Tag Archives: Ireland

Last day in Dublin and crossing the Irish Channel

Woke up this morning and we were planning to try breakfast at Foley’s but being as it was a Pub and it was Sunday, Foley’s was not allowed to open until noon.  So we decided to…go back to Bewley’s.  Hey, it was good and we were too hungry to look for something else.  After breakfast, where Mom had her last full Irish fry and I again had porridge, we headed back out to Grafton Street for the last time.  It was a much better day than yesterday and there were vendors and Buskers on the streets.

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Most of our fellow companions in the street appeared to be enjoying the Sunday morning stroll as much as we were.  Vicki and I popped into the Marks and Spencer department store for some more shopping.  I found a beautiful black and white linen dress and a gorgeous gold linen trench coat that was on a clearance rack.  Vicki bought several cute t-shirts that were on sale, 2 for 10 pounds. I ran the purchases back to our hotel (taking any opportunity to try and work off some of the calories I’ve consumed this week) while Mom and Vicki explored a little of St. Stephen’s Green.  We then we got back on the hop-off tour using our tickets from yesterday.  Luckily, due to the distinct lack of pouring rain, we could actually SEE the things the guide was pointing out (Today, deciphering the brogue of the guide was the bigger challenge).

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We got off the tour at Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham Gaol has been a purpose-built prison since the 1700’s.  It was used to house prisoners as young as 5 years old for offenses such as stealing flowers and bread.  During the famine years, some people would commit crimes just to be put into gaol where they would at least be fed.  Kilmainham is most famous, though, for housing political prisoners after the failed Irish uprising of 1916.  The last prisoner (Aemon de Valera) was freed in 1924 and the prison fell into disuse and decay.  In the 1950’s, the Irish people began to recognize the historical importance of this building and many volunteered time and money to restore it. Aemon de Velara, now President of Ireland, presided over the opening to the public.  It now has excellent exhibits and a fabulously fascinating guided tour.  Many of you may recognize some of the shots below as the prison has been used in many movies such as “In the name of the Father” and “Michael Collins”.

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After the moving visit to Kilmainham, we hopped back on the bus for the last time and made our way back to our hotel.  We made a slight side trip to the nearby shopping mall that is cunningly disguised behind the facade of a Georgian townhouse.  Vicki and I were eager to see the offerings of TK Maxx (the European version of TJ Maxx).  However, we found it hot, crowded and (with the conversion rate factored in) overpriced.  We escorted Mom back to the hotel and then Vicki and I dashed back to Merrion Square.  We had noticed on our tour route that street artists line the railings of the square with artwork for sale.  We got there just as the artists were starting to pack up for the day but I found a lovely watercolor of the Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey that I bought directly from the artist.  He even signed and titled it for me right there on the spot. I’m going to have a hefty framing bill when I get home.

We finally made it to Foley’s for dinner in the evening.  There, we had a classic Irish pub experience.  We sat at low pub tables and consumed real “pub grub”.  We even sampled some Guinness (OK, it was the shot intended to go on top of Mom’s Seafood chowder, but we all took a sip and I thought it was pretty good.)  As we were leaving, we noticed a musician was making his way in with a guitar.  Mom and I escorted Vicki back to the room and then returned for an hour or so of pub music.  We also poked our head into O’Donaghues to listen to a jam session.  Unfortunately, there was so little room (and we had an early morning ferry to catch) that we didn’t stay long.

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On Monday morning, we reluctantly packed up our things and decamped the Elizabeth Bowen Suite at the Shelbourne.  I have warned Mom and Vicki that this likely concludes the glamorous portion of our lodgings and things will likely be much more standard fare from now on.  The helpful hotel bellhop took our bags down and loaded them into the taxi for us. Mom, Vicki and I piled into the taxi and we took off.  About two minutes later, the colorful cabbie (who I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying but Mom apparently understood perfectly) asked what time our flight was.  “Uhhh, we’re going to the Ferry Port”, I replied. “Glad we cleared that up now and before we got almost to the airport,” he responded.  He kept up a running dialogue for the entire trip and I can only hope that I made appropriate responses as I mostly had no idea what he was saying.

Crossing the Irish Channel

At the Irish Ferries terminal, we checked in our suitcases and took a seat to wait for the ferry.  About 8:15, we boarded a shuttle for the short ride to the ship.  We are taking the Jonathan Swift “fast” ferry to Holyhead, Wales.  The fast ferry is a catamaran type vessel and can make the trip in just under 2 hours.  The slower ferries take twice as long.  The forecast was for a moderate sea and once boarding, we were a bit worried by the stack of little white bags on every table.  According to a conversation overheard in the ladies room, this was not a normal practice.  Just in case, Mom and I each took one of Vicki’s over-the-counter motion sickness pills (and spent the rest of the day trying to stay awake).  However, the ferry crossing was very uneventful and I didn’t see a single white bag in use (Thank goodness).

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Once we disembarked the ferry and picked up our luggage, we walked out of the ferry port and discovered that the train station was part of the same building. We’re not usually that lucky and had planned on a taxi ride.  Gratefully, I stood in line to validate our rail passes and check to make sure I had correctly interpreted the train timetables (I had).  We settled into the handy cafe to wait for our 12:30 train to Cardiff (We could have taken the 11:22 but that involved a train change and I didn’t want to press our luck after being up since 6 am).  We boarded our train and settled in for the 5 hour train ride to Cardiff.

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During the trip, we went past the seacoast and mountains, through sleepy little towns where the train didn’t even stop and bustling towns.  We passed castles, cathedrals and more sheep than I can possibly count.

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We passed the time trying to stay awake, admiring the views and taking bets on the pronunciations of towns we passed.

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Finally, after slight delays due to a “bridge smash” which we sincerely hoped was caused by something other than a train, we pulled into Cardiff Central station.  We gathered all of our luggage (more of a challenge now than when we began our trip) and departed the train station.  While looking for the taxi stand, I happened to look up and spy our next Marriott, only about 300 yards away (Again, how lucky can we be?).  We checked in and made our way to our room and found it to be all the more humble when compared to our last accommodations.  However, a local resident did stop by to check out the new arrivals.

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After reviewing the executive lounge offerings, we made our way out into Cardiff in search of dinner. Cardiff is a very walkable city with many pedestrian streets and arcade shopping areas.  Perusing the menus posted outside of many of the restaurants, we found the meal prices to be very, very reasonable.  We weren’t sure if that was because our recent experience in Dublin (one of the most expensive cities in Europe) or if the economy is taking its toll here in Cardiff.  At the Italian place we chose to have dinner, we had a 3 course meal including appetizer, main course and dessert for 10.95 pounds (about $15).  After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, window shopping along the way.  Back at the hotel, I vaguely remember hearing Dad call on the web cam but was otherwise down for the count until about 8 am Tuesday morning (I still blame the motion sickness pill).

Stay tuned tomorrow for exploring Cardiff and Cardiff Castle plus sometimes you just gotta have a burger.

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”.

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.