sunnuntai 1. syyskuuta 2013

Four Days in Dublin

It's an annual habit now for me if two makes a tendency. A few days in some interesting city. This second annual city visit was headed to Dublin. I have made a joke about interest towards Ireland. If it has plenty of beer, whisk(e)y, golf, good food, pleasant and storyful people plus redheads and fne music it's good for me. Well, it was no golf this time but next time it might be different...

So, a Sunday evening in August saw me taking a jet towards the green island. With a Nordic cultural figure in its tail (which reveals you the jetliner company that performed its job just fine). What was waiting for me then?

Day One - Bus Strike! (won't stop me)

I had picked a reasonably priced hotel some three kilometres from airport and seven from city centre. Dublin Metro Airport Hotel (by the way, no metro trains in vicinity). It was supposed to be easy bus ride away from the buzz. First surprise was that there was actually a bank holiday and annoyingly a general bus strike. So for the first morning it was a taxi ride, a budget slip but a pleasant discussion with the driver.

O'Connell Street is in the heart of tourists' Dublin. I headed to get my Dublin Pass to get entrance to plenty of destinations. A small detour to St. Stephen's Green park close Trinity College since the tourist info located in an old church (!) was closed. Public holiday for nothing special really, in the words of taxi driver Geoffrey.

OK, I got the card a little later but surely had many ideas of what to do. Still my idea was to spend time in interesting locations and not to overplan the whole thing. First place to visit was Cristchurch Cathedral close to the famous Temple Bar district. And by coincidence with four extra euros I took part to a bell ringing tour to the church tower. Greyish and old bell ringing master lead a group of random tourists up the narrow stairway. He told us about the specialties of bell ringing around the globe and especially in the British Commonwealth. It's traditional rope pulling in orderly fashion and involves great deal of mathematics. Bells are to be rung in permutations and a full peal is over 5000 single pulls of a bell with multiple hour effort. Not as easy as one might think!

Well, it was enough of bells and prayers for the day. I pointed my nose to the obvious, Guinness Storehouse. It is a seven floor high old storehouse building of St. James Street brewery. A must for common tourist but nothing too special for a beer efficinado. I had previously done Heineken Experience in Amsterdam and this Guinness one was pretty much similar. Basics of beer making and components, company history, advertisements etc. A part of exhibition about the lost art of coopering was quite interesting. Take a note to the embedded monitors in the barrels:

I did like the advertisement history section too. Guinness stew and chocolate cake in the restaurant were just fine for hungry young man, slushed down by Guinness Dark Lager. I had to try that non-stout stuff for American markets. Best thing in this place was still Gravity Bar with almost 360 view around the Dublin area and complimentary pint. As a bargain I got also a souvenir shirt for me.

First day continued then from cathedral to brewery to a notorious jail, Kilmainham Gaol. And I was constantly walking and absorbing all new things to me. This jail had been closed a long time and now portrayed Victorian era prison with different kinds of design features. Many Irish rebellions and uprisings lead to Kilmainham Gaol for their leaders. Numerous people were even executed until certain 1916 aftermath started to finally turn the public opinion and decision makers' heads.

At the and of the day I did some more walking around. One of the obvious, fish and chips with Guinness in one Temple Bar area pub, I did too. Then another taxi ride back to hotel and some hints from the driver. The sea shore was apparently the place to visit.

Day Two - Walk Fast, Breakfast But No Belfast

My experience lead to me to walk the seven k's from hotel to city centre. Yes, the busses were still off the road. I was going for a real Irish breakfast in traditional pub. No more weak excuse of a hotel version for me! Along the way I could see regular dubliners rushing to work, opening shops, jogging - the everyday stuff. Luckily the slight threat of rain went away as I entered Slattery's in Capel Street, one of the few remaining pubs that can sell pints from first thing in the morning. Mister Bourdain visited this place in his Layover, that's how I ended up clogging my veins with nutritious beans, egg and sausages under all the Michael Collins memorabilia.

A few blocks from Slattery's was Old Jameson Distillery which I had to visit. It was more intimate than huge Guinness museum - and here too the tour guide was excellent storyteller. Interesting fact, Jameson uses mostly American bourbon casks but also sherry casks from Spain and port casks from Portugal. Copper distillation pans were charming and complimentary tasting involved. Well, Jameson is good but not quite into my whisk(e)y taste.

In the hotel I had seen strange local sports from TV. Commented in Irish Gaelic. So I wanted to know more about these Gaelic Games that were so much followed in media. A good walk through the northern areas of Dublin centre to Croke Park, Irish national stadium. Along the way I could see some really Republic pubs, a reminder of wounds behind Irish separation and nasty times.

Croke park tour was thorough. I got to see locker rooms, teams' celebratory dinner facilities, player tunnel, playing field, grandstands, media stands and enterprise cabinets. There were also many stories about the history, sports, even bloody conflicts and construction in Croke Park which was able to contain fourth most spectators of any European stadium. Stadium offered also Gaelic Athletic Association museum and hall of fame. It is very striking that there are no professional players in hurling or Gaelic football or their female version counterparts. Still these sports are most popular in Ireland over association football and rugby. And even Helsinki has a local team!

At this point the sturdy Irish breakfast was all used and hunger set in heavily. Near Connolly Station I noticed interesting pub called Brew Deck. As I learned it was owned by Galway Bay Brewery offering their and other small breweries' malty nectars with some food. I went with an Irish burger and Galway Bay Fullsail Ale. And as dessert I took a half pint of Galway Bay Milk Chocolate Stout. Hey, I had found my favorite Irish brewery! A small chat about beer scene in Ireland and in Finland with the bartender and then to walking ways again.

On the evening I visited National Wax Museum PLUS since I had it covered with my Dublin Pass. No other places in the vicinity were open so I choose wax. But it wasn't special in my mind, I wouldn't do it again. Basic Irish writers, leaders, sportsmen, musicians and such. Kick'em tubbies!

Some coffee and apple pie and I forced my tired legs uphill same seven kilometres. I had to gather more strength for next day.

Day Three - It's Lobster Season

This was the day I was going for the shoreline and seafood. The busses were back in service! I was still craving for proper full Irish and had a place in mind - O'Neill's right next to tourist information. And boy was their version plentiful with seven euros in really authentic surroundings. I couldn't help but to smile, a definite thumbs up from me.

Before heading to Howth I visited St. Patrick's Cathedral not far away. It was impressive and as a christian I did also take a while to say a little prayer and humbly thank. So maybe it was meant to be that I coincidentally met a woman who asked me to help. Or I was after all fooled. She did not want money straight but help to buy some basic food for her kids. I was hesitant which I also told but eventually did give her a helping hand. I hope that it went right but I was still questioning my actions and doubts. Well, the poor will always be around but we should not become cold-hearted.

Anyway, it was time to head for Irish sea shoreline. I took local DART train to Howth, a fisherman village quite famous for its seafood. I had plenty of expectations for this and realising the very hilly geography of Howth peninsula even raised them. Stepping out of the train immediately started to fulfill my expectations. Gentle breeze from the sea, the best possible weather, really fresh seafood smell and picturesque village. Well, small minus for flocking tourists but that could be dealt by just walking further. You see, regular people seem to avoid proper walking.

I absorbed sea air on the piers of Howth and relaxed before going for the catch of the day. King Sitric and its casual West Street Bar was something I had looked upon. According to the waiter it was lobster season so I had to taste it. But for starters a couple of rock oysters raw and Galway Bay Hooker Irish Pale Ale to accompany. And then for main course oyster salad and Irish dark country bread. Really fresh and worth the expectations.

The hills were pretty steep in Howth. With full stomach I started to climb towards Howth summit. Because I'm me I did not take a bus. At the top it was really nice to have acup of coffee and ice cream in the unbelievably beautiful scenery. I did not expect to find high rocky cliffs right next to Dublin! There was also a light house to guide all the ships safely from Irish Sea to the port. And by the way, there were golf courses and all kinds of greenery around. As I did not have map I missed much of the cliff walk but still got to see many fine landscapes.

For me of all the superb things this was just perfect. There is something in my blood that longs after sea shore, seafood and all kinds of greenery. Needless to mention, I did walk my legs into aching again but it was worth all this. Hotel was just for the shower and rest.

Day Four - Botanic Takeoff

Last morning is always a little sad. It was going to be over today. Packing luggage, basic breakfast and I still had few hours in Dublin. I took one of them double deckers and headed for Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, district some three kilometres north of Dublin city centre. I do enjoy a nice quiet walk in gardens and in Dublin it was free, also the greenhouses with tropical or subtropical plantation. A nice destination with practically no cost.

Outdoor activities will make you hungry. For me it was The Church, a restaurant and pub in an old church. Quite obvious name. They seem to re-use their churches here - maybe we have to do same in Finland sooner than later. I had some fish cakes together with O'Hara's Red Ale. And then there was just a little time to take the DART train to Dun Laoghaire south of Dublin. Another seaside destination and one last chance for me to enjoy some sea breeze in the sun. If there was more time I could have done local sea museum.

Finally I had to go back to hotel and pick my luggage. In the airport shuttle I was the only one and had a nice chat with the driver. My feeling is that if you respect the locals they will generally do the same. At the airport you have to kill some time always. Some more food, an Irish coffee and a bottle of Connemara. Then back to the skies and towards home it was.

Definitely Ireland is part of my future plans too!

My tips: Howth for the views and seafood, Botanic Gardens, Old Jameson Distillery, Croke Park tour, Kilmainham Gaol, O'Neill's Irish breakfast, Dublin Pass and Leap Card for transportation.

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