The Final Pint

The final stretch of our trip took us to Dublin, Ireland. After riding the train from Liverpool, England to Holyhead, Wales, we boarded an Irish Ferry that took us 2 hours across the Irish Sea. The ride was calm and the ferry was welcoming, with food, beverages and an upper-deck viewing area.

Once we landed on the Irish coast, we were in the European Union and had to have our cab driver take us to an ATM so we could withdraw Euros to pay him. He dropped us off at our final hostel of the trip, Four Courts Hostel. As we pulled up, a guy standing outside the building next door got punched and knocked out. Come to find out, the building next door was a Homeless and Drug Services building, a sketchy building in an otherwise good area. That event was the only uncomfortable incident we encountered. The hostel had a nice common area and the rooms were spacious. It was rather strange though that we had a fellow roommate who had been living in the room for more than six months, so each morning he would wake up and go through his morning routine, which was rather loud. Overall, the hostel was in a good location, close to Temple Bar area, but had a few lackluster qualities.

Once we dropped our bags off, we headed to the Temple Bar area to experience the highly anticipated Irish bar scene. The area was lively, with people enjoying a pint at the many bars located along the street. We decided on the Horseman for dinner where I got chicken curry and Kent got seafood pie, a pastry filled with a mixture of fish. 

After dinner, we headed to the Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub dating back to 1198. This moment is when we discovered our love for Guinness’s Dublin Porter, a slightly lighter version of traditional Guinness. We would’ve loved to enjoy liters of this beer, but at more than $9 a pint, we had to restrain ourselves so we didn’t return to the States with empty wallets. With our pints in hand, we sat outside enjoying the weather and music coming from inside the bar. Once a few people cleared out from the room inside, we enjoyed a front row seat to a 2-man traditional Irish band. This moment was of our favorite in Dublin because the music was true to Irish style and the banjo players was extremely talented.

Guinness Dublin Porter
The following morning we were picked up by Hilltop Treks for a day trip to Wicklow County and Glendalough. We booked this tour the night before through our hostel because we wanted another day in nature and did not want to spend two full days in the city of Dublin. The tour van headed to the Wicklow region, south of Dublin, and dropped off a few of our fellow tour members at Powerscourt Estate, a 13th-century castle. The rest of the group continued on with our tour guide for a short hike. The final destination was a vista of the vast, green Irish countryside and Dublin in the distance. Our tour guide was a chatty fellow or as they say in Ireland, he had the gift of gab. On our hike, he pointed out different kinds of native foliage and explained the logging process that goes on in the area.

Irish countryside and Wicklow Mountains
He then took us to a bridge, made famous by the movie, P.S. I Love You. While I didn’t remember the bridge from the movie, I still took a picture and enjoyed the views. The next stop was Guinneess lake, a lake that resembles a tall, dark pint of Guinness with the sandy beach resembling the frothy head. Not only does the lake look like Guinness, but it's also on the Guinness family’s estate. We took some pictures of the lake and then got some lunch at a local restaurant before heading to Glendalough, a 6th century early medieval monastic settlement. This area had ruins of a 12th-century church, an old graveyard and a nice nature walk to two lakes. Glendalough literally means "the valley of two lakes."

Guinness Lake
Glendalough cemetery
Overall, the tour was not worth the time or money, as it only provided us a small glimpse of the area. We wish we would’ve done a tour to the Cliffs of Moher. We originally were going to take a tour to the Cliffs but decided on a different one because we feared driving to the Cliffs would be too much time in the car. However, no matter the day tour, there will always be a lot of car time. 

That night, we partook in a traditional Irish music pub crawl, which we also signed up with through our hostel. This crawl was a cheery, insightful way to understand the culture. We followed two musicians to two different pubs where they gave us a background on traditional Irish music. The musicians played music they learned on journeys throughout the country and their families, shared different musical instruments and explained how traditional Irish music sessions work. It was a great experience because most music played in the Temple Bar area is modernized and concert-like. This crawl let us experience music how it would be played in small towns across Ireland. One musician pointed us toward a bar where we could view a traditional Irish session, so we took his advice and headed to The Cobblestone. Here we witnessed about 10 musicians in a circle at the front of the pub, all playing a variety of instruments. One musician would begin playing a song and all the others would join in. There were guitars, fiddles, flutes and other instruments. A person who was not actively participating in the session joined in to sing. If Kent or I had a song to share we could’ve done the same.

The following morning began our last full day in Dublin so it was time to explore the historical sights in the city. To begin the day, we got a traditional Irish breakfast at a restaurant in the Temple Bar area. We enjoyed our fist scone here and it was delicious!

With full stomachs, we headed to the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It wasn’t as grand as I expected it to be, rather small actually. We joined a free, guided tour that departs every half hour. This tour provided some context and fun history to the church and I would definitely recommend it. St. Patrick's Cathedral dates back to 1191 and is the largest church in Ireland. It is named after St. Patrick because he originally baptized people here on this site. More than 800 years old, the church has experienced a lot of wear and tear. Benjamin Guinness, a descendant of Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness Brewery, funded a giant restoration project of St. Patrick's Cathedral. During this tour we learned that the Guinness family is beloved by Dublin as they have provided a lot of wealth and fortune to the city.

After the tour of the church, we headed to St. Stephen’s Green, a quaint park in the middle of the city that was highly recommended in many of Rick Steve’s podcasts Kent and I listened to before the trip. Since it was a nice day, there were locals and tourists everywhere, enjoying the sunshine. Kent and I found a spot of grass under a tree and people watched while simultaneously resting our feet. Even 14 days into our trip, our feet still hurt from all of the walking.

St. Stephen's Green
We then strolled down the tourist-filled, pedestrian Grafton street, which is full of shops and tourists attractions. At the end of the street was Trinity College which we walked through for a restroom break. The Book of Kells is housed in the library on campus. The book is an intricately illustrated version of the four Gospels that was created at a Columban monastery in the 800s. We did not pay to see the book in person however because we had to save our money for one last stop, the Guinness Storehouse.

On our walk to the Guinness Storehouse the air filled with fresh-brewed beer so we knew we were close. Being Ireland's top tourist destination with 1.25 million visitors in 2014, we had to wait in a short queue before we could begin the self-guided tour of the Guinness Storehouse. The tour shared information on the ingredients necessary to brew beer and the overall intricate brewing process to create the dark pints we all enjoy. Videos, descriptions and visual elements throughout the tour made it interesting as we made our way up the seven different levels of the storehouse.

Towards the end of the tour, each room was dedicated to a different element of the beer. One room thoroughly explained what makes Guinness so great, describing its aromas. The following room explained how to properly drink a pint of Guinness, providing us a small sample to try ourselves. On the following floor we got a look into the advertising greatness of Guinness and could learn how to properly pour a pint of Guinness. We forwent this pint-pouring opportunity because we wanted to get our free pint at the Gravity Bar, the top floor of the storehouse which provides a 360 degree view of the city.  (I recommend learning how to pour a pint because you can still go up to the top floor.)

In front of St. James's Gate!
Our pints at the gravity bar!
We then headed back into the center of town and went to the grocery store one last time for our final picnic. With sandwiches in hand, we headed back to St. Stephen’s Green were we picnicked and enjoyed another session of people watching.

This picnic marked the end of our trip, as we caught an early flight back home the next morning, wrapping up our 2-week Western Europe adventure.


Travel Tips:
1.  Four Courts Hostel was fine and a good price, but I would recommend exploring other options before settling on this hostel.
2. Forego a day trip to Glendalough because it is still a lot of time in the car for a mediocre destination. Visit Galway or Cliffs of Moher instead.
3. We were in and out of Ireland in two days, but if you have time, rent a car and go explore the coastal towns such as Galway or the Dingle Peninsula.
4. Try and find a music session so you can experience some traditional Irish music.
5. Breakfast is our favorite meal and that was no different in the UK. Spend money on a good breakfast rather than the expensive dinners. Have picnic dinners since they are great ways to experience the city's people and parks!

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