Heileó from Ireland! Last week we left off in Dublin just after we arrived, so we were able to visit only part of the city. This week we finish our trip here, then jump on a train to explore the Irish countryside.
Dublin is Ireland's capital city, and over a third (1.5 million) of Ireland's population of 4 million lives here. I always imagined Dublin to be dark, drab and dirty, but it's far from that. I had no idea Dublin is so glamorous -- in fact, after a recent transformation it's regarded as one of Europe's hippest cities. Now there are plenty of places to see and be seen. Visiting them all would take a month. I had only three days, so I had to make the most of my time. I wish I could have seen more sites, like the National Gallery (it's free), the Museum of Natural History (ditto), the Dublin Castle, City Hall and Saint Patrick's Cathedral, to name just a few.
But that's for next time. If, like me, you have only a short stay, a good way to get oriented is to take a double-decker bus tours. I know, it's pretty touristy, but it's also a quick and inexpensive way to see the city, while helping you figure out what looks worth coming back to explore another time. Two main companies offer these "Hop on, Hop Off" tours; they can be found in front of any major attraction. If you don't get off, the narrated bus tour takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. But if you've got a day pass you should take advantage of the buses' 19 stops, all at or near major attractions. Don't worry about long waits for the next bus; they're just around the corner. Each company has plenty of buses, and they operate continuously. Price: Adult 12.50€; Child (14 and under) 6€; Student and senior citizen 11€.
I got off the bus at the Guinness Storehouse. Located in the St James's Gate Brewery, it is supposedly Ireland's number one visitor attraction. The seven-floor self-guided tour takes visitors through an impressively remodeled warehouse. Each floor depicts a journey of Guinness beer, from history to advertising. The interesting story begins with Arthur Guinness signing a 900-year brewery lease in 1759. He would be proud and amazed that today his beer is sold in 150 countries. However, as cool as the building is, they charge way too much to visit (unless you're a huge Guinness fan). Admission is 14€ for adults (advance tickets purchased online save 10%); 9.50€ for students and senior citizens; 30€ for a family; 5€ for children over 6; children under 6 free.
Obviously not many people agree with me, because a few days after I visited, the storehouse had its three millionth visitor -- a Baltimore resident and diehard Guinness fan. It just doesn't seem right that two of the city's most incredible museums are free, while this place that isn't even a working brewery (that one is next door, and not open to the public) costs almost $17. To put it in perspective: the Budweiser tour in St. Louis takes visitors through a working brewery, and the hour-long guided tour is free. I understand Guinness charging something, because the building has been remodeled, plus it's a good deterrent to keep away the drunks looking for the "free" pint of Guinness at the very end (on the top floor). But I think 5€ would be a better price. That would make it worthwhile it to skip the tour and head straight up to Gravity Bar. Even non-drinkers would love the 360Â¿ panoramic bar. It rocks, and the views of the city are awesome. However, patrons can't buy a beer or a soda up there; they can get one free pint (with a four-leaf clover on top) or soda only by trading in the plastic ring that's attached to the ticket (a souvenir Guinness paperweight). The Guinness Storehouse is open 7 days a week, from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (in July and August, open until 8 p.m.). Guinness Storehouse, St James's Gate, Dublin 8; tel. 353-1-408-4800.
Irelands Favorite Beer?
What I found most shocking about Ireland is their favorite beer. I must have asked 20 different locals, of all ages and from all parts of the country. Most of them said: Budweiser! Can you believe that? Maybe they were just trying to be funny, but I don't think so. And I did see empty Bud bottles and Bud signs everywhere.
A good touristy place to drink Guinness (or Bud) is Temple Bar. This is not one individual bar, like it sounds; instead it's a 28-acre cultural, historic and small business neighborhood in the heart of Dublin's city center. Set up in 1991, Temple Bar now has over 2,500 residents, 500 businesses and 50 cultural organizations. I heard mixed reviews from locals about this place. Some said it's only for tourists, while others told me that all kinds of young people party down there. I ran into a mix of both. Many were from England and Wales in town for bachelor/bachelorette parties (the English call them stag and hen parties). No matter who they were, everyone was having fun -- and the best part was I didn't go home smelling of smoke. That's because on March 29, 2004 the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in all enclosed work places, including bars and restaurants. I love that law!
Rather than checking out of our hotel and schlepping our bags all around the country, we (fellow travel writers) decided to use Dublin as our home base and make day trips out of the city. Using Irish Rail (Gaelic: Iarnrod Eireann) it's easy, and having a Eurail pass made it affordable. Our first day trip was to Cork. It's located in southern Ireland, and takes 2 hours, 40 minutes on the express train (a regular train takes 20 minutes more). Although we had first-class tickets, we still needed to pay a steep supplementary fare (of 30€ each way) because we took an express train. On the express, first class is called "City Gold." They offer comfortable seats, good food (additional cost) and service. Going down we had breakfast; coming back we had dinner. It was easy, but the ride would have been much better if we didn't have to pay a supplementary fee and if there were more than one electrical outlet in the whole car.
We arrived at Kent Station and were greeted by Tom, our Cork tour guide. Tom was a nice lad who loved to talk (he must've kissed the Blarney Stone once too often). We learned so much from him -- for example, this street post is really an upside down cannon. We also learned that Cork is the second oldest and largest city in Ireland (population 150,000). And that the city layout is confusing, with its old one way streets and many bridges connecting the 13 islands. Did you know Cork is on an island, and lies between two limbs of the River Lee? Now you do!
Walking Tour of Cork
The best way to see Cork -- an excellent walking city -- is on foot (parking is difficult to find). If you're interested in public transportation, buses cost 1.10€. The city's main street is St. Patrick (locals call it just Patrick Street), and dates back to 1789. Patrick Street is where most people shop or take leisurely strolls. The statue at the entrance isn't of St. Patrick, but of Father Theobald Matthew, a 19th-century priest who opposed drinking and is called "the apostle of temperance." Cork is so popular because of its terrific cultural and dining scene, featuring many top-rated restaurants. To see what the locals ate I checked out the covered Old English Market -- it dates from a charter of James I in 1610. It was interesting to see the shopkeepers selling all kinds of fresh seafood, meats, vegetables, fruit and pudding (not the pudding you want, unless you fancy dried pigs blood).
On the tour I learned that the Blarney Stone was only five miles northwest of Cork City, and that it wasn't on our schedule. I was shocked. I know the Blarney Stone is the most touristy thing to do in Ireland, and that most natives (even Corkonians) have never even visited, let alone kissed it but it's one of those things I felt I had to do -- especially because I was so close. According to legend, kissing the Blarney Stone gives the gift of the gab (I know, some people claim I already have it). I was able to talk Tom and the rest of the group into skipping our long sit-down lunch and making the trip to nearby Blarney Castle. That's right, the blarney stone is located at the top of a magnificent castle. I had no idea! To enter the castle you pay an admission fee of 7€ for adults, 5€ for seniors/students, 2€ for children and 16€ for families (2 adults and 2 children 8-14). The castle grounds are beautiful, and worth a visit just to walk through. That was the first time all trip that I felt I was in a foreign land -- possibly even a fairy tale, when I saw the 1446 castle and the green surroundings.
Getting the Gift of Gab
Reaching the top required climbing a bunch of narrow spiral stone stairs. They were not claustrophobic at all, thanks to plenty of open windows. The views from the top are incredible. We had plenty of time to admire them too, because there was queue (mostly American tourists) to kiss the stone. This was the only bummer, but we waited only 10 minutes. I later read that the term "blarney" was introduced by Queen Elizabeth I of England. She defined it as "pleasant talk, intending to deceive without offending." The Blarney stone itself is set in the wall. Kissing it requires lying down on your back, and leaning backwards (don't worry a man there holds you and shows you how to grab the iron railing). It's a good thing he's there, because the drop is quite high and people might get spooked seeing the bird's-eye view while leaning back. Later in the day I was bragging to some locals that I kissed the stone. They chuckled and said, "You know, that's where Irish men go to pee." After I made a crazy disgusted face (because I practically made out with that stone) they smirked to let me know they were kidding. Those Irish are so funny.
Before returning to Dublin, we made a few stops. One was at the Fota House, an 18th-century hunting lodge on Fota Island. The estate covers the entire island, over 300 hectares. The beautiful grounds contain gardens, stables, glass houses, stone barns and other buildings. The house is now the property of The Fota Trust Company, a charity dedicated to the preservation of the building. Admission: Adults 5.50€; Senior citizens/students 4.50€; Children 2.2€; Families (2 adults and 3 children) 12.50€. Fota Island, Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork, Ireland; tel. 353-0-21-4815543.
Weather in Ireland
At the Fota House I saw something I never imagined in Ireland: a palm tree. Who knew that southern Ireland has palm trees?! There's a good amount of them too. Though they are not native to the land (they were brought over from the Canary Islands), they survive because Ireland is warmed by the Gulf Stream. That's something else I learned: The country enjoys a mild climate year Â¿round. The average winter temperature is 35 to 45Â¿F; in summer it's 65Â¿ to 75Â¿F. Snow is rare. The weather always changes, so dress in layers. No wonder this place is so green! They call Ireland the "land of perpetual spring."
The last town we visited in this area was Cobn. A waterfront area that used to be called Queenstown, it's famous for a few reasons. One is that this is where the Titanic made its last stop on April 11, 1912, picking up 123 passengers before sinking four days later. Unfortunately, Queenstown was part of another famous boat tragedy. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was en route from New York to Liverpool. Ten miles offshore, she was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. Nearly 2,000 people were on board, and only 761 people were saved. The survivors were ferried to Queenstown. and accommodated in local hospitals, hotels and private homes. 150 victims are buried in mass graves in the Old Church cemetery, a mile north of Queenstown.
Statues mark both tragedies, as well as happier events. One statue is of Annie Moore and her brothers, the first emigrants to be processed in Ellis Island when it opened officially on January 1, 1892 (A similar statue of Annie can be found on Ellis Island.) Many Irish embarked on that same journey. In fact, from 1848 to 1950 over six million adults and children emigrated from Ireland. More than 3 million departed from Queenstown alone. A great place to learn about these events is the Cobh Heritage Centre for The Queenstown Story. Admission: Adult 5€; Children 2.50€; Seniors and students 4€; Families (2 Adults and up to 4 Children) 15.50€. Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland; tel. 353021-4 813591.
Next week we take another trip by rail out to another Irish countryside city. We then travel to a different European country. The way we get there is not what you expect.
Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!
- Blarney Castle
- Blarney Castle History
- Cobh Heritage Centre
- Cork 2005
- Cork Guide
- Cork Tourist Office
- Currency Converter
- Dublin Bus Tour
- Dublin Castle
- Dublin City Hall
- European Train Timetable via Austria Rail
- European Train Timetable via UIC
- Fota Island
- Frommer's Dublin
- Frommer's Cork
- Guinness Storehouse
- Ireland Public Buses
- Irish City Bus Tours
- Irish Rail
- Johnny Jet Search Engine
- National Gallery
- Natural History Museum
- Temple Bar
- Visit Dublin
John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet), is the founder of www.johnnyjet.com, the ultimate travel website and weekly newsletter. He logs over 150,000 miles a year, has been featured in over 400 articles (including Frommers.com, USA Today, Time, Fortune, the New York Times, CNBC and MSNBC), and has published the book, You Are Here Traveling With JohnnyJet.com.
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