Among the Brethren Redheads

I have one benefit bestowed upon me in the “ability to travel” department, and that is the fact that I can blend in fairly easily in a lot of places. I could pass for Spanish, or Italian, Turkish, or even Uzbek. I’ve got that ambiguous (enough) look to blend in. Alan, my fair skinned, red-headed, green-eyed man has never been blessed with the ability to look like one of the locals. Until now. Alan got in touch with his non-existent Irish heritage by bonding with his red headed brethren from another ancest-thren. And boy, are we in the land of redheads. We hadn’t even so much as left the airport in Dublin before we started playing a modified version of punch buggy: “A redhead!” “Look there’s another one!” “And another one!” Sitting in a park one day, surrounded by many ginger haired men and women I asked Alan what the odds were of this many redheads being out at any given park in the US. His guess was zero. So, I guess that’s our first impression of Ireland. We love the redheads. Just look at this awesome redhead cheering me on as I get my Riverdance on:

So it’s true what they say. There are lots of redheads here. Also true? They are the nicest and friendliest people! The very first pub we popped into, we met the bartender who promptly chatted us up, discovered that we were headed to Galway in a few days and instructed us to look for his mate at the pub over there and tell him, “you’re nothing but a bollocks!” Of course, said mate would know who’d sent us and we were assured he’d take good care of us. Nonetheless, we confirmed that he would not sock us in the face for said introduction.

Ireland gets a bad rap weather-wise. Either the rumors are untrue or we’ve been incredibly lucky our first week here. The weather was spectacular throughout our time in Dublin. On our first full day in town we wandered over to Merrion Square for lunch at the Thursday food truck scene. It was just lovely. Everyone seemed to have taken a long lunch break to enjoy the sun, some good eats, and live music. There was even free wine tasting.

Given the perfect weather, the use of Dublin’s city bikes came in incredibly handy. It’s a pretty walkable (and generally overall very manageable) city, but using the bikes made it even easier to explore. That said, our first time on the bikes was at night, after a couple pints. And combine that with my irrational fear of city biking, in a city I’ve never been to, that drives on the left…it wasn’t very pretty. But we got the hang of it a bit more after that. Plus, it was good practice for Alan in advance of operating a manual shift driver’s-seat-on-the-right car, driving on the left, for the first time.

We parked the bikes to meander through the city. It’s a beautifully green city, full of quaint parks, like St. Stephen’s Green where locals picnic with unusually large birds.

We took the advice of locals and skipped Temple Bar (an actual bar but also the name of the area), save for a quick stroll through just to see what it’s all about. It’s a fine place to walk around, but rumor has it the bars and cafes are overpriced and touristy so we opted instead for the restaurants around Grafton Street and elsewhere.

We did, however, get our fill of a few touristy must-sees. Of course, we visited Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The exhibit on the Book of Kells was interesting, but we preferred the library portion, a long hall full of high barrel oak ceilings, loads of old books and busts of lots of great thinkers.

And aside from the many pints of Guinness already consumed at local pubs, we had to see the legendary Guinness Storehouse. It is quite well done, and you will most certainly kill some time in here. There are seven floors chock full of information on the Guinness making process and history, but the highlight is obviously the top floor where you can retrieve your complimentary pint and check out some seriously impressive views of the city and the surrounding area.

And here is the moment of truth. We’d heard about how Guinness tastes different in Ireland, or different at the Guinness factory. Well, we came, we tasted, we decided…that…it tastes the same. If anything, I might prefer the Guinness outside of the factory, or even (heresy I know) outside of Ireland! Hear us out, though…it’s more of a novelty once you leave Ireland. Here, your days are mostly a waiting game of when it’s time to stop for a pint. No? Ok, suffice it to say we like the Guinness everywhere, but to non-beer experts like ourselves, we can’t really say the local Guinness flavor prevails.

Regardless of the difference in the taste of the beer, the experience of drinking at pubs is far superior in Ireland (at least compared to a regular old bar in the states…I’ve yet to try an English, Scottish or Welsh pub so…). Our friend had recommended Kehoe’s, and on a Wednesday evening this was the scene when we arrived:

We absolutely love the pub and after-work drinks culture, with patrons spilling out onto the streets and catching up over a round. We sat down for dinner at a restaurant right next to Kehoe’s one night, and I had to remark that the soundtrack sounded almost stereotypical Irish: there was a street performer playing the flute, the near constant clinking of glasses, and even a jolly old man with a hearty laugh. I simply can’t get enough.

On our last night in town, we stopped at Fallon & Byrne, a terrific gourmet market near Grafton Street, and picked up the fixings for a picnic. We opted for Irish cheeses and meats, and the Cashel blue cheese was divine. Better equipped, we biked back over to our side of town and hung out on the docks with the youngins at Charlotte Quay (by Ocean Bar, which may still exist or may now be the Mourne Seafood Bar?) to enjoy our dinner and wine. This area is very nice, full of modern apartment buildings and offices (our AirBnB apartment was right next door to the new Google office), and the after-work scene at the Quay is superb.

The sun sets super late in Ireland this time of year, and that means you get lots of time to head out and enjoy magic hour. The city is twice as pretty in this light. I highly recommend checking out the river views as the sun is dropping.

Other random observations: A small box of Cheerios costs €9.95. That’s $13.36 assuming you get a good conversion rate! I should’ve smuggled in some cereal boxes and sold them on the black market!! Also, Dublin is full of pregnant women. Seriously, they were everywhere. Lastly, everyone was eating ice cream here. Though we’re thinking it’s because we arrived during the most summery weather, so they can’t be blamed. That’s all for now, Galway’s coming up next!

Practical Info

Ireland is expensive. Having recently spent six months in Asia, sticker shock is in effect. A pint at the average bar seems to cost about €5, a burger about €10. Many attractions and transportation options offer a 10% discount if you book on their website. There are pamphlets in the tourist office that give you a small discount at certain sights, and if you plan to visit a lot of attractions in Ireland then definitely check out the Heritage Card. A website you may find helpful is http://www.discoverireland.ie.

We bought a Lycamobile SIM card that for €10.50 includes €10 credit. It costs only €0.01/min to call the US and there are various packages for data. I also paid $2.99 for the offline city maps app from Ulmon Pro.

Transportation: We arrived on an Aer Lingus flight from London after using United miles to get there. There are direct flights from some US cities to Dublin and other airports. Our taxi into the city cost €27 and took 20-30 minutes. There are many bus options, at least one of which costs €6.

As Jenni noted, Dublin is a fairly walkable place. The city bikes were great. We paid €5 each for a three-day subscription, and then the first half hour of each ride is free. There is a tram system but we never used it.

On our way out to Galway City we rented a car from Avis in Dublin. We get a discount through USAA and also the California Bar; you should check any professional associations etc. Also check whether your credit card offers collision damage waiver (CDW) in Ireland. Do not assume it does, many do not. Our USAA card does, but Avis still requires a €30 admin fee and a €3,000 hold on the card! Gas is ~$8/gallon, fortunately most cars are small and fuel-efficient. And you want the smallest car you can fit in, because the roads are very narrow. Make sure you put the right type of fuel (e.g. maybe diesel) in your car.

Our Airbnb host in Galway City recommended Gobus or Citylink to get there if we had not rented a car. Instead, we drove about two hours, mostly on the expressway (which has tolls). A smartphone is incredibly handy because even if you don’t buy a local SIM card, if you use Google Maps (and likely other apps) on a WiFi connection then you can generally follow the blue dot even without a signal.

Accommodation: We stayed in an Airbnb place by the docks/Grand Canal on Barrow Street. This area is not touristy and we rather enjoyed it. Many finance/accounting firms have offices nearby, and there are lots of modern apartment buildings. There are some eating and drinking options, and by staying here we got a more local feel plus saw more of the city than we otherwise would have. Most visitors would probably opt to stay closer to St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street, Temple Bar, etc. Our friends recommended The Westbury, which is in the heart of it all. We used http://www.bandbireland.com to book accommodation in some other towns. I’m also told you can just drive around and find a fairly inexpensive B&B outside the main towns. This is probably true even now, but we did not want to chance it during the peak summer season.

Food and Drinks: We loved the market at Fallon & Byrne, mentioned above. It also has a restaurant and wine cellar bar. If you happen to be here on a Thursday in the summer, check out the Merrion Square lunchtime market from 11:30 am – 2 pm. Ely Brasserie (one of a few Ely spots) was crackin with the after work crowd, and the scallops and buffalo wings (yup, found my buffalo already) were strong. The €16.95 three plate early bird at Salamanca tapas bar was fine. We also ate one of the quick service options at the CHQ Building. Spar are popular super markets and some have coffee shops inside. Our hosts recommended the Pig’s Ear for food and the Brazen Head as a good pub.

Our first pint was at Ginger Man, a nice pub. Nearby was a big crowd at Probus wine bar. If you just walk around, you will find plenty of pubs and places to eat.

Activities: The Guinness Storehouse was well done. It costs €18 each ex a 10% discount online. The Book of Kells and library at Trinity College were nice; entrance costs €10. We considered a traditional dance show but passed. There is a cheap one at the Arlington Hotel (on the north side of the River Liffey) for €8, but you’re only guaranteed a spot if you include dinner and pay €33.95.

We saw a great wildlife photography exhibit at the CHQ Building. Entry was €6.50. Check the website to see what exhibits they have when you’re here. Lastly, just walking around and soaking in the architecture and parks is a great activity.

July 23-26, 2014 (Wednesday-Saturday)

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