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Touring Dublin (rain, rain go away)

We woke up this morning to the ominous sight of people hurrying down the street, bundled up and clutching umbrellas.  Apparently, our fantastic run of Irish weather was at an end.  However, following the traveler’s motto of “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”, we bundled appropriately and headed out clutching our umbrellas.  We followed the Shelbourne Concierge’s recommendation for breakfast and made our way to Grafton Street and Bewley’s Cafe.  Well, there was at least one detour into the Clark’s shoe store to peruse the sale racks and make a purchase or two. (Mom, Vicki and I all subscribe to the philosophy that one can never have too many shoes.)

After the detour, we entered Bewley’s Cafe and were seated.  There has been a Bewley’s restaurant in Dublin since 1840 and the building has the most beautiful stained glass windows.  They were doing a bustling business and we had learned over the course of the last week that there really is no such thing as fast service in an Irish restaurant.  (On the other hand, they never rush you out the door either.)  Eventually, though, we were able to place our orders.  Mom and I had the Irish Porridge with toasted pecans and maple syrup.  We couldn’t resist ordering a scone as well and of course we washed it down with good Irish tea.  Vicki had the continental breakfast with yummy fruit and yoghurt and a crisp and delicious homemade croissant.

After breakfast, we bundled back up and headed out into the continuing rain. Several wind gusts later, we realized our cute, light-weight travel umbrellas were not really up to the task of handling the gusty conditions. Just on the short walk from Bewley’s to the Dublin Tourism Centre, our umbrellas turned inside out several times.  Once at the Tourism Centre, we purchased 3-day tickets for the Dublin City Bus Hop-on/Hop-Off tour.  Mom and I have found over the course of our travels that these tours are not only a good way to get from place to place but also provide a good overall orientation to a new city.  By the time we go once around the circuit, we’ve identified the sites we want to go back and visit.  These buses are almost always open-top double-decker but that was obviously not an option today during the rain.

We took seats downstairs and excitedly started listening to the friendly tour guide begin to point out the Dublin city sites…which we couldn’t see due to rain and fog on the bus windows.  However, we did our best.  After making almost a complete tour circuit, we decided our first stop would be the Book of Kells at Trinity College. We dashed through the rain from the bus stop to the college entranceway and asked directions of the cute college kids obviously placed for the benefit of us tourists.  They were offering 30-minute walking tours of the college…not a lot of takers on a day like today. We made our way through the rain to the Old Trinity Library.  We bought our tickets and began to make our way through the exhibits.  The process of creating illuminated manuscripts is fascinating and the amount of information they have been able to learn from the texts themselves is amazing.  Finally, we entered the room where the Book of Kells was displayed.  The texts are in a large library case that allows you to really lean down and get a close look.  The thought that we were looking at something created over 1000 years ago gave us chills.  After finishing our viewing, we headed upstairs to wander through the Long Gallery of the Old Library.  The Gallery was two stories high with bookshelves full of books floor to ceiling.  There was also an exhibit celebrating mystery writers that was right down Mom’s alley.  Finally, at the end of our visit, we browsed through the college gift shop where we gave serious consideration to replacing our umbrellas.

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Back outside in the rain, we waited for our next bus.  A cold 10 minutes later, we climbed on board and followed the circuit to our next stop, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Paying our entrance fee, we walked through the doors into the awesome splendor of this 900 year old cathedral.  The church has beautiful stained glass windows and many monuments and memorial plaques.  We also saw the grave marker of Jonathan Swift who was the Dean when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal.

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Back out in the rain, we again waited for our bus and hopped back on.  Following the route back to the stop closest to our hotel, we got off and debated dinner plans.  Due to the fact that we knew exactly where it was, we again opted for Bewley’s for dinner.  Vicki and I had Tomato Basil soup and a salad and Mom had Wild Mushroom Penne pasta.  The meal was delicious and really hit the spot after a cold and rainy day.

Tired, but with a feeling of accomplishment, we returned to our hotel room for our nightly web cam call to Dad and then turned in, another day gone.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Kilmainham Gaol, shopping in Grafton Street and the Dublin version of “Art in the Park”.

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Ardmore, Waterford and returning the rental in Dublin (whew!)

Upon waking in the lovely Cairbre House, we looked out the window and had our first inkling that our amazing luck with the weather might be about to change.  The morning dawned decidedly grey skied and cool.  Following our noses, we made our way down to breakfast in the dining room.  Vicki had fried eggs and bacon, I had a vegetarian scramble (sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions with freshly picked herbs) and Mom had a “Full Irish Fry”.  She also confirmed her suspicions that she did NOT like black pudding.  Breakfast was delicious and had an amazingly lovely presentation.  Unfortunately, one of the other guests was one who likely gave rise to the “obnoxious American tourist” stereotype.  She was traveling by herself and continued to interject into our conversations with unsolicited advice and comments even though we were sitting at a separate table.  After breakfast, we reluctantly bid “slan” (goodbye) to Cairbre House and headed out onto the Irish roads for a final time.

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Once on the road, we decided to head over to Ardmore before turning our way towards Waterford and finally Dublin.  Ardmore is a lovely seaside town.  Ardmore actually means “High Promontory” in Irish Gaelic and has a lovely ruined church and St. Declan’s tower on the hill overlooking the town.  We ran into a lovely lady tending a relative’s grave in the cemetery and Mom and Vicki had a great conversation with her while I snapped pictures.

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Back in the car, we headed to Waterford.  We anticipated a quick stop at the Waterford Factory (where they make the crystal) before continuing towards Dublin. Three hours later, we were trying desperately to fit all of our purchases into our luggage.  The gift shop in the factory was an amazing place.  It was huge and had selections of many Celtic gifts and not just Waterford Crystal.  There was also Wedgewood and other types of jewelry and crafts.  Mom found a beautiful Lismore pattern party bowl and salt and pepper shakers.  She also picked up some souvenirs and Christmas ornaments. Vicki found a crystal necklace and 2 sets of salt and pepper shakers (one Waterford and one Beleek).  I found a stunning Kildara pattern lamp for my bedroom which I am having shipped and a miniature crystal thatched cottage for my curio cabinet.  We found the prices to be very reasonable, especially since we didn’t have to pay VAT tax (over 20%).

Since by this time, we had used up our allotted visiting time (plus our budgeted lunch time), we grabbed a quick cuppa and a pastry from the factory cafe and then jumped back in the car.  We fought Friday afternoon traffic out of Waterford and then headed north on the N50/M50 towards Dublin.  By this time, I was comfortable enough driving a) not to flinch every time a car approached in the villages we went through and b) to be irritated by slower cars holding up my progress ( I’m practically a native Irish driver now!).  We eventually reached Dublin about 5:30 pm and found this to NOT be good timing.  Friday afternoon traffic on the Dublin motorways closely resemble the same timeframe on I-285 and the Downtown Connector.  Eventually though we arrived at the airport and returned our rental car to the very obliging Hertz guy. Gratefully, I handed over the keys and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  We also packed up our ever-helpful GPS Lady for a well deserved rest.

I guess this would be a good time for confession being as we are in Ireland and the car is now safely back in the Hertz rental lot at the airport.  Our driving adventure was not completely without incident.  We didn’t want anyone to worry while we were still driving, but our first day on the Irish roads was eventful to say the least.  We had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in southwest Ireland.  Luckily, we were able to pull over next to the barn of a very kind Irish lady.  Being as it was a bank holiday (and NOTHING is open in Ireland on a bank holiday, even the shops close), she helpfully called a neighbor to help change the tire.  (Although at this point I want it noted that I DO know how to change a tire thanks to a Father who wouldn’t let me on the road with my new car at 16 without changing a tire first).  The freckle-faced, red-headed young man looked quintessentially Irish and kept up a running commentary with us while he made short work of the tire.  When he was finished, Mom had to make him accept 20 Euros.  He clearly didn’t want to but finally accepted. For those who are interested, the flat tire was the result of narrow roads, opposing traffic and jagged stone curbing.  On my first day driving on the left, I could handle each of these individually and even 2 of 3 without too much trouble but all three at once was the stroke that brought us low (pun intended). Back on the road, we pondered our lessons learned.  First, that driving with jet lag was not a good idea and second that the phrase “luck of the Irish” is facetious.  No wonder the Irish are always looking for four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, et al.

Safely car-less, we caught a cab from the Dublin airport where we returned the car to the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin City Centre.  The cab driver was very personable and I very much enjoyed the fact that was someone ELSE was driving.  I actually was able to look around and enjoy the scenery.  After a 20-minute drive, we arrived at the hotel where the helpful cabbie unloaded our bags and handed them over to the hotel bellman who whisked them away on his little trolley.  Mom, Vicki and I entered the hotel and walked across the wood-paneled and marble lobby to reception.

After checking in, we were directed to the special elevator that serviced the Heritage Wing of the Shelbourne Hotel.  The Shelbourne is one of, if not the, oldest hotels in Dublin.  There has been a hotel on this site since the early 1800’s. Upon entering the elevator tucked into a corner of the reception area, we immediately noticed a unique feature; the elevator had 2 doors.  This in itself was not unusual but I have never seen an elevator where the two sets of doors are perpendicular to each other rather than parallel. Upon exiting the elevator, we turned down the corridor towards our room (or what we thought was our room).  As we approached the correct number, we noticed that the door was marked the Elizabeth Bowen Suite. Opening the door, our jaws literally dropped open.

Upon entering the suite, we were in a large room containing a sofa bed already made up and complete with turndown and chocolate on the pillows.  There was also a LCD flat screen television, a large desk and a floor to ceiling window overlooking St. Stephen’s Green.  We walked through the next door into a bedroom with two double beds complete with feather beds and duvet comforters.  A large closet, another flat screen TV and floor to ceiling window completed the room.  Lastly, we entered the bathroom.  The bathroom was a very large marble floored room containing a marble shower (complete with rainhead shower head and body spray) and the deepest bathtub I have ever seen.  This room also had a floor to ceiling window overlooking the Green and a towel warmer on the wall. All-in-all, the suite was almost 400 sq feet and is by far the nicest hotel room (I mean suite) I’ve ever experienced.  Amazingly, this is courtesy of the hotel points I’ve earned with all my recent travels and isn’t costing a dime in real money.

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After settling into our suite, we went out in search of dinner.  We wandered down nearby Dawson Street and stopped at every restaurant to peruse the posted menus.  We finally decided on a restaurant called Harry’s.  The restaurant was very busy even at 9 o’clock at night which is always a good sign.  Mom started with the Wild Mushroom soup and then had a main course of scallops and fettuccine. Vicki tried yet another version of fish and chips which she said was the best so far and I had Harry’s Fish Pie.  The Fish Pie was salmon, haddock, and shrimp in sauce with a mashed potato top and then baked.  It was very good.

After dinner, we returned to the Hotel and made our nightly call to Dad on the web cam.  We even gave him a tour of the suite by carrying the laptop with web cam from room to room.  Snuggled into our down comforters and feather beds, we went to sleep already planning our next day’s Dublin adventure.  Stay tuned for details of our soggy day of hopping on and off buses, the Book of Kells and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Antiques, King John, leaving with a Limerick and the beautiful Cairbre House

We have tried not to waste a moment of our time in Ireland, so we arose early and breakfasted, then headed out the door for some last minute sightseeing before our 1:30 pm checkout.  We headed down the river walk towards King’s Island and King John’s Castle.  We were fascinated by the way the locks were built along the side of the river to allow two way travel independent of the tide. There were also some great views of the castle.

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After crossing the River Shannon and turning towards the Castle entrance, we passed an Antiques shop with interesting merchandise in the window and an invitingly open door.  We walked in and spent the next half an hour browsing through potential treasures.  Since we wanted to get to the castle, the proprietress put aside our chosen merchandise and promised to hold for us so we could purchase on our way back and not have to carry them on our tour.  We continued to the castle and purchased our entrance tickets.  We then immediately moved to the side of the entranceway as a herd of Irish school children thundered past on a school excursion.  Some things are the same in any country, and forty 10-12 year olds make the same kind of noise no matter where they are.  Once the coast was clear, we continued inside to the castle bailey.  We explored the areas of the castle such as the old Mint and armory.  We even climbed the towers to take pictures of the spectacular views and then descended to areas under the visitor’s center to view archeological excavations as well.  During the entire visit, school children kept popping up in groups of twos, threes and fours.

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For the final leg of our visit, we toured the exhibitions in the visitor’s center. Normally this would be the first stop in the visit, but we bypassed originally due to the aforementioned herd of children.  This time, however, we were lucky enough to tag along behind some visiting American dignitary who was being given a personal tour by not one, but two of the Castle employees.  We never learned who the American was but enjoyed listening to the commentary surreptitiously.

Upon leaving the castle, we stopped back by the antique store where I purchased a print of a local Limerick church and Mom and Vicki found treasures as well.  By this time, we were pushing our pre-arranged late check-out time, so we hurried back to the hotel to load up the car.  As we headed out of town, Mom recited the limerick she composed especially for this occasion. (Apparently you can’t leave Limerick without writing one).

There once were three gals from the USA

who decided to go on a holiday.

So they hopped on a plane

and to Ireland they came.

And apparently chased all the rain away!

We headed down the N24 towards our next scheduled stop; a bed and breakfast in Dungarvan.  Feeling a little peckish, we stopped for a late lunch in Limerick Junction (not as close to Limerick as you would have thought) and had lunch at the Bit and Bridle.  Mom had beef lasagna, Vicki had battered cod and I had the best omelet I’ve ever had.  Mom and Vicki’s meals came with side vegetables including carrots, cabbage and turnips cooked with bacon and served with a parsley sauce they said was out of this world.  Back on the road, we continued towards the southern Irish coast.

Midway through our journey, we began to climb the mountains and passed by far the most spectacular fields of rhododendrons in bloom that I have ever seen.  For both sides of the road, and as far up and down the mountains as you could see, was nothing but purple blossom-covered shrubs.  We weren’t the only ones to stop for pictures.  Another gentleman (very good-looking), who he drove this way “quite regularly”, said he had never seen it quite that spectacular before.

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Cresting the mountain, and starting to descend the other side, we noticed a distinct change in the weather.  Up until now, we had had the most beautiful sunny weather.  Every day had been sunny and over 80 degrees which we had been assured by person after person was NOT normal for Ireland.  On this side of the mountain, the temperature was decidedly cooler and clouds were beginning to build.  However, by the time we arrived at Cairbre House in Dungarvan, the weather, although cool, had returned to at least partly sunny.

Where do I start with Cairbre House (pronounce almost like car-borough)?  I have stayed at many B&B’s over the years but this was by far the best and in the prettiest location.  The house itself is 190 years old and has been in the same family for 100 years.  Our host served us tea, coffee and shortbread in the garden upon our arrival. The gardens were absolutely spectacular, as will be evidenced by Vicki’s 100+ pictures.  She has taken over 600 on the trip so far and the camera several times pleaded “battery exhausted”.  However, she has found that generally letting it rest will allow her to resume in time.

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Inside, we were allotted two rooms with an en-suite bath. I only wish the pictures could do it justice.

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After relaxing for a while with our tea and coffee in the garden, we decided to head into the town of Dungarvan in search of a little something to tide us over until morning.  The 15 minute walk was lengthened by several stops to take pictures.

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We found sustenance at Merry’s purveyors of fine wines and food.  I had risotto with asparagus and poached egg, while Mom had seafood chowder.  Vicki held out for dessert.  Vicki had the plain and simple bowl of ice cream while I opted for the Chocolate Sundae and Mom feasted on sticky toffee pudding.  (Yes, there will be payment for these calories eventually).

After the consuming every last crumb and drop of our dessert, we ambled (or maybe waddled) back to Cairbre House.  There we made a web cam call to Dad.  The internet connection was much better here, so we had Dad call Granny and then my uncle Steve on the phone so we could share a web/conference call.  I think it thrilled them both that they could talk to us and it sounded like we were in the next room instead of several thousand miles away.  Once the call was over, we went upstairs to bed, already regretting that we would have only one night at this tranquil spot in Dungarvan.

Stay tuned tomorrow for details of the incredible breakfast, our 3 hour shopping trip at the Waterford Crystal factory, turning in the rental car (with most of the car still intact) and our absolutely amazing suite at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin (I swear it’s bigger than my first apartment).