(Day nine part 2 recap of my late April Ireland trip.)
My friend Kim and I are beer snobs. We love stouts and porters, especially if they're microbrews. We've tried Guinness before, but here in the states it normally comes in cans, so I've never really liked it that well. But people who have been to Ireland and the UK told me I had to try Guinness from the tap. Apparently this stout tastes so much better straight from the keg and when it's poured by someone who knows what they're doing.
|Finally, the famous brewery!|
Despite our reservations about Guinness, Kim and I were excited to try Ireland's National beer in its home country. After a week of traveling around Ireland, sampling pours from various pubs, we were solid fans.
|Unique tour group|
The final day of our Rick Steves tour, we had another entire afternoon on our own to see more of Dublin's sights. When planning our trip, Kim and I had both agreed a visit to the famous Guinness Storehouse had to be on the agenda. I'd purchased tickets for a mid-afternoon tour that day, which happened to be a Saturday, and unbeknownst to us, also happened to land on a bank holiday weekend.
|Colorful skybridge at the Guinness Storehouse|
After our most excellent tour of Glasnevin Cemetery, the bus dropped us back at our hotel. Since the storehouse tour wasn't until 2:30, Kim and I and Debbie, another tour-mate that had become a friend, decided to find a bit of lunch. We headed towards a restaurant that others had recommended, only to discover it was closed for lunch on weekends. Continuing down the same street, we found another place that looked good - but it wasn't opening for another 10 minutes. Not wanting to venture any further, we hung out at the doorway until someone unlocked the doors, about 5 minutes after their advertised opening. Irish time!
|Here we go - the front entrance!|
The restaurant featured wood-fired pizzas, but when we ordered the sleepy and possibly hung-over waitress (who admitted she needed her morning coffee) said that the oven was just getting fired up and wouldn't be ready for a half hour. On to plan B - burgers! Not wanting another Guinness so close to our tour, I ordered a Murphy's Red Ale. It was so good I wished I would've tried this beer sooner. Our lunch took a bit longer than anticipated, so when Kim and I were finally finished, we knew there wasn't time to walk or take transit over to the storehouse. We needed to hail a cab.
|Ode to the founder|
I thought we'd have to walk all the way back to our hotel to find a cab. But as we stepped out of the restaurant, we spied one in front of the door, stopped in traffic waiting for the signal. After motioning to the driver, he gladly invited us in. The cabbie took off at a breakneck pace - we'd be on time for our tour no problem!
|Lots of interactive displays|
The city was full of people and traffic. The cabbie told us not only was this weekend a big bank holiday for Ireland, there was also an important Gaelic football match in town today. That explained why everything was so busy. When we reached the Guinness Storehouse, the street outside was swarming with people. Good thing we'd pre-booked our tour.
|"100 barrels of beer on the wall..."|
I read somewhere that in 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the brewery site at St. James's Gate. This place wasn't going anywhere!
|We rode an escalator through all 7 floors of the place|
We would learn later that the 7-story Guinness Storehouse is the number one tourist attraction in Ireland. And we'd chosen a Saturday on a bank holiday weekend to visit. As Kim and I walked through the front door, we were confronted with hordes of people. Taking the escalator to the first floor, a band was playing extremely loud music. Not exactly the experience I was hoping for.
|The advertising floor was by far the most interesting|
The Storehouse's seven floors surrounded a glass atrium in the shape of a Guinness pint. In this atrium was an escalator to take visitors up to the exhibits. Kim and I dutifully followed the arrows on the floors that led through the place. The second floor featured the four ingredients (water, hops, barley, and yeast) needed to make this special beer. The exhibits were interactive, but there were so many people it was hard to get up close and read everything.
My favorite part of the museum was the floor that featured all the Guinness advertisements. There were lots of old posters, life-size mascots (such as a turtle) and the company's famous harp logo.
|A fish riding a bicycle??|
They had a larger than life sized fish riding a bicycle (which actually moved.) Not sure what that was all about - I guess if I'd grown up in Ireland it would make more sense.
|Showing off my strength|
Although the advertising floor featured some interesting things, and cool photo ops, I was getting tired of all the people. Time to head up to the top floor, dubbed the Gravity Bar, for our free pint of Guinness that was included with the tour.
|The famous Guinness harp|
If I thought the exhibits were crowded, I was in for a rude surprise. After hiking up the last three floors on various stairways, we reached the rooftop Gravity Bar on floor seven. It was packed to the gills with people. A DJ in one corner was blasting some type of techno music. It was crowded, hot, and noisy. I wasn't impressed.
|Claiming our reward at the Gravity Bar|
Kim and I squirmed our way up to the bar and each redeemed our tickets to claim the free pints. Looking around the bar, all the tables and chairs were full and people were standing. I spied a group of men around a table who were beginning to show signs of leaving and hustled over to claim their spot. They weren't window seats, but with the sun streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was glad to avoid the solar heating (with all those bodies it was warm enough already!)
|The place had floor-to-ceiling glass windows|
The large windows were the main feature of the Gravity Bar. Through these tall glass panes one had amazing views of Dublin. Kim and I took in the scenery while enjoying our pints.
|We enjoyed 360 degree views of Dublin|
Not only the outside, but the inside scenery was mighty interesting too. With the huge crowds, it was people-watching at its finest. Most of today's visitors were younger, and many were dressed oddly (to us old ladies anyway.) There appeared to be several bachelorette parties going on. We heard many different languages spoken.
However, it didn't take long before the noise and crush of so many people got to us. So Kim and I finished our beers, did a quick walkaround to snap pics of the Dublin skyline, and then followed a never-ending staircase all the way back to floor one.
|View in another direction|
On the first floor, I made a quick trip through the gift shop to pick up a couple of t-shirts and other souvenirs and then we got the heck out of there! Although I'm glad we visited the Guinness Storehouse, the noise and crowds were so overwhelming, it kind of soured my opinion of the place.
|Lots of horse drawn carriages for hire outside the Guinness Storehouse|
Since the Guinness Storehouse is so popular with tourists, there are many different modes of transport waiting on the streets outside. I saw several horse-drawn carriages parked by the curb, just waiting for someone to hire them. I'm allergic to horses, so it wasn't going to be me!
Instead, Kim and I hailed another taxi from the lineup of cabs at the front door. This driver was really nice and talkative, answering our questions about the bank holiday. Since we were flying out Monday morning, Kim and I were nervous about the airport being full of travelers returning from vacations. The cabbie said he'd be happy to take us to the airport that morning, so we reserved him for Monday. One less thing to worry about!
|Outside view of the Guinness Gravity Bar|
Back at the hotel once again, it was time to get ready for our final event as a tour group - the farewell dinner. We gathered at the hotel's front door and followed our faithful guide Pascal through the crowded sidewalks of Dublin to a restaurant in the heart of downtown.
|Final group dinner with our Rick Steves Tour|
Due to the bank holiday and sporting events, the place was packed with diners. But our group had a reservation, and we spread ourselves out between four adjacent tables. Kim and I sat with our buddies Kim and Alicia and also tour-mate Jane and her husband.
|My gal pals|
After everyone had been seated Pascal made the rounds letting us all know the first drink was on Rick Steves. I wasn't planning on consuming any more alcohol, but a free drink was too good to pass up! However no more beer - I'd had enough today. So I perused the mixed drinks menu. Since I almost never drink the hard stuff I figured this was the time to try something different. Having no idea what to order, I asked the waitress for a recommendation. Her suggestion was the blueberry margarita, a specialty of the place. It was a hit! One of the other ladies ordered a drink called "Are you happy?" and it arrived with a huge bubble over top of the glass. She tried very hard to keep the bubble intact for a few quick photo ops.
|The waitress recommended a blueberry margarita - delicious!|
Although I wasn't impressed with the food at this place, it was nice to gather with my tour-mates for one final dinner. We had a great group of people and over the course of eight days, many of them had become friends.
Our table happened to be located next to a large window. As we were being served dessert, the skies opened up and the rain came down in buckets! It was kind of entertaining to watch the people seated outside make a run for the restaurant's dining room. Many of the other pedestrians scattered. Umbrellas popped up while other not-so-fortunate folks held jackets over their heads. A line of people took shelter under the restaurant's awning, which was right outside our window. Naturally, this was the only time I'd left my raincoat back at the hotel!
|Towards the end of dinner it started to pour|
Lucky for me, the deluge let up before our dinner was over. The sun came back out, and the numerous puddles in the street were the only evidence of this recent downpour.
|Pascal gave us all cute little sheep keychains|
At the dinner's conclusion Pascal had a surprise for us all. He gave each tour member a copy of the group photo that had been taken that morning. Pascal also produced a bunch of keychains with cute sheep on them, and each person got one as a gift from our wonderful guide.
|Kim and I pose with our "buddies"|
Finally we trooped out of the restaurant. Many hugs and photos were taken. Kim and I posed for a pic with our tour buddies, Randy and Jessica. Such nice people - I was sure gonna miss doing buddy checks with Randy!
|A final photo with our fabulous guide Pascal|
Pascal gathered us together one final time. He said he'd really enjoyed our group - he praised us for always being on time for everything. I don't think anyone ever was late or held up the group (I may have gotten close a couple times!) And Pascal was right - we did have a bunch of wonderful, funny, considerate people on this tour. I enjoyed meeting them all and was sad that it was coming to an end.
And of course, the feeling was mutual with Pascal. He was such a nice man, amazing storyteller, and worked so hard to make sure we had a first-rate experience. Pascal's pride in his country showed and he passed his love of Ireland on to us all. I was sure gonna miss him!
|St. Stephens Green in the evening|
After the group dispersed, Kim and I took a detour through St. Stephen's Green. Now that the rain had blown by, the skies cleared to reveal a gorgeous evening.
The park was full of people enjoying themselves. The low angle evening light illuminated the ponds and vegetation beautifully. I'd left my big camera at the hotel, and was kicking myself for not having it with me. My phone would have to do.
|Lovely pond and swan|
Most of our tour group gathered later in the hotel bar for a final nightcap with Pascal. It was a lot of fun, chatting with these wonderful people (and Pascal) one last time. But the hour flew by too quickly and soon it was getting late. Many tour-mates were leaving bright and early the next morning and had to get to bed. So one final round of goodbyes and hugs were shared before bidding everyone goodnight.
But Kim and I had weren't leaving tomorrow. We'd booked an extra day in Dublin to tour the nearby ancient burial mounds of Newgrange and Knowth at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne.
Join me for my final Ireland post coming next!