Another day, another island.
My life has become a giant game of island-hopping, which is absolutely nothing to complain about. My friends and I were talking recently about all of the major islands we’ve been on, and I think my count would be at seven as of now, meaning there is potential for a new blog series on islands to emerge, so be aware.
In the meantime, I’ll tell you about my most recent excursion off of the Rock onto a slightly bigger, greener rock. Ireland.
This trip to Ireland was very different from my last trip to London. Before, we went to London and stayed inside the city and didn’t see anything else the country had to offer. I went with a large group and we went with the purpose of celebrating multiple birthdays. This time around, I went with three other people, we spent as much time outside of Dublin as inside the city, and our only goal was to see beautiful sights and experience Irish life. While both trips were very different and it can be hard to compare, I would choose Dublin over London in a heartbeat. Living in Malta brings about a certain longing for greenery, nature, and wildlife. Ireland had all of that and more to offer, and we soaked up every wonderful minute of it. I loved Ireland so much that I will have to write at least two posts, so I’ll keep this one strictly to our time in Dublin.
First of all, our hostel was probably the only thing that I definitively preferred in London over Dublin. We stayed in Abbey Court, right in the heart of Dublin’s city center, which was an absolutely fantastic location. The hostel wasn’t bad either. We still got free breakfast and there was nothing wrong with the building or the rooms. It’s just that our hostel in London was really really cool and it set a precedent for future hostel experiences. However, the location could not be beat. We were one block away from the main street and within walking distance of all major attractions.
Our first night in the city, we stopped at a pub, which is a must in Ireland, and got to experience some amazing live music, which can be found at most of the pubs on any night of the week. The most popular area for pubs and music is in the Temple Bar district, but that is a very touristy area and quite pricey. If you want a more authentic and relaxed Irish pub setting, go outside Temple Bar where dozens of pubs that are not over-crowded and over-priced await.
Our first full day, we joined in on a free walking tour offered by our hostel. If you read what I had to say about London, I’m a big fan of the free entertainment options in these cities, and this was no different. The tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and the guide was very knowledgeable, although it was definitely geared more towards the college and young adult age groups and was not the best for a family activity. I know this because there was a mom with a daughter who looked to be about 12 or so and the mom was very un-amused with the guide’s language choices. However, if you can find a similar tour, or the same one with a more family-oriented approach, I would highly recommend participating. It helps you get oriented to the city, scope out which attractions you would be interested in visiting for longer periods of time later, lets you hear a bit about the history of the city and the buildings, and you can get some great recommendations for more activities or restaurants from the guides. At the end, you pay your guide a tip of whatever you’re comfortable with, and that’s that. All in all, a great option, especially for your first day there.
After our tour, we went to the Guinness Storehouse. Inside is a museum dedicated to the history of Guinness and explaining the brewing process. You can walk yourself through the museum and at the end you are instructed on how to pour yourself the perfect pint of Guinness, which you then can consume in the Gravity Bar on the top floor of the building with panoramic views of the city. All of my friends were very excited about the Storehouse, and Guinness has played a huge role in the Irish culture over the years, making it a very iconic experience. However, if you’re not a beer enthusiast, or just not very interested in general, I wouldn’t recommend going. I enjoyed it and I’m glad I went because I like knowing the history and I know that Guinness is very important in Ireland- not just because it’s a good beer, but because the Guinness family has done a lot for the people of Ireland and is a very important icon for the culture. If you’re into visiting the biggest attractions a city has to offer, this is one of them.
Living in Malta has also brought about a certain lack of Mexican food, and every American that I have talked to that has spent a significant time outside of the US, especially in Europe, has craved good Mexican food at least one point during their journey, and our little group is no different. It doesn’t matter how many vegetarian enchiladas I make or how many nacho nights my roomies throw together, my craving for Mexican food cannot be satisfied. However, one of our friends was recommended to go to Little Ass Burritos, and we followed up on that recommendation. We searched high and low throughout Dublin to find us some burritos, which actually wasn’t that hard because there seemed to be a much-coveted plethora of Mexican restaurants scattered throughout the city. However, we didn’t just stop in the first one we found. We walked until we found Little Ass Burritos. It was just a little corner shop with enough room inside to order your food, but it was amazing. My disclaimer is that I have not had good Mexican food in six months (my Last Supper in the US was at my favorite Mexican place at home, and when I land back in DC in three months, I’ll be making a beeline straight back to that place), but these burritos were the bomb. Stuffed with all the traditional Mexican necessities, as well as sweet potato and amazing seasoning- I don’t even like burritos, but I was desperate and definitely not disappointed. So if you have authentic Mexican food for every meal of every day, and you love burritos, you should still go here, because it is different and yummy.
One other recommendation I have is a little sandwich and cake shop called Queen of Tarts. We stopped in there because we were told it’s a great place to get some Bailey’s cheesecake, and is especially nice to stop in after the Guinness Storehouse. I’m not a particular fan of cheesecake, but I did taste it and it was pretty dang good. I am however, I huge fan of carrot cake, and we all agreed that it was the best carrot cake any of us had ever had. It really was heavenly.
The rest of our time in Dublin was spent at various pubs and restaurants and walking along the River Liffey. One thing that I’ve learned throughout my various travels is that in order to have a good time on your trip, you have to be with people who have similar travel styles to you. So if you ask me, we spent too much time in pubs and restaurants. Dublin has a lot of museums and art exhibits and parks that we did not get to see. Now, most of the reason behind that is that we spent two full days outside of the city. However, we were in the city enough that we could have gone to a few of these places if possible. I had an absolute blast in Dublin and I would go back in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’ve laughed (or cried from laughing) that much in a long time. It was just fantastic. However, there were moments when I was very frustrated with my travelling companions because I was spending a lot of time waiting on them because they wanted to stop in and get a drink or go to the grocery to buy beer to drink at the hostel or they had to do their makeup, etc. etc.
There came a point when all of my friends stayed out very late and wanted to sleep very late the next morning, and I just didn’t want to spend any more of our limited time waiting around for them, so I took myself on my own free walking tour of the city. It was actually pretty cool because I went to eat breakfast by myself and I sat down with this girl who was also alone and got to talking and we had some interesting conversation that was fun, and showed me that I can actually travel by myself and be okay. I walked around the city for a few miles and got some great pictures and saw some streets and buildings that were off the main road that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I stopped in a camping store and a bookstore and I bought a book of Oscar Wilde (a very famous Irish novelist and poet) stories and poems. It was really cool to be out by myself and be okay with being alone.
The moral of the story is to know who you’re travelling with ahead of time. This doesn’t mean that you have to always sacrifice your interests for the sake of theirs, but be prepared to make some compromises and adjust your idea of what the trip will be based on your differences.
Another suggestion I have for anyone going to Dublin would be to see some traditional Irish dancing. This has actually become quite rare in most of the city and other than staged shows, it’s only found in a few places. We went to O’Shea’s Hotel, where we were recommended to go by our tour guide. Every Thursday night, a group of individuals gets together to dance some Irish sets. They start at 9:30pm, and of course, being with the group that I was with, we didn’t get there until after 11:00, and the dancing was over. However, we started talking with one of the dancers, and upon his finding out that we missed the dancing, he got a few of the dancers to do some private sets just for us. It was really cool, and Irish music is just so wonderful to listen to, that just those few dances were amazing. Afterwards, we got to talking with the dancers for a good while and it turned into four American girls who study in Malta talking to a bunch of Irish folk dancers in a pub in Dublin about American politics and Donald Trump and the fate of the global youth, etc. It was quite an interesting scenario, but those are the times you remember.
Our last day in Dublin was spent at the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub, which was established in 1198, which is pretty impressive. We also walked over to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which has some lovely green space around it and nice to see. We didn’t get to go inside, but I would imagine that it’s beautiful, as the entire country of Ireland is absolutely gorgeous.
Our very last Dublin experience occurred on our walk back to the hostel to pick up our stuff to leave. We happened upon a little street concert hosted by the band Keywest. It was actually pretty cool because they’re fairly well-known and you can listen to them on Spotify. They’re a Dublin-based rock/pop band and they were actually really good- we all enjoyed listening to them. It was a very cool, very Irish experience that was totally unexpected, but very much enjoyed.
Ireland is pretty famous for its Celtic designs, and the Calddagh ring is one of the most recognized symbols. I already have one of these rings which I never take off, so I didn’t want to get one there. One of my friends bought a different ring with the Trinity symbol in it, and then we all decided to get the same one, as a sort of token to our really great girl’s trip to Ireland. You can read all about Gaelic and Celtic designs online, which I highly recommend because aside from being visually interesting, the meanings behind the designs are pretty cool.
That was our time spent in Dublin. I would love to go back and visit more of the museums and major city attractions, but Ireland is one of the few places that I can already say I could see myself living there. I’ve loved everywhere I’ve traveled, and I leave a piece of my heart everywhere I go, and while I would go back to visit any one of them at any time, there are very few places I could see myself being long-term, but this was one of them. I’ll have another post coming soon about our two days spent outside of Dublin, so watch for those!