Dabblin' in Dublin

Dia dhuit everyone:

Thursday morning we bade farewell to Cork and headed east and then north.

Our first stop was Waterford....yes, that Waterford...home of the famed crystal.  The guided tour was one of the best and most interesting we have ever been on. We actually walked through the factory and could stop and talk to the workers! However, we must note here that this is just a small factory; the majority of the production is done at a larger factory in town. And we were surprised to learn that they are now owned by a conglomerate which also owns Wedgewood and Royal Doulton!  The first stop was a time line showing the history of the brand. It also included information about what it takes to become a crystal cutter: 5 years as an apprentice. Then the person has to successfully cut a test bowl. If it does not meet the required standards, they have to do another 3 year apprenticeship! Yikes! When we got to the area where these cutters worked, our guide said all 6 of them had at least 30 years experience.

Of course the tour ended at the mother of all gift shops: Waterford, Waterford everywhere!!!! (yes, we did.) 

Then a short trip to the Waterford train station for our 2 1/2 hour train ride to Dublin. The train was labeled: homepage
which, when translated into English, obviously means "iron road (railway!) of Ireland". Maggie, our tour guide, had provided each of us with a sack lunch consisting of a turkey rollup, a bag of Taytos ("The original Irish crisp"), an apple and an orange, juice, and a brownie. Tasty! 

The ride was great: very smooth and comfortable, and there were only about 4 stops along the way. We enjoyed seeing the names of the towns written in Irish and English.

We got into Dublin about 3:15 and got a quick overview as the bus went from the station to our hotel. Dublin is built on the banks of the River Liffey. The capital of Ireland, and home of Trinity College, it has a population of about 500,000 (1.2 million for the metro area). If anyplace could be said to be the birthplace of great authors, it would be Dublin, having produced many prominent literary figures, including Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. Other influential writers and playwrights include Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, and the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker.  The city also seems to have, by our estimation, the most pubs and restaurants per square meter of any city we've seen.

Our Thursday night activity was a visit to the Jameson's (Irish whiskey) factory-- except it was a tourist center not a factory. We had the requisite tour and tasting, and a not-so-memorable dinner. (Wendy had a Hewitt partner who would only drink Jameson, in the she was quite curious about all the fuss. OK, that partner was brilliant-- but the fuss about Jameson remains a mystery; although it certainly was smoother than the Scotch or Jack Daniels they served us.). Anyway, the highlight of the evening was a performance by two singers and three dancers. Excellent -- and we learned that When Irish Eyes Are Smiling isn't now nor never was Irish. We also learned that Irish coffee is amazing and has NO calories! (ahem). 

Friday morning, we had another sumptuous breakfast (this buffet gets an "A"; first time we ever saw one with mini quiches!).  Then we did another (!) bus tour of the city, including Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in Europe (it has an 11 km perimeter wall). The English name is somewhat of a misnomer; it comes from the Irish fionn uisce meaning "clear water".  Ooops!
Here is an obelisk dedicated to Lord Wellington (yes! That Lord Wellington!) who was born in Ireland.

Then we stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral. This classic prototype Gothic church was built in 1220 on the site where St. Patrick purportedly performed baptisms

It is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, which is an Anglican denomination. Jonathan Swift (yes, that Jonathan Swift!) served as the Dean here (i.e., the top guy), from 1713 until his death in 1745. He is also recognized as the creator of the genre of satire. Swift is entombed here under his self-penned epitaph.

Next we went over to the Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells, a world-famous illuminated manuscript produced by Celtic Monks in AD 800. It is actually several books; they rotate them for public viewing. However, since they are very small (about the size of a hard-cover book), the first part of the exhibit features poster-sized replicas of some of the pages, along with excellent descriptions of why they were written and what (especially the illustrations) they mean. Here is a sample of one of them.

While it was very impressive, it reminded us a lot of how the Jewish Torah was (and still is) produced: on treated sheepskin, with guide lines marked, and very fine, precise lettering (although without illustrations).

At that point the organized touring was over for the day, so the three of us went across the street to Kilkenny's, a recommended cafeteria-type restaurant. We had a quick light lunch and then headed out to explore on foot. Paulie has been on a mission to find a James Joyce t-shirt. While hunting one down we learned that Bloomsday was last weekend. This celebrates Leopold Bloom, the main character of Joyce's Ulysses. So we probably could have found one then, but, alas, now our search was in vain. But our hunt took us all over the main part of the city. We first headed toward the river, where we saw the statue of  Daniel O'Connell, a 19th century nationalist leader, and, behind it, the Monument of Light (also known as The Spire of Dublin, but it looked like a gigantic lightning rod to us).
We walked along the river and crossed over at the Ha'penny Bridge.
This is the most popular pedestrian bridge over the Liffey. It is also the "official" spot for love padlocks in Dublin:
Then we walked through the Temple Bar section. Unlike the areas surrounding it, Temple Bar has preserved its medieval street pattern, with many narrow cobbled streets. It is promoted as "Dublin's cultural quarter" (translation: more pubs) and has a lively nightlife that is popular with tourists. In other words, if you're over 30, avoid this area.

Finally, we walked over to St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful, lush city park, with ponds and blooming flowers, and walking paths with benches. It was gloriously sunny and warm, and many people were there soaking it up.

Click here for other (internet) pictures of the park.

It would have been wonderful to visit one of the synagogues on Friday for Shabbat but we didn't have our act together in getting the proper clearances. So, we decided to do something altogether different. Seeing that Evensong is a choral service, we decided to check that out instead. Apparently, St. Patrick's Boys' Choir is second in renown only to the Vienna Boys' Choir (according to our local guide). The choir school was founded in 1432. (By the way, the St. Patrick's girls' choir was founded in 2000 "to provide girls with an opportunity provided to boys for many centuries" - taken directly from the cathedral's website).  The music was stirring; to imagine such soaring, angelic voices from such little boys was awe inspiring. The singer among us was VERY glad we went. However, since it was a service, we were not able to take any photos.

Knowing we had only one free night in Dublin, we decided on OnePico for our "over the top" foodie delight. (We should note that hotel meals on prior trips were not always good and we went out of our way to miss them.  On this particular trip, the dinners have been superb, as noted in our last post). This contemporary beautiful restaurant has merited Michelin stars in the past. It doesn't have any currently but met the "one eyebrow up" evaluation from both our tour guide and the concierge. One Pico did not disappoint.

Paulie decided that a smaller meal would suit her better so we made the sacrifice without her.  Wayne started with delicately delectable langoustine risotto--garnished with Dublin Bay prawns, truffle, bisque, sweet peas and sorrel. In a veritably un-Waynely-manner, he licked the plate clean.

Wendy had the succulent seared scallops artfully arranged on the plate with carrot purée, sesame caramel ( doesn't everyone?), and hazelnut jus.  Need we say more?

For mains, we did a flip-flop from our normal food preferences with Wayne ordering fish and Wendy ordering meat (yessiree). They serve a lot of turbot here and that was Wayne's choice with fennel purée, shellfish ravioli, braised chicken wing, and vanilla clam sauce. Again, his plate cleaning skills were exceptional.

Lamb is a ubiquitous dish here in Ireland (and hillside sheep seem as plentiful as in New Zealand). Wendy felt it would just not be right to forego the lamb here when it had been so delicious Down Under.  And it did not disappoint. The roast lamb loin was pink and delicious--wrapped in bacon to keep it moist and flavorful. It was served with courgette and basil purée, rosemary terrine, crisp belly (we assume lamb) and fine ratatouille. Wendy said the lamb belly was the best she’d ever had. The dish was very special.

For dessert, we chose to share a raspberry Mille-feuille with berriolette (mixed berry) sorbet. It was light and lively and would have rounded out the meal perfectly. 

But, alas, just as we were ready to push back our chairs, the petit-fours arrived. A wonderfully memorable meal. We should mention though that while the chef was Irish, the entire wait staff was East European!

Saturday was our last day of the tour, and last in Ireland.We started out with a 1 hour ride to Glendalough, the word's best preserved monastic site. It was founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century.
This settlement was located in a valley near two lakes. Hence the name "Glendalough". The day alternated between sunny and cloudy (with a few sprinkles, and at 13 Celsius, it was the coldest day of our trip), but that did not stop us from walking among the ruins and learning about their history

Next, back to Dublin, another quick light lunch, and then (off-tour) we went to "Jig", a very kitschy place dedicated to Irish dancing. There is a small theater off of the "museum" area. First, there is a video of "man on the street interviews" asking people in Dublin what they know about Irish dancing. It appears from this video that most Irish children (boys and girls) learned some of the dances (in school?) at an early age.  Then, the owner, Sean (who is a former Champion) and Megan do a series of Riverdance-type dances. Next, everyone in the audience is asked to come up on stage and learn to dance! There were 12 other people there besides us, and all went up, but Paulie and Wayne decided to stay firmly planted in their seats. After all....someone had to take pictures and be the audience!  Right?  Sean and Megan led the group through a number of step combinations. Some people picked it up quicker than others, but all were having a great time. After about 15 minutes of learning and practicing, here's what they were able to do:

Pretty impressive, huh?  And a fabulous way to end our time in Ireland.

"Kil" means "church" in Irish. In the old days, there were often not real "towns"; rather there was a cluster of people who lived around the focal point of their community, the church. Thus, these communities eventually did become towns with such familiar names as Kilkenny, Killarney, Kildare, Kilcullen, etc.

In Dublin, we have seen many anti-abortion signs. For such a strongly Catholic nation, abortion is still illegal (except in extreme circumstances). However, over the last few decades attempts have been made to legalize it. Another such attempt is being hotly debated in the national legislature right now; hence the signs.

So we leave our quick spin around the Republic of Ireland Sunday morning.  Our impressions?  The people are warm and family-oriented with little pretense. As a culture, the Irish are wise and witty with a wonderful sense of sarcasm.  The scenery is spectacular -- we opened this trip's blog with "fifty shades of green" partially tongue in cheek (without having truly experienced the scenery). But that description wasn't far off -- they talk about 40 shades here -- but who's counting? The scenery was breath-taking and particularly wonderful given that we had unexpectedly great weather.  The history is fascinating and the castles and monasteries captivating. The food (once we got past several traditional items) was great. The literary, dance, and musical talent is impressive. Lots more to do and see here but that is always the best way to leave a new destination. So glad we came.

On to London!

Love, w&w.............

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