A jolly jaunt to somewhere new

I have never travelled much in my life for various reasons. This is something that I have resolved to fix over the next few years. I decided I wanted to start close(ish) to home and then broaden the net. Where I have started was Dublin, Ireland. Luckily, three of my friends also thought it sounded like a pretty good plan to have five days away in Dublin and booked themselves in with me for a jolly old jaunt. I am the kind of person who would have gone alone quite happily but it’s always more fun when there’s someone to drink with. If nothing else, it makes you feel like less of an alcoholic. Anyway, I deviate.

We flew with Ryan Air. I’d heard some pretty terrible things about Ryan Air but the flights we booked were only £40 return (including taxes and credit card fees) and for that kind of money, I’ll put up with quite a lot of rubbish. As it turned out, Ryan Air was fine. Yes, there were queues. Yes, you have to run for a seat. Yes, the cabin crew have eaten nothing but lemons all day and yes, the landings were pretty scary, but, I didn’t die and it cost me £40 to visit a different Country and come home again. I got exactly what I paid for. Nothing more and nothing less.

We arrived safe and sound in Dublin spent our first day finding the hostel, have a small explore, eating and then drinking.

The hostel we stayed in was actually far better than I expected. It’s called Avalon House and is a 5 minute walk from most of the action in Dublin City. The building is secure, the staff were friendly and the facilities were more than adequate (there’s a communal kitchen, TV room, bicycle hire, guitar borrowing, a free internet cafe and free in-room wifi). Most importantly, it was clean. The price was also incredibly reasonable. Four nights, in a twin private room (including breakfast), was 190EUR which equated to about £80 each. That right there is value. I would definitely recommend Avalon House in Dublin as a good hostel.

We had a miniature explore on day 1 and found the river. Please see below for an example of my best ‘I could not be more excited to be here’ face.

This is O’Connell bridge which is the main connection between the North and South sides of the River Liffy. As you can see, I was pretty happy to be taking the best ‘myspace profile’ style picture I could manage.

We really didn’t do a lot on day 1. We just meandered around and took in a few sights and sounds. The first tourist spot we stumbled upon was the Temple Bar area of Dublin. The place is jam packed full of shops, pubs and places to eat. This is one of the entrances from the river side.

Our favourite place in the Temple Bar was the Badass Cafe. With a name like that, how can it not be a successful tourist trap?

When in a new place, it’s always a good idea to take advice form the locals on where to go for a good night out. On the first night, we went, under advisement, to a place called Dicey’s Garden. Dicey by name, dicey by nature. We had a good night but we saw a lot of questionable things going on. The place is cavernous to be honest. You enter underground but there are three floors. Drinks were only 2EUR each which basically resulted in wall to wall people, not enough security staff and a lot of dark corners. There was a live band on upstairs so we stayed and watched them play as that room was the best lit and seemed to contain the lowest ratio of normal people to weirdos (ratio in favour of the normals). If you go to Dicey’s Garden, have your expectations set in the gutter and then you won’t be shocked. Anywhere above the gutter and you’ll be offended by the place. Night one was was messy as is mandatory when on holiday.

Day two was a more productive. We did some actual sight seeing around the city. We started off by seeing the original Irish House of Lords which is part of the Bank of Ireland building. The building istelf still contains a fully functioning bank branch as well as the rest of the administration that goes along with a national bank. The outside is quite impressive.

The House of Lords is much smaller than the English counterpart found in Westminster. Although the interior has been preserved as closely as possible, the benches have been removed so you sort of lose the feeling and ambience of what it would have been like to have rows of Gentlemen shouting at one another across the room in agreement or argument. There are a few free tours each day but we were not able to attend one so we just poked around by ourselves. Here’s a little snap of the inside.

The Bank of Ireland is literally across the road from Trinity College and that made the College our next stop.

We got onto a tour for the college and I was very pleased we did. Our tour guide was informative, witty and full of anecdotes about the college and the grounds. Bits of it have fallen down and been rebuilt. Other bits were designed by people who didn’t even bother coming to see the site. Some pieces look like poured concrete and should frankly be ignored at all costs. Other parts are under renovation so as to gleam as they did in their heyday. Some bits are reportedly haunted by murdered Law Masters. It’s well worth getting the tour around Trinity. Here’s a picture of me just at the start of the tour in front of the imaginatively named Library Square.  You can see Campanile in the background. The statues on each corner of the Campanile represents each of the three schools of Trinity (Law, Medicine & Science) with the last representing Divinity. The building to the rear right is the old library.

Trinity College has the largest library in Ireland. It’s also a legal library which means that they can, and do, request copies of any book published in Europe and they must be supplied with one on a complimentary basis.  The old library is very impressive. It was built to exceed the size of the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge at the time. It houses many of the older, less well used books. It’s a good job they’re less used because all the volumes in the old library are organised by size. Yep, that’s right. Big books at the bottom, little books at the top. Bonkers. The old library at Trinity is very impressive indeed but you are not allowed to take and pictures of it inside which is a shame. It’s one very long room with an arched ceiling and dark wood panelling everywhere. Below the library you can find the Book of Kells which is widely regarded as the epitome of calligraphy and illustration to survive into the modern day.

Next, I just want you to see an arty farty photo which one of my friends took. This sculpture is found outside the hideous concrete library which is found next door to the stunning museum building. I like the contrast of old and new.

Trinity College really was well worth a visit and I would highly recommend going for the tour too.

We stopped briefly at The Four Courts on our way to the Old Jameson Distillery for a quick poke around. Thanks to my degree, I have an unhealthy obsession with sticking my head into court rooms just to see what’s going on and because you’re allowed to. The others weren’t feeling as confident about this as I was so the trip was brief and I didn’t get to see what was going on in Court 3 (there was definitely something good going on because the TV crew outside were looking rather excited). We were also booked onto the Jameson Distillery tour and we didn’t want to miss our time slot so we walked on down and prepared ourselves to be immersed in whiskey lore. The entrance leaves no doubt as to what’s about to happen.

On arrival, we found the Jameson Distillery to be as corporate as expected. The entire tour is essentially to drum into you the selling points of Jameson whiskey (it’s triple distilled don’t you know). I enjoyed the tour though because I knew that I was signing on for corporate brainwashing. I wasn’t disappointed!

Aspects of the tour were interesting but most of it was nodding and smiling. I did like the display of  how the colour of whiskey changes as it ages. The barrels below show the colour of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 year old whiskey (it gets darker the older it gets).

There’s also a whiskey tasting session which you can volunteer for. My friend volunteered as expected. Actually, he basically mugged the tour guide in order to get his hands on the tube that identified him as an official whiskey taster. It’s a shame he let the side down by liking the scotch whiskey the most then the american whiskey 2nd leaving Jameson to bring up the rear in last. The guide was still gracious enough to give him a certificate for his poor efforts though. Look how proud he is.

To finish the tour, we treated ourselves to proper Irish coffee. It was actually the best Irish coffee I have ever had so You have to see a photo of it.

Night 2 was spent in a restaurant having good conversation with fun people.

Day three began with a walk to Dublin Castle. We missed the tour times unfortunately but we still got to enjoy the exterior. I really didn’t learn anything about the castle as there was very limited information available if you were not on the tour.

There is a chapel attached to the Castle which was open. The interior was being used for a commemorative display of the Queen’s visit to Ireland. The inside of the Chapel was very beautiful. The organ was ornate and very detailed but what really caught my eye was the stained glass and wood carvings. I think you’ll agree it is beautiful.

Very near to the castle is the tax museum. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I found it very interesting. Tax is something that causes a massive amount of friction between Governments and the general public. People get annoyed at how much tax they pay. People try to avoid paying it. people get annoyed when people who they deem should pay tax aren’t paying tax. it’s a very prickly subject whichever way you look at it. I found the Tax museum very informative but it really won’t be for everyone. It is free though so, if you’re open minded about it and the history of the evolution of the taxation systems commonly in use today, then do give it a bash.

Also very close by is the Chester Beatty Library. The Chester Beatty Library was actually my favourite attraction in Dublin. It is truly stunning! It holds a vast collection of scriptures from across the world which cover traditional folke lore and religion. It is an incredibly informative place and you can absolutely get lost in the wonder of all the information available. The approach to the Library is also fairly good.

Photography inside the exhibits is prohibited because some of the texts are incredibly old and delicate. They have a fantastic collection of papyrus. Most of the rooms are also very dimly lit in order to try and preserve the exhibits for as long as possible. The only place where you can take a photo, and it’s worth it, is the roof garden. The view over the memorial garden towards the castle is gorgeous.

If you go to Dublin, make absolutely sure you make time to go to The Chester Beatty library. You will not be disappointed. If you are, you should buy a self help book and read it, fast.

Next, we walked to Christ Church Cathedral. We did not have time to go into the cathedral (as we were booked into the Guinness Brewery for that day too) but the outside was impressive. The main building is set in a picturesque churchyard. On the day we were there, the church yard was playing host to a food market.

I found the configuration of the bridge over a road connecting the two buildings intriguing so got a photo of that too.

I was amazed how every street in Dublin seems to contain at least 1 stunning old building. On the walk to the Guinness Brewery, we passed numerous beautiful buildings but had no time to investigate what they were or the significance they held to the City. This is my favourite mystery building. I have no idea what church this is or even if it is a church (I assume it is on the basis of the cross on the roof).

The Guinness Brewery was out last destination of day three. I think I was the only one excited to be there.

The Guinness Brewery was good fun but overall, I was disappointed. There was just a ‘follow this arrow and hope you go the right way’ cattle steering system in place. The ‘virtual guide’ was ok but the place was so loud that you had to be right near the speakers to catch even the slightest word. Audio guides were only available in foreign languages but I would have liked an English one just to be able to hear what the virtual guide was saying above the racket of all the tourists. I found it a pretty stressful experience overall. Too many tourists, not enough staff and, really, a woeful amount of information provided for the cost of the ticket. The level of brand propaganda was akin to that in the Jameson Distillery but Guinness hadn’t even bothered to personalise it with a physical guide who could answer questions, or at least pretend to, if they came up. The best part was the pint of Guinness in the bar at the end.

It genuinely was a superb pint of Guinness.

We cooked our own meal in the kitchen of the hostel that evening before hitting Temple Bar. We actually ended up in The Temple Bar (as in a pub called The temple Bar which is in temple Bar, confusing, no?). There was traditional music being played by a live band and plenty of Guinness in the barrels. We were happy.

Day four was spent in the National Museum of Archaeology in the morning and in the shops for the afternoon. The National Archaeology Museum is an interesting place but, I’m more a fan of history. There were plenty of genuinely interesting exhibits but archaeology doesn’t really float my boat so a lot of it was lost on me. I enjoyed the weaponry sections and found the idea of leather surviving for hundreds of year without decaying horribly pretty fascinating but that was about my lot. I liked the building the museum was in better than the contents of the museum.

Again, it is free to go into the museum so even if you only find a few things interesting, it’s still worth the time investment because you never know what you might discover.

I won’t bore you with the shopping details but I will suffice to say that hunting around for the markets will pay you dividends. There’s a wealth of talented jewellers, artists and designers in Dublin with an extremely broad range of goods to offer. Market > High Street.

Night Four was started with Leo Burdocks famous fish and chips. They were good fish and chips but I’ve had better. We then migrated to a pub called The Foggy Dew. The pub is entirely clad in wood panelling. It’s a charmingly odd pub and I was quite happy to sup Hoegaarden in there for several hours, so I did.

Day five was out final day in Dublin. It was more of a morning really. My main remit was to shop some more. I discovered more markets and bought some gorgeous earrings by a talented chap called Adam King (you can find him on Facebook). We also found the weekend food market in Temple Bar where we enjoyed delicious cheese, mouth wateringly good quiche, crusty bread and cakes which would make Mr Kipling proud. A great end to a marvellous few days in Dublin.

I’ll now do my obligatory bullet point list of things to do when in Dublin (out of what I saw anyway):

  1. The Chester Beatty Library
  2. Trinity College tour and The Book of Kells
  3. The Craft markets/oddities shops
  4. The Tax Museum
  5. The Old Jameson Distillery
  6. The Four Courts
  7. The House of Lords
  8. The Guinness Brewery

What do I wish I’d had time to do whilst in Dublin:

  1. Cycle
  2. A River Tour
  3. Dublin Castle Tour
  4. Christ Church Cathedral
  5. St.Patrick’s Cathedral
  6. Custom House
  7. The Royal Hospital Kilmainham
  8. Kilmainham Jail

That is my mini tour of Dublin all explained.

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