Our first day in Dublin began with a quick nap in our hotel's WiFi lounge after a long red-eye flight. When Michael and I woke up, we realized we were starving. After browsing a few gift shops and admiring the infamous Spire of Dublin, we stumbled upon a beautiful church-turned-restaurant, The Church Cafe Bar. After splitting an incredible plate of braised ham shank with buttery cabbage and creamy mashed potatoes, we climbed onto the bright red Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. The driver took us leisurely around Dublin, sneaking brief glimpses of popular attractions such as St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity College, and The Guinness Storehouse. At that point, we decided to jump off and wander into the revered land of Guinness.
After purchasing tickets, we joined the small crowd that was preparing for the storehouse's next self-guided tour. Our speaker, a comical Irish native, got everyone pumped up and ready to go. The first level of the tour held phenomenal exhibits of the ingredients that make Guinness so delicious - barley, hops, water and yeast. The next eight levels contained vivid demonstrations of the beer-making process: milling, mashing, separating, boiling, fermentation, maturation, and packing. After browsing each level, we were ready to master the art of pouring the perfect pint.
The crowd split into several different groups, each gathering around a storehouse bartender. After a detailed demonstration, each group member had to pour her own beer in front of the crowd. When our turn came, Michael poured his pint like a pro. I managed to pour mine without clumsily splashing beer everywhere, which was good enough for me. Our reward was the best pint of Guinness we had ever consumed and a fancy paper certificate.
After sitting at a nearby table and finishing our drinks, we made our way up to the Gravity Bar. Dublin's skyline was unassuming yet beautiful. The entire city sprawled before us and the sky stretched for miles. We wandered around the hustle and bustle and snapped a few photos before heading back to the bus.
WICKLOW MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
The next day, we took a tour bus to Wicklow Mountain National Park. Finding our bus was a huge debacle. There were several buses lining O'Connell Street, but each driver we approached had no idea which group we were looking for. After a few frantic moments, we found our group! After we departed, we found out our bus contained fourteen nationalities, and Michael and I were the only Americans on board. It was cool hearing such a large variety of different languages.
The drive to Glendalough was breathtaking. The mountains were a rich, mossy green. They honestly didn't look real. We stopped by the infamous bridge from P.S. I Love You, as well as several scenic overlooks that offered incredible views of the hills and valleys below. Our bus driver, Richard, was hilarious. He told the best jokes, used abbreviations for everything (pictures were "piccies", and souvenirs were "souvies"), and played traditional Irish music as we rolled through the mountains. He also informed us that there really are more sheep in Ireland than humans. We twisted through winding passages, peered off the edge of towering cliffs, and passed several beautiful streams surrounded by blossoming flowers.
After two and a half hours, Wicklow Mountain National Park came into view. We hopped off the bus and began a short hike to the lower and upper lakes. The weather was gorgeous, and the trails were packed with visitors. It actually got so warm during our hike that I had to remove my jacket. When we reached the upper lake, we sat on the pebble shore and gazed into the distance. It was so quiet and peaceful.
Our day trip ended with a quick stop for lunch in Avoca. We scarfed down a delicious tuna melt topped with sweet chili, and free shots of Jameson were distributed around the restaurant. We sat with a new friend, Avi, and exchanged our stories. He was visiting from Jerusalem with the intention of studying conflict analysis in Belfast. Talking to him was fascinating. I admired the fact that he was traveling alone. That's something I've always wanted to do. Soon after, Richard summoned us back to the bus. The warm sunshine and soft Irish music put me right to sleep, and when I woke up, we were almost back in Dublin.
THE LIFFEY BRIDGE
The rest of our trip was filled with an afternoon bus tour to Howth and Malahide Castle, several strolls around Dublin, a visit to Trinity College and St. Patrick's Cathedral, a guitar serenade of U2's "With Or Without You" in Temple Bar, Irish dancing at midnight, and plenty of shopping.
One of my favorite experiences was visiting the Liffey Bridge (also known as the Ha'Penney Bridge). Michael and I walked over and around the bridge many times, reminiscing about the fact that months before, we were only able to see it in photographs. It was an odd but glorious sensation, standing somewhere I had dreamed of visiting for years. Ireland was always at the top of my long list of countries to visit, and it was my first destination abroad. To me, the Liffey Bridge symbolized that dreams really can come true. It was the landmark I repeatedly saw in pictures during those years of yearning, when traveling across the Atlantic felt like such a difficult feat to accomplish. Standing on the bridge at last, admiring Dublin's architecture, felt amazing. For the very first time, Europe had materialized in front of me as a tangible, reachable place.
PLACES TO EAT
O'Sheas: This cute little bar quickly morphed into our go-to place to grab a drink after a long day of exploring. Our first visit involved a pot of steaming lamb stew. The lamb was tender and juicy, and the broth was filled with savory vegetables. The following nights were spent listening to live music and watching an impressive display of traditional Irish dancing. The spirit of O'Sheas was lively and fun, and we returned multiple times.
J. W. Sweetman: After reading J.K. Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling, I was dying to try a plate of bangers and mash. I got my wish on our last day in Dublin. The rich, mustardy sausage perfectly complimented its creamy bed of mashed potatoes. Doused in gravy, the plate was an instant hit.
Pacino's: Skimming the menu at Pacino's had Michael and I salivating before our food even came out. Loaded with mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, Italian pepperoni, caramelized red onion, goat cheese, basil petso, and tomato sauce, the Michelangelo pizza had an incredible flavor. It was super cheesy and had a very thin, crispy crust. One of our favorite moments occurred when we asked our waiter for a side of Ranch. He laughed, called us out for being American, and brought us mayonnaise instead. Europeans don't do Ranch, apparently.
O'Neils: After an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend, we stopped by O'Neils for lunch after visiting Dublin Castle. Our fish and chips were phenomenal. The fish was perfectly fried, undoubtedly fresh, and tasted wonderful dipped in tartar sauce.
The Church: The braised ham shank from The Church was our first meal in Ireland and served as the perfect introduction to traditional Irish food. The tender meat practically fell from the bone, and the buttery cabbage and creamy mashed potatoes were drool-worthy.