Following a self skippered cruise on the Shannon River in Ireland, we journeyed to Dublin. Twenty-five years had passed since we last visited this historic city. The changes were stunning. Dublin is booming and, unfortunately, afflicted with the heavy traffic that comes with affluence. The majority of Dubliners seem to be on cell phones, usually while smoking. The modern world is encroaching, but Dublin retains its charm. Dustmen still pick up street litter, and police on horseback maintain a safe environment. Horse drawn carriage rides are popular with tourists. Bagpipe and banjo players entertain on the streets as in past ages. Dublin is a happy marriage of the old ways with the new.
We stayed at the Hibernium boutique hotel which is well located -- not far from the Dublin Airport or Port of Dublin. Many tourist sites were within walking distance. Constructed at the end of the 19th century, this charming building had last been used as a dormitory for nurses. It was a pleasant surprise that the $180 room rate for our Junior Suite included a huge Irish breakfast delivered to our room. First, unheated foods, such as cereal arrive; hot dishes are brought later. Excellent service was a constant and included a filled candy dish and tea in our room every day.
Comfortable sitting rooms near the dining room offered a perfect place for pre-dinner drinks and the civilized custom of after-dinner coffee, liqueurs and quiet conversation. We met guests from around the world enjoying the ambiance. The dining room's terra cotta walls and elegant appointments invite serene dining, and a prix fixé dinner of excellent French cuisine is available. The adjoining garden room featured a colorful mural. A glass solarium ceiling, enhanced with adjustable fabric, bathed the room in sunlight.
Tourism Center & Bus Tour
A trip to the sophisticated Dublin Tourism Centre is a MUST for first-time visitors. The office is located in the restored St. Andrews Church on Suffolk Street in the heart of Dublin city. Among the services offered are: accommodation reservations, discount tickets for attractions, bus line information, Irish ferry information, gift shop, and a passport photo booth. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 9:00-18:30.
For a first outing, we recommend boarding a double decker bus city tour that travels to the medieval section of the city. On the ride we saw restaurant signs advertising Gobble & Go, Queen of Tarts, Cat Dragged Inn, and the Legal Eagle. The Guinness presence is pervasive. Irish whiskey is considered the best in the world, at least by the Irish. The north side of Dublin offers less expensive shopping than the south side, but is more heavily crowded with cars and shoppers. Eason's Book Store is popular with consumers. The once prestigious Gresham Hotel has lost its luster. The Clarence Hotel, one of Dublin's finest, is frequented by rock stars and super models.
We viewed the Millennium Fountain with "the floozie in the jacuzzi" and the Molly Malone statue called "the tart with a cart" by the town folk. The jail is the best heritage tour, per our guide. A stop was made at the French Huguenot cemetery dating back to the 1600s. Later, we saw Oscar Wilde's birth place, Fusileers Arch, the mansion house of Dublin's Lord Mayor, Old Guinness Barge which was used to carry beer up the river, and "Time Enough," the name of a boat owned by a dying man.
The brownstones of the city have only 25 foot frontages for homes that probably had 6,000 square feet of living space. These pricey brownstones are now divided into several residences or offices; we noticed Coca-Cola Ireland located in one. There isn't even space for air between buildings. Window boxes filled with cascading flowers charm sightseers and add individuality. Colorful front doors in shades of red, green, blue, aqua, yellow, heliotrope, peach, white, and charcoal grey were done in defiance of England's edict to paint them all black at the death of Queen Victoria. Others claim "doors are painted different colors, so husbands can find their way home from pubs."
Art Across the Park
We walked from the hotel through a beautifully landscaped park across the street from the National Gallery of Ireland. Mauve walls provide the backdrop for the "continental" paintings. The interesting ceiling featured high skylights. Light hardwood flooring is practical. A curved glass elevator is a surprise, and as a lady in a wheelchair said, "quite posh." The main salon has huge portraits enhanced with crystal chandeliers. Hours can be spent studying faces and places immortalized by masters. The galleries never seemed crowded, although art enthusiasts were constantly coming and going.
The Arts & History
The Natural History Museum is an excellent place to explore on a rainy afternoon; a likely possibility in Dublin. Legend has it that Finn Mac Cook, much like our Paul Bunyan, while fighting a Welch giant, picked up dirt and threw it. Supposedly, that is how the Isle of Man came into existence.
By good fortune we came upon the Crypt Theater at Dublin Castle. For about six pounds, we attended a preview performance of "Mojo," an Olivier Award-winning play. Tourists can take advantage of this opportunity to mingle with the Irish -- the audience numbered about 50. The extraordinary acting received warm acceptance by the youthful audience. Prior to attending the theater, we dined at nearby Jasko's Bistro, a restaurant specializing in fish dishes. The décor was pleasant, service was good, and huge buckets of mussels served as a starter for the early bird dinner were delicious. There was, also, a choice of aubergine and leek cake or minestrone soup. Grilled salmon in a parsley sauce, chicken or tagliatelle pasta entrees were tasty and inexpensive.
Trinity University, to view the Book of Kells from the 6th century, was a "must" on our places to visit list. Along with lines of tourists with the same idea, we slowly wended past the historic Book. It was illuminating to mingle with young university students. They were set up in the "quad" of the campus hawking extracurricular activities and products. The behavior of students is universal.
The Bailey and Davie Burns, famous literary pubs, are worth a visit. Ireland is famous for literary figures, such as Samuel Beckett, a Nobel prize winner for literature, Yates, and George Bernard Shaw. Irish art hasn't achieved the renown of their literary world.
We wangled tickets to the Abbey Theater for the opening night of the play "Dolly West's Kitchen," by Frank McGuinness. The theater is quite new, as it was rebuilt after a British bombing. A charming theater goer sitting nearby struck up a conversation and extended an invitation to visit on our next visit to Ireland.
Dublin Castle, Heraldic Christ Church, St. Patrick's, and Marshes Library behind St. Patrick's are usual tourist sites. GlenDaLock, the Glen of Two Lakes, is famous for the Celtic cross one puts arms around to make wishes come true.
We shopped for gifts at St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre that boasts three levels of shops and food courts. The mall is topped by a space-age ceiling of clear, adjustable panels. The mall has replaced some quaint, individual shops of Dublin, but it is very practical in rainy, Irish weather. Ice cream kiosks are extremely popular.
Most tourists enjoy the tour at Guinness Hopstore Visitors' Centre at the St. James Gate Brewery. Guests receive a complimentary pint of the world's most famous brew. This is an experience unique to Dublin.
Satchel's Inkwell Bar is located in the Schoolhouse Hotel Restaurant. It was abandoned as a schoolhouse for thirty years and two years ago reopened. Upholstered pews and footstools and little alcoves with settees and tables provide a homey atmosphere. A balcony above features small tables and chairs. Our Caesar salad made with smoked chicken and a roast chicken sandwich on Italian ciabatta bread arrived with delicious potato salad, potato chips, kidney bean and corn relish and greens. A nice plate for $4.50 pounds. It is probably considered by the average Irish city dweller to be a tourist pub, but many locals come regularly, per the waiter.
Meeting of the Waters
A tour carried us out in the country to Avoca, famous for wool weavers at Ballyikissangel. It's really a one street town near the Meeting of the Waters that is a great photo "op" spot. We continued to Enniskerry, a teensy village, where Fox's Pub, supposedly, is the highest point in Ireland. Powerscourt Estate Gardens on the tour were beautiful. Unfortunately, many plants don't bear identification. An appetizing food court, Waterford shop, knit sweaters, woolens, and a tea room kept the group occupied. The tour bus drove past turn of the century cottages, a powder blue little church often used for society weddings, and a golf course surrounded by a new home development called Pavilion Gate that features a communal tennis court. The area dates back to the ice age. Dublin Zoo is an excellent spot for families to visit. Tourists can travel there and to Phoenix Park on double decker buses.
Powerscourt at Ballyikissangel
During our touring, we found the weather could go from shining sun to bitter cold in a few minutes. It is always necessary to carry a jacket and umbrella for comfortable touring. The Irish say "Never feel too important because the size of your funeral will depend on the weather." During the 70's many ultramodern buildings were constructed. They seem out of place in the Ireland which is now returning to its building heritage. The Government House Complex is imposing. Tours of Parliament may be arranged.
Crossing streets in Ireland is "dicey." We tried to cross when others did and were almost run down. As a kindly lady, Mrs. Reilly, said, "Never imitate the Irish in traffic. You won't survive." Unfailingly, people were kind, helpful and polite. The Emerald Isle awaits you with friendly, open arms.
Photos courtesy of Jack White.
Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
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