Dublin, more than Guinness and whisky

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Dublin is not on the top op favourite destinations for a city trip, but it did not keep us from going. It is often how and what you visit that determines if your trip is enjoyable. It has to be said, the weather is often humid and it rains a lot, but that is not so different from Belgium, so who are we to complain about that. The rain makes that the island is very green and lush, in the South even almost sub-tropical.

We had the bad luck to visit in a week with a lot of rain. But we refused to let it ruin our holiday. We stayed at the Schoolhouse hotel, a nice small boutique hotel, next to the Grand Canal. The hotel began as St. Stephens Parochial School as far back as 1859. The 31 rooms are named and dedicated after some of Ireland’s most important and influential people, many of them writers. It houses the famous Schoolhouse restaurant and Schoolhouse bar. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes on foot to reach the centre of Dublin. It is about 30 minutes by taxi from the airport and will set you back about 35 Euro for the ride. The breakfast is included in the room rate. You can choose from the buffet for a continental breakfast or choose a full Irish breakfast, a plate of salmon and scrambled eggs or pancakes from the menu. If that is too much just ask for any style of eggs and bacon with toast. The beautiful setting of the Schoolhouse restaurant make for a very enjoyable first meal of the day.

Arriving at noon I went for lunch at Il Valentino on the quay of the Grand Canal. The yummie cakes and pastries tempted but I went for  one of the sandwiches with a cappuccino. I made a walk through the city centre and after a short rest we had dinner that evening at Hugo’s near St. Stephens green, where they serve quality Irish dishes and have a large choice of wines by the glass.

We walked in the direction of the centre of Dublin, passing Merion square. We took a peek in the old Sweny pharmacy, made famous by James Joyce, now turned into a second hand bookshop. You can still buy the legendary lemon soap.

We continued in the direction of Trinity college, passing the National Art Gallery. You can visit their collection for free, like most museums in Dublin. The collection boasts an impressive range of masterpieces by artists from the major European schools of art whilst also featuring the world’s most comprehensive collection of Irish art. Just around the corner you find the National Library, the National Museum of Archeology and the Museum of Natural History (also nicknamed ‘the dead zoo’ by the Dubliners). If you turn left into Dawson street, you can stop for a drink in the beautiful Cafe en Seine (it opens at noon) or taste whisky in the Celtic whisky shop.

At the corner with Stephen’s green, a historical park and garden, located in the centre of Dublin city, you find the famous Little museum of Dublin. Described as “Dublin’s best museum experience” by The Irish Times, the museum tells the story of the Irish capital. The collection is created by public donation, entry to the museum is by guided tour.

Under the museum you can have a coffee and lunch in Hatch and Sons. Turn right into the famous shopping street Grafton street. The street ends in front of the Bank of Ireland, the Irish houses of Parliament and the entrance to the Trinity university.

Highlight in Dublin is The book of Kells and the library at Trinity college. The exhibition around the book of Kells is very informative and really beautifully worked out. Not too big, but with many interesting facts. At the end of the exhibition two of the four books are exhibited. The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. The 9th century book is a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The exhibition is connected to the wonderful library of Trinity college dating back to the 18th century. If you visit in high season it might be a good idea to buy your tickets in advance online to avoid the long queues.

We had lunch at Fallon & Byrne, which is a food hall and supermarket selling organic food, where you can also eat or have a coffee. On the upper floor is also a proper restaurant, but the ground floor is nice and busy, and you can choose great food from a counter.

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From Trinity college we walked to the statue of Molly Malone (also dubbed “the tart with the cart”), and then onto Dame street to Dublin castle that was until 1922 the seat of the United Kingdom government’s administration in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex.

We did not visit the castle but wanted to visit the Chester Beatty library. Manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts make up this amazing collection – all the result of the collecting activities of one man – Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968). Egyptian papyrus texts, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, European medieval and renaissance manuscripts are among the highlights on display. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day. Entrance is free. If you need a coffee or are hungry, the Silk Road café in the museum is a good choice.

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Because of the dreary weather we had dinner in the vicinity of the hotel at the Chophouse gastro-pub. All of their beef is Irish Dry Aged for at least 35 days, and indeed we enjoyed our grilled Irish beef with a glass of red wine.

We had booked a  rental car for the next day, to get some fresh air outside of Dublin. We drove in the direction of Wicklow county. We stopped at Powerscourt garden and estate, where we had a coffee with views of the beautiful gardens. The estate is a great place for shopping for typical Irish souvenirs. We continued to the Powerscourt waterfall, the largest waterfall in Ireland.

We made a second stop at Glendalough, also called ‘the valley of the two lakes‘ for its spectacular scenery, rich history, archaeology and abundant wildlife. It is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The Glendalough Valley was carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age and the two lakes, from which Glendalough gets its name, were formed when the ice eventually thawed. The early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”. You can visit the old monastic site and the lower and upper lake on foot. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the visitors centre to the Upper lake. You can choose between two routes, one over a boardwalk. In summer they charge 4 Euro to park your car.

We returned to Dublin and continued to Howth in the Dublin bay, for dinner. On the West pier you can find many great seafood restaurants.

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It was Saturday evening and we hadn’t booked anything in advance, so we had to try several restaurants before finding an empty table at the Oar House. They source most of their fish from the trawlers you see outside the window. Their own trawler “Celtic Fisher” skippered by Sean’s brother Padraig is their primary supplier of the famous Dublin Bay Prawns and most of the whitefish they serve. We chose the Dublin Bay prawns as a starter and fried sole as a main. The Dublin prawns are a real treat!

We finished of the evening with a pint of Guinness at the Schoolhouse Bar. And we slept soundly!

On our last day we crossed the river Liffey, and made a walk starting at the boardwalk on the shore of the Liffey river. O’Connel street is the main street North of the Liffey. On one side stands the Post Office that was the headquarters of the men and women who took part in the Easter Rising of April 1916. While that rebellion ended in failure with most Irish people lamenting the death and destruction caused, it led to Irish independence and the creation of a new State. On the other side of the road stand Clerys, with the iconic Clerys clock. The long established department store dates from 1853, however the current building dates from 1922, having been completely destroyed in the 1916 Easter Rising. In 2015 the department store closed its doors which lead to the immediate sacking of 460 staff.

A bit further you have the Millenium spire, built to commemorate the Millenium but the spire only got finished in 2003. Looking up to the spire makes you dizzy. The Parnell Square is also home to the Garden of Remembrance, the national site commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising which led to the foundation of the Irish State. Parnell Square/Rutland Square has been the scene of many political events central to Irish history. Charles Stewart Parnell often stayed at Rutland Square, addressing meetings at the Rotunda.

You also have The Hugh Lane gallery and the Dublin Writer’s museum next to the Garden of Remembrance.

It was time for a drink, so we walked to the coffee bar Vice, where barista Tom Stafford from Vice Coffee Inc. was awarded “Best Irish Coffee” at the 2015 Dublin Whiskey Fest for his interpretation of this classic coffee cocktail. So we ordered two Irish coffees, and they were good indeed!

We were getting hungry so headed to the Winding Stair restaurant and coffee shop just in front of the Ha’Penny bridge, for one of their famous brunches on Sunday. We went for the smoked fish plate with Dillisk bread. It looks small as it is served on a small cutting board, but I couldn’t finish it. From the restaurant you look out over the Ha’Penny pedestrian bridge over the Liffey. Afterwards we took some time browsing the books in the Winding Stair bookshop.

We had booked a guided tour on the Jeanie Johnston tall ship to learn more about he famous Irish famine and the following emigration. On the way to the boat you pass the Customs house and the Famine Memorial. The original Jeanie Johnston made 16 emigrant journeys to North America between 1847 and 1855, carrying over 2,500 people with no loss of life. The ship is an authentic replica, built in Tralee, Co. Kerry. It has  sailed to North America, and to various points in Europe.

This rounded of our Dublin visit, so we took a taxi back to the airport.

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