Best Parks in Dublin

Green leaves, pink blossoms, and flowering vines dancing across stone hedges. It’s time to visit the best parks in Dublin.

It’s been a very long winter. I spent so much time feeling cold that my only wish was for summer to arrive so I could finally warm up. I forgot about spring, the season that spoils us with beautiful growth and teases us with anticipation for great things.

The city is lit up in colour with flowers blooming in gardens, pots and trees. I also love the rogue wild flowers scattered across the grass where they shouldn’t be. I need to give myself extra time to walk everywhere because I always get distracted and smell the flowers. My latest addition to the soundtrack of my life is “Flowers in your hair” by the Lumineers since I’m constantly sticking flowers into my curls while humming the tune.

One of my favourite pass times is hanging out in a park, drinking coffee while sitting on a bench or journaling with my back against a tree. Here’s an inside scoop on the parks I frequent in Dublin.

Stephens Green

Yes, given its location right next to Grafton street it’s almost always bustling, but it’s still a park worth visiting. There are ducks and swans swimming in the pond, plenty of flower beds, benches, and a beautiful small bridge. There are also a few trees that have a PERFECT cove for you to nestle into. I love to grab a hot chocolate from Butler’s on Grafton Street and then relax in the park for a few minutes.

Best Parks in Dublin
Stephens Green

St Kevins Park

There’s a beautiful park just off of Long Lane, hidden away from the chaotic bars on Camden Street. It’s much quieter and smaller than Stephen’s Green, which makes it a great place to read a book. At this time of year the pink blossom trees are in their full glory and there are tulips and other flowers for you to enjoy.  On the small side but I think it’s one of the best parks in Dublin.

Best Parks in Dublin

Palmerston Park

Yesterday I discovered my new favourite park while getting lost looking for a gym that I’m sure doesn’t exist. As soon as I walked in I fell in love with it. It made me want a picnic immediately. It’s quiet, has great trees, and is full of tranquility. It is the perfect place to have a peaceful picnic while the day drifts away.

Best Parks in Dublin

 

Iveagh Gardens

A stones throw from Stephens Green, this big city centre park is much less touristy. A great spot to have a picnic or just chill while you’re on your break from work, this park is a locals delight. It’s also the location of many city festivals such as Taste of Dublin and summer concerts. Easily one of the best parks in Dublin.

Best Parks in Dublin

Spring puts joy in my heart, a lightness in my step, and flowers in my hair. It’s a good season.

Best Parks in Dublin
Even the vines climbing sidewalk hedges deserve some attention.

Best Parks in Dublin

Interested in Dublin? Check out my post on How to Become a Dublin Local in Under a Week

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#76 – Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

I crossed something off my Before 30 list this week. #76 Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

My friend Louise and I hanging out by St Patrick's Cathedral for the parade.
My friend Louise and I hanging out by St Patrick’s Cathedral for the parade.

Ireland is a small country with big history. According to Google, Ireland’s population is sitting at 4,487,000 and the size of the country is 84,421 km². To give you some perspective, Canada’s population is 34,482,779 and the size of the country is 9,985,000 km². Ontario, a single Canadian province, has a population of 12,851,821 (2011) and is 1,076,395 km². It would take me longer to drive from my hometown to my university (which were both in Ontario) than it would for me to drive from one end of Ireland to the other. Even though Ireland is relatively small, Saint Patrick’s Day reminds us of how big of a presence Ireland has on the world stage. There is something about this culture that makes everyone wants to be at least a little bit Irish.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national holiday. Saint Patrick’s day, a religious fest, was first celebrated in a quiet fashion in Ireland around 500 years after the saint’s death (March 17, 460, 461 or maybe 493) (The Little Big Book of Ireland). In 1903, it became a public holiday in Ireland, and pubs were ordered by law to remain closed. Since the law has been abolished in the 1970s, it seems there is a lot more drinking than feasting happening on the holiday.

Green!
Green!

Facts:

– Guinness has lobbied the Canadian government to make Saint Patrick’s Day a national holiday

– Chicago dyes its rivers green on St. Patrick’s Day

– Savannah, Georgia (home to the world’s second-largest parade) dyes its fountains green on St. Patrick’s Day

ref. The Little Big Book of Ireland

I had to work on Paddy’s Day, but I made sure to do a few cliche things during the day. I checked out the parade, had an Irish coffee at a traditional pub, and had some Guinness stew and a pint while listening to a musician belt out some tunes. The parade was underwhelming considering I could only see the tops of

I missed the ladder memo.
I missed the ladder memo.

the floats and the occasional flag waved from a marching band. People get there extremely early to stake out the prime real estate and some individuals go so far as to bring ladders to climb and perch on. Everyone was decked out in green, orange and white and the giddy children running around in the rain with their faces painted were adorable. I wanted to avoid Temple Bar because I knew it was jammed with tourists so my friend and I checked out a pub on Thomas Street that was filled with locals. I can’t believe it was the first time I had an Irish coffee because that drink is designed for me — black coffee, whiskey, and topped with cream. Delicious. There were some older people sitting around playing some trad music and everyone sang along, making it a very cozy atmosphere.

I don’t have many crazy stories from Paddy’s Day, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to reflect on a few of my favourite Irish things.

Music: I LOVE how much of a role music plays in the Irish culture. Anytime I’m in a room where everyone is singing along to an old Irish tune I have a big silly smile pasted on my face. Everyone knows the words to these songs! Ireland is a perfect representation of how music brings people together, and I love it.

Beauty: When I get out of Dublin and drive through Irish countryside I feel like I’m in a movie. The stone hedges, rolling green hills spotted with fluffy sheep, and trees reflected in shining lakes take my breath away. I will never tire of this country’s beauty.

People: Irish people are very friendly and in my experience they love to help you out and will chat your ear off if given the opportunity. On the other hand, once you get to know them their way of being friendly is to “take the piss” (translation – slag, chirp, tease, etc). I now know when they tease me about Canadian’s being slow, it’s out of love. Or that’s what I tell myself…

History: It’s hard for me to comprehend how much older Ireland is than Canada. There is so much history rooted in this country it overwhelms and challenges my mind.

Whiskey: I was never interested in whiskey before moving to Ireland, and now I fully appreciate the culture around it. I’m really into wine so it just makes sense that I’d appreciate whiskey tasting as well.

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I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!
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I made some Bailey’s Irish Cream cupcakes in honor of Paddy’s Day. delish.

Note to self: St Patrick’s Day is March 17. After making the mistake of booking (and consequently cancelling) a cheap flight to Edinburgh on March 17, I’ll never forget international drinking day again.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

I’m a contemplater, which means I often get really philosophical about life and simple realizations tend to blow my mind. I turned 24 on Saturday, and leading up to my birthday I was bombarded with feelings of awe and wonderment at life.

I had a moment of clarity while thinking about where I was a year ago and how I thought the next year of my life would look at the time. On my 23rd birthday I was living in Armstrong, BC, having just left Australia suddenly, and I had my first shift at a job that I quickly learned to hate. My “plan” was to live in Canada for three

My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.
My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.
I’m sure Banff is one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever see.

months while waiting for my new Australian visa to be approved then catch the first plane back to sunny Queensland. I never could’ve predicted what was in store for me, and in hindsight I’ve realized that life is truly what you make of it. I chose BC rather than move back to Ontario partially because I didn’t want to settle in too much and uproot my life and my relationships when I left Canada “in three months”. Eight months later, my current relationships deepened, I started a brand new, sure to be life long friendship, I was stunned daily by the glorious mountains surrounding me, and I discovered new passions. What started as a transition stage of life turned into a major chapter, a chapter where I learned to be more open minded, that I love to cook with alternative food, and that I’m obsessed with mountains. Most importantly, I learned to never sit still and let life pass you by. I learned to find something good about every day — whether it was going for a walk with my sister and brother in law, having a delicious coffee, reading a good book, waking up and seeing sunshine flood through the windows, or witnessing hoarfrost twinkle on the trees, there is always something good in every day. I had a regular customer at a restaurant that I worked at in Vernon, and without fail he would always say “every day is a good day, and some are better than others.” It’s those simple things that are what’s best about life.

Now I’m 24, I live in Ireland, and I have no idea where I’ll be in a year from now. It’s an exciting age, because I’m starting to figure out what kind of

Coffee time in Stockholm.
Coffee time in Stockholm.

person I want to be and what I want out of life, but I still have time to change my mind a whole lot. I could settle down at any time or I can keep globetrotting. I can party all night or I can stay home and read a book. I can wear my nose ring and still be taken seriously. I can dance like crazy or sip on wine while discussing philosophy and values. I’m finished my degree but could still get a Masters. The options or endless, and I’m so grateful.

I want to be the kind of person that follows through. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it. I said I wanted to move in October, so when I was offered a job in Dublin I did some research and applied for a visa after five days. I said I wanted to travel Europe this year, summer specifically, and I have flights booked to Edinburgh, Brussels, and Barcelona, and plans to see many more countries in the warmer months. I’ve been talking about getting a tattoo, so I went for it. I said I wanted to be settled in Dublin in a week — I did it in five days. I’ve found my favourite coffee shops. I’ve seen Irish countryside. I’ve had a pint of Guinness and different kinds of whiskey straight. I can sing along to a few token Irish tunes. I say “half three” instead of “three thirty”. I live in Ireland, and after having Australia snatched out from underneath me, I feel a sense of urgency to enjoy each day and every cultural experience. I can’t waste any time.

The world is at our finger tips and all I have to do is seize the good opportunities, have some music ready to make the soundtrack to my life, and bring a water bottle and maybe an apple or two. There are so many countries to explore, coffees to drink, songs to sing, and people to  learn from. I can’t wait. Life is thrilling and utterly unpredictable, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

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The amazing Wicklow Gap.

Road trippin’

Fodors-quote2

When I pictured what life should look like in Ireland, it always included road trips on narrow country lanes with plenty of sheep, castles, greenery, and tea. Take a very random group of people, a deal from Pigsback for a two night stay in Tipperary, and a little red car and I finally got my road trip.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Work colleagues — two boys and two girls. James, an Irish lad, is best described as someone who has all of the fun all of the IMG_6624time. He’s a little outrageous, and some may say he has a few hippie-like qualities. Izabela is a passionate Polish girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to make sure everyone else knows as well. She’s good craic and often wants to “do something crazy.” Shane is your token surf boy who looks more American than Irish. He comes across as very civilized at first and then as he becomes more comfortable he starts cracking the dad jokes one minute and doing a headstand the next. As for me, let’s just say that if you had to pick a character from Friends that I’m most similar to, it would be Monica. I bring the snacks and the itinerary. Together, it’s an interesting dynamic.

We didn’t get out of work will about 6:00am Sunday, so we aimed to leave between 2:00-4:00 that afternoon. It wasn’t an ambitious plan, but nevertheless it failed. Here’s a little break down of what happened during those hours:

2:00 — Iza is showered, packed, and ready to go. I’m baking muffins. The boys are nowhere to be found.

2:30 — Iza is starting to get antsy, I have finished getting ready, both Shane and James are not answering their phones or responding to Facebook messages.

3:15 — James is alive! Still no sign of Shane, who also happens to be the driver.

3:30-4:00 — James tries to protect Shane’s well-being (from Iza) by trying to find his home number to hopefully contact Shane and salvage the day. I proceed to run errands.

4:30 — James discovers that Shane has been sleeping INSIDE James’ house the entire time.

6:00 — We finally depart Dublin.

The road trip consisted of a little McDonalds takeout, scenic views of street lights, and some classic shimmying and fist pumping to Backstreet Boys, 2Pac, Vitamin C, and Michael Jackson. We got a deal from Pigsback for two rooms in the Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf Resort for 89euro a room/two nights. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, but breakfast each morning was delicious and the leisure center was good fun. During our first visit to the leisure center we encountered the very hospitable Tipperary folk. You know how after sitting in the car for a couple of hours and working over 24 hours in two days all you want to do is relax in a hot tub for a while? Relaxation was our number one priority, so we beelined to the hot tub. Now, my job is to chat with people. I am a full time schmoozer. After a long weekend, the last thing I want to do is make idle chit chat. We finally get into the hot tub and Shane is already there, chatting away with a lady who had the thickest Irish accent I have ever heard. Shane seemed to understand her, but he bailed shortly after we got there and left the two foreigners to carry the conversation. Making conversation is one thing, but pretending to understand someone is a whole other level . This woman was extremely friendly, but for all I know she could have been saying cruel things about me while I smiled and nodded along, and there were numerous moments when I’d just keep nodding until I realized she had asked me a question and I had to guess if I should respond with “I’ve been in Ireland since the end of October, came here to travel,” or “Yes I do love castles” or “Sure I can turn the bubbles back on.” Combine her heavy accent with a too full hot tub that had aggressive bubbles shooting into my face and it made for a fairly comedic, less than relaxing experience.

Teeny tiny stairwells!
Teeny tiny stairwells!

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park was next on the itinerary. The boys enriched our cultural experience by pointing out many “watch towers” during the drive and providing us with numerous “facts” about Ireland. Touring around the castle was fascinating and the artifacts on display made it easy to imagine how it looked when people lived there hundreds of years ago. I could imagine the feasts and parties taking place in the banquet hall with people in beautiful hand stitched gowns and handsome jackets, drinking a little too much and dancing not hard enough. I pitied anyone living in the castle who might have been claustrophobic — the narrow stairwells would have been a daily living nightmare. The Folk Park was a lot of fun as well, and was a great historical glimpse of how life used to look in Ireland. I definitely recommend checking it out.

As for the rest of our getaway, what happens in Tipp, stays in Tipp.

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So excited to see a castle!
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One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

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Inside a heritage house

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Mission impossible: finding the best coffee in Dublin

Coffee in Dublin can be summed up by one word: mediocre. I haven’t had many awful coffees, but I’ve only had a few “great” coffees. I was spoiled when I lived in Australia — coffee culture is really taking off in Brisbane, and I was able to enjoy a high standard of specialty coffee while living there. When I returned to Canada I couldn’t go back to percolated coffee, and was constantly disappointed by any espresso based drinks I ordered. In Canada, you have to be in the right city for good coffee. Toronto has a good coffee scene, but most Canadians are happy with a quick double-double from Timmies or a latte from Starbucks. I think it’s a reflection of culture. Canadians are business oriented and coffee to us is functional — it wakes you up and helps you get through the work day. Australia is big into day time culture, so people often treat going for coffee as a big part of their social life, therefore it’s a higher standard of coffee. I think the whole world knows that Ireland is a night time culture kind of city. Generally speaking, people go for pints here rather than coffee. That being said, Ireland is still a part of Europe, and Europeans are big into coffee. Cafes here are equipped with quality coffee machines and there are plenty of shops to choose from. I think the biggest problem is the lack of training here. Being a barista is almost a trade in Australia and people get paid fairly well in the service industry, whereas it’s not valued as much here in Ireland. You know coffee culture isn’t great when cafes advertise pictures of awful latte “art” on their front stoop.

Nevertheless, I have found some good coffee in Dublin. I have been gallivanting all over the city ever since I’ve arrived, and I have a few favourite spots and a couple of places to avoid.

1. 3FE

My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)
My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)

The “best” coffee that I’ve had here was from 3FE. Good barista, good blend, good presentation, organic milk, reasonable price. From Dublin’s standards, these guys are in a league of their own. There’s two locations — one in Dublin 2, one in Dublin 1 (both of which are too far to be my “local” shop). 3FE easily boasts the highest standard of coffee that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Don’t ask for soya milk because they don’t have it. They only make coffee the “right” way — no modifications.
You know a place is good when it’s known in the international coffee community. One of my friends in Brisbane owns One Drop (GREAT coffee) and he sent me 3FE’s webpage, and when I went to the “best” coffee shop in Stockholm (Drop) and told the barista I live in Dublin all he said was “3FE”. To be fair it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had, but it’s high quality and makes me extremely happy.

2. The Fumbally

A hipster haven, The Fumbally is a trendy shop with a cool ambiance. Wood furniture, big windows, social tables, and happy houseplants all make for a cool vibe. They make a great latte, but the one time I ordered a long black it was mediocre at best. They serve breakfast all day and try their best to use only organic ingredients.

3. Butlers Chocolate Cafe

Yes it’s a chain, but these guys make a great soya cappuccino. It’s a little bit more expensive (3.50 for a soya cap) but I find the coffee to be consistent no matter what location I’ve gone to throughout the city. The coffee they use has a  beautiful bold, chocolately taste, and goes especially well with soya milk. The best part of Butler’s though is the free chocolate with every drink order — I go for the 70% truffle or the double dark chocolate!

4. The Humble BeanIMG_1715

Great food, good cappuccino, cute cafe. I ordered a soya cap and she brought out a regular cap, which was delicious and had a pretty pattern. I was trying to avoid dairy though so I got her to bring me the soya coffee, which wasn’t nearly as good. It’s hard finding a barista that can heat soya milk properly.

5. Baxter and Green

Good takeaway coffee. Stronger taste. Delicious.

Honorable mentions:

Cup, Carlisle’s, Clement & Pekoe

Overrated (from a strictly coffee standpoint)

Metro Cafe

Coco and Busyfeet

The Coffee Society

The Bald Barista

Now I’m no coffee expert, and coffee that I like might be totally different from the person. I’m just a gal who REALLY loves coffee. I have many more cafes I need to try in Dublin, and if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Christmas in Ireland

Grafton Street at night.
Grafton Street at night.

I have now spent Christmas in three different countries — Canada, Australia, and Ireland. An Irish Christmas is comparable to Christmas in Canada in terms of food, traditions, and decorations. The main difference is that in Ireland it’s all about Christmas – there’s no “Happy Holidays” here. Being a predominantly Catholic country, people don’t worry about being offensive if they wish someone a happy Christmas, whereas Canada is an extremely multi-cultural country and it’s common for all of the different religious holidays to be celebrated.

I’m currently working as a floor supervisor at a new bar in Dublin, and spent most of my holidays making sure all of the Christmas party bookings ran smoothly. It was an extremely busy couple of weeks, and every Wednesday-Saturday you would find me running around like a crazy person with a clip board in one hand while the other hand held my earpiece in place as I tried desperately to understand my managers Irish accent through the static and pumping music. Let’s just say my adrenals took a beating.

Christmas Day itself was lovely. I spent it at one of my Irish friends house and her family made me feel right at home. We had turkey and ham on Christmas day as well as an assortment of vegetables, stuffing, TWO different kinds of potatoes, and a smorgasbord of dessert. After an intense month at work, curling up next to the fire with some traditional Christmas music playing in the background was exactly what I needed.

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A lovely Irish Christmas with a wonderful family.

There are a few interesting things that have made this Christmas different than any other that I’ve experienced. Here’s what made my Christmas uniquely “Irish.”

Christmas Jumpers

Once December rolls around you start seeing Christmas jumpers everywhere. There are the pretty snowflake jumpers, and then there are the obnoxious “ugly Christmas sweater” versions. In Canada, it’s very common to throw an “ugly Christmas sweater” party where everyone has to dress in the most tacky Christmas wear they can find. However, it’s always tricky to find Christmas jumpers. That is not the case over here. Every shop had Christmas jumpers, and there are even a few stores that literally just make Christmas jumpers. The 12 Pubs of Christmas (a pub crawl) is almost a rite of passage here. At first I found the phenomenon charming — in theory, getting dressed up in Christmas clothes and doing a pub crawl sounds grand, doesn’t it? The novelty quickly passed after dealing with messy, obnoxious drunks in blinking Christmas lights. I’ve never felt more like Scrooge than one Saturday night, mid-December, when I looked out at a sea of Christmas jumpers after mopping up someones dropped drink for the umpteenth time, and I thought to myself “I hate all of the Christmas jumpers.” Now, that thought really had nothing to do with “Christmas.” As Jamie Foxx would say, blame it on the alcohol.

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I don’t know these people (found the image on Google) but it’s a perfect example of the 12 Pubs.

Christmas Music

Since I’m working at a bar this year, I had the privilege of witnessing a bunch of inebriated individuals link arms, jump around, knock over my drink tray, and squeal along to the same Christmas songs. Every. Night. I spent last Christmas in Australia, where they don’t get nearly as in to Christmas as we do in Canada, so I was a little behind on the Christmas songs. They play all of the mainstream classics, like Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.” One song that everyone goes absolutely nuts for is “Snow is Falling.” I hadn’t heard this song until this year, and I don’t know if it’s a European thing or if I was just out of the loop last year. Regardless, it’s so peppy that even when you’re sober amongst a ton of drunks you can’t help but have a bounce in your step. Sometimes I even catch myself clapping and inserting a sneaky spin or too. Then there’s the song that epitomizes Irish culture — “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. When this Pogues song plays, the room transforms before your eyes. Suddenly everyone is your best friend, you chug your beer and throw your arms around the shoulders of the people next to you, your feet start dancing, and each person sings along at the top of their lungs. This is what I love most about Irish culture.

Christmas Markets

Playing "The First Noel"
Playing “The First Noel”

I was really hoping to visit Germany for the Christmas markets this year, but unfortunately I ran out of time. Thankfully, Ireland offers Christmas markets in nearly every major city. The Belfast Christmas markets have a good reputation, so one Sunday myself and a couple of friends jumped on the Aircoach to Belfast and spent the day indulging in Christmas goodies. We had mulled wine, gourmet cupcakes, Belgian chocolate, German sausage, and Italian pastry. I also found a lovely pair of knit mittens and my friends picked up some knitwear as well. Michael Buble’s Christmas album was playing and it was packed with family’s who were filled with excitement for the festive season. We finished off our day with a pint at a beer garden that was located in the center of the market. The Irish way, right?

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Facing the crowds at the market

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Nighttime view of the Christmas market outside of City Hall.
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French pastry!
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The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.
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My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas 🙂

How’s Howth?

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Welcome to Howth.

Howth, a suburb of Dublin, is an idealistic fisherman’s town at the north of Dublin Bay. I’ve never been to Newfoundland but I imagine it would look similar.

Howth lighthouse.
Howth lighthouse.

I'll take one in every colour, please.
I’ll take one in every colour, please.

There are old fishing boats in the harbour, multi-coloured house fronts along the esplanade, and houses atop hills over looking the sea. The smell of fish lingers in the air and there’s shop after shop selling all sorts of seafood.

Howth is only a train ride away from the Dublin city center and there are always lots of times to choose from. It’s a half hour trip and costs about six euro for a return ticket.

It’s a small, sleepy town with just the right amount of shops and cafes. If you feel like grabbing a quick bite and sitting by the sea, there are several places that offer fish and chips for takeaway. If you have a a little more time, there are restaurants with beautiful seafood dishes where you can stop in for some tapas and a bottle of wine. The first time I went to Howth it started to rain so my friend and I went to a small restaurant and sat on a bench by the window and watched the rain meet the sea. I had an incredible seafood paella and enjoyed every warm moment before heading back out to walk to the lighthouse. Sometimes on my day off I take the train to Howth to just grab a coffee, go for a walk, and pick up some fresh cod to make for dinner. Bliss, I know.

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Seafood paella by the seaside

Even if the forecast calls for sunshine it can rain at the drop of a coin so I always go prepared — rain coat, toque, and umbrella. Rain or shine, Howth is beautiful and well worth the visit.

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It’s fun to grab some fish and chips and sit by the water when the sun’s out.
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This little birdy hung out with me while I ate my fish and chips 🙂
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Fisherman’s boat, sans fisherman.
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This is me in Howth.