Pints, Pals and Piety in Dublin
Following a rather typical week in Conwy, filled with the usual ups and downs, I knew that I needed to get myself away from Wales for a few days.
Living in semi-retirement may sound like a rather idyllic lifestyle, but you’d be surprised how quickly living in such a place can start to make time drag. The monotony of daily existence took it’s toll on me quicker than I thought it would, so by Wednesday I was up at 6am, scrambling for my laptop and madly researching my next adventure.
After my rather hair-raising trip to North Wales last weekend, I knew that my next trip needed to be decidedly more laid back. No dangling from wires suspended hundreds of metres in the air and no diving into ice-cold plunge pools. Nope – this weekend needed to be stress-free and, most importantly, fun. The open road was calling me once more, but this time I had something a little more out of the way for my little Ford Ka to tackle.
Although I’ve visited dozens of far flung countries in exotic locales, there are still many places much closer to home that I’ve yet to make the journey to see. Places in Europe, like Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands are still huge gaps in my travelling history. Up until last weekend, Ireland was one of those countries and, although I only saw a fraction of what this stunning country has to offer, I know I’ll be back to explore even more of it.
When I visit a country for the first time, I prefer to experience it on foot. There’s something to be said for getting down on street level and becoming familiar with the city as if you were a local. However, when I took a passing glance at the possibility of taking my car across the Irish sea to the Emerald Isle, the sheer practicality and affordability won me over and led me to embark on a 450-plus mile round trip from my home in Conwy to Ireland’s beating heart in Dublin, down the country’s stunning coast to Rosslare and back up through Wales, spearing through Snowdonia National Park.
My Irish Ferries booking had me set off from a bustling port in Holyhead, just a 45 minute drive from Conwy.
Rolling onto the ferry, I experienced a sharp moment of nostalgia pulling me back to an ill-fated voyage to Calais involving a rather destructive bout of sea seasickness. Thankfully, my stomach remained gloriously settled for the entirety of the trip, so I’ll put that early experience down to a mixture of nerves and adolescence.
Arriving in Dublin, I was initially taken aback by the industrial nature of the city. In my mind I’d envisioned green hills, rosy cheeked avuncular bar keeps and flowing pints of the black stuff. What I found however was a rather grim looking city – the overcast weather didn’t help matters – with a beating heart of gold hiding beneath the surface. I made a beeline to my hostel for the night: Abigail’s Hostel is a smart looking modern establishment that has been converted from a hotel, it’s staff were friendly and the clean spacious rooms made for a comfortable experience.
I had just the one day and evening to spend in this iconic town and I wasn’t about to waste it lying around the hostel, no matter how friendly the staff were. Two tourist attractions were on my agenda.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of two grand religious buildings in the city. It has the honour of being the tallest church in Ireland, as well as the largest. It’s been a holy site for over 1500 years, with it’s chief claim to fame (if a cathedral can have such a thing) being that Saint Patrick used the well to baptise converts into Christianity. I always try and make time for a visit to a city’s cathedral, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a breather and gaze in wonder at the usually stunning architecture. At €6.50, I’d say the visit is well worth it.
From pious quiet to something a little more sinful.
Just a 20 minute walk away from the Cathedral grounds is arguably Ireland’s most popular tourist destination (in fact, it was the number one recommendation from the receptionist at my Abigail’s Hostel).
The Guinness Storehouse experience is one that should not be missed. Yes – the free pint of the black stuff might well have put in a particularly receptive mood, but that came after a genuinely interesting near-2 hour stroll through some wonderfully interesting exhibitions. Everything from Guinness’ rich advertising heritage to the actual production history is covered in this self-guided tour which ends on a real high, as you enjoy a well-earned pint (and a 360º view!) at their Gravity Bar on the 7th floor. At €14, this experience is not only a steal, but an absolute must-see.
Once I’d got my feet back on the ground, I felt an incurable thirst for more Guinness. After a quick trip back to the Hostel to gather up an extra jacket and a few drinking companions, we hit the town and began a night of revelry that I wish I had more memories of. Dublin’s nightlife is famed, the locals are friendly but the drinks are regrettably not that cheap. However, what the city lacks in affordability it more than makes up for in characters and sights. My top tip is to get settled in one pub (we chose Grogan’s for it’s old-school charm and top-notch toasties) and simply watch the place spiral out of control as the night goes on.
I awoke with a sharp headache and a deep hunger within me. Thankfully, I was up in time to grab the free breakfast in the Hostel. A sorry display of hungover faces presented me in the dining room, with a few sheepish smiles as plates were piled high with ample breakfasts. I had just enough time to wolf my food down before making a quick dash for my Ka and a rather shaky drive down the tranquil south-eastern coast of Ireland.
There’s nothing quite like a nice slow drive to ease the latter stages of a hangover.
The drive from Dublin to Rosslare can take you anywhere from 2 hrs 20 minutes (when taking the direct route on the M11) to around 3 hrs and and a half, if you’d rather take the scenic route. Desperately needing a dose of fresh air, I opted to take the R115 from through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. I’d stocked up on a meal deal (not very cultural but the only cure for my particular kind of hangover) and took a break to admire the landscape. Although I’d only got a small glimpse of what Ireland had to offer, I knew that I’d be back again.