Ireland was not originally on the list of places we planned to visit. I’ve always thought it sounded interesting, but it wasn’t a high priority. When we were pricing flights, we found that Dublin was the cheapest city to fly into. We planned just a couple of days there before moving on to other destinations, and I wasn’t as excited about it as I was about some of the others. It ended up surprising both of us, and our favorite day of the whole trip was spent in Ireland.
On Tuesday afternoon, we got in a Lyft and headed for JFK airport. It’s not that far from where we were staying in Brooklyn, but traffic that day was awful and we had to avoid the freeway, taking small streets through the city all the way. It took forever, and I was growing increasingly worried that we would miss our flight. If you know my travel history, I have experienced more than my fair share of delayed flights and travel mishaps. Luckily, we had left early enough that we still made it in time and got on the plane successfully. It was a long flight, but not long enough for us to actually get adequate sleep. We landed around 7 am in Dublin. I slept for about two hours on the plane and David even less than that, but we had a full day ahead of us!
Once we got our new Irish stamps on our passports, we walked out into the arrivals hall. I emailed the hotel where we were staying ahead of time and asked the best way to get to the hotel from the airport. Because we stayed in major cities most of the time, public transportation was widely available and so much cheaper than taking a cab. They recommended a bus service called aircoach. We found the area where the buses pulled up and were able to buy tickets there. (Side note: Almost everywhere we went in Europe, people were using contactless credit cards. I haven’t seen these yet in the US, but nearly everyone there has one. When we were buying our bus tickets, he said we could either use cash or a contactless card if we had one. I just used cash, but found out later that you can use Apple Pay on most contactless systems so we could have just done that. We ended up using Apple Pay for nearly every transaction later in our trip.) We bought return tickets (roundtrip) for €12 each, significantly cheaper than paying for a cab ride both ways. The hotel told me the closest bus stop, along with walking directions to the hotel once we were dropped off at the bus stop. It was all a very simple process and it was fun to be able to just look around on the bus ride. It was also my first experience riding in a vehicle on the left side of the road!
When we arrived at the hotel it was still midmorning, and check in wasn’t until 2 pm. They allowed us to drop our suitcases in the lobby and we left to go explore. Our hotel was very close to St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful park in the city center. We walked through it to Insomnia, a small cafe in the Grafton Street shopping area. We got some coffee and food and started our two weeks of mostly consuming espresso, yogurt with fruit, and sandwiches in various forms. It was fabulous. We both felt pretty terrible with the time change and lack of sleep, but kept moving.
We walked up to Dublin Castle. That was especially fun for me to see because I love Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and so much in those books happens at Dublin Castle. We walked around there for a bit, and it was still pretty quiet because of how early it was. There is a royal chapel inside the castle that David really wanted to see, but unfortunately it was only available for people on tours, and those didn’t start until later. We kept walking and went over Ha’penny Bridge and then back and around to Christ Church Cathedral. We were just in time to attend a morning prayer service there, and they were very kind and welcoming to us. Our experience in Ireland was that nearly everyone there was quite friendly and happy to talk and answer questions. We went to another cafe to get David some more food. I was surprised by two things walking around. One was that the signs were all written in both English and Gaelic, although people mostly spoke just English. The second thing was how disorienting it was to have cars driving on the left side of the road. As a pedestrian, that means cars are coming from places you don’t expect them to and it’s confusing. On many crosswalks, they had reminders painted to tell you which direction to look, and they were actually really helpful. By that point, we were dragging quite a bit and went to the hotel to see if they happened to have our room ready early. They did, and we were able to check in and lay down for a bit.
We stayed at Albany House, and it was lovely. The staff was warm and welcoming. Our room was on the fourth floor, and required a route through the breakfast room and several closed doors and separate staircases to get there. We couldn’t find it the first time around, and took our bags upstairs, back downstairs, and then upstairs again once we learned where to look. It was the first but definitely not the last time on this trip that I was incredibly grateful we only had carry-ons and backpacks with us. The room was small, but not much smaller than any other hotel we’ve stayed in, and clean and nice. David’s biggest issue was the lack of air conditioning, but it was cool enough outside that with our window open it was fine.
David slept for a bit, and then I got hungry enough that I woke him up so we could go look for food. We got really delicious sandwiches at Green Bench Cafe, a two-minute walk from our hotel, and took them to Iveagh Gardens to eat. The gardens were lovely and the sandwiches were incredible. A lot of the sandwiches on the menu listed rocket as an ingredient. We learned later that it’s just another word for arugula. It started to drizzle a little bit while we were eating, but it cleared up after a few minutes so we stayed for a bit.
Later that afternoon, we went to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour. I bought tickets online ahead of time so we were able to skip the line and go right in. It was a very unique experience and very enjoyable. It’s a self-guided tour, and you start on the ground floor and work your way upward. Each floor has a different theme related to the making of Guinness, and you learn about all different aspects of the process. The ticket price includes a drink at the end of the tour. If you want to, you can go into a bar area and have an employee show you the proper way to pour the pint, and then pour your own drink. I did it, and even got a certificate to show that I’m an expert now. The top floor of the building is a rooftop bar with a 360 degree view of Dublin. We enjoyed our drinks and the view for a while and then headed out for dinner.
We went to Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head. It’s on Bridge Street in Dublin, which probably sounds familiar if you’re from Columbus. David had Irish stew and I had some kind of fish cakes. Both were great. We ended up sitting next to a guy from Atlanta at the bar. I was struck by how many Americans we saw and interacted with. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since we were, in fact, also Americans visiting Europe. After dinner, we went back to the hotel and were ready to crash. I thought we would sleep soundly all night, but we found ourselves awake in the middle of the night. We stayed up for a while before being able to get back to sleep.
Day two in Ireland was magical, and will be its own post. On day three, we woke up and had breakfast in our hotel. It was included with our room and consisted of an array of bread selections (I had croissants both days, obv), Greek yogurt, fruit salad, cereals, coffee, tea, and the very best part: a huge platter of various kinds of Irish cheeses. I really enjoyed the practice of having cheese for breakfast.
We left our bags in the lobby and headed over to Trinity College. We went into the Book of Kells exhibit and saw manuscripts of the Gospels written around the year 800. They were beautiful, and it was kind of surreal to actually see something that old. Then we went upstairs to the Long Room and saw lots of old books. 🙂 When we were finished, we went to Proper Order Coffee Co. because they have some award-winning baristas and actually had drip coffee, something hard to find in Europe. We sat there for a while and saw a funny situation with some other people in the shop. Someone came in and said that the clampers were coming around. Several people immediately jumped up and went outside. We found out that meant they were coming to clamp cars that hadn’t paid for parking, and several people had to move their cars to other locations. We heard lots of people talking the same way they do in my Tana French books, so that was a fun experience for me.
We decided to go back to Green Bench Cafe to get more sandwiches for lunch. Once we had them, we collected our bags from the hotel and went back to St. Stephen’s Green to eat. We had a nice conversation with a girl from Croatia that we were sharing a park bench with. The birds in Dublin were very polite. They were gathered around waiting for us to finish eating, but didn’t get too close and just waited patiently for us to drop something. We went back to the same bus stop where we were dropped off by the aircoach and used our return tickets to get back to the airport.
This was the part of traveling I was probably the most nervous for. We were flying Aer Lingus from Dublin to Edinburgh, and I had heard some horror stories about these tiny airlines going around Europe. I was worried that we were going to have to pay fees for our bags, but we checked ourselves in with no problems and were able to bring our carry-ons and backpacks with us. The security process was interesting. We found they were more strict on some things and less on others than we’re used to. For example, if you weren’t wearing boots you didn’t have to take your shoes off. However, all liquids had to be in a clear bag, which I’ve never seen enforced in a US airport. A security employee put all of David’s liquids into a different bag and threw away his hair product that had already made it through security in Dallas and in New York. We went downstairs to our gate and when it was time to board, had our boarding passes scanned and got on a shuttle. We took the shuttle a little way out to our tiny propeller plane. We walked up the stairs with our bags and made our way to our seats – with the propeller just outside our window! It was really loud when we got started, but it was a smooth flight and very quick. Next stop: Scotland!