A Day in Kinsale

Remember that scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Clark is looking for his relatives’ house — number six — and when they get inside, you see that the little leaf covering the house number moves to reveal that they’re really in 16? I know they were in Germany, not Ireland, but I can see how that can happen. Easily.

Today we set out for Kinsale but KP decided we should check out Barryscourt Castle first. It was on the way and he has a thing for castles. Of course our GPS — Clare, as we’ve dubbed her — didn’t recognize it as an attraction, so we just put in a random address in Carrigtwohill (where it’s located) and crossed our fingers. In Clare’s defense, most of the places we want to go to don’t even have addresses. The address will just be the name of the place, and the town. Thanks, Ireland.

Clare got us there, almost. But she at least got us close enough to where we found some of the brown arrow signs for tourists. So we followed those. Only, there will be a sign, and then nothing after it so you’re basically left to guess the rest of the way yourself. The signs we found today literally led us in a complete circle. Then after making the circle, we found another slightly faded, slightly hidden sign pointing us the last bit of the way.

Barryscourt Castle sign
How could we have possibly missed that?

Best of all, once we finally found the castle, we learned that it was closed until June. And with that, I felt yet another similarity to another National Lampoon’s Vacation movie.

Barryscourt Castle
This is all I have to share of Barryscourt Castle.

All was not lost on today, though. Kinsale more than made up for our little snafu in the morning. It is a quaint little town dotted with colorful shops and restaurants on the southwest coast of County Cork. It is apparently a popular summer holiday destination especially for boating.

Kinsale, Ireland

Kinsale, Ireland

We quickly ditched our car in one of the car parks as you enter town and walked around, stopping first at Desmond Castle and Wine Museum. The castle is on the smallish side and made for a quick tour. And as far as the wine museum, it is mostly dedicated to the history of the wine trade and its relevance to Ireland.

Desmond Castle and Wine Museum

With our one obligatory “cultural” stop out of the way, we headed to Fishy Fishy. I lost count of how many people recommended eating there, and I’ll admit being apprehensive at first since it was also in our guidebook so I feared it might be super touristy. One of the women in the shops we stopped at beforehand overheard us talking about it and began raving about it. She explained that the chef there has a goal to get non-fish eaters to give it a try, but in a healthy way. She said he’s since become a bit of a local celebrity for this movement.

Fishy Fishy

It’s a very ordinary-looking place and the inside is very simple, with a fish counter and rows of picnic table-style benches.

Fishy Fishy

The food is simple, too, but now I get what everyone’s raving about. It’s just good! KP had the seafood chowder, which was more of a Manhattan-style clam chowder, and a warm salad of chilli seafood.

Seafood chowder with brown bread

Warm Salad of Chilli Seafood

I opted for traditional fish and chips, though the fish was much lighter and more delicious than what I’m used to.

Fish and chips

A 5K+ hike would’ve probably been good for us at that point, but we decided to leave the town center by car to go check out Charles Fort. In hindsight, we were glad we drove. The map neglects to mention that it’s a 5K uphill jaunt. And it seemed like the closer we got to the top, the foggier it became. Hence, there wasn’t a whole lot to see by time we got there, view-wise.

Charles Fort
Pea soup, anyone?

Charles Fort

Three Ways to Lengthen a Trip from Dublin to Cork

  1. Forget your camera in a taxi.
  2. Book your car rental with Dollar.
  3. Assume you can rely on GPS.
Yes, we made all three of those mistakes today when trying to get from Dublin to Cork and instead of arriving around 3:00 p.m. as planned, we got here closer to 5:30 p.m.

We thought we were so on top of things this morning, arriving at the airport to pick up our car rental right at noon as planned. Only, once we got into the shuttle to go get our car, KP realized our camera was MIA. Thank goodness for yours truly and my ability to remember the name of every single person I’ve ever met; I somehow remembered our cab driver’s name after seeing it staring at me on his certificate all the way from our hotel to the airport — Raymond Brady. Long story short, KP was able to connect with our hotel, who was able to connect with Raymond Brady, who was kind enough to drive back to the airport to return our camera. Lifesaver. And by that, I mean he saved KP’s life because I might have killed him had he truly lost our $800 camera.

Now as for our friends at Dollar Car Rental… two words for you: shit show. We booked our car online and we knew we’d take a beating with the insurance. No U.S. insurers provide coverage in Ireland (research taught us that you can get coverage in Iraq, but not Ireland; go figure) nor do any travel credit cards. Still, our total bill was going to be about double what we were quoted online, “due to the insurance.” So we had to fuss with getting that straightened out after they then claimed the increased price was due to the exchange rate. I’m sure they’re all smarmy, but I’d recommend not using Dollar in Ireland.

We thought we were wise to get a GPS, and we were, but it certainly isn’t the answer to all travel dilemmas on the emerald isle. Some locations aren’t known, and some are so close that you can smell them but the GPS still can’t get you there.

Case in point — the Blarney Castle. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but apparently if you get there near closing time at 6 p.m., it’s your own personal castle. To say it was tricky to find — via GPS — is an understatement, but we found it. Eventually. It was worth it, though. The grounds are incredibly picturesque.

Blarney Castle
A word of caution — if you suffer from the slightest bit of claustrophobia, I’d recommend not going up to the top of the castle. There are many steps. Many steep steps. And very narrow staircases. But we made it to the top and if nothing else, the view is amazing. I’ll be honest, though, the actual blarney stone itself was not exactly what I expected.
The Blarney Stone
The last six inches of this stone wall make up the Blarney Stone.
KP post-kiss
I told him what they say about kissing it, but he did it anyway.

2.5 Guinness + Prosecco with Berries = Happy Gal

I must have subconsciously known that today was going to be gluttonous; I forced myself to go to the gym when I woke up. Although, it felt like I wasn’t meant to go; first my key got lost under the gym door and then my headphones bit the dust halfway through my run. A one-mile run is better than nothing, though, right?

We intended to go to Kilmainham Gaol (prison museum) and then do the Guinness tour since they’re near each other. But once again we were direction-challenged. We followed signs towards Kilmainham Gaol, then thought we must be going the wrong way, so turned around, only to find out we were going the right way to begin with. It was a hike from the train stop, much further than we anticipated. Then, once we finally got there, we were met with signs that said all tours were full until 3:00. Naturally.

Rather than wait, we headed back in the opposite direction to the Guinness Storehouse. It’s a massive place and that’s not even where they actually do the brewing (but it’s nearby).

Guinness Blueprint
In case you want to borrow their methodology (who doesn’t love looking at flow charts on vacation?).

We opted for the self-guided tour without the audio. Because let’s be honest, we were really just in it for the tasting.

Guinness tasting

Guinness tasting

Those little tastings just whet our appetites for more, so we headed to the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor to cash in our tickets for free pints.

Guinness
I don’t even really like beer.

Gravity Bar is a whopping 200′ above ground and you can see all of Dublin from the glassed-in bar. Getting up and down can be a challenge, though, as there are only two elevators in the entire storehouse.

From the Guinness tour, we headed to the Temple Bar District but made a pit stop at Avoca first.  It’s a little shop that reminded me a lot of Anthropologie, only with a food hall in the basement and an award-winning cafe on the second floor. We intended to stop in for a snack but once we sat down, realized we were hungry for a full-on meal — with bubbles.

Prosecco with berries

The burger was to-die-for, but I’m not sure why they bothered with the greens. And it really was that big. And I really at all of it, except for about half of the top bun. I have no words to explain the deliciousness of those pickled onions.

Burger at Avoca

With full bellies for the road, we rolled ourselves out of Avoca and continued on our quest to Temple Bar. Sadly, we missed going on Saturday which is apparently the better day to go, as they have an outdoor markets along the line of Portobello. I probably would’ve liked that better. It’s just an area with a bunch of pubs, tchotchke shops and tattoo parlors, sort of reminiscent of Rue Mouffetard in Paris, but with fewer creperies and less charm.

We easily found the Temple Bar without even looking for it, though, and settled in for a pint. The place has some serious character and good live music.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

It’s a sure sign that we’re old, because KP and I agreed that we were glad we didn’t make it to Temple Bar on Saturday night because of how chaotic it probably was.

With a full day of sightseeing behind us, we headed back to the hotel, but not without a stop at Butlers Chocolate Cafe first. We passed one yesterday and I was reprimanded for not going in, so I caved today. Actually, I was craving something sweet after the disappointingly hard cookie we got at Avoca. The decision was tough.

Butlers Chocolate Cafe

Butlers Chocolate Cafe

I opted for the carrot cake on the bottom left for dinner.

Braised Pig’s Head, Anyone?

Although I’m a diner with eclectic tastes, there are lines that I draw. And pig’s head is one of them. Thus, we didn’t enjoy the eight-course tasting menu at Thornton’s last night, but opted for the prix fixe dinner, instead.

Thornton’s is in the Fitzwilliam Hotel (which is where we’ll stay on our way out of Ireland next Sunday night) which sits right on St. Stephen’s Green, the lush park in the city center, and has one Michelin star. So it’s a bit on the spendy side but it was our first dinner out in Dublin, after all (I can justify the high price of just about anything). The restaurant overlooks the park, although unless you’re sitting at one  of the window tables along the perimeter, you can’t really see much, which isn’t all that big of a deal.

We had an 8:30 reservation but they were full when we arrived so we sat in the lounge and enjoyed a glass of wine while we waited. I actually felt like I was sitting in on an episode of a food show that was a mix of Top Chef and The F Word, because on my left side I got to look into the kitchen through this big round window, and on the right side I got to watch servers prepping to serve the food, and getting harsh instruction from who I’m guessing was the manager. The head chef, Kevin Thornton, stopped by to say hello while we were waiting, which I thought was nice. I eat that stuff right up. And I might add, he is quite a handsome man.

Dinner was memorable. The presentation was flawless and the dishes were fantastic. I’ll admit feeling slightly uneasy when, after ordering the beef carpaccio to start, I was told by the server the name of the cow along with an anecdote about how Chef Thornton fed it Guinness and massaged it daily. Luckily there was no such story to go along with my main course, the Magret of Moulard duck. And since we are on vacation, I opted for dessert, although I went with a cheese plate instead of a sweet; so glad I did. The server wheeled over the cheese cart which kind of made me feel like I was at the Olive Garden and they were bringing out the dessert tray, and to be honest I don’t really know the difference between blue cheese from Ireland versus blue cheese from France, so I opted for everything from Ireland except for one. Had to show France some love. I would love to have a cheese cart like that at home and am confident that I could survive on that alone. I think I will have to start having that more often.

One of the best parts of the whole experience? (Aside from Kevin Thornton stopping at our table to say goodbye…) The people-watching. There was a little bit of everything–tourists like us but also locals who were the most entertaining to watch, particularly the couple sitting adjacent to us. The husband, presumably, was a bit older, though the wife was no spring chicken, either. I’m pretty sure he was taking some cat naps throughout the dinner, or maybe he just liked to eat with his eyes closed. KP says he doesn’t think they said one word to one another the entire dinner. How special. I only wish I heard more of the conversation at one of the larger tables next to us, though, where I only overheard, “have you ever been to America?” I can only imagine where that conversation was going.

Three hours later we wrapped things up and were out of there, sadly missing a chance to go to any of the pubs in Temple Bar as we had to catch the train before it stopped running at midnight.

What’s Worse Than a Kid Kicking Your Seat an Entire Flight?

A drunk schmuck who has his legs jammed so far up the back of your seat that you can’t recline at all on a seven hour flight from Chicago to Dublin. It never fails; I’m not one for easy travel, at least as far as flying is concerned. So I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight. Rested a bit, but did not sleep. Waaah wah.

However, my husband brought me my favorite treat from London so all is well.

Wine Gums
Like gummy bears, but better!

Even better than the Wine Gums (sorry, KP)–our hotel not only let us check in super early (as in, 9 a.m. early), but they also upgraded us to a suite. Loving The Gibson Hotel.

First impression of Dublin? The people are crazy nice. Our cab driver from the airport was friendly and all, which was a nice start. He offered unsolicited suggestions on how to spend our days in Dublin and informed us that if we wanted, he could just drop us off at a pub instead of our hotel, since they apparently open here at 6 a.m. Who knew? I know the Irish are known to be drinkers, but I had no idea…

Friendly cabbies are one thing, but let me just take it a step further for you. We kept getting somewhat lost today–I’ll call it, “turned around”–and at one point we were pulled to the side of the sidewalk with our guide book whipped out. A gentleman actually approached us to inquire if we were lost. I kept to the side of that convo and let KP have that exchange, for fear that he would finish the conversation by asking for money. Nope, just a friendly fella helping out the tourists. Huh. Not sure this anecdote would have quite the same ending had it taken place in Chicago. Or any other major city in the U.S., really.

Today was spent doing some light exploration. The Luas–Dublin’s lightrail–stops right outside of our hotel, so we hopped on and headed for the main part of town. It was about a seven to ten minute ride to Abbey Street. We headed towards the General Post Office because Frommer’s told us it was a must-see, even if you have only one day in Dublin. Well, after walking endlessly, we realized we passed it and somehow completely missed it. So we stopped at the Dublin Writers Museum instead. It’s on the smallish side with just four rooms open to the public, though I’m not sure how much more would’ve held my interest. There were original and early issue works from major names like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and several others who I’d never heard of. If only I’d paid more attention in high school English or my rhetoric classes. Still, it was neat to see.

Dublin Writers Museum
Dublin Writers Museum

Eventually we made our way back to the General Post Office, but by that point we lost interest in doing the tour and had more interest in seeing the National Museum of Ireland. So we took a shortcut through the beautiful Trinity College grounds to get there (thank you for the free tip, local Irish man).

I can only imagine that students there must get perturbed by all of the tourists traipsing through their beautiful campus, although there weren’t too many of us today. The grounds are simply beautiful.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Trinity College

Trinity College
I like to think I’d study here everyday if I went to school here.

Naturally, we couldn’t get to the museum without getting a little turned around first.

Lost

And, once we eventually reached the museum at 4:55 p.m., we were greeted with a large banner on the gate that showed that it closed at 5:00 p.m. Back at it tomorrow.

Next Stop: Ireland

TripIt email

Why thank you for the reminder, TripIt.

Yes, on Friday I will be flying to meet my husband in Dublin for 10 days of Irish exploration. This is one of our more unplanned excursions. But my husband is in London for work this week so about a month ago we decided to tack a personal trip onto the end of his business trip. And Ireland has been on his list for a while now, apparently.

Ireland is a new destination for me, too.  I’ve been to Northern Ireland and the Dublin airport en route to London, but of course I don’t count that. I like that we are going somewhere new. As much as I love my list of favorites (I’m mostly talking to you, Paris and St. Thomas), I prefer getting entirely new stamps on my passport.

We’ll be renting a car, so in addition to Dublin we’ll also spend time in Castlemartyr, Dingle and Galway, and of course the spots in between.