There are many different ways to approach sightseeing. Some pore over guidebooks, searching for star-rated sights and planning their every move; others seem lackadaisical and wait for others to do the planning for them. For a Monday in Dublin, I took the random approach by walking out of my hotel door and deciding to take what came to me as I wandered across the city.
When my friend and I arrived on Sunday, we were told that museums were closed on Mondays and, later, learned that Monday was also a bank holiday. It seemed like a perfect day to wander. (Plus, the sun was shining on Dublin, an extra bonus.)
Our hotel was in one of the more modern business districts of Dublin, across the Liffy from the convention center, about a 15-minute walk from sights, or a four-minute bus ride from Trinity College. I booked it through Hotwire.com for a great price, but as luck would have it, it was a bit out of the middle of the action, but not too much.
The first search was for an Irish breakfast. My path took me past row houses, hardware stores, auto-repair shops, closed restaurants, grocery and 99-pence stores. Eventually, a small deli packed with locals was serving sandwiches, scones and coffee. I asked about where to find a full Irish breakfast and the owner said, “Right here.”
So, we sat down for a plate of sausages, ham, rashers, blood pudding, potatoes, tomatoes and a sunny-side-up egg with coffee. The owner, an immigrant from Bulgaria with a heavy Eastern European accent, directed us toward the center of tourist action, about three hundred yards up Pearse Street past Restland Row where Oscar Wilde used to live.
We made it eventually to the main entrance of Trinity College, that was bustling. We were surprised when we found that the tours were running and that the Book of Kells exhibition was opened. Plus, the Bank of Ireland with its original Irish Parliament room, across the street from Trinity, was open as well.
After visiting the Old Library and the Book of Kells, we headed out the Nassau Street gate of the college and wandered into the Kilkenny Design Center and later paused for a cup of coffee with a scone (which, by the way, are wonderful! I remember them as being horrible, dry and almost inedible without tea to wash them down, from travel in Ireland and Britain 25 years ago).
The guide at Trinity confirmed that most museums in town would be closed, but noted that the National Gallery was open today. So, after our coffee, we strolled the 100-or-so yards to visit their collection.
I love local regional and national art collections. They provide a glimpse into the soul of towns and countries that is lost in the giant museums that fight for top art of “Western Civilization.” Ireland’s National Gallery has one wing filled with Irish artists and scenes and a second wing with some impressive Western Civilization pieces. But, my favorite is the Irish section.
The paintings show the faces of the old and wrinkled, the young and playful, the devout and praying, the dead and dying, the naked and the clothed. From a delightful painting of a group of young children playing soldier to a sad family boating to a funeral, few pieces of art show everyday life and its universality better than this local Irish art.
After the National Gallery, we wandered along Grafton Street with its flower stands, pubs and fancy shops. We turned down the narrow Johnson’s Court and zigged to the left and right down Coppinger Row, then zagged left on Castle Market and strolled straight to George’s Arcade. There, under a glass roof, crowded stalls were filled with everything from gourmet Italian pesto to artsy postcards and Irish linens to window drapes.
Earlier, we had walked past several restaurants that seemed to be interesting for dinner. We decided to work our way back toward Trinity College, walk along Nassau Street and find The Pig’s Ear, that was serving an early dinner at a bargain price.
On the way, we stopped in at Grogan’s Pub (15 Williams Street) that was filled with locals enjoying a pause during their shopping for a wee pint or so. After settling in the snug for a pint of Guinness, a dram of whiskey and a bit of “craic,” we found our way back to Grafton Street.
The day began turning to dusk and a fine mist began to spray. Huddled against the raw elements we found The Pig’s Ear only to learn that we had to wait another 15 minutes until opening time. So, we tucked into The Blarney Inn (1-2 Nassau Street) next door for another pint.
Finally, it was time to eat. We climbed the steps to The Pig’s Ear (4 Nassau Street; tel. 01 670 3865) and asked for a table. Lucky for us, there were two tables for two left and we snagged one of them. This was a popular restaurant.
(A note on Dublin restaurant pricing: Most of the good restaurants in town have a lunch special a bit after noon, as well as a theater menu or early-bird special that runs from about 5 – 7 p.m. or 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. They offer great bargains. Plus, wines are far more reasonable than selections I have found in the U.S.)
The Pig’s Ear has two floors of tables overlooking Trinity playing grounds (not that it makes much difference at night). The food is fabulous. Better yet, every time I mentioned that we ate at The Pig’s Ear when dining at another restaurant in town, the staff would agree that it is one of the best spots in town — a nice kudo from their peers.
Here is the Pig’s Ear feast we enjoyed for the early-dining price of €20-€25 per person, accompanied by a wonderful €20 bottle of red wine —
– Jeruselem Artichoke and Thyme Soup with With Beans and Cep Mushrooms
– Citrus Cured Salmon, Buttermilk Whey, Cucumbers and Dill Pickle (the salmon was almost like sushi)
– Slow Cooked Pig Belly w/Jane Russell Pudding (blood sausage), Sweet and Sour Onion, Burn Scallion and Watercress Sauce
– Hake with Cauliflower and Pine Nuts, Shaved Fennel and Desmond Cheese
– Lemon Rice Pudding with Apricot Jam and Blackberry Sorbet (floating in the pudding).
All in all not a bad day of touring for a couple who were clueless about what they would see when they awakened. Sometimes, random discoveries do the trick. But, I would still recommend reading up on history and local lore so when you discover a hidden gem you have some idea of the story behind it.
All photos by Leocha except Trinity College by budgetplaces.com