Monday, 28 September 2015

Mug #15 - Dublin, Ireland

At the end of August I found myself with a couple of days off work before the new swimming term started and a strong desire to get back out of London and see somewhere new.

But where to go?

We - I went with my lovely girlfriend Liliana - needed a place that neither of us had been to before.

But there are a lot of places neither of us have been to, so how to choose?

Firstly, I only had a couple of days between a training course and starting back to work. So we needed somewhere that was quite close by. We didn't have the time to waste travelling great distances. Therefore, possible options included Paris, Amsterdam and Dublin.

We also had a limited budget and so to get the most out of our short trip and not bankrupt ourselves, we needed to be able to buy reasonably cheap flights. Now considering it was the August bank holiday weekend, that might have proved a little difficult to find. But in the age of the budget airline, we at least had a fighting chance.

We also wanted somewhere that we would have enough to see and do, but somewhere that wasn't so big, that when we left we felt as though we needed more time than the 3 days we had available.

Taking all of this into consideration I decided we decided - mostly me I think - that Dublin was the perfect choice for our first weekend away together.  It is a place I have always wanted to go to but have never had/made the opportunity to go to before. It is close, the flight from London to Dublin takes just 1hr 10mins and due to flying with the (budget) airline with the worlds most uncomfortable seats, it was very affordable too. We were able to find return flights from London to Dublin for just £57 each. Plus, on a map at least, it looked about the right size to be able to explore over a weekend.

So Dublin it was!

Here's a picture of our first sight of Ireland:

As these journeys so often do, our trip to Dublin started with an early morning - and me feeling sleep deprivation after a 3 day training course - and I don't like early mornings. They are for sleeping and occasionally getting home during but are never for - at least in my mind should never be for - getting up.

But get up early we did. Here we are pre 7am, pretending to be happy about the fact that we've had about 4hrs sleep (which is the fourth such night in a row for me).

Now I love travelling. The seeing new places, learning about different cultures and sampling new foods part. The actually travelling part however, that I'm a little less keen on. And although all in all our journey was ok, it seemed to be a little longer than necessary. Two buses to Liverpool Street Station, a coach to the airport, a flight on a plane with the worlds least comfortable seats - I know I've mentioned it before but seriously - followed by a bus journey into Dublin City centre. A little longer than necessary but the journey managed to pass by fairly quickly and without too much drama.

Finally arriving at the hotel however, I was more than a little disappointed. That's because looking at it from the outside, it looked like a bit of a dosshouse:

Fortunately the hotel was much better inside. The room was very nice and comfortable, if the view left a little to be desired haha:

Whenever I travel I like to indulge in the local delicacies. I was once - and to a certain extent still am - a fussy eater but when I travel I love to try new cuisines. So while in Dublin I thought it would be a good idea to eat something traditionally Irish. However, if the first question was; what is traditional Irish food? The second was; why is it so hard to find somewhere to eat nice reasonably priced Irish food?

The answer to the first question, appeared to be stew and other foods that didn't seem all that different to traditional British dishes and maybe that also answered the second question too. We did manage to find a couple of places that served Traditional Irish dishes but all at very touristy prices and so we decided to ditch the idea of trying Irish food and went with finding food that we knew we liked instead.

Like a burger!
One afternoon we ate at a place called Bunsen. The food was good and reasonably priced. In terms of food, price and restaurant decor I'd probably compare it with somewhere like Honest Burger. If you're looking for a good burger in Dublin - there might be better places? - I would definitely recommend Bunsen. We certainly left feeling full and satisfied.

One evening we also managed to find a great little place to eat seafood (my favourite cuisine). KLAW is the "cheeky love child" of Dublin Lobster and is a cool, cosy little place with wonderful food and great service, that is aimed at "bringing' crabshack dining to the city". I couldn't possibly recommend KLAW strongly enough. If you're in Dublin and you enjoy seafood, then it is an absolute must!

This is a little video of me in KLAW, where I "enjoyed" my first ever oyster:

Leaving KLAW we found a party in the street outside. There was a band busking and plenty of locals and tourists all dancing along in the middle of the Temple Bar area. It was a great atmosphere and one of the main reasons a lot of people head to Dublin.

We then had a gander in the actual Temple Bar:

Named after William Temple, the person it is believed the area gets it's name from. It was absolutely rammed - as you can imagine on a bank holiday weekend (or any other day for that matter) - so we had a little look inside but soon decide that it wasn't really for us and after a quick selfie:

- which admittedly looks as though it could have been taken anywhere (dark) - we decided to head back out into the street, to have a little dance and possibly find somewhere for dessert.

Now, although a lot of people go to Dublin for the craic and for the alcohol - and I can see why it is particularly popular with stag dos - Dublin is so much more than that. Now I'm not saying that I fell in love with Dublin but we certainly found plenty of things to keep us occupied and entertained during our short stay.

First we went in search of some of the main tourist attractions:

Trinity college:

& Dublin Castle:

& then we headed out to Phoenix Park, where a man called Kevin, who I once had the pleasure of meeting and working with, rode his horse each morning while he was in the Irish Army some 60 years ago:

where we sadly didn't manage to see any wild deer but we did see the Wellington Monument:

and also a guy on a very high bike:

We also made sure to take a tour around the Old Jameson Distillery, which was something of a bitter sweet experience for me. It was a very informative and interesting. However, at the end of the tour they give you some whisky to taste and then a voucher for a free drink at the bar. Which is great, at least it would be great, if I hadn't given up drinking alcohol two and a half years ago.

But I would definitely also highly recommend a trip to the Old Jameson Distillery. We had a great afternoon there (and I know me old nan did too, when she went with friends a number of years back):

Before we headed home we also had time to find a couple of great examples of graffiti:

for me to have a conversation with some statues:

for me to purchase the all important mug:

and even for us to see a protest march:

We had a brilliant time in Dublin. It was perfect for what we wanted. It was big enough and there was enough to do for a few days, without it being so big that we felt lost or swamped at any point. There was so much to see and do. Much more than we managed to see.

But although we had a great time, neither of us exactly fell in love with Dublin. I'm not sure I would go back? I can't really see that happening. I mean... I would be happy to return, there was so much that we didn't see or do like Dublin Zoo, National Botanic Gardens and the James Joyce Centre for example. However, I don't know what would bring me back?

My main problem was that it simply felt like it could have been a British City. I wanted it to somehow be and feel more Irish, more foreign. I would definitely like to return to Ireland in the future. But I imagine it would be to somewhere else, somewhere a little more picturesque maybe.

But I would like to return to Ireland one day and I would definitely recommend a trip to Dublin if you haven't been before and you're thinking of a nice little city break. It's just that with so many wonderful cities around the world, I might be too busy attempting to visit them all, to go back to Dublin again. Although of course, you never know what the future may bring.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Mug #14 - Broadstairs, England

A few weeks ago, on my return to London from Croatia, where I holidayed for 10 days - visiting Split, Vis and Pula - I found myself missing the sea. And so although it's not quite the same - I'm really sorry British seaside enthusiasts, as lovely as some of our beaches are, even on the rare occasions that we get the weather (usually for a whole day haha) it's simply not possible to have quite the same experience - as soon as I had a day free, I thought a trip to the seaside was in order.

The organisation of our trip - I went with my lovely girlfriend Liliana - was left up to me. Which is not necessarily always for the best. However, on this occasion I think that I did an ok job. Not that there was too much to plan. All I needed to do was to chose a beach and find a way - by which I mean book a train - to get there.

So where to go. Somewhere nice, with a sandy beach - something I found nigh on impossible to find in Croatia - which was easy and fairly quick to travel to from London. First I thought about Brighton. I like Brighton but it's a pebble beach and I've been there several times before. And so, although I don't have a Brighton mug, I really wanted to visit somewhere for the first time.

Next I thought about visiting Margate. Not least because of one of my favourite Only Fools And Horses episodes: The Jolly Boys Outing. I'm a huge fan of Only Fools And Horses. In a "knows all the words to every episode kind of way". But googling Margate - with all due respect to Margate - I thought that we might be able to find a better beach to visit. So I carried on my search and that's when I found pictures of Botany Bay. Now there is a beach I want to visit! Be sure to Google it and see for yourself. However, without the use of a car, it's not all that accessible from London. Therefore, in the end I decided upon visiting Viking Bay in Broadstairs, Kent. The main reasons for this being that it looked quite nice and was reasonably easy and cheap to get to on the train from Kings Cross St Pancras. And I'm glad that I did. I think it was a pretty good choice.

Viking Bay has a really lovely beach:

And we had a really lovely time there.

Now as is almost traditional now, these adventures tend to start with running and or a bit of a panic. It's bad enough when I'm on my own but this was only magnified by the fact that neither myself or Liliana are particularly punctual people and so - although it was due more to a lack of communication than being late - unsurprisingly we managed to miss the train I had planned for us to take. However, the trains from Kings Cross St Pancras are pretty regular and if anything the one we ended up taking was a little more direct and therefore took a little less time. Getting to Broadstairs took around 1hr 30mins and then for some reason it took around 1hr 50mins on the way back.

Upon arriving at Broadstairs station we followed the crowds - and even though it was the middle of the week and most people were working away in a stuffy office somewhere, there were a lot of people there, I don't want to imagine how busy it gets on weekends - down to the beach which was around a 10 minute walk from the station.

Broadstairs is very much your typical British seaside town and I mean that in both a positive and negative way. But I liked it - I think we both did? - and we did really have a great day there, walking along the beach, eating rock and taking lots of pictures:

Taken by Liliana Seca Santos

Taken by Liliana Seca Santos

After all that walking and picture taking, I found myself feeling a little peckish and although I was definitely a little tempted by the traditional fish and chips. Instead we managed to find a nice little place where I was able to enjoy one of my all time favourite dishes; whitebait:

Taken by Liliana Seca Santos

And of course, we also found enough time to purchase the all important mug:

I really liked Broadstairs. I personally wouldn't want to live there or even really stay there for more than an afternoon haha but it's a great place for a day trip out of London on a sunny day.

We had a lovely time - as I seem to keep repeating - and were back in London in time to celebrate my good friend Dom's 30th birthday - the one in the "birthday" tie - at this really nice pizza restaurant near Covent Garden called Homeslice Pizza:

Although this picture was actually taken in a bar around the corner.
Ps. for some reason I'm sucking on ice. Probably something to do with my bright red face?

And look at the colour of me in that picture! That's not a filter or anything. That's the actual colour my face was haha. Because in Broadstairs I managed to get something I didn't get while in the 35 degree sunshine of Croatia for 10 days... sunburnt haha.