European Vacation: Dublin, Ireland, 17.06.15
...continued from European Vacation: Dublin, Ireland, 16.06.15
First day abroad under our belts: check. And I already don’t want to go home. We fueled up for the morning at Elephant & Castle, a non-touristy restaurant for breakfast two blocks down from our hotel. Katherine ordered spicy like I usually do with an open-faced breakfast quesadilla. After I savored some of the best bacon I’ve ever had on my plate, I helped her finish the ground chorizo with sides of guac, home-whipped sour cream and pico. While picking at each other’s plates and still smiling from our first day on the ground yesterday, we confirmed our itinerary for today’s walkabout. That’s Australian, isn’t it?
It was chilly this morning, but invigorating. Rain was coming, but being on this vacation prevented the weather from being gloomy. The Old Jameson Distillery, of course, was first. Its subtle heather brown and gray brick building softly camouflaged itself perpendicular to the mosaic brick road that winded between it, a quiet residential neighborhood, a gated church and a modest commercial area. We arrived within thirty minutes of doors, its entrance adjacent to a lucky apartment building - the two separated by one pronounced copper still that had to have been fully operational at some point in time.
The lobby, formed by mature stone, smooth wood and strong steel, with its Jameson bottle chandelier warmly illuminating the bar, matched their bottles perfectly and kept us company while we waited for our tour to start. Our tour guide cared about his whiskey. The tour was informative without dragging on or being boring. We rubbed an aged wooden wheel, that used to be used in the distillation process, for a wee bit of good luck. With any hope, it will follow us for the next two weeks. The tour wrapped with a small comparison sampling of Jameson against Jack Daniels (sure) and Johnnie Walker Black (no thanks). I ended up drinking Katherine’s. It was barely 11a. We capped our stay with the tour’s complimentary cocktail, Jameson & Ginger. I also finished Katherine’s. It wasn’t 11:30a.
On our way out of Jameson, their security guard saw us rearranging our belongings to keep Katherine dry because I was the only one with a raincoat, and he gave her a rain poncho. Maybe it was a good thing I rubbed that wooden wheel. Onward, with a hustled walk to make up for the time we lost yesterday... We checked out The Church for a cocktail, a gorgeous bar erected in a 300-year-old… church. Katherine picked for us to share the rather friendly bartender’s cocktail of the day, a slightly overpriced, yet refreshingly delicious Watermelon and Cucumber Tonic. Personally, it tempered all the whiskey I just had. I let her finish this one. We sat for a moment to enjoy the ambiance before moving on, warmed by the sun that started to magnify in through the stained glass windows. Ambiance - a word that will surely get repeated often during this trip.
When we finally got in the air two nights ago and I knew landing in Dublin was going to be a real thing, I gave Katherine a surprise on the plane. When we originally booked our trip, my plan was to bring a padlock and Sharpie so Katherine could join the thousands of other lovers, broken hearts and hopeless romantics on Pont des Arts, the “love locks bridge.” But, earlier this month, Parisian authorities started removing the locks on this pedestrian bridge that links the Louvre to the south bank of the River Seine for safety reasons because of the structural pressure endured by the weight of the locks. So, out of respect to Paris and its transition away from its tradition of lovers, I modified and expanded my plan. Instead, I gave Katherine strands of ribbon designed with images of locks and keys, and also one with the Eiffel Tower on it specially for Paris. I told her that she gets leave our mark on any bridge or monument that moves her in every destination we visit. Today, she tied her first ribbon on the ornate white Liffey (Ha’Penny) Bridge, built in 1816. It was the first bridge we crossed that had locks already hugging it, so Katherine wanted to hug it back. It was the first ribbon of eight.
After bonding with the bridge, we visited Trinity College’s Book of Kells, a monumentally historic, impressively illustrated, illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, a true Irish national treasure. No offense to Book of Kells, but the real reason we were there was to check out the books in the main chamber of the Old Library, the Long Room.
As I found a tear in my first beer at Sheehan's, Katherine shed her first of the trip when we opened up into this incredible great hall, the largest single room library in the world. The aroma in captured in this room was exactly as you would expect 200,000 books smell - aged leather protecting hundreds of years-old paper delicately cared for. As I’m sure it won’t be the last, it was the first time during this trip when I caught myself with mouth open, too stunned for words, trying to look in panoramic views as intensely as possible.
To catch a quick breath of fresh air, we strolled through Merrion Square Park so I could take my picture with a statue of Oscar Wilde, who closely resembled Stevie from Eastbound and Down. Oscar was pretty laid back though.
We were in Dublin so it was only fitting that Katherine enjoy her very first pint of Guinness Draught ever at the Guinness Storehouse, seven floors of velvety smooth stout heaven, adjacent to the original St. James’s Gate Brewery. Their self-guided tour, nicely complemented with sessions of engaging education and demonstration, was impressive.
The first “wow” moment was walking through the neon lit dark tunnel into the Tasting Experience white room on the third floor. It was a calming olfactory overload, a curious room oddly similar to the wonders you’d experience in a real-life Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. After all the smells, we got a teaser mini-English tulip pint of the black stuff to enjoy in a recreated private den of Guinness royalty. It was Katherine’s first sip of a true Irish stout, in its home, and I was a proud husband.
After savoring those preliminary couple ounces, we were admitted into the Guinness Academy, where we both graduated by pouring our own proper pint of what we came to drink. I really have to give credit to my wife, she poured her a perfect pint with precision. I loved watching her smile as she surprised herself with confidence behind the taps at Guinness as if she owned the place. It took every bit of restraint I had, but I didn’t put my lips to that pint until we were standing in awe of the 360° view at the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor. It was worth the wait. While looking out at the Dublin skyline, the feeling that I poured the pint I was holding in my hand made for another quiet personal beer victory. And, yeah, it does taste better in Dublin.
Although we knew we were in town at a day and time it was closed, Katherine did want to at least see St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On our way, we had an early dinner at Dublin’s oldest pub, Brazen Head, which dates back to 1198. I don’t know how authentic of an Irish meal it was, but we split a plate of rich salmon pasta with a creamy parmesan sauce. We smelled it at the table next to us before we saw it and had to have it. Katherine washed down her half with her second pint (ever!) of Guinness. Of course I had a beer, but don’t remember what it was because I told our server to just bring me her favorite local ale. We sat next to each other outside on a low-profile wooden bench with our backs to the pub’s stone wall and ate and drank while eavesdropping on the thick Irish accent conversations of everyone else on the patio. Oh, yeah - when I went to the bathroom, there was a drunk guy at the urinal next to me who muttered something half under his breath. The only words I were able to make out were “fucking,” “sandwich” and “floor.” After I zipped up and turned around, sure enough, there was half of an uneaten deli sandwich tightly wrapped in plastic on the floor in the stall. In hindsight, I think he was trying to do me a solid in case I was hungry. Good thing Katherine and I had just ordered the pasta.
We didn’t hang out too long at St. Pat’s because it felt like the rain was coming. We stayed long enough for me to snap a few photos of her with the Cathedral as the backdrop. My smiling blonde wife brightened the Dublin’s overcast sky today.
Since we were a little wiped out from traveling yesterday, we wanted to do a little pub hopping tonight. Our flight to London comes early in the morning, so tonight was pretty responsible. We went back to P. Mac’s, where I left our mark yesterday with a #GRBCUSA sticker on their front pole outside. I drank a quick BrewDog IPA before we strolled through the Temple Bar District, which is where we ultimately ended up, on our way to The Porterhouse Brewing Co., Dublin’s first “pub brewery,” est. 1996 - the year I graduated high school. It’d be a tough call and probably an even split, but if I lived here, Blackbird or Porterhouse would be my go-to spots. I would come back here to sit in both of these bars all day to drink through their amazing tap and bottle lists while making friends out of strangers. I don’t know if floors is the right word, but Porterhouse had multiple interconnecting levels throughout its two- (or three?) story building. There were the coziest corners to tuck ourselves into at each turn throughout the place. We stayed for only one drink (tear), but sat in three different nooks during our visit. I took as much time as I could with my Mikkeller Green Gold because I didn't want to leave. The place had way too much to absorb not to. I really liked this place - it felt like a good beer bar should.
We missed food at Porterhouse by about fifteen minutes and were pretty hungry, which is why we didn’t stay longer than we did. So, before tackling the packed touristy pubs of Temple Bar, we wolfed down the Margherita Bufala thin crust pizza from Milano. It wouldn’t be my first choice for pizza or dining out, but it was getting late and our bellies were getting loud. But, it was pizza and it was a little foreshadowing to Italy, so Katherine was happy and thus so was I.
We already have and will continue to scratch tourist destinations off our list. No shame whatsoever; we are living this up. This is our European sampler platter vacation, as we’re calling it, after all. With that, The Temple Bar, est. 1840, was a must. The vertical strands of soft white Christmas lights that drape the upper brick exterior are a warm invitation inside. Then, PACKED.
The place feels like Anytown USA’s most popular local bar, with one immediate noticeable difference: instead of the typical dirty looks you get back home from our American brothers and sisters after an unavoidable shoulder bump in a crowded bar, if bumped here - these people smile, ask you what you’re drinking (beer, of course!), clink their glass to yours and wish you “Cheers!” And, instead of getting boxed out from a busy bar rail, people moved aside giving themselves less room so I could order. I’m cool with this social consideration. I’m sure empty, this place is massive, but shoulder-to-shoulder and it’s still expansive. It seems to go deep in many directions and every inch has tipsy patrons - most of them vying for a sightline to the three-piece band in the corner of the main room. People are here for the music, atmosphere and alcohol in any order and multiple combinations. There is a lot of whiskey here, too, as expected. If I was still in college and here with my tailgating team, this would be the pub I would’ve probably gotten kicked out of. Fortunately for my wallet and head tomorrow morning, our travel plans were gracious enough to lend themselves to a half-pint before our last stop. We walked into The Quays. We popped in for a quick look and didn’t stay long. The demographic was a little too young and rowdy for us before having to tackle early morning travel. Still, the experience at The Temple Bar was a fond way to part with Dublin.
We laughed at ourselves when we finally got back to our hotel. Our room’s window was directly above the hotel’s sign, and you could see a pair of Katherine’s pants drying on our clothesline. Hey, Temple Bar Hotel! You treated us really well. Sorry if you caught that and shook your head at us Americans.
Thank you for being our first and a mighty memorable destination, Dublin. In your honor, I hope your Irish toast will also bless me because Lord knows sometimes I need the head start: “May you be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”
This trip already feels like it should. I’m thriving on having my senses challenged by this beautiful experience. I’m already aware of how that this trip is going to bless me with a lot of these moments - feelings of being humbly absorbed into foreign culture and tradition. I’m okay with being out of my element because it makes me reflect more seriously about who and why I am, and that being here (wherever here is) is precisely where I’m supposed to be right now.
To be continued...
Stay tuned for European Vacation: London, United Kingdom, 18.06.15