Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Ireland - Day 2 - Dublin


Our second day in Dublin was action-packed! We managed to squeeze in quite a lot in the limited time we had in town. Our first order of business was heading over to Trinity College to check out the Book of Kells Exhibition and the Old Library. It was a short walk from our centrally located hotel (yay, Fleet Street!), and we had pre-booked our tickets for the first time slot of the day, which in our case was at 8:30 am.



The Book of Kells is a national treasure, and one of the biggest tourist destinations in Dublin. Admission gets you a self-guided tour where you can learn a bit about the history of the book, such as the artists and scribes who wrote and illustrated it.



Photography is allowed throughout most of the exhibit with the exception of photographing the actual texts. Two of the four volumes are on display, one showcasing a major illustration, and the other showcasing a page of text.



Although the Book of Kells is beautiful from a historical and religious standpoint, I was most excited to check out the Long Room in the Old Library. That's the real reason I insisted on purchasing tickets for this experience. After you complete the Book of Kells Exhibition, you move on to the Long Room, and it was worth the wait!


The Long Room is almost 65 meters (213 feet) in length, and houses around 200,000 of the oldest books in the Library. It's the kind of library where dreams are made. It (unofficially) inspired the Jedi Archives in the Star Wars prequels, but most of all, it's simply breathtaking in every direction.


Dark, rich woods, rows and rows of books in 26 different languages, and busts of prominent intellectual figures create an ambiance that would tickle any avid reader's fancy.


It's a working research library that also houses the oldest harp in Ireland.



We spent about an hour here between the Book of Kells exhibit and the Old Library before heading out. Our next stop was another library, the National Library of Ireland with it's impressive domed Reading Room. It's worth a quick visit if you're in the area, and it's right next door to the National Museum of Ireland, boasting similar architecture.





At this point we decided to take a stroll around St. Stephen's Green, a large park in the city center. The weather was dreary, and we worried it might rain later (that's Ireland, you know), so we would take advantage of the lack of rain and enjoy the park in the morning (it didn't end up raining after all!).




Across from St. Stephen's Green is Grafton Street, a popular pedestrian street filled with shops from end to end. Without even realizing it, I stumbled upon the Disney Store, and was pleased to find a variety of Dublin specific merchandise! A cast member informed me that I could receive a 20% off coupon to use the following day on my purchase, so I purchased a smaller item this morning with plans to come back the following day and go to town with my 20% off coupon!



We also checked out St. Stephen's Shopping Centre right across from Grafton Street. It's bright and airy inside, and features a really cool giant clock!




We actually grabbed some lunch at what was essentially a food court. My parents got sandwiches from one of the stands, while I decided to try Tuk Tuk, a stir-fry spot where you customize your dish by choosing your main ingredient, sauce, veggies, carbs, and extra toppings. I selected chicken, massaman curry (nutty and mild), stir-fried mixed veggies, egg noodles, basil, and toasted sesame seeds for mine.



This was a massive portion, and a little tough to scoop out of the container. I ended up transferring it to a plate which was a bit easier to navigate. It was heavy on the sauce, but overall quite tasty for a quick bite on the go.

Our view from our lunch table!

View of St. Stephen's Green and the Fusiliers' Arch

Let's backtrack for just a moment. The reason we were a bit rushed for our meal was because we had booked a time slot to tour The Little Museum of Dublin nearby. When you book a Hop on Hop off bus tour with DoDublin, it includes free admission to The Little Museum of Dublin (a €10 value), which has been dubbed the best museum experience in Dublin (and I won't disagree).


We hadn't realized initially that even though we had free vouchers, we had to turn them in ahead of time and book a time slot. A tad earlier we had stopped into the museum to do a tour and were told we'd have to return in about 45 minutes-ish for the next available tour. Hence why we doubled back to the St. Stephen's Shopping Centre (a short walk away) for a quick lunch before our time slot for the tour. Phew. That's a mouthful.


So upon arriving back to The Little Museum of Dublin, our group collected in one of the rooms of this converted Georgian-style townhouse to begin. There is a guided tour for one floor of the townhouse, and the other two floors can be toured on our own either before or after your tour begins. They claim the tours are 29 minutes long, but really they last about 40 minutes.


Fiona was our fantastic and hilarious guide through so much of the important history of the city of Dublin (and really the country, since politics affected everyone). Fun fact: after blowing up the top half of Nelson's Pillar in what is now O'Connell St, the Irish cleverly referred to it as a Half Nelson. This is the now-location of the Dublin Spire aka the Stiletto in the Ghetto, etc, etc.


We learned a lot about the Easter Rising in 1916, and various leaders in the fight including Countess Markievicz, who infamously asked to be executed along with her fellow fighters when Britain refused to execute a woman. The Germans had recently executed a British woman during WWI, and the world was in an uproar. Britain did not want to feed the fire. They gave her life in prison instead.



It wasn't all serious though. We took a walk through many decades of Irish history, and Fiona provided hilarious anecdotes and stories along the way. I really had no idea what to expect from this museum. It had great reviews but my incentive for checking it out was the free admission I had secured through my DoDublin bus tour. I'm so glad I decided to check it out! It was truly fascinating to learn from Fiona, and the added humor made it more than just a history lesson. We checked out a few more of the exhibits on our own afterwards (including a room devoted entirely to U2). I would definitely recommend this museum to anyone visiting Dublin. It's relatively quick, insightful, not boring at all, and a barrel of laughs.







After heading out, we hopped onto the DoDublin bus and made our way west to Kilmainham Gaol. We had pre-booked tickets for a specific time slot (this is a MUST when visiting the jail, it's very popular). We arrived early, and were told that we could check out the museum while we waited (you can otherwise check out the museum after the guided tour). The museum definitely set the scene for what we would be experiencing during our guided tour of the jail.


It was a sad dose of the reality many people faced during hard times in Dublin. Although there were famous political leaders who spent their last days on Earth here in Kilmainham, there were also many innocents, children even, who spent days, weeks, and months in atrocious living conditions after stealing food out of desperation and starvation during the Famine. We would learn much more of this during our tour, but for now I'll share some photos from the museum to set the mood.


They would also use a mirror on the side of the head for mugshots, since photography was so expensive at the time. This way they could get a profile for the same price as a head-on photograph, all in one.











Margaret was our tour guide for the approximately 1-hour-long tour of the jail. We began in the small chapel where one of the revolutionaries of the Easter Rising, Joseph Plunkett, still shackled, married his fiance Grace Gifford. They spent only 1 hour together after saying their vows, and just held each other. There were no words left to say. He was executed shortly afterward by firing squad. Grace was later sent to same jail for similar revolutionary efforts years later. You'll see her cell in one of the photos below.

The chapel

Our tour continued in the west wing, which is the older part of the jail. Wooden doors were covered with leather, an attempt to keep the doors from mildewing from all the moisture in the air. Each of the doors have 2 large peepholes. One was for viewing adult prisoners, and sadly the lower one was for viewing child prisoners. During the famine, Britain threatened beggars on the street with a night in jail if they were caught begging for food. People would beg for food and get caught intentionally, because at least if they were in jail they were guaranteed a meal. It became a method of survival, and completely backfired on the Brits.




We also saw the cells in which the revolutionary leaders were kept in the days leading to their executions. It was terribly depressing. Two brothers in side-by-side cells with no idea the other was so close by.



We headed next to the east wing, which is newer, designed in the Victorian style. It's bright unlike the west wing, and was intended to inspire the prisoners to change their ways. This was the first part of the prison to be restored. In recent years, lots of films and music videos were shot here, which helped raise money which was used to restore other sections of the prison.




Inside one of the cells--these are much "nicer" than the ones in the west wing

Grace's cell

Grace was an artist, and painted in her cell


Typically criminals were hanged at the jail right over the main door, but public hangings eventually turned into celebrations rather than scaring the public from committing crimes. Hangings were later conducted within the prison walls, away from watchful eyes.

This is where prisoners would originally be hanged, right over the front door to the jail

The exception to the hangings were the political prisoners who were executed by firing squad. Many political prisoners were spared, however, thanks to the fact that the United States were allied with Britain, and there were many Irish in America. The U.S. put pressure on Britain to stop the executions. After 13 executions, the rest of the prisoners on the list were spared. Thanks, America! Better late than never. Those who were executed became martyrs for the revolution. Once again, Britain's actions tremendously backfired.

This is where the firing squad executed the revolutionary leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916


Although it was terribly depressing, I believe Kilmainham Gaol is a must-do when visiting Dublin. The tickets are not nearly as pricey as the Guinness Storehouse, so that's a plus, and I realize it's a little far from the city center. Still worth it. I learned so much, and have a much better understanding of Irish history than I had before. Even though we learned a bit about the Easter Rising during our walk at St. Stephen's Green (that was one of the key locations, and there are many signs and statues up around the park) and at The Little Museum of Dublin, it is much more impactful seeing it firsthand within the walls at Kilmainham.



Dinner tonight was a short walk from our hotel at the Winding Stair, which is right across the Ha'penny Bridge on the north side of the River Liffey.


The Winding Stair is a unique business. The first floor is a book store, and the second and third floors of the building house the restaurant. Not only is the Winding Stair known for it's food, but the views are extraordinary.



We had called ahead to request a table by the window (never guaranteed even with a request), and were lucky to actually get one. Our reservation was for 6pm on a Saturday, so it wasn't too full upon our arrival, but was pretty packed by the time we left.



The Winding Stair features an a la carte menu, but also has a pre-theatre prix fixe menu if you dine early enough in the evening. The same dishes from the pre-theatre menu are offered later on as "specials," and were priced at €12 for the appetizers and €25 for the fish entree we had, whereas the prix fixe is €27 for 2 courses or €31 for 3 courses. Definitely a great deal!



My mom and I decided to do the prix fixe, while dad selected an entree off the regular a la carte menu (but tasted our appetizers and dessert). The spring menu has already changed to a summer menu, so the prix fixe specials we tried have been replaced with more seasonal menu items. I'm sure everything on the menu is splendid, either way.


One of the appetizers we tried, and our favorite of the two, was the whipped home-smoked trout, fried tatty bread, apple and pickled fennel, Goatsbridge trout caviar, and fermented horseradish. Overall the dish had great flavor, and the trout wasn't too smoky. There were a couple bones in there, but we were able to pick them out. We loved the pancake (or fried tatty/potato bread) and the apple and fennel salad to offset the flavors of the fish.


We also tried the duck liver mousse, which was actually a chicken liver mousse this evening. It featured pistachios, blood orange puree, spring radish, and crackers. This was a good liver mousse, but compared to the trout had a much stronger flavor (it's liver after all). The blood orange wasn't too sweet or too tart, but it did help cut some of the richness of the mousse. The homemade crackers were a nice touch.


For our entrees my mom and I select the same option from the prix fixe menu, the Irish Waters' coley (a white fish), boxty, cockle and mussel tarragon butter, and York cabbage. The fish was lovely, perfectly flaky and tender. As a tarragon-hater, I wasn't sure what to expect of the butter, but I didn't really get any tarragon. It actually had a delicate sweetness to it, which was unexpected but worked in the dish.


The texture of this boxty (or Irish potato pancake) was far superior to the one at the Boxty House the day before. This had texture, and wasn't mushy at all. The cabbage was also a nice touch, and the cockles and mussels were already out of their shells, which helped the dish eat more easily. This was a really beautiful and nicely balanced dish.


Dad ordered the chargrilled 28-day dry aged Black Angus Irish beef striploin steak with sticky onions, roasted garlic truffle butter, and homemade chips off the a la carte menu.


It was excellent quality beef, a little fatty around the edges (to be expected) with a big pat of luscious butter. The dish as a whole was essentially a glammed up Irish version of steak frites with large hand cut “chips.”


We decided to have 1 dessert added to our prix fixe option to share, and instead of a typical dessert we opted for the Irish cheese board with homemade crackers and plum chutney. The four cheeses were Wicklow Bán (a Brie-style cheese), Humming Bark (a semi-soft cheese), Kearney Blue (a blue cheese), and Smoked Gubbeen (a smoked semi-soft cheese).


This was a great finish to our meal, and a great way to try some more atypical Irish-produced cheeses.


The view and ambiance are absolutely epic and completely met our expectations. This was easily one of the top 4 meals from our entire trip. We were also able to take a little peek into the kitchen through a window near the "winding" staircase as we were leaving. Thanks for the yummy memories!


To further digest our meal, we took a stroll up towards O'Connell Street, and down Henry Street, another pedestrian shopping street, although all the stores were closed by this hour.


A final look at the Ha'penny Bridge before sundown and we wrapped up another productive and exciting day in Dublin.




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