Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dublin: visit to a sister colony

On the streets of Dublin
On a bit of a whim, we took last Thursday and Friday off and went to Dublin. It's something we're thinking about doing more regularly, this extended long weekend away; it's enough time to see a lot without eating up all our leave. The traveling was some of our easiest to date: a quick train ride to Birmingham, a short tram to Birmingham airport and a Ryanair flight right to Dublin. It's worlds away from the travel days we used to dread back home; we got back on Sunday afternoon, still in high spirits, and watched that fantastic nail-biter of a hockey game to boot.

In the Gravity Bar
We stayed at the Brooks Hotel in Dublin. It's about twenty minutes from the airport, close to everything, with a great atmosphere. The staff were really friendly and the room had all the little extras you forget you love: turn-down service with chocolates, an antique radio playing local music as we entered (once the key was inserted in the wall switch -- I really like that idea), free newspapers, etc. And the breakfast, while extra at our rate, was well worth the price: traditional Irish breads, lots of spreads, cheese, fruit, and you could get a hot breakfast too; I went for the porridge with brown sugar and Irish whiskey a few mornings in a row. Yum! Speaking of whiskey, the bar has been recognized for its excellent selection, and included a daily recommended selection in the newsletter that was left as part of the turn-down service (just like a cruise, we both remarked).

In Dublin Castle
We spent most of the first day getting our bearings: we picked up the Dublin passes Tea had ordered for us on-line -- well worth it, incidentally, as most of the tours I'll mention here are free with it -- at the tourist information centre and then got on one of those hop-on-and-off bus tours; happily, it wasn't one of those audio ones, as both guys we had throughout the day had us in stitches. I really did feel like I was back in Newfoundland for a lot of the trip, and no more so than when a cabbie or tour guide was in the middle of a great story.

Along the Liffey
We finished that day off with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. I'd recommend that tour to anyone; it's so well done, with whole floors dedicated to the John Gilroy ads, for example. And, of course, there's the tasting room, and the free pint at the Gravity Bar up top. They say that pint has been brewed no more than five days ago, and you really can taste the difference. Even Tea loved it! The restaurant is amazing too, by the way; we both had the beef and Guinness stew, which was absolutely delicious. We decided to walk back to the hotel along the river Liffey, which runs through the city; it really is a beautiful stretch of the place.

Tasting at the Old Jameson distillery
We slept in a bit on Friday and headed to the old Jameson distillery for a tour later in the morning. I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than the Guinness one. The replicas of the equipment used when it was a working distillery, the amazing bar, and the multilingual tour guides -- one of the other tours that was in the bar with us at the end was a French group, and the guide's accent was perfect! -- combined to edge out the Guinness one, for me. Thanks to Tea, I knew to put my hand up right away when the call for tasting volunteers went out. They sit you in front of a measure of Johnnie Walker Black Label, one of J. D., and one of Jameson and ask you to pick your favourite. Believe it or not, I'd never had J. D. before that moment, and found the woody, flowery notes in it to be... really odd, to be honest; I can see why some people don't drink it straight. Anyway, you get a certificate with your name on it afterwards, and it's just a lot of fun; I was up there with men and women from Sweden, France, Norway, the U.K. and Spain; those moments remind you just how different these vacations are -- when's the last time you weren't surrounded by Americans on vacation?

The food emporium
After that, we tracked down the food emporium that Tea had read about: well, they had all sorts of tasty cuisine there, but we couldn't get the fish and chips that we'd smelled as we came in out of our heads. It was so good! And the coffee shop there is excellent too -- can't comment on whether it's the best in Dublin, though. (A claim we'd read during our research.) Then it was off to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. This was a highlight for Tea for a number of reasons, including the academic tour group that we tagged along with through the main exhibition and the breath-taking Long Room; it was truly humbling, being in the presence of those books, and all that human history.

In St. Patrick's Cathedral
Saturday morning was spent on a couple of tours: first up was St. Patrick's Cathedral, a truly awesome sight, inside and out. Jonathan Swift was a Dean there, so amongst the many exhibits is a bust of him. Then we went on a fantastic tour of Dublin Castle; our guide was very well informed and entertaining -- something you often fail to appreciate 'til you've had a mediocre or poor one. The many viceroys throughout the colony's history, including Thomas de Grey, Second Earl de Grey, brought to mind the similarities in our two countries' pasts (even though the De Greys were no relation to the Earls Grey, including our Albert Grey).

It was down to the Temple Bar area after that, which we'd walked through before, but hadn't spent any time in. There was great live music, even in the middle of the afternoon, so we enjoyed a few pints over some cribbage. Then we finished up the trip at an excellent Thai restaurant, of all places, later that evening.

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