Tag Archives: dublin

Day 4: Onward and upward to Belfast

I can almost still hear my in laws imploring me in English and Russian (which I don't speak), to NOT DRIVE IN DUBLIN.  We had no plans to, but since we were driving north to Belfast first and rentals are cheaper in the republic, we ended up renting a car through Dan Dooley in Dublin city center.  FYI, you will get screwed with insurance no matter how you slice it: our Mastercard would cover it, with a 2000 euro deposit, or you can get basic insurance from DD that you pay the first 1000 euro for.  You can do even more insurance that you only pay the first 120 euro for any damage, but that will run another 12 euro or so per day, so it really depends on how much damage you plan to make. ;)  I don't drive at all (I did just get my learner's permit, so lookout!), so poor H was going to have to figure out how to drive on the left side with a manual transmission.  It was still not a bad deal, at 215 euro for 10 days, still miles cheaper than the shitbox we rented in Uruguay last year for a few days.

Before setting off to get our Irish shitbox car, we tried to get out into the city to see at least one more Dublin sight.  We chose Dublin Castle, which is not terribly impressive in it of itself (at least from the outside, we didn't have time to do a tour inside), but the the Chester Beatty Library is pretty cool, if you are the sort of person who gets excited by seeing an original manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy (which I am).  While seeing the exhibit on Leonardo's notebooks on water and its properties was fairly cool, I only care so much about the flow of streams and the optimum design for a waterwheel.  Even cooler was a lot of the manuscripts by lesser known people on science and technology.  I took an awesome class Italian Renaissance history and literature my last semester in school and did a small presentation on Marsilio Ficino, who, in addition to writing insane-sounding medical tracts about drinking the breast milk of a young (but willing, at least) woman to stay young, apparently was the first to use the semi-colon, as I learned at the library. Some pix of Dublin Castle:

Our desire to look at ye olde books sated, we went to pick up the rental car.  Other than a wrong-turn going through North Dublin, it was fairly smooth sailing getting out of the city, but we had enough taste of the traffic to be glad we were leaving.  I was really excited to listen to Irish radio, which I had heard was excellent, and we caught a very long call-in program about an Irish woman who wrote a tell-all memoir about her abusive father and childhood that was apparently a "pack of lies" according to her siblings. The scandal is over a documentary made about the family and her book and how she failed to show up for a lie detector test four times.  It was really interesting but a little tedious, especially as she wasn't on the program to tell her side to the lie detector saga.  We also heard a great show of all complaints, mostly about things like drunken rowdy teenagers on the Galway-Dublin train and drunken rowdy teenagers at a concert at Malahide Castle.  Gripping stuff.

The drive was fairly easy once we were out of the city, other than some close brushes with the left-side rearview mirror.  I guess when you are used to being on the left side of the car, you misjudge how much room you have on the left side when you switch sides.  Thus, we clipped the poor mirror several times accidentally.  This a theme you will hear often.  We were also pretty surprised at how little fanfare there was when we crossed the border into Northern Ireland.  Other than suddenly much improved roads and lack of Gaelic signs, you'd have no idea.  I realize they took down the checkpoints that used to be on the border, but it's kind of disappointing to cross a border and get no passport stamp.

Got to Belfast after a few hours, but realized I had no idea where our hotel (The Merchant Hotel) was, though I had printed out the confirmation and even brought them their Hot List certificate, nothing had the address.  So after a long time of driving around lost, we found the tourist office where I loaded up on maps and even a fancy brochure on the hotel.  The Merchant is very central, in the Cathedral District, which is vaguely like Soho, if you squint.  It's a few blocks of cobblestoned streets and, of course, cathedrals, with a smattering of restaurants and bars.  We checked into the hotel, which is very homey and welcoming, and I asked about Black Taxi tours, as there seem to be a million to choose from.  The receptionist suggested, *without irony*, that we take the Bentley.  H and I found it hysterical for days the idea of touring the previously troubled areas of West Belfast in a fucking Bentley.  Our room was lovely, a Loft Suite with an awesome bathroom and nice sitting room:

A few issues with the room: while it was quite romantic, we could have used some more lights.  It was impossible to see anything even in the day with the grey Belfast weather and lack of lamps in the room.  If they are trying to gear the room towards a couple, why no minibar?  I liked the fact that if your rate included breakfast, you could get it in your room for the same price as in the restaurant, but sometimes you don't feel like trompsing down to the hotel bar for a nightcap.  Unlike the Shelbourne, however, there was a lot of places to put your stuff, closets and drawers galore.

Will continue later, gotta go home…

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Days 2-4: More Dublin and Dun Laoghaire

A random assortment of Dublin photos I like, probably all taken by H:

On one of our walks around the city, I was delighted to see an awesome pair of underpants in a dry cleaner's window.  It was a sheer black thong with a red Christmas stocking on the front.  Amazing that a) someone bought these, as a gift or for themselves, b) took them to the dry cleaners, and c) the dry cleaners had the brilliant idea to hang them in the window, to attract new business or perhaps shame the thong's owner into picking them up.  I deeply regretted not photographing them, but they were still there when we came back at the end of our trip!

After our drink at Davy Byrnes, we were determined to not have Chinese food on our second night in Dublin.  We ended up at Gruel on Dame Street in Temple Bar, on the recommendation of a friend.  Very good food, simple, and not terribly expensive.  It was this night that I also noticed the curious phenomenon of long queues for ATMs in Dublin.  Not sure if it is a sign of the unstoppable Celtic Tiger or just a lack of ATMs per person, but everywhere we went in the city, there was a long line:

Temple Bar seemed much more touristy on Saturday night, a bit like Greenwich Village in New York.  We opted for a quiet and disgustingly priced drink at the famous Horseshoe Bar in our hotel.  Amazing that they've kept true to the original design, which leaves little space for the hoards of people who want to drink there.  In America, they would have built a huge extension and ripped out the original bar in the interest of packing in more customers, but the Horseshoe is just the same as ever.  In the interest of saving some euro that we had been hemorrhaging left and right, we bought some whiskey at an off-license and had a nightcap in our room.

Sunday turned out to be a rather nice day, so we took the advice of several friends and took the DART out the lovely seaside suburb of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leery).   We wandered around town and had a pint at a nice pub serving a typical enormous Sunday carvery.  All we wanted was a damn toastie sandwich, but all of the local pubs seemed to only offer huge buffets of Thanksgiving proportions.  The pier is lovely, though.


After enjoying some Marks & Spencer sandwiches (they really would make a killing if they ever opened in New York) on the pier, we decided to get back to Dublin, determined to try to see some museums before we left for Belfast the next day. We went to the National Gallery, which is small but has a nice collection, including a fabulous Caravaggio, which is totally worth the admission.  Uh, the free admission.  There was also a street performer's world championship going on in Merrion Square, but we didn't see much performing.   Not a mime in sight! They did have this cool installation in the park:

We then walked though St. Stephen's Green at last to try to make it to St. Patrick's Cathedral before closing:

This looks a bit dirty to me, somehow:

Not a great photo, but check out the chav family drinking cans of beer outside the cathedral.  Awesome!

Spent our last evening in a nice beer garden near the hotel:



Off to Belfast next!

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Days 1-2: Dublin

When a friend told me that when you arrive in London for a flight to Ireland, you have about a mile trek through the airport, I thought he was exaggerating.  Not so, it turns out.  After an uneventful but delayed flight from JFK (*no one* appreciates business class more than me, it really will be hard to go back to flying coach overseas), we had to haul ass to make our connecting Air Lingus flight.  The real nightmare was going through security, as you can only have one bag carry-on, so I had to shove my purse into my already bulging suitcase, get frisked by security guards after stupidly walking through with my cell phone in my pocket, and get stuck behind several large groups of people apparently unaware of the liquid ban and still trying to take enormous but half-full bottles of shampoo.  But at least we didn't have to take our shoes off (that's how you can spot the Americans, they have us trained like Pavlov's dogs to remove our shoes in airports).  I was nearly held back by Immigration, as I had no proof of my return tickets to New York, even though I was not staying in England more than a few minutes to catch my flight, British Immigration told me they could not let me through if I couldn't prove that I was leaving the country.  They were not particularly moved by my logic that if they let me through, I would be leaving the country and no longer their problem, but they eventually let me through.  We had to run to make our flight, which was only vaguely staring to board even though it was scheduled to depart in minutes.  The Irish don't really *do* urgency.  The Air Lingus terminal is amazingly dated, it looks like something from the not-so-distant future of the 1970s.

We arrived mid-morning on Friday, June 15th in Dublin, whose airport makes La Guardia look modern and luxurious.  It was of course, raining.  After a fair bit of confusion and standing around, we got on a city bus into the centre.  We must have been the only people flying upper class and staying in a 5-star hotel taking a local bus into town in order to save a few quid, and when we arrived at O'Connell Street, the driver advised me that it "wouldn't be worth the 85p to take another bus to St. Stephen's Green, it's just down the road."  In retrospect, I would have bitten the bullet and coughed up the money, as it was pouring rain and while the walk wasn't far, we managed to a bit lost but luckily had our trusty WindPro umbrella.  It was actually the first and almost last time we used it on the trip, as wearing raincoats with hoods is more practical and easy, but I carried it around on my back like a sword most of the time.

Finally arrived at the Shelbourne, looking pretty wretched compared to most of the smart dressed people milling around the lobby.  We were upgraded to a Heritage suite, which gave us access to the Heritage Lounge, which we took much advantage of during our stay.  Not sure of what the usual price difference would be for a Heritage room, but the lounge makes it totally worth it: you get free WiFi, free food and non-alcoholic beverages, and a lovely view of St. Stephens Green.  All of the front desk staff was friendly and Irish, yet most of the rest of the time the staff was foreign, making me wonder if they just trot out the Irish for newly arriving guests and then throw them back into the basement or something.  The hotel is absolutely gorgeous, it has been wonderfully restored and I couldn't find a single flaw.  Our room was pretty sweet, mostly for the bathroom, which I could have moved into:

We spent the afternoon wandering around Grafton Street and Temple Bar, which was busy despite the intermittent rain.  I must say, we were surprised at how generic Dublin is.  Maybe generic isn't the right word, it's a gorgeous city, but could really be any big city in Europe.  It's probably the least Irish city we visited and I didn't really get into the city until we returned at the end of our trip, sort of like our trip to Santiago, Chile earlier this year.  Santiago is a great city, but most people see it as a gateway to the Andes and Patagonia more than a destination.  We were there for two weekends at the beginning and end of our trip, and we really loved it on the return.  If it weren't for the smog, it would be a fantastic place to live.  But I digress, back to Ireland.

As usual, we stopped at the hotel restaurant to look at the menu and laugh about what schmucks would pay the prices to eat there.  Yet, upon further investigation, they weren't really ripping anyone off too much, Dublin restaurant prices are exorbitant.  Cheapish/pub food is a minimum of 14 euro a dish, which may not seem that outrageous, but I wonder how the hell backpackers go to Ireland.  Taking a page from the belated and beloved Pete McCarthy, who measures a country's economy by the price of their Singapore noodles (a dish I don't think I've ever noticed before but now constantly seek out), we checked out Chinese restaurants for our first meal in Ireland.  We ended up having noodles at Charlie's, one of a chain of noodle houses, and a few pints near our hotel before collapsing at a respectable 11pm.

We woke up late the next day, which was Bloomsday.  I expected it to be like St. Patrick's Day, except with more funny hats and less green.   Yet no one in our hotel seemed to have a clue about it or what was happening, so we headed up to the James Joyce Centre to check out the events.  We had missed the big breakfast and most of the lectures, so we decided to head to the zoo and Phoenix Park and hope for some impromptu pub readings later.  I'm a big zoo person, and drag poor H. to every city's zoo while on vacation.  The Dublin Zoo was quite nice, but many of the animals seemed a little depressed about the rain and do much outside except complain about the weather, no doubt.


It was interesting to see that lots of the animals still have the anglicized names like Sally and Danny, rather than the new school PC names you see in a lot of US zoos.  The chimps may originally be from Africa, but most of them have been raised and even born in Ireland, so why not have Irish names?  No Paddys or Sineads, though. Pity.

It was too late to go to the Guinness factory after the zoo, but we did wander around the area, which feels like being outside the gates to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory:

Took the light rail back to the city centre and found Davy Byrne's pub, where Stephen Bloom stops for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy in Ulysses.

It's changed quite a bit since Joyce's time, but there were still plenty of people wearing funny clothes and drunkenly singing Irish songs:

Many more Dublin photos here, going to post this before this gets much longer.

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