Dublin Castle

My lovely flat over looks Dublin Castle, and it has taken me nearly two years to go in and actually visit it. I really regret that it took that long. I mean, I could have taken all my guests there instead of the Guinness Storehouse. I mean, I love the Storehouse but it would have been great to mix it up a bit, but it took my friend who has visited me five times to actually go.  She’s a massive history geek so perfect time to go and check it out.

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The tour was great, we were lucky in the sense that we rocked up at the right time without having looked it up at all and were able to get on the guided tour. It’s only €10 each for the guided or €7 for the self guided. The guided was about an hour and 20 min, with a tour guide who was informative and a good laugh, exactly what you need when you are wondering round looking at old stuff.

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With the guided tour you get to see the State Apartments, where the likes of Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II have been hosted. The Viking Excavation, which I personally love. Though it should be noted that this is not wheelchair accessible. It’s really interesting to see this part of Dublin’s history as it can be forgotten about sometimes. I think it was during a renovations that they found these chambers; you will view the Castle’s medieval curtain wall with a postern gate. But again, you can now explore but only if you take the guided tour, it’s well worth it. The Chapel Royal got it’s name after King George IV attended mass in 1821, though it is not the largest chapel in Dublin it’s architecture is fantastic. The coats of arms representing many of Ireland’s Viceroy which nerdy Felicity really enjoys! The tour guide is definitely the one who makes it so interesting which is why I would always push someone to spend the extra €3 and dot his one instead of the self guided.

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On top of all this you can see the exhibitions. Obviously this will change depending on when you go. And if I am honest we didn’t go, I was too busy dying from the flu (and yes, real flu, not man flu) but the things you do for friends when they make the effort to come see you!

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Must do Tours of Rome

I can see why people say that Rome is their favourite city in Europe. It’s full of incredible ruins, food and drink. You can’t turn down a street without find one of these things. We there for two and a half days and it was amazing. I will write about different parts of our Rome trip later on, but this is just about the two tours we did. I feel like these need to be given the recognition they deserve!
So my first bit of advice is to book your tours before you go! Or if you are super keen book your time around the tours you want to do. We used a company call “Dark Rome” to book ours, though when we got there it was under City Wonders. Having just looked at both their prices they appear to be the same which is good having just been and paid for the ones on Dark Rome! Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t cheap but they are 100% worth it! Plus occasionally they have deals on. We got our Vatican City Tour with about 15% off.

Colosseum
This is probably one of the most amazing buildings you will see. And probably one of the busiest. This was pretty hard for us, we’ve been to several “tourist” sites but nothing prepared for these. There were just so many people queuing to get in and so many people just trying to sell you crap. Really does take away from the beauty of the ruins but one of those things I guess.

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We ended up doing the Express Colosseum Tour with Gladiator’s Entrance & Arena Floor, the main reason we picked this was because the one we really wanted to do was sold out!! However, this was still fantastic. The tour guide was amazing, knew so much about the history of the building – what it had been used for, what had happened to it etc. It’s also really good as they give you head sets, so as long as you keep up with your group you can hear everything they have to say without worrying that you are stood too far away.
We also entered though the Gladiators entrance, which I have to say, was incredible. You get a real sense of what they went though, and you can just imagine the crowds and noise you would get from 50,000 spectators. In doing a tour as well, you miss the crowds and the queuing which means more time spent doing the things you love. When we were on the arena floor there was probably 2 or 3 other groups which meant there was a lot of space for everyone and you really got to take it all in. The only small criticism I can come up with about this part is you don’t get as much time I was would have liked. But that really is just my view because I’m one of those crazy people that could have stood there for about half an hour looking at it all.

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You get to walk around a lot of the ruins, though there were still a lot of areas you can’t get to unless you are on another tour. It’s amazing how much of the buildings features are still there. One of the reasons so much was lost is because the Popes of the time stripped the building of the metals that was holding it together! There was then an earthquake where half of the Colosseum fell down. But despite this, you can still see some marble seats, full pillars and the basement where the gladiators were held before the flights. Another reason I would suggest you get a tour is because they don’t really have too many signs around so you wouldn’t learn as much about the history of the building. We wouldn’t have had a clue what 90% of the stuff was, or how old it really was, or how it ended up in the state it is now.
A small side note, and not related to the tour, but make sure you walk past the Colosseum at different times, in the evening it’s obviously still a little busy but nothing compared to the daytime. We spent about 20 minutes or so one evening post dinner just relaxing out side it! It was pretty special, and no people selling us stuff!!

Vatican City
We were up early, super early, 5.30am to be exact. We arrived at the Vatican at 6.15am, with our booking not opening until 6.30am we had a wonder around the walls, which is where we came up to the front of the St Peter’s Basilica. AND IT WAS EMPTY! It was just incredible to see it like this. I’ve only ever really seen images of it packed. This made it feel magical. So get up early and go down, even if you don’t have an early tour, it’s worth it.

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Our tour was breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard, followed by a guided tour of the Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The breakfast was good, but nothing really to write home about, there were pancakes, food breakie, pasties etc, the things you would expect at a hotel breakfast. The view and setting is really what made it.

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Same as before with the Colosseum we were given headsets which was perfect. The amount our guide knew was amazing. They also had a flip book to show you some of the paintings original sketches so you could compare the original idea to the final master piece. One of these being Raphael adding Michelangelo into his fresco in the Papal apartments, The School of Athens; something you would miss without a tour guide! I loved every minute. I could have stayed looking at all these paintings all day, but the Sistine Chapel was calling. When we got there, it was busy but to crammed together. We could still find space to move around and not bump into people. It was about 10am when we got in, so the museum had been open for only an hour by this point. I have to say the number of people rushing past as to get to the Sistine Chapel was sad. It’s hard to understand why people would just walk past so many just as fascinating paintings to see one –especially when you have paid for it all!! But each to their own.

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The Sistine Chapel was breath taking. I did get emotional which I was surprised by. I have been dreaming of seeing these paintings for as long as I can remember. It honestly took my breath away. I know other people say it’s not worth it, but it so is. Get in early, book a tour and take it all in!! the craftsmanship of the men that painted them. The stories behind each fresco. Pure genius. We had 20 minutes in here, which to me was a good amount of time. Don’t get me wrong I could have probably spent a good few hours just in that room looking at each master piece but let’s be honest your neck would start to hurt after a while. Oh and BTW Michelangelo didn’t do his paintings on his back, he created his own contraption to be able to do it standing up apparently.
From here, it was onto St Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful. It’s the largest Catholic church in the world, and no other is allowed to be bigger. The dome is actually directly above where St Peter is apparently buried. The art work, which is all made out of mosaics are amazing. The smallest details are so impressive. And many look as if they are paintings until you get up close to them. If someone hadn’t pointed this out I don’t think I would have noticed.
Again, like the Colosseum, once we were in and the tour was over we were left there to enjoy ourselves. We climbed to the top of the Basilica, and it is well worth the 500 ish steps. It was an additional €8 each, or for an extra €2 you can miss the first 200 steps by getting the lift. I can tell you now it’s not worth the €2. Those first lot of steps are by fair the easiest you could do. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this is probably not for you, as you can imagine the walls curve in. Take your time and enjoy yourself once you are to the top. The view is incredible. Thankfully on the way back down you go a different way so you don’t have to squeeze past people. You come out on the roof where there is a small café and toilets. Grab yourself a coffee and put your feet up for a bit. It’s really just an amazing place to relax for half an hour!

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I couldn’t recommend these guys enough! Everything about them was so well organised.

Have you been to Rome? Did you do a tour at all while you were there? What did you think?

Trinity College, The University of Dublin

Conveniently Trinity College is all of about 10 minutes from my flat (the advantage of living so central!). I spend a lot of time just wondering though, I just love the grounds. But when you go, do remember though that this is someone’s place of learning – do try not to get in their way when you are taking pictures, it’s just not fair on them!

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Trinity was established in 1592, and currently ranked 88th in the world. It’s got a long history, you can just sense it as you walk through the door. The first “site” you will see is the Campanile of Trinity College. It was donated by the Archbishop of Armagh and completed in 1853. It stands at nearly 100-foot-tall, with the four figures at the bottom represent Divinity, Law, Medicine, and Science. If you study there don’t walk under it when the bells ring, superstition says you will fail your exams!

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The “Sfera con Sfera” or ‘Pomodoro sphere’ as it is known locally was donated by Arnaldo Pomodoro and made in 1983. It is located in front of the Berkeley Library. There are similar structures in New York, Berkeley, Tehran and Rome. In 2008, it went through a massive conservation project to get it back to the lovely shin of when it was first constructed!

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The Book of Kells is the most famous medieval manuscript and is located in the heart of Trinity Collage! And it’s well worth the visit, if you book online costs €13 each, €11 on the door. Though it may be more expensive to book online, I recommend if you are going in high season. It can sell out fast and you don’t want to miss out. The book of Kells consists of four Gospels, getting it’s name from the Monastery of Kells in County Meath. It is thought it was written around 800 AD. It has moved to Trinity College in 1661.

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The main chamber of the Old Library is the Long Room and is probably my favourite place in Dublin. You can just loose yourself in there. It’s nearly 65m long and holds around 200,000 of the oldest books in the Library. It really is one of the most impressive buildings I have set foot in. I would love to just read one of those books. There are marble busts that line the Long Room, depicting some of the greatest male philosophers and writers. How many do you know? Also when you first enter don’t miss one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

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Have you been? What was your favourite part of Trinity? Do you study there? What’s it like?

 

The Open Gate Brewery, Dublin

First of all a little disclaimer as I don’t want some people to get all antsy about it… The Boy is a Brewery at Guinness and works for the Pilot Plant which provides the beer for the OBG. But this is my view and only my view.

SOME OF THESE BEERS WILL END UP ON TAP AT YOUR LOCAL PUB OR THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD. OTHERS WILL NEVER LEAVE THESE WALLS.

– GUINNESS WEBSITE

If this statement isn’t motivating enough to get you try some of those exclusive beers…With seven beers on tap, rotating as and when they run out, you rarely get the same beer twice. This can be a great thing – I love to try something new, but every now and again disappointing when they don’t have one on you really liked. Though I have learnt from this and have started to get a growler to take home if I really love it. Another great aspect of the Brewery!

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Located just behind the main Storehouse it can sometimes get looked over but it’s well worth a look in. Book online for only €6. For this you obviously get your entry but also a flight of beers (or pint!) of your choice. You really can’t go wrong. Once you finish those don’t worry you aren’t just limited to the one, they have a fully functioning bar so carry on ordering away. Though sorry if you’re travelling with kids, this is a strictly over 18s venue! It is also now Wednesday-Friday, adding another day just before summer.

I enjoy going in and being surprised by what they have in – see if I can find that beer to fit my mood, normally a post rough day at work or Friday Night Drinks! But if you can’t wait they do try to update their website with what’s on. On a side note, it’s a shame that their Twitter is clearly run by a Marketing Team so the vibe of the place is never really given off. Lots of structure, less fun, and well much more marketing! And they don’t have Instagram! Clearly the thoughts of someone who enjoys their Social Media!

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The bar actually looks onto the brewery, or more realistically is part of the brewery! You can see all of the equipment, barrels and every now and again a late worker! This is great, especially if you’re as noisy as I am. But remember it’s a working brewery, so pretty much just giant stainless steel vessels, but still pretty cool to see.

Obviously I have to write about the beers so I’ve just picked a couple that I loved from my last visit –

Citra IPA – You can actually get this one in a few select pubs and bars in Dublin which is great! Lots of citrus flavours coming through from the hops with a slight pinie note. This is a great summer beer.

Hells Yeah – Unfortunately this is one of those that has left us now! I actually got the last ¾ of a pint! But it deserves a mention… Made with German Malts and Hops gives this German style beer an authentic taste. Slight malty with a little bitter edge to it. It’s well balanced, and very easy to drink!

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So whether you’re visiting with friends or live in the area, pop down to the Open Gate Brewery for a cheeky one…or two…or three

The Guinness Storehouse

You can’t live in Dublin and not write a blog on Europe’s leading tourist attraction. The Guinness Store House has over 1.4million tourists visiting last year! And I’ve been 4 times!

First and foremost, book your tickets online! Beat the queues!! You’ll thank me later!

It consists of 7 Floors – Ingredients, Brewing, Tasting, Marketing, Pour your own Guinness, Dining and the Gravity Bar. It’s a self-guided tour so no set times to arrive by which I find a lot nicer and more relaxing. It means you’re not tied down and can insure you get to do some other things before without any time pressure. They do however, do an introductory talk at the beginning if you miss the talk just make sure you see the 9000 year lease in the floor! And look up, the Atrium of the Storehouse is the world’s largest pint shaped glass. Also don’t forget to walk around the outside and fine the famous James Gate Gate! img_20160923_173633

Now let’s go floor by floor…

Ingredients – I have to say I think this is one of my favourite parts! They have the four ingredients all set out in pretty large consistencies. There is almost a sandpit of Barley, img_20170206_212249_390stick your hand in and feel it round through your fingers. See how tall the Hops can grow. Try to peak in and see the Yeast in the safe, protected from all competitors. Hear the waterfall of Water rushing down, brewers are very protective of their water! It’s very informative if you don’t know a lot about how beer is made. I however have been to many brewer tours, plus you tend to pick up a few things when The Boy is a brewer with a Masters degree in it! But I think that Guinness have done a great job in the way they have set it up, very original! Compared to others they have managed to make it a feature of the tour rather than just having it there for the sake of it.

From here you go up a floor to the technical part – how they make the brew! Though first you do go through moving portraits which I just find odd (read pointless)! It’s about Arthur Guinness…the founder if you didn’t know. They clearly don’t have some pictures of him 20161113_140050and his family so they get “normal” people to talk about him and his life. I personally think that this could have been done in a different way but hey-ho each to their own. Anyways, head through there and you get to how they brew The Black Stuff (which isn’t black at all, its Ruby Red in fact!) Remember that – you’ll get a cheeky extra taster later on! You’ll learn about how they roast the barley to 232°C, mashing it to create wort, fermenting it to get that lovely alcohol and everything in between! It’s really interesting! And again well done by Guinness. Follow on to where you can watch videos of Cooperage and how Guinness made it around the world (over 150 countries!!). Spot the sculptor of the “Guinness Pint – Made of More” depicting the past and future of Guinness. It was done by more than 20 artists and took more than 600 hours to do, take time to appreciate their work.

Head on up and don’t miss the Tasting Rooms like two of my friends did! Though this was entertaining to watch as they got on to the escalator with no way of coming back. You go through to a white room filled with aromas of beer. You get given a teeny tiny perfect “pint” of Guinness and get taught how to drink it – sounds odd but it is fun to do! Remember the colour of the beer – if you’re lucky this is where you’ll get an extra taster! They also have all the aromas in smoke form, gives the room a Willy Wonka vibe!

Keep on going up, this time to the marketing…I think this will appeal to the older generation a bit more – all those adverts they grew up with are there as well as some of the newer ones. Don’t miss the room of screens were you get submerged into their adverts. I really love their adverts, I actually don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Their marketing team has always done well, from the super simple posters to the completely out there TV adverts. And the fish on a bike, a classic!

Now if you’re a bar(wo)man this is a lot less fun, it will remind you of all those times someone came in, ordered 5 drinks and then saying they will have a Guinness at the end! Probably the most annoying thing someone can do as to get the perfect pint it takes at least 2 minutes, doesn’t sound like a lot until you have 5 other people waiting to be served! But if you’ve never poured a pint its good fun. You’ll learn how to pour the perfect pint and why it’s done that way. You can opt out of pouring your own if you think you’ve had enough experience or really want someone else to serve you. You also get a little certificate to show off to your friends. And well, you get your pint! Time to head on up for the final time and drink up…20161113_151038

 

To the Gravity Bar you go! 360° (almost, the stairs up block some of it off if you want to be pedantic about it) of Dublin! If you didn’t know Dublin is VERY flat so the bar is the highest point and you can see all the way across to the Aviva Stadium and further! Try and pick out the highlights of Dublin, they do give you some clues as to where to be looking! Try to get a seat, relax, and drink up!

Sláinte