Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dublin, Ireland - Day 6

For a short cruise, this one has been particularly relaxing.  After a full day at sea we are excited to be arriving in Dublin this morning. This is a first visit for each of us to the Emerald Isle. Growing up outside of Boston I have certainly had exposure to the Irish heritage. My mother had a boyfriend for many years from Belfast while living in the Caribbean. I know that don't really count though!

The Captain is a very good navigator but not a great meteorologist. His weather update for today is the same as every other day: Cloudy skies and 60 degrees. Since we left Dover it has actually been much warmer than that and we have also had our fair share of sun. Although it looks a bit gloomy out right now, I am confident it will clear up.

I didn't notice our approach along the Irish coast as I was sleeping at the time. We actually docked around 5:00 am. As to be expected the area around the docks is noticeably industrial but I imagine the green hills are not far away.

Breakfast in the Lido again was a treat. It is was easy to select our items and then locate a table. Mother had a latte again and I just had some water.

We went back to the room to get our things and then walked to the Cabaret Theater to join our tour. We are doing the Princess tour DBL180A "Powerscourt Estate and Dublin On Your Own". I was happy to see this tour listed on the Princess website as I wanted to visit both the Powerscourt Garden and also have the opportunity to see a bit of Dublin too. The cost of the tour is $89 each. The tour departs at 8:30 am and will return to the ship at 4:30 pm. I booked it online, and similar to Crystal Cruises, you don't have to pay for it until you are actually on the ship. I wish Oceania had this same policy.

The Cabaret Lounge was buzzing but it was easy to walk up and get our obligatory stickers (yellow unfortunately) for the tour. Every time I see the Cabaret Lounge sign I automatically hear Liza Minnelli signing in my head ("It's a cabaret....")! It is a fun way to start the day!

It wasn't long before the tour was called and we were paraded down the hall to the gangway and off the ship. It was just a short walk through the parking area to the tour bus. As luck would have it we were among the first people to board the bus. The front seats on the left side were available so we happily took those. I will be using my camcorder on the bus so being upfront has significant advantages.

The people on our tour were in very good physical condition. I didn't notice anyone who required sitting closer to the front or we would have willingly relinquished our seats.

The tour leader is named Mary and was a hoot! She was very bubbly and also quite funny with her commentary not only about Ireland but also the "battle of the sexes". We had some good natured joking about women being superior to men.  Our bus driver, Tony was in charge and the decider in making any photo stops along the way. Tony seemed to find Mary's banter amusing too.

Mary leading the charge toward the center of Dublin
Mary appears to be in her late 60's and is outspoken and very loquacious. She loved sharing her enthusiasm for Dublin as well as describing some of the pitfalls of the former Celtic Tiger. For example she mentioned her disappointment for poor leadership and planning which lead to the collapse of the Republic of Ireland's economy. Lots of people lost their jobs. However, once again things are improving and Dublin (not sure about the rest of Ireland) seems to be making a resurgence. In the second quarter of 2013, the Dublin property market turned the corner with prices up 2.4%. This is the highest increase in seven years. However it will take 20 years to return to 2008 levels. In places like Cork it is yet to bottom out and prices remain stagnant.

It was just about a 5 minute drive from the Docklands area to the center of town, Mary pointed out some sights along the way including the Samuel Beckett Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. The bridge looks a bit like a mini version of the Calatrava bridge in Buenos Aires.

Samuel Becket Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava
We passed by perpendicular to it as it crosses the River Liffey. The shape of the cables is said to resemble a harp, which is a symbol of Ireland. The bridge cost €60 million and was first opened to traffic and pedestrians in December 2009.

Samuel Becket Bridge
Tony took us on a short meander down the main streets of Dublin before getting on the N11 highway and heading southbound to the Wicklow countryside.

We passed a few more buildings which whet our appetite for exploring Dublin this afternoon. The big domed building below is the Custom House which houses the departments of Environment, Community and local government.

Neoclassical Custom House 
Tony kept us on a tight schedule in order to get back to Dublin on the return and allowing enough personal time to enjoy it.

We made a pit stop at #46 Fitzwilliam Square to get a glimpse of a beautiful doorway. Mary asked Tony if we would be getting off the bus for photos but he said there wasn't time. I did my best snapping a photo through the window across the opposite side of the bus.

46 Fitzwilliam Square
This classic Georgian doorway is alleged to be the most photographed door in all of Dublin. The architectural style is popular and dates from 1714 to 1840 during the reign of King George I. Similar examples of these doors can be seen along the leafy row of buildings in Fitwailliam and Merrion Squares. We will try to get to Merrion Square later when we return to town this afternoon.

Although the early architects built some wonderful buildings, Dublin's urban planners didn't do a great job with the local infrastructure. Once we were on the highway we crawled along with all the traffic. While the roads are poor, Mary explained that public transit isn't adequate either as the light rail, trains, and buses all run on separate systems requiring separate tickets for each. The highway has only 2-3 lanes so we were in traffic for awhile. I did spot a few nice sportscars (Porsche & Jaguar) so apparently some Dubliners are doing pretty well.

Wicklow Countryside
I was hoping to get a view of the coast during the drive but we remained inland. About 10 minutes before we reached the Powerscourt Estate and Garden, one of the passengers requested an emergency bathroom stop. The husband, who requested it for his wife was very reserved about it. Mary could not have been nicer. She informed Tony of the emergency and he advised it would be about 5 more minutes to Enniskerry, the town for Powerscourt. Tony gently guided the bus around several steep curves as Mary gave constant updates on our impending arrival to the anxious couple. Mrs. Doubtfire had obviously taken charge as Mary loudly announced "please hold on, it will just be a few more minutes".

We pulled into the little town of Enniskerry and Mary swiftly escorted the couple to one of the restaurants for use of the facilities. It was a short wait as the couple quickly returned within just a few minutes. We then proceeded directly to the Powerscourt Garden but we had to fit through the gate first! It looks very narrow but somehow we made it through!

Can you believe the bus actually fit between the stone archway? 
With just inches to spare we passed between the stone pillars of the archway. Mary made a joke that we all needed to breathe in! Tony did a marvelous job and we pulled up to the ticket booth on the right. Mary popped off the bus to collect all the tickets. And I mean all of them! I thought the ticket machine was going to explode! It just kept spitting them out in fast succession. The woman working in the ticket booth neatly folded them up (there were around 40+) and handed them over. Mary then had the task of separating them and dispensing the individual tickets to all the passengers. The ticket price is included in the Princess tour price.

Powerscourt Estate
Powerscourt Estate and Garden

The Powerscourt Estate and Garden is located in an idyllic setting. Parts of the structure dates from the 1600's but the main construction of the current house began in 1721. King James I granted Powerscourt to Sir Richard Wingfield, one of his generals as a reward for quelling local rebellion. The Wingfield's became the Viscounts Powerscourt and began to build at the site. The origin of the name "Powerscourt" comes from the first family that lived here in the 1600's, the de la Poer's. The building provided an impression of prosperity during the hardships of the famine and troubles in 1800's.

The house once held valuable collections of paintings and furniture. It was restored by the Slazenger family but it was not long after that tragedy stuck in 1974. At an event being held to celebrate the completion of work when a late night fire broke out and destroyed the Mansion. It then languished for over 20 years until it was restored and reopened for tourism in 1997.

The gardens are laid out on over 47 acres and have been described as the most ambitious formal gardens of the Victorian era in Ireland. The site unites architecture, sculpture, pools, fountains and plantings against a magnificent setting of lush woods, green mountains and river valleys. Popular European landscape design is incorporated in the classic statues, fountains and gates located on the estate grounds.

The sun was starting to come out as we left the bus and went inside the building for a peek. Mary gave us the time to be back at the bus (90 minutes) and instructions to walk through the garden staring on the right instead of the left. We also were given a little map which proved very helpful when we were not sure which way to turn. It also identified what we were seeing.

Powerscourt Map
It was great we could do this at our own pace. It also appeared it would be an easy walk and not too difficult for my mother.

View of the Wicklow mountains from the Estate
The gardens are beautifully designed and it was even nicer than I imagined.

Flower bed

We passed some fragrant flowers on the side of the building as we traveled the gravel path toward the gates.

Lovely Flowers
It was very relaxing stroll through the Walled Garden and toward the Dolphin Pond.

Path along the  Walled Gardens
The vibrant flowers in front of the building were very pretty. The Walled Gardens are one of the oldest parts of the gardens.

Beautiful Clovis
The Dolphin Pond came from Paris in the late 19th century. It is surrounded by a line of Japanese red cedars which were planted in 1864.

Dolphin Fountain
The sun was now shining as we walked around the fountain with the beautiful gate and mountains in the background.

English gate
The "English Gate" has intricate ironwork of thistle, shamrocks and roses representing Scotland, Ireland and England.

Pets' Cemetery

Following along the Rhododendron Walk we reached the Pets' Cemetery. According to our map info, the Pets' Cemetery is one of the largest in Ireland. Many of the family's treasured pets are buried here including several chows, Dachshunds a pony and even a cherished cow or two.

Graves for "Bully" the Pony and "Tinker", "Taffy Topaz" and "Rusty", a Terrier and  2 Dachshunds. 
Graves of 2 dachshunds Tiny and Teddy, plus Eugenie & Princess, family cows at the Estate

The graves of two Chows
I enjoyed the cemetery and it warmed my heart seeing how strongly the family must have felt toward their beloved pets. Some of the markers were very, very old while others were established about 50 years ago.

We next walked through the forest toward the lake.

Triton Lake

The Triton Lake contains the largest fountain of the gardens. It is placed directly in front of the Estate and centers the garden. The fountain in the Lake is based on the Piazza Barberini in Rome.

Triton Lake and Powerscourt Estate
The landscape was very lush and it was like being in the forest.

Beautiful trees
Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens are a Victorian interpretation unlike any other Japanese garden I have seen. The one at Powerscourt is elevated and appears more vertical than horizontal.

Elevated Japanese Garden
With the rock formations and the foliage it actually appears more Chinese in character.  The Japanese Garden was created by the Viscount and Viscountess Powerscourt in 1908.

Japanese Garden

View of the Japanese path and grotto
We enjoyed the sight of Azaleas, Japanese Maples and Chinese Fortune Palms. There were lots of people walking around the garden and crossing the grotto. The fact that it was spread out with multiple paths made it very easy to navigate and  a delight to walk down the little paths.

There are over 250 varieties of trees on the property. It is bit like being in the forest with the tall canopy of specimens hundreds of years old.

Some of the trees are over 200 years old
Tower Valley

We were a bit confused when seeing the Tower Valley area as there were multiple paths and we didn't know which way to go and consulted our map. My mother decided to bypass this area but I walked up the path to get a closer look. The structure is called the "Pepperpot Tower" which was modeled on a pepperpot from Lord Powerscourt's dining table.

Tower Valley "Pepperpot"
The Italian Garden

The Italian Garden is beautifully designed. The Italian Garden leads into the Triton Lake. The bright blue and red flowers are gorgeous.

Italian Garden leading to Triton Lake
Beyond Triton Lake you get a marvelous view of Sugar Loaf mountain. It is arguably one of the best views in Ireland.

Magnificent view of Sugarloaf mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain is not actually classified as a mountain since it only 1,387 feet high.

The terrace area was created in the 1840's and took 100 men over 12 years to complete.

Elegant Terrace and amazing view

Wonderful Gate
Stone Terrace
The sculptures on the property were very impressive and added to the tranquil setting.

Sculptures of gods and mythical creatures, including Apollo and Diana are tastefully displayed across the property

We had now arrived back at the front of the house. It took us about 40 minutes to tour the grounds. We now had time for a little shopping inside the house. Avoca has taken over the first floor.

Avoca merchandise
They had several rooms with clothing which was nicely displayed. They also had a large area with food items for purchase. They also have a cafe but we didn't see it.

Avoca breads and beverages
More yummy treats
Everything looked delicious and although we were getting hungry, we didn't have anytime to eat. We planned to have lunch on our own when we returned to Dublin. They also had some nice crockery but I didn't fancy trying to get it home.

Nice crockery, notice the selfie on the tea kettle
The upstairs area was very impressive! They had an escalator and wide wooden staircase to access the second story. I particularly liked "Design Loft". They had some unusual clothing and beautiful hair ornaments. I purchased a felt fascinator, a peacock feather headband and a silk flower brooch.

Design Loft purchases
The fascinator hat and the headband were made by the same person, Sophie Hunter Millinery. There were other fascinators with feathers but they would not pack well. The brooch is by Wild Gypsy Rose. All the items were made in Ireland.

After making my purchases we walked across the hall to the other side and looked at store selling furniture. Do people actually come here to purchase their furniture?

Furniture and Accessories
I peeked out the second story window for a nice view of the grounds and Wicklow mountains in the distance.

View from second floor
There was also an adorable Children's museum with books and toys. They charge admission so I just took a quick look inside.

Children's Museum
It was now time to start making our way back to the bus. We both very much enjoyed our time at Powerscourt. The combination of the beautiful gardens and a little time for shopping was terrific!

Back on the bus we took the same seats and again passed through Enniskerry. Mary pointed out a special toilet that was built to detract from tourists using the facilities in town. It is actually quite nice looking and Mary said it was very expensive to build.

Enniskerry Public Toilet
The town of Enniskerry is very cute with small shops and restaurants.

Restaurant in Enniskerry
The traffic wasn't too bad as we drove back to Dublin. We made great time and it took about 30 minutes to return which was good as we were getting very hungry!

Mary provided more information about Dublin and pointed out some of the sights.

Busy Dublin

The name Dublin in the Irish language is Baile Atha Cliath. The literal meaning is "Ford of the Reed Hurdles". We did spot several signs using the Irish spelling in the city. Dublin is the capital of Ireland and has a population of 1.5 million people.

It is probably a misconception, but I expected to see lots of tow-headed red moppets on the streets of Dublin. I noticed a few redheads but with the exception of so many young people, it resembled many other cities. Dublin has a very young population with 50% of the people below the age of 25.  Ireland as a whole has a total population of 4.7 million with an average age of just 35 years old.

Our next stop was St. Patrick's Cathedral. Mary really wanted us to see this but it turned out to be a challenge.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
We departed the bus and had to cross a busy street, walk across the park and then the church was a good 300 yards away. We couldn't get there though as they were shooting a scene for the TV show "The Tudors" and blocked off the area.

Film Crew for "The Tudors" Actress on bench facing the young girls with water bottles.
A few people did try to make a sprint around them to the front of the Cathedral but gave up as we only had 5 minutes for this stop and they realized it was going to take much longer than that.

The outside of the cathedral was very pretty. I particularly liked the windows.

St. Patrick's Window
Once back on the bus we drove around a few more streets that looked very interesting.

Dublin Streets
The Coastal Tour does a visit to Powerscourt too but the schedule includes a few more stops.

Lots of hanging flowers on the buildings
We then passed by the Spire of Dublin which is a 398 ft steel monument. It is located on O"Connell Street near a government building. The top 39 feet is illuminated at night to provide a beacon of light. The spire stands at the same sight as Nelson's Pillar which was destroyed by a bomb in 1966.

Base of Dublin Spire
Mary provided a few more details of places to see as we made our way to Kildare Street where the bus would park. We drove down most of Dame Street and passed the restaurant we planned to have lunch, "Queen of Tarts".

Dame Street with Queen of Tarts on the right
We passed Trinity College but did not plan to go there and take the tour or see the Book of Kells.

Trinity College
Mary was ecstatic when Tony found the perfect parking spot right on Kildare Street. She said is very unusual to find parking here and had planned for the bus to drop us off and to come back later.

We had about 2+ hours on our own in Dublin. If we required more time, we would take a taxi back to the ship instead of the tour bus. We disembarked and headed on foot back to Dame Street. It was about a 20 minute walk. Mother was getting ansy that the walk was so long. When we arrived at Queen of Tarts, the restaurant was very crowded and they suggested we go to their sister location just 2 minutes away on Bow Street.

We did as suggested and the other restaurant is bigger but it was also crowded. We found seats inside where it was bit warm. It was a very cute place but due to such close quarters and my rumbling stomach I didn't take many photos.

The menu isn't very extensive so we ordered quickly and hoped service would be fast. My mother had a salad which I didn't take a picture of but my sandwich when it arrived looked lovely. It was a sliced chicken sandwich with aioli and some cilantro. It was delicious!

Yummy Chicken Sandwich
When we finished our sandwich and salad we each ordered a one of the famous tarts on the menu. My mother had the Apple and I had the decadent Chocolate Pecan. It was soooo good!

Apple Tart
Chocolate Pecan Tart
Our lunch was great and the service was excellent. We then headed back toward Grafton Street to see Dublin's prime shopping area. Along the way we passed the Molly Malone Statue.

Nice family posing in front of the Molly Malone statue
Molly Malone was a fictional fishmonger by day and a prostitute at night. A song was recorded about Molly for the first time in 1883. Since then many other recordings have taken place, including one by U2. The statue if affectionately known as "The Tart with the Cart".

Grafton Street is a pedestrian shopping area with many high end retail establishments. There are many chain stores too but the buildings are very attractive and it is a nice place to stroll.

The store Brown Thomas is located here on the corner at the beginning of the street. We didn't go inside but the windows showed it was quite a nice store.

Brown Thomas
It is a very busy street!

Grafton Street

Lots of interesting places on Grafton Street
Being short on time, we didn't go into any shops. We were getting tired and decided to head back to the bus.

We walked down Nassau Street and spotted a very nice shop selling brass door knockers. Their prices were very reasonable too.

Brass Door Knockers
The store is called "Knobs & Knockers" and is located at 19 Nassau Street.

A great variety!
We went inside for a few minutes to take a closer look. The store also has a website www.knobsandknockers.ie

We trotted over to Kildare Street but as we still had some extra time went into the Kilkenny Shop to browse a little. This store is very touristy but they do sell Waterford and will ship to the US.

Kilkenny Shop selling Waterford Crystal
We didn't find anything to buy. Right next door is a shop selling very nice jewelry. The display was done beautifully. Prices weren't cheap though.

Very nice Jewelry
It was now time to say goodbye to Dublin and get on the bus. As we only had a couple hours here and spent most of it having lunch, we will have to return to truly experience the city.

Everyone came back to the bus on time and we drove back to the docklands area for the Ocean Princess.

Heading back to the Dock
As we got closer we noticed that the Seabourn Sojourn was parked at berth #2. It looked like you could walk to town.

Seabourn Sojourn
By contrast Ocean Princess was a bit further down, at berth #32.  We returned to the ship around 4:45 pm. We were very happy to be back on board! We went back to room and rested before our 6:00 pm dinner in the main dining room.

I took a few photos from our balcony of the ferries docked nearby. I believe one goes to Troon, Scotland and the other to Liverpool, England.

Our internal dinner bell rang and it was now time to head to the main dining room. Tonight is Italian Night which is celebrated in the main dining room with a special Italian menu and appropriately costumed waiters. I think the waiters really enjoy it. There were lots of smiling faces and it created a jovial atmosphere.

Italian attired waiters
It seems like we only ate a few hours ago but we still had an appetite. My mother ordered Eggplant Parmesan and I selected the Prosciutto appetizer.

Eggplant Parmesan

My mother then had a Caesar salad and I had the minestrone soup.

Everything so far was very good. For our mains my mother had what looked like "Seafood Shepherd's Pie" and I had Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Does this look Italian to you?

Nice smaller size portion of Spaghetti and Meatballs
The food was great tonight! We finished it all off with a little dessert and delectable Limoncello. It was the next best thing to actually being in Sorrento sitting beneath the lemon trees.

Limoncello, you get to keep the glass
We then retired to our room for the remainder of the evening. It was a great day in Dublin and a very successful dinner on the ship. Tomorrow we will arrive in Milford Haven, Wales and have another Princess escorted tour to look forward too.

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