Across the sea to Ireland: Part 1 Dublin

I'd never been across the sea to Ireland (apart from a flight to Belfast many years ago), so when my American 'cousin' Ross Pipes announced that he and his wife Nancy were to visit Dingle, I had a flash of inspiration and began to plan a trip. Consulting The man in seat 61, I discovered I could get a SailRail ticket from anywhere in Britain for €33 (well, more like €40 with booking fees added) - to Dublin via the Holyhead ferry. As Anglesey was already on my list of 'extremities', that was the way to go - and it'd remind me of those childhood trips to Butlin's Pwllheli - by steam train from Manchester Victoria.

So, on Monday 18 July, I set off. The journey by Virgin to Chester was fine, but here I had to change onto a tiny two-coach Arriva train! Yes, it was standing room only, but the route along the North Wales coast, through Conwy Castle and over the Britannia Bridge was worth it. The day before my sailing the fast Irish Ferries boat Swift had been cancelled due to bad weather, but when I arrived it was only delayed. The passage was fine and I had two pints, beginning my acclimatisation to the nearly €5 pint!

Dublin power station

At Dublin there was no fuss getting through customs etc (in fact I didn't have to show my passport the whole trip!) and I caught a shuttle bus to the centre. I was expecting it to drop us near O'Connell Street - I knew the route to the hotel from there - but it was somewhere called Busaras and I was disorientated. Luckily a chap pointed me to the Luas tram and I got a ride to Smithfield, a stop too far as it turned out, but the route to Jurys Inn Christchurch took me past the Brazen Head - a Peter Chrisp recommended pub - so I popped in for a pee and my first slow-pulled pint of Guinness on Irish soil - and it didn't taste too bad.

Luas trams

After checking in at the hotel, I went for a wander around the Temple Bar area and bought a bag of chips at Leo Burdock's (Dublin's oldest chipper), which I ate in my hotel room. The bag was huge, the chips white and soggy - and I left half of them.

Tuesday morning, I walked over Ha'penny Bridge and bought some stamps at the famous Post Office in O'Connell Street then got a tram to Connelly station to take a Dart to Sandycove. This according to Ian Marchant's book Parallel Lines is the oldest commuter line in the world and is very scenic, providing wonderful views of Dublin Bay as it travels south (in hindsight I should have gone further - to Bray). It's a bit of a schlep from the Dart station to Joyce's Martello Tower, but when you get there you can also have a peep at Forty Foot, the once gentlemen-only bathing place, where now 'Togs must be worn'! Inside the museum you can climb the thin spiral starcase to the windy top of the tower and catch some more views.

Togs must be worn

Back in Dublin I alighted at Pearce station and made my way to the (mostly closed for renovation) National Gallery for a very nice lunch of brocolli soup, passing Sweny the chemists on the way. I was taken by the paintings of Paul Henry, especially his landscapes of Western Ireland with their big cloudy skies, and the watercolours of George Petrie - and a fine Feininger shardy skyscraper in the foreign section.

Prince of Wales's seat

Bongo Pete had recommended the tour of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland. It was 2.15 and according to the notice on the door, the daily tour would start at 2.30 - so in I went. It was well worth the €2 - the tour started in the huge main lodge room with its chess-patterned carpet, but also took in some smaller themed rooms including an Egyptian one (with mystery trapdoor!) and the gothic splendour of the Knights Templar room with its Prince of Wales throne. The guide was very entertaining and this tour is highly recommended.

Harry Clarke stained glass

After a coffee and wifi at Fixx at the end of Molesworth Street, it was off to St Stephen's Green for my date with a Dublin Ambassador. After a quick look around the Little Museum of Dublin (not yet open), my greeter Philip took me off to microbrewery Porterhouse on Nassau Street for my free pint. He didn't drink - so I got two: Oyster Stout and TSB! (I tried the Plain Porter on my return to Dublin some days later.) Then I went off to photograph the 'Why go bald' sign! The perfect end of a tiring yet exhilarating day in Dublin. To be continued...

[More photos on Flickr]

No comments: