Drinking Dublin

A small capital city with a huge reputation, it attracts visitors from far and wide. When the city is alive its hustle and bustle create an overwhelming sense of craziness. Certain areas of the city possess a constant, unique atmosphere. Although an incredibly touristy city, the locals are ultra-friendly and the crowds flock here to join the craik.

Sadly, my first visit here was far too short and rushed to enjoy this city to its full. Perhaps this is why I didn’t love it like everyone else appears to do. I shall return to explore further its charms and character and possibly some areas out of the main city. I only had 12hrs to explore this place, and while the city is small, trying to see everything by foot was never going to be achievable. There was a need for it to be explored by foot as my ever-increasing waist size was not being helped by the local lifestyle both north and south of the border. I was gutted not to have visited Trinity college area including the book of Kells and college library. I believe that everywhere else was at least seen, but what was missed provides me with the excuse to return.

They say that first impressions count; lets be grateful that Dublin’s didn’t. The city is ugly; it takes advantage of the tourist and, probably, the locals. The buildings look cold and dirty. The pollution and dirt make a face lift a necessity. The city attracts a lot of visitors; this clearly has its pros and cons. On the walkways this is definitely a con, due to the many drinkers/beggars and the build-up of dirt, litter from overflowing bins. The smell made for an unappealing walk. Add the fact that the sun wasn’t shining, and one can see why first impressions were poor. So much for “Dublin’s fair city”.

This the capital of Ireland sits at the head of Dublin Bay; it is a busy port, the financial and commercial hub of Ireland, backed up by its expensive lifestyle, as was pointed out to me by a local as I travelled down on the train. The first part of my walk took me along the eastern part of the river. Here one particular building catches my eye as it looks like it has a canned drink that has been misplaced and built into it. Close by it is anchored the Jeanie Johnston, whose links to the 19th century famine in these parts sheds a little light on some other parts of Ireland’s history.

My walk takes in all the areas detailed on my tourist/bus map. All the sights were very commercialised, and they were a huge disappointment, Christ church cathedral in particular. Crowds flock to them like bees to honey, and I couldn’t get out of them quick enough. I set off in search of other areas of interest, only to find bus loads of people arriving at them.

Guinness is perhaps Ireland’s biggest and most famous export. Personally, I can’t stand the stuff, even after trying it again over here. On arrival at those famous black and golden gates, I couldn’t be bothered to waste my time and money queuing for a view and perhaps a pint I wasn’t going to enjoy. Instead I headed to a local pub for a drink I would and did enjoy. Not understanding the man behind the bar, I still managed to order and a buy a drink.

From here I took on more walking as I pursued the further sites on my map. I discovered a charming building with quadrants all around; it was much more appealing and photogenic than that of Dublin Castle. From here I found some peace and solitude in the war memorial gardens whilst enjoying my daily packed lunch. From here I ticked off the Wellington monument. An old school bus provided some interesting photo opportunities before I decided to head back to Templar Bar. In no rush, I decided on a pub crawl back towards Templar Bar. Any pub that looked attractive or lively was entered to savour a pint but in each one that was visited the price rose as I got closer to that illustrious place.

Just before arriving at Templar Bar I discovered Ireland’s oldest bar!! Is it true? We may never know! Crowds flocked here and not for a pint but for the “I was here photo” for which people just strolled in and quickly left. Surprisingly I took no such photo; instead I enjoyed my pint as I photobombed everyone’s shameless pictures. Support these pubs!!

I left this pub in search of a more atmospheric location and by that I mean local, musical atmosphere. More by chance than by plan I came to Templar Bar, established 1870. I was drawn in and captivated by the two guys playing their tunes to the hoards of drunkards. Not coping well with the crowds inside I took comfort with the smokers outside. Conversation was struck up with people from far and wide as we all enjoyed each other’s company.

Dublin – I shall return; Trinity college, library and the book of Kells looks like a silly missed opportunity. And perhaps I’ll return to enjoy the evening of Templar Bar once more. Apart from maybe coming across to watch the rugby, my interest in this place is sadly lacking.

Dublin, Leinster, Ireland

Built in Belfast

The first of my four ‘Capitals of the UK’ blog takes me on a short flight across the Irish Sea to brilliant Belfast (although I booked to go to the wrong airport. I flew into Aldergrove rather than Belfast City which would have been more convenient for my pick up!!

What was once one of the richest cities in the world has gone from the industrial years as producers of the finest linen and, at the other end of the manufacturing spectrum, large ships in the famous Belfast shipyards. Belfast became a lively import and export hub. The times after the great wars were clearly marred and scarred by the horrific and horrendous 30 years of troubles. It is now forging a ‘better Belfast’ where the locals open their arms and their mouths very fast talking – it is difficult to understand them sometimes; a combination of the rapid speech and the accent to provide you with warm hospitality. Belfast captivates and fascinates.

‘Built in Belfast’ refers to the ship building yards. It produced a mind-boggling amount of ships both pre and during the war. One of the world’s most famous ships, RMS Titanic, was built in Belfast (as they say, ‘It was fine when it left here!!’). It’s incredible to think of the numbers associated with the yards. In their heyday some 30,000 people were building including my host’s father. Imagine the noise this would have created as rivets were hit all day long. An interesting fact to back this up; 3 million rivets were used to build the Titanic alone. These slipways are vastly changed as flats, hotels are built on them at an alarming rate. Its other addition, and the one that gives this area its name, is the museum to that famous ship. Isn’t it amazing how one movie can create such a tourist attraction!!! As I’m led to believe this is now one of the busiest tourist attractions in Europe. I didn’t find it that appealing – its cost, and commercialisation of a terrible disaster that happened thousands of miles away wasn’t that interesting. Perhaps a museum to Belfast’s shipbuilding past, celebrating the design and engineering feats may have been more appealing for me, as it wasn’t just the Titanic that was built here. My host’s father (my dad’s uncle) helped to build the Canberra.

The port is now a regular cruise ship destination; a record 117 will have stopped here by October this year. 10 years ago there were none. It still has managed to keep Samson and Goliath – iconic, bright and yellow they dominate Belfast’s cityscape. They are not used these days for ship building but for building renewable energy items, like wind turbines. Thankfully they have maintained the H & W letters on them (Harland & Wollf) which alone are 6m in height!

When visiting Belfast you can’t ignore its recent history. Perhaps this is why it makes it the most fascinating of the 4 capitals in my opinion. This terrible part of history finished when I was just 10yrs old (I was also in Belfast for the Good Friday agreement of 1998). I can’t begin to understand any part of it, but after visiting, reading and listening to the tour guides talk about it on every trip, it clearly can’t be ignored and looks like it is going to play a part in its tourist future. The two routes of conflict are religion and being part of the union. Perhaps this also highlights/mirrors some of Britain’s current problems. Belfast provides some monumental landmarks that are worth visiting, eye opening, slightly emotional and incredibly powerful. The peace wall and the murals in particular captivated my attention.

The city centre itself is built around the impressive city hall. A free visit inside is well worth it (that sounds a bit Irish but you know what I mean), and you are greeted by an incredible stairway, walls and ceiling. Around from the city hall lies all the normal shops and restaurants that any city boasts, although the recent fire had burned down one particular store. Anyone who visits Ireland/Northern Ireland will be lured into the many pubs providing good beers and regular music and a unique and lively atmosphere. One of Belfast’s names is ‘heart attack city’. It’s hard to disagree with this after indulging in a number of traditional breakfasts; they really are a heart attack on a plate (thanks 1st cousins once removed).

As I bring my visit here to an end and prepare for my flight home my final walk round takes me to the botanic gardens. I went in search of the Ulster museum, but it didn’t appear to be open. So instead I had a fascinating walk around the gardens admiring the brilliant art work portraying the recycling the city offers and the lack of it in the world in which we live. I found this intriguing and fascinating, and just as powerful as the many murals around the city.

‘Cities are built and rebuilt by people who love what they stand for’. Belfast can never forget its past, but this city has moved on as it leaves behind its famous industrial heritage and terrible troubles. It is forging a new and successful era as visitors are welcomed, with easy access from far and wide. Oh, how the modern means of easy travel and tourism is changing the landscape of the world….

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom