Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dublin, Oh Dublin....

What can I say about one of the greatest cities I've had the good fortune of visiting? It's amazing, clean, friendly, musical, crazy, and extremely colorful. Especially after you've toured a few alcoholic establishments... With the kids safely under the wing of some good friends, my husband and I made our escape to the Emerald Isle in January of '09.

It was our first trip outside of Italy, so we were extremely excited to see some different landscape and taste different culinary treasures.
My husband and I love history. So, we thought the best places to explore first would be the historic buildings and churches.

We started our first day in Dublin on a double decker Hop-on/Hop-Off Bus. We toured around the downtown area and passed a multitude of bridges and Victorian era buildings that had been witness to the Easter Uprising in 1916. When the tour came up to a large imposing grey brick building, hubby and I decided to disembark and check out what is called Kilmainham Goal:
I had read briefly in one of our many guide books that Kilmainham Gaol had been a prison of the most heinous nature. Opened in 1796 to replace a prison that was little more than a dungeon, it was home to prisoners as young as 7 years old who had been arrested for various crimes. During the Irish Potato Famine, people would intentionally commit petty theft to insure their own survival. Prisoners were given a daily ration of bread, water, and a type of gruel that looked like sand mixed with water. This was better than what people on the outside had to survive on, which is why its estimated that over 2 million people perished in the famine. And we think hunger today is bad? Considering the conditions inside the prison however, I think I would have taken my chances on the outside...


Next we were off to see St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was truly remarkable inside and out. I was so overcome with giddy-ness (its a word!) to actually be standing outside this famous building I danced a "happy dance" jig. Hubby looked away in embarrassment and blamed my dancing on the whiskey to the fellow passersby. So much for American reputations abroad....
With color drenched stained glass windows, tapestry lined walls, ornately carved wooden pews, and ancient sarcophagus lids it was truly an awesome experience. Yes, I said 'awesome.'

In the more ancient part of the Cathedral, there were prayer candles that I couldn't help but light. I am Catholic after all and I'm compelled to light candles in the name of everything....
"Forgive me, O'Lord, for the mass amounts of alcohol I shall be consuming on this trip. I know Evil and their names are Baileys and Jameson. Amen."








So, I must admit that although St. Patrick's was really cool to walk around in, Christ Church up the street was something entirely different. Inside, there were ancient mausoleums dating from the 15th century and banners hanging on the walls dating back even further.

But even cooler than all the banners and tapestries and ancient artwork? I stood two feet away from Jonathan Swift's tomb. Yeah, THAT Jonathan Swift.



The tombs we viewed were truly beautiful. Decorated with weeping families, angels hovering lovingly over the departed, and in some cases simply adorned with wooden crosses and Catholic imagery. While walking around I found this particularly tragic looking tomb. Whether it be 500 years ago or today, grief is the same....

Picture: The wife cries over her departed husband while the children, even though they are grieving themselves, try to console her. Okay, I'm already tearing up again just describing it....*sniff* Talk amongst yourselves.... I'll give you a topic: Irish Catholic imagery shouldn't make you cry.... discuss.....




So after all the religious imagery, history, and well...guilt. Who needs a drink?!

There's nothing like building something up in your head so big that when you finally experience it, it leaves you a little bewildered and asking for a re-do because you're sure you missed something. That was my experience with Guinness. My hubby, the German descendant that he is, loves beer for the simple fact of its well, being beer. You don't need to be fancy, you don't even need to be cute or particularly pretty. You just need to be cold, taste good, and be beer. I, on the other hand have little to no experience with beer of any color. Having never tasted it or smelled it I was in for a treat, right? Hello? Testing, testing.... is this thing on?.....
With much anticipation and excitement we went on to explore the Guinness factory. When we bought our tickets, the nice tour guide informed us to keep ahold of our ticket stubs because they were good for one free pint at the end of the tour in the SkyBar. Yippee! Free?! We're there! (Never mind that we paid an entrance fee, but hey, she said FREE).

The factory itself was a self-guided tour of everything that has to do with the production of Guinness. You can run your hands through a trough of hops, smell the different plants said hops come from, and watch multi-media presentations on the cultivation and harvesting practices. Oh yeah, with stops along the way to "taste test" the different kinds of Guinness. Light, dark, etc. etc.
I wanted to wait till we got to the end of the tour for my first taste, so I let the hubby have that fun on his own. After a tour through the vintage poster gallery, the machinery room, and the barrel room, we found ourselves in the elevator heading to the SkyBar.
The Skybar was an incredible 360 view of Dublin, with alcohol. They served three things. Guinness, soda and water. The servers were even talented in the art of 'foam form'. Every Guinness was served with a shape of some sort on the head of each beer. I was lucky enough to receive a shamrock, but so were 99% of the patrons. But I'd like to think I was the special one....
So there I was, hands on my very first Guinness EVER. And there is my wonderful husband, wearing a funny little grin. 'What's so funny?' I ask. He shrugs and says, "Go ahead and drink your Guinness, honey." And knowing my husband's sense of humor, I should have thought twice before I swigged a HUGE gulp of that amber brew...
Oh yeah Guinness, you are one deceptive bitch....
I politely passed my still full Guinness to my laughing husband, and he so graciously finished that toxic liquid for me. After dry heaving a couple of times and drinking 3 diet cokes I finally got the taste out of my mouth. Blech. Yeah I know, 'Guinness is the best beer ever! How could you not like Guinness?!' Well, let me tell you, I might be Irish, Scottish, and Catholic but a beer drinker I am not....
Once we had finished at the Guinness factory, and noshed on absolutely the best Leek soup with smoked salmon and cream on Guinness bread, we were off to our next stop which was our Musical Pub Crawl.
There are times when you are on tours and guided excursions where you feel like you are in a complete and total tourist trap. Overly contrived "traditional" experiences, packaged and sold like souvenirs. Hubby and I thought this would end up being one those times. We were completely wrong. We had booked the pub crawl knowing we'd be there solely for the alcohol, but we ended up having so much fun that drinking took a back seat.... or did it? Maybe we had so much fun because we were drinking.... either way, the musicians who took us pub crawling were amazing, and extremely talented.
My personal favorite musical ditty they performed was a song called, "Old Maid in the Garrett." Apparently being an old maid was hugely funny back in the Irish day...
It must be said though, Irish fiddlin' can make you dance, cry, and laugh all in the span of one song. I know from experience. My husband again blamed it on the whiskey...
The small shot glass x 5 is what I had to my hubby's One Guinness. So yeah, it was probably the whiskey....
Two hours of music, pub hopping, and funny Irish anecdotes and Q and A's about the music being performed culminated in the 'opening of the microphone' for those who had songs from their own lands to share. You could practically hear the crickets outside the pub when the crowd was asked to sing. Being the adventurous man he is, My hubby God Bless him, rose from his seat and declared, "I have one!" Being a former military man, he sang one for America. "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" was sung for the 1st time at a pub crawl, according to the musicians.... *sniff* He makes me so proud....
Once the ice had been broken, a few Aussies got up and sang some good ol' footballer songs (Rugby chants) and a guy from Sweden borrowed a guitar from the musicians and astonished everyone with his skills. Hubby and I stumbled back to our hotel around 1am, ready for bed and another day of touring Dublin.

DAY 2:

By the time Hubby and I were ready to exit our room and get on with our day, it was pouring outside. We ditched into the first pub we found in Temple Bar (the drunk district) and were very happy to discover that not only could we get coffee and hot chocolate, but we could get them with a bit of "the hair of the dog that bit ya." Whiskey added to coffee or hot chocolate is divine....really. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Irish coffee or Irish hot chocolate at 9am on a Sunday. The only wrong part is if you happen to finish said drinks in the span of 5 minutes and you give the bartender a shock by standing in front of him asking, "Please sir, I'd like some more..."
Either he was impressed or disapproving, I couldn't exactly read the smirk on his face. The atmosphere in the pub was exactly as you would picture it. Couples huddled under wooden beamed arches, large groups of men gathered around small tables discussing politics, football, or last nights' indiscretions. Hubby and I had a great time just soaking in the environment and soaking up as much 'coffee' before our explorations for the day. Looking through our city map (thank you helpful tourist office on Grafton Street!) we discovered, funny enough, that the Jameson Distillery was only a few blocks away. So, naturally thats where we headed next, red cheeks and all....
Braving the rain and cold after 2 or 3 (or 4, ahem) coffees was a lot easier than before. The rain fell, we hardly noticed. The wind blew, we laughed and kept on going. We got lost a couple times, 'isn't that the same building again?' And I lost my umbrella, 'what the he-?' But eventually about an hour later, we found our way inside this cozy establishment and started our tour off right. With another drink.....


The Jameson Distillery is simply a museum and tour of how the whiskey used to be made. The old building it is housed in was the original distillery that has since been moved. Our guide was a sweet lady that talked endearingly to our rather large tour group about the process in which they are able to make the liquid gold. The entire building smelled like sweet wet wood, and old antique barrels lined the walls. When asked if there were any takers for a 'whiskey tasting' after the tour, my hand shot up before I realized what had happened. Hubby laughed and again... blamed the whiskey. Out of a group of 30 people somehow I was the ONLY female to volunteer. Manly men from England, Australia, and Belgium (yeah, I know!) all looked sweetly condescending at me, as if I wouldn't last the 1st drink. Tsk, tsk, tsk....
Once the group arrived in the "Whiskey Room", we were shown the vast varieties of drinks you could make with Jameson. They were handed out to the group and I, along with my manly fellow tasters, were sat at a long wooden table. Each of us were given 3 shots of whiskey, all different in color.
We were asked to try the 1st shot and describe its taste. To me, it tasted like burnt wood and felt like it scraped all nerve endings out of my mouth. Yeah, that was Scott's Whiskey. Blech. The 2nd shot was like drinking flat Coke with an after burn, gotta love Jack Daniels.... The 3rd, was the Jameson. When asked which was which, I answered correctly each time. The men? Two didn't know what Jack Daniels was, another refused to take another drink after the Scott's Whiskey, and the Brit next to me mixed up the Jack Daniels and the Jameson. Ha! Take that manly men! For my "tasting" prowess, I was rewarded with a glass of vintage 20 year old Jameson Whiskey.

The pucker in my face was from the simple fact that by then I'd been drinking a steady stream of whiskey for about 4 hours. I was pretty sure by the time I got the vintage drink, I was going to hurl. That's okay, when my husband took the next picture of me on the way out? I was the one blaming the whiskey...

Needless to say, this was the last big touristy thing we did while in Dublin. I don't think my nervous system, nor my husband's ability to withstand embarrassment could take anymore drinking...

The next day, we waved goodbye to Dublin, Ireland and boarded our RyanAir flight back to Italy. We learned a few things on this trip. #1 There is a TON of history and fun activities within a one mile radius no matter where you are in Dublin. #2. I can outdrink a Brit! #3. You can literally drink ALL day in Dublin and not feel bad for it (well, physically maybe) and #4. Dublin really is one of the COOLEST places you will ever see, hands down. Uhhhh, my poor head....