September 16, 2012

The Emerald Isle: Part 1 (Dublin)

Becky and I on the River Liffey, Dublin 

At last! I promised you would see an Ireland post, and here is the first of many. This trip is one of my favorites, ever. Ireland is a beautiful country, full of friendly and interesting people. I hope you enjoy the story of my travels as much as I enjoyed the travel itself...

My vacation to the Emerald Isle began with a long weekend in New York. Becky and I spent several days exploring the streets of Manhattan before catching our plane ride across the Atlantic. If you want to catch up on our trip, check out the posts here:

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 1)

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 2) 

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 3)

As you see, we left NY happy, and ready to embark on a new adventure. Our flight departed the United States mid-evening, but was scheduled to arrive in Dublin early the next morning. We were prepared to hit the ground running... all we needed was a little sleep.

The transatlantic flight provided time for some shut-eye, but it was difficult to drift off with excitement humming through my system. If anyone out there has a surefire way to fall asleep on a plane, please share! I need all the help I can get.

I did, eventually, pass out (with my fingers crossed, hoping I wouldn't snore!). When next I opened my eyes, we were landing in Dublin.

My first view of Ireland, out the airplane window

You've seen other views from my window, but now it's time to get off the plane and the tour bus. I couldn't wait to stretch my legs and walk around.

Normally, your first stop would be the hotel; for a change of clothes, maybe a shower, or perhaps a nap. Not us, though! We stepped off the plane and straight into our first tour. After a quick stop at the ATM (The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro, and Northern Ireland uses the Pound Sterling), we boarded the bus and drove to Glasnevin Cemetery.

We were greeted with a traditional Irish breakfast. Thank goodness, because boy oh boy, did I wake up hungry!

The Full Irish

The Full Irish Breakfast traditionally includes rashers of bacon, sausages, fried eggs, blood sausage, potatoes, and fried tomatoes. Also, tea and toast (or soda bread) are served. For us Americans, coffee was also readily available.

Luckily, I'm a HUGE fan of tea, and all of the other items on my plate. Except, ahem... blood sausage. There is only one word to describe it: EWWWWWWWWW! Blood sausage is exactly what it sounds like: sausage made with blood (and other things). Yuck.

However, I did taste it. I'm a big believer in trying new things, and I was hoping I'd like it.

I didn't.

I'm not sure anyone else did either. Maybe it's an acquired taste.

Everything else was delicious to the max! I have a good friend who, over the years, has lectured me on the difference between European bacon and American bacon (you know who you are!). I've been waiting for an opportunity to test the difference for myself, and...

She was right. American bacon is complete rubbish. And now I can't ever go back to my blissful ignorance! The bacon on my plate was thick and meaty, with hardly any fat. Imagine a cross between a ham steak and so-called 'bacon'. Put those together in your mind, and you'll get a better idea of the absolute fabulousness I was eating every morning.

I completely blame the bacon for the 3 pounds I gained on vacation. And the scones. Oh, and the butter....

ANYWAY. Onward.

The tour of Glasnevin is taken on foot. Our guide was not only knowledgable, but entertaining. The tour normally lasts around 90 minutes, so wear your sneakers!

Many famous people are buried in Glasnevin, including Daniel O'Connell, Michael Collins, and Charles Stewart Parnell. The cemetery contains the largest round tower in Ireland, at 51 meters high. Directly beneath the tower is the family crypt of Daniel O'Connell.

Inside the crypt of Daniel O'Connell 
Glasnevin is actually listed on TripAdvisor as the #1 attraction in Dublin, so don't miss out! The tour is inexpensive, and the history lesson is a wonderful introduction to this beautiful country. My favorite thing? Just listening to our guide's amazing accent!

Here's the view (not from a window this time!). For my iPhone and iPad friends, I know you can't see these slideshows since they use flash. I'm working on a solution, but so far I haven't discovered the fix. After each post, I'll be adding the photos to my albums on Facebook. You can follow me there for a look at all the pictures!  

After the tour, we wandered the gift shop for a bit before climbing back aboard our bus. Becky and I were traveling with a group of travel agents and their companions. In our case, Becky is the travel agent and I'm the companion.

Don't you wish you had a Becky?!

We were pals way before she started this cool job, but it's an awesome perk in a great friend. The perks of being friends with me? I do all the cooking! Though I'm not sure it compares to a travel buddy, it's all I've got.

The next stop on our itinerary? Kilmainham Gaol, a.k.a. the prison, #3 on TripAdvisor. What's #2, you ask? Dinner theaters! No worries, I have some great videos from those too, just not yet...

Kilmainham Gaol

Many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned here, even executed on the grounds. One particular story is that of Miss Grace Gifford, eventually to be Mrs. Joseph Plunkett. An Irish artist, she's most known for marrying Joseph Plunkett just hours before his execution (by firing squad) at Kilmainham Gaol. He was executed for his role in an Irish uprising during Easter week of 1916. In 1923, Grace herself was arrested during the Civil War, and spent 3 months incarcerated at Kilmainham Gaol. Inside her cell, she painted a picture of the Virgin Mary.

The tour of Kilmainham Gaol was another great way to steep ourselves in some Irish history before exploring the rest of Dublin city. Many of us were losing our stamina, jet-lag severely kicking our American butts. After the tour, our bus finally dropped us at the hotel, where we had a few hours before a group meal.

What to do with several hours of time in Dublin? Much of the group chose to nap and refresh. This might have been the more intelligent thing to do. But since when have Becky and I ever followed the more practical path? I wasn't about to start in Ireland!

Instead of sleep and a shower, we chose a rambling walk along the city streets and canals of Dublin. We were armed with jackets, umbrellas, and most importantly, our cameras. The hotel provided us with a "map". What else could we possibly need?

Ahem. A sense of direction may have been useful...

Carefree and blissfully unaware of how lost we could become, Becky and I ambled along the city streets, absorbing everything in our path. We snapped hundreds of photos, shopped in a multitude of stores. We worked our way to Grafton Street, popular for shopping and people watching.

We emptied our pockets a bit amongst the shops. We each came equipped with a list of souvenirs to find and purchase, both for ourselves and others. On our first foray, I picked up a t-shirt for the Hubs, and a bit of chocolate for myself (Shhhhh.... the chocolate never made it back stateside!)

The afternoon flew by, and soon our tummies were rumbling. Breakfast was a distant memory. Finding a pub for lunch was no problem. It's easy to find LOTS of pubs, all you have to do is turn your head! We discovered Quays, and bopped in for lunch.

We didn't indulge in a pint, for fear it would make our jet-lagged brains sleepy. At least if we'd sprung for a Guinness, I could have blamed our later troubles on the alcohol...

Lunch was wonderful, and renewed our lagging energy. Though we didn't have much time left for exploring, there were a few spots we wanted to stop at on our way back to the hotel.

Temple Bar is one of the oldest pubs in Dublin, established in 1840, and an item we wanted to scratch from our list. Though we wandered aimlessly for a bit, we did run across the bar eventually. This wandering should have jingled a warning bell in my brain... but it didn't.

The Temple Bar, Dublin 

I blame the awesomeness of city streets for our lack of concern. The pubs of Dublin truly fascinated me. They were all different, yet somehow the same. The atmosphere was welcoming, and provided respite from the occasional rain sprinkles. Live music is common most nights, and the taps flow freely.

Who wouldn't want to see as many pubs as possible? Even when we started back for the hotel, there was no worry. Becky and I calculated our time, and determined there was plenty of it.

Hahahaha. How naive we were!

In a foreign country, with no working cell phone, we assumed an hour was plenty of time to get back to our hotel. And it would have been... if we had any idea where we were going.

My first bit of advice to you: NEVER trust a hotel "map".

The "map" we were given was a joke. Badly labeled, and poorly photocopied. Where we had easily found the city center upon leaving the hotel, now we couldn't find our way back. Streets that seemed familiar simply led us farther in the wrong direction. We tried turning the map upside-down, sideways, and inside out. Nothing made it any easier to read.

My second bit of advice to you: LOOK UP. 

Street signs are not the same in Ireland. Or most of Europe, for that matter. In America, you're used to handy green signs, at eye level, on each street corner. This is not so overseas. The street signs are on buildings for the most part, high above your head. And they are not at every intersection. If you need proof, look back at the photo of Temple Bar (above). The blue sign on the left, above the bar, is the street sign.

My third piece of advice to you: ASK for directions. 

We actually did ask for directions. We're not men, after all. Only problem? I don't think the people we asked knew where they were either! First we walked this way, and then someone else told us to go that way, when what we should have done was gone the other way entirely.

Whew. It was rough; not so rough that I didn't take photos, but rough enough. Obviously, we eventually found our hotel again. However.

We were a good thirty minutes late for dinner. But the important thing is that we made it back! Plus, all the extra walking helped work off some of the bacon I ate at breakfast, right?

Let me live in my fantasy world for a while.

So, our first day in Dublin was quite the adventure! I loved every minute of it, even the parts where we were lost. Becky and I turned in early, right after dinner. Jet-lag had finally caught up to us. We needed our sleep, because our second day in Dublin promised to be just as action-packed as the first. For now, I'll leave you with some pictures from the city streets. I can't wait to share the rest of our adventure with you!  

Thanks for reading, friends! 
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  1. This looks like an amazing trip!

    1. It really was! We had a great time, I can't wait to post about the rest of the trip, it's like reliving it all over again :)

  2. I can't wait till we get to goto gather Beautiful.. It will be so much fun. Love you

  3. This is great!! Takes us back to when we were there on our honeymoon. Thanks for sharing!! :-)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! There will be more coming from Ireland soon, I hope... I'm not done blogging about it, but life has gotten a bit in the way. I'll get back to it for sure though!