Our plans to go to Ireland were made a bit impulsively: We made a list of all of the airports we’d like to fly into, entered the three letter codes into the Kayak search function, and chose the destination with the least expensive fare. We were excited when Dublin came up, but a little hesitant at first. While June would be a great time to visit the Green Isle, we feared it would be a hard time to leave New York, and an even harder time to go someplace that might require sweaters and jeans—assuming we would have just cast ours aside in favor of t-shirts and shorts. After all, winter had been dragging on for what felt like forever.
Of course, we decided that those hesitations were ridiculous and put them aside in favor of excited anticipation, planning a trip for June 9th through the 15th. And it’s a good thing, too. So far, there have been 45 days of rain in New York during the months of May and June (Yuck! And June isn’t even over as I’m writing this.)—but it was sunny every day we were in Ireland!
We took a red-eye flight into Dublin, getting in a good six hours of sleep before arriving at 9:30 a.m. We had packed light enough to fly carry-on only, so we were quick to get to the rental car desk. Aron has a way of finding great car rates online, and had booked us 5 days for 57 Euro with ACE Rental Company (the car coming from County Car Rental). The only issue was that despite every assurance that the mileage would be unlimited, they now explained that it was unlimited with a safe driving cap. Which is not unlimited, we explained, but those were just semantics apparently. Aron got them to agree to the highest of the daily caps (240 km/day rather than the original 190), but it could easily bring up the cost of the rental if one went over.
We had to choose just one of us to drive and that task fell to Aron—we both can drive a manual, but he had some experience driving on the left when he lived in Australia. My role, he decided, in addition to navigation, would be to remind him to stay on the left: “turn right, stay left” or “turn left, keep left.” It seemed especially tricky on right turns. It just seems so natural to hug the corner!
I’d booked us our first night in Kinsale, a south-west village in Cork County, but had lots of ideas as to where we might want to stop en route. We could visit the Rock of Cashel or try to make it to the Jameson Distillery in Midleton before it closed, but we decided to visit Glendalough—an early-medieval monastic village set in a beautiful valley in County Wicklow. Heading south from Dublin, we were plunged almost immediately into beautiful scenery. As had been rumored, there were so many shades of green covering the hills and sheep were everywhere!
We stopped in the town of Enniskerry for a light snack and then found ourselves in the middle of Calary bog—a low, rain-fed landscape of peat and moss. It felt as though we could see for miles, and as if we were the only ones around. But all of the sudden an officer in an orange vest stopped us to let us know that we’d need to wait because there was ‘something’ up ahead. Aron thought he said shilling. I thought maybe he’d said shearing. We really had a hard time at first with the thicker accents.
We decided he must have said shearing—all those sheep! We were actually sort of excited. “Our first farm delay,” I said, naively thinking of all of those movie scenes showing cars blocked by herds of sheep.Twenty-five minutes later, we were still waiting. Finally, he waved us ahead, upon which we figured out that he had said “filming.”
Shearing!? We couldn’t have been more off. Actually, Amy Adams was sitting aside the tiny road, having just wrapped a scene for her forthcoming movie, Leap Year. Middle of nowhere—it seemed—and we find another movie set featuring an actress we’ve seen back home. Just past the set, the road opend up to a lovely valley.
Glendalough couldn’t have been much more picturesque—it almost feels too cheesy to try and describe. Walking toward the main, lower valley site, one crosses a small footbridge spanning a babbling brook. Sitting beside the water was a man painting the view ahead: the nave of the cathedral against green, rolling hills.
We walked around the main concentration of sites. The stone buildings date back to the 6th century but probably had their heyday in the 11th and 12th centuries. From there, we took one of the footpaths—I think it was called the green way—through dense trees toward the Upper Lake. The lake is the point from which one can take any number of trails leading out from a visitor center, or even join walkers on the Wicklow Way.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long, but it was a lovely place to wander about. In fact, after numerous stops—along the side of the road to take in the views or to pick up a basket of strawberries—we realized that we would be arriving in Kinsale a bit later than originally planned. We called ahead and our hosts didn’t mind, but we did feel a bit badly about arriving late when we would be in someone’s home rather than in a hotel.
Kinsale is a lovely town on the water; it’s apparently quite a popular resort destination for its strong foodie reputation and all of its options for water activities. It also happens to have a long, interesting history. The British set up forts at Kinsale’s harbor after defeating Spanish forces (sent following the failed Armada) to prevent further landings—as the Spanish offered support to the Irish (Catholic) against the English (Protestant). The city’s waters are also home to the sunken RMS Lusitania, brought down by a German U-boat in WWI.
We found our inn easily—The Chart House—and got settled quickly into the Green Room before heading out for the evening. We did encounter rain this evening, but it was little bother at that point. Fishy Fishy Café was a bit fancier than we needed it to be, but we’d heard such rave reviews that we felt we had little choice but to try it. Indeed, the mussels were amazing! Definitely one of the best plates of mussels ever (although all the cream with the butter does seem a bit like cheating), and a good start to what turned out to be (happily) a very heavily seafood-focused trip. I had hake and Aron had skate.
After dinner, we walked to the pub called An Seanachai, which I have to mention means “The Storyteller” as that’s a bit of information that was mentioned to us at least 5 or 6 times while we were in town. Our innkeeper let us know that there would be folk music there on this particular night. We had our first pints of Guinness and settled in for a session. This one happened to be one man with a guitar, Liam O, and he made for a terrific introduction to Irish folk music. He had a beautiful voice and got the crowd involved with lots of songs that we would end up hearing multiple times throughout our trip. “Her eyes, they shined like diamonds…”It was late when we got back, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out the Jacuzzi tub in our room before bed. We heard someone come in a few hours after us—around 2 or 3 a.m. and learned the next morning at breakfast it was a couple in their 80s. Impressive.
We had decided when we arrived what we would have for breakfast—I had the full traditional breakfast (fried egg, black and white puddings, stewed tomato, bacon and sausage); Aron had a scramble with Salmon and a shot of whiskey with his coffee. There was also a selection of yogurts and cereals, toast and jams at the table.
We packed our things back into our bags and stored them at the Inn while we took off to explore the town. There is a popular tour that leaves every morning from the harbor, but we opted instead to go at our own (slightly faster) pace with the Rick Steve’s guidebook providing us a walking tour. It’s such a charming place. In what will be a theme, we would have loved to linger longer, but we had so much to see! We did take some time to sit on one of the docks and take in the view, and we got a great overview of the city and its slate roofs from the upper reaches of town.
Mary Curran, our host, had offered to leave us some directions as to how to get out of town and onto the scenic route to Dingle for when we returned from our walk. We were floored by what we found when we came back to the Chart House. She had given us a map noting every village we would be passing through and even included a little note about what made each special! This is especially generous considering that we only needed to turn maybe once or twice—the rest of the time we were to stay on one road.
Aside from all the lovely views (and there were plenty, especially as we crossed Killarney National Park and were chased by a noisy sheep), the highlight of the drive might have been the abbey in Timoleague. Of course, we had missed the day of the Cattle market in Skiberdeen, or surely that would have been it.
Actually, there was another particularly wonderful part of the drive: we chanced upon a fish and chips spot called Wharton’s in Kenmare and had the freshest, most delicious piece of fried Haddock—such a perfect meal! If one happens to be heading that way, I heartily recommend a detour.
Our drive was a bit on the long side, and the last couple of hours—regardless of how picturesque they were—did start to feel long. We were eager to get out of the car when we arrived in Dingle. And we were overjoyed when our host, John, at the Greenmount House welcomed us in with the news that we would be upgraded to their best, bay-view room because the couple in ours had decided to stay on an extra night! First of all, the Inn is lovely. I have to admit, I partly chose it because it had white duvet covers (if I haven’t mentioned it yet, I am extremely partial to hotels with white as opposed to patterned duvet covers—I almost always like those hotels more), but it had a lot more going for it—not least of which is its amazing position overlooking all of Dingle Bay.
We immediately decided that we needed to buy a bottle of wine from the inn to go with the cheeses we had picked up along our drive so we could better take in the view and the afternoon sun from our balcony. We tried the regional Gobeen and Cozier Blue—the latter of which was my favorite.
We felt like we shold stay until the sun set, but it stayed light until nearly 10pm every night, so that seemed unreasonable. Instead, we made our way down through town, to the harbor, in search of music sessions and dinner. We found both to begin, as we opted for pub food. The music and the beer were each terrific; the fish and chips were disappointing (especially after Wharton’s). This particular session featured four musicians, and the style was much different from that of the previous evening.
Though we were enjoying the music, we left at the break to see what was playing elsewhere and happened upon a lively scene at Murphy’s pub. This too was of a different style than either of the previous sessions, but had more of the join-in, folk-song vibe of our first night. The proprietor of the pub would sometimes accompany on accordion, and different performers took their place singing alongside the featured guitar player. We found a place to stand at the side of the room and finished the night there (which wasn’t too late—the live music ends at the pubs at 11pm).
Breakfast the next morning was outstanding. We came downstairs to find an open table by the window in a large sun-room, and ordered from a menu of hot items before perusing the coffee cakes and bread puddings and cheeses and yogurts and fruits set out on the side table. I had porridge and cream while Aron tried the kippers (herring). The next day he had fried bananas and sausage, and I had a dish with poached eggs. Everything was delicious. We really indulged, but dissipated any guilt with the knowledge that we would be spending the rest of the day on bikes.
We decided to take our chances that the sunny (dry) weather would continue and rent bikes from Paddy’s Bike Hire, in town. Rick Steve’s Ireland guide has a km-by-km (50 km in all) guide to biking the Dingle peninsula, accompanied by a photo of a slightly older, slightly less-fit-than-us couple. We thought, if they can do it… In retrospect, I think it may not have been the best way to gauge the ease or difficulty of such a ride, and the book could have done a bit better at preparing one for the course (it does use the word “demanding” but could better prepare one for the series of steep climbs). But we’re so glad we chose to spend the day exploring the peninsula this way—it ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip!
We started at the harbor and, oh-so-cool-looking helmets affixed, cruised out of town. I can tell you that it was a slow start: we hadn’t gone far before we were compelled to the side of the road to visit with a field of sheep and daffodils. And that was the pattern for a while. But with 500,000 sheep on the peninsula (there are only 10,000 people), we couldn’t keep that up.
Before too long, we had joined the coastline. We were happy to be riding to the peninsula’s point (the westernmost tip of Ireland) with the water to our left—particularly because we, too, were on the left.
The narrow roads definitely added some nerve-wracking thrill from time to time. Trucks passing occasionally made me shudder, but we felt lucky that there weren’t too many people driving the loop. And most cars did a great job of giving us a wide berth so that we could feel comfortable taking in the views of Skellig Michael in the distance while we rode.
Dingle is in the Gaeltacht region of Ireland, and so we loved noticing all of the signs in Irish along our way. It was also the location for many of the opening scenes of the Tom Cruise / Nicole Kidman movie, Far and Away—another sort of fun thing to notice.
One of first, more prolonged stops was at Dunbeg Fort—stone ramparts around a central stone clochan (beehive hut). We pulled off at the Stone House restaurant, at first distracted by the horse and mule to its side, and combined our visit to the ramparts with a short video presentation on the archaeological history of the region. A bit further down the road, we stopped again at a larger grouping of clochans. As I recall, it was said that a fear of fairies protected these huts (or fairie forts) from destruction over their 6000 years of existence.
With the Blasket islands in our view, we continued on our way—stopping frequently at the scenic pull-outs. I found myself particularly interested in the markings left on the hilltops, back when every bit of space was used for plantings and before the land was abandoned in the mid 1800s when the potatoes rotted and brought on famine. The population decreased after that—to the extent that the land high up has never needed farming again. Nearby, in Slea Head, we stopped for lunch—spinach pie and a potato and leek soup. Hearty fare.
The second half of our ride was tougher than the first. After leaving the coast (surfers and all!), we were faced—literally—with the reality that we were going to need to cross a series of mountains to get back to the Dingle-side of the peninsula. In one village, in the midst of a climb, a villager called out to me: “I bet you can go faster than that!” as I crept along. I pushed on and tried to give a polite smile and nod (I figured he couldn’t hear me cursing under my breath).
Our last stop before a final climb and (at last) a descent into Dingle was at Kilmalkedar, a 12th century Irish Romanesque church surrounded by medieval tombs and a 900 year-old ogham stone. Three miles of steady downhill and we were back to the charming town of Dingle.
We stopped by the Out of the Blue Seafood-Only Restaurant to make a reservation en route back to the hotel. The restaurant had been recommended by just about everyone to whom we talked and in every book, so despite having hoped to spend a bit less at a pub, we felt like we didn’t want to miss out on the best seafood in town. A few hours in the room—enjoying the view, relaxing, cleaning up—and we were back there, sharing mussels and relishing our respective main courses of fish. Apparently, the fish served is brought in from the boats that day, so instead of menus there are glossy water-themed books stacked on each table and the servers bring by a chalkboard with the daily catches and details of their preparation.
We—of course—followed dinner with some time in the pubs, listening to music, but we didn’t last particularly long. We were pretty spent from the long, wonderful day of touring the island. We were both quite sore, too!
We stayed out on the balcony and relaxed a bit the next morning after breakfast, soaking in the views of the bay as long as we could. I was about to take yet another picture of green hillsides, with water and cows in the foreground, when I saw Fungi the dolphin leaping in the bay! Fungi is the resident bottle-nose who has been drawing fans to seek him out in tour boats since 1983 (we found he was even credited at the end of Far and Away when we—yes—watched it upon our return). I’d been hoping to spot him, but had little hope. I couldn’t believe it! There he was, and just before we left, too!
Leaving town, we decided to seek out the route to Tralee via Connor’s Pass. We missed the turnout at first but went back, and were glad we did. The route is quite dramatic—stones, moss, and narrowly-fits-one-small-car lanes. From there, we headed toward the ferry crossing on the Shannon Estuary (Tarbert to Killimer) and picked up the pace as much as possible, safely, to make it on to the next ferry. We had just pulled on and turned off the engine when we felt the boat start moving.
More fish and chips in the beach town of Kilkee, then on to see the iconic Cliffs of Moher. For the first time on our trip, as we pulled up and spotted the enormous parking lot, we felt like we had joined the tourist crowds. It was a bit of a jolt after Dingle, but we were looking forward to the views. Aron was also looking forward to quoting favorite lines from The Princess Bride—I wondered just how many approached the stunning, sheer, dark faces of rock and exclaimed “the cliffs of insanity!” I should note that we just watched Harry and Dumbledore visit the cliffs in the most recent episode of the Potter series, so I’m sure a whole new generation will recognize them from that movie rather than from that other childhood favorite.
We looked around the tourist center which is build into the side of the mountains. We walked around all the grounds, and despite the temptation to follow the many others beyond the “Do not go beyond this point” signs, we stayed within the approved boundaries and appreciated the views before driving into the Burren, a 10 square-mile limestone plateau.
The Burren is a crazy, rocky place with unique flora that has adapted to the limestone floor, a former sea bed. Itis littered with historical sights, but it’s difficult to appreciate from the car. We did our best to pick a route that would give us a sense of the region; taking Rick Steve’s advice, we crossed from Kilfenora to Ballyvaughan.
A heavy mist set in, followed by some light rain, but it really just added appropriate-seeming atmosphere to a stop at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 10-foot-high stone structure (a “Druid’s altar”) dating from the Neolithic period (between 4200 and 2900 BC).
Our next destination was the university-town of Galway, which came highly recommended by many colleagues and friends. We had initially planned to skip Galway in favor of a smaller village (figuring we had our share of city life back home), but felt compelled to see it after so many raves. We immediately understood its appeal—pedestrianized shopping streets, impressive and historic architecture, street performers, waterside pathways, and a compact central quarter. All that said, if I had to recommend a change to our itinerary for other travelers, I might limit the driving a bit more and cut out Galway in preference of concentrating one’s time in the south and southwest in combination with either Galway or Dublin, depending on flight and preference. We loved the town and were happy to experience its extremely vibrant nightlife—the music scene was perhaps the most exciting of all—but we did have to somewhat rush through.
We arrived fairly late and booked an inexpensive room at the Balcony House—a fine, average B&B that seemed completely indistinguishable from the other B&Bs along College Road. As I write that, I feel a twinge of guilt recalling how hospitable our host was and how she made an effort to cater to us come breakfast-time, but it’s the truth. We dropped off our bags in our almost entirely pink-room (with what appeared to be a very small double bed), and walked into town.
We headed straight for McDonagh’s Fish-and-Chips, the cheap section, and ordered filets of fried fish. I had hoped for some Galway oysters, but we’d missed the season. This was a serious fish spot, focused on fish rather than beer. We joined two men at a table with, instead, pints of milk. One immediately struck up a conversation with us—eager to hear where we were from and even more eager to tell us about his days as a fisherman.
After dinner, we wandered around and found our way over to the Lough where I hoped to find salmon running. Aron didn’t believe me that actual salmon might be spotted at the Salmon Weir bridge but I had heard them mentioned in one of those songs we kept hearing in the pubs! And sure enough, there were anglers in the water when we arrived. We only spotted a few, but we did see some salmon trying to make their way up stream, past the birds and the anglers. Despite all the doubting, in no time at all Aron was cheering on the large fish as if he’d come to bet on races.
Our first pub was Tig Coili—the kind of place that one imagines when one imagines a traditional pub. Though the music was wonderful, we finished our beers and moved on to another spot where we happened upon both a band and some impromptu traditional dancing. There was this group of slap-happy guys who looked like they’d fallen out of an Abercrombie catalog standing just behind us and I can’t tell you how shocked I was when two of them joined in and started doing a really impressive jig. Pints of Murphy’s later and crushed by crowds, we eventually made our way back to the room.
BACK TO DUBLIN
The next day we hit the road fairly early. We were looking forward to a lot of stops on the way to Dublin. The first—and perhaps best—of them all was Locke’s Distillery. Aron was disappointed that we had missed a whiskey distillery earlier in the trip so he was excited to find, smack-dab on the map between Galway and Dublin, Locke’s Distillery.
The Distillery was licensed in 1757, making it the oldest licensed pot-still distillery in the world; and though half of it is still being used to make craft whiskey, the other half has been historically preserved to demonstrate old methods. Anyone with a remote interest in whiskey and history would enjoy this place, so Aron especially loved it. We walked around the water wheel, which still keeps many parts of the operation in motion, and learned about the process of making whiskey. Perhaps the highlight was when, as we ended out tour, a man who was running the batch-distiller took an interest in us and gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the distillation process (he was, at the time, measuring the alcohol levels). Opening a lid on the finished, but un-aged product, we both felt knocked back with its hot alcohol vapors. He then gave us a sample of what he considered the really good stuff before going back to his work measuring and mixing.
We finished our self-guided tour in the aging rooms, where stacks of old sherry barrels waited for another 12 months before they could be tapped and debut as the re-incarnation of the Locke-produced whiskey. There was one barrel labeled to be a gift to Obama. Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying a bottle for ourselves, so after tasting a few products made by the same owner, we got a bit of Killbegan’s and headed on our way.
Rather than rush to Dublin from there, we decided to detour at the Belvedere House—a grand, old mansion whose grounds are now open to visitors for a fee. We decided not to tour the house, but enjoyed lunch in the gardens adjacent to the Jealousy Wall—a wall, appearing as though the ruins of an ancient castle constructed to hide from view the Duke’s brother’s mansion (he believed his brother to sleeping with his wife).
Our last stop before returning the car was at Trim Castle, which we did our best to recall from its appearance in one of the last scenes of Braveheart (we were unsuccessful at the time, but have since taken a look at the DVD and found it was used as Robert the Bruce’s place). The grounds were perhaps more impressive than the castle itself. A river ran along the outer wall on two sides of the castle, and special docks and a small hole in the wall had been designed to allow goods to come in, without the need for a gate that might expose the castle to invasion. We walked around the grounds and marveled at the thick perimeter walls, as we enjoyed the sunshine.
From Trim, we decided we needed to return to the airport and deposit the car. We decided to take the smallest back-roads our Garmin could uncover so as to maximize our country experience. When Elizabeth directed us to a road just barely wide enough for one car—with weeds running down its middle, no less—I had to ask myself, does Elizabeth really know what she is doing?
And yet somehow, we managed to avoid all the major roads, including the toll road (that the car agency insisted was impossible not to take) and get to the airport exactly on time. We dropped off our car at the hotel the agency had partnered with and boarded the bus to the airport, where we hoped to pay for a taxi to the city, when the driver said, “oh, you should just get on that bus.” We thanked him, got off, grabbed our bags back out of the back, and re-loaded on the other. As we got closer to the city, we saw huge crowds of women all over the sidewalks and streets, spilling out of the pubs—and a spattering of men. We asked the people in front of us what was going on—turned out Take That, a boy band, was in town for a concert. “Awesome!,” Aron said with genuine enthusiasm, although I knew he had no idea who it was.
The bus dropped us off beyond the concert-goers and Aron and I decided to walk the rest of the way to The Fitzwilliam Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green, where we would spend our last two nights. After checking in to our beautiful room we got a drink and toasted to Aron’s parents who helped us pay for the stay. Though we had delayed our arrival with our adventures in the country, being in the room made us wish we were there earlier!
We decided to go to the Temple Bar neighborhood, which our guidebook described as Dublin’s trendiest neighborhood that is always open. The area has loads of character: Cobble stone, narrow street are lined with bars and restaurants. Apparently, it fell into decay at a time when much of the city’s architecture was being made over–so it was passed over and its original structures were left alone. The area appears to be fully gentrified, however, and Temple Bar is now clearly very popular with tourists. It reminded us a bit of New York’s trendy Meatpacking district. We walked around the small narrow streets and read about their cultural significance, particular in regards to Irish art and music.
At the end of our walk was Eden, a restaurant known for New Irish cuisine. New Irish can, not surprisingly, best be likened to New American Seasonal, the chefs of which take seasonal, local products and prepare them in traditional ways with a twist. It was an excellent meal.
Not far from our hotel we found a bar known for its traditional music–O’Donoghues–so we stopped there for a few hours before retiring. At this point in our trip we had begun to know some of the most popular songs, which only added to the fun as the bar erupted into singing.
The following day, we began our city tour with Stephen’s Green. It’s a beautiful park and it was cool to see how many people were using it to stroll, to picnic, or to read—particularly on such a lovely, sunny day. From there, we walked to some of the major streets where there is a concentration of the famous Georgian doors of Dublin are located (and we happened upon Mark from the band “Take That” coming out of his hotel—noticeable by the crowd of teens).
We continued our walking-tour around the city and headed over to Trinity College. To our surprise, we had actually walked around it grounds the previous day, but this time we found the gate to that led us into the campus. Our destination was the Trinity Library–the oldest and largest library in Ireland, dating to 1592–and the Book of Kells, an ornamental bible illustrated around 800 AD. The exhibit houses an excellent display about how the book was made (including its base materials) and culminates in the book itself–a few select pages are on view at any particular time. Seeing the book itself was incredible, but I have to admit that the highlight might have been the library’s Long Room.
The Long Room is what one imagines ad grand old library would look like in a dream: oak tables and shelves, volumes upon volumes of ancient tableaus, stacks so tall as to require ladders, and busts of literary lumineries–two stories, no less. Apparently, as the library could claim one free copy of every book published in Ireland, the stacks became so full that in 1801 the ceiling was raised to its current vaulted position and a second-tier gallery was created.
Having built up an appetite, we went to Leo Burdoch’s Fish and Chips for some excellent fried fish—rumored to be the best in the city. They don’t have any inside seating, so we ate on the steps at Christ Church, nearby. They’ve been making fried fish since 1913. I particularly liked eating the fish out of the crinkly brown paper—delicious!
We debated whether to head for the Guinness factory and Kilmainham Gaol (the County Jail) at this point—the latter was top on my list of things to see—but decided that we would have time before our flight. Besides, after the fish, we figured we needed to walk to help burn off the fried food; so we headed north of the river to the shopping district.
The center of this neighborhood is marked by the Spire of Dublin, erected during a time when the neighborhood was first being reclaimed by pedestrians. It has a 10 foot diameter base and rises up into the sky to a height of 390 feet—where the diameter narrows to 6 inches. Though some seem to hate it, Aron and I thought it was pretty incredible. When the weather began to turn a bit, we headed back toward our hotel, stopping occasionally to note the Joyce plaques we found at various intervals in the cement.
Each plaque would note an event that occurred there in the novel—for example, Bloom smoked as he crossed over O’Connell bridge, on page 125. We’re sorry to say that we would just miss Bloomsday, the holiday marking the 16th of June when Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses, walked through Dublin. Aron said he felt his stomach rumble when I reminded him that Mr. Bloom had eaten a gorgonzola sandwich and drank a glass of burgundy at a pub nearby.
For dinner on our last night, we had chosen the Winding Stair. Sitting on the northern bank of the Liffey, near the Ha’penny bridge, it used to be a café and bookshop but has since been transformed to a dedicated and well-reputed restaurant, serving (again) the Irish equivalent of New American Seasonal, which I suppose would be called New Irish Seasonal.
Walking up the stairs we knew we had made the right choice based on aesthetics alone: Light streamed in from the south-facing windows overlooking the river, and the wooden floors looked well-worn. On one side sat lovely old book shelves on which books remained from the store’s former life, adjacent to a large chalkboard with the evening’s wine specials. The tables and chairs were bistro-style and an old leather couch sat in the corner along with another tiny library.
The food was excellent—to start, I had potted Kerry crab, which was served in a small ramekin with butter, with toasted soda bread—it was completely heavenly. Aron started with four different types of smoked fish from around the Dublin area. For the main, I had some succulent smoked haddock, poached in milk and onions and served with a cheddar mash, while Aron went for some delicious (according to him) lamb rump. We finished the meal with bread-and-butter pudding which was amazing and served with a whiskey sauce. It was too late for music at the bars by the time we finished dinner, but we figured we would have a full day of exploring the following day.
We woke for a light breakfast and began to plan our day. Aron, after checking his iphone for new mail, handed it over to me so that I could review our boarding passes from Continental. With shock, I saw that our flight was at 9:55am. They were not at 3:55pm as our Google calendar had indicated yesterday when we checked in. Google calendar was accounting for the time change, and had changed the time on our schedule, so we believed our flight was way later. In retrospect, I remember thinking–when Aron told me we had all morning on our last day to explore Dublin, buy Cadbury chocolate and wool souvenirs, visit the jail, etc–that we had an early flight, but denial is a strong urge to fight.
With panic, we saw that it was currently 8:45am. And the Dublin airport is no less than 30 minutes from the town center. We split up: Aron to check out, and me to pack. Of course, I didn’t have a key, so when Aron arrived at the room he found me eating what breakfast I could standing up (poached eggs was a challenge but I managed some of the banana crepe) and no packing-progress made. Once in the room, we threw things in the bags as quickly as possible. Aron had the hotel hail a cab when he checked out, so one was ready when we ran downstairs. We tried to convince our driver to speed, but it still took almost 25min (I’ll admit the friendly small-talk was especially challenging, but our driver persisted in learning our history). We arrived at the airport at 9:30 and tried to persuade an agent to help us get boarding pass. Convinced it was impossible, she kept yelling “Why are you so late!?” but when we persisted she told us to go print boarding passes from the internet. We ran upstairs and spent another five minutes accomplishing this when she found us with two boarding passes in hand. Abadoning the print-outs, we ran to security. They begrudgingly let us cut in line, but they took Aron’s whiskey with broad smiles–hmmm…
Apparently the confiscated bottles are donated to the church (insert crooked eyebrow here). At 9:45, Aron grabbed my bag and we both started running. “On your left,” we cried as we made our way (sprinting for five minutes without break) to the gate. At 9:50, we were at the gate, getting extra security screening (why were we so late?) and being threatened that the pilot wanted to take off without us. Aron, having carried all of our bags, set them down, bent down to take off his shoes, and then bent further down in agony as his back went out.
Unable to stand up straight, he managed to put his shoes back on, and with my help he hobbled across the gangway onto the plane at 9:53. Aron limped back to his seat as I tried to avoid the scowls, shaking heads, and tisks that were directed in our direction. Seriously–passengers were shaking their heads at us as we looked for overhead space despite that we beat the scheduled departure time: At 9:55, we sat down in our seats–and panted in relief.
Our flight back was fine for me, although poor Aron grimaced every time he moved.
We had an amazing time in Ireland; it charmed us with its small towns and intrigued us with its cities and suprised us with beautiful weather.