Happy New Year, with love from Dublin
New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday: champagne, fireworks, and all bliss, no stress! This year to celebrate I met some friends in Dublin for an awesome long weekend introduction to Ireland.
We picked Dublin because the stateside friends got a groupon deal for airfare, a car rental, and five nights at the Ritz for $999 (so remember to check, friends!). The deal didn’t really work for me to come from Turkey, so once again I rented a flat from airbnb.com, and once again I wish I had taken better pictures of my gorgeous lodging. This place was described as a Georgian Oval studio, and the room was a complete oval, with round walls that unfortunately I don’t think you can see in my phone pics.
Karin, the owner, brought me the fixings for an Irish breakfast, including a warm loaf of bread and homemade butter. I couldn’t let that combination go to waste, so I had a yummy slice before everybody showed up for breakfast the next morning. With a fire going and a warm breakfast, the flat was extremely cozy and so difficult to leave that on our first day together, we didn’t manage more than finding a bus out to Powerscourt, the old garden estate that is now the Ritz. In Enniskerry, the nearest town, I had my first authentic Irish version of Shepherd’s Pie: somehow the potatoes were creamier and the meat underneath was tender – it was heaven!
One quick warning about Ireland – during the Christmas holiday (roughly the two weeks surrounding Christmas, starting on the weekend before and ending the Monday after New Year’s Day) a lot of stuff is closed. Unfortunately most of the amazing restaurants and bars our host recommended had boarded windows, and the Trinity University Library, where I most wanted to go and worship books, was closed until the day after I had to leave.
On Day 2 we drove west across the country to the Cliffs of Moher. As much as I love cities, I’m really starting to prefer the drives and remote places when I visit a new country. I loved interpreting road signs in foreign languages (this time Gaelic, aka Irish), and cheering on my friend Brent while he drove on the wrong side of the road with the stick on his left hand side like a pro. An hour or so into the drive everybody was hungry and craving coffee, so we took a turnoff whose exit sign had pictures for food and drinks. The road was narrow and winding with crumbing stone houses and churches and walls along the side, but unfortunately every cafe and pub we passed was closed. Interestingly, everywhere we drove that morning it seemed like only the butcher shops were open. Eventually we u-turned and rejoined the highway.
When we finally arrived at the Cliffs, we were going to hit up the snack bar, but since the sun was actually shining we decided to start walking and try to get good pictures.
While we were there, the weather changed from sun to rain to hail to dangerously windy. It’s amazing that every locale on earth has a micro climate, complete with some peculiar weather phenomena – it always feels like a stroke of luck when I get to experience one of them, like the seafoam storms at the Cliffs of Moher. As the clouds covered the sun, small white flecks started flying up off the cliffs, dotting the sky and land. At first I thought they were small birds with crazy flight patterns, until one landed on my shoulder. It was not a bird, but a large piece of salty foam (yeah, I tasted to make sure). It’s like a snowstorm, except the foam is flying up from the ocean and then floats on the wind.
Gradually the wind picked up, and we headed to the tower on the other end of the cliffs. The wind intensified so much that we couldn’t even make it to the other edge.
Back in Dublin, we managed to see a few more sites: Trinity University, St. Patrick’s Church and Christchurch.
Running out of time, we had to decide between visiting the Guinness and Jameson factories. The group split, and Kim and I hit up the Jameson Factory. The Jameson tour begins with a hokey video and then you walk through mock-ups of what used to be at the site. Now all Jameson whiskey is made at one central site in Ireland, so what’s bottled here is to demonstrate for the tourists and considered reserve.Our friends said the Guinness tour was also lame, but you get a sample at the midpoint and a pint at the end on a great rooftop with beautiful views of the city. Even while feeling like a sheep being led through the Jameson factory, I did pick up some interesting facts about the whiskey-making process.
Jameson’s is made with barley. It’s also triple-distilled, now in more modern stills that what you see above. They use three types of seasoned (used) barrels for aging: Kentucky bourbon, Portuguese port, and sherry from Spain. In the aging process, whiskey gains color from the tannins in the wood, and loses some volume due to evaporation. By 18 years, only 2/3 of the original fill remains, and the whiskey is considerably darker. After the aging, equal volumes from all three types of barrels are married together to blend the flavors, and then bottled. Pretty neath, eh?
In the picture above the top two barrels are aged 12 and 18 years, from left to right. On the bottom row, from left to right, is a new barrel, 3 year (minimum in Ireland to sell whiskey), and 8 year.
For New Year’s we watched the fireworks, then headed to a club in the Temple Bar Area. Unfortunately as the party got started, everyone in the group was battling illness or sleep, so we headed home before midnight. I struck up a conversation with my cab-driver, who then joined me at a sports bar near my flat. I didn’t want to end one year and start the next alone on the couch. The other Irish at the bar were pretty boisterous with hugs and kisses everywhere for everybody! Although eventually I had to ditch my now drunk and too-friendly cab-driver friend, it was a fun way to welcome 2013.
I know I’m a little late in saying this, but Happy New Year!!!!
If you’re interested in the Cliffs of Moher, here’s a youtube video that explains the geology. Bonus: you get to listen to an Irish accent!