Anyone who knows me well knows I have always had a fascination with Ireland. Last Thursday, B and I touched down in Dublin for the first time. It wasn’t the easiest trip. We both consider ourselves relatively saavy at navigating airports and city centers, but since we left Seattle for this trip, our skills have been challenged. On multiple occasions, we’ve followed signs that suddenly drop off long before our destination. We are in a country that doesn’t widely use street addresses. B hasn’t driven on the left side of the road in a decade (I never have). He did so much better with it than I would have, but it still doesn’t come naturally. Once we arrived and parked the car, though, things got significantly better. The weather has been a pleasant surprise. While cold, it was sunny all day yesterday and has been dry the whole time. It’s actually felt very similar to how Seattle’s been lately.
After checking into the hotel and cleaning up, we headed out in search of coffee. Neither B nor I succeeded in sleeping on the flight so we were pretty sleep deprived. We walked down toward Grafton Street. What struck us both more than anything was just the sheer number of people everywhere, particularly on Grafton. We walked around for a few minutes before dropping in at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe. Though the Grafton Street shops are predominately chain stores (many of which were very familiar to us), the architecture of many of the buildings housing them (and certainly the surrounding areas) definitely help dispell the touristy feeling.
An old friend of mine, J, from high school who now lives in Dublin met us at Bewley’s. From there, we took a short walking tour of the area before stopping in for a late lunch at Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar.
I didn’t take any photos during lunch. The one above I took last night after dinner (next door by total coincidence). For lunch, B had a sandwich with bacon and prawns that he really enjoyed. I had a crab, coconut and lemongrass soup. It wasn’t bad, but I burned my tongue on my coffee and then again on my soup, so I couldn’t really taste it all that well. I also tried their homeade ginger ale. Though the ginger was really quite strong, it was very good (and soothing to my scalded tongue). From Elephant & Castle, J gave us a great walking tour of Temple Bar and the surrounding area. She was such a huge help in getting us oriented and pointing out some great spots. I knew we would use all the information she gave us, but had no idea how much we would use it until we actually got out walking that night.
After finally sleeping for a couple hours, we headed back out in search of a place for dinner. Despite the fact that it totally goes against my nature, I really didn’t spend any time before the trip looking for restaurants. I did look a little and didn’t find much information online. This is part of the reason I didn’t plan much, but I also wanted us to have the chance to be a little more spontaneous in our choices rather than getting bogged down by my planning. This has proved to be both good and bad. We walked around for quite awhile before finding someplace to eat. Most of the places we wanted to try were either pubs not serving food or just jam packed. Finally, we came across a small restaurant in Temple Bar called Gallagher’s Boxty House. To be honest, I first thought it was likely just a tourist trap (and maybe it was), but the menu looked nice and simple and though they were busy, they were able to seat us, so Boxty House it was for us.
I noticed before we sat down that they were seating people at the same table with unrelated parties. Call me not a people person, but I’ve never really been thrilled with this strategy. Somehow, in this small cozy restaurant, thousands of miles from home, though, it didn’t bother me one bit.
We sat down, ordered drinks and I immediately noticed that everyone around me was foreign. The people sitting to our left were American. Those on our right were speaking an Eastern European language I didn’t recognize. Ok, so maybe it was a tourist trap, but it was warm (those Dubliners really crank the heat) and we were hungry. We’re having a bit of trouble adjusting to the pace of dining in Europe. We’ve both experienced this before, but it’s really amazing how much slower the pace is. In most American restaurants, if you show signs of being ready to order (or especially being ready to pay and leave), your server is generally right there ready. Here in Ireland we’ve noticed that the pace is much slower. I mean this with regard to dining in particular. They give you so much longer with the menu, your food takes longer to come out, they let you sit after you’ve finished for what feels like an eternity without even thinking to ask if you want the check. It’s frustrating and refreshing all at the same time.
For dinner, B went with a version of the restaurant’s signature dish, the Chicken Boxty (potato pancake with chicken and smoked bacon in a leek cream sauce). I had the traditional Irish lamb stew. If you’ve been reading along with the blog for a little while, you know B is most likely to choose the light beer while I’ll choose the darkest on tap. Last night, though, I had a cider while B had a Murphy’s Irish stout. I wish the photos had come out a bit better. The food doesn’t look the best, but it looked and tasted great.
There was a funny moment when we ordered our drinks and I ordered a pint while B ordered a half pint (he hadn’t heard my order). The server stopped for a moment and asked me, “Wait, you ordered a pint, right?” I said yes and B quickly changed his order to a pint as well. The server’s response to B? “Well, I was wondering. You aren’t pregnant or anything, right?”
From Boxty House, we made our way just up the street to Oliver St. John Gogarty. They were pretty packed, but we managed to find a corner at the bar and B ordered us each a Guinness. Though it wasn’t his first beer in Ireland, he had committed himself to have at least one during the trip. Not long after ordering, we snagged a great spot up front with two stools near the front window..
The plan was to stay for a drink then find the next bar. We had so much fun there, though, that we didn’t want to leave. One drink turned into two as we watched the crazy dancing and listened to the live musician (singing along as he sang John Denver, Country Road). Then came a phenomenon I’ve never experienced before, but that B and I will forever term “Meatball Hour.” The staff of the bar circulated throughout the floor offering everyone… you guessed it… meatballs. We declined at least four times during Meatball Hour, but they still persisted to offer them. They smelled great. We just weren’t hungry.
Near the end of the second drink, we decided to head upstairs to check out the other two floors. One proved to be a smoking lounge. The other, though, was set up a bit more intimately than the first floor and was a bit less crowded. We were happy to snag a table in the corner. While B went off in search of our third round, I sat and people watched. That’s when it happened. A server came around and told me she needed to take my table away for a few minutes, but would bring it back. Well, that’s a new one, but I didn’t worry about it… until the dancers appeared. To my utter shock and surprise, I was now trapped on stage with the two Irish dancers performing for the crowd. One text message from B that simply said “Uh oh. Bad timing” and two full pints on the other side of the bar with him, I suddenly felt like I’d involuntarily joined the Lord of the Dance. This is what I saw. I wish you could see their faces and their feet at the same time, but, you know, being on stage and all, there wasn’t really room!
After the show ended and I was freed from my corner with my back against the wall, B and I finished our pints, watching the crowd around us and laughing… laughing a lot.
We walked back to the hotel still laughing and taking photos along the way. I have no idea what time it was, but it didn’t feel like we were working off 2 hours sleep out of many, many hours. It just felt nice and I just felt grateful to be laughing on a street corner in Dublin with B. We’ve had four more amazing days in Ireland since then and it’s not over yet, but I’m afraid I’m a bit behind on my posts. So far it’s been nothing but good friends, good food and one unique, fun adventure after another. More on those in the days to come, though.