and a quarter in whichever Norse-deity-named amphibious vehicle (ours was called ‘Balder’ evidently ‘Day’ personified in Norse mythology) in which you travel around Fair City, you do get the thrill of donning a life-jacket, riding down a concrete ramp and doing a picturesque little twirl around Grand Canal Dock Basin, which, Anto informed us, would be a lovely place to live were it not for the Viking Splash tour, passing by twenty times a day.
|Grand Canal Dock Basin, fisheye view
Surprisingly good craic, The Viking Splash tour. At 20 euro a ticket, I wouldn’t call it cheap, but nothing in Dublin is, even in these austere times. It is two euro pricier than the leading open top bus tour, but the pleasure of the experience, both in terms of sheer hilarity and with the thrill of an aquatic exploration, make this tour better value by far. You can’t beat the discounts either. When the charming man that we booked with on Stephen’s Green found out that my son was named after the Norse god of peace, prosperity and fertility (go ahead and search that one out), he gave my mother-in-law a student price. I believe she was pleased.
You are advised to book ahead, which may sound a bit insane, but they sell out quick. We showed up at noon hoping to stroll onto a Viking voyage and were informed that all excursions were sold out until 5:30. You can do so by going to Viking Splash’s website here
or by calling 00 353 1 707 6000, or you could do what we did and show up on the day. Dublin is not a city short of things to do or places to spend money.One last note on Irish wit. I am always pleasantly surprised by how cleverly the Celtic imagination can incorporate what seem to be trite and hackneyed into something ironic and refreshing like these two examples, which can be seen now regularly around the Republic. I cannot vouch for the North.
|Seen in a shop on Grafton Street