Wednesday, July 25, 2012


It's time to wrap up our trip to Ireland! We took the highway to Dublin from Kilkenny and it wasn't an incredibly scenic route but we were very anxious to drop off Paddy O'Hyundai and spend the last day-and-a-half exploring Dublin. We were making excellent time when suddenly my husband realized that we had passed the airport and were driving away from it.

We consulted the information sheet given to us by the rental agency. Irish addresses are ambiguous in general. For example, the address of our first bed and breakfast was simply: Lough Gur, County Limerick, Ireland. No street numbers or zip codes. Once we established that we weren't anywhere close to the rental place, we stopped at a gas station to fuel up and figure out what we were doing wrong.

I studied the GPS, "address" of the place, and the map the agency provided. It was a crudely-drawn roundabout that they called "Airport Roundabout," with an "X" marking their spot just down from the traffic circle. It made no sense on its own, and especially not in relation to wherever we were.

After much contemplation and throwing the GPS around a little, I deduced that the rental agency wasn't actually in Dublin. It was in a small place called Cloghran. Once we input the new destination into the GPS, we were back on the road and things were beginning to look familiar again. Eventually we entered a large roundabout and we assumed this was the "Airport Roundabout." Once we exited the traffic circle, another roundabout loomed in front of us. We searched in vain for a large sign calling it "Airport Roundabout." We drove in circles (literally) and ended up on a one-lane road somewhere close to the airport. By now, the GPS wasn't helping and I was reading off perplexing directions from the agency's map.

"Okay, here we go," I said, as we entered another roundabout. "From the M8, take the first road on your left, go through the roundabout, and ride parallel to the airplanes."
"What does that even mean?" asked my husband. "How do we even know we came from the M8?"
"Hmmm.. well, coming from the R433, drive past the first road on the left and then take the next road on the right. Go through a roundabout."
My husband glanced over at me as we entered another roundabout and said, "We have no idea where the hell we are. This is ridiculous."
I sheepishly read off more directions that might as well have said, "Take a roundabout, drive past a pub, then drive to McCarthy's and have a Guinness. Get back in the car, take another roundabout and turn on the road in front of Mrs. O'Leary's cottage. You have reached your destination."

By this point we had been driving around the perimeter of Dublin for almost 2 hours. I'm not sure how or when it happened because I succumbed to the dizziness of our circular driving and my only contribution for the final half hour was to cry out, "Look! There's a plane landing/taking off! We are definitely close to the airport." This didn't illicit any response from my husband. He only gripped the wheel tighter, knuckles white and sweat beading on his forehead as he tackled another roundabout. But eventually he began to get his bearings and finally exclaimed, "I RECOGNIZE THIS!!! The rental place is on this road!!" Fortunately, he was correct. We stopped to fill up the gas tank one more time since our adventure had caused us to burn off so much fuel.

We practically threw the keys at the agent's face, tossed our luggage out of the car and into the waiting shuttle bus, and never looked back. Traumatic.

The shuttle took us back to the airport and from there we hopped aboard an Airlink Express Coach. We stayed at the Morrison Hotel. It's in the O'Connell Street area and close to Temple Bar. It was almost 6pm by the time the coach dropped us off and we walked several blocks to the hotel. We were starving so we made quick reservations for dinner at a place down the street.

Winding Stair was our culinary highlight of Dublin. The building's front is small. You could easily walk right by it if you weren't searching for it. It's named after a Yeats poem and has been a popular spot for artists of all kinds. When the door is opened, you ascend to the top via winding staircase (clever) and once you reach the top, you're greeted by a cheerful, cozy, and bright dining room. Dinner was absolutely delicious and all of the items on the menu are locally-sourced. We sipped wine and looked out at the River Liffey while we enjoyed our meal. The prices are reasonable and the ambience is relaxed. Reservations are a must-- we were able to get ours at the last-minute only because we were willing to eat very early. But you should definitely have one meal- or two- at Winding Stair if you are ever in Dublin.

Trinity College
Trinity College

After dinner we walked through the city, taking advantage of the late sunset. We strolled through the campus of Trinity College and then find ourselves in Merrion Square, a beautiful city park. It began to get dark so we started back toward the hotel, passing through Temple Bar. The district is as advertised: chock-full with tourists, overpriced restaurants, and souvenir shops featuring leprechauns and Guinness refrigerator magnets. The vibe was reminiscent of Bourbon Street and we had no desire to linger on the cobblestone streets littered with debris and puddled with urine.

We woke early the next morning. It was our only full day in Dublin since our flight was very early the next day. We enjoyed a nice breakfast and then sloshed our way through rainy streets on the way to St. Patrick's Cathedral. I loved walking around the cathedral, reading about its fascinating and extensive history. The interior is breathtaking, from the ceiling all the way down to the floor. We spent almost two hours absorbing the beauty of St. Patrick's Cathedral. It's a must-see.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Casks at St. James Gate Brewery
From there, we went to the Guinness Storehouse for a brewery tour. The St. James Gate Brewery is massive but the tour route is thoughtful and interesting, even to someone (like myself) who is not a Guinness-aficionada. The production of Guinness is an integral part of Dublin's history and you really get a sense of that walking through the brewery and learning about all that goes into making the perfect pint. The highlight of the tour is the Gravity Bar, where visitors are treated to a panoramic view of Dublin as they enjoy a complimentary pint of Guinness.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch after the Guinness tour and then decided to stop off at a pub. As you'd imagine, the choices are infinite when it comes to Dublin pubs. Wisely, we chose a place called Stag's Head near Trinity College. The site has been around since 1770 and the interior is ornately decorated in the Victorian Style. The bartender was exactly what we hoped for: colorful and slightly gruff. After we'd settled in with our pints, a woman approached and asked for a hot chocolate.
"Where do ye think ye are, a feckin' Starbucks?" he asked.
She shrugged and walked back to her table as he shook his head and set to work making a very delicious-looking cup of hot chocolate topped with a dollop of cream.

He gave us, and another tourist couple, suggestions of things to do and places to see while we were in his beloved city. We also struck up a conversation with a nice local who seemed as if he occupied a permanent spot at the corner of the bar. I wish we could have stayed longer but we only had a few more hours before the day was done.

Continuing our beverage-fueled day, the next place on our agenda was the Jameson Distillery. The tour began with a short, but clever video. Then our spirited guide took us through different rooms, explaining the whiskey-making process. At the end of the tour we were rewarded with complimentary glasses of Jameson. I took a few sips of mine and decided that was enough for me. The tour was interesting but it didn't transform me into a whiskey-lover, unfortunately.

It was dinnertime once we finished and we ate at a trendy little place near our hotel. We went to one more pub and it wasn't nearly as fun as Stag's Head. It was cramped and stuffy and had a distinctly seedy air about it. The man seated next to me at the bar mumbled to himself and looked around crazily at other patrons. Eventually he ordered a Sprite and then poured the contents of the bottle into the remainder of his pint of Guinness, guzzling it thirstily and wiping his dripping mouth on the sleeve of his coat as he leered at everyone. It was time for us to go.

Ireland was amazing. The people were gregarious, helpful, and kind. It was comforting to be around English-speakers again. I would have liked one more day in Dublin to take some tours and see some more of the sights we missed. We certainly made a good go of it but there's only so much you can do with a day-and-a-half.

My favorite part of the trip is a toss-up. I absolutely loved our first bed and breakfast (Desmond Lodge) and Lough Gur. The area was steeped in history and I think it would be fun to be around for a summer or winter solstice viewing at The Grange Stone Circle.

I can't say enough about the Ring of Kerry. We were only able to drive halfway around and I can't wait to return so we can see the rest of it. I loved Ireland's coast. The scenery was ever-changing because of the weather. When the sun shone, the hilltops over the water sparkled. And when it was foggy, the mist rising from the sea gave the landscape a mysterious, beautiful aura.

Nothing about Ireland was disappointing. I loved everything about it and can't wait to return to the 'land of saints and scholars.'

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