Dublin and Scotland Adventures :: Reflections

Talk about an exciting past 10 days. As always, it’s hard to say goodbye and come to the realization that vacation is over. The husband and I took a flight from Edinburgh to Newark and then to San Francisco before we made it to Seattle. I was amazed how quick the flight from Edinburgh to Newark was. With the tail wind it actually took less time to fly over the Atlantic ocean than it did to go from the east coast to the west coast. Unfortunately for us, our smooth ride home from the UK came to an abrupt halt when we were cozied up in our upgraded seats and the United representative told us our flight was cancelled due to the lack of a pilot and we needed to deplane. We were rebooked for the first morning flight out of San Francisco but after a three hour delay I started to think San Francisco didn’t want us to leave.

When we finally made it home to Seattle, the sun was shining and I was reminded how my I love this city and how nice it feels to come home after a vacation, yet I still missed my Scottish family. When ever you come home from a long holiday everyone you chat with wants to know what your favorite part of the trip was. It’s always difficult for me to answer. For this trip I’m going to break it into two adventures.

Dublin

If you ever find yourself in Dublin, I highly recommend stopping by The Winding Stair for lunch or dinner. Situated north of the Liffey, you can take a break from absorbing your Irish literary fix with a nice glass of wine, bookshop, and a fabulous meal. Another highlight for the trip, for me, was doing the literary pub crawl. If literature is not an interest of yours then I recommend looking into one the music pub crawls for an amazing evening filled with Irish culture and laughter. Also, if you are interested in Jameson and Guinness, I would recommend skipping the Jameson Distillery and for sure playing in the Guinness Storehouse. The husband and I were very disappointed in the Jameson Distillery tour and think you would get your moneys worth elsewhere. To end on a high note, I also loved the Chester Beatty Library; it’s free, has fascinating artifacts, beautiful grounds and is located across the street from Dublin Castle.

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Scotland

For me, all of Scotland is a highlight but if I have to choose specifics then St. Andrews tops my list. If you couldn’t tell by now, I absolutely love that town. There is so much history and character in this town, from the university to The Old Course to the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral there is plenty to see and do! On top of all the sites to see, you can have a splendid meal or visit one of the local craft breweries in the area. Whatever you do, promise me you will stop by Balgove Larder and M. Mitchell for lunch during your visit. Another highlight from our time in Scotland was our day trip to Stirling. Another great town with beautiful buildings, landscape, and history to visit. Not far from Edinburgh or Glasgow, I highly recommend taking the train out to see Stirling Castle. You can spend a good chunk of the day wandering around this castle and learn about its important historical events. Also, if you buy a ticket to visit Stirling Castle, for a little bit more, you can visit Edinburgh Castle (I believe within 24 hours of your visit). These two castle carry so much historical importance for Scotland and its people. The country is truly breathtaking, even the view from the train or car, getting from place to place is one of a kind; I look forward to coming back in the future and exploring the Highlands more next time.

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Dublin Adventures Meets Scotland Adventures

Sunday was our last day in Dublin and our travel day to Scotland. We had brunch at Lennox Cafe and Bistro, located south of City Center and a few blocks from the Hilton Hotel. There one can find an interesting mixture of business men, families, and hipsters enjoying a Sunday brunch. We got there when they first opened and were happy because about 15 minutes after they opened the bistro was packed. The husband went for a final Irish breakfast while I opted for a vegetable quiche. We only had about an hour before we had to head to the airport so we walk through St Stephens Green one last time, past the Parliament building to Merriam Square for a peak at the Oscar Wilde statue, perched on a rock in all his grandeur.

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We ended up flying budget airline Ryan Air to get to Edinburgh. The flight was very short and we didn’t have any delays. The husband and I were efficient packers this trip and were able to pack in two carry-on rolling bags. However, if you do have to check a bag at Ryan Air be aware that they charge bag fees based on the weight of your bag.

We arrived in Edinburgh without having to deal with customs because we came through Ireland, which was nice. Our dear friend picked us up and then drove us to Dundee (about an hour drive). Per tradition we ate in for the evening, enjoying a fabulous meal from our friend’s wife, red wine, and great conversation.

When we arrived in Dundee last year our friend took us to a local pub called Speedwell Bar (known to the locals as Mennies – a former landlady who ran the place for over half a century). There the gentlemen enjoyed a couple wee drams of whisky and we celebrated our arrival in Scotland. Our next day adventures would take us to St. Andrews for some meandering and retail therapy.

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Dublin Adventures :: Day 3

Today was a day of pub crawling around the city.

To make sure were well nourished for this epic adventure we stopped at a small cafe called Bite of Life for some porridge and fresh juice. Once we were adequately filled we wandered over to the Guinness Storehouse. Like the Jameson Distillery, the Guinness Storehouse is a bit Disney-like, while at the same time amazingly well done (no cheese factor what so ever). You can experience the Guinness Storehouse in a variety of ways, guided tours, self-guided tours, or/or straight to one of their bars.

The husband I choose to do a self-guided tour of the 7 story building. At the Storehouse one learns about the brewing process and the 5 key ingredients used to make Guinness (Arthur Guinness himself being the fifth ingredient). You learn about the global foundations and water programs Guinness has started and the history of the brewery. One thing that I found interesting about the Guinness Brewery was how they were one of the first companies to instate holiday and health care for its employees. It sounded as though if you were a Guinness employee you and your family were well cared for.

On other floors you learned about the history of Guinness advertising, and how casks were made. It’s amazing to think what a big production Guinness was, even from the start. I didn’t realize at the time, but the Storehouse was opened in 2000, but the building was constructed in 1902 as the fermentation plant.

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On the 7th floor of the Storehouse you enter the Gravity Lounge where with the price of your admission you receive a complimentary pint of beer. Over 10 million pints of Guinness are poured around the world each day. This day the husband I were able to enjoy our freshly poured Guinness and with a 360 degree view of Dublin. On the 4th floor of the Storehouse you can also visit the Connoisseur Lounge where for a reasonable price you can do a tasting flight of all 4 types of Guinness that they sell. You can also learn how to perfect the pour at the Guinness Academy and receive a certificate. I’m pretty confident the husband will start bringing it to the bars in Seattle and insist that he pour his own pint, because you know… he is “certified”.

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Once I was able to pull the husband out of his adult candy land we headed over to Brazen Head for yet another pint of the black stuff. If you want to experience Dublin and its true pub history then Brazen Head is the place for you (one of the oldest pubs in Dublin). It has for sure become a tourist pit stop but the inside of the pub is well worth seeing. People from around the world stop in for a pint, but well worth the visit. The food was traditional fare and the black stuff amazing. The husband and I were lucky to snag seats at the bar where we each enjoyed a pint and the husband grabbed a dram of Yellow Spot whiskey. Interestingly enough we learned that much of whiskey produced in Ireland is distributed in the US so we actually are able to find better deals back home.

After our pint stop at Brazen Head, we meandered our way through Christ Church where they had an all girl choir singing hymns in the main cathedral. The Church is quite beautiful and worth seeing. Other churches to visit include St. Andrews Cathedral.

For lunch we at at the wine cellar in Fallon and Bryne. There you can find a small grocery store with fresh Irish food made to go (similar in style and layout to a Whole Foods). They also have a wine cellar and and upstairs restaurant to enjoy.

In hopes of making the day a little more than just a pub crawl day we took an afternoon stroll through St. Stephens Green (located in city center), which the current design was by William Sheppard and opened in 1880. Until 1877 the park was only accessible to local residents. Interestingly, we learned at the Storehouse, Arthur Guinness’s son paid for the layout of the green (what we currently see today, which took place in 1880).

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Post our stroll through the Green and some retail window shopping on Grafton Street, we headed over to the Palace Bar where the husband enjoyed a dram of their house distilled whiskey (naturally named Palace Bar Irish Whiskey). We also wanted to make sure we heard some live music while in town, because a trip to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without some live Irish music. We popped into Oliver St. John Gogarty pub for another pint and music. The place was packed with all walks of life (including a boy crazed group of teenagers heading out to see One Direction later in the night).

Oliver St. John Gogarty was a man of many hats, an Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist. He was also an inspiration for Buck Mulligan (Ulysses) and probably one of the many reasons James Joyce left Dublin for the last time. At the pub bands played in 30 minute segments and many of the musicians playing in multiple bands. The crowds they drew were quite amazing and it was wonderful how the blended traditional Irish songs with popular songs (mostly to please the boy crazed One Direction fans). After about an hour of entertainment the husband and I cut through Temple Bar to have dinner at Cleaver Eat. A small plate, shareable foods style restaurant. With two Michelin star chefs involved, Cleaver East does a wonderful spin on traditional Irish meals (such as fish and chips or a scotch egg) and offers a tantalizing experience with pork belly, lobster dumplings, and many more. I am by no means a food critic but I thought the food was quite good. I can understand why they have received such accolades from the food world and would very much enjoy going back during another stay.

We finished our day with a craft cocktail break on our walk home to the hotel. Initially we thought we’d end the night with one last pint but we could’t resist a cocktail after seeing the bartender in the restaurant window of Green 19 whipping up delicious drinks. Green 19 was a small restaurant that looked like it came straight out of Seattle. The cocktails were traditional with a modern twist, as was that food that we saw coming out of the kitchen. The husband made a comment that as much as he enjoyed the various pubs we stopped at today, if we lived in Dublin, Green 19 would probably be one of our local bite spots.

Once again we were hitting the hay a little before 1 AM and a little sad, knowing it was our last full day but excited for the day ahead and our friends in Scotland.

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Dublin Adventures :: Day 2

We started our second day in Dublin with a lovely scenic Viking Water tour (aka Duck Tour)…

Kidding…

Actually we started our day at Slattery just north of the Liffey on our way to the Jameson Distillery. Situated on Grande Canal Street, we entered one of the few early houses (you know… a pint with your breakfast), where one can find a warm cozy Irish feel. There were three options on the menu so the husband and I decided to go the traditional Irish breakfast route.

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After our bellies were full with homemade sausages, pudding, and eggs we headed over to the distillery. I wont say much about the Distillery other than to say the the original building was quite interesting to see. The plexiglass floors revealed the old foundation for the original pot stills. One of the original pot stills could hold 31,000 gallons making it the largest pot still in the world. The original building, still intact, was built in 1795 and from 1825 to 1975 the distillery was in operation (that’s 150 years) until is was moved out to the Middleton Distillery where they still craft there 5 (don’t quote me on that) well known whiskeys. With all that said, the tour was very Disney-like. Animetronic figurines reenacting the process of distilling whiskey and a theatrical video of a man from the New York Times visiting the distillery and meeting Mr. Jameson himself. At the end of the tour there were a blind tasting of a Scottish whisky, and American whiskey and Jameson. The husband eagerly participated only to find out the cards were heavily stacked in Jameson’s favor (using Jack Daniels – not even a Kentucky bourbon, and Johnnie Walker Black Label – the shortest aged of their sipping line).

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After we enjoyed our tastings of Jameson (neat for the husband and mixed with ginger ale and mint for myself) we dedicated the rest of the day to the great writers of Ireland.

For those of you who know me, I am quite the literary nut. For as small as Ireland is, they are home to many great authors including 4 nobel prize winners in literature, including Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney.

Dublin is also known for its theater presence, where back in 1899 WB Yeats and Lady Gregory founded the Irish Literary Theater, which eventually evolved into the Abbey Theater. Unfortunately, the husband and I were noy able to squeeze a show in this trip but plan to go to the Abbey Theater next time we are in town.

We started our literary tour at the Dublin Writers Museum. A small museum located on Parnell Square (north of the Liffey) in a house built by Thomas Sherrard in the late 1700’s. There were two exhibit rooms. The first room traced the roots of Irish poetry and storytelling on to Swift, Congreve, Goldsmith, and Sheridan. The exhibit then transitioned to the successors of Thomas Moore to Mangan, Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) onto Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. The second room displayed artifacts and information by the dominate writers of the twentieth century and the height of the Irish Literary Revival. This is where we learned about the creation of the Abbey Theater, Yeats, James Joyce, Sean O’Casey and the always colorful and amusing Oliver Gogarty.

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Just down the street from the Dublin’s Writer’s Museum we stopped in the James Joyce Center. It was very interesting to think how much Dublin shunned Joyce (especially around the time he was writing Ulysses) to then have them sing his name and shower him with accolades for his writings. You almost want to feel sorry for him because a city practically ran him out, yet you stop short because he was such an arrogant man. At the Joyce Center there was a great quote on the wall that said, “What did you do in the Great War?” Joyce responded, “I wrote Ulysses, what did you do?”

The James Joyce Center was nicely curated and utilized some great touch screen experiences to walk you through the life of James Joyce. One of the touch screens show a great visual display of the family tree for the Ulysses book editions. Amazing to think how far the book has come from its rough beginnings and a country that refused to accept its author for so many years.

Post the James Joyce Center we strolled over to the Winding Stair for relaxing bite of food and a glass of wine. When you enter the restaurant you have to go up a flight of winding stairs (naturally) to the second floor. In a decent size room you enter the restaurant with about 20 or so tables. The items on the menu were refreshing a light so we selected a mozzarella, pickled vegetable and greens salad with a tray of smoked fishes (including salmon, haddock,whipped mackerel, scallops, and a few others that are escaping my memory). The wine selection was also very nice to choose from. I noticed that all of the restaurants we ate at did not include US wines, which was refreshing. Instead I was able to try various wines from Chiles, South Africa, and other countries that I don’t see on the menus back home. The Chenin Blanc I had (from South Africa) at the Winding Stair was crisp and refreshing.

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After our bellies were refilled with more Irish fare we wandered back over the river and to Trinity College. Trinity College was established by Queen Elizabeth after she realized many of the Irish people were seeking education in Spain, France, and other location. At that time, it was deemed unacceptable and Trinity college was created to ensure a more noble (and proper religious) education was experienced among the Irish people. Trinity College is home to many of the well-known writers I mentioned earlier. Even Oscar Wilde attended however he transferred partly through to Oxford where he completed his degree.

Trinity College is also home to the Book of Kells, which was been housed at the college since the 19th century (for safe keeping due to the destruction that was occurring in Scotland at the time). The herds of people that shuffled through the small exhibit was astounding. It was hard to absorb all of the information in the museum due to the volume of people but it was interesting to learn that the book was not meant for daily reading, rather for special occasions. The majority of the exhibit featured large scale images of different pages from the book with excerpts about the creation of the book.

On the second floor of the Old Library is the Long Room where one can find over 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. It was times like this that I wished I had my nana with me. At the Louvre in Paris we had her in the wheel chair and were able to zip straight to the front of the line to see the Mona Lisa. At the Books of Kells you had to be quick on your toes to get a peak at the couple of pages they had on display.

After moving through the crowd of people at the Old Library we headed back to city center. By the library we noticed a sphere sculpture that looked strikingly similar to the one that is in the Vatican. We later learned that the Italian sculpture Arnaldo Pomodoro had created a series called “Sphere within Sphere” and one of them is at Trinity College (as well at the UN HQ in New York and a handful of other places).

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Post Trinity College we did a retail stroll down Grafton Street. We made a stop at Ulysses Rare Book Store where they have a signed first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysess for only 350,000 euro. The store housed a great selection of used rare books, including some first and second editions of Roland Dahl books. The store used to be called Cathach Books but you can located them online at www.rarebooks.ie

Since we had to be at The Duke for the Literary Pub Crawl at a certain time we made a pit stop at Hogans for a pint of the black stuff and went to Bear, by Joe Macken and Jamie Heaslip, for dinner. It was a fabulous steak joint that served up the not so popularized cuts of meat in tasty new ways, with all types of small plates and a great wine and cocktail selection.

After dinner we headed to The Duke for the literary pub crawl. I don’t want to share too much about the experience because it doesn’t change regularly (I don’t want to spoil the fun if you plan to go) but what I can say is that is was plain old good fun! The group meets at The Duke where you have a pint and listen to literary stories, watch some theatrical renditions of scenes from various well known Irish novels and plays, and have a good laugh. The performers are well versed in their literary history and did a splendid job telling stories about Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Oliver Gogarty and Brendan Behan.

By the time the pub crawl ended the husband and I were pretty pooped. We knew we had another journey filled day ahead of us and pubs to visit in our future. We thanked our amazing literary pub crawl performers/guides and bid adieu to the night.

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Dublin Adventures :: Day 1

Talk about hitting the ground running. I am now going on 32 hours straight without sleep, as I write this post. After we landed in Dublin we caught a taxi over to our hotel, which we Hotwired and got a great deal! We are about half a mile from city center and after a long day of travel our legs were screaming for some movement.

We didn’t linger long at the hotel because we wanted to get through some of the items on our list, knowing that we only had three days. For those of you who know me and my husband, we are not ones to vacation slowly. We literally hit the ground running and stop when we’ve marked everything off our list. While I realize this might not be a sustainable travel style for all it suites the two of us very well.

The first item on our list this afternoon was to pick up our Dublin City Passes, It’s kind of like a Disney Express Pass for the lines. They are well priced based on many of the amount of attractions we plan to see and they allow you to skip most of the lines.

We also signed up for the the Literary Pub Crawl tomorrow evening. My brother highly recommends the Music Pub Crawl but being the literary nut that I am I wanted to hear as many scintillating stories of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde that I could.

Once our tickets we secured we headed over to a recommendation from my brother for lunch – a Spanish tapas restaurant called Salamanca, which had wonderful food and Eric first sip of Guinness in Dublin.

I have to say walking through Dublin (especially Grafton Street) during a week day lunch hour is an interesting experience. There is so much hustle and bustle… it’s quite exciting. We also quickly realized that the city is pretty easy to navigate and by the end of the day felt comfortable zipping around the city (via foot of course).

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Post our toothsome lunch we headed over to Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library. I didn’t know what to expect other than the one paragraph I read in my travel book about the Chester Beatty library but all I can say is… wow! Both the husband and I were blown away. It reminded us of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in some ways and it was very interesting to see Chester Beatty’s love for Asian culture (e.g., a collection of glass and jade snuff bottles) collaged with his love of books, manuscripts, and scrolls. The library exhibits did a wonderful job of walking you through the experience and history of books… perfectly titling the exhibit hall “The Art of Book”. In the second floor exhibit you will find an exquisite collection (17 in total, making it the largest collection in existence) of Chinese Jade books, which were created in hopes of withstanding the test of time.

Every item in the exhibition halls is perfectly curated to tell a story and all you to get to know Chester Beatty through his passions. Absolutely worth the visit and it’s free admission, but I highly recommend leaving a donation.

After wandering through the library we walked around the grounds and by the Dublin Castle for a bit.

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Our first Irish pub stop ended up being at Kehoe’s for what Anthony Bourdain calls “a pint of the black stuff”. This was officially my first Guinness experience and yes I went the baby Guinness route by ordering a half pint for myself. I have to admit… it was creamy and delicious!

Kehoe’s was exactly what we were looking for in an Irish pub too. According to my travel book, this pub is one of the most “atmospheric” pubs in the city centre and I couldn’t agree more. You could feel the history the second you stepped inside and could tell right away that this was a favorite at the locals.

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Our dinner (well really evening snack) was at Coppering Row right off of Grafton Street. This was a recommendation we read in United Hemisphere’s Three Perfect Days and once again, we were not disappointed. They had a unique gin spirit list with a variety of flavored tonic waters to pair it with. The husband went for a saffron gin with blood orange and sweet tonic water. Holy crazy was it refreshingly scrumptious. There dinner menu was equally fresh and delightful. We stuck with fresh seafood and trust me… if you are every in Ireland or Scotland never pass up the smoked mackerel. Absolutely amazing and nothing like what I’ve tasted back home in Seattle.

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Our last stop of the day was the Vintage Cocktail Club, where one stumbles upon a discrete black metal door with the letters VCC on it. If you weren’t on the hunt for it, you would probably walk by without realizing the magic that occurred inside. There’s a buzzer in which a woman comes to open the door and greet you. From there she transports you to an upstairs lounge that travels you back in time. A mix of 1960s Mad Men Style lounge, meets depression-era speakeasy. For the husband and I, it reminded us of our favorite cocktail joint in Seattle called Needle and Thread.

The handcrafted cocktail menu is organized by eras with cocktails to match that particular time in history. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) we only stuck around for one drink before we figured it was time to drag our tired bodies back to the hotel. If I was a local Dubliner VCC would for sure be my go to spot.

Which now leaves me here… blogging to you all about our first day in Dublin. It was such a great start and we can’t wait for the next two days, but right now this traveling lady needs her beauty rest. Cheers everyone!

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Dublin Adventures :: on our way

After a little excitement this morning getting to San Francisco (runway construction causing delays on all inbound and outbound flights) we are settled into the United Club waiting on our flight to London!

We arrive in London tomorrow bright in early and take a puddle jumper plane to Dublin. We have a full three days planned in Dublin and can’t wait to share our adventures with everyone, so be sure to check back tomorrow. Cheers!