Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Things To Do And See In Dublin (Apart From The Guinness Storehouse)

On our first proper day of touring, we began the morning with a coach tour of Dublin. It was supposed to give us an orientation of the city and a brief introduction to its many sights, but me and buses don't do very well together. Not only is it terribly difficult to take good pictures through the glass of a moving vehicle, staring too long at certain landmarks doesn't help with situating it within a wider landscape as well. Most importantly, the gentle rocking of tour coaches sends me to sleep like nothing else can - it didn't matter that our guide was fairly compelling, or that we were being ferried past one sight after another, I nodded off (Camera in hand!) anyway. Here's what I did manage to stay awake for: 


We'd zipped quickly through the heart of the city before heading north, across the River Liffey and towards Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed parks situated within a European city. It houses both the U.S. Ambassador's residence, as well as that of the Irish President, known in Gaelic as Áras an Uachtaráin. Another sight we drove past was the Wellington Testimonial, with plaques cast from cannons captured from the French forces he'd helped defeat at Waterloo. At a little over 62 metres, it's the tallest Obelisk in Europe. Our only stop along the tour allowed us to have a short picture taking opportunity with the Papal Cross, which had been specially put up for Pope John Paul II's visit to the city in 1979. We saw the field on which 1.25 million people gathered to hear his open-air sermon, now empty of any crowd and a peaceful place. 


Out in the distance, we could see some deer running past. Their lineage can be traced back to the Fallow Deer that had been introduced to the park way back in the 17th century, when the Duke of Ormond decided to establish a Royal Deer Park on behalf of King Charles II. Over the history of the park, the deer have been hunted for sport and for food, or culled for reasons of sustainability, and now the population remains at a stable level, hovering around 400 deer or so. They roam freely, and motorists have to be careful not to run any over, if not it's a fine of €3000 apparently. Our guide laughingly suggested that anyone running over a deer better hide it in the boot and drive off double-quick. 


We went past the River Liffey a number of times during our day in Dublin, and on our coach tour we passed by a bronze statue meant to personify her. Named after Anna Livia of Finnegan's Wake, she's more commonly known as the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, and if you're tempted to join her in her comfortable recline, she resides in Croppies Memorial Park just by the River itself. After this point, all I remember is us going back across the river again, before I got magically knocked out by the sleep fairies that obviously reside on tour coaches and take particular interest in getting me to nap. 


When I was awoken in the traditional manner (With M hissing "Wake up! Everyone's alighting from the bus!"), we were outside Trinity College, and it was time for us to go in to see the Book of Kells, Dublin's No. 2 attraction according to TripAdvisor. While your glimpse of the actual Book of Kells might be fleeting and involve bumping elbows with all the other people swarming the glass casing, the exhibition leading up to it covers quite extensively the various notable aspects of the work and other similar pieces like the Book of Durrow. From the tools of trade used by artists who worked on the lavish manuscript back in the Dark Ages to the particularities of the artistic style inspired by Celtic patterns, there's enough to give you a good understanding of the merits of Ireland's national treasure. 


Renovation works are currently being done in and around the building, so in order to get to the Long Room we had to exit the way we came in, cut through the gift shop and then go up the stairs at the other end. It was a magnificent space, with row upon row of books, all neatly catalogued. Over 200, 000 books reside in the Long Room alone, which is the main chamber of the College's Old Library. Because the Library had been given the right to claim a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland in the early 1800s, by the middle of the century it was completely filled up, necessitating the construction of another floor of bookcases, plus the rather grand barrel-vaulted ceiling. 


Photography is expressly forbidden inside the Book of Kells exhibition, but the Long Room very considerately has a facsimile copy of some of the pages on display that you can take pictures of. See how intricate the designs are!


Busts of thinkers and writers like Aristotle, Burke, Cicero preside over the shelves of books and manuscripts, which are the oldest of the Library's collection. Interestingly, the Long Room (Which spans some 65 metres) served as a model for the Jedi Archive in Star Wars Episode II. The busts in the Jedi Archive look a little different though...


At the end of the day's guided tour, we were set free at the gates of the College to run riot in the streets of Dublin. We rather like having some time to explore on our own, and between Google and recommendations given to us by complete strangers, we had quite a packed itinerary planned for ourselves for the rest of the day. First thing to do: Lunch. D had, as usual, not taken a proper breakfast, and was starting to get a little twitchy and irritable. We had a table reserved for tea at 4 pm, but he wasn't going to last that long, so we made our way up to Temple Bar for a spot of lunch. 


On our way there, we passed the statue of Molly Malone at the end of Grafton Street. Dubliners seem to be in a habit of giving their statues nicknames, and Molly's also known by monikers like "the tart with the cart". Apparently, her extremely low cut dress represents the fact that women in the 17th century breastfed in public, so bosoms were in great abundance back in the day. I think it's just so tourists have something to grab onto when they clamber up for a photo. The song she's based on is a rather catchy ditty, and we'd hear it over and over again over the next few days.  


Mer-horses were in great abundance across the city, but no one really seems to know why they exist. They seem quite happy as they are though, unexplained mystery and all. 

No one knows why they exist

Someone started a series of Art Deco characters from Ulysses on the side of a building in the Temple Bar area, and it's quite a sight.

Dublin Temple Bar Art

Temple Bar at night is sometimes known as a haven for drunken tourists and a no-go zone for anyone remotely sane. In the day though, it's a charming, if rather sleepy place with all the pubs and restaurants largely still shut before noon. Our little bit of excitement consisted of watching people from the Viking Splash Tour running down the street hooting and hollering, but that was still family-friendly fun. 


Eventually, we settled on having lunch at Elephant & Castle. M had soup while D & I ordered three starters to share, not realizing that the portions would be so massive. The cooking was good and real value for money considering the sizes of each dish we got, and the both of us particularly enjoyed the baby-back spare ribs, which came with a ginger and molasses glaze that we mopped up with the meat.  


Thusly nourished, we moved further North, towards the Dublin Writer's Museum. M & D had been strongly recommended a visit there by a young man who'd shared their airport transfer taxi, so it was placed on our list of to-dos. We went across the Liffey on the Ha'penny Bridge, where some people were attaching love locks to its white rails. 


Over on the North side, the first thing that greeted us was a map of the area, that surrounded construction for a new pub. Here you can see more closely the deer of Phoenix Park (Or at least an artistic impression), as well as the closest we got to having a peek at the Dublin Zoo. 


Dublin has a great deal of colourful doors. According to legend, it has to do with the fact that the men would stagger home drunk on pints of Guinness, unable to tell one black door from the next. This forced their wives to paint their doors in different colours so they'd be better able to remember. Some of the doors are a little fancier than the others, maybe because for some men "The blue door" may not have sufficed as a homing beacon. 


We were lucky that we were there for the first properly nice day of the year, so our walk up to the Dublin Writer's Museum was a pleasant journey. The museum celebrates over 300 years of Irish literary luminaries, and it was a very educational experience. The gentleman manning the ticket booth told us to pay close attention, because there'd be a test at the end. There isn't really a test, but it's interesting enough to warrant a proper look. We went from room to room armed with our free audio guide, and while pictures couldn't be taken in the author exhibition rooms on the ground floor, the rest of the building can be freely photographed


The18th century house that the museum is situated in on Parnell Square is a pretty building, that had been owned by George Jameson of the Jameson Irish Whiskey family. Jameson had been responsible for restoring a great deal of the house and part of his refurbishment efforts include the installation of these stained glass windows. Here, the figures of Music and Art stand, with their sisters Literature and Science in the next window. 


Other embellishments include this statement, a little different from the usual Home Sweet Home plaques. I got myself a massive book of Irish myths and folklore at their specialty bookshop in the back of the building, which will constitute my lunchtime reading when I get back to London. 


Just across the road from the Writer's Museum is the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom across a few centuries. 


On our way towards our next stop (The National Gallery and our Art Tea at the Merrion Hotel will have their own post, forthcoming), we passed by the Spire of Dublin. It wasn't completed in time for the new millennium and thus could not be dubbed the Millennium Spire, which would have been rather grand. Oh well.


Tucked away in a car park was this unnamed mural. Wonderfully sharp M spotted it after turning around to try to get another picture of Trinity College on our third pass of its buildings that day, and we wandered in to get a closer look. It was brilliant stuff. 


Post-tea, we staggered back out onto the street, where we saw this prime example of Irish humour. 


Our last stop of the day was the Brazen Head pub, a half-hour walk from the Merrion Hotel. I picked the scenic route there, which included going round the walls of Dublin Castle, built in 1204. We went past where Silken Thomas of the House of Kildare had laid siege on Ship Street in the 16th century, only to have his attack forcefully repulsed. 


On the lamp posts around the castle we saw one iteration of the City Coat of Arms with its three burning towers on a blue shield, with a sceptre and the hilt of a sword round the back. The motto reads "The obedience of citizens makes a happy city", which sounds very Singaporean to be honest. The origins of the crest are unknown, but numerous theories abound. 


Our last stop of the day was The Brazen Head, the oldest surviving pub in Ireland, established way back in 1198 and still going strong, situated on Lower Bridge Street just off the banks of the Liffey. 


It's famous for its restaurant, for hosting a story-telling and dinner evening as well as its live music events, but we were still full from our very expansive tea at this point, and M & D were starting to feel the effects of their jet-lag, so we couldn't stick around for the 9.30 pm start of the evening's entertainment. We did have just enough strength for a drink each though, so we went into one of the multiple bar rooms inside. 


I ordered a Black Velvet on Uncle K's suggestion, a mixture of Guinness and sparkling wine. It was a smooth and refreshing drink, much needed after a full day of walking up and down the city. We had a very early night, which set a precedent for the rest of the tour - we've been in bed by 11 pm and up before 7 am every day since. Healthy living! 



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