March 21, 2010

For our last day and a half in Dublin, we enjoyed some amazing sights and even more amazing food and drink. Queen of Tarts, a little bakery cafe with two locations within two blocks of each other (yes, it's that good!), provided us such an impressive stop for a little snack the day before, we headed back for breakfast the following day and enjoyed our view across the street of the Dublin Castle gate. The rest of the morning was spent on some of the great shopping on Grafton Street, full of UK goodness, such as Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Brown Thomas. I definitely could have done a lot more damage if my better half wasn't there to reign me in!

Scones w/jam & cream & tea at Queen of Tarts - not to be missed!

I could probably dedicate an entire post to describing, in detail, the lunch we had at The Mermaid Cafe, but I will try to control myself. We both agreed it was the best lunch we'd had - ever. The cuisine was described as French-American and the decor was rustic, Euro-coastal - all wood planks and stormy blue accents. It very much reminded us of a place we would have found in San Francisco, and so we felt right at home. Everything was fresh, simple and incredibly flavorful. If you ever find yourself in Dublin, this place is a must!


My pork with apple & fennel compote and mash

Russ' leek & mushroom risotto with truffle oil

Note all The Mermaid Cafe's recognition ... well deserved!

After being blown away by the culinary greatness that was our lunch, we headed across town for the much-anticipated Guinness Storehouse tour. While I've never been the biggest Guinness fan, I must admit, everyone was right in their assertion that you will never have a better pint than at the storehouse itself (I thought it was generally better throughout the city, in fact). Like the beer itself, the Storehouse was even more impressive than I expected and tour really was fascinating. After all that learning, we took advantage of our complementary pint at the Gravity Bar, a round, glass-enclosed bar at the top of the Storehouse, offering 360-degree views of Dublin.   

Coming up to the impressive home of Guinness (that's the Gravity Bar up top)

Reading up on how Guinness is made

Water from the Wicklow Mountains is a crucial ingredient

Enjoying our complementary Guinness & views of the city at the Gravity Bar

Sufficiently exhausted from a day full of walking the city, we decided on a low-key evening at the movie theater to take advantage of a movie in English! English-language movies are only shown one show at a time, once a week back at home, & the big English cinema in Frankfurt is currently being torn down. 

For our last night in Dublin, we knew we had to make it to the Brazen Head - the oldest pub in Ireland. It was there that we encountered more American tourists that bring us closer and closer to claiming Canadian heritage. What does the stereotypical American order when at such an historical Irish establishment? "What American beers do you have in a bottle?" Ugh. And so she ordered a Coors. And she had no euros to pay for it. Russ and I enjoyed our Guinness and shots of Jameson while snickering to ourselves. When in Rome ...

Views of the River Liffey and the Four Courts building

Grattan Bridge view of the sunset on the Liffey  

The Brazen Head

Check out that established date - this is one old pub!

Enjoying our Guinness on Brazen Head's patio

Our final morning in Dublin was spent with breakfast at a wonderful crepe place, a tour of Trinity College Library and perusing a few shops before we had to head to the airport. We made one last stop into the Queen of Tarts for a light lunch and some baked goodies to take home. Oh! And one final detour back to our first hotel where Russ had left his passport, and therefore, his visa. Thankfully I wasn't sent back home without my passport-less, visa-less husband!

Overall, Dublin was a great trip for a long weekend. It was just enough time to see shops, sights and even spend some time in the country. The people of the city are quite young - I read more than 50% of Dubliners are under 30 and a quarter are teenagers (which accounts for all the dyed-black hair shoved in the face and perma-scowls we saw while out on the weekend). Clontarf Castle Hotel was a great place to stay to enjoy some historical architecture and beautiful interior design, while the Clarence offered a great central location and an even better cocktail (it's Octagon Bar, also not to be missed). While it was nice to take a break from struggling with the German language, often Gaelic-accented English was equally hard to understand. Gaelic itself is a language like no other; think the red room on Twin Peaks

With an upcoming four-day weekend for Easter, we were thinking about taking another mini-break. This all depends on someone's workload and hotel availability (Easter is huge here, like Christmas, with markets and everything, so things book up fast). I'm crossing my finger for Prague, but we'll see!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

March 20, 2010

Our day of driving into the Irish countryside proved idyllic in both scenery and weather. We unfortunately discovered most of the breathtaking coastal spots you see in movies tend to be on the west coast of the island, but found that the country can be just as beautiful. We headed out on a driving "tour" of the Wicklow mountain region after checking out of the Clontarf on Sunday and found our own way to places of interest.

The first recommended stop on the tour proved to be so crowded we couldn't even park, so we followed the signs for the interesting-sounding Braveheart road. We happened upon some amazing stone ruins - the indication of what they were was a plaque announcing this was "Wicklow Mountains National Park." The view was incredible and there was a trail to the top of the mountain, but sadly we weren't really dressed for hiking. Just poking around the ruins proved enjoyable enough.

View of the valley from the bridge to the ruins

The ruins on a hillside

Inside the ruins

View from inside one of the "rooms"

Beautiful weather for our day out

As we meandered the back roads even further, we picked a "castle" destination off the navi to at least have a place to head to. Some of the roads were tiny and only one car could pass at a time; many complete with stone fences enclosing flocks of sheep. As we drove further into the country, we wondered if we would get stuck behind sheep in the road in a very glorious, cinematic fashion. We didn't have to wonder long ...

These two just strolled in the road, and traffic whizzed around us (& them) like they see these guys in the road every day. It was pretty exciting for us.

The "three castles monument" we drove nearly 30 km for ... not so exciting

But if we hadn't gone out of our way, we would've missed these fellas

Finally getting their fuzzy butts home!

Glendalough's monastery and cemetary, settled in the 6th century

After several hours of driving, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs. We headed back to Dublin to check into our second hotel, the Clarence, and spend the evening seeing more of the city. 

View of the Spire & river Liffey from our hotel room

The lovely Stephan's Green Shopping Center (no exciting stores, just beautiful architecture)

Enjoying the view at St. Stephen's Green

St. Andrew's Church (churches were almost as ubiquitous as pubs in this city!)

We ended our big day out with some relaxing pub food - Guinness beef stew! - Guinness, and some live Bluegrass. All in all, a great day in Ireland!

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of our trip to Ireland ... Next up, Guinness factory tour and the oldest bar in Dublin.

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

March 18, 2010

More on our fabulous weekend in Ireland ... We went for a long weekend, which was perfect to see most of what we wanted in Dublin and spend most of a day driving into the countryside. The central part of Dublin is almost entirely walkable, so we did a lot of exploring on foot. Whenever we got tired, there was always a pub to stop in ... always. We joked that there are more pubs in Ireland than Starbucks in, well, just about any city.

Our flight out on Friday morning was delayed several hours, which didn't get us into Dublin and to our hotel until late afternoon (still beats flying from the US!). Since our first hotel, Clontarf Castle, is on the outskirts of the town, we decided to just relax after our day spent with Aer Lingus in the Knights' Bar at our hotel with some Guiness and light fare. I needed a few drinks after Russ drove us into oncoming traffic within the first 10 minutes of getting our car. Driving stick, listening to the directions from the navi AND driving on the left is a lot to concentrate on!
Arriving at Clontarf Castle

Some of the Clontarf's award-winning interior design (best in all of Europe in 2009!)

Enjoying our first afternoon in Dublin at the Knights' Bar

I seem to be on the driver's side ...

... but the wheel is over there!

Our first full day in Ireland, we walked around some of the main pedestrian thoroughfares - Mary & Henry Street - and went in search of "the best" fish and chips in Dublin. We found Leo Burdocks for our fish, and toted our seemingly five-pound (each!), paper-wrapped lunch to a bench outside Christ Church Cathedral, which was conveniently located just around the corner. After barely making a dent in our meals, we headed out to walk off as much of the fried goodness we could. 

Fish as big as our heads!

Christ Church Cathedral

After our first full day in Dublin, we bid farewell to our first hotel with a fantastic dinner at the hotel restaurant. What was probably the best steak I've had in I don't know how long (along with amazingly fresh vegetables and potatoes) was only a prelude to the incredible desserts. We decided on the following two: lemongrass and basil creme brulee with strawberry liqueur sorbet and warm banana and gingerbread baked cheese cake with rum butterscotch. What a wonderful way to enjoy our last night at the castle!

Clontarf Castle at night

On the lion in front of our hotel ... after a bottle of wine

Stay tuned for more from Ireland, including the next day's trip into the countryside. And yes, there were sheep involved.

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

March 16, 2010

We're home ... but too exhausted to go through all our photos and maps to give you all the details from our beautiful trip to Ireland tonight. Tomorrow is pick up the dog, hubby back to work (read: working late) and then off to the Irish pub to do some St. Patty's Day, no-more-snakes (look it up) celebrating. I tried to talk someone into calling into work sick for the holiday and staying on the Emerald Isle to celebrate properly, but alas, I suppose we have to pay the bills somehow. Look for more from our trip in the next few days ...

In the meantime, enjoy the lovely view from our hotel room overlooking the river - we sure did! Thank goodness it rained just enough to give us at least one rainbow.

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

March 07, 2010

Don't let that sunshine fool you - it's freezing here! We were just so happy to have a nice, sunny Sunday after a blizzard of a Saturday, we had to get out and enjoy it. We decided to finally try some sandwiches from our favorite little coffee and cupcake place, and coincidentally, one of the very few places open on a Sunday. Aside from having some of the best cupcakes I've ever had, it has a great location - on the corner of the Kochbrunnenplatz, a little park-like center with modern sculptures and natural hot springs that's set down from the main street.

So we ordered a couple of sandwiches - one tomato, mozzarella & homemade pesto, the other Italian ham, parmesan and balsamic; both delicious - and cakes to enjoy in the park. By the time we had finished lunch and basked in the sun for a bit, we realized our hands were numb and headed for home ... for hot tea and our blueberry cupcake with french vanilla frosting!

note the white on the rooftops - that's ice from the day before's snowstorm

The weather shows sun through the week - I just hope it keeps up through the weekend for our trip to Ireland! Unfortunately, Bailey won't be joining us on this little trip. She will be staying at Sari's Hundepension for the long weekend. Hope she doesn't hate us too much for leaving her - and that she catches on quick to any commands she receives in German.

While I am still recovering from my painting project last week (entire room, by myself, in one day - now experiencing major back pain), I'm ambitiously tackling another room this week. The results are just so addictive! Aside from the impact it has changing the room and making the apartment more our own, it really cleans the place up. Renting a place is very different here - we moved into a place filled with holes, years of dust and stain marks on the wall and half-finished painting projects. So even more than an aesthetic fix, it's really a necessity.  

It's hard to believe that it's March already and that we've been here for almost three months. Things get easier every day, but there are still challenges and learning experiences to be gleaned from just about every conversation (e.g. Russ ordered "one-half" kilo of meat from the butcher the other day, but instead was served one-and-one-half kilos due to the language difference in a singular "half"). We both have our visas now and my bank card is on its way; next up is applying for our driver's licenses. I've read that we have to take a written test in German, but Russ seems to have read otherwise otherwise. Six months is our cut-off for only needing a passport, so either way, we'd better get to studying!

Five more days till Ireland ...  :  )

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische