This past weekend my fiancé and I took advantage of a cheap flight special by RyanAir and flew to Dublin for the weekend to celebrate my birthday. Though waking up to get to the Barcelona airport was a bit unpleasant, being able to arrive and start the day with a typical Irish breakfast next to a coal fire was worth such discomfiture.
We checked into our hotel then walked around the areas around the Lifee river, around which Dublin is developed. After about an hour of ambulation later, we then walked to the Old Jameson Distillery. I obtained tickets in advance through the website so was able to escape having to wait in line or hope that a tour would happen before close. The tour started with a video providing a brief history of whiskey, the founder of the Jameson distillery and the manner in which the company was growing today. It had the feel of an informercial, but was well-enough produced and had enough information of interest to keep even the disinterested entertained. From here we walked inside and saw a series of tableau vivants. It started showing the storage and processing of wheat, then continued on to different steps in distilling with a special emphasis on showcasing the equipment used to make the alcohol. The next section had barrels with corked lids in order to show the “angel’s share” over time. In total the tour was not very long, perhaps half of an hour, but being able to see the videos and experience even a simulacrum of the production involved is well worth the price of admission. The ticket price also includes a free drink, which is how we finished the tour.
When I’ve drank whiskey in the past, I’ve typically done so straight or with a dash of water. However here I was given the option to try it with cranberry juice and was presently surprised how refreshing it tasted. Josselyn had the whiskey with ginger ale, which was also so pleasant that she expressed her first liking for the liquor. Because we had been randomly chosen at the beginning of the tour, at the end we were then separated from the rest of the group in order to develop our “whiskey tasting skills”. Two non-Jameson brands were pre-poured next to the Jameson and we sipped them while the tour guide gave active commentary on our experiences. At the end she asked each person what their favorite is.
The purpose of this is to have all those chosen for the tasting say in front of everyone that they prefer the Jameson to the others, relying upon social pressure if not on actual personal preference. While I was a little put off by this, both as my favorite liquor is peaty single malt Scotch’s like Laiphroaigs, I do usually buy the Jameson more as it’s more widely drank by guests.
After finishing this whiskey flight, the tour ended but Josselyn and I continued on our tastings into the beautifully decorated bar in the foyer. There we had another flight of whiskey, which consisted of their 12 year, 18 year, Special Reserve, Jameson Gold and Middelton labels. The whiskies were delicious, being their premium labels, but it was the bartender’s effort into the Irish Coffee that was especially commendable. The coffee was sweet, as Josselyn likes it but I don’t, yet cut with just enough of the whiskey so as not to make it seem overwhelming. It was a perfect way to end our tour before having to go back into the cold and we left feeling very warmed by our experience – though this may stem from the fact that we’d just had several shots of liquor on mostly empty stomachs.
It was these empty stomachs that prompted us to stop at an all-you-can-eat Asian restaurant. It was after eating here that I discovered one of the problems that I soon found to be endemic to Dublin that a former New Yorker found to be an especially perplexing problem – lack of acceptance of credit cards and ATM’s that were blocks apart. As anyone who has lived in Manhattan or the areas close to it in Brooklyn know, ATM’s are omnipresent and cards are accepted everywhere. In Barcelona that has been the case as well, so their lack here also surprised me. The situation was such that after we ate, having no cash to pay, I had to go find a second ATM that was two blocks away from the one that had been suggested to me by the wait staff as upon getting there I discovered it was out of order.
It was too late for us to go to the Guinness Storehouse and as we would have had to run in order to catch up with the Literary Pub Crawl we decided to instead top at a few places on the way back ourselves. With the food, the lateness and the tiredness, however, this desire actually only translated itself into one stop which was followed by the rest of the weary traveler.
We awoke early to eat a simple but pleasant breakfast at the hotel then embarked on a three and a half hour tour of the city via Sandemans. We learned a great deal about the tragic and humorous history and culture of Ireland’s capital – specifically in relationship to the Irish’s many attempts to obtain home rule from the British. Our guide, Gavin, had extensive knowledge of this and told it with gusto, detached humor despite suffering. It is not just this style of speech but the tour itself that gave me memories of a similar guided jaunt in the Golan Heights. There too the guide showed us around the areas once occupied by others, giving the history of a regional conflict with obvious attempts to sway sympathy to one side. I don’t mean to evoke any sort of deep comparisons between these two places, but merely state that being in this tour I came to realize that one of the cultural fronts between two such peoples consists precisely in such seemingly innocuous tours. The mobilization of sympathy through such narrative structure that one physically relates to at that precise moment it very powerful. Whether it is someone telling you that the spot you are now standing on was once a shooting ground for British snipers and mortar rockets, or that one a clear day you can see Damascus which one directed a full scale invasion through the are on which you stand, makes for compelling narrative. Combining this with memorial art immediately after seeing this definitely has an effect of emphasizing this. In the Sandeman’s tour, the lack of accounts to counter those given stemmed in the first place as a systemic result of the political system while the latter was due to the lack of British visitors – however I doubt this would have blunted much of the edge of the comments. The result would have likely been merely barbed banter and apologetics for something outside of one’s control. Regardless of the political issues at hand, the architecture, as the picture here shows – was very romantic.
That said, as we ended the tour Josselyn and I were joined by Phil, from Prospect Park, and went to a restaurant in order to eat some Guinness Irish stew. It was served cafeteria style in a large bar that the group attended after we went, and while it was good considering the hunger we’d worked up in our walkings through the cold, I couldn’t help but thinking that even though it was less “authentic,” I’d made it better before. After eating we split a cab to the Guinness Brewery as we were all tired from the walk. While not someone who drinks regularly, I am a fan of stout beer in general and Guinness in particular.
The Storehouse which tourists can visit is an actual working brewery in the same way that those who visit Brooklyn Brewery’s tours on the weekend see the people working, but it is so much better for not being so. The seven story edifice is filled with everything Guinness related – the actual ingredients that go into the drink, machinery that is used in order to brew it, the history of the now obsolete but once very important cask makers, as well as advertising. The production value of the place is indeed impressive and reminded me of the science museums that I used to love to visit as a kid. Josselyn and I spent probably two hours going through the entirety of the Storehouse, and at the final part of our educational edification we able to top off such knowledge with a full glass of Guinness draft.
The view was breathtaking and sipped our beers as respite from all of the activity of the day so far.
After this we had enough time to change clothes, drop off the small presents picked up from the Guinness gift shop and managed to catch up with the pub-crawl. We went to several bars and clubs, the names of which all escape me except for “The Kitchen”, which is owned by Bono of U2 fame. It wasn’t anything spectacular – but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
The next day we woke up around mid-afternoon, very comfortable and protected from the slightly chilly room by the enormous blankets provided by the hotel.
We walked around the city in order to see some of the other sights, including the Book of Kells, which is as impressive in person as it is when looking at a picture of it’s contents, some more parts of Trinity college, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Amusingly enough, Josselyn turned down my suggestion that we look inside the church as she wanted to view more parts of the city. We were told later by Dani, a Brazilian friend Josselyn made the previous night, that if we would have gone in the church at that time they would have been starting mass shortly, which I would have wanted to stay for, and that if we would have done that we would have met Bono. While I personally don’t care, seeing Josselyn’s face as she related this fact to me the next day did bring me some laughter.
We stopped for coffee and inside I saw a newspaper article that I found telling of the general state of world economic affairs. A local rag related the proclamation of the Irish Arts and Crafts council that stated that if at the time of the upcoming Christmas each person was to spend only 5 Euros on domestically produced craft than the nation as a whole would save 13 million Euros. The news story made me think of Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical manifesto as well as a comment made by the Dublin guide the previous day. The first because he upbraided the wealthy landowners of his time for, among other things, importing foreign goods at great expense rather than purchasing and helping develop markets closer by and the latter as he explained that during the period when the loans were rushing into the country there was no lack of spending on foreign produced goods. The figure of speech which the guide had used had been quite telling – what happens when you give a bunch of money to a people that had never been instructed on how to spend money before – they spend all sorts of stupid things like new clothes and TV’s and what not – which do nothing to accumulate additional capital. This is a theme that ‘ll develop further in another blog, however, I’ll simply point out the huge difference in the possibilities in Irish and American newspapers as the latter would never publish such a news story, funded as it is by the advertising of multinational corporate interests.
We stopped to eat at a lovely little Cornish pastry bakery run by an Argentine woman about to return home for the holidays. As Josselyn and I have been considering moving there at some point, and as the two of them have some sort of connection as Latin Americans in that region, we stayed there for a while and learned about the economic conditions there right now. I’m still open to considering it, but there are admittedly many other places that I would prefer to move to next.
After making a brief stop to watch a flash mob, we walked through the main commercial thoroughfare, looking at some of the street artisans works and stopping to watch to one of the juggling buskers, then went to the hotel for a brief rest. After which, Josselyn took me out for my birthday dinner at One Pico. One Pico serves modern Irish cuisine with a price that is a steal compared to similar quality restaurants in other countries. The almost casual ambiance lacking signs of opulence consists of low lighting, minimalist decoration in the form of early twentieth century glass and gold wall lamps with decorated mirror balls hanging underneath. These mirrored balls are not tawdry seemed to indicate that the culinary traditions of various places receiving large Irish migrations will influence this location.
My fiancé took me here for my birthday and upon entering the unseasonably cold night we were promptly asked for our coats and quickly seated. The waiter was a little pushy in obtaining our orders immediately, but this could be false as I may have just gotten more accustomed to Spanish cameraras languid attitude more than I had thought. While we waited for our orders to appear we were offered a selection of breads – whole grain, raisin and walnut, tomato, and plain.
I started off with the foie gras appetizer. It had included square cuts of fresh pear dusted with breadcrumbs, a thick slice of fluffy white brioche toasted so as to give it a texture that perfectly complimented the spread and a pear –vanilla puree. I had this paired with a German Riesling whose fruity notes accented this wonderfully. My fiancé had the Beef Carpaccio, which she enjoyed greatly.
For the second course I had shallots and pork while my wife had steak. There are few things that are more simple or delicious that an excellent cut of steak. When combined with a fried onion, pureed sweet onion sauce, a grilled leek and a small dash of spicy sauce on the side it makes it perfect. I had to plead extensively to obtain a second bite from my wife of this delicious combination – and it was my birthday dinner! Along with our dinner we had a delicious sauvignon blanc, chosen as my wife is averse to red wines. I was at first somewhat reluctant as to how this would pair with the pork and steak respectively, however the sommelier was spot in his assessment of the pairing. While not as full bodied as I am used to preferring, I found that the lightness of it countered well with fat of the pork and brought out the slight fruit notes in the semi-spicy sauce holding the shallots to the plate. My wife said that she greatly enjoyed it as well.
We finished our meals by both ordering strawberry cheese cake and, as the lime sorbet was out that day, raspberry sorbet paired with a Moscatel wine from Malaga. The cake came out slightly chilled and topped with a fresh, room temperature compote made of raspberries and blackberries. The tart of the berries juxtaposed with the sweetness of the cheesecake was not the only exceptional aspect of the desert – but both the cheesecake and the sorbet itself were exceptional. In the United States it is typical for cheesecakes to be quite hard to the downward thrust of the fork, from the cheesecake itself to the hard crust at the bottom. The desert we had at One Pico, however was soft on the top and bottom. The crust seemed to he held together simply by the wish to be delicious and the cake itself was light as a down pillow and had none of the overwhelming denseness that so many other restaurant mistake for the sign of a well executed cheesecake.
With this combination of excellent service, delicious food unto itself and it being an exceptional value we will definitely return when next we are in Dublin. The next morning we woke early, yet again, and took the bus back to the airport and a short flight later we were back home.