Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Emerald Isle - Dublin Edition

Kilmainham Gaol

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin Castle

St. Stephen Shopping Center

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Famous Temple Bar

The old Jameson Distillery

I just returned from a two-day jaunt to Dublin, Ireland. Another very cool city on the list of, hopefully many, that I will visit while I'm on this side of the Atlantic. I had to book it out of class on Thursday to make my train in order to get to the airport somewhere close to on time. Even though I should have had plenty of time, the line at security really held me up. I have never been held out in a line like that for security. I'm used to queues in passport control/customs but not in security. I finally made it through though and made my boarding call with about 2 minutes to spare.

Once I was in Ireland everything was pretty standard for international travel; few lines, extra questions for not being an EU citizen, tracking down a cash point, and finding public transport tickets. The one thing I forgot is that it's dark by 8pm in October. So riding on a bus and looking for street signs was harder than I had anticipated. Luckily there was a group of ten students from James Madison University on the same bus I was and going to the same hostel I was going to also. They had directions from a local and I had a map. Map plus directions equals instant friendship. The eleven of us checked into the hostel and took off to find someplace that was still serving dinner at 9:30pm which is actually harder than it sounds. We ended up at Murray's Bar which had a interesting decorating scheme of old housework items and a fish tank over the bar. I ordered Irish stew, mash, and brown bread. I was so hungry and chilled from traveling and looking for a restaurant that it was exactly what I needed. The stew had meat, vegetables, and potatoes in it and then had a big scoop of mash on top of that. It was almost too many potatoes even for me. I think the brown bread was really good too. After dinner we went to a couple if Irish pubs which happened to be still be in the tourist district so drink cost us an arm and a leg, but it was still a really good time. One of the places we went was a micro-brewery so we got to sample some of their specialty creation-which we all did because the house-brew was the cheapest pint on the list. The JMU kids were leaving the next morning to start a Bus Tour of the northern half of the island including some of Northern Ireland so we couldn't stay out very late.

The next day I went off on a full day of site-seeing in Dublin. I started off at the Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that was used during the 18th century Irish rebellions against Great Britain. It was big and stone and freezing! It was definitely cooler inside the building than it was ouside. So happy I wasn't a prisoner there, just being in that kind of cold would been awful enough without the other crummy things that go with being in jail. From the gaol I went to the Guinness Storehouse. It was easy to find since as soon as you got within about 10 blocks of the brewery you could smell the malted barley. The Storehouse used to part of the Brewery but was converted to a visitor's center after most of the brewing process was automated. The building was redone so the core is now a giant pint glass that could hold the 14.3 million pints of Guinness that are consumed everyday. On the ascending floors around the center are exhibits that feature the brewing process, past advertising campaigns, and how Guinness is transported around the world. They also had us a do a quality control tasting and, at the end, staff members showed us how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness and then let us do it ourselves so we ended up with a complimentary pint and a certificate. Happy to have graduated from the Guinness school of pint-pouring, I wandered through the city looking at old buildings along the way like St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle, few more churches, and then St. Stephen's Green and Stephen's Green Shopping Center. Dublin is really easy to walk around and all the sites that I waned to see were spread out enough that I didn't have problems with crowds of tourists. That night a bunch of the girls from the hostel I was in and I went to the Temple Bar which is actually an area full of pubs including THE Temple Bar, and Oliver St. John Gogarty where we heard so traditional Irish music. Drinks were extremely expensive at both places but that's what you get for venturing into the heart of tourist-land.

Saturday I got up early but didn't leave until almost an hour after I originally planned to. The first thing I did was go to the Old Jameson Distillery which had a similar tour to that of the Guiness storehouse except it covered the distillation of whiskey instead of stout. I was surprised to learn that they still used wooden casks in the distillery and they only get casks from certain regions. After the tours we had a whiskey tasting tutorial on the the differences between Jamesson, Johnny Walker Black (scotch), and Jack Daniels (American corn whiskey). It was pretty cool to learn about all the differences between the three. After the tasting they gave us a free glass of whiskey. Having a glass of whiskey at 11am made me feel a little like a lush but I was in Ireland so I guess that makes it okay. After the distillery I wanted to see the crypts of St. Michen Church which inspired the story of Dracula but as fortune would have it the church was closed for the two days and only the two days I was in Dublin. I wasn't going to let that spoil my day though. Instead I went to a house that Oscar Wilde lived in and a park that had this awesome statue of the man himself. I also went to Trinity college and saw the Book of Kells exhibit in the library. I guess the Book of Kells is actually several books or maybe a regional name for the gospels because there were at least three books labelled as the Book of Kells in the display cases. In any case they all dated back to about the 8th century AD. The illustrations were so elaborate. It was hard to imagine someone drawing them with a feather quill and a pot of ink. By the time I finished with that it was just about time for me to go to the airport so I started walking back towards the bus stop with a scenic detour to a couple other historic spots along the way. Dublin was definitely an awesome city to visit. I found most people to be friendly and polite, and it wasn't completely overrun with tourists. I'd like to come back in the spring and see the infamous countryside and maybe go down to Cork and see the Blarney Stone.

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