Ireland Trip 2023

Our first international trip since New Zealand, right before the pandemic, finally arrived. Robert and I had never been to Ireland, and when Icelandic discount airline Play started flying out of Boston last fall, they had such good deals (connecting through Iceland) that I snapped up five tickets for just after school ended in June. I booked us one checked bag (the smaller-sized tier) when I booked the tickets, and we used a large backpack as that; otherwise we were just traveling with five “personal items,” a backpack each for the kids and a tote bag and small purse for me.

On June 21st we headed out. We had a couple hiccups getting to the airport—nothing dramatic, but first our train was pulled out of service two stops from home and then we waited 15 minutes for another, and then we got to Chinatown and had a nice Vietnamese lunch but then left a backpack in the bakery. I noticed this when we had walked eight blocks to South Station and were waiting for the Silver Line to the airport, so Robert jogged back to Chinatown and got it. Meanwhile we all waited, and several buses went by. Then in the airport we found out that Play can’t use the main terminal bag check-in kiosks, so you have to stand on their specific line. We were very straightforward because I had read the info and measured everything ahead of time, but the 20 people ahead of us all had bags that didn’t quite fit as (free) personal items, so then they squished them and argued and measured them again and argued some more, and then the airline person made them pay $50 to bring it as a carryon. That all took over an hour in line, so by the time we did that and got through security our flight was already boarding.

But I wanted to fill our water bottles before the flight, and the first water fountain after security was out of service and the next one was just coming out at a trickle and had a very long line, so to fill four water bottles took a significant amount of time. But we made it, eventually, speed-walking from the water right onto the plane, and then had a lovely flight. It was five hours to Iceland, then just enough time in the airport (it’s their longest day of the year so it was broad daylight at 4:30am when we landed) to get Helen and Marcus and Robert slices of breakfast pizza and use the snyrtingaar (we always remembered the Icelandic word for bathroom from our trip in 2015 because it was so long and cute) and walk right onto the next plane. After just two hours we landed in Dublin. Helen and I slept all seven hours of the flights, and Samantha and Marcus less so but still some (maybe 3-4 hours) and Robert not at all. He doesn’t sleep on planes. Unfortunately Marcus had massive pain and pressure in/behind his eyes when we were descending into Dublin. He’d never had that before, but he was crying and saying “my eyes! My eyes! They’re going to pop! They’re going to explode! It hurts!” and there wasn’t much we could do for him. It dissipated when we were on the ground but only to the level of “a normal really really bad headache,” he reported. He looked green for the rest of the day, and the next day still had some pain, though less and only on one side, before it finally passed. Reading a bit about it, we gave him a decongestant and then treated the pain with Advil, which seemed to help.

From the airport we took the Dublin Express into the city in beautiful sunshine to drop our bags at the hotel, the Hotel Maldron in Parnell Square, just a short walk from the Eden Quay bus stop. It was actually a very easy airport/city transfer, and the hotel had a room ready for us, so we were able to put things down, wash up, and head right back out.

Spotted around Dublin: a "Happy 1000 years" sign to the city (take that, Boston and your "Oldest Public Park! Oldest Public School!" signs!) and a Slattery's Pub. We got bubble teas and fresh fruit lemonades in Parnell Square as we walked around, looking at the bullet holes in the GPO from the Easter Rising, and looked at the big spire monument.

The snacks helped everyone (plus an iced coffee helped Robert, who was starting to get a tad zombie-like) and then we walked along the banks of the River Liffey. Helen skipped a lot, and I was fascinated by the regularly-spaced life preservers alongside the river. Boston doesn't have these lining the banks of the Charles--what gives? Various locals I asked this to, over the course of the next few days, told me "Oh there's always young people who have too much to drink near the water" but insisted that drowing in the Liffey isn't really a big problem.

Our first stop was Epic, the Irish emigration museum with some really nice interactive exhibits. Helen particularly loved it (this will become a refrain of our trip…): she learned about hurling, and got to hold a hurling stick, and she also followed the printed footsteps.

From there we went to the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a famine ship docked in the river, and did a tour of that. It was really good, and all the kids enjoyed it, and learned a lot. This ship never had a single person die on it, and apparently had a combination of a progressive owner and excellent ship’s doctor. There's also a pub in JP named after it.

Next we walked across the river into the Temple Bar neighborhood and found a place for dinner at the unfashionably early time of 4:30 (it was deserted, but Robert was thrilled they had an early bird special before 6pm that gave you a free appetizer with a main course). We had fish and chips, chicken boxty, black pudding, seafood chowder, and Marcus wanted a burger. We ordered the burger rare and the waiter was shocked and said “Rare? RARE? Wow. Well, I’ve never had that happen before” which we found amusing. (Marcus said it ended up medium rare, which ime is usually what happens most places and tends to be what we want, and quite good).

We made it back to the hotel before people crashed. It was a bit of a broken night, but the girls got fully 12 hours of solid sleep. Marcus and I got about 8-9, since he was up and down with pain in his sinuses, and Robert got a little less (he first spent over two hours on the phone with T-Mobile trying to sort out why everyone else’s phone was just working flawlessly in Ireland, but his was not).

We all enjoyed the hotel buffet breakfast, though don’t ask Robert or Samantha about the ”smoothies” (green, thin, with chunks in them). Robert asked someone else in line for the buffet “what do you do with the beans?” and the woman (who seemed to be English) said “oh, just the normal way you have beans for breakfast” and Robert told her we don’t normally have beans for breakfast. “Then when do you eat them?” she asked him, surprised.

Our morning activity on this fine Friday morning was a historical walking tour of Dublin via donut shops, so we walked over to the Rolling Donut on King Street to meet our guide. The tour lasted 2.5 hours and we walked all around central Dublin, seeing things like the recording studio U2 used for the Joshua Tree; the Quakers’ headquarters where they coordinated soup kitchens for famine relief; the bullet holes in the post office that the rebels hid in while the English shot at them in 1916; the original bridge across the Liffey and the original boundaries of the river before landfill; and lots more. We also saw a hen party on a biking bus that very slowly crept through traffic, pedaling, singing along to “It’s Raining Men,” and looking quite happy. Helen was fascinated.

Our guide happened to have a 12, 13, and 14 year old kid so he was good at talking to all of us. There was one random woman from Arizona along with us, but otherwise just our family. We stopped at four different donut places and each got a donut from each of them (and each got one drink total from any of the places—Robert got a coffee at the first place, I got an iced tea at the second, and the kids had thick Spanish-style hot chocolates at a third, a churro place. The donuts were very fun, though way too many, but even though it was a gimmick, it was enjoyable and educational, and now we do have plenty of donuts left over for breakfast tomorrow. At the end of the tour the guide checked to see what each of the kids remembered from things he had mentioned near the beginning—Samantha got the population of Ireland before the famine correct (8 million), Helen got the Irish word for donut right (taeschino—not the right spelling but that’s how you say it) and Marcus got the guitarist Luke Kelly, and then he gave each of them a donut animal keychain and a donut sticker.

After the tour we went to a Xian “street food” Chinese place to get some handmade noodles and a thing called “spice bag,” which is apparently what Chinese restaurants across Ireland have figured out—a bag they throw some Chinese-style fried or popcorn chicken into, and some French fries, and then assorted spicy seasonings, like Szechuan pepercorns or chilis, or minced hot peppers and onions, etc. It’s very compelling, and fun to eat out of the bag.

Across the street from that we went to a little Japanese place, Maneki, for dalgona matcha and for made-to-order onigiri, and then we went to the National Museum of Archeology just up the block to learn about passage tombs and bog bodies and bogs in general.

The museum was great, and even though we didn't go above the first floor, it was really engaging and interesting. Marcus was pretty done at this point, and still had a headache, so he sat down and read, but Helen walked around and did the kids’ activity guide with Robert while Samantha discussed the intricacies of human sacrifice with me.

From there we went to Merrion Square playground for awhile—the day was less nice than yesterday, 70 and cloudy and spitting, but still pleasant enough, and the playground was packed.

Marcus said his head suddenly started feeling “one notch closer to tolerable” around 4pm, so that was progress. He also remembered that he had a minor nosebleed on the plane about 5 minutes before the pain started, but he hadn’t connected them at first. We took the opportunity of him feeling better to recreate a picture (below right) that we took in New Zealand at a playground there, since we happened to see the same kind of swing here (below left). The kids were all game, but wow--I didn't realize three years changed them so much!

Meanwhile, we walked over to St. Stephen’s Green, about which the guide had told a story of how the English and Irish were entrenched on opposite sides of the park during one uprising but called a cease fire every day so the keeper of the park could feed the ducks. The kids thought that was pretty neat (Helen included that detail in a journal entry, even).

From there we walked to Iraqi food, and then stopped for curry chips a block or two later from a halal takeaway. (Curry chips are Samantha-approved.)

As we walked back to the hotel after dinner, Robert debated about whether or not he should have a Guinness. He finally convinced himself that he should, but most pubs were too busy for all five of us to go in and sit down. I kept busy taking pictures of different interesting buildings (Dublin pride was tomorrow so there were sooooo many flags and rainbows). Back at the hotel, everyone got washed up and into bed and drifting off around 8pm.

We had a good night’s sleep. Helen and I each slept 11 hours straight and Robert got maybe five hours. Marcus and Samantha read for awhile and then got about eight hours each. In the morning I made tea on the electric kettle in the room (they even have shelf-stable milk they give you) and the kids ate leftover donuts. Then we walked to the Dublin express bus stop to head back to the airport, to pick up our rental car, but since it’s pride there were a lot of street closures (plus side: we got to see lots of the floats as they were lining up before the parade, as well as lots of decorations and even a pride-themed fire truck).

Stil, all the bus stops on our side of the Liffey were closed, so we had to detour further than we had planned to get the bus. But it was fine, and we found a functioning stop eventually.

Once in the car, with Robert bravely driving on the right side of the car (that’s the left side of the road) and Marcus even more bravely sitting on the left side of the car, we stopped at a local Irish fast food place (Supermacs) at a gas station to get sausage rolls, chicken, an ice cream sundae, some unusual candy bars (Nestle toffee crisp), and “dressed” fries with garlic and cheese. I wasn’t expecting it, but the “garlic” was a lot of ladles of a Middle-Eastern style white garlic sauce, and then there were handfuls of shredded cheese dropped on top of that. Samantha was not a fan, but I also had crackers and cereal and freeze-dried fruit in the car that she consumed.


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Created: 7/2/23. Last Modified: 7/2/23.