We arrived on the Emerald Isle at almost midnight, rented a car, and attempted to find our hotel. We had a small setback due to the fact that the steering wheel was on the right, the gearshift on the left, and we had to drive on the left side of the road - we'll have to factor in some extra time to adjust the next time we travel to Ireland. After almost sideswiping an entire street of cars, we found Hampton Hotel, a boutique hotel in a nice neighborhood in Dublin. We were warmly welcomed and found our beautiful premium room definitely worthy of a honeymoon. It was a huge room with a king sized bed, sitting area, couch with a 50” wide-screen TV, LCD fireplace, and a large bathroom with rain shower and tub. This is a luxe property in Dublin boasting amenities like heated floors in the bathrooms and is decorated with modern art. We relaxed watching the fire dance and slept very well in our big comfy bed.
We woke late, happy that breakfast is served in the restaurant until 11:30 a.m. There is a trendy restaurant and bar downstairs where my new hubby had the full Irish breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, black and white pudding (another pork creation), potato patties, and grilled tomatoes) and I tried the definitely less fattening Irish porridge.
When it came to planning our day, the front desk person was extremely helpful in going over every possible option with us; she was also very enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge of the city, even though she’d probably done it thousands of times. From the hotel it was a 10 minute walk to St. Stevens Green, the park where all of Dublin seems to hang out on sunny summer afternoons like the one we (luckily) got. We explored Dublin’s pedestrian streets with their multitude of sidewalk café’s, pubs and shops. We walked around Trinity College, the Temple bar area, and O’Connell Street.
Dublin is the most multicultural city in Ireland and has a variety of culinary choices besides the standard pub fare you’ll find in many small towns. We decided to try a Lebanese restaurant called Byblos for an early dinner. We tried a vegetarian platter and a lamb dish, then went to a pub for a Guinness, served in traditional Irish style, unchilled but in a chilled glass. Eventually, we headed back to our hotel room to watch the World Cup on the sofa—very comfortable.
After another late breakfast, we headed across the country to Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, the wild rough coast of Galway County. Most of the drive was highway, but after we passed Galway it turned into the narrow windy roads that Ireland is known for. The old castle is in a beautiful location perched next to a river and our room had a view over it as well as a door right onto the river, as if the whole area was our patio. It is an excellent river for fishing and we could watch fly fishers right from our window. It is such a peaceful, silent spot and the room was nicely decorated in antique style. The lobby had a roaring fire going when we arrived and it was much needed even though it was July! Ireland has so much mist, dampness and rain that it rarely feels warm, even in summer.
There is a very nice restaurant at the castle with views overlooking the river which serves a prix fixe 4-course meal for 60 euro. There is also a pub, which is what we chose. It was not typical pub food, but nicely plated quality meals prepared in the same kitchen as its more expensive sister restaurant. We had chicken with asparagus and homemade lamb sausages with potatoes. It was a very hearty, tasty meal.
The next morning we had breakfast in the lovely restaurant with a view. Ballynahinch has an extensive buffet with delicious fruit salad, homemade granola, breads, cheeses, croissants, jams, yogurt, and juices. Many castle hotels offer a breakfast buffet with a plated hot meal included, so we also chose items from the menu to be prepared by the chef, eggs for him and fresh fish for me. It is common in Ireland to have a huge breakfast, so we found ourselves skipping lunch every day.
Afterwards we went on a walk around the castle’s property with Noel, a guide who explained the castle’s storied history on a leisurely walk. A boat man came to row us out on a short ride to the ruins of a small fort on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. It had been owned by a famous ‘pirate queen’ Grace O’Malley and was built there to keep intruders out. It had a good view of all the surrounding hillsides, so they would at least have notice of an attack. It was very relaxing being on the lake. We then headed back to the hotel and borrowed Wellies and rain jackets from the hotel for our afternoon fly fishing lesson with Jonathan.