Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities Part One- Dublin

After Christmas we were kind of over Frankfurt, so we flew over to see Ireland and Northern Ireland for about a week.  So, what can I say about Dublin, which is where this journey starts off?
            Dublin is a good-sized city that was relatively easy to walk around.  The bus system was more complicated than hieroglyphics, but we managed to make it to all of the big sites.  On our first day we walked down Grafton Street, which was a nice little pedestrian shopping street with several street musicians “busking” for change.  That was a new word that was added to our vocab just before the trip – we’ve all seen it in a downtown area or subway but might not’ve known what to call it.  As it turns out, on Christmas Eve (a mere three days before we got there), one of our favorite musicians Glen Hansard was out busking with other Dublin musicians for charity and none other than Bono himself showed up to support the cause.  No joke – saw it on youtube.  Anyways, Grafton Street is awesome and you never know what you’ll get.

Grafton Street - where it all goes down

            Also on our first day we checked out an Irish pantomime at a really old theater called the “Gaiety”.  A “panto”, as the locals call it, is basically geared towards a family setting, is usually a children’s story (in our case it was “Jack and the Beanstalk”), and is a combination of a play with singing and dancing, lots of humor, and audience participation.  It was very well done and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  As far as audience participation…….we found ourselves having to sing and dance to a Hannah Montana song (unfortunately it wasn’t “Party in the U.S.A”).  Lots of fun and it is a tradition for families to go around Christmas time, so we felt like locals for a moment.

Pantomimes - much more entertaining than regular mimes

            I know that there are all kinds of jokes consisting of Irish people being drunk and liking to drink so I know that’s a stereotype that’s out there, but seriously……….I’ve never seen more bars and pubs in one city in my life.  Now to be fair, pubs seem to be works of art, rather than raunchy watering holes.  We got to see our fair share and they were all unique and some of them were hundreds of years old, but they all seemed to be really cool in their own way.  We were also able to find a couple of places that had free live traditional Irish music which was incredible.  I’m a big bluegrass fan and this was basically where the roots of bluegrass came from, so it was a real treat.  Check out some of the videos below for a sample – the one video has several clips from different places.

Inside the "Vat House" listening to live music

"Bruxeles" pub (our first experience in a true Irish pub)

"Vat House"

            Dublin is home to a ridiculously old college by the name of Trinity College.  It was founded in 1592 and it’s a nice little place to walk around.  It’s also home to a really neat library which houses the “Book of Kells”, which is apparently a really old Irish manuscript containing the four Gospels hand-copied and beautifully illustrated in Latin by monks around the year 800.  That’s right, the 9th century, so we’re talking a really old book here.  Unfortunately, since the university was closed for holidays, so was the library during our visit so we didn’t get to see it.  That was a trip low point, but it got better.

Trinity College entrance

just inside the gates, in front of the Campanile (much older than the GT "shaft")

False advertisement

interesting sculpture outside library at Trinity

            No one in their right mind would come to Dublin without visiting the Guinness St. James Gate Brewery – the home of Guinness.  We were no exception.  To be honest………..neither of us really like Guinness very much, but have you ever tried a Coke at the World of Coke?  Ever had a burrito in Mexico?  Ever had tea and crumpets in England?  A 4-piece meal at the Big Chicken?  ……then you know what I’m talking about – you’ve got to do it.  The Guinness complex was originally founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, where he signed a 9000-year lease on the original grounds at £45/year to start his business.  He started out making Ales, but switched soon thereafter to making stout which was growing more popular in England.  Today the St. James’s Gate Brewery sits on 64 acres in Dublin and produces around 3 million pints per day!  The Guinness Storehouse tour was fantastic and walked you through the whole process, business and marketing history, etc. much like the World of Coke in Atlanta.  At the end, of course, you can enjoy a free pint at the top of the museum (shaped like a pint glass) in the “Gravity Bar” that overlooks Dublin and gives you a 360-degree view of the city.  Although it takes approximately 2-minutes to pour a pint of Guinness, it was the best one I’ve ever had.  The other pints of Guinness I sampled in the pubs were also pretty good, however I am convinced that it can’t be done right anywhere else.  If you like Guinness you need to plan your pilgrimage to Mecca sometime – trust me.

Mecca for Guinness lovers

Guinness advertisement characters over the years

the perfect pour - approx. 2 minutes

the best Guinness we've ever had overlooking Dublin

            Before we headed out of Dublin we were also able to check out a couple of churches: namely the Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church interior

Christ Church Cathedral interior (catacombs underneath actually have a mummified cat and rat that were both trapped inside the old church organ)

St. Patrick's Cathedral - named after the obvious, who apparently is credited for spreading Christianity to Ireland; this park beside the church is said to have been the very spot where he baptized a bunch of Irish people a long time ago

St. Patrick's Cathedral

            On our last day we visited the National Art Gallery, which was sub-par for European art museums, but we really enjoyed the work of Jack B. Yeats.  Couldn’t take any pictures, but check him out if you get a chance.  We also took a brief walk through St. Stephen’s Green, which is a beautiful park and would’ve been more enjoyable had it not been freezing cold and raining during our visit.  We did manage to pull off a couple of photos to give you an idea though.

St. Stephen's Green - most likely a really beautiful place in the summer

            We will definitely make it back to Dublin sometime – perhaps on the way to the South and Western parts of Ireland, which we’ve heard is amazing.
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