I know my food blog is turning into an anything-but-food blog but I have to tell you about my summer vacation. I just returned from a whirlwind two weeks in Europe. I can’t fit everything into one blog post so I’ll break it up into smaller posts. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get all the posts put together, but I’ll try to be timely about it. But I must share with you my journey even if it isn’t food-centric because it moved me, inspired me, and made me fall in love with the parts of Europe we visited.
I joined my friend, Michael on his travels through Europe in Dublin, Ireland. From there we proceeded to Edinburgh, Scotland and then to Bath in England and finally we finished our trip at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. We covered a lot of ground in two weeks. In some ways the trip seemed like it was longer than two weeks and in other ways, it felt like it flashed by in just a heartbeat.
Let’s start in Ireland, shall we?
The allure of the Emerald Island has beckoned me for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure exactly what initially ignited my desire to visit Ireland (besides my love of whiskey) but I sure am glad I acted on it. Ireland is breathtaking. From the cozy pubs in Dublin to the awe-inspiring views over the Cliffs of Moher, I loved every single soaking wet second in Ireland. It rained pretty much every day we were there. The sun came out for minutes or on the good days, hours at a time, but blocks of sun were always bookended by torrential downpours. I spent most of my time resembling a drowned rat and praying that my socks would dry before I got gangrene. But even soaking wet, I was moved by the beauty I saw everywhere I looked (with the possible exception of the mirror). And even when it wasn’t raining, it was windy. I’ll have to ask you to excuse my hair in most of my pictures. I found I either resembled a drowned rat or a tornado survivor in most pictures. Let’s just say that if you visit Ireland, remember to pack as many waterproof items of clothing as possible and ponytail holders.
But, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re wet and windblown when you’re a little buzzed and as a whiskey girl, I was very appreciative of the Irish whiskey. I was even more appreciative of the fact that whiskey is less expensive than beer in pretty much any pub you walk into. And a little nip of whiskey is nice and warm when you’re drenched by the rain and blown around by the wind. Although, I do have to admit, needing a coat in the middle of summer was not a completely unwelcome change after the record-breaking heat we’ve been experiencing in Atlanta this summer.
We stayed outside of the center of Dublin in an area called Sutton. The very first thing I did upon arriving was walk with our host along the Baldoyle Estuary. The photograph below is of an island called “Ireland’s Eye” and I took it from the walkway along the Estuary. The island is currently uninhabited but I hear you can visit it via boat tour if you wish. The building you see on the left side is a Martello Tower which is a defensive fort built during the Napoleonic Wars. The other ruins of a building you see in the photograph are all that’s left of an 8th Century church. Apparently commuting to church via boat eventually took its toll on the Sunday morning attendance and the island church was abandoned in favor of an easier-access location in a nearby town.
Our first night in Dublin we went to Howth which is near Sutton to partake in some local flavor. And believe me when I say we got more than we bargained for. We were sitting at a bar called The Bloody Scream minding our own business when a huge bar fight broke out behind us. The men were throwing punches. The women were pulling hair. Drinks were tossed in faces. It was fascinating. The bartenders cleared the bar of the troublemakers quickly. They also assured us that this wasn’t normal behavior but as tourists, we had a certain pre-conceived notion of the Irish as being quick-tempered and a bit rowdy. So witnessing a bar fight on our first night was exciting. And in fairness, I have to trust that the bartenders were speaking the truth about the bar fight being rare as I didn’t witness any other examples of the fabled “Irish temper” or excessive rowdy behavior for the rest of our stay in Ireland. But thanks to those people at the Bloody Scream that night for living up to our pre-conceived notions and stereotypes of the Irish on our first night. It was highly entertaining. And we learned how to say “Prostitute” and a few other choice words with a proper Irish accent.
Our first full day in Ireland we explored Dublin’s city center. Dublin is an interesting mix of old world charm and modern marvels. We capped off our day by participating in a literary pub crawl. If we’re going to do a pub crawl, may as well learn something while we do it. It was an entertaining and fun evening and even our host Francis joined us.
This bridge (in the picture below) is the Samuel Beckett Bridge which was designed by Santiago Calatrava. The shape of the bridge is supposed to evoke the image of a harp lying on its side. The harp is a symbol of Ireland. The bridge spans the River Liffey. Adjacent to the bridge is the Convention Centre Dublin. This building was designed by the American-Irish architect Kevin Roche. The building is definitely eye-catching with that glass atrium. In addition, per the interwebs, the building was the first carbon-neutral convention center in the world. I just though it made an interesting picture.
And we saw this ship docked in the River Liffey. This view of Michael’s posterior as he snapped pictures is pretty much the view I had of him throughout 90% of our trip.
This sculpture is called “Famine” and commemorates the Irish forced to emigrate during the 19th century famine.
We visited Trinity College during our pub crawl (see, it was educational, they even took us to college). Trinity College was founded after the Reformation in 1592. It was owned by the Protestant Church and Catholics could attend provided that they accepted the Protestant faith. As a result, up until 1966, any Catholics that wanted to attend Trinity had to either obtain permission from their bishop or face excommunication. We wanted to go back to Trinity to tour some of the buildings but we just ran out of time.
My architecture and engineering friends will find this picture of the Bank of Ireland interesting. It was explained to us that the government assessed a “window tax” based on the number of windows in a building. So, to avoid paying the tax, many people and businesses just decided to brick over the windows. The window tax (also referred to as a daylight tax) was later repealed. The fact that anyone ever taxed daylight was shocking considering today’s environmentally friendly building requirements that give you points for using daylight. I guess this was definitely not a LEED building.
So, I will follow up with posts about our trips to Blarney Castle as well as to the Cliffs of Moher before we leave Ireland to discuss Scotland. But first, a few more random photographs of Dublin.