England Updates, Yo

Claire's visit!

Happy Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy MLK Day, and #allthethings I’ve missed since Thanksgiving!! I spoke with my Mom yesterday and she reminded me that I hadn’t posted in a while, so here I am with a quick rundown of updates. My Dear Mother also mentioned that I was funnier at the beginning of this whole writing adventure. I quite agree, so first on the list of updates: Continue reading “England Updates, Yo”

England Updates, Yo

Weekend in Dublin

Guinness Tour!
A few months ago we nabbed insanely cheap flights to Dublin (under £40 for both of us, round-trip. Don’t hate me.) and spent last weekend exploring the little city. And it didn’t even rain! Miraculous!

First stop, Guinness Storehouse. Your visit is of the self-guided variety, and the building is shaped like a gigantic pint, guiding you upwards and steering you around the circular floors until you end up in a chic bar with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. Not a bad deal. The “exhibits” explain the brewing process, show off old brewing equipment and some of Arthur Guinness’ collections (including really cool old model boats), etc. One section covers the brand’s advertising throughout the years, which I thought was fun.


Brewing equipment. Sorry for the glare.
Some things were rather cheesy. Check out that electronic harp! We sampled the West Indies Porter, learned how to “properly” drink a Guinness with a mini pint (I’m still questioning the point of this exercise), and listened to a little Irish music.

Later, we checked out an excellent free walking tour of Dublin. We recently learned that many European cities have these free tours (tip your guide!), and Dublin’s had great reviews on TripAdvisor. The tour north of the River Liffey is at 3pm, south of the river is at 11am, and they also offer an evening beer/whiskey/Irish music adventure for 12 euro.

We chose the north side tour because the time was more convenient. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the tour gave a great overview of Ireland’s struggle for independence. Our guide was awesome and he talked quite a bit about the current state of Ireland and the UK… we were hanging on every word. Maybe because this whole Brexit business is illustrating just how different it really is over here… and because he was so forthcoming with information.

After dinner we had drinks at The Black Sheep, a bar owned by Galway Bay Brewery. A+ for beer options, A+ for Galway Bay Brewery, C for crazy factor. It was packed, and I felt very old. Also I was recovering from the flu, so I may have been a bit of a party pooper.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was visiting the Trinity College Library. We saw the Book of Kells and then the Long Room Library. It took my breath away, and I snapped entirely too many pictures. So, so gorgeous. Does anyone else ever experience the uncontrollable urge to touch all the books when they enter a place like this? There’s something magical and sacred about this room. Everyone can feel it. Even the high school students were voluntarily quiet.

Long Room Library at Trinity College

Gorgeous staircase
Gorgeous staircase

Trinity College
We walked around Temple Bar area, just to say we did it, checked out Dublin’s Castle, St. Andrew’s Church, Christchurch Cathedral, and wandered through some great little shops in the Creative Quarter and on Drury Street. Industry and the Irish Design Shop were great for souvenir perusing. Powerscourt Centre also had great independent Irish shops, antiques, and an incredible looking bakery on its ground floor.

Irish Whiskey Museum


Made me laugh

Dublin Castle

On the grounds of Dublin Castle

Cafe Considered
We had lunch at a great little cafe on Drury Street (above) and then checked out the Brazen Head, Ireland’s Oldest Pub.

The Brazen Head Pub
Also, at some point during the trip, this happened:

What on earth?
What on earth?
This, my friends, shows a child being forced by his PARENTS to HOLD STILL while they FORCIBLY PLACE A BUNCH OF PIGEONS ONTO HIS BODY. What in hell is wrong with these people? The child was clearly under 5 years old and not into this at all. Disgusting. Also, I sincerely hope that crazy red-haired woman is a stranger, and not part of the plot to cover a child in pooping, diseased, nasto birds. I should have rescued him. Poor little guy.

Anyways, we checked out some AMAZING Irish music after dinner. I found the names of two tourist-free pubs that have live music most nights, both north of the river tucked away in little neighborhoods, and the one we checked out was such a gem. Definitely full of locals and as authentic as you could ask for.

When we arrived Sunday night there were already three fiddles, one accordion, and three dudes playing different instruments in the flute/Irish whistle family. The musicians’ ages ranged from probably 25 to 65.

Connor proclaimed one of the fiddle men “a wizard” so many times that I started thinking of him as Gandalf. An hour after we arrived, a classy little lady in her 70s showed up and was given a prime seat in the “musicians only” sitting area. She bobbed along with the music for awhile, and all of a sudden, she procured a fiddle from the corner and jumped right in! That made my night (unfortunately, she isn’t in the above picture).

Another woman hopped up at one point and started tap dancing. My mother pointed out it was probably Irish dancing, and I’m embarrassed to say that never occurred to me. I’m blaming it on the image of bouncy curls, high kicks, and crazy outfits that are promoted back home. This was the real deal and it was so fantastic!

Unfortunately, a cab was picking us up at 4:30am the next morning, so we had to leave. Right as a dude walked in with his bagpipes. BLAST!!! We just couldn’t stay.

Overall, super fun trip. We did a great job digging out some of the local Irish culture and avoiding the gimmicky nonsense, and we felt like two days was the right amount of time. We agreed that if we had one extra day we would check out a couple of their smaller museums (Dublin/Ireland literary museum sounded fab) and take another one of the walking tours or the beer/whiskey/music tour, but we don’t feel like we missed anything major. AND we had a great Airbnb, north of the River Liffey.

Most importantly, happy happy milestone birthday to my wonderful Irish husband!! I love you dearly. MWAH!

PS – Flickr album from the weekend is also up to date. You can find it here.


Weekend in Dublin

A Very British Birthday – Weekend in London


maltby street market
Maltby Street Market and the Ropewalk. Photo via the Bookatable blog.

Connor always likes to suggest that his birthday be celebrated over the course of an entire week. For once his wish is coming true. Last Friday we kicked off the celebration at BrewDog Birmingham, the quickly expanding UK brewery that we also visited in London. (Craft beer: So rare that if you order something more complicated than a lager they ask you if you want to taste it first to be sure. We’re sure. Trust.) Early Saturday morning we popped down to London to roam, eat, see a show, and check out the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Next weekend we’re heading over the Irish Sea to the motherland. Quite the birthday week!

A quick Google search for “best craft beer in London” directed me to the Bermondsey Beer Mile and nearby Maltby Street Market. Six or so craft breweries have set up shop along a mile-long stretch in Bermondsey and thanks to the growing popularity of the market, the breweries open to visitors for a few hours on Saturday afternoons. We watched a bit of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace to kill some time and then headed to Maltby Street for lunch. The market and breweries are housed along a stretch of beautiful old rail line (still in use) with huge brick arches. Each arch contains a tiny bakery, restaurant, cafe, distillery… purveyors of all things delicious. Pop-up shops and food vendors line the street outside and make up the “Ropewalk” portion of the market. See above picture.

LUNCH: I had an AMAZING goat cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary grilled cheese from The Cheese Truck, owned by a couple dudes who claim to make “melted cheese heaven” out of British cheeses. Yes yes and more yes. I almost went back to try another option off the menu. Connor had equally delicious steak with homemade chips (fries) from The Beefsteaks. This vendor specializes in “sustainably sourced, charcoal grilled, naturally reared British beef served with sauces inspired by the London steak clubs of the 17th and 18th centuries.” (I guess that’s a thing?) I’m typically in the anti-steak sauce camp; beautiful steak does not need to be contaminated with condiments (don’t yuck my yum!), but this was a totally different story and I can’t call the juicy, delicate, herby stuff a condiment.

We were having such a blast sampling all the goodies (mead, chocolate, cheese…) that I didn’t take a single picture. Those of you who follow me on SnapChat caught a glimpse, but I forgot to save the images. Rookie mistake. Follow me there @erinksd.

After lunch we met some friends at brewery #1: Anspach & Hobday. The 6 of us had a blast hopping from one brewery to the next despite the cold and lack of toilet situation. Definite need for improvement here. The whole experience was very warehouse-esque and rough around the edges, since this is where all the beer is actually brewed. Super cool.

Anspach & Hobday. Photo via thecitylane.com
Inside Anspach and Hobday
Inside Anspach & Hobday

We also visited Brew By Numbers and UBREW, but didn’t make it to all 6 stops for obvious reasons.

We eventually headed north to the West End and checked into our Hell Hole Hostel from Airbnb. You guys. OMG it was so so SO bad. (Mom you would die.) I’m not going into detail because the weekend was incredibly fun and this HHH is not about to ruin it for me. Never again will I try to find someplace to stay just because it’s within walking distance of our activity. There is nothing wrong with taking the Tube. Also, I don’t recommend staying in SOHO/West End unless you splurge on a nice hotel. Total carnage party central = loud and sticky streets.

We quickly left HHH, had dinner, and went to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. If anyone wants to come visit and see Phantom of the Opera with me 10 more times I’m totally down!!! Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production opened at this theatre in 1986 and eventually spread to theatres all over the world. It was incredible to see this show in it’s original location with the original set.

Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre London
Stage before the show
Chandelier for Phantom of the Opera
The Chandelier!

We bought the cheaper restricted view seats and didn’t miss a thing. The music was so beautiful and moving… I definitely cried and people were sobbing all around us. Two girls got up and left because they couldn’t lock it up. Pretty funny in hindsight, but the music was just incredible. Not even the HHH could ruin our mood. Seriously, if we had done anything other than see an incredible, cloud-9 show before returning to that dump, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

Side note: ethically speaking, what do I do about the review for HHH? On the one hand, it was a hell hole!!!! On the other, I kind of knew it would be. The Airbnb listing clearly showed it as a budget/hostel type place. The reviews were all good, but I kind of knew they were from students and people with no standards (sorry).

After basically zero sleep we left HHH around 10am and walked around Westminster, enjoyed the gardens and massive government buildings, had a fabulous burger lunch at Byrons Hamburgers in Covent Garden, and caught a late afternoon train back to Birmingham.

National Liberal Club in Whitehall
The National Liberal Club

PS: This building was really beautiful. It’s an old gentleman’s club around the corner from 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence. Notable members included Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, G.K. Chesterton, and George Bernard Shaw. The club IS open to women.

Lessons from the weekend:

  • Eat all the market food, especially if there are long lines. You will be sick later. It is worth it.
  • HHH: some standards exist for a reason. Embrace them.
  • Buy restricted view theatre seats and use the money saved on classier lodgings.
  • Or, see a matinee and take a train back to Birmingham to sleep.
  • Do not eat Chinese food at midnight.
  • London is very expensive.
  • I want to see Phantom of the Opera 10 more times.
A Very British Birthday – Weekend in London