Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Out and about: A cute and quirky weekend on the Emerald Isle

In writing about my trip to Wales, I realised I forgot to post about my trip to Ireland before Christmas. So, here we go...

My cousin Jo is at Trinity College in Dublin and as I’ve wanted to visit the city for years, it was a great opportunity to spend some time with her, and the family, do a tiny bit of sightseeing, get in the festive mood and sample a bit of Irish Craic, so a last week that’s exactly what we did!

Molly Malone

How we got there

The cute London Southend Airport on a teeny Aer Arran plane: London Southend is literally 25 minutes from my front door, driving, and probably even less on the train which incidentally pulls up literally opposite the terminal. My mother miscalculated our travel time, and so we spent 2.5 hours in an airport (not the waiting lounge, the whole airport) that is probably smaller than the square footage of my three bedroom semi. We’re talking one check in desk, one café, one shop, one bar and two gates. It was teeny tiny! This meant zero queueing and none of the usual airport expenditure on the way out and on the way home we de-planed, collected luggage, cleared customs, picked up the car and walked through the front door of my house in the time it takes to just walk to the passport gates at Stansted.
Definitely one for the future!
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Trinity Capital Hotel, directly opposite Trinity College where Jo lives on the campus. We originally booked it, on recommendation, for logistical ease but it turned out to be a great choice.
The styling is quirky and it felt like a cross between an early 20th century safari lodge, a Lewis Carroll book and, erm, well, an imaginarium… The lobby and reception areas are littered with (faux) animal skins, gigantic chaise longes and super-sized arms chairs in sumptuous jewel-coloured velvets. The deep purple walls are adorned with beautiful maps, old and new, every pillar and alcove glitters with tiny mosaic tiles and gilded frames. Matching black and white baby grand pianos sit in the middle of the lounge, huge mirrors invite you to walk down corridors that don’t exist, gargoyles of what looked like the cast of The Life of Pi perched on the roof outside my window and life-sized camel statues wait patiently for the summer to return so they have some company in the courtyard.

Black and white pianos
It was one quirky hotel and I LOVED it! Such a great choice and I’ll definitely be going back. For a twin room it was approximately €150 per night, it’s walking distance to all the main areas of the city and, if you catch the bus from the airport to the city centre, it’s a stone’s throw case drag from the bus stop!
We paid €12 per person per day for the breakfast buffet and I feel that it was worth the money for the selection and convenience.
We drank quite a few pre-drinks and nightcaps in the hotel as well, as the lounge sofas were just so squashy and inviting. The cocktail list isn’t extensive but the cocktails were reasonable for a city centre hotel bar and were tasty! It’s also worth noting that my aunt, upon check in, was upgraded to a suite. Apparently the check in system picked her at random that day, so that’s one to hope for, next time we visit!

Jo in the giant chairs! Little bit Alice in Wonderland, right?

Another suggested hotel was La Stampa but that was in a slightly higher price bracket and was much further from the college campus so we discounted it.
Where we ate
KC Peaches: We arrived on Thursday and had some late lunch (Irish stew, of course) at a cute café called KC Peaches opposite the college with Jo’s student card. It was basic in format but with hot and cold dishes, salads and other side orders available at reasonable prices in a warm, cosy and bustly atmosphere, it was a great choice.
Elephant and Castle: That night we took a wander to Temple Bar (where else?) and ate a scrummy dinner, washed down with some Kir Royales at Elephant and Castle followed by more cocktails in the giant sofas back at the hotel, as we needed an early night.

Bewley's: On Friday night, after our trip to Belfast, we kept it simple with pizza and prosecco at Bewley's Grafton Street Cafe - a restaurant dating back to the 1930s, apparently it's famous for its bizarre Christmas window displays.
The Pig's Ear: On our last night, after our trip to the theatre, it was recommended that we try this restaurant and we weren't disappointed. Tasty dishes, served in inventive ways, in a cosy setting by friendly staff. It felt like we were eating at an old friend's house. The best bit, however was when I ordered a pot of tea at the end of the meal. I thought I'd seen all the quirky ways to serve after-dinner hot drinks, but apparently not!

Tea at The Pig's Ear!
Where we drank
Cafe en Seine: in addition to the hotel bar, we also explored some other drinking establishments. Before heading out to dinner on our first night we sneaked in to this beautiful establishment for a pre-dinner drink. The decor made me feel not only like I'd been transported to Paris, but also back in time by a century or so! Not so much Midnight in Paris, but Midnight in Dublin!

Festive taxidermy at 37 Dawson Street
37 Dawson Street: By far my favourite establishment of the trip was 37 Dawson Street. In the same style as the hotel, it was full of quirky artefacts with bemusing drawings and crazy taxidermy adorning the walls, mismatched furniture upholstered in a patchwork of clashing colours and a neon sign proclaiming that "All is not what it seems". It seems that there is now a cocktail list available but when we visited, they were operating on the basis of "tell us what you like and we'll make you something you love". They were however more than happy to make us some classics as well.

Seats at 37 Dawson Street

What we did

Sightseeing: as well as being given the student life tour by Jo, and wandering some of the main touristy areas ourselves, we also spent an interesting morning on a walking tour of the city with Historical Walking Tours of Dublin. I'm ashamed to say I know little to no Irish history so this tour, was an amazing introduction to the stories that the City has to tell, by a person who loves to tell them. It also inspired me to do a little early-Sunday-morning exploring before catching our flights home, whilst everyone else was shopping. Shock horror! You know a city's captured my heart when I decline shopping for walking in the rain.

Oscar Wilde reclining in the rain

Discovered the history of Guinness: Of course no first-timer in Dublin can get away without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, and I was no exception. We visited in the afternoon after our walking tour and managed to avoid any queues. The tickets were €16.50 but can be bought at a discount if purchased in advance. The tickets not only buy your entry to the storehouse but also a drink in the top floor bar area. The tour starts on the ground floor where, beneath your feet you can see a replica of the 9000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed on the property (clever man!) and above your head you see seven floors laid out around a glass atrium in the shape of a giant Guinness glass. The tour takes you through the history and science of brewing, the creation of the secret recipe and the growth of the brand we all know and love, punctuated with samples of the Black Stuff itself here and there. My favourite part of the tour was the floor that tracks the history of the Guinness advertising campaigns which is full of memorabilia. I'm such a marketing geek! On the top floor we used our tickets to claim our free drinks and spent some time gazing out over the city skyline from the panoramic windows (with key buildings and sights cleverly annotated on the glass) as the sun set. Of course I then spent a significant amount of time in the gift shop buying all sorts of Guinness-branded goods for Mr G's stocking!

Baby Guinness all round!

Baby Guinness

A trip to Belfast: seeing as everyone else in the party had been to Dublin before, we decided to take a trip up to Northern Ireland to visit the Titanic, Belfast. We caught the train from Dublin Connolly (having booked reasonably priced tickets in advance online) and 2.5 hours later we were in a cab to the recently opened exhibition. I'd highly recommend paying it a visit.

En route from Dublin to Belfast

Titanic, Belfast

Intriguing theatre: Jo's flatmate was performing in a play called Tender Napalm at the Project Arts Centre so Jo bought some tickets for us to all head over to see it. I've mentioned before that I'm not a big theatre lover,  much preferring a musical or the ballet. This play was odd. It took us on a crazy journey inside the minds of two damaged souls as they tried to explain... well, who knows what they were trying to explain? When we left the theatre we were all a bit stunned by it. But upon talking about it, we were all so intrigued by it. Each of us had seen entirely different slants on the story, the characters and the outcome. All of us had really been taken on entirely different journeys and felt different character portrayals. Immediately afterwards, had you asked me my thoughts, I would have told you I disliked it. Immensely. However, over the next half an hour, as we discussed it over a drink I realised how much I actually liked it. I then spent the next week or so thinking about it. Even now, three months on, I still look back and ponder the story and the characters. It's one that perhaps I'll go and see again. I'd love you to see it sometime so we can discuss it...

Go see it!
When I'm going back?


I'm looking forward to spending some more time learning about Dublin and its history and returning one day soon. I'm also looking forward to one day taking the literary walking tour about the authors and literature written in and inspired by Dublin.

Jo may also have mentioned once or twice a Leprechaun museum that sounds like a must-see as well...

Until then, I'll have to suffice with correspondence with Jo!

Green post box!

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