Shakespeare and Oxford

Day 13

We have our last breakfast at the B&B. The Cotswolds is beautiful and restful and we’re sad to go. Today, we’re headed to London, with detours to Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford.

Stratford-upon-Avon is Shakespeare’s hometown. It’s a Saturday and the village is packed with visitors. The roads leading to his birthplace are very congested and since we have a limited amount of time, we skip it and go to his gravesite at the village church. There are a few people there but no crowds. The church is small but very pretty. Shakespeare was married here and his gravesite is in the church.


  

We learn that because he married when he was only a teenager, he was never allowed to go to college. College was not only restricted to just men, but actually only single men were allowed to attend! So, arguably the person most studied by students in colleges never actually attended one.

As a somewhat playful and a little somber tribute, MDT “bites his thumb” at the grave site….this is a reference to one of the early scenes in “Romeo and Juliet”—that scene was a particular favorite of MDT and got him hooked on Shakespeare at an early age.

Next, we drive south to Oxford. The town is very busy, and we find out later that it’s because it’s graduation at some of the colleges. There is more than a little celebrating going on—most of the folks in caps and gowns are covered in confetti and smell like they’ve been swimming in beer. It’s a pretty funny contrast to the stoic and ancient feeling that the University has when you look at the buildings.

Oxford is not one university, it’s actually 39 separate colleges. We visit the most famous, Christ Church College. It’s quite grand and feels very Harry Potter – probably because some of the scenes from the movies were filmed here. We can practically see Harry, Ron, and Hermione coming around the corner!


   We walk around the rest of Oxford, but don’t go into any of the other colleges due to time constraints…and, really, we’ve seen lots of old buildings by now. It’s beautiful here and we can only imagine how fun AND intimidating would be to go to college in Oxford.


 We wrap up our Oxford visit with a stop at Blackwell, one of the most famous bookstores in England. Or, rather, DQT checks it out while MDT heads to the car for a break. The store has four levels and is a book lover’s dream! On the bottom floor is a display of first or early editions of famous books like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (DQT’s favorite novel) or Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Pretty amazing geeky stuff!

Now we’re finally headed back to London in earnest. We stop at a gas station to fill up the rental car before returning it. About 2 minutes after we leave the gas station, we realize that NEITHER of us had paid for gas! We each thought the other had taken care of it. Oh my gosh! We rush back to the station and MDT runs in to pay. No harm, no foul, and no one went to jail….but we were caught on camera and they were starting the process of reporting us!

For our time in London, we are staying at an airbnb studio just on the other side of the River Thames from Chelsea (or as our host, Yasmin, declares, “the poor side!”). We have dinner at a local pub/restaurant called The Woodman.


Saturday night is wood fired pizza night so we get the garlic olive oil pizza. And a scotch egg because it’s on the menu and who doesn’t love a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded, and deep fried?? This has been one of MDT’s favorite bar snacks ever since discovering them when he lived in Portland. (Though not technically a ‘meat filled pastry–it is still going on the Slainte O’ Meter!) We split the Scottish salmon fillet and are gifted a free dessert because they forgot our dinner order. We don’t usually order dessert so this is a treat (and too much food!). It’s MDT’s first time trying a pavlova!


     The food is terrific! If this is how good food is in a random pub on the “poor” side of town, we are looking forward to tomorrow!

Slainte O’Meter so far:

20 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

19 – Pints (beers/ciders)

9 – Wines

17 – Meat-filled pastries

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Stonehenge & the Cotwolds

Day 11

We’re heading to England! We take an early flight out of Belfast to London and rent a car for our drive to Stonehenge.

We’re given an upgrade and get a super cute Fiat. DQT is in love! It has a glass roof. The weather is gorgeous (especially compared to cold, windy, and rainy Ireland) so this feature is especially appreciated!



It’s a great drive due to the warm, dry weather and wide-laned expressways. Even the narrow country roads seem less scary in good weather.

Stonehenge is out in the country in the middle of a large grassy field. It’s good we’re there on a Thursday and the crowds are smaller. We have a pasty for lunch (DQT will never tire of these – they’re the perfect food) then it’s onto the shuttle to the stones.


It’s windy but warm and amazing to see how large the stones are up close. It’s unbelievable to think how people thousands of years ago could have collected, transported, carved, and erected these huge stones without modern tools…and that they survived here all these years. Due to the delicate nature of the ground around the stones, we can’t walk up to the stones.



We next head to Avebury where there’s another stone circle that you can get up close to. In fact, part of the village of Avebury is in the stone circle! We walk through fields of sheep eating and meandering amongst the large stones.


  It’s beautiful and peaceful and crazy to think we can just walk right up to sheep and stones touched by people in prehistoric times. While DQT walks further afield, MDT ducks into a nearby pub, the Red Lion, for a break and a beer.



We go a little further north to the Cotswolds, a collection of charming villages that have been in existence since medieval times.  Areas of the Cotswolds are said to be the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”…and since we have named our house “the Shire” because it looks like something out of the movies, we HAVE to come here while in England!

We are staying at a B&B in the village of Broadway. We arrive around 6pm and so only have time to check in and get settled before we’re thinking about dinner. One of our hosts, Mick gives us a few recommendations. Mick is super nice and has this really thick accent. MDT notes that it sounds like he’s doing an impression of Austin Powers, but since he speaks like this to the English guests too, we assume this is how he talks normally and not just something he affects for the gullible tourists.

We have dinner at the Crown and Trumpet. It’s a real, old pub with sloping floors, low doorways, and lots of locals who bring their dogs inside. The air is thick with (we imagine) hundreds of years of beer drunk and spilt.

Everyone seems to know each other and the waitress doesn’t seem to know how to answer our questions about the menu. We’re guessing the menu has been the same for years and no one asks about it.  She is very confused when we don’t know if we want “sauces” for our dinner, and can’t really explain what types of sauces there are or what we should put them on (her answer….”put them on anything you like”).  So…we decide to go with no sauces! We both opt for some local cider and split a beef Guinness pie. It’s delish! We guessed this would be the kind of place that makes an excellent Guiness pie. And to top it off, we score a great corner seat.


  

We walk around town after dinner and it looks very quaint and almost like it was a Hollywood set for a stereotypical English village. The “town centre” is all of 8 shops and 3-4 hotels/restaurants/pubs.


    

Day 12

Today, we explore the Cotswolds and seek out other picturesque villages. The weather is gorgeous. We break out our warm weather clothes and for the first time, it actually feels like summer! Having spent the first week in Ireland, we learn to really appreciate any day without rain. As usual, we start the day with a traditional breakfast. They serve lemon marmalade! DQT decides it’s good, but hers is better.

We head to the Broadway Tower first and climb to the top. As the second highest point in the Cotswolds, we get a great view of the surrounding countryside.   The tower we visit is not actually an ancient building….it was built in the 1800’s when it was fashionable for wealthy people to build replicas of towers, castles, etc.  It’s known as a “Folly”.  But it’s a really cool building with a great history anyway.  At one point, it was owned by a man with a passion for collecting manuscripts that were not published; his was among, if not the largest collection of unpublished writing in the world.  After some hard times, it was actually just a farmhouse for 40 years.  A couple lived there and raised 3 children while tending the land around it.  What a childhood!

The Cotswolds also claim to have the longest running Olympics in the world.  About 100 years before the world began having the Olympic games, the Cotswolds held a local version with some decidedly small town events.  If you’d like a chuckle, search on youtube “Cotswolds Shin-Kicking Competition”.


  

We have a lazy picnic lunch on the banks of the river at Burton-on-the-Water.  Because of the canals and footbridges that dominate the town, this place is referred to as the “Venice of England”…although there are no boats and the water is only a few inches deep.

After so many days of running around, it’s decadent to lunch, read a book, and doze in the shade of a tree. Now THIS feels like a vacation! (FYI – check out the picnic set, a work gift from Berkeley that has now been to about 5 countries!)

    

On the way back to Broadway, we stop off at Chipping Campden. It’s like the village is frozen in time. It’s like a little medieval town, except with lots of cars and tourists. The buildings and houses are ancient and gorgeous. There is an abandoned structure that was once a Roman market, that we think still gets used for occasional farmers markets.  DQT takes lots of pics of the market, even thought it’s all empty. It’s hard to believe people live and work in these structures. Shouldn’t everything be preserved in a museum?

      

We have afternoon tea at a cute little teahouse before leaving. It’s a fun excuse to eat sweets in the middle of the afternoon. We’re starting to enjoy the custom of taking a break in the afternoon to have tea. After a week in Ireland, we decide to trade afternoons in the pubs for afternoon tea! Though DQT still can’t stomach adding milk and sugar to her tea (“You’re basically diluting your tea and who wants weak tea??”).

We’re still leisurely making our way back to the B&B when MDT spots a sign for Eberington. He remembers reading that there was something special about their pub. He can’t remember what, but there’s one way to find out! We follow the road signs to Eberington. It’s such a tiny village that here doesn’t seem to be a “town centre”, which is where you’d expect to find a pub. But, thankfully, it’s also so small that it doesn’t take long wandering the streets to find the pub. It’s tiny and old and cozy. MDT had read that the owners had restored the old pub and have done so well that they’ve now opened a local brewery. And…they serve scrumpie here! It’s a local cider that’s really high in alcohol content. Some bars don’t serve scrumpie because it has a reputation for getting people really drunk and in fights.  It’s a non-carbonated cider that is not very sweet and is actually a little watery.  Despite the high alcohol content, it has no alcohol taste at all…which must be why people overconsume and get into trouble.

  
Parked near the pub is an old Land Rover. This thing looks like it’s from the 50’s and still being used as a workhorse.  If you zoom in, the really cool thing is you can see that they have installed SOLAR panels on the dashboard to power the electronics.  Both Futuristic and Retro all at the same time.


We finally make it back to Broadway in time for dinner at The Swan. It’s the swankiest restaurant in the village and all the tables are booked so we dine at the bar. We split the steak, intending to snack later at a pub but the entree is big enough for two!

We visit the other pub in the village, Horse and Hound. Ehh..it seemed too new, too clean, and there was hardly anyone there. It was definitely missing the familiar and boisterous atmosphere of the Crown and Trumpet.

So, we return to Crown and Trumpet and see that “our seat” is waiting for us…

Slainte O’Meter so far:

20 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

19 – Pints (beers/ciders)

7 – Wines

15 – Meat-filled pastries

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Belfast

We leave Bushmills and head back to Belfast (a little over an hour drive on easy motorways). After checking into our B&B, we have dinner at a super cute and quirkly little place right around the corner called Maggie Mays. 

 
Burgers and milkshakes are the specialities and the place is PACKED and tons of folks come in for to go orders while we are there. We share a burger and chips, with a couple of Irish style pancakes on the side. 

 
DQT went in search of ketchup for her chips (fries) but MDT refused. He decided that if the Irish didn’t eat their chips with ketchup, he wasn’t going to either. It is at this point that DQT realizes that Irish food isn’t bad. It just needs salt. Sometimes lots of salt. The burger and fries pictured here were okay. But add salt and, voila, tasty meal!

MDT gives in and eats his first dessert of the whole trip, a scoop of ice cream with toffee (cause it just looked sooooo damn good!). 

  
After dinner, we go for a walk around downtown Belfast, see the city center, and check out a couple of pubs we heard were offering live traditional Irish music. Yes, we are still chasing traditional Irish music at every pub we visit. It has become a mini-obsession for MDT.

   

We make a quick stop at a recommended pub called Kelly’s Cellars (the oldest bar in Belfast, although not officially because it was an illegal speakeasy for its first 2 decades). They feature live traditional Irish music! No hired band, just local folks who play here nightly and anyone is welcome to bring intruments and join in. We see a woman with a fiddle (sort of) shyly join for a few songs.   

 DQT had her own whiskey for the first time (instead of just stealing sips of Michael’s) – Powers Gold. Verdict: tasty and smooth. MDT had a beer (and stole sips of DQT’s whiskey).  The Gaelic words in the picutre above mean ‘a thousand welcomes’ (roughly translated, and are all over the city).

DQT met two Englishmen who were in town for work. Upon hearing that we’ll soon be leaving to head over to England, they encourage us to change our plans and just stay in Ireland. They assure us it’s much better in Ireland! They work for Xerox and are hoping they’ll one day find an excuse to visit Xerox in Palo Alto.

Since it seems to be music night, we try one more place…The John Hewitt pub. It’s known as the old hangout for Belfast newpaper writers and reporters. It was supposed to have a traditional Irish music session that night. We arrived to find a guitar and drum duo playing Oasis and Van Morrison covers. MDT was sorely disappointed, although in all fairness, they were pretty good. He considers writing a sternly worded letter to the folks at Belfast-Traditional-Music.com. 

We walk home afterwards and enjoy the sunset, which is around 10pm here this time of year! This is likely why DQT can’t go to bed before midnight. Back in California, she’s asleep by 9:30pm.

 

Day 10

We start the day off with an Ulster Fry breakfast again! Everywhere we stay offers these crazy meat-filled breakfasts. It’s totally awesome, but we’re starting to get a bit worried about our health. Not worried enough to skip breakfast, but still. DQT’s knees are feeling better and she starts taking morning runs just to feel a little less guilty.

This morning we go on a black cab tour. Our guide was Danny and the black cab is an old English cab from the 50’s (?). 

   
 
These tours are a thing in Belfast. You get a tour of the Catholic and Protestant areas of the city and a history of the tension and the Trouble. It was a really good and sobering tour. We see a couple of ‘peace gates’ which are scary-looking iron and barbed wire fences with big metal grates that swing closed at sundown and on weekends to keep people from entering certain neighborhoods and streets.

   

  Danny was a great guide. He kept talking about “just giving you the facts” and “letting you decide for yourself” but he wasn’t nearly as impartial as he believed himself to be. He grew up Catholic and on one of the most troubled streets in Belfast. He acknowledged knowing members of the para-military groups on both sides of the conflict as part of his job (and before he got this job). As we drive by a former jail that is offering historical tours, he tells us that he hears it’s a good tour. He hasn’t done it himself because he’s “seen the inside of jails enough”. He also shows us a rubber bullet. It was much larger and less “rubbery” than we had expected.

 
When asked how he has rubber bullets in his possession, Danny chuckles and says he “got it from a sore leg”. DQT thinks he means he picked it up and ran, but MDT thinks he was trying to tell us he got shot with it. We aren’t sure and we don’t ask for details. We see lots of murals dedicated to or in memory of “heros” from both sides of the conflict. But, we’re not sure we agree with what makes someone a hero – these mostly seem to be folks who shot or hurt others and who then got killed themselves. 

   
       

In this mural, the gun barrel is painted in such a way that no matter what angle, it looks as though the gun is pointed at you. As you walk by it, the gun barrel appears to follow you. Our guide says it is a message to let people know that in this neighborhood ‘you are always being watched’ .

Super creepy. 

 

Our driver’s accent was thick so we’re not sure we caught all of the details but we understood most of it. In the Protestant areas, Danny shows us how folks are prepping for large bonfires that are lit every June to commemorate a victory by William of Orange. He describes how the celebrations are offensive and scary for Irish/Catholics. It’s a protestent celebration and they March around Belfast, even through the Catholic areas. He is worried that if anything happens to break the relative peace they currently have in Belfast, it will likely occur during or leading up to this event.

 

The Black Cab tour is really nothing like any tourist experience we’ve had before. No set speeches, no jokes, no cheesy recreations. Just a tour and explanation of some things that are hard to believe still exist in this otherwise peaceful and playful country.

We spend a little downtime at the B&B after the tour because that was some heavy stuff. But we’re so glad we took the tour.

We visit Belfast Castle. It’s not actually all that old. It’s smaller and modern, not a fortress built for defense. The castle is now an event center, restaurant, and gift shop. Word is, it does a great ‘tea time’ in the afternoon with baked goods. But we are on our way to lunch, so no tea for the Tran-Taylors. FYI, this castle is part of a city park, so the directional signs are all for the park and not the castle. Believe it or not…this was the most difficult thing we have tried to find on the whole island! We drove in circles and the wrong way up a one-way street. Just as we were about to give up, we finally see a sign for Belfast Castle. Not only is the castle gorgeous, but the view of the city is amazing from atop the hill.

   

After the Castle, we have lunch at OX. This is another place mentioned in the same article MDT read a few days ago about the ‘best in Ireland’ restaurants. OX was named best overall restaurant in Northern Ireland. We can only get a reservation for (and afford) lunch instead of dinner. This isn’t a new place, so the secret is already out and tables get booked weeks in advance. We have the pea soup and the smoked eel to start. For our mains we have the steak and the hake fillet. All dishes were executed perfectly. It was very, very good and totally deserving of the “best of” recognitions.

  

   

After lunch its off to a tour of Belfast’s city hall. It’s a lovely building and we learned lots of history on the tour. Our guide was a funny, chatty old Irish guy that kinda went of topic often. We learned as much about him as we did about Belfast and city hall.

  
  

  


It’s our last night in Belfast so we go pub-hopping. Our first stop is Whites Tavern (the oldest legal bar in Belfast; remember that Kelly’s Cellar from last night was illegal for the first couple of decades) where we met some nice guys who helped us document our stay at the Tavern by holding the sign that was blowing around in the wind! Side note, the guy on the left actually had the bench he was standing on flip over on him after his buddy hopped off. He and MDT managed to catch the bench before it crashed into the window (and his face!). 

 
Inside the bar, MDT found a new whiskey, Dunville’s. It’s from a super small distillery and is made locally near Belfast. 

  
 

We then move onto the Crown Saloon. It’s a beautiful pub (most gorgeous pub either of us had ever been in) and full of character. There are private drinking booths – (referred to as ‘Snugs’) which are basically a booth with a door. 

  
  After a few minutes of waiting, we managed to score a ‘Snug’ for ourselves. It could easily have held us and 8 of our friends. 

 
We feel a little guilty taking up so much space, so we decide to leave after we finish our drinks. But, the door next to MDT is jammed! We are stuck inside until one of the patrons outside our door notices our thinly veiled panic. He tells us to back away from the door and gently KICKS it open. Freedom!

Slainte O’Meter so far:

20 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

11 – Pints (beers/ciders)

7 – Wines

14 – Meat-filled pastries

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Derry and Giants Causeway

Day 8

We leave Dublin early in the morning via train to Belfast. Belfast is in Northern Ireland, which is a part of Great Britain (and includes England, Wales and Scotland), even though it’s on the island of Ireland. Up until this point, we’ve been in the Republic of Ireland. This is part of the tension in Northern Ireland…some folks want it to be part of the Republic of Ireland and others want it to stay part of Great Britain. And for years, Belfast was the center of that conflict. Things are better now and we hope to learn more about that when we spend some time in Belfast. For now, when we get to Belfast, we’ll rent a car and head to Londonderry/Derry and the Giants Causeway. We’ll come back to Belfast afterwards for a couple of days.

It’s super cold when we rent a car and drive the 2 hours to Derry. Even the rental car rep says that this is unusual for June! Then it starts to rain and get really windy. Along the drive, we notice that all the signs that say Londonderry have “London” spray-painted over so all you see is “derry”. This lasts for about half our drive – about 40 miles. As we understand it, the town used to be called Derry, then was re-named Londonderry when it came under British ownership. So, the even the name of the town is contentious. 

By the time we arrive in Derry and pull up to our home for the night, Troy Hall, it was raining and the winds were really whipping, up to 40mph! Troy Hall is a lovely English manor and the scene felt very Wuthering Heights with the stormy weather. MDT kept expecting to see Heathcliff around every corner. 

   

It was a pretty crazy wind storm so we took a nap in hopes that the weather would improve in time for a little exploring and dinner in town. A couple of hours later, there was no rain but the winds were still blowing and we figured it might be the best we were going to get!

Derry is a walled city and one of the last few towns in Ireland with it’s walls still intact. We walked along the walls for a bit and took in some of the sights, including (another) church and cannons that provided the city protection from invaders.

   
  

  

But, the blowing winds soon drove us inside a nearby a steakhouse. It was a weird mix of pub downstairs and nice restaurant upstairs. MDT order the steak because we were in a steakhouse. DQT decided to give fish and chips another try on the recommendation of our waitress. It came with mushed peas (a common side dish in England, we hear). It was the first of the trip and it was not good – a bit like bland baby food. MDT suggested we add salt and that helped a little. Thankfully, the steak and fish/chips were both very good. 

  
  

The restaurant had 1/4 wine bottles on the menu so we ordered a shiraz and a pinot grigio. And they really were miniature wine bottles. We were skeptical, but the wines were surprisingly decent. 

 

After dinner, we swing by Peadar O’Connell, a pub that offers live traditional Irish music nightly. But, we learn that the music starts at 10:45pm (on a Monday night – don’t these people have to work??)! There’s a pub next door, Tracy’s Pub, and we hear singing coming from inside. We realize that it’s karaoke! It was AWESOME. Drunk Irish people singing Abba, Elvis, Garth Brooks. Unfortunately, the video we took didn’t survive. So you’ll have to imagine it! One of the guys threatened to sing Lionel Ritchie and we were hoping…. but instead, he sang an old Scottish song (acapella) about John Thompson, a famous footballer who played in the early 1900’s and died during a match. It was really good and the bar sang along. This was the best pub night since Dingle! 

Day 9

The next morning, we had the Ulster Fry breakfast. Our host kept calling it the Ulster Fry, but it was basically the Irish breakfast. The main difference seemed to be the addition of fried Irish soda bread. Breakfast was terrific; even better because we didn’t have to cook or clean! Is there any amount of walking and touristing that can be done to make up for daily bacon and sausage breakfasts? 

Thankfully, it’s not raining and the winds had died down as we left for the Giants Causeway. When we arrived, it was even colder and windier. In fact, the Causeway is said to be the windiest spot in Ireland. Everyone kept telling us that we were lucky to be there on such a nice day (WTF). One of the employees told us that he counts any day at work without rain as a bonus and he’s only had 3 bonus days this year! These are really hardy folk. California makes you soft.

  
 

Giants Causeway is incredible. The views are spectacular and the rock formations are mind-boggling. It’s hard to believe all that was natural. According to the audio tour (totally worth it), the causeway was formed by lava slowly cooling in pools of water. This created the geometric/hexagonal structures in the area. 

  
   

There are legends that say the causeway was built by an Irish giant named Finn MacCool as a pathway to Scotland so he could fight a Scottish giant. All the different rock formations have stories associated with Finn. There is a rock formation that looks like a camel, which got there because the camel gave Finn a ride home one night and liked him so much that he stayed. Can you see it in pic below?

  
 

Another formation looks like pipe organs and legend says they were built by Finn because he liked music. If you show up at dawn on Christmas morning by yourself, locals say you can hear Finn playing the organ. Sadly, we aren’t staying until December so we will have to take their word for it! Also, we wouldn’t be able to handle December out here. It is June and MDT is wearing his ski jacket. 

  

As luck would have it, the Giants Causeway is right by the town of Bushmills, which happens to have a famous whiskey distillery. 

Bushmills Distillery is the oldest operating distillery in Ireland. It’s a huge facility with warehouses, a production area, a restaurant, a gift shop, a visitor center, etc. 

  
   
We skipped the tour and went straight for the tasting: a 10yr, 12yr, and Irish honey (only DQT did this one; MDT scoffed and opted for a second tasting of the 12yr). We purchased a personalized bottle of the 12yr to bring home. FYI…the 12yr is ONLY sold at the distillery; you cannot buy it anywhere else in the world. If it makes it back to the US intact, you’re all invited over for a tasting! It’s delicious.

Slainte O’Meter so far:

19 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

10 – Pints (beers/ciders)

6 – Wines

12 – Meat-filled pastries

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Dublin

Day 5

The trip from Killarney to Dublin included a small intercity train for the first leg. It wasn’t as nice as the fancy train that took us from Dublin to Cork a few days ago. This one seemed to be made up of mostly Irish folk heading to Dublin for the weekend. DQT eavesdropped on a facinating conversation between a 20-year old Irish gal and an an American visitor in her 60’s. Highlights…

Irish gal: Do you have potatoes often in your meals?

American lady: Uh, not often. Maybe once or twice a week?

Irish gal: Ohhh, we have potatoes in every meal. It doesn’t feel like a meal without potatoes!

……

Irish gal: Are you having trouble understanding the accent?

American lady: I can mostly understand.

Irish gal: One of the things to remember is that we don’t say our “t”. Like…this feels so weird to say it like this…wah-TER. We say it like wah-ER.

……

American lady: Is it usually this cold in the summer?

Irish gal: Cold? The sun is out. This is quite nice, actually. Warm! We don’t see the sun much; that’s how we get so pale. *laugh*

American lady: I’ve been in Ireland for over a week now and I’m getting quite pale, too.

Irish gal: You’re not pale. You’re actually a nice golden color. THIS [pointing to her face] is pale!

……

We arrive in Dublin and check into our airbnb. It’s a small apartment but nice and with a kitchen. We make sure to hit up a grocery store to get supplies for breakfast.

Our apartment is just on the other side of the river from Temple Bar, which is the main pub and partying spot in Dublin. Just a quick walk over the Ha’Penny Bridge and we’re in Temple Bar.

 
The first night, we have dinner at Market Bar. It’s a tapas bar in a converted warehouse. The food is tasty, though not what we had in mind for our first night in Dublin!

 

We were looking for something more Irish but most places were booked! We made a note to make dinner reservations for future nights. 

Dinner out of the way, we proceed to check out the Temple Bar pubs. Every spot was packed! But, that’s to be expected on a Friday night. Temple Bar is a little like Vegas or New Orleans, lots of people bar hopping in a small area and tons of bachelor\bachelorette parties. MDT is super excited to find a Ray’s Pizza out here in Dublin!

  

Street performers in Temple Bar. Nobody seems to mind the cold and drizzle except for us. 

 
The first pub we visit is Stag’s Head. It’s one of the oldest pubs in Dublin and it looks like it – very cool antique interior. We score seats in one of the back rooms in spite of the fact that the place looks to be standing room only. Feeling very lucky, we decide to stay a while. 

   
 
Next stop is George. It’s the first gay bar in Dublin. From the signs and rainbow paraphaneila, it looks like George is still celebrating the recent same-sex referendum that passed in Ireland. The pub is attached to a nightclub and DQT feels instantly at home here. From the inside, you could be at a gay bar in SF or DC! Right down to the drag queens in 5-inch heels ordering at the bar.

On our way home, we pick up a midnight snack at the pasty shop (open till 3AM!). We have the traditional, which is beef, potato, and swede. A quick google search tells us that swede is just rutabaga. MDT is estatic. This is exactly like the pasties he had as a college student hitting up festivals in the midwest. It’s been a decade since he had a real pasty WITH rutabaga.

Day 6

DQT made Irish breakfast again. This time, with mini sausage rolls! We’re starting to get used to these big breakfasts. And DQT is really enjoying baked beans for breakfast. This may get incorporated into our weekend breakfast/brunches when we get home!

Today is all about doing what Dublin is known for: beer, whiskey, churches, and pubs. 

First up, a visit and tour of the Guinness brewery. It’s a massive facility and takes up blocks and blocks in the city. It’s like the Apple or Pixar campus – huge, behind a wall, and only a small part is open to the public. On the way to the brewery, DQT stumbles on a curb and has a pretty bad fall. The cobblestones are not forgiving and she skins and bruises her knees pretty badly. This will render the running shoes she dragged 6,000K miles from home useless for the next week. Thankfully, DQT has packed bandaids in her travel purse! And some beer should help numb the sting. Right?

Inside the Guiness visitor’s center is the world’s tallest pint glass. It sits in the center of the building and spans all 5 levels. We are told it could hold 14 million pints (triple the population of Ireland). 

We move quickly through the first few floors of the tour that cover how the beer is made (yadda, yadda, yadda, when does the tasting begin?) to get to the Guiness Academy. At the Academy, we learn how to pour a proper pint of Guiness. We both pass and have the certificates to prove it. 

  

   We take our pints up to the Gravity Bar for 360 views of Dublin. DQT drinks 2/3 of her pint – that’s the most Guiness she’s ever had in one sitting. For whatever reason, the Guiness here is tastes better than ususal (fresher? colder pours? the ambience?).

  
For lunch, we pick up fish & chips from Leo Burddock’s. We are super excited because it comes highly recommneded from friends and the guide book. Our collective opinion is “eh”. Though the fish was fresh, the breading and chips were both soggy. And, it needed more salt and vinegar. This is the first meal that doesn’t live up to expectations!

  
Across from the fish & chip shop is Christ Church and, like all other churches we’ve seen in Europe, it’s beautiful. (for those who checked out the Hothouse Flowers song, now would be the time to cue it up while you look at pics).

   
  

  

  

  

The crypt below was spooky and weird. It was a mix of memorials and displays about the history of the church (including a display about how “The Tudors” was filmed there) and a shop/cafe called the Foxy Friar. Also on display: the mummified remains of a cat and rat found in the church organ.

    

  

   Just on the other side of the river is the Jameson distillery. We skip the tour and MDT orders a whiskey tasting flight instead. We’ve definitely lost a lot of steam by now!

  
  After a stop at the apartment for a disco nap, we have dinner at Delahunt. It’s one of the best restaurants in Ireland and was just named best “emerging irish cuisine” in the country. Literally JUST named; MDT read the article in the paper yesterday and we booked for today. The food is amazing! It’s inventive and delicious. This place will be standing room only in a week…we just make it in under the wire!

  
We start with crispy pig’s ear with mustard, and braised ox tongue and tail. It sounds totally weird but came highly recommended by our waiter. The pig’s ear was crispy and tender. The mustard sauce that accompanied it was slightly sweet and a great pairing. This was the second time we’ve had pig’s ear (the first was in Barcelona) and we’ve loved it both times. The ox tongue was thinly sliced and very tender. And the beef tail was braised, breaded, and fried like a croquette. Also fabulous!

  

 
We shared the main – lamb with side of mint mashed potatoes. The lamb was cooked perfectly and the sauce is amazing. We have not had bad potatoes since arriving in Ireland. It was hard to share the plate!

   
 

As for wine, we saw a Picpoul on the menu. Since the first one at Fishy Fishy was so good, we order it. The wine was delicous! DQT may have found a new favorite white wine region.

We head back to the apartment for another brief nap, then hit the pubs: The Snug Bar, advertised as the “smallest” bar in Dublin (while tiny, the bartender admitted there were likely other bars smaller), Norseman, and various other pubs looking for traditional Irish music. No success! Temple Bar is a never-ending successions of frat parties, bachelorette parties, and stag parties. And it’s likely those groups are not looking for traditional Irish music. We feel really old here. 

   
We did manage to find a great blues singer at the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn. And a Patriots fan (This one’s for Craig Alimo). 

 
We also ventured out of Temple Bar to visit John Mulligans (featured in the movie “My Left Foot”) though MDT was done with booze by then. 

  
Another night out past midnight, way past DQT’s bedtime!

 


Day 7

We are exhausted. That was a lot of running around and drinking yesterday and, though we are loath to admit it, these 40+ year old bodies need some recovery time.

It’s a rainy day so we use it as an excuse to sleep in. When we finally get going, we head to Trinity College to visit the Book of Kells. It’s an illustrated book of the four gospels covering Jesus’ life. The book dates back to 800 AD. The writing and illustrations are all done by hand on vellum. Really amazing stuff! No photography is allowed so you’ll have to google it if you want to see samples.

  
Afterwards, we wander around campus and see the Library, which holds copies of all Irish works, the Berkeley Library, and catch a few minutes of a cricket match before it starts raining again.

   
  

       We duck into the Irish Whiskey Museum for shelter from the rain…and, well, since we’re there…MDT takes a tour. DQT decided it looks like a tourist trap and hangs out in the cafe. MDT determines that while some of it is cheesy, the tour guides know their whiskey and the tasting is fun. 

   
      Since we had such a late start, we eat “linner” around 3pm at The Bank. It’s a gorgeous restaurant in an old bank building. We have the sweet potato soup with coconut milk, an Irish cheese plate, the beef rib roast. This is the ‘Sunday Roast’ that we will learn is staple throughout the UK, offered by most hotels and restaurants. It’s all super tasty. Perhaps most everything we eat tastes so good because we are on vacation?

   
  

       All we want to do is go back to the apartment and sleep but there’s one more place we have to visit before we leave: the Brazen Head Pub. It claims to have opened in 1198 and is the oldest pub in the British Isles (though this is disputed). In any case, it’s really old with super cozy rooms. Most of the doorways are tiny and the floors, ceilings, and walls slope. You can feel the weight of history in a place like this. And we finally found traditional Irish music!! 

   
      This is becoming a habit…but we pick up pasties to eat on the train ride to Belfast tomorrow. Mmmm….meat-filled pastries….

Slainte O’Meter so far:

12 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

10 – Pints (beers/ciders)

4 – Wines

12 – Meat-filled pastries

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The Dingle Peninsula

Day 4

While on the road to the Dingle Peninsula, we realized that we left our market lunch at the airbnb!! We’ve left what we can only guess is pretty tasty Irish snack foods in the fridge. Now we’ll never know if the pate was really deserving of the gold award. Only the pasty and Anne’s applecake survives and makes it to the car with us.

MDT drove over 3 hours to Dingle on narrow roads, still (almost) driving on the left the whole way. While it’s a stressful drive, it’s also beautiful. And, thankfully, it’s not raining today. MDT really likes our tiny little beater of a rental car. It’s a “Skoda”. We dont know what that is either, and we drove around in it for 3 days!

  
We stop off in the little town of Dingle for lunch and a pint at John Benny’s Pub. Our guidebook says this is the must-do place in Dingle for food and music. It was too early for music but we certainly checked out the food and drinking options!

  
MDT had a whiskey called Irishman Founder’s Reserve. Loved it. It was smooth with some carmel notes. We ate the pasty and apple cake (both still good cold and day-old!), and ordered a Ham Toasty (basically a hot ham sandwich) to make up for our lost picnic. DQT also discovers Bullmans Cider. We realize the Slainte O’Meter needs to now include beers or ciders under the ‘pints’ section, as she plans to have more of these!

After lunch and a peek in the local wool shops (SOOOOOO many sweaters to bought in this town; no surprise considering that most of the views on our drive was of green fields dotted with white sheep), it’s back to the Skoda. We drove the Dingle Peninsula (or as MDT likes to call it, the Ring of Dingle – there’s a beer called Ring of Dingle (Irish Stout) he is a big fan of) and took in all the sights.

The Dingle Peninsula drive is sumptious and beautiful. So much green and cliffs and ocean and sheep. It’s about an hour of the western Ireland coastline and includes the farthest western point in Europe. As Rick Steves said on his travel show, when you are in Dingle, the next Parish over is Boston!!! The Dingle coast is truly what you probably imagine when you see pictures or think of Ireland. We’ll let a few photos try to give you some idea….although they don’t really capture the magic. Its a bit like CA actually, except for the fact that everything is green instead of ‘drought brown’.     

 On the drive we stop by a small enclave of beehive huts. For 3 euros you get to walk around a well-preserved series of dwellings that are around 3000 yrs old, and were probably last lived in around 1200AD. These prehistoric dwellings are made of stacked stones with no mortar to hold them together. Even DQT is ducking through the doorways; the Irish were not a large people back in 1200AD. The building is really clever, the stones stacked and slope perfectly together, even though they had basically no tools to shape the stones. They even form a roof with a perfect seal all the way at the top, using a special stacking technique that narrows as it goes up. It’s very sturdy (it’s survived this long in the wind and rain) but looks precarious. Knock out one of the stones….and…..Jenga!!! 

   
    

We finally arrived and settled into our airbnb apartment in Ballyferritter. The apartment is on the top floor of a house that looks like a hotel or manor. It was lovely and we were disappointed we’re only staying for 1 night. Our host was prepared for our arrival.  

  
   
  

Don’t be fooled by the size of this place, it’s just us and our host and lots of storage. She is in the process of restoring and renovating this beautiful house – although it could be a full hotel when she is done.

We rest a bit then head back to Dingle (10 minutes along tiny country roads) for dinner at Old Smokehouse. It’s another fine catch from the sea…hake fillet and Thai-style spicy mussels. 

   
 DQT likes the food almost as much as Fishy Fishy, so maybe our food pinnacle wasn’t reached on day 1 after all!

After dinner, we head out for the reason we came to Dingle instead of the more traditional tourist spots like the Ring of Kerry or the Cliffs of Morr. Dingle has more pubs per capita than just about any other town in the world, and most of the community (and lots of tourists) come out every night of the week for drinking and live music (most of it traditional Irish). 

  
Pubs are so popular that many places are actually shops by day and pubs by night. We hit up one (Foxy John) that is also a small hardware store.

   
We are on a pub crawl through Dingle. We develop a system to make it through as many pubs as possible. If we like the vibe, MDT orders a pint and we stay awhile. If there’s no music or we don’t dig what’s playing, MDT orders a new whiskey we’ve never tried, finishes it quickly, and we are out the door.

We make it to: Foxy John, The Dingle Pub, Mighty Session, and DQT fav Dick Mack!! Our spirits are high and we have a blast in spite of the rain. 

   
  

  
   Dick Mack was actually our first stop…and last stop. It’s a tiny room up front and on our first visit, we walk into what at first seems like a family reunion, and the whole bar is standing around in a vague circle all in the same conversation. Which instantly stops when we walk in – like a scene out of an old western when the strangers walk into the saloon. After a beat of awkward silence, a couple of regulars give a cheer and we are then greeted by basically the whole bar. They are both very friendly and very drunk (and it’s like 5:30pm). We ask about music and they say maybe in a couple of hours, right?, yeah, come back in a few hours, or stay and drink with us till it starts! We aren’t sure if they are lying about music or not (the bar appears to be the size of a coat closet – where would the band fit?). But we decide to head back later and check it out. We do come back and discover that there are actually several rooms to this bar (it just goes back and back like rooms in a large house). The music is the best we’ve heard all night!

  
   Great band, huge friendly crowd that’s a mix of locals and lots of tourists. Although we enjoyed our other stops, we kinda wish we just spent the whole night here!

Quick aside about music – MDT went through a pretty big Irish and Scottish pop band obsession back when he was a DJ in Chicago. So, for those who aren’t musical history nerds (and/or are under 30 yrs old), iTunes and Google can be your friends in understanding the following references. Treat yourself and look into these bands (a suggested song is also listed). We’ve been playing them a lot on our drives around the Emerald Isle.

Waterboys – ‘Whole of the Moon’

That Petrol Emotion – ‘Sensitize’

Del Amitre – ‘Here and Now’

Hothouse Flowers – ‘Dance to the Storm’ (just try to listen to this song without jumping around-we DARE you).

Bonus track—Hothouse Flowers, ‘Christchurch Bells’ – more mellow and Christchurch the place is a big part of the upcoming Dublin post. Play the song and you can appreciate the place even more.

Also, Hothouse Flowers played at Dick Macks back in the day, and they are commerated in the cobble stones outside the bar! MDT has a huge groupie moment.

  
We head home after Dick Macks, then it’s up early the next morning for the 1-hour drive to Farranfore to drop off our car and hop on the train to Dublin. DQT made another Irish breakfast (not sure how long our arteries can keep this up), we carefully check the refrigerator and apt to be sure we have all our stuff, and we’re off! 

It’s a rainy drive on narrow streets (again) to get out of the Dingle Peninsula. When we get to Farranfore, we’re 2 hours early and the Avis rental guy suggested we drive on to Kilarney to drop off the car there since we were so early and the station at Farranfore was little more than a platform. He was worried we’d be cold standing around waiting on the train. Seriously, how nice are these people?!

So, we drive on to Killarney and we’re still an hour and a half early for our train!  So we visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney.  

 We also (no surprise) find a pub. It’s the first before noon drink of the trip – and MDT gets a big thumbs up from the rental car guy when he sees us sitting in the window next to several coffee drinkers with a beer instead.  

Sad to leave Dingle with so many pubs unvisited, and sad to return the Skoda–but it will be nice to leave the driving to others for a while.

Slainte O’Meter so far:

5 – Drams (whisk(e)y)

5 – Pints (Beers/Ciders)

2 – Wines

3 – Meat-filled pastries

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Cork, the Gourmet Capital of Ireland

Day 3

This morning, DQT attempts to cook her first Irish breakfast. It’s quite authentic with rashers (Irish bacon), black pudding (blood sausage), white pudding (some other sausage), pork sausage link, eggs, beans, and toast. We even had some marmalade (made with Irish whiskey, of course) courtesy of our host. Even though it was just a pre-packaged “Irish breakfast” pack from grocery store, it was surprisingly quite good. We can’t imagine that an “American breakfast” pack at the local Safeway would be at all appetizing. 

 

Bellies full of pork meat products, it’s off to Cork. We are headed to the famous English Market, which is a big food market. It’s a rainy stormy day, which makes the drive – shall we say – interesting? Narrow streets, driving on the left, manual transmission, foreign roads, and now wet streets and lower visibility, all combine for a stressful experience. After getting lost around all the one way streets in Cork’s city centre, we give up and park in a shopping center garage and walk to the market. 

The English Market is superb! Considering that this area is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland, this market is like a foodie’s Disneyland. We could eat here for weeks on end without having the same thing and likely never taking a bad bite of food. It’s a combination of butcher shops, veggie and fruit stands, and, of course, the freshest seafood. One of the seafood stands is staffed by guys in fedoras (this stand instantly becomes MDT’s Plan B career if anything ever happens to the Berkeley job).  The stand also has several what they termed ‘small’ monk fish. See below for pic of big scary looking fish!

  
   
    
There are also some cooked food stands for patrons who can’t wait to get home and cook before eating (say, like us). We settle on a sausage stand and order the two sausage combo with peppers, onions, and potatoes. We spend an inappropriate amount of time deciding on the two sausages we want. Because we are total foodie nerds. Our griller actually appreciates our annoying questions and commentary (or he is the most polite man in Ireland), and realizing we are stuck trying to narrow our selection down to 2 choices, he gives us a third sausage for free so we get all the ones we totally geeked out over. Again, he could have done this because (A) he appreciated our interest in unique sausages or because (B) he needed our conversation to be over so he could move on to othet customers. We choose to believe A. 

We have the duck, the boerewors (South African style sausage), and blackwater (a blood sausage mixed with bits of apples). All were very tasty. Though they sound a bit different, none were gamey or odd. Just tasty! MDT particularly enjoyed the boerewors and DQT’s fav was the blackwater.

 We pick up supplies for a home cooked dinner and also lunch for the train ride tomorrow (man cannot live on the dining car’s sausage rolls alone). Tomorrow’s lunch will feature “spiced beef” (a local item made by a famous chef from Cork – his face is all over the market and on the pack of beef) and a cheese recommended by the cheese lady at the shop “On the Pig’s Back”, which (hold onto your hats) specializes in pork products! We also get a salami and the gold medal award winning chicken liver mousse. Not sure who gives gold medals to things made from chicken liver – but MDT likes to think somewhere out there is a potted meat olympics! 

FYI our cheese lady hopes to one day move to San Francisco and work for one of the cheese shops there. We guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic.

Before heading home with our booty, we stop by Mutton Lane Inn, a pub recommended by our guidebook. It’s old and dark and atmospheric – everything you’d hope for in an Irish pub. We have our first pints of the trip! It’s two local brews from the Cork/Killarney area: Rising Sons Irish Red and Tom Crean Lager. We love them both and the bartender agrees with MDT that all the trendy hop heavy beers are making it hard for the rest of us to find good quality pints! 

Also thanks to Amber for the guidebook! Took us a couple of years to finally make the trip, but the book has been great to have!

   
  Interesting tidbit about Tom Crean’s Brewery. It’s named after an Irish hero born in Dingle. Tom Crean was an Antartic explorer and part of the deadly race to be the first to the South Pole. Sadly, his group didn’t win. However, he’s famous for walking 35 miles alone across an ice shelf to save a guy and bring him back alive. When he retired, Tom Crean opened a pub in Kerry, Ireland called ‘The South Pole Inn’. 

Back at home, our host Ann has filled the fireplace with wood and coal for us. Yes, coal – as in, straight-out-of-a-Dickens-story coal! (“Please Mr. Scrooge. One more lump of coal for the fire.”)

  

We light the fire as the wind really picks up outside and settle in a cook our own taste of Cork:

To start: fresh baby octupus in chili sauce and olives wrapped in anchovies… 

 
For our mains: mackrel caught just offshore, local pork chop (sign says it’s “Irish right down to the squeak’), and some truly perfect lamp chops. Our butcher is aghast at our suggesion of adding salt and pepper before cooking. (“I guess if ya like, but they are perfect right away and won’t need a bit of seasoning” is what she informs DQT) And we also have a side of cabbage (in case anybody forgot we were making an Irish meal) and more of Ann’s apple cake to round out the meal.

 

We eat dinner by the fire and watch the stormy weather outside. There’s nothing better than being inside – warm, snuggly, and full – while it’s miserable outside!

Slainte O’Meter so far:

  • 2 – drams (whisk(e)y)
  • 2 – pints (beers)
  • 2 – wines
  • 2 – meat-filled pastries
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