We're back home now (and suffering from a bit of jet lag) but over the next few days I want to make sure to write a little about our time in Ireland before I forget the details. Since we only were in Dublin and County Cork for a couple of days each, we didn't really get to see that much of the country, but I think that just means we need to go back for a second trip. I'd especially like to visit Donegal and Galway, and the Aran Islands -- preferably during the fall, because Galway holds an oyster festival each year.
We flew in to Dublin from Heathrow, and if I were to do the trip again, I'd probably fly out of a smaller airport. Heathrow is just ridiculously big and labyrinthine, and several airlines fly in and out of Ireland through smaller English airports, like Gatwick. Maybe Heathrow put a damper on my mood, but I didn't exactly fall in love with Dublin. I've nothing against it -- the National Museum of Archaeology and History was excellent, St. Stephen's Green was green, and we had a very tasty lunch at Bang -- but the city as a whole seemed a bit lacking in soul. A lot of this may be due to the extraordinary quantity of development which has taken place in recent years. The skyline is absolutely cluttered with giant construction cranes, and the new architecture doesn't seem to express a particular character -- just a lot of gray boxes for people to work in, that sort of thing. I could be missing something, though, since I didn't spend much time there. We didn't even stay in Dublin proper, but in Clontarf, at the Clontarf Castle Hotel. I thought it would be neat to stay in a castle (despite the fact that it is much-remodeled -- the hotel rooms are really built around the remainder of the castle, as you can see in the photo) and we got a really good deal on it.
Despite the fact that the "short walk" from the Clontarf DART station turned out to be quite a slog when we arrived, burdened as we were with our luggage and Measure in his stroller, it was quite nice. Because we were totally spent the night of our arrival, we decided to be lazy and eat in the hotel pub, and it luckily turned out to be good. Jason had an Irish stew, which was very good; I think of the typical lamb stew and picture braised lamb, carrots, and potatoes in a viscous, gravy-like broth, but this lamb tasted as if it had been pickled (think corned beef, but with lamb) and the broth was light and clear. My parents have eaten a lot of lamb stew around Ireland, and they said that they've seen a lot of both versions, but I don't know if one or the other aligns with a particular region. I had bangers and mash, which was very good -- lovely mashed potatoes, hearty sausage, and a very tasty bit of Irish bacon topping the whole thing off. Since we were in Ireland, we had to have beer with our meal, of course, though I admit that I was not feeling up to a pint of the black stuff, so I just had a half-pint of Heineken. Jason did better, and ordered a Beamish Red, which even I -- not a big beer drinker -- really liked.
The next day was our one full day in Dublin, so we tried to see as much of the city as we could. I would have liked to have toured Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, but I contented myself with walking past the grounds of the college on our way to the museum and the Green. At first we were worried we wouldn't be able to do lunch at Bang, since our guidebook (Lonely Planet) made it sound a little fancier than what we were dressed for, and implied that reservations were a must even for lunch. Luckily that wasn't the case, and luckier still, it turned out that this was the opening day for their terrace dining area, so we were able to sit outside, enjoy the pleasant sunny weather, and not worry about Measure disturbing other diners too much if he got a little rambunctious.
Bang is fairly expensive -- though with the exchange rate, what isn't? -- but they do a prix fixe lunch menu which is relatively reasonable. Jason ordered a confit of pork which was really yummy, with lovely crisp skin and tender meat, and I had a delicious roasted cod dish. The skin of the cod was perfectly crispy as well, and to up the crispiness factor (or perhaps just to play to the Irish love of fried food) it was topped with a few sprigs of battered and fried asparagus. Our starters were good as well: Jason's was a crab salad, mine a caprese, and I thought that the glass of Albarino I ordered was very crisp and refreshing -- the perfect thing to fortify me for a long day of walking around the city.
After spending some time in St. Stephen's Green, first on the playground (well, helping Measure play on the playground, anyway) and then lolling around on the grass, we decided to head to the Guinness factory. After working our way up 6 floors of Guinness history and memorabilia, we went up to the Gravity bar on the seventh floor for our "free" pint (entrance to the Guinness Storehouse is 14 euro, making it a pretty expensive free pint, by my reckoning). I could only drink about half of my pint, if that (I know, I'm a wimp) but I definitely drank in my share of the nearly 360-degree view from the bar. Our day didn't end there; we had dinner in a pub across the street from Christ Church Cathedral, but the meal was not sufficiently interesting for me to bother relating the details here, except to say that we did have a pretty good fisherman's pie, and I will definitely be trying to recreate that.
Next post: on to Cork!