Strap yourselves in, because this is going to be a long one! We’ve had an eventful two days and are excited to share everything with you.
Yesterday, the plan was to relax, enjoy Dublin, and take the hop-on/ hop-off bus to Phoenix Park and O’Connell Street. We started off with a work out and grabbed a coffee before getting on the bus, which picked us up right by our hotel. The idea of the hop-on/ hop-off bus is a great one – you pay a flat fee and get access to the bus system for 24 hours. The bus has 23 stops (near various top attractions of the city), and a bus comes by each stop every 10 minutes. There is a narrated tour throughout the whole ride. It’s a great way to “get a feel for” a city in a short amount of time.
Even though we already “knew” Dublin, we still had a lot of fun riding the bus to Phoenix Park, a gorgeous 1,750 acre public park north of the major city. Phoenix Park is also home to the Dublin Zoo, the house of the President of Ireland, the house of the US Ambassador (with his own 60-acre yard – Kev and I decided that is one of our lifetime goals!), and the Wellington Monument, a huge obelisk built for the Duke of Wellington. Kev and I spent a few hours walking around the park, eating lunch at a cute outside café (chicken Panini for him, delicious warm goat cheese salad for me), laying on the grass watching college kids play some strange game where they crawl through each other’s legs, and getting ice cream from the ice cream truck! It was a really relaxing afternoon and a gorgeous park!
We took the hop-on/ hop-off bus back to the city and got off at O’Connell Street, a major shopping area of Dublin. I had secretly looked up a Farmer’s Market to stop by (secretly because Kevin hates the type of market where people are overzealously trying to sell you their “junk,” not giving you very much personal space, and generally not maintaining a pristine environment!), and it was so much fun. I got 5 Pink Lady apples (the best!) and 5 clementines for one euro (about $1.25!) I also bought my first souvenirs of the trip – an Ireland t-shirt and some awesome socks. We really want to bring everyone goodies from our travels, but considering our fiascoes with overweight luggage, we’re really trying not to – at least for now! We walked around the city a bit more, and then headed back for a nap.
After the nap, we decided to head to dinner and check out the Irish Music Pub Crawl, which we had really been looking forward to. We ate at the first stop of the Pub Crawl (Gogarty's Irish Pub) ... Kev had lasagna, and I had an eggplant/ tomato/ asparagus/ goat cheese bake and salad.
Then the music got started! We had heard a few bands playing traditional Irish music in the pubs we'd eaten at before yesterday, but the ones yesterday were amazing, entertaining, and authentic! The performers all seemed like they were having a genuinely good time, which made it so much fun to watch. We spent several hours listening to them, singing along, and meeting other people in the bars (even some from Florida!). We had such a good time that when we got home, we couldn't muster up the energy to blog about it - sorry! - so here are several photos:
As a random aside, have you noticed how long Kev's "beard" is? He hasn't shaved yet on the trip, and I think he looks cute, but I'm not sure it's going to last the whole trip
This morning, we planned a day trip to Belfast (in Northern Ireland) and Dundalk (where my O'Hare side of the family comes from). After a workout and a quick coffee, we walked to the train station in Dublin and boarded the train. The ride to Belfast was just over 2 hours and was, again, incredibly scenic - this time several of the houses looked at both the lush, green countryside AND the ocean - pretty much paradise! Once we arrived in Belfast, we had an outdoor lunch - a chicken wrap for each of us, which I forgot to take a picture of - and read a few information brochures on the city. We decided that in such a short time, the best way to see all the major sites was to ride the hop-on/ hop-off bus! On the way to the pick-up point, we walked through downtown Belfast, and were both amazed at how modern, clean, and orderly it was. People seemed much more business-like and serious than they do in Dublin, and there was much more of an "updated" feel to the surroundings.
Once we got on the bus, though, our impression changed a bit. I was completely blown away when we drove along the "Peace Wall." which stretches through several areas of the city and is a steel and concrete wall, up to 25 feet high, separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. This is not something carried over from long ago; in fact, the most recent barriers were just erected in the past few years. It absolutely shocks and saddens me that, in 2010, people still need to be physically separated from their neighbors in order not to hurt or kill them. Actually, I couldn't believe it, so I asked the tour guide to clarify. He said that the wounds from "The Troubles" (which started in the 1970s and lasted to the cease fire in 1998, and was basically a disagreement over whether Northern Ireland should consent to Home Rule and become an independent nation along with Ireland, or stay loyal to the Queen of England and be part of the UK) are still incredibly raw, and violence is still a real concern. While Catholics (Nationalists) and Protestants (Unionists) can work together, intermix in the neutral city center, and even drink together in pubs, the residential areas have to be separated because even a brief spat has the potential to erupt into a city- or nation-wide outbreak of violence. It is so unreal and depressing that this kind of measure is still in place. Also related to "The Troubles," there are several (probably hundreds) of murals and small paintings commemorating various battalions or victims of violence from the past few decades, all scattered throughout the city. Here are pictures of the Peace Wall and a few murals:
We also saw some more light-hearted sites, don't worry! Among our favorites were the exact location and dry dock where the Titanic was built (the first picture in this series ... it would have been built between the boat and the bus seen in the picture), St. Anne's Cathedral, and the Stormont Estates (Parliament Buildings, which were just recently opened to the public and is still under high security. In fact, an armed guard had to come onto our bus and check every seat before allowing us to enter the gates!)
Even though the tour took up pretty much all of our time in Belfast, we were really glad we did it as we got to learn a lot about the city. Next, we hopped on a train to Dundalk to explore the town of my ancestors. When we told the "information desk" staffer at the train station that my last name was (used to be!) O'Hare, he said there were "tons" of O'Hares in Dundalk and that we should just walk towards City Center and we'd find some signs to take pictures with. My Uncle John had sent us the name of PJ O'Hare's Pub, so we started asking around for that after about an hour of walking turned up no results, and surprisingly, no one had heard of it! We walked a bit more, but the city seemed to be closing down for the day and there really weren't too many people around, so we stopped in a pub to have a drink before getting back on the train. Even though we didn't find an O'Hare's Pub or sign as we had hoped, it was still fun to see another city/ town in Ireland, and especially the one that some of my family may have lived in back in the day! We also saw a few beautiful churches, including St. Patrick's, which is pictured here. By the way, back at the Dundalk train station, Kev did find a photo of some guy named Sean O'Hare, so we snapped a picture and called it a victory anyway!
Once we arrived back in Dublin, we decided to have dinner and call it a night. Kev got lasagna, and I really wanted some of Dublin's awesome vegetable soup, but they were out, so I got a chicken panini, which turned out to be great. The atmosphere of the pub we were in was perfect - so many old decorations, candles, and a friendly vibe. They even let us snap a picture behind the bar before we left!
We're checking in for the night, but we'll be back tomorrow for another update! We plan to hit the Iveagh Gardens (which were closed on us a few days ago), watch the US in the World Cup, and enjoy some more Dublin culture and fun!