December 7, 2012 § 11 Comments
I am back to tell you about Dublin, finally. We really fell in love with this city. When we arrived bleary-eyed at the sleek, glassy airport, we stood in the taxi line amid business people in the whipping wind, then hopped in a cab and, luckily enough, had an awesome driver – silver haired, twinkly blue-eyed, and ready to gab at 8 am. He pointed out lots of interesting places in the city as we drove, went over our plans, what we shouldn’t miss and what we could skip, where to eat, and lots of other good advice overall. We were very happy to have his guidance.*
Anyway, because we got to Dublin so soon (our flight landed early) our hotel room was not ready, and we were forced to walk around the city until it was (we could’ve sat at the hotel, but I wasn’t initially thrilled with it). This is the part where I’d love to tell you how I instantly fell in love with the city, that being in the crisp, sunny air was a very welcome change after being on planes and in airports for nearly twenty-four hours, but honestly the tiredness had caught up with me and I was miserable. And hungry. And wanting a shower. I seemed to be the worst out of the three of us. But there was no other choice, so we dropped off our bags and we walked. We walked up and down the streets, across the bridges and back again, and through Temple Bar where we couldn’t help but be amazed at the amount of kegs being dropped off and the empty ones hauled away – truckloads, millions. We stopped and had some food. We made our way to Trinity College and to the Book of Kells since it was on my list of things to do and not far from our hotel. It truly was amazing – I remember studying it and other illuminated manuscripts in college – but unfortunately, my appreciation level was pretty low in that moment. I was so tired I was dizzy, and the ground seemed to sway under my feet. I made it up the stairs to the Library where I found a bench and sat there, trying to sleep with my eyes open until Beau nudged me on.
Once we made it back to the hotel, where they had kindly upgraded our room, Jade and I immediately collapsed and fell sleep on top of the beds, coats still on and everything. Beau, who somehow seemed less affected by fatigue, went out to the Guinness factory, took the tour, and had some dinner (not worth the money, he says – save your beer tour for the Smithwick’s factory in Kilkenny). Jade and I woke up and got something to eat, then showered and called it a night.
We were much better the next day, and as it was our only full day in Dublin, we got busy. We pulled on our boots and got walking. That’s what I’ll always remember about Dublin, the walking. Like any other big city, Dublin is very busy – there are people and buses and cars and bicycles all over the place – but it’s compact, so walking isn’t a problem. We walked everywhere, miles upon miles. I think it’s the best way to get to know a city, to watch the people and what they do. We learned, for instance, that many people there like to grab pre-made sandwiches and bananas for lunch. Bananas seemed to be the fruit of choice there; they were everywhere, in everyone’s hands. People walked while talking on their phones, like anywhere else, but we noticed how most of them seemed to be having “a bit of a gossip,” which was very entertaining to overhear. Also, lots of cussing. Feckin’ this and feckin’ that, but it’s not offensive at all in their accents. Jade and I would just silently crack up when people would walk behind us and they’d be telling a story about someone, and it was just feck, feck, feck the whole time (it wouldn’t be funny at all here at home). Also, the smoking. Most people smoke, and I noticed that it seemed especially rampant among young people.
People in Dublin are very well dressed (though I honestly don’t know how they can afford to be – we went into many stores, including a Forever 21 and H&M, and were shocked at how expensive the “cheap” clothing was; side note: the H&M was selling a lot of the same stuff they sell here), and we loved taking in their fashion – especially my little fashionmonger, Jade, who was particularly influenced by what she saw (this is one of her Christmas presents, btw). For men, de rigueur seemed to be skinny pants, lace up boots, sweaters, scarves, and fitted coats – very well put together, very handsome. For women and young girls, most, and I mean most, wore black tights with short skirts. We saw that a lot, over and over, and we loved it. They paired it with either flats or ankle boots, and lots of stylish coats and scarves.
Another thing about Dublin, and Ireland in general, is you have to learn to cross the street like a local. Nothing will call you out as a tourist faster than waiting at a crosswalk for the light to change. We figured this out quickly. If there are no cars coming, you go (well, unless the garda, or police, are watching). It is an organized form of jaywalking, though it only occurs at crosswalks. Luckily, in Dublin – and London, too, I’ve heard – painted on the ground at each intersection are the words ‘LOOK LEFT’ or “LOOK RIGHT.” This is obviously extremely helpful, as the cars drive on the left and it can get very confusing. Also helpful is the fact that many streets are one-way only, so you don’t have to worry about cars coming at you from both directions. While it was generally safe to cross this way if paying attention, we saw many near-misses, and we had a few instances of getting quickly out of the way ourselves, because the cars/buses/motorcycles will not stop or even slow down for you.
As for what we saw; well, we saw nearly everything, as much as we could, stopping now and then along the way for a pint or hot chocolate. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the National Gallery, a walk through St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, shopping on O’Connell street, the list goes on. One place Jade and I found particularly interesting was a museum called Number 29. It is a house preserved from the late 18th century, and you see exactly how the occupants and their servants lived. It has nearly all original artifacts in it. There were only four of us taking the tour, and the guide was very knowledgeable; really worth a visit if you love learning random tidbits from two hundred years ago, like why there was a wooden board hanging from the ceiling with food on it (to keep the rats off), what the strange contraption in the bedroom was (an ‘exercise’ machine for the husband, to keep his calves looking good in his tights), and so on. Fun stuff.
The one thing we didn’t get to, and I was sorely disappointed, was the Kilmainham Gaol. But, as one lady said, “Well, you can’t do it all, you know.” She was right. There’s just too much to do/see.
I think one of the biggest surprises about Dublin, and all of Ireland, was the food. It was absolutely amazing; we never had a bad meal. Also, nearly all of the restaurants offer gluten free dishes, and a lot also use organic, local products. We ate very, very well while were there over the two weeks. Some of the standout food we had in Dublin was at Gallagher’s Boxty House, the Old Storehouse, Queen of Tarts, and Bewley’s Cafe. Gallagher’s might have been our favorite meal. Good service, good food: boxty with a Cashel bleu cheese dipping sauce, colcannon, chips**, Murphy’s beef stew, and a boxty wrapped around shredded rotisserie chicken and topped with a leek/bacon/cream sauce that Jade inhaled. The Old Storehouse was a place we stopped into on a whim and were pleasantly surprised at the good music, service, crowd, and food (weeks later I looked it up and saw these reviews); really good soup (more on their soup specifically in a future post). Queen of Tarts was a breakfast/lunch place – excellent scones and tea. And Bewely’s Cafe, located on posh Grafton Street, was a place we stopped for breakfast on our last morning. Not the greatest service, but good food.
Also noteworthy about eating out in Dublin is that, like most of Europe, dinner is much later than we’re used to. Restaurants weren’t usually full of people until 9pm (and we were there on weekdays). However, nearly all restaurants offer an ‘early bird’ menu, which is usually à la carte and less expensive than the fixed-price dinners served later on.
(Can I take a moment and talk about Irish soup and bread? I ordered soup almost everywhere we went. I love soup, I really do. Soup in Ireland, as it turns out, is always pureed, no matter what kind it is. Just about every restaurant will have a ‘homemade soup of the day’ listed at the top of the menu. A couple times it was tomato, but otherwise it was always potato/leek or vegetable. Creamy, silky, delicious vegetable soup, better than any I ever tasted (the secret, I found out? Parsnips and turnips), which was always, always served with homemade brown bread. And the circular soda bread with the ‘X’ mark slashed on top that is commonly made here at home? Never saw that once in Ireland. It was always in loaf form and a slice – or two, if you’re lucky – was served with each bowl of soup. The bread was hearty and grainy, but somehow also light and moist, with a dense cake-like crumb. This recipe is the closest I can find to it.)
I’d like to make a note about hotels in Ireland, while I’m here. If you have more than two people traveling, you have to book a ‘triple’ room, unlike here in the U.S. where you can request a regular room with two double beds instead of one king. In Ireland, standard rooms have just one large bed; the triple rooms have one large bed and one twin bed. If you need more beds than that, you have to request a ‘family’ room. We originally planned to stay somewhere really nice in Dublin, figuring it would be our splurge, only to discover when we went to book two months in advance that nothing was available. Nearly every hotel in the city, totally unavailable – and this was the off season. My advice, if you’re going, is to book as early as possible in Dublin. We ended up booking a decent bed and breakfast, but two weeks before we left Beau said he wasn’t happy with it and managed to find us a room at the Trinity Capital Hotel. My first impression walking in was not so great, but it ended up being okay; good location, quirky, eclectic, and the bathroom was nice and big. The ‘executive suite’ we were upgraded to was key as the regular rooms weren’t all that great (I peeked).
Finally, I have to mention The Driving. On our third day in Dublin, it was time to pick up our rental car and head to our next city. Now, if there’s one thing Beau and I know about us, it’s that our relationship is much, much better when I drive and he navigates (and still it occasionally gets testy). Therefore, I was the only insured driver on the car – cheaper that way, too – and I felt pretty good about it. I mean, I drove for years on Germany’s autobahns and throughout Europe; how bad could this be? Besides, if you have an American driver’s license, you do not need any other permit to drive in Ireland, they just give you the keys and send you on your way. Logically, I felt if they were so willing to unleash right-side drivers on their roads, then it must be pretty easy. I was fine until we got to the rental place, and then I began to panic. When the lady handed me the keys, I began to really panic, and it all reached a anxious peak when I got into the car and began saying I couldn’t do it. But Beau, being Beau, told me to calm down and began directing me. I followed his directions and took it slow. We had to stop back at the hotel a couple blocks away to pick up our bags and that gave me a little break to regroup. We got back in the car and Beau talked me through the city, which is surrounded by a giant one-way ring road, thankfully, until he had navigated me easily onto the highway.
In the beginning, Beau kept yelling saying “Veering, veering!” because my natural tendency was to stay farther over to the left in my lane as it just felt so utterly unnatural to be in the driver’s seat but so far over to the right. The tendency fades away, though. Traffic is simple enough to follow, and once you get the hang of the traffic circles, it’s smooth sailing. In the end, I drove over 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) on the left. I’m telling you, it’s doable. The absolute key in the beginning though, is not to rent a car until you’ve adjusted to the time change. Jet lag and driving on the opposite side of the road do not mix. Give yourself a few days to adjust, then pick up your car.
If you’re curious, as I was before we left, about how a left-side car is set up, I’ll tell you. The steering wheel and its components are the same; windshield wipers, blinkers, etc. are all on the same sides of the wheel. The gas/brake/clutch are all in the same spots. And the shifter is also the same – first gear is on the left side, as it is here at home, moving to the right as the gears get higher. Our car had six gears and reverse was in the upper left. So, everything was the same as an American spec car, other than the fact that I was sitting on the other side of the car and had to shift with my left hand. I was surprised how easy it was to get used to, and how natural it felt after a few days. The car we had, a Hyundai ix20, was a diesel and got great gas mileage. It was also very easy to drive (the clutch on my own car is much more sensitive than that one was). We were surprised to find that when you rent a car you receive it with a full tank of gas (for which you’ve pre-paid, built into the price of the rental, around eighty euro), and return the car empty. Amazingly, we only had to add half a tank of gas the whole trip.
So, I think that’s it! This post is a beast. Next we move on to Kilkenny…
*I think this type of instant camaraderie can be alarming to those of us who are used to being skeptical and on-guard back home – like, why is this guy being so nice for no reason? – but I learned that it’s something you just have to relax into while you’re there. I found that most Irish people were beyond helpful, fun to chat with, and happy to share useful information (more so in the smaller towns than big, busy cities), and while it’s always good to show up with a plan, molding your trip as you go around the suggestions of new-found friends is way more fun and informative – they can let you in on hidden places to visit, which is the best pub in town, which streets to avoid due to construction, which road has the better scenic view, etc. So my number one tip is: make friends!
**If, like me, you are wondering, since they call fries ‘chips’, what they call what we call chips, the answer is: crisps. It took me a week to figure this out.