Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Metropolis of Dublin

 (Day seven part 2 recap of my late April Ireland trip.)

After visiting the fantastic monastery of Glendalough and the pretty gardens at Powerscourt, (if you missed that post you can read all about it here) it was back on the bus for an hour's drive to our final stop in the Rick Steves tour, Ireland's capital city of Dublin.

My tour group gathering outside our Dublin hotel

As our bus drew nearer to Dublin, the buildings got denser and traffic thicker.  Exiting the main freeway onto more local streets our bus slowed to a crawl in the city's gridlock.  But we eventually arrived at our lodging for the final two days of the tour, a place located in the heart of downtown.


Grand entrance to St. Stephen's Green

Suitcases unloaded from the bus one final time, we bid a fond farewell to our fabulous driver George before dashing across a multi-laned road (including light rail tracks!) to our hotel's front door.  After checking into our rooms, Kim and I had a lovely hour to unpack and chill before reporting for the next item on our tour's agenda.

Pascal giving us an introductory tour of Dublin

It's amazing how fast time flies by, even when you're doing nothing.  In no time Kim and I were grabbing our coats and bags and hustling downstairs to the hotel lobby to meet up with our guide, Pascal.  Pascal gathered us together and led the group onto the sidewalk.  We ambled past a huge park called St. Stephen's Green, a mere four blocks down the street from our hotel.

The streets were full of pedestrians

After strolling the length of St. Stephen's Green, Pascal had us hustle through a very large intersection.  Once across we began walking down a extremely busy pedestrian street called Grafton.  It looked to be the main shopping area of downtown Dublin.  Every retail brand you could ever imagine was here - even Starbucks, McDonald's, and the Disney Store!

Starbucks man

Grafton Street was absolutely packed with people.  After spending the better part of a week in small Irish villages, walking the crowded sidewalks of Dublin was quite the culture shock.  Kim said it felt like she was in New York City or San Francisco.

One of many flower vendors

The amount of people on the streets of Dublin surprised me, because by population, Dublin's metropolitan area is smaller than the Portland metro area, where I live, by about one million.  However, when I compared the relative sizes of the cities, Portland is much more spread out than Dublin (145 square miles as opposed to 45.5 square miles.)  So I guess Dublin is just much more denser than Portland.

There were people everywhere!

Despite dodging people (and later buses, autos, and bikes when we left Grafton Street) it was fun to see the many sights and take in the vibe of this cosmopolitan city.

Molly Malone statue

Giving us a quick tour of some of the major Dublin sights, Pascal took us by the famous Molly Malone statue.  Commemorated in a famous song set in Dublin, legend has it that Molly Malone was an attractive fishmonger.  The song Molly Malone is said to be the unofficial anthem of Dublin.  Pascal said that if one touches a certain part of the Molly Malone statue it's supposed to bring good luck.  He didn't divulge exactly where you were supposed to make contact, stating we could probably figure that out for ourselves.  (I'm sure you all can too!)

Along O'Connell Street

Grafton merged into Westmoreland Street, and we continued through the busy avenues of Dublin.  Numerous buses, cabs, autos, bicycles, even scooters, all shared the roadway, with us pedestrians dodging all these modes.  I witnessed a near collision between a pedestrian crossing against the light and a scooter going full speed.  Luckily, no one got hurt but it was close!

Lots of transportation modes

The roadway we were following passed over a bridge spanning the River Liffey, the main waterway through Dublin.  This bridge was called the O'Connell Bridge, after Daniel O'Connell, one of Ireland's heroes (more on him in a later post).  As our group stopped to gaze downriver, a bunch of kayakers paddled by.

Kayakers in the River Liffey

On the opposite side of the river our street transitioned into O'Connell Avenue.  This huge boulevard featured two lanes in each direction of travel and a wide median in the middle.  The median was home to several sculptures commemorating famous people in Irish history.  We'd get a much more in-depth tour of this street on another day, but for now Pascal merely pointed out a few significant points of interest.

Dublin's light rail

One such item was a tall, needle-like tower called simply "The Spire."  Completed in 2003 it was built to celebrate Ireland's bright future in the third millennium.  This stainless steel spire was the winning entrant in an architectural competition to replace Nelson's Pillar, which was blown up in 1966.  The tower stood a lofty 393.7 feet tall (or 120 meters.)  Pascal commented that not everyone loves the spire and it's garnered many not-so-flattering nicknames, such as "the nail in the pale," "the stiletto in the ghetto," or "the pin in the bin."  (And a couple other funny off-color monikers that I can't include in this family-friendly blog.)

Base of the Spire

Here at the Spire Pascal ended our evening's tour.  From this point on we were free to explore the city and find dinner wherever we liked.  He gave out a number of restaurant recommendations, which some of the more prepared people in our group thoughtfully wrote down on their paper maps.  (However, the unprepared people like me listened to all Pascal's suggestions and then promptly forgot most of them!)

Hot chocolate break

After our group broke up, Kim and I scanned the street around us.  Where to go first?  I spotted a Starbucks on one corner, and since I collect the Starbucks "been there" mugs, suggested we pop in and see if they had one for Ireland (they did!)  After that, Kim spotted a chocolate shop and of course we had to check that out.  Upon walking through the door, who did we spot but Kim and Alicia, our tour-mates!  Everyone got a hot chocolate and I had the ladies pose outside with their sinfully delicious drinks.

Checking out the shops

Kim (my Kim) and I asked if we could hang out with Kim and Alicia for the evening.  These ladies were so much fun!  We'd hit it off from the first day and enjoyed their company.  To begin with our group picked a random street and headed to the opposite end, checking out the shops along the way.  Kim (Alicia's Kim) spotted a huge toy store so we stepped inside to investigate.  The place had every Lego set ever made (or so it seemed.)

Selfie with the Spire

Stepping back outside onto the crowded street, I spotted a great view of the Spire.  It was such a good vantage it warranted a selfie with the all the ladies.

The Church restaurant

Kim and Alicia were interested in checking out a restaurant Pascal had recommended called "The Church."  Apparently the place was located in an old cathedral that had been deconsecrated and remodeled into an eating establishment.  It sounded great to Kim (my Kim) and I so we set out to find the place.

This restaurant was in an old church

Locating the restaurant was no problem.  Stepping inside, the place was absolutely hopping.  We had to wait for a table, so to bide the time my friends and I found a spot in the bar area.  A band was setting up to play traditional Irish music, and rumor had it some Irish dancers were also going to perform.

They left the organ in place

While waiting for our table, I gaped at the huge, ornate building around me.  It was the most amazing and unusual place I've ever had dinner.  The original stained glass windows had been left in place, as had the organ in the choir loft, high above the main dining area.  When finally ushered to our table, we noticed a large inscribed rock slab on the adjacent wall that appeared to be a gravestone.

Dinner table pic

Our food was just okay.  But the best part of having dinner at the Church was that occasionally two Irish dancers would step upon a makeshift stage and perform Riverdance style.  Our table wasn't close to the stage, but we could hear the tapping of the dancer's shoes.  When one of us heard the dancers starting up, we'd grab our phones and run over in hopes of getting a video.  It was an amazing thing to watch!  The dancer's legs moved as fast as lightning.  

Here's the video I was able to get of one of the dancer's sets (excuse the very poor light quality, I don't know what happened.)

Evening light on the Spire

After dinner, listening to music, and occasional rushes to the stage to watch dancers, my friends and I were ready to return to our hotel.  After paying our bill we ventured back onto the even more crowded streets of Dublin.

Ha'penny pedestrian bridge

There were people everywhere!  It seemed everyone was done with work and had gravitated to the bars and restaurants to relax.  That's one thing I noticed about the Irish people - they loved to gather in pubs and socialize.  An important part of the Irish culture, these folks knew how to enjoy life to the fullest.

Ready to walk across the bridge

My friends and I walked up a street and came to the River Liffey.  Not far away was an ornate white pedestrian bridge spanning the river.  Called the Ha'penny Bridge, it was an important Dublin landmark.  I suggested to the ladies we stroll across it.

Selfie on the bridge

We pushed across the bridge with a couple hundred other pedestrians.  Pausing in the middle of the span, I snapped a quick selfie of the group for posterity (and to prove we were there!)  The we re-joined the flow that carried us to the river's opposite side.  From here I could see the O'Connell bridge and Westmoreland street and remembered that this was the route we'd traveled during our afternoon tour.  I motioned to the ladies I'd found the way back.  But someone (I think it was one of the Kims) spotted a cool, brick alley and suggested we duck down it to see what was on the other side.  Before I knew it, my friends had disappeared into the alley and all I could do was follow along.

Alleyway we ducked down - and then got lost

On the alley's other side was a street full of pubs.  We'd unknowingly stumbled into the Temple Bar district.  The sidewalks were packed with patrons, all in various stages of inebriation.  We ambled through the crowds, gaping at all the interesting bars.  Neon lights blazed and colorful banners were strung everywhere.  People from the bars backed up out the doors into the street.  It was quite the sight to behold.  We strolled around for a good bit of time, just taking in the mayhem.  Then after about 10 minutes of wandering it dawned on us four ladies that we hadn't the foggiest idea where we were - or which street would take us back to the hotel.  Uh-oh!

Wandering through the bar district

Alicia's Kim pulled out a paper map.  My Kim pulled up Google maps on her phone.  I tried my luck with the paper map I had.  But....there were no street name signs (we later discovered they were posted on the sides of buildings).  And the streets in this area were aligned at funny angles, so it was hard to gauge direction.  With all the tall buildings overhead Google maps didn't seem to work very well.  We walked one direction, nothing looked familiar, so we turned around and walked a different way.  I'm sure my friends and I went in circles several times.  Soon it began to get dark and we were all starting to tire.  But despite our predicament, no one panicked.  As a matter of fact, everyone kept a good sense of humor about things.  Someone remarked that we'd all laugh about this later (we did).  

Still it wasn't a good feeling to be lost in a strange town in another country.  After wandering for the better part of an hour, and getting nowhere, Alicia's Kim asked a man smoking outside of a bar if he knew how to get to St. Stephen's Green.  Thankfully the man was able to point us in the right direction.  After walking down one street, someone spied a sign for St. Stephen's Green.  Then we saw another guide sign.  Finally, some of the landmarks began to look familiar.  When we passed by the tall stone archway above St. Stephen's Green, we all sighed with relief.  Our hotel was now just a few short blocks away!

After getting lost I needed a drink!

Upon our return to the hotel, Kim and Alicia, tired from the night's misadventure, went straight to their room.  But after roaming lost around downtown Dublin, Kim (my Kim) and I decided we needed a drink.  So we stopped off in our hotel's bar and each enjoyed an alcoholic nightcap.  I ordered a Bailey's hot chocolate and the waitress, who didn't appear to originally be from Ireland, commented that she'd never heard of such a thing but it sure sounded good.  And it was the best Bailey's hot chocolate I've ever tasted!  And the prettiest, dusted with chocolate powder on top and served with a tiny biscuit.

My first night in Dublin had been quite a memorable experience.  But it had ended well, and now my friends and I had a good tale to tell.  And looking back, getting lost really hadn't been that bad.  It turned out to be a friend-bonding experience!

Tomorrow there was more exploration of this bustling city on the agenda.  Join me for Dublin day two, coming in my next post.


  1. ...I love the streetscapes and of course the flower vendor!

  2. When it comes to seeing a city, getting lost can be every bit as good as joining a tour. It must have been quite a shock after being in the more remote parts of Ireland.

  3. Great trip report, I enjoyed your Dublin photos. Take care, have a great day!

  4. What an adventure and a happy ending too.

  5. Dublin looks amazing! Thanks for taking us along with you!

  6. Sounds like a bonus adventure!

  7. What fun! Such a great adventure.

  8. Great tour, I can see why they do not like the spire, even the broken nelsons pillar looked better, they should have left it as it was

  9. A great adventure! I've got to have a Bailey's hot chocolate!


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