Our Emerald Isle Vacation: Dublin, Part 1

I am sad to say that we are back from our eight days of vacationing bliss in Ireland. Ask me how it was, and my response will be every good word in the dictionary — beautiful, amazing, magnificent, charming, incredible and so on. Ireland truly is a magical little place with so much character, history and hospitality. Despite the fact that the country has fallen into tough economic times (haven’t we all?), their people have a lot to be proud of. Their ability to stay true to their traditions is something we can admire and appreciate. The hubs and I feel blessed that we could experience all of it together at such a young age. (Seriously, we were rubbing elbows with many ‘a AARP member.)

The one good thing about traveling though, is that there is always a silver lining to coming home from a fantastic trip. It’s seeing The Bear in all his tail-whacking happiness as he greets us after eight days of separation. One of these days, I’ll have to get someone to video his ritual. It’s just so darn sweet.

As with any trip, I have tons of pictures, stories and details to share. So my next few posts will be anything and everything Ireland. There’s a lot to tell, so I will dive right in.

Day 1

We arrived in Dublin early on a Monday morning. Although I was super excited to get our vacation started, I was groggy and sluggish from the lack of sleep on our flight from Philadelphia to Dublin. The flight attendant’s voice through the intercom and harsh cabin lighting are not my idea of a good wake-up call. Nevertheless, I hopped to it as much as I could, knowing that I was designated navigator for the drive into the Dublin City Centre (aka downtown Dublin).

After signing our lives away at the Budget Car Rental station, we took about 10 minutes to acquaint ourselves with the Skoga Fabia four-door compact car. The stick shift and right-side driver’s seat took some getting used to. As we pulled out of the car rental parking lot, Mikey almost gave me whiplash to avoid pulling out in front of an oncoming car. Ah yes, welcome to Dublin.

We paid for an international data plan on our phones and used the Maps application to route directions to Kelly’s Hotel, but of course, it took us to some other street with the same name north of the City Centre. After circling this neighborhood for a good 10 minutes, we realized that were not anywhere near where we needed to be. We pulled over into a cul-de-sac and paused for both a breather and to refer to the real map we had purchased before our trip. Thank goodness for that.

We eventually hopped back onto the motorway (highway) and relied on what little signage we could see to get us where we needed to be. The roundabouts, narrow lanes, lack of street signs and pretty much worthless smart dumb phone had us thoroughly frustrated by the time we found a car park (parking garage). We eventually found Kelly’s Hotel, left our bags at the front desk and scoped out a place to eat while our room was being prepared.

After more wandering around the unmarked Dublin streets, we stumbled into the Stag’s Head, an old pub in Temple Bar, a popular area of town littered with great pubs. Mikey and I both had the Fish & Chips.

First Guinness in Ireland

A full array of Irish whiskeys

Appropriate for a pub called Stag’s Head

By the time I finished my food, I was quickly slipping into a food coma, so we headed back to Kelly’s Hotel for a nap before our jaunt to the Guinness Storehouse.

Thing is, we never made it there. We were both so exhausted that our quick cat nap turned into a three-hour nap. Lame, yes. So lame. But my body was so incredibly exhausted. The Guinness experience just wouldn’t have been as fun if I were falling asleep at every step. So we decided to do Guinness the following day and have a low-key night of pub-hopping.

We had dinner at the Porter House, a microbrew pub in Temple Bar. I had the beef sliders. Mikey had the bangers and mash. Porter House had a huge selection of beers, many of which were lined as decor around the three-story pub.

Of their extensive beer menu, Mikey and I tried the Temple Brau, Plain Porter and Irish Red. We then had an Irish coffee (me) and Glenfiddich 12 (he) for dessert.

After leaving the Porter House, we walked along the River Liffey to a pub called Fitzsimons, which Mikey’s Grandma Riley had visited years back and recommended we try. Although I got the sense that Fitzsimons has evolved into more of a cocktail bar/lounge than a traditional pub, it was still a cozy spot for us to enjoy a Guinness, people-watch out the window and enjoy traditional Irish music.

It was also there that Mikey tried and fell in love with Guinness’s own Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. I tried it and thought it was okay. A Guinness for me, it will remain to be!

We then decided to turn in for the night, so back to Kelly’s Hotel it was.

Day 2

Trinity College campus

We started the day off with our free breakfast at L’Gueuleton (included in the price at Kelly’s Hotel) and then made our way over to Trinity College to see the Old Library and the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a lavishly decorated manuscript that contains the four gospels in Latin. Experts say it was probably written in the 9th century by Ionian monks. They also say it was produced either wholly or partially in Iona or at Kells in County Meath, Ireland, where the monks moved after Vikings raided Iona and left 68 monks dead.

The manuscripts are truly a sight to see. You can sense that the monks worked painstakingly hard to turn each page into a work of art. From the elaborate lettering and calligraphy to the detailed Celtic crosses, we were truly wowed. As much as I would’ve loved to share photos with you rather than describing all the minutiae, photography wasn’t allowed in the exhibit, which means you may have to just see all the glory for yourself some day.

After the Book of Kells exhibit, we climbed a staircase to the Old Library, which in a word, was breathtaking. We walked in and were awestruck by the incredibly high ceilings. To our right and left were walls of old, ancient books. At every shelf, there were marble busts of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and writers such as Jonathan Swift. In the middle of the long hallway, some of the old books were open in glass cases, so we could see inside some the printed works. Ireland’s oldest harp was also on display in the Old Library, which was interesting to see, considering that the harp is the symbol of Ireland. And what I certainly won’t forget is the smell of old books in the Old Library. That smell is something that will never get old in my book.

We couldn’t take photographs in the Old Library either, but it’s just so incredible that I had to post a borrowed picture.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

The building that houses the Old Library and Book of Kells

Next on our tour of attractions was the Guinness Storehouse and Gravity Bar. From Trinity College, we made our way to an area of town known as Smithfield. We passed the Dublin City Hall, Christchurch Cathedral and a number of smalls shops and pubs along the way.

Dublin City Hall

Christchurch Cathedral

For a while, we weren’t sure if we were heading in the right direction until we turned the corner and saw St. James’s Gate. This gate said it all. We had arrived!

Once we pushed through the turnstiles to start the tour, we knew we were in for a great learning experience. The storehouse is shaped like pint of Guinness — circular with six stories worth of Guinness history. The place is beautifully designed, marrying the treasures of a bygone era with a highly modern twist that I must say easily outshines our very own Anheuser-Busch/InBev brewery in St. Louis.

The 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness is displayed at the start of the tour.

Mikey, my hand model, holding a scoop of barley

Transportation played a big role in the Guinness story. Guinness got plenty of travel by boat.

As a marketing junkie, I got a kick out of the fourth floor advertising section. It may be hard to read, but this is the story of how one of their most successful campaigns came to fruition.

On the sixth floor of the Storehouse is the Gravity Bar, a place where you can enjoy your free pint high over the city with panoramic views of Dublin. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were starting to get hungry, we could’ve stayed there all day.

When we finally mustered up the courage to leave, we stopped into Arthur’s pub (named after Arthur Guinness) for a quick lunch before heading back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. (And by rest up, I mean we took another three-hour nap. Lame, yes. So lame.)

Later that evening, we had dinner at L’Gueuleton, the same place that provided our daily breakfast. It had received great reviews in our Fodor’s travel book, and the coworker who I borrowed the book from said it was delicious too. And delicious it was. I had a pear bellini for my starter cocktail and then the pork belly for my entree. Mikey had the Krombacher pilsner and a Ribeye. As much as I love pub food, everything at L’Gueleton totally hit the spot. We left stuffed and completely satisfied.

We ended our night at the Temple Bar in Temple Bar. The place was packed with tourists, but we didn’t mind. We squeezed into a corner table and enjoyed the trad music, some Guinness and hard cider. As touristy as it may be, this cute little red pub will always be what I picture when I think of Temple Bar.

Day 3

Before leaving Dublin for Kilkenny, we made sure to hit up the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. From the moment we stepped inside, Mikey was like a kid in a candy store, and the tour was pretty good. (Although I must admit, I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was too busy taking pics.)

A water wheel was a source of power for all the distillery machinery.

This big vat mixes the water and barley together.

Jameson is known for its triple distillation. This is one of three stills that takes part in the distilling process.

The whiskey is stored in a barrel for aging. But unlike Jack Daniel’s, which allows the oak of the barrel to flavor their whiskey, Jameson chars the barrel wood to ensure it doesn’t affect the flavor of the whiskey.

If Mikey had his choice, he’d choose Midleton (pictured left). But unfortunately, it’s a pretty penny to pay. Jameson is much more affordable. At 42 euro, Mikey bought the Jameson on the left. It’s a bottle from the Old Distillery Reserve that has been aged 12 years.

Barrels of Jameson whiskey shown in gradual stages of aging. Each barrel loses 30% of its quantity to the “angel’s” share.

Jameson and Sprite, my new favorite cocktail.

Posing with one of the original distillery stills.

One of the best parts of the trip was when Mikey and a few others on the tour were selected to do a whiskey tasting. They were given glasses of Jameson, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniel’s for tasting, so that they could distinguish the differences in flavor based on the distillation process. Jameson is triple distilled, while Jack Daniel’s is double distilled and Johnny Walker is single. He even received a certificate for his efforts.

With that, it was time to leave Dublin for the town of Kilkenny. Stay tuned for our first castle visit and some one-on-one time with sheep and other farm animals!

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2 Comments

Filed under Travel, Vacation

2 responses to “Our Emerald Isle Vacation: Dublin, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Our Emerald Isle Vacation: Kilkenny | Everything Glitters

  2. Pingback: Top 7 Moments of 2012 | Everything Glitters

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