Sight: green everything, rows of ancient text, medieval edifices
Sound: gritty yet smooth voices of street musicians, laughter billowing from overflowing pubs, excerpts from an Edwardian era
Smell: musty pages from old books, fragrant bath bombs, a thin film of hops over the city
Taste: coffee-flavored beer, salty fish + chips, minced beef and veggie combo called Shepherd’s Pie
Touch: soft grass, acrylic paint, chilled glasses
It was a rainy day when I arrived in Dublin, a canopy of grey clouds suspended over this electric city. But no mist could put a damper with my reunion with old friends! Patrick and Meagan (from my university days) welcomed me with all the love fellow world travelers can muster, and it was a treat to see the city from a local’s point of view. I mean who else can say they’ve been a couple pints of Guinness deep on a literal boat bar within hours of landing?
I befriended strangers and drank until last call like a true Dubliner, though after the 3rd person asked me which I prefer between London and Dublin, I learned some things are better left unsaid. The next morning I took a walk through the residential bits towards the 5-star Merrion Hotel where I had booked a spa treatment. Arriving a little early, I was able to snag a classic Irish breakfast at The Cellar restaurant inside, which was an experience in itself. Fortunately, my visit corresponded with Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. As such, it’s customary for the locals to dress in classic Edwardian gear as part of the fun, and one cannot be wandering about without a signature straw hat. The servers each sported this latter statement piece, which sparked conversation and saved me quite a bit of confusion later in the day.
My experience at the Tethra Spa was otherworldly, and I’ll be honest in saying I’ve never known true luxury till now. Plush robes, warm slippers and a glass of fresh juice await you at check-in. With time to spare, I cozied up in one of the lounge chairs by the uplit pool reminiscent of the thermal baths in Rome. With nothing but my thoughts and a gorgeous mosaic view, I savored every peaceful second. The massage itself was a dream and I could literally feel the stress being pushed out through my skin with gentle force.
The perfect start to Saturday, I emerged from The Merrion in my poppy orange top and striped skirt feeling as fresh as the Prince of Bel Air. Local artists sat hopefully along the iron fences circling Merrion Square and I couldn’t help but indulge in a Monet-esque piece to bring home. My wandering feet led me towards the open air music steaming on Grafton Street. Took a quick look around for Ed Sheeran but quickly became immersed in the liveliness of the square. Shopping abounds on this street, and local pubs were pouring with Bloomsday celebrators. I even captured a modern portrait of a group of these literary chaps!
Trinity College was not to be missed, and though the entrance bubbled with throngs of tour groups and students, I followed suit and entered the bottleneck. Take your time wandering these grounds and appreciate the architecture of each building. The Old Library sits towards the back and to the right, and the Book of Kells exhibit welcomes you into the building. This calfskin vellum masterpiece contains mainly the four Gospels and was created somewhere around the year 800! Elaborate illustrations with gold leaf glistening in the light grace the pages, and it’s easy to see why this manuscript was created to be seen and admired, never read aloud. It’s been on display in this very spot since 1661 – just wow. Once you’ve seen this amazing piece of history in the flesh, you’re led towards the heart of the Old Library, the Long Room – an endless tunnel of knowledge lined with over 200,000 ancient books. At 213 ft. long, the space is immaculately kept and surprisingly, none of the rows of books play host to a thin layer of dust. It was simply marvelous.
Exhausted from the day, I wandered back towards the flat desperate for some R&R. Early the next morning I embraced the rare sunny weather (which the locals insist happens only one day each year) and found a lovely park in the city that was undoubtedly touched by a green thumb. St. Stephen’s Green, with its winding pathways, romantic bridges, humming fountains and shaded pockets within, was tonic for the soul. I turned off the phone, laid upon the grass and watched cloud figures for what seemed like hours.
Towards the afternoon, it was time to make my way towards the Guinness Factory because this is obviously a staple for every visit to Dublin. Fun fact: Guinness is the only beer I drink (much more of a wine gal), but I don’t think I can ever have enough of this coffee-flavored poison. This self-guided tour gives you lots of opportunities to top up along the way, taste different Guinness varieties and even learn fun facts about the advertising campaigns that have made this company so famous in past years. Don’t miss the (slightly disturbing) fish on a bicycle! At the end, you’re able to attend The Guinness Academy where you learn how to pour the perfect pint. Yes, it’s an art and yes, there’s a fancy certificate involved. If that doesn’t get you over the fence then I don’t know what will! We brought our pints up to the circular sky loft to enjoy as we looked over the city in wonder.
We may have done the Jameson tour immediately following, but who’s counting? I’m not one to cheat on Jack Daniels, but it was really neat to taste a variety of famous whiskeys to understand the difference between multiple distillations during brewing! Feeling on top of the world (most likely because of the alcohol in our systems), we headed to dinner at The Winding Stair. You’ve got to try this quirky restaurant whose name lends a fair warning to what you can expect once inside, but be advised that reservations are usually required.
The one thing I was a little bummed about during this visit was the lack of trad music. I’m talking a passionate mix of banjos, violins pan flutes and the like from a collection of locals sitting in the corner of a pub, playing no tune in particular. Simply reeling. We experienced this during my last visit to the land of leprechauns, but now that I think about it, St. Patty’s Day probably had a large role to play. We searched everywhere for this music after dinner but to no avail. Unsurprisingly, we ended up in Temple Bar which is notorious for tourists and crowds. What did amaze me is that we found a perfect setting, holed up in the basement of one of the pubs where a couple different musicians took to the stage. Even though the songs that played were more modern, I was in awe of their talent. Guinness overflowing, the sense of community was strong as everyone sung boldly with their fists slamming upon wooden tables in time with the beat of the music. That moment right there is what Dublin is all about, and one of the many reasons I’m in love with the ginger capitol of the world. Also, yes because of the gingers who are we kidding?
Ended my weekend with a delightful breakfast at Hatch & Sons, as I dreamed of my Irish adventures to come. Hopefully I’ll get to explore some country towns like Cork, Kinsale and Kilkenny next time!