About a month ago my best friend Elizabeth (who has lived on the West Coast while I have lived on the East Coast, since we had graduated college – prior to my move to the UK) contacted me with the news that her husband had a business trip to Dublin and was wondering if we could meet up! Her husband works for Airbnb.com; the site my husband and I heavily use to find accommodations when traveling in Europe. The website recently launched a Dublin office that he was going to visit, but when that trip got moved up on the calendar it conflicted with other work plans. However, we still decided to meet up there, just the two of us. If fact it was the first weekend girls trip I had had since her bachelorette party three and a half years ago!
RyanAir is one of the several low-cost airlines that flies out of my area; and it is based in Ireland, so they offer two flights a day from Leeds-Bradford. Those flights are at 6am and 8pm (probably geared towards single day business travel. I have heard a lot of nightmare stories about RyanAir’s restrictive baggage policy and all of their additional charges, but I found that by carefully reading the fine print I had no troubles (I’m considering writing travel tips for flying Ryan Air, but am waiting to gain more experience).
I opted for the 6am flight, arriving at 7:30am; while Elizabeth (fliying the longer distance with a transfer) had flight that got her in around 3:30pm. There are two main companies (Aircoach and Airlink) that run shuttles from the airport into Dublin for about €10 return. I had a little bit of time before I could check in to the apartment Elizabeth had rented, and I was trying to avoid visiting sites that Elizabeth might be interested. I first headed down to the main shopping area, assuming that I could find a cafe and plan my visit. After and early lunch (you get hungry when breakfast is at 4am), I headed to the western part of the city to check out The National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, which houses a lot of the craft & folk materials.
It was a little over a mile walk, but the sun was shining and before I left the retail area I purchased a tweed flat cap to protect my ears against the wind. I used the walk to orient myself to the city a little bit and check out the waterfront. What I found when I got to Collins Barracks was that it was closed on Mondays; and the weather had turned a little bit. Therefore, I took the red line Luas (tram) to the central area and then walked north up O’Connell St to the Garden of Remembrance, which honors those who died in Ireland’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. I then headed across the street to the Dublin City Gallery, which was also closed. (If your planning a trip to Dublin, you may want to consider avoiding Mondays since it seems a lot of the free, state run, museums are closed.)
Trying to see something that wasn’t going to be closed, I paid €5 to go into the James Joyce Center. I had only read excepts of Ulysses, but I expected it to have a broader take on Joyce’s influence on literature and the city of Dublin. I was disappointed. The center is in a three story townhouse, with most of the exhibit on the top floor. It is set up the way rooms from the turn of the 20th century would be, and does have a very nice electronic guide to Ulysses that covers the plot, themes, and writing styles. Aside from that there isn’t much to the center that doesn’t focus on very obscure aspects of Joyce, or aren’t just video interviews of people who knew Joyce that are playing on loop. Was the center a complete disappointment, kinda. I certainly wish I had lied when the attendant assumed I was a student and was going to charge me a euro less.
After the center I checked into the apartment, which was located in Dublin’s docklands. The Dockland’s has seen a lot of recent development with very modern and sleek high rises and is the center of a lot of Dublin’s new tech industries. There were at least three Google high rises around our apartment.
Within an hour Elizabeth had arrived, and after a shower we headed towards Trinity University. We were one commuter rail stop away from the station that would take you to the Southeast area of Dublin, so we decided to walk. It seemed like a long walk, but over the next two days we found a more direct route, and it started to feel shorter. We had a great dinner in a small restaurant cross from Trinity University at the Pig’s Ear (in fact all the dinners we in Dublin were quite good).
Over our dinner we planned our next two days. Elizabeth flew Aer Lingus into Dublin and they mentioned an online code for the the Dublin pass, which we decided to purchase. We also decided that Tuesday would be our main site seeing day since that day was projected to have poorer weather and figured we could manage our going in and out of buildings; and that way the day with the nice weather would be the one to go a little bit outside of the city.
We had some trouble buying our Dublin passes online, so Tuesday morning we were up early to be at the office to buy the passes in person. Our discount was only for online purchases, but the woman at the office was nice enough to give us the discount anyways. (Our calculations were that if you definitely wanted to visit the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery, visiting two other locations have the pass break even – so with a discount code it was an even bigger deal. My experience with travel passes is that if it includes the places you want to visit, you also end up visiting other sites that you might not have paid to get into otherwise. And on this trip it definitely motivated us to do more, and helped me not feel as guilty about when things didn’t quite live up to how I imagined them.)
The travel office was across the street from Trinity University so we made a stop over to see the Book of Kells. Graduate students were returning to school this week so there was an activity fair going on in the courtyard in the rain (I’m assuming it was the PhD students that knew to bring tents for their tables). We were there slightly before it opened, so we had to queue in the rain that was becoming steady, it was the only point on the trip that I wish I had brought a truly waterproof jacket, instead of opting for the one that was warmer and geared towards the fall weather. The situation wasn’t helped when the person in front of us in line was concerned about the stability of their umbrella and tilted it, dumping its water on us.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript containing the four gospels and was written around the 9th century. There is a €9 entrance fee, and isn’t covered by the Dublin pass; that might sound steep just to look at a book, but the exhibit has several other gospels (illuminated and pockets versions) and does a nice job of explaining their significance as well as the techniques used to make them.
Following the Book of Kells we walked to Christchurch Cathedral, which is the older cathedral in the city and built inside the original city walls. While it is an older church it has been renovated several times, so it didn’t feel as old as I was expecting it to. In a building attached to the cathedral is the Dublinia Museum, which highlights Dublin’s viking & medieval history. The museum is geared towards upper elementary and middle school (and there are plenty of opportunities to dress up), but the information is clearly presented and easy to follow. The museum also does a good job of providing a well rounded picture of the vikings beyond the typical image as blood thirsty raiders.
At this point it was almost 11am, which we figured was at least a respectable time to start drinking; we made the walk over to the Jameson Distillery and booked the next available tour. Jameson has moved all of its distilling down to County Cork, so the Old Distillery operates as a museum. The tour opens with a 15 minute mini-movie, set at the Jameson Distillery around 1800. It is sort of hoakey, but they are trying to work in a lot of history of the distillery and city into a short time. The tour then goes through the steps of the distilling process on ‘sets’ from the old distillery. The tour is very informative, and the tour finishes off with a complementary Jameson drink (straight with ice or water available or mixed with ginger ale). What I appreciated about the Jameson distillery was that they know they are a tourist destination for people in Dublin, and they wanted to make the experience enjoyable for all of it’s visitors and they didn’t act like the only way to drink whiskey is the ‘pure’ way (they after all trying to sell a product). There were tasting tickets that you could buy that would let you try from a range of whiskeys of different ages, if you prefer. Jameson does offer a mini sampling at the end of the tour to compare Irish Whiskey (Jameson), Scotch (Johnny Walker), and American whiskey (Jack Daniels). It is only offered to 8 people on the tour (4 men and 4 women) and I was fortunate to be picked. I was hoping that we would be asked to see if we could distinguish among the three, but they told us up front which one each and just described some of the differences as we tasted (I’m assuming they don’t want to put themselves in the position of someone not liking their product – and I don’t blame them). But more importantly, I’m now a certified whiskey taster! I’ve got the paperwork to prove it!
Following our tasting it was time for lunch and we headed towards one of Dublin’s most famous chippy’s Leo Burdock. It is a true takeaway so there wasn’t even a bar to eat at, and since it was still fairly misty we weren’t sure of our prospects; so we walked towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The gardens around St. Patrick’s are beautiful, so we ended up eating there. The mist wasn’t too bad, but all the benches were soaked; but Elizabeth had a waterproof jacket, in addition to her fleece, so by putting that down on the bench we were fine. (As an aside, I might actually have a career as a travel writer – besides my tip on how not to get your bum wet – when we consulted the travel book later in the evening they also recommended picnicking at St. Patrick’s gardens).
After lunch we headed inside the Cathedral. It is a beautiful building,but like Christchurch it still feels fairly modern. Around the sides of the cathedral are several plaques to famous Irish men and women. Most significantly is that Jonathon Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal) is buried at the cathedral, and the cathedral has a little exhibition to him. What I didn’t know about Swift, despite having read some of his work at school was that he was a Catholic priest, hence why he is buried at St. Patrick’s.
After St. Patrick’s we walked to the Guinness Storehouse, were I was almost as disappointed than the James Joyce Center, but a little bit more entertained. Guinness was self guided, and they had a lot of technological displays simulating the brewing process, but it failed to teach me anything about the brewing process. (Now, my husband home brews and I have visited several breweries, so I probably know more than the average visitor; but Elizabeth also commented on the same thing, that she knew beer was made with water, hops, barely, and yeast; but didn’t really learn much else. Also, all of the surrounding buildings were brewing actual Guinness, but you don’t get to see any of that.) I liken my experience at the Guinness Storehouse to visiting the World of Coca-Cola (either Atlanta or Disney World), except with only a single product. A benefit to the visit is that you do get a complimentary pint of Guinness, that can be enjoyed at their gravity bar, which has a gorgeous view of the city, it you can get a seat (it was quite busy with other American tourists). Fortunately, I’m a pretty good seat finder and we were a part of two, so we were able to take a load off after a day of heavy walking.
Though the walking wasn’t quite behind us, since we decided to visit Kilmainhaim Goal (jail), on the western edge of the city. It is probably a 15 minute walk from the nearest tram, and from the Guinness Storehouse about 20 minutes; but I’m glad that we did! Visiting the jail is by guided tour only, and we got there just in time. Kilmainhaim Gaol was built with the Victorian penal principals of silence and separation (and hopefully pennance) of inmates, which was a much kinder way to treat prisoners from previous decades. Around 1900 the jail stopped being used for general population and started to be hold exclusively Irish men (and a few women) involved in Ireland’s struggle for independence against Great Britain. Our guide did a very good job of telling the history of Ireland’s independence, along with the history of the jail, which made for a very good way to end our busy day of sightseeing. After heading back to our apartment for a rest and shower, he headed back towards the Trinity University area for a quiet dinner at a small bistro.
The next morning the sun was back, and we planned a little bit more of a low key day. We took the train about 45 minutes north of Dublin to visit Malahide Castle (which was included as part our Dublin pass), it holds the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously occupied castles in Ireland, where the Talbot family lived until the 1970s. The castle is located about an 8 minute walk from the train station, and care for the castle and its grounds are done by the local council, so some of the grounds and the information center, also operate as a community center. The castle is small, and we had a very helpful guide give us a private tour of the castle (because we got there when it opened and we were the only ones there). It was nice, but not particularly impressive, what was more of a highlight was the walled garden, since the second to last owner was in the foreign service and an avid gardener who introduced plants from his travels. Would I recommended it? Probably not unless you are in the area, I think if you are looking to get out of the city Howth would be a nice place to visit (based on a recommendation from someone we met in Dublin). It is a peninsula accessible by train a little bit closer to the city, that has a pretty fishing village.
Being out of the city on the commuter rail meant that outside of rush hour you have to wait a little bit longer for a train, so it is worth checking train times. Back in the city, we swung by the newly opened Airbnb.com Dublin office for lunch. They were an incredible friendly bunch, who didn’t seem to be weirded out at a co-worker’s wife and her childhood friend showing up for lunch. Over lunch they asked how long we were staying (and thought two days was too short); but when asked what we had done so far, where impressed with our list. [So if you are motivated (and crunched for time), two days is enough (particularly if you don’t go out of the city – but I think that part is nice). But three days might be a little bit more reasonable, we didn’t check out the National Museum of Ireland or any of the art galleries.]
Following lunch, we headed back to the apartment where Elizabeth went for a jog, and I rested my foot (which had developed an awkward bilster on my toe pad after all our walking – yes Mom! I was wearing reasonable shoes). By late afternoon we off to check out Dublin’s night life seen. First heading to the pubs along Grafton St, one of the advantages of being on holiday is that we could get the pubs a little bit before the end of the work day, which certainly made it easier to get a table. For dinner we eat at a small bistro in the Temple Bar neighborhood, the area of the city along the water on the southside of the River Liffey, and a favorite haunt of stag dos. We ate dinner a little bit on the later side so afterwards we headed back to the apartment, as we both had early morning flights, and weren’t too excited about the 5am cab pick up time.
As an overall review of Dublin; I feel I enjoyed my visit and am glad we picked there to meet up at. We saw a lot of the sites, but there is still more for another trip. At first it didn’t quite present itself as to what I was expecting. I was expecting an older and more Gothic city, with newer parts (like Edinburgh) instead of a much newer city, particularly with a lot of the tech industry it has recruited. That’s not a disadvantage of the city, just shows how my assumptions are incorrect. I wasn’t as impressed with the city’s public transportation system, so I do recommend that you stay in a central location. The tram system does go east – west along the river, and there is another tram system that goes sort of southward; and the DART (commuter goes north – south of the city along the coast); but besides that you rely on the city bus system, which is probably pretty good, but I find that I have a hard time figuring out bus systems, so I never really figure them out unless I’m in an area for an extended period of time. We ended up doing a lot of walking, which wasn’t a problem for us, but I think it was probably more than the typical traveler would like. We only took one to and from the airport, but the Dubliners that was eat lunch with did say that taxis in Dublin are easily available (which we did notice on the street), and that they were considerably cheaper than in other European cities. We found dining in Dublin is pretty affordable, especially mid week. A lot of the small restaurants we went to offered 2 and 3 course set meals from their menu at a reasonable price before 8pm during the week to get people in the door (the set menu selection ends earlier on weekends).
All in all it was great two and a half. But too be honest, I think I could have gone nowhere for two and a half days and been just as happy if it was going to be with Elizabeth. As we were heading to the airport we both joked that with the number of low cost airlines in Europe, and her husband’s travel schedule, we might be able to see each other more than when we lived on opposite coasts.