Living in London gives us a unique advantage: we are extremely close to Ireland. With London temperatures rising at the end of summer, we were relieved to find Dublin much cooler. It was amazing to us that the temperature could be so starkly different, but it makes perfect sense being further north and much closer to the Irish Sea.
Jeff and I are from Texas, so this time of year, our friends and family are melting inside of air conditioned cars and their daily wear is shorts and t-shirts. Here we were bundled in jeans and two layer tops with jackets wishing we had long underwear and scarves.
I do tout a lot about airbnb.com, but we had our first negative experience. First off, we didn’t realize that some flats would allow smoking. That is a mistake on our part not to have looked thoroughly enough on the site. But the smell was overwhelming as soon as we walked in. Second, the place was not properly cleaned. The carpets were un-vacuumed, the kitchen was filthy, and the bathroom was a nightmare. It was when we sat on the misshapen bed that we decided to make another plan and find a hotel. Of course, this was easier said than done with the three day holiday weekend in bachelor party city, so we did have to stay one night in the frat guy’s pigsty.
Arriving in Dublin, the Air Coach made it extremely easy to get into town from the airport. It was much easier than the tram, train, or renting a car, but also cheaper when you get your return ticket at the same time. I would definitely recommend it.
Our first stop was Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, but because we arrived in Dublin a bit late in the day, the exhibit had already closed. The campus; however, was beautiful. It reminded me of the Oxford colleges with the cobblestone paths and the historic white buildings. But we wanted to make the most of our trip, so we headed directly toward Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library on the same property. With the castle closed for the bank holiday weekend, we took our time through the gorgeous library.
Within the space, there were hundreds of old, ancient texts from all over the world including Iran, Japan and China. Very old Koran texts were on display as well as many Japanese calligraphy scrolls. It was pretty incredible to see what this man collected.
Chester Beatty was an American, born in New York, who was a copper mine millionaire. In 1933, he became a naturalized citizen of England after living in London for several years exploring Egypt and Africa for resources but also papyrus, and his collection of ancient texts grew. In 1950, he moved to Dublin where he donated the majority of his finds becoming an honorary citizen in 1957. I thought it was pretty extraordinary that this man, an American born from Irish immigrants, made it full circle back to Dublin after creating an incredible legacy and left it all to the Irish people.
Outside, rain fell giving the already cool air another slight chill. But we weren’t deterred by a few rain drops. We were temporary Londoners after all. From the library, we bee-lined it to the Christ Church. It was the only place still open at 5 o’clock on a Friday, so it was a perfect place to take dry refuge.
The building was beautiful and full of the typical Gothic architecture seen all over Europe. We managed to catch a quick service that lasted a whole ten minutes, but it was lovely to hear the acoustics in the space alone. But it was down in the crypt where the really fascinating stuff was.
I kept forgetting that the English monarchy ruled over Ireland until relatively recently. So, when we first walked in, we were met with sculptures of King Charles I and II. But as we continued through the labyrinth, more of the stories became clear. The Christ Church was first built in 1028 as one of only two churches in the region; the second being St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And throughout history, they seemed to compete for royal favor, especially during Henry VIII’s reformation, one being of the Protestant faith and the other Catholic.
There were two finds in the crypt that really sparked my interest. The first was a mummified cat and mouse that were found in the massive church organ. We could still see the whiskers and claws intact, but they must have died in chase. I couldn’t believe with the acoustics, especially within an organ, that you couldn’t hear the cries of a cat. But the other thing that made me stop in my steps were the costumes and a set piece from the show The Tudors which filmed at this particular church. The Christ Church crypt was used as the Tower of London set.
After we left the church, most of everything had closed and we headed back to our stinky flat. The next morning, we rectified that situation and found a hotel room far, far away. I will give the guy one thing: the view was pretty nice. The balcony windows overlooked the Grand Canal, and the sunset was lovely from this vantage point. But despite the pretty colors and the relative silence, we could not get out of there fast enough come first light.
We started the day with our second attempt at seeing Trinity College and the Book of Kells only to be met with an enormous line. Not in the mood to wait, we decided to purchase “fast track” tickets online for the next day. Someone once said, “third time’s the charm.”
Next on our Irish agenda was the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which had incredible grounds and an even more impressive space than Christ Church. Built in 1191, the structure was massive, and just about three blocks away from Christ Church, so it was no wonder they were competitors for the crown’s affection. During Henry VIII’s reformation, it did switch over from Catholicism to an Anglican church to return to Catholicism in the 1600s.
Of special note, Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame, is buried within the church. His was the only name we recognized but that is not to say there were several others entombed and memorialized.
But Ireland is not just famous for their religion and stunning churches. The green and lush country is also famous for its alcohol. Our next logical stop was the Old Guinness Storehouse. The line wasn’t terribly long, but the price was a bit steep until you realize you do get a free glass of beer. So, we justified the means.
The museum was massive. Five floors of Guinness history and gadgets were throughout. You take the tour on your own pace as you see each step of the process from harvesting the barley to bottling and barreling the product.
On the fifth floor, you’re given an option on how to get your complimentary glass of stout. You can either become a master pourer and learn how to perfect the art of pouring a glass of the stuff, or you can just go straight to the Gravity Bar and enjoy the views of Dublin while sipping away. Since I can’t drink the stuff being gluten-free, I decided I would become a master bartender. Leave it to me to also be the first to volunteer. The process is very technical, so we had to watch closely.
First, you line the engraved glass at 45 degrees with the spout on the harp logo. As you bring the lever toward you, you slowly straighten the glass until the liquid gets to the harp. This leaves about an inch’s worth of real estate still in the glass. You let it rest for about thirty seconds (or however long it takes the rest of the group to get their pour on), and then you put the glass straight up and down, pushing the lever away from you to top off the glass bringing the head to the brim.
Ta da! I got my little certificate to frame or put on my refrigerator saying that I have mastered the pour. We did go up to the Gravity Bar to get a load of the skyline, but left after just a few moments. It was so crowded and loud, we couldn’t stand it. Having gotten the true Guinness experience, we called it a day and finally checked into our proper hotel: the George Frederic Handel hotel next door to the Christ Church. It couldn’t have been more fitting to scream, “Hallelujah.”
That evening, we had tickets to see Waiting for Godot (which the Irish pronounce it “gah-do,”). We were, thankfully, very close to the Smock Alley Theatre and settled into our seats after a lovely meal inside the playhouse. While Jeff and I are having fun slinging little lines from it back and forth to each other, I can safely say, I did not enjoy it. I think I even fell asleep for a moment or two, but Jeff loved it.
I found him laughing throughout, and he even immediately went online to read the play in its entirety. I realize the point of the play was all about waiting and the nothingness that happens in the interim, but my goodness–it really was a play about nothing. The acting was so over the top and almost cartoonish, I thought with one more person, it could have been a three-hour Three Stooges episode.
But after seeing many a Shakespeare play, I was relieved that we saw something Jeff finally enjoyed. We walked back to the hotel, and thankfully, our sheets were clean and our bed was perfect.
Stay tuned for the rest of our trip in Dublin complete with a stunning “gaol” and the Book of Kells.