Tag Archives: pubs

Day 7: Ardara, Donegal

We spent much more time than we planned or wanted to driving in Ireland.  It doesn't help that I don't drive at all and thus can't help out, but if we had to do it again, H would take the bus.  It took a few hours to get to Ardara, where we were going to stay the night at the fabulous Green Gate.  I had found the Green Gate online and was shocked to find a B&B that allowed, even encouraged, smoking.  Then I learned it was owned by a Frenchman (natch) and it's not for everyone: there are no showers, you have to stoop in most doorways, and the bathwater is brown.  But it is in a magical setting, and Paul could not be more charming.  I had read that he refused to rent to Americans, but when I called to reserve the room, he was thrilled that I was from New York.  He's also going to be profiled soon in the travel mag where I used to work, so I got more feedback on the place from the editor who is writing about Ireland and Paul's place.  Here is the town, which is lovely and bucolic:


After some difficulty, we made it to the Green Gate, which is about a kilometer from town.  Paul's signage along the road is not horrible, but here is the sign when you get to the gate, totally obscured by plants:

Paul is as charming as could be, offering us coffee and biscuits, as well as special Green Gate lighters and cigarette pack covers, to hide the large European warnings.  Excellent.  I told him how I'd been referred to him by a colleague who was writing a story about Ireland.  Paul seemed very concerned that the magazine wouldn't include his new website, as if a major national magazine would fail to fact check such an item.  He also joked that so many Americans come to Ireland and nearly knock the left-hand rear view mirror off their car, he should start selling them and make a fortune (there but for the grace of God goes our mirror).  Finally, he gave us some restaurant recommendations in town and told us we could have breakfast whenever we felt like it the next morning.    All the while that we sat outside chatting, bunnies hopped around us and birds alighted on Paul's shoulder, like a Disney cartoon!

Here are some pictures of the property, but no photos could do it justice. :

We headed into town on foot, not wanting to deal with driving back on tiny roads in the dark.  I began collecting bottles and trash along the way, muttering how no one respects the country code anymore.  Lookit how pretty:

One of many hilarious roadsigns.  80 kilometers?! You'd be lucky if you hit 40! The other side says 50, which also makes no sense, but often you will see an 80km and a 50km one on top of the other.  Confusing.


We had dinner at Nancy's on the main road, full of interesting objects and great food:

After dinner, we checked out the pubs, of which there are many (every Irish town, no matter how small, has at least two pubs).  Of all the places in the world, we walked into the one pub where the bartender was from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which is a few miles from where we live.  We were the only people in the place, so we talked about  Brooklyn and Ireland.  She offered this advice for driving on the left side: keep your right shoulder to the middle of the road and don't worry about how much space you have on your other side.   Sound advice.  We went back to the Green Gate (still on foot, apparently a first, most take a cab home as the walk home seems a lot steeper after a few pints) and entertained the idea of drinking wine outside but the midges prevented that.  Settled instead for guidebook reading and wine drinking on our tiny bed.  But no sleepwalking, thank God, as I would have ended up in the middle of nature!

Rather posted out for tonight now.

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Day 6: Death-defying Antrim Coast

So…I left off at the Carrick a Rede rope bridge and my imminent death.  Actually approaching the bridge and seeing how high it was above the water, I started to get quite a bit nervous, but I was determined to do it.  The guide/ticket collector told me it took her several days of trying before she could cross it and not it ain't no thing.  My strategy involved: no other people on the bridge to make it bounce, looking straight ahead and not down or to my sides, and a low center of gravity.  To wit:

I literally shook like a leaf when I got to the other side, and it took awhile to get the feeling back in my legs, I was so freaked out.  It is gorgeous on the other side, but I would just assumed see it from the other side and not cross the bridge again.

Getting ready to go back was almost worse, knowing how it really was.  H insisted on going first so he could photograph my face for later mocking.  Bastard.

But I did it!  A small step for most people, but a giant leap for me.  Speaking of giants, we pressed on to the Giant's Causeway, another supercool feature of the Antrim Coast.  Photos speak more than my description:

It was after 5pm and we had no hotel room, so we decided to head to Portrush for the night, a resort town on the coast rather than drive further to Derry.  Portrush is pretty but nothing too exciting, but we did see this cool abandoned castle on the way.  The story is that the kitchen fell into the ocean in the middle of dinner.  It's also on a Led Zeppelin cover!


Arrived in Portrush, where after 4 or 5 tries, we found a room for 50 pounds with a sea view at the Ramona Lodge.  Portrush is a cute harbor town with a lot of nauticalness:


We ended up making more sandwiches in our room and avoiding have dinner out, but we did go to a great pub that was tiny and most untouristy:


We spent the evening drinking pints and watching a fascinating program about home makeovers, one of those when someone British comes over and yells at your housekeeping, but you get it together and make dinner for your girlfriend and you get a crown and a ceremony!  Fun!  Then some local boys came in and complained about the TV, so we watched American COPS again and they asked us if it was really like that in the states.  Not having been busted for running a meth lab, I can't say, but it was another surreal moment.  We made friends with one guy, Dave, who goes by Booger and is horrified that his sister has just become a cop in Northern Ireland.  Here's me and Booger:


His shirt "Zoo York" is a Yankees tee, not some racist comment as I feared.  We were invited out with Booger's peeps to a nightclub, but decided to make it an early night, perhaps to our detriment.  Good times, though!

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Yet more Day 5: Belfast

I will finish this part of the recap if it kills me.  Lessee, I was last in West Belfast, yes?  After our self-styled tour, we took a bus down to the university area.  We went to Lisburn Road, the supposed Fifth Avenue of Belfast.  It's cute, rather like Park Slope, but underwhelming.  Maybe we didn't walk far enough.

We did find a really lovely park with amazingly clean public restrooms:

The University area is quite nice, with tons of pubs and beautiful archicture, as well as a botanical garden:


We ended up at a massive pub with a beer garden and a bathroom dispenser with not only condoms and lip gloss, but thongs for purchase as well (I wonder what the market is for that, for women who forgot to wear any or suddenly fancied a change?)!  We sat in the beer garden and started talking to a very nice but very drunk, self-loathing, gay man from Derry/Londonderry.  We hadn't a clue what he was saying half the time, but he was very friendly, if a bit maudlin.  He did advise us as to what cheap off-brand of cigarettes were most palatable, a useful tip when most brands cost $10 US.

On the advice of the drunken Derryman, we headed over to the very promisingly named Sailorstown in search of the Rotterdam Bar, which apparently still has outdoor toilets, live music, and booze.  An honest-to-goodness dive bar, nothing fancy, not for the squeamish.  We could not wait!  I've read that it used to be a holding pen for prisoners enroute to Australia.  If something involves prison, you have my attention.  Sailorstown is pretty bleak and run down, we were there just before dusk, and I wouldn't advise wandering around there after dark, but it's really interesting. Sort of a hard core Red Hook, with old drunks instead of hipsters:

There was an amazing abandoned church down the street which is fortunately being renovated and not being razed for luxury loft condos or some shit:

However, much to our chagrin, the Rotterdam was closed.  An old man standing outside a nearby bar told me the roof had caved in, but I see that it is going to be reopened.  Will have to go back!  With the development all over the city and the authentic character of the neighborhood just aching to be exploited, I'm sure they'll be bitching about IKEA Sailorstown next time.

As much as we wanted to sample one of the seedy bars in the area, it was getting dark and there were no signs of food in Sailorstown, so we hotfooted it back to the Cathedral District, walking under highways and passing empty lots and surly teenagers up to no good.  There's probably a nicer way to walk to the docks, but we didn't find it.  For dinner, we ended up across the street from our hotel, to the awesome Potthouse, which is very clubby and hip, but has an amazing deal for two courses for two people and a bottle of wine for 25 pounds!  Good deal, and good food.  We had the odd experience of watching music videos with entirely different music playing over them while we ate.  We were pretty much the only customers in the restaurant:


It was pouring rain like the end of the world when we left the restaurant, so we went across the street to the Cloth Ear, the public house bar of the Merchant Hotel.  It's a really cool bar, a successful mix of traditional pub and modern bar:

I was thoroughly impressed with the bathrooms, the ladies' has freaky mannequin heads in the stalls and photos on the door which I took a ton of photos of:


The men's room has robots, apparently:

Next up: Mo' murals and peace lines, and the transport museum!  Whee!

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Day 5: West Belfast: Murals! Murals! Murals!

As I mentioned before, everyone says you *have* to take a Black Taxi tour of West Belfast and the murals.  But H, averse to any thing that even hints at tour, was determined we could do it ourselves without a guide.  After some breakfast in the beautiful Great Room at the hotel, we went out to figure out what bus to take. The Belfast bus system is fantastic, all lines begin and end around City Hall, have easy to follow routes, and an all-day pass costs about $5.  Before getting on the bus, we did go inside to see the exhibit at City Hall, but missed out on a tour as they were in session.  Saw the Christmas tree light switch that Bill Clinton pulled when he visited Belfast (they, like me, are big fans of The Bill) and the building is lovely:

Armed only with the vague idea that we should get to the Falls Road area to see murals, we got a bus to Falls Road and just got off when we saw a mural.  Easy-peasy.  For ease of posting and reading, I made a set of all the murals photos: West & East Belfast murals

Falls Road is the Catholic section of West Belfast that has seen a lot of violence, but it's nothing like I expected.  Safe, working-class, sorta like Queens, even a bit boring.  We wandered into a cemetery, which was sad to see many who were killed very young in the worst years of the Troubles.  Some of the graves were like MENSA test questions: "Here lies our mother, Mary Rose, in loving memory by Jack and Shannon. Also her son, John Joe.  Also our uncle, Patrick Riley.  And my wife, Sheila. And our grandfather, John Joe."  Whaaa?



Most of the murals are pretty peaceful, mourning the lost or supporting other causes:

Pub on Fells Road (which had snugs!):

Had to explain the humor of this to H:

Without trying, we somehow stumbled onto the ironically-named peace line dividing the Catholic from the Protestant neighborhood.  They still close these things at night!

Despite the ever-present development all over Belfast, the Shankill Road Protestant/Loyalist area is far more depressing than Falls.  And more interesting:

The murals are a lot grimmer and more hostile, as well:

At one point, we wandered by a large lot, filled with broken furniture and wood:

As we stood looking at it and taking pictures, a Scottish minister approached us (he was wearing a collar and said "Have ye any English?", that's how I knew he was a Scottish minister) and told us about the wood.  Apparently, each July 12th, there is a large bonfire to commemorate the Battle of Boyne, victory by William of Orange over the Catholics.  It happened in 1690, yo!  The Scot said the piles would get much higher, and if you look it up on Flickr (belfast bonfire or july 12 bonfire), you will see that they did.  He told us about some of his parishioners, who had their homes damaged by the fire's smoke and heat, and how the peace line next to his (Presbyterian) church shut every night.  He told us about the "thugs" were celebrated as heroes by extremists, though he takes no side in the conflict.  Then the Scot told us all about his favorite Belfast guy, C.S. Lewis.  I learned more about the Troubles and C.S. Lewis standing on a street corner in Belfast than I ever could (or wanted to, in the case of C.S. Lewis) on a Black Taxi tour.  We might have been standing there all day but (thank God, no pun intended) the Scot had a meeting to get to, but invited us to come to service the next Sunday and he'd take us to lunch.  It was a Tuesday and we were leaving the next day, but it was a nice invitation.  I looked him up when we got back to send him a note, it turns out his name is Jack Lamb!  My maiden name is Lamb!  Small world!  Don't think I'm related to any Scot ministers, but neat!

We wandered a bit more of the neighborhood, which wasn't scary at all, but I wouldn't recommend to most tourists to wander there by yourself.  We're just hardcore like that, I guess.  Cool to see a mural being painted:

I think it was going to be something to do with Oliver Cromwell. Or maybe Vikings.  Or pirates!  Okay, maybe not pirates. 

Grimmest community center ever:

On that cheery note, I say good day sirs!

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Day 4 (still?!): Belfast

But back to Belfast.  It's a weird town, at first glance. The downtown area can be a ghost town after business hours, which is true in a lot of cities, but Belfast is small. There are still a lot of run-down buildings and streets, but overall its a very pretty city.  H was quite delighted with the run-down-ness, as nothing fills him so much with delight as decrepit buildings (Montevideo, Uruguay wins the prize for decrepitness, hands down).

But it's also very pretty, City Hall is particularly nice:

What's really amazing is how much construction is going on in Belfast.  I imagine that in a few years, it will look totally different.  You see this sort of thing everywhere:

We wandered the Cathedral District a bit and saw the eponymous cathedrals.  Here's a nice detail from St. Anne's, which looks ye olde, but is actually only about 100 years old.

Interesting buoy things outside:

Stopped for a pint and some dinner at McHugh's, the oldest building in Belfast and a good pub near the water.  Then wandered down to the famous Crown Saloon, the only National Trust pub.  It's under massive renovations, but still really cool:

The big highlight at the Crown (although you see them in a lot of Irish pubs) is the snugs, little booths where you can shut the door and drink in private.  The photos above are taken from within a snug. Some details:


And because we really didn't have enough pubtime on our first night in Belfast, we stopped off at one more, White's Tavern, which has a great fireplace (necessary even in June)  and also claims to be one of Belfast's oldest taverns.  It's in one of the cool Entries, little alleys with pubs and shops hidden within.  I failed to take a picture, but you can search flickr with Belfast Entry to find lots of cool photos.  But here's White's:

Coming next: a trip to West Belfast, it'll be mural-riffic!

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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:

Pub

Pub

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.

Zoo

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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