Downeast Cider House

December 14, 2014 – We like to support local breweries, wineries, and things of that nature when we can, and this past weekend we headed downtown to the Downeast Cider House.  Their building location is in a series of warehouses next to/under a giant overpass.  It’s not too tough to find during the day, but the ambiance is probably a bit different if you go when it’s dark out.

We too the tour, which was interesting, informative, and included cider samples.  The original cider was very good – it actually tastes like cider, but with a kick – and we really liked their spiced winter cider as well (we liked it so much we bought a growler of it after the tour).  The experimental sour cider was interesting, though opinions were split on the cranberry cider and the cider with saison yeast.  They were also selling fantastic home made cider doughnuts which were fantastic (and trust me, we like and have eaten many cider doughnuts).

The Piano Guys

December 9, 2014 – We ventured down to the Alewife station and then took the Red Line into town to see The Piano Guys at the Wang Theatre.  The theatre itself is a gorgeous older, well-maintained theatre with large staircases, views over the central space from the various landings, and an ornate ceiling.

The Piano Guys started the concert in near total darkness.  We thought it was just part of the show, but it turns out the house lights were having problems and needed to be reset.  So they just laughed about it, hung out on stage and tried telling jokes.  Once the lights came on again they made more jokes, then started the show over.  As good as they sound on YouTube, they’re ever-so-slightly-better live.  The show was about 2 hours, with an intermission, and ended with a singalong to Silent Night.  We highly recommend their music and shows, particularly if you can go around Christmas time.

King Johns Castle

Limerick City

November 28, 2014 – Do you remember when you had to stand in long ticket lines to order and pick up tickets for that early train ride that you had to wake up at 5:30 to catch? Yeah, we don’t either. We’ve always used online ordering and automated pick up machines to get our tickets, and today was no exception.

Early Morning Bus Stop
Many signs are in both English and Irish. The first line probably reads something like “Why are you up so early?”

(Louisa here) Our plan was to catch a bus over to the Heuston station.  We got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, and enjoyed a pastry from Spar while we waited for the 7:14 departure.  People wave the bus down by sticking out their arm, since each stop is serviced by multiple double-decker buses.  The drivers also take off rather quickly, so make sure you hold on.

If you time it right, you can use the momentum from the bus stopping to whisk yourself to the upper deck.
If you time it right, you can use the momentum from a stopping bus to whisk yourself to the upper deck.

(Tony again) I don’t think Louisa conveys just how important it is to hold on when boarding the bus. Remember that scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet takes Spaceball One to Ludicrous Speed? (Go ahead and watch, we’ll wait.) Yeah, it’s kind of like that. You don’t want to be the one flying to the back of the bus because you didn’t hang on. Stopping is the same concept. They must have forged those brake pads from unicorn dust, because their stopping power is magical.

Most of the Intercity trains that we rode had electronic seat reservations.
Most of the Intercity trains that we rode had electronic seat reservations.

Once we were at the station we got some tea and pastries, and settled in to wait for our train.  After a nice ride with one stop (where the trains wait for all other trains to show up and exchange passengers), we found ourselves in Limerick. One nice thing about ordering tickets online, besides the lower price for reserving early is that you can also reserve specific seats on the train. You may not know which direction the car is facing, but you will have seats together.

We saw the first glimpse of sunlight on the way to Limerick.
We saw the first glimpse of sunlight on the way to Limerick.

Once in Limerick, we wasted no time in walking through city center to the River Shannon. Our first destination was Saint Mary’s Cathedral, where we saw many traditional Celtic Cross headstones in addition to the cathedral itself. If you tour the cathedral, you’ll be able to read about its history while checking out the bright stained-glass windows.

Saint Mary's Cathedral has the longest stone high altar on the island.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral has the longest stone high altar on the island.

Our next stop was King John’s Castle, about a block or two from the cathedral.  I didn’t have a SIM card yet, so we took the long way around to access the free WiFi offered at the City Council building. We also discovered that the city council building had some interesting artwork, because we could see it from the window where I was picking up the WiFi signal.

The grin is because I found a public WiFi network.
The grin is because I found a public WiFi network. The artwork is behind me just outside the frame.

The castle and visitor center is wonderful opportunity to learn about the history of Limerick, and see a well-preserved castle that was originally built in the 13th century.  We thought that the new visitor center had a good mix of text and interactive displays, and also had some games for the kids. Protip: Don’t aim the cannon too high to overcompensate for the fact that your first shot was way too low. The cannonballs will leave the exhibit and fly through the rest of the level, dumbfounding your wife. For the castle itself, there were a few tower viewpoints and some archaeological exhibits that highlight different times during the castle’s history. There was also an awesome cat roaming the castle, probably belonging to one of the neighboring houses.

The views from the tower are not to be missed.
The views from the tower are not to be missed.

All of this exploration requires food and ale, so we made our way to Locke Bar & Oyster House for a late lunch. Originally, I ordered the Fish and Chips and Louisa ordered the Irish Lamb Stew. Apparently, I was feeling lamb more than Louisa, so we made a swap and were happier. I don’t think you can go wrong with either dish, and they were made all the more enjoyable with a pint of Guinness. (See, I told you we’d get our fill in on the trip!)

The pub was right off the River Abbey.
The pub was right off the River Abbey.

We didn’t have too much time left in town after lunch, so we made our way back to the train station via a couple parks and a Meteor store for a local SIM card. After doing some research, I found that Meteor had the best plan for “Pay as You Go” with a decent amount of data so I went with it. It was a pretty quick process, and the data plan was up and running with in 45 minutes of leaving the store. Coverage was decent in the cities as well, so I will probably go with them for future trips to Ireland.

We also caught sunset from the train.
We also caught sunset from the train.

After taking the train ride back to Dublin, we paid O’Sheas Merchant pub a visit for dinner and ale.  This time, both of us got Steak and Onion pies and a pint of Smithwicks. It was on the early side, so we didn’t really catch any live music during the meal, but the food was excellent. After dinner, we caught a bus back to the hotel to prepare for another early morning.

Custom House

Exploring Dublin

November 27, 2014 – The worst part of arriving into a new city on a red-eye is not having any sleep during the flight, and having 8 hours of daylight before sleep is even an option. The best part is having a full day to explore the city that would have otherwise been taken up by the plane ride.  That is why we prefer red-eyes, despite the sleep deprivation.

Taxis are out bright(?) and early.
Taxis are out bright(?) and early.

We started the day with a bus ride into the city from the airport, where we drove past much of the city center to College Green.  From there, we walked to the Luas Green Line and eventually arrived at our hotel to drop off our bags. We decided on the DoubleTree at Burlington Road because of a great rate and good reviews. (Tip: By booking early, we got a rate that was about half off the normal rates for the area. That’s why we tend to check rates early and often when booking hotels.) The location did have us walking a bit more than normal on the weekend to catch some Intercity trains, but we’ll dive into that more later.

We saw the first hint of sun just after 8:00.
We saw the first hint of sun just after 8:00.

After regrouping (without our bags), we decided to get breakfast around the corner at Cafe Java. The best part of mornings in Ireland and the UK is the traditional “full breakfast” that can be found in many restaurants and B&Bs. Most of the time, they will appear on the menu as a “Full Irish Breakfast” or “Full English Breakfast” depending on what country you’re in. Just be mindful of where you are, and maybe don’t order a “Full English Breakfast” when you are in Ireland or Scotland. Louisa did enjoy the crispier, thick cut bacon in Ireland compared to other bacon (still thick cut, less crispy) that we’ve had in past trips to England.

We took a shortcut through St Stephen's Green.
We took a shortcut through St Stephen’s Green.

After breakfast, we spent much of our time on foot and walked through St. Stephen’s Green to Trinity College. No, we didn’t have the dreaded 8:00 Intro to Computer Engineering class to get to. (Maybe grab a coffee if learning JK flip-flops before 9:00.) Instead, we wanted to see The Old Library & Book of Kells exhibit.  The Book of Kells is amazingly preserved, and there aren’t many places where you can see a work from the 9th century presented as well as this. The Old Library is just as spectacular and is not to be missed.

The book on assembly instruction sets is just up there on the right.  No, not that one. The one next to it.
The book on x86 instruction sets is just up there on the right. No, not that one. The one next to it.

After leaving the library, we took the LONG way around to the Museum of Archaeology because we had issues with map and sign reading. We may have been just 50 feet from the entrance before going around the ENTIRE block. And by block, we mean a 0.8 mile walk. After finding the entrance, we spent a good few hours examining their well-designed exhibits on Irish and Viking history. All of the museums around that large block are well done, and are worth at least a quick visit.

Go ahead map, rub it in with your clearly marked museum location.
Go ahead map, rub it in with your clearly marked museum entrance location.

Next stop, pub. We found one of our favorite pubs of the trip, called the Brew Dock, by walking over the River Liffey and by the Custom House. While we definitely got our fair share of Guinness and Smithwicks on this trip, we were also happy to find a place that served great food (curry and potato soup with bread in this case) and a nice selection of craft beers.  An aside: If you are traveling to Ireland for the first time, we’d recommend reading up on pub etiquette before you go. The toughest thing for us to figure out was deciding whether there was table service for food, or if everything is ordered through the bartender. If you are just getting drinks, claim a seat and just go up to the bar to put your order in.

Next stop: Four Courts.
Next stop: Four Courts.

After the pub, we took a ride on the Luas Red Line to Four Courts, and walked through Dublin Castle area. On the way, we stopped briefly at Christchurch for some photos and toured the Chester Beatty Library. There were quite a few great exhibits at the Library, and it is worth a visit if you are walking through the area. By this time in the late afternoon, we were starting to really feel the all-nighter from the plane ride. So, we did what any overly tired person should do when the fatigue sets in: the Guinness Storehouse.

We know you've all been waiting for it, but this is not a photo of the Guinness Storehouse.
We know you’ve all been waiting for it, but this is not a photo of the Guinness Storehouse.

Overall, I thought that the exhibits were pretty well done and full of information about the history of Guinness, and a good summary of the brewing process.  That being said, it is a pretty loud experience and perhaps not the best thing to do on little to no sleep. The view from the Gravity Bar was great though (this is the last stop on the tour), and seeing the sunset while drinking some Guinness was a good end to the first day. The only downside is that it does get pretty crowded, and seating is pretty limited as a result. Overall, it was a pretty good tour, but we’d pick a time when we are more well-rested to go through the storehouse.

The views from the bar were quite good.
The views from the bar were quite good.

After the factory, we made our way back to the hotel for a picnic dinner courtesy of Spar. Normally, we’d go to a pub or restaurant for dinner, but we were just too tired and wanted to get something quick. An added bonus of getting back to the room was that we got to watch some Thanksgiving NFL football with cold cuts and cheese. Gobble Gobble.

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