A Hotel Comparison

Throughout our entire October 2015 trip, we kept up this side conversation, comparing the hotels. Which breakfast did you like best? Who had the most comfortable beds? We stayed in six hotels from start to finish, in three weeks’ time.

There are lots of things to consider, from price … to the view from the room. You might have others, but here’s my list of considerations:

Bedroom >size >bed >view from window >other furniture >desk >amenities
Bathroom >separate shower >counter space >amenities
Dining >breakfast >bar food
Comfort >ambience >service >grounds >proximity to activities
Other >spa/pool >parking >entrance >price >stay again?

Here’s how it breaks down:

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in north Co. Dublin, €129

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

You have two choices at the Portmarnock: the wing that overlooks the beach or the wing that overlooks the golf course (both wings have garden view rooms). The golf wing rooms are newer, larger, and have central heat (and air, which is really nice for a few weeks each year). The furniture is comfortable, but the chair for the desk is too low if you actually need to work at the desk. The bed is a true king-size but hard as a rock (one can live in hope that the Irish hotel industry will someday figure this out). Plenty of tea in the room, as well as complimentary bottled water. Nice modern bathroom, though not huge, with Pure brand amenities. Definitely the best bar food of the six hotels, and a strong breakfast too. No pool—swim at the beach!—but a nice, professional spa (I used it back in June) with average hotel prices. Parking is close to the entrance; the grounds are nicely kept; you’re a half hour outside the Dublin city center and perfectly located for sightseeing further up the coast and into the Midlands. The ambience at the hotel is superior: the public rooms are recently remodeled, the staff—all of them—are friendly and helpful. What you see on the website is absolutely what you get—and better. Bottom line? I’ll stay at this hotel every chance I get. Love it.

Redcastle Hotel, Spa, and Golf Resort near Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula, €79

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Gerry describes the Redcastle as “flattering to deceive.” It looks fabulous, with its location right on the shores of Lough Foyle (and, really, the Atlantic Ocean). There are rooms in the hotel that sit right on the water (although we didn’t have one)—as does the dining room, which offers a fabulous view every morning at breakfast. The grounds outside are like a park—gorgeous—and the location is convenient. But once you get inside, it’s old, labyrinthine. (Seriously, we needed a map to get to our room.) Our king-size bed was really two singles pushed together. The whole hotel needs a modern upgrade. I did try out the spa and felt I got very good value for money spent; there’s also an indoor pool which is marketed to the locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. I certainly understand the reason for this but I look for peace and quiet in a pool experience, and that was not to be had (lots of moms and kids). The breakfast was good quality, and you could order from the kitchen in addition to what was on the buffet. But you could also be blinded by the sun—the room faces east—and absolutely nothing is done about that, though we have the technology! Bottom line: if/when we stay on Inishowen again, we’ll look around for another place, in spite of the reasonable price.

Lough Eske Castle near Donegal Town, €170 (with the 3-for-2 deal)

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

Like the Portmarnock, the Lough Eske is a true luxury hotel; from the moment you walk in, your experience is of the highest quality. (I have to admit I don’t like lugging bags up the entrance stairs, though, although they do station a nice young man there to help you.) The public interiors, the staff—everything is top-notch. Our room was spectacular and huge; we had a view of the inner courtyard—about as good a view as you get at this hotel, which is named for the lake it is near, but not on. No lake views without a little walk (and I would’ve liked it if someone on staff had pointed out the best way to get to the lake; it wasn’t immediately evident). The bed—a true king-size—was a little firmer than I’d like … but the bathroom! Oh my goodness. Dual sinks, separate tub and shower, dressing area, all of it 2015 modern, and with really nice personal-care amenities too. (This bathroom was as large as our entire suite in Galway, no kidding.) The bar has a nice, old-money ambience and the food was good but we weren’t knocked out by it. We were knocked out by breakfast, which was yummy and is the Irish breakfast I will forever compare all others to: fresh, wide selection, and an omelet station in addition to preprepared eggs on the buffet. The exterior is beautiful and lends itself to strolling—lots of outdoor sculpture to be discovered. There is also an indoor pool and spa, which I did not sample. Bottom line: This was only in our budget because they were running an off-season special, but if you can afford the splurge, do it.

Connacht Hotel in Galway City, €50 (breakfast is extra)

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

As I’ve noted before, this hotel got a favorable review in the eating/drinking/lodging book we picked up at the beginning of the trip, and it is, as noted therein, easy on the budget. We were in a self-catering apartment on the backside of the huge campus, which meant it was quiet (always a plus), and the parking was convenient. It was nice, also, because there was a room with couch, table, desk, kitchenette, and a separate room with beds and desk … so I could work while Gerry watched television in the other room. There’s also an indoor pool and spa, which is heavily promoted to locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. In terms of location, it’s great—on a major thoroughfare and only a ten-minute drive into the city center. If you need a place to crash after being out and about as a tourist, the Connacht will serve you well, but don’t expect luxury; the televisions, for example, were the old tube style. (Oops!) Breakfast and bar food were meh. Bottom line: Great for your budget, definitely serviceable, but if I can’t have some historic character in a hotel, then I want streamlined and modern; this was neither.

Celbridge Manor Hotel in Co. Kildare 30 minutes outside Dublin, €99

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

This hotel markets itself to folks who want to get out of Dublin—for a holiday party, for a girls’ night out, for tea and a B&B, to throw a shower or a wedding—but not too far out, and not too much money. It looks nice outside (it’s a Georgian-era building) and inside, and the rooms are large and furnished with antiques. (And also with some typical hotel furniture—don’t designers call this eclectic? Ha.) They have live music every weekend (glad we missed that); I got the sense that the Celbridge Manor is a local watering hole, if you get my drift. Ample parking, but there are no grounds to speak of (it was a charity boarding school for orphans from the mid-1700s until the 1970s, when it was converted to a hotel). Breakfast was serviceable, bar food was not at all special (Gerry liked it; I didn’t), and there is no pool, no spa services. (I think they’re missing the boat on that.) Bed was advertised as a king-size but was just a double, maybe a small queen—and hard. I do think the hotel could stand to be freshened up, but for a nice quiet place to sleep (maybe not on the weekends), this will work. Proximity to Dublin—for tourism, and/or to stay out of the Dublin hustle-and-bustle—is a huge plus, and Celbridge is centrally located for exploring more of the country too. Bottom line: Priced right, but we’d probably try someplace else next time.

Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport, €167

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

This is an airport hotel, just meant to catch business travelers and offer cheap parking for folks flying out. So ambience and looks don’t really matter so much; we’re just sleeping near the airport so we don’t have to get up in the dark. But … it’s actually a very nice (though always busy) hotel. We have stayed in the Clayton Hotel before, in 2013 when it was called Bewley’s, for several nights, so I can say that the breakfast is just OK, not great. (though we did not have the opportunity to sample it on this trip). We did have supper in the bar and the food was good, better than good. Bed was a true king (hard, of course, but not miserable … though maybe I was just getting used to it). The best feature inside was we paid €40 extra for a suite so we’d have lots of room to pack—and were delighted with the value-for-money! Room was huge with nice chairs and couches. The bathroom was huge too. And it was about five steps away from the elevator (a plus when you’re tired). The best feature outside was the gas station right next door, as in years past the search for gas to fill up the rental has been high stress. Bottom line: This is our airport hotel of choice, and we’re agreed we’d splurge for the suite again too. 🙂

• • •

We have stayed in two other Dublin hotels for several nights, long enough to form an opinion, and I thought I’d include them here for completeness:

Camden Court Hotel, Dublin (2013), €79

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

(Note that this rate is more than two years old, and I obtained it on an advance purchase rate deal, which many hotels offer.) Situated in downtown Dublin near the Grand Canal—the multicultural Portobello neighborhood—the Camden Court caters to tour groups (hence that great rate). So there were moments when the lobby was packed, but most of the time it was quite nice. Though I didn’t sample any of it, the hotel has a hair and nails salon, heated lap pool, a large full gym, massage clinic, salon, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi. Fantastic location: everything you might want was close by—pubs, good restaurants, shops of all sorts (none of them touristy). Breakfast food was standard issue, as was the bar food. Staff is great, friendly, and parking is free, which is highly unusual. That it’s available at all—and on-site—is highly unusual. So if you’re renting a car, you should consider the Camden Court; we’d stay here again.

The Doubletree by Hilton, Dublin, €149

From the hotel’s website.

From the hotel’s website.

This is the former Burlington Hotel and is located just south of the Grand Canal in Ranelagh, which is an upscale neighborhood. This hotel caters to the business conferences and events trade, so there is a fitness room but no spa or pool. I’ve had more than one meal at this hotel when it was the Burlington, and though it is not as luxe as it was then, the breakfast is good, the location is excellent, and it is very, very quiet (both the hotel and the neighborhood). I like that last quality in a hotel. I would stay here again in spite of the miserably hard bed. 🙂

• • •

One final thought: even two or three years ago, wi-fi in the Irish hotel and B&B trade was hit or miss—only available in the lobby, only available for a fee, or sketchy reception, for example. But in 2015 we had no wi-fi issues. You may encounter isolated locations that lack connection, but for the most part you should have no problems. Progress!

 

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Party Time! (Part 2 of 2)

3 October 2015, Saturday
It had been a good day—and it was about to get better. We got ourselves down to the bar around four o’clock (we’d told our guests 4:30) in order to familiarize ourselves with the space and the bartenders and servers who’d been assigned to our party. Once again, the Portmarnock party-planning folks have great staff and do a wonderful job. I can’t say that enough. Everyone was so friendly and eager to make us happy. (You can say, “Sure, you’re paying them” if you want, but if you’ve ever run into someone who tells you “That’s not our policy” or “It’s not my job,” you really appreciate staff whose first response is, “Sure! That’s grand” and “Of course we/you can!”)

I should explain to Americans that the general way Irish wedding receptions proceed (and we’d modeled our party on this formula) is this: meet in the bar, have a drink or two … move into the dining room to eat and make a few speeches after dessert … move back to the bar. (This last is usually so the dining room can be cleared and the dance floor set up, but we skipped the dancing. It was Saturday and there was a band in the bar, which was great.) So our party proceeded in three stages.

Bar, the First
There we were, hanging out in the bar. And shortly, Pat—one of the gentleman of the ESB—showed up. Pat and Gerry worked side-by-side for fifteen years, until Pat retired earlier this year. He’d volunteered to video the proceedings for us, and had camera in hand.

Together again: Pat and Gerry.

Together again: Pat and Gerry.

Me and Pat (and the camera).

Me and Pat (and the camera).

After that, things started happening pretty quickly.

Mike and ’Becca from Texas. She’d been in London for business and had arrived in Dublin the day before, but Mike had gotten off the plane from the States just this morning.

Mike and ’Becca from Texas. She’d been in London for business and had arrived in Dublin the day before, but Mike had gotten off the plane from the States just this morning.

Conor and Laura, all dolled up.

Conor and Laura, all dolled up.

Emmet and Pris.

Emmet and Pris.

Right after this, it got very busy. Suddenly the room was full of people! I was supposed to be helping Gerry manage the drinks—we bought everyone a drink when they arrived—but I kept getting sidetracked. And then all of Gerry’s childhood friends arrived. Oh, my goodness. 🙂

L–R: Me, Paddy O., and Paddy M.

L–R: Me, Paddy O., and Paddy M.

L–R: Gerry, Ann (Paddy O’s wife), Carol (Paddy M’s wife) behind her, and me. That’s my friend Robert in the back.

L–R: Gerry, Ann (Paddy O’s wife), Carol (Paddy M’s wife) behind her, and me. That’s my friend Robert in the back.

L–R: Phillip D., and Fran.

L–R: Phillip D., and Fran.

Gerry’s friends were so welcoming and playful and friendly! It was spectacular. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase feeling the love—and I certainly felt it in that room. I think they had all hoped this happiness for Gerry, finding a partner to do life with, and they were happy to finally meet me (after twelve years!). They all hugged me. And you know I am a hugger, so it was all good.

This is a tall man. Fran and me.

This is a tall man. Fran and me.

And there were more friends, more family, more everything!

Two of Gerry’s beautiful nieces, Clare (left) and Orla. That’s Fran photobombing.

Two of Gerry’s beautiful nieces, Clare (left) and Orla. That’s Fran photobombing.

Gerry’s brother, Richie, and their mother, Bridie. She is gorgeous—and a fashion plate.

Gerry’s brother, Richie, and their mother, Bridie. She is gorgeous—and a fashion plate.

Phillip J., me, Robert. You’ve met Robert on this blog before.

Phillip J., me, Robert. You’ve met Robert on this blog before.

Sinéad and her husband, Brian; he’s an ESB colleague of Gerry’s.

Sinéad and her husband, Brian; he’s an ESB colleague of Gerry’s—and the proprietor of the popular website Brand New Retro.

But my niece, Alli, wasn’t there. She and her husband, Sabas, were staying with Gerry’s nephew, Eoin, and his wife, Tracy. And they hadn’t arrived yet. About an hour into it, the woman* managing the dining room began to circulate, suggesting we steer our guests in to dinner. I asked her if we could slow the process down just a bit, because there were a couple guests who were running late, and she immediately got it. “Would you like me to delay this?” she said, smiling broadly. This is typical of the wonderful service we got from everyone involved with our party.

As it turned out, our Missing Persons showed up shortly after that. I found the Managing Lady, everything got back on track, and we all went in to dinner.

The Dining Room
But first … we took a group photo. On my camera and tripod, which I’d lugged across the Atlantic precisely for this purpose. We did not have a professional photographer, so there was no one to say, “You move left two inches, and you step forward.” We took about a dozen photos and none of them is perfect, but this one gives a good feel for what we did. Everybody laughed, snuggled in close, and had a good time. It was great, really. I’ve just zoomed in to make the key, and it’s quite an accomplishment.

Our group. Thanks, y’all. Don’t forget, click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

Our group. Thanks, y’all. Don’t forget, click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

Front row, L–R: Gerry, me, Pauline, Isolde, Richie, Bridie, William, Gwen, Clare, Alli, and Orla. Pat on the far right.

Middle rows, L–R: Sandra, Brendan, Ruth, John, Emmet, ’Becca, Pris, Carol, Laura (partially hidden, Sinéad, Phillip, Damian (glasses, partially hidden), Ashling, Ann, Paddy O. (all you can see is his white hair), Maureen, Tracy, Neil, Tiffany, Robert, Camille, Phillip.

Way back there, L–R: Mike (red shirt, mostly hidden), Paddy M., Brian, Conor, Fran, Conor, Eoin, Sabas.

Everyone clustered in front of the seating chart to see what table they’d be at, and then went on in. At Irish wedding dinners, as I understand, the wedding party sits together at the “main” table, and then the rest of the invitees are scattered around at the other tables. When we made our seating plan, I relied on Gerry’s experience in these matters. We put the most immediate family—his brothers and wives, their mother, my niece and her husband—at the main table. After that, we had one American couple (or single) per table, one representative of Gerry’s family (the younger generation) per table, one of Gerry’s friends, and one of his work colleagues per table. We had a little bit of last-minute seat changes, but it all shook out well.

It takes a few minutes to get everyone seated—particularly because now new conversational circles are created, and new stories begin. 🙂

Bridie catching up with Alli and Sabas.

Bridie catching up with Alli and Sabas.

When Gerry slid in next to me, he said, “Now I know why you need a best man—this meeting and greeting is hard work!” Then he looked across the table at his brother Richie. “Is it too late to designate you as best man?” We all laughed, and Richie volunteered to emcee later.

The food was lovely—nothing I’ve ever had at the Portmarnock was not—the wine was good, and the noise level rose in the room.

The hotel does such a nice job with the menu.

The hotel does such a nice job with the menu.

And then it was time for a few speeches. Richie introduced Gerry, who spoke extemporaneously and was great. There was no way I could speak in front of a room full of people without notes. I’d prepared weeks ago—and even so, watching the video of my speech makes me cringe. After that, we’d asked the two youngest members of both our families to speak: my niece Alli and Gerry’s niece Orla. Richie, meanwhile, had been working the room, asking if any of Gerry’s friends wanted to speak, and Phillip D. said a few words, to much heckling from the others. (Gerry’s friends are a tight-knit group.) Finally Richie made a great show of pulling out pages and pages of notes, to much groaning—his turn as father of the bride, a few months earlier, had gone on and on, and he has yet to live it down. As it turns out, the joke was on us—one page of notes! The rest was just for show, and it brought the house down.

In my speech, I told our guests I wanted to circulate the room and get photos, and that’s what happened next. Pat, videocamera in hand, grabbed me and escorted me around the tables, filming. Alli took stills (though not all worked out).

Emmet and Pris.

Emmet and Pris.

John.

John.

Tiffany and Camille.

Tiffany and Camille.

’Becca and Mike.

’Becca and Mike.

Laura, ’Becca, Conor.

Laura, ’Becca, Conor.

Pat at work.

Pat at work.

Sandra and Pauline.

Sandra and Pauline.

We tried to get the family too.

Bridie, me, William (seated), Richie.

Bridie, me, William (seated), Richie.

Ashling and Damian—newlyweds!

Ashling and Damian—newlyweds!

Richie and Isolde.

Richie and Isolde.

William and Gwen.

William and Gwen.

Then people started getting up, moving around … but still Pat and Alli and I soldiered on!

Brendan and Ruth.

Brendan and Ruth.

Robert!

Robert!

That Pat!

That Pat!

The gentlemen of the ESB: Pat, Gerry, and Brendan. At last, a photo of me with Gerry!

The gentlemen of the ESB: Pat, Gerry, and Brendan. At last, a photo of me with Gerry!

Then Alli went out into the anteroom to get some photos while I was still socializing in the dining room.

Fran, Gerry, Eoin, Neil, Paddy O.

Fran, Gerry, Eoin, Neil, Paddy O.

Playin’ around: Clare, Sabas, Eoin, Tracy.

Playin’ around: Clare, Sabas, Eoin, Tracy.

Alli, Sabas, Neil, Maureen, Clare, Eoin, Tracy, Conor, Orla.

Alli, Sabas, Neil, Maureen, Clare, Eoin, Tracy, Conor, Orla.

And by then everyone had moved into the bar.

Bar, the Second
There was already a good crowd in the bar, and then the band cranked up. Oh, goodness.

Pat, John, Robert, Tiffany, Paddy M.

Pat, John, Robert, Tiffany, Paddy M.

Gerry, Ann, Carol, Fran.

Gerry, Ann, Carol, Fran.

Phillip D., Paddy M., Gerry, Paddy O. The old crowd. :)

Phillip D., Paddy M., Gerry, Paddy O. The old crowd. 🙂

It was loud—and still we carried on conversations. I moved around a little among the various groups, although I was getting very tired. Still, I was delighted with a conversation I had with Gwen: growing up, she said, there was always one drawer in the fridge reserved for chocolate. Oh my goodness! I discovered Maureen and Neil’s fridge drawer of chocolate back in 2012 and thought it was the best thing ever! I didn’t realize it was a thing. (A tradition?) Yes, I raided it. Silly. No, I do not have a chocolate drawer in the fridge here in Tennessee—this is America, our chocolate isn’t worth eating.

Gerry’s pals started the sing-song at some point (when the band was taking a break). Another Irish tradition I was delighted to witness.

It was just … wonderful, this party. Even if I do say so myself. It was a happy occasion.

I got to bed around 2am. I could not have gone another moment. Gerry came up about an hour later. Whew.

* I can’t remember her name, now, and I thought I’d written it down. Darn it. She was wonderful.

It was so nice to have my friends around me—and really special to have my family. Thanks, Alli. xox

It was so nice to have my friends around me—and really special to have my family. Thanks, Alli. xox

 

It’s a Great Day for a Celebration (Part 1 of 2)

3 October 2015, Saturday
Overslept! We intended to be at breakfast by 7:30, but that’s when we woke up. Obviously we needed it. I’d been awake at 3am again, lying on the floor in an Egoscue static back position, waiting for my muscles to relax—part of it the change of time zones, part of it the hard bed.

So it was good to finally sleep.

Then we had breakfast with the golfers, and drove back into Dublin (again!) to the courier company that was holding the visa. Saturday morning and the place was deserted. I hung out in the parking lot, photographing the fall foliage and suchlike, and then I turned around—and there he was. We hugged, tiredly, in the parking lot. “I never thought—when we started this process a year ago—that it would come down to a warehouse in an industrial park in north Dublin,” Gerry said.

And then I took a picture. 🙂

We got it! (Yeah, his eyes are closed. I seem to have a knack for catching Gerry in a blink.)

We got it! (Yeah, his eyes are closed. I seem to have a knack for catching Gerry in a blink.)

Taking a moment to breathe.

Taking a moment to breathe. He has his passport back.

It was a neat little piece of serendipity, though. We’d been prepared to wait “seven to ten business days” for this thing. And yet here it was, just three days later, and on the very day we were celebrating the emigration this visa made possible. Well played, Uncle Sam, well played.

When we got back to the hotel in the midmorning, we discovered our party was already listed on the lobby marquee.

It’s our party and we’ll mug if we want to.

It’s our party and we’ll mug if we want to.

So we wandered downstairs to see what else was happening.

They’d already decorated the foyer. This table was where I put out our emigration “scrapbook”—the photos and other material we had to collect to prove to U.S. Immigration that we had a for-real relationship.

They’d already decorated the foyer. This table was where I put out our emigration “scrapbook”—the photos and other material we had to collect to prove to U.S. Immigration that we had a for-real relationship.

And in we went. Tables were set, menus were out. No chocolates yet (to prevent theft!). But it all looked very good.

But this is what the chocolates looked like … later.

And this is what the chocolates looked like … later.

The tables were named, yes.

The tables were named, yes. Click twice to zoom in, if you’d like.

The author blurb was in a folder on the table. Everything was lovely.

The author blurb was in a folder on the table. Everything was lovely.

At the Irish wedding dinners I’ve been to, seating charts were created for each table—and instead of numbering them, the tables were named. After superheroes, at one party; famous scientists at another; and after the myriad colors of blue at another. Naturally, I’d wanted to follow suit. And it was Gerry who’d suggested naming them after Irish authors. I tweaked it to forward-thinking Irish authors, writers who were unafraid to stand out, to speak truth to power.

We ended up with six tables:

Anne Enright

Seamus Heaney

Fergal Keane

Nuala O’Faolain

Colm Tóibín

William Butler Yeats

I wrote up a blurb and a quote for each one, with recommended titles, all works with which I was familiar. And the party staff took it and ran with it. 🙂

When we left the dining room we walked through the bar to see where our party would begin, and ran into my friends Laura and Conor. I tried to take a photo. Ha.

When Selfies Go Wrong.

When Selfies Go Wrong.

Back in the room Gerry and I had some quiet time, napping and relaxing in anticipation of a long night of merriment. You’ll read about that in Part 2.

October Is for Golfers, It Seems

2 October 2015, Friday
We got going earlier this morning, and were in the breakfast dining room by eight o’clock. And it was packed.

In fact, the hotel was booked solid. We expected it to be quiet this time of year—it’s definitely after the tourism season—but apparently Europeans know something about October in Ireland that we don’t know: it’s great golfing weather.

A-ha. The Portmanock Hotel and Golf Links, this beautiful hotel with a gorgeous golf course on the edge of the sea, was positively brimming with Europeans (mostly Germans), men and women, in Ireland to golf. The men in their brightly colored slacks. 🙂 (John said, “Golf clothes are what happens when men dress themselves,” which made me laugh, but then I wondered if the slacks became more colorful in direct proportion to the sobriety of the gentleman’s work clothing. There might be something to that.)

They were very vocal too: women, for example, would greet as they encountered each other walking down the hall, often from several yards away, and continue talking as they passed, their comments getting louder and louder the further apart they were. No concept of using their (ahem) outside voices in the hall of what is essentially the bedroom wing.

But then we discovered they’re all traveling together. Two busloads of them. No matter when we went to the breakfast room, the noise level was very high. If we diners were all discrete small groups—two, three, four people—we would talk amongst ourselves at the table. But these folks were talking between tables too.

For a woman who likes to ease into the morning (me), it was way too loud most of the time, although the people-watching was spectacular. 🙂 October golfing in Ireland! It’s a thing!

We had to take care of a little more business … another drive into Dublin to the dentist to finish up the work, and we had to call and rearrange table seating slightly because Gerry’s cousin was ill and had to cancel at the last minute. We dropped our party favors—small boxes of truffles from Aine Hand Made Chocolates—with our party planner to be set out at the dinner.

My dear Margaret had an influence on another aspect of our party weekend too. You may recall that back in 2012, we had afternoon tea at the Shelbourne, which she had instigated. I knew our American guests might enjoy the experience, and we considered planning another tea party at the Shelbourne. (In retrospect, I’m so glad we didn’t, given the atrocious traffic situation.) But back in June when Gerry and I stayed at the Portmarnock, we learned the hotel also offered an afternoon tea—which we’d sampled and found delightful. Convenient!

HighTeaSo we’d planned a late afternoon tea, put it on our list of options for our October guests, and had several people who were interested. And this was that day. In the Seaview Lounge with that lovely view of the Irish Sea.

We got downstairs early to make sure everything was in order.

It was.

It was.

We had a few last-minute dropouts (these things can’t be helped), so we were eight instead of ten or twelve, but this bunch had lots to talk about, and did. It was … special. Really nice. We all got stuffed. And this was just the beginning of bringing strangers together with a happy outcome.

L–R: Gerry, Laura, Emmet, Pris, Conor, ’Becca, and John. I took the picture!

L–R: Gerry, Laura, Emmet, Pris, Conor, ’Becca, and John. I took the picture!

That was almost more excitement than I could handle, so after the tea party, we retired to our room to relax and rest up—Saturday would be a big day. And lo and behold: Gerry had an email from the embassy that his visa had been delivered to the courier company!

I don’t have a photo of us squealing, or dancing around the room. But we did (insofar as two tired, middle-aged folks on a sugar high can). We immediately adjusted our Saturday plans to drive back into Dublin yet again to pick up the package containing his passport with new visa page, instructions, and sealed information to be presented to the customs officials when we left the country.

We were fast asleep before ten o’clock …

Lunch With the ESB: It’s a Tradition

1 October 2015, Thursday
I was awake at 3am. (sigh) But that’s the way it is when you fly over several time zones. So I got out of bed, lay on the floor with my feet in a chair, and assumed the Egoscue Static Back position for a half hour. When I got back in bed, I was able to drop off again, and we slept pretty late. Heaven!

We hadn’t seen John since the previous afternoon, so he was ready for breakfast when we were, and we all went down together, around nine o’clock. Not long after we’d been seated, our friends Pris and Emmet came in.

Pris and Emmet had arrived two days before and were rested and ready to go.

Pris and Emmet had arrived two days before and were rested and ready to go.

And then my friend Tiffany found her way into the dining room and chatted with us for awhile. She’d just come in from the airport, and her luggage was missing. But she had plans to sightsee all day with my Irish friend Robert (a fellow editor), so luggage wasn’t a concern. (Yet.)

Tiffany, Gerry, and John. Good morning!

Tiffany, Gerry, and John. Good morning!

When the appointed minute arrived, I accompanied Tiff back upstairs to wait for Robert. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy seeing my friends from separate parts of my life hit it off. 🙂 Weeks later Robert and I were talking and he noted that it’s a natural for both Americans and Irish to do that instant-friends thing, in a way some other national cultures do not. No wonder we get along so well!

Robert and Tiffany, about to head into Dublin.

Robert and Tiffany, about to head into Dublin.

Of course, the obligatory selfie.

Of course, the obligatory selfie.

We’d made an appointment with our party planner (she’s an amployee of the hotel) for midmorning. This was our opportunity to get everything finalized, including numbers—we’d had several friends on both sides of the ocean drop out. Ludmila’s been absolutely wonderful to work with.

Ludmila and Gerry, in the Seaview Lounge on a sunny morning.

Ludmila and Gerry, in the Seaview Lounge on a sunny morning.

This was a busy day, and there was more to come. Remember, Gerry is retiring and emigrating, and his work colleagues hadn’t really acknowledged these changes yet. A lunch had been organized in downtown Dublin, and John, Gerry, and I jumped in a cab—great for me, because I get to sightsee, rather than drive.

So I take photos while we drive. I loved the old window panes here, and the curvy reflections in them. And the NO BICYCLES PLEASE sign.

So I take photos while we drive. I loved the old window panes here, and the curvy reflections in them. And the NO BICYCLES PLEASE sign.

We were headed to Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant at the Dean Hotel, a boutique hotel on Harcourt Street. (Check out their website and you’ll see what I mean.)

John and Gerry at the Dean on a sunny day.

John and Gerry at the Dean on a sunny day. Don’t forget you can click on any photo to zoom in.

That sunny day thing is important. Remember, we were on the rooftop, with windows on three sides (check out that link to Sophie’s; they have some great photos). My photos don’t do justice to the view …

I was ooohing and aahing.

I was ooohing and aahing.

The rooftops of Dublin. “Chim-chiminy, chim-chiminy …”

The rooftops of Dublin. “Chim-chiminy, chim-chiminy …”

The view from the Harcourt Street side of the roof.

The view from the Harcourt Street side of the roof.

The company was good too!

 L–R: Me, Gerry, Deidre, Kirsten, Brian, John, Brendan, and Gerard. (Why am I always on the outside edge, showing my broadest side? I don’t know, but inevitably, I am.)

L–R: Me, Gerry, Deidre, Kirsten, Brian, John, Brendan, and Gerard. (Why am I always on the outside edge, showing my broadest side? I don’t know, but inevitably, I am.)

Again, this was Gerry’s send-off. Many nice things were said about my husband (and they were much deserved). And when this lengthy lunch—speeches, gifts—was winding down, it was suggested we walk around the corner to Cassidy’s Pub on Lower Camden Street. “Your countryman Bill Clinton had a gargle here when he visited Ireland [in 1996],” Gerard said by way of suggestion.

Cassidy’s on Camden Street, Lower. Look at that brilliant blue sky!

Cassidy’s on Camden Street, Lower. Look at that brilliant blue sky!

And so we did. Although on further research this may not be the Cassidy’s that Bill Clinton visited: there’s a hipster Cassidy’s up by Trinity College that makes this claim on its website, but the Camden Street Cassidy’s is so authentic—right down to the red façade—it doesn’t even have a website (some reviewers make the Clinton claim on its behalf). The Cassidy’s seven of us straggled into is a traditional, old-style (narrow) room with a long bar of the Victorian-era (1891). It was quiet at first but soon filled up with locals there to watch the rugby finals on the large screen TVs.

At Cassidy’s: Kirstin, Brian, Gerry.

At Cassidy’s: Kirstin, Brian, Gerry.

At Cassidy’s: Gerard, Brendan.

At Cassidy’s: Gerard, Brendan.

The bar at Cassidy’s.

The bar at Cassidy’s.

Oh, it was so good to be in Dublin enjoying this time with Gerry’s colleagues in a great restaurant and a great bar! Lunch started at 1pm and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 8pm. 🙂

I made them pose. :)

I made them pose. 🙂

 

Hello, Dublin! I’m So Excited to Be Here!

30 September 2015, Wednesday
I think the most unusual thing I’ve ever seen from the window of an airplane is this: as we were taxiing in to the Dublin terminal, I saw a large rabbit running alongside the runway.

It’s a long walk from the gates in to where you claim your luggage, and I swear I nearly had a heart attack from sheer excitement and anticipation. You wouldn’t think we chubby middle-aged gals get the butterflies and suchlike, but we do. (Also, I was just ready for the traveling to be over, and to have someone else carry the luggage for a bit!)

It was hard not to blurt out my story to the customs agent: “Just here for a little holiday, are ya, Missus Chavez?” “Oh, yes, and I’m throwing a party and then I’m going on my honeymoon, and after that I’m taking my husband home with me!” is what I was thinking, but “Yes, thank you!” is what I said. 🙂

John Lambert had landed at 5:25am and I knew he’d be waiting for me. (Although we left Chicago late, they made it up in the air; it was just a little after 7am when I walked through those doors, and this after a long slow taxi and unloading and customs.) But Gerry was there with him, and that was so nice.

One always comes away from travel with at least one good story (mine was Ginger, the American with a slight Irish accent*), and John had a doozie: he’d splurged on a business class ticket out of New York (in order to have the sleeper chair), and the man sitting next to him on the trip was Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, which means he is head of state. (This is different from the taoiseach, who functions as head of government. The taoiseach is appointed by the president.) Michael D., as he is known, had been in New York for Pope Francis’s visit. John and Michael D. had had a lovely conversation, I’m told (as one would; here he reads Yeats). Naturally, the first words out of my mouth were, “Well, I hope you invited him to our party!” 🙂

We picked up our rental car (a manual transmission Skoda), and headed to Gerry’s house for breakfast.

Gerry and John, unloading my bags. I came with two but consolidated to one for the trip ’round Ireland.

Gerry and John, unloading my bags. I came with two but consolidated to one for the trip ’round Ireland.

I also pulled out some gifts I’d brought, and my mattress pad, transferred clothing to one suitcase, and just generally got situated. Gerry had a dental appointment (one of the quick kind), so the three of us drove into Dublin City. Gerry had a crazy idea that John and I could sightsee (again, just some little thing) while he was with the dentist, but traffic was insane, we couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere, and very quickly we were lost. 🙂 So then we had to figure out how to call Gerry to get the address of where he was—he was already finished, which was a good thing, because I was already frazzled!

As it turns out, there’s a lot of construction going on in Dublin—a new Luas (light rail) route and station—and traffic is more harrowing than normal. The trip from Gerry’s house to the city centre used to take about twenty minutes, but over the course of our trip, it routinely took double that, and sometimes as much as an hour. Just think of all the shifting, and clutching on my bad hip. Yeesh. And streets are changed to one-ways, or closed entirely; the locals are as confused as we tourists.

So we’re driving through the Dublin city centre at noon on an overcast day, just headed back to Gerry’s place, and we come to one of the construction sites. There’s a Garda there, allowing trucks to pass thru as normal and directing cars to detour to the right—several cars in front of us and he’s just motioning them past, but he halts me and motions to roll down the window. He leans in and says, and I quote, “You have your headlights on and you’re blinding everyone. Turn your lights off.” Oh, my gosh, his tone of voice—it was angry.

Now … I knew my lights were on, but I just assumed this was the sort of car that the lights came on automatically, because I hadn’t touched them. Regardless, it was broad daylight, and my lights weren’t blinding anyone, and there were plenty of cars behind me with lights on approaching this Garda that were not stopped. What in the world? I won’t repeat what Gerry said, but I stewed about that for days. Were my brights on? No, I checked. Had he known I’d been up for twenty-four hours and was driving on the wrong side of the road in a strange car and an unfamiliar city, he might well have yelled at me a little more. But picking me out of a crowd to vent … that was just rude. I still have half a mind to complain to someone.

Finally, it was late enough for us to decamp to the Portmarnock. Oh, friends, I do love this hotel. It’s … just right. Just the right amount of luxury and comfort, with great staff and service. We stayed in a few very nice hotels on this trip—and I’m working on a comparison chart to grade them, which I’ll post later—but from a gut-reaction, emotional standpoint, I’ll just tell you right now, I love this hotel. It’s about a fifteen-minute drive from the airport, in a small village (Portmarnock) that is close to a larger village (Malahide), right on the sea. Great beaches and a DART station too. Convenient!

A beautiful wall of ivy, turned red in the autumn, at the entrance to the Portmarnock Hotel.

A beautiful wall of ivy, turned red in the autumn, at the entrance to the Portmarnock Hotel.

Also, of course … this was “The Beginning.” The run-up to our party that we’d been planning for literally two years. At last. So it was exciting.

We had a very nice room: third floor, golf-course view. The sea view rooms are very nice, too, but they are in the old wing of the hotel, in the original Jameson estate. The golf-view rooms all have air conditioning, and tiny balconies. Perfect for Yanks.

This was a little bit of the view from ours.

This was a little bit of the view from ours.

And this little graveyard that impinges on the golf course fascinates me. One of these days …

And this little graveyard that impinges on the golf course fascinates me. One of these days …

John was staying right across the hall from us; his room (“garden view”) overlooked the courtyard.

So we checked in, checked with our party-planner and made an appointment for the next day, and started to unpack. I’d scheduled a massage with a licensed therapist in town to alleviate the edema I get lately from air travel. I’d spent a lot of time shopping around online, but ultimately settled on Sunshine Massage Therapy in Portmarnock Village. The appointment was at three o’clock. Marta is a delightful young woman and she gave me a fabulous, one-hour full body massage. No, really. I’d been upfront with her: I’m an American, just passing through. She could have given me a crap massage, she could have just “phoned it in”—but she didn’t. I’ve been getting regular massage for twenty-five years; I know a good massage when I get one. And it was only €35 (just a little over $38 at today’s exchange rates).

I was rejuvenated after a great massage.

I was rejuvenated after a great massage.

Back at the hotel, we took a little walk outside, and after we were collapsed back in the room (OK, I was collapsed), I got a text from my niece, Alli. You remember Al. She and her mom, my sis, traveled around Ireland with Margaret and I back in September of 2012.

A lot has happened since then. To wit: Sabas. He’s the lovely man who fell in love with the beautiful Al, and married her at her parents’ home in California about two weeks before today. (Oh, you should see those photos!) They’d been saving for and planning their honeymoon trip to Greece and Spain … and Dublin, for our party.

They’d arrived in Dublin a few hours earlier. Could we get together? she texted. I really want to see you. I want you to meet Sabas. I wanted to meet Sabas, too, but not enough to drive back into Dublin; at this point I was well past twenty-four hours with no sleep. So I was honest: I’m too tired to go anywhere. But: We’ll come to you, Alli replied. A light supper in the Seaview Lounge? That sounded perfect. They’d be here in about an hour.

Oh, just look at them! Aren’t they gorgeous? Sabas, Alli, and Gerry in the Seaview Lounge, late afternoon.

Oh, just look at them! Aren’t they gorgeous? Sabas, Alli, and Gerry in the Seaview Lounge, late afternoon.

We had soup and brown bread and talked and laughed and watched the sun go down outside. It was perfect. And when it got dark, they went back to one of the Hampson cousins’ house, and Gerry and I went to bed.

* I know another American (Marilyn Cullen) who’s lived in Ireland for twenty years, and she still sounds as American as the day she left. I can’t even imitate an Irish accent!

From the City Centre to an Elegant Estate

Tuesday, 23 June 2015
I was awake at 4:20 and it was already light. Guess I was caught up on my sleep. 🙂 Or maybe I was just ready and excited about a change of venue!

We went down to breakfast and reviewed our stay at the Doubletree as we ate.

Things we liked:
• Quiet neighborhood; no traffic, train, or aiplane noise at all.
• Quiet hotel; we never heard loud talking or hijinks in the hall or in the next room.
• Nice location, though it’s not right in the city centre, so you should be prepared to walk a lot.

Things we didn’t like:
• It was a hotbox in June; but this probably isn’t a problem at all from September to May.
• Fridge smelled like someone pooped in it.
• Height of bathroom counter! It was clearly built for giants, as it hit me in mid-torso; to brush my teeth, to reach the sink with my mouth, I had to lay across the counter, and even so, my chin barely reached the sink.
• Bed was hard as a rock; we might as well have slept on the floor.
• Bathroom amenities were in tubes only 5/8-inch wide (yes, I measured) and made of stiff plastic; you couldn’t squeeze them, so you left about half the contents in every tube.

After breakfast we got packed up and then walked to the Hertz location on Baggot Street. The clerk had upgraded us slightly to a Volkswagen Polo. Oh, I had so much fun driving this car! But the boot (the trunk) is small—ours was a hatchback—so this fall we think we’ll get something bigger.

On the way back to the hotel I thought I’d drive by Farm (the restaurant we’d eaten at with Orla and Conor) to take a photo of the façade … I tried to take a little “exit” turn onto a one-way street but the exit itself was a one-way. Ooops! So if you’re going to drive the wrong way down a one-way street, I learned, rush hour is the time to do it. Because you can’t get very far before someone stops you. 🙂 This has nothing to do with driving on the left, in case you were thinking that. Our neighborhood had several one-way streets, and there was no visible signage.

Then the challenge was getting from Ranelagh in south Dublin to Artane in north Dublin with a driver who mostly doesn’t know where she’s going and a nondriving copilot—and no GPS. (We thought we’d switched maps, but really we’d just turned both maps ON, so Ms. Emily Gp.S. was confused and couldn’t locate the satellite for either.) But Gerry got us there with no problem. Dublin can be a confusing city to drive in, at times. Choosing which lane to be in, mostly. But no pressure, so we just meandered and everything was fine.

First item on the agenda—I wanted to catch up with William and Gwen (Gerry’s brother and his wife). I hadn’t seen them (except for the odd Skype call here and there) since they’d visited us in Tennessee in 2010. Eoin (their son) and his wife Tracy were coming with. We had an appointment at the bank later, so there was a lot of discussion about where to go for lunch: decisions made and discarded, and round and round—the usual thing when you have six people who can’t agree on where to have lunch. Finally as we were loading up to go one place, Eoin came back to the car and said “Let’s just go to the Yacht in Clontarf; it’s close and we won’t have to rush.”

And it was perfect and we had a good time. 🙂

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

After that we went to the bank, ran an errand for Bridie (Gerry’s mother), and then we were off to Portmarnock.

Oh! I just love everything about this route. You’re still in Co. Dublin and only twenty minutes from the city centre … but you’re right on the beach in a little village. Five minutes north and you’re in Malahide; Howth is to the south. It’s an upscale community for sure, but without pretension.

And it’s got a very nice hotel/golf club. We stayed at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links back in 2012—Eoin and Tracy had their wedding reception here—and frankly, I just fell in love with it.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

The Portmarnock website tells us a bit of history of the estate:

The land on which the hotel now stands was originally part of the Jameson family estate (of Irish whiskey fame) and the house itself was called St. Marnock’s House. King Edward VII often visited the Jamesons and on his last official visit in 1907 he unveiled a plaque which was designed specially for the occasion of the marriage between members of two great distilling families, Jameson and Haig. The plaque is still to be seen in what was the secret south garden. The Jameson family had a nine-hole golf course on the site over 100 years ago; this golf course is now part of both the Portmarnock Golf Club and the Bernhard Langer designed Dublin Golf Links course.

Which is to say none of the course directly adjacent to the hotel is the historic course; those are further away. What we see is a newer—but still a true “links”—course.

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. :)

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. 🙂

I was curious about that word links, and the use of the phrase “a true links course.” What do I know about golf? Not much, I’ll tell you. But this article—“What makes a links golf course?”—from The Majors magazine offers an answer for you golf fans:

But what exactly is a links? There is no easy answer. In the Shell International Encyclopaedia of Golf, the Wikipedia of its day even if that was four decades ago, the entry for “Links” begins: “A term surrounded by some doubt and controversy.” Nothing is more certain to start golfing pedants sounding their klaxons than the use of the word “links” to mean any golf course. [But] … “in modern usage the term tends to mean sand-dune country of little use except for golf between the sea and more fertile areas; ‘links’ type golf is generally thought of as that found only on traditional seaside courses.” …

For the true cognoscenti, a links should be alongside a river estuary; offer at least partial or occasional views of the sea; have few if any trees; have numerous bunkers; and its two nines should be routed out and back, the front heading to a far point and the back returning to the clubhouse, in the general manner of the Old Course.

There you have it.

It’s a beautiful site. You’ll love it.The original home faced the sea, and you can see it here in this photo taken from the hotel’s website. You can also see those links.

And OMG, the Portmarnock! Air conditioning! The room was air conditioned! (We were in the new addition that faces the golf course on one side and the garden on the other. The rooms facing the beach are in the old Jameson mansion and do not have air conditioning, though I doubt you’d need it with a window open to the sea.) So the room wasn’t a hot box—we could have just opened the door and window and that would have been enough. I started a new list:

Things I already like about our room at the P:
• Balcony—so we can open window and door
• Larger room—it’s deluxe, and cheaper than the Doubletree

The door and window are open! And it is good. :)

The door and window are open! And it is good. 🙂

We went out immediately to have a walk on the beach, but that wasn’t so easy. The hotel has its own entrance path, but that was easiest to find from the beach, rather than from the hotel. So we walked around to the public entrance for the Fingal County Council public beach. We didn’t stay long—my feet were in agony. (It’s not from walking; this pain is on top of my feet, and they’re puffy, full of fluid. By the end of the day even the thought of walking down the hall to the elevator makes me wince.)

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805.

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805. You can click on this photo and then click again to enlarge the image.

Martello towers are, as you can see above, small forts that were scattered across the the coastline of the (then) British Empire, mostly during the nineteenth century. You see them everywhere; often they’ve been turned into living spaces, as this one has.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

The beach at Portmarnock is nicknamed the Velvet Strand, and has some interesting historical notes having to do with pioneering aviators. James “Jim” Mollison took off from Portmarnock Beach on 18 August 1932 for what was acknowledged as the first solo east to west crossing of the Atlantic; two years earlier, Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew had taken off on a westbound transatlantic flight (to Newfoundland, then they continued on to Oakland, California, completing a circumnavigation of the world). Their plane was called the Southern Cross, and there’s a monument to it on the beach (though we didn’t find it).

To be frank, it being June and warm weather, the beach had a lot of visitors, many of them teenagers who were drinking and playing loud music. Not my idea of a walk on the beach, so we didn’t stay. But I must add that I watched a fiftyish woman rise up out of the ocean—she had been swimming, for God’s sake, swimming in the ocean, on a windy day with the temps no higher than 65°F. And she wasn’t the only one! Brrr.

Still, we were far enough down the beach that we could clearly see the path to the hotel. It led us on a circuitous route around the backside of the hotel, through a prettily manicured lawn …

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

… and remember the garden plaque presented to the Jameson family by King Edward VII? There it was: Lux Amor Pax (light, love, peace).

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

By the time we got done oohing and aahing over every little thing—we were quite pleased with the room and the beautiful day—and settling in, it was after 7pm. Too late for afternoon tea so we just stayed in, relaxing and working and snapping more photographs from the window.

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!