Traditional Irish music, or “trad” as the locals call it, is one of those things of which one must partake in order to have the full experience of Irish culture.
Having spent well over a month in Ireland, you would think I’d have made it out to at least one “session” in all that time. I’d been to several gigs of other genres of music, and at one point I was staying down the street from The Cobblestone in Dublin’s Smithfield district where I was told by several locals that they have the best, non-touristy trad sessions. But no, it hadn’t happened yet by the time I made it to Limerick and my time in Ireland was drawing to a close.
One of the lovely things about organized tours is that they are full of surprises. This can sometimes be a downside when you are roped into spending time on something that doesn’t hold your interest, but the serendipitous, comfort-zone-pushing surprises far outweigh any occasional pitfalls.
Something I wouldn’t normally have chosen to include in my itinerary is a tour of the University of Limerick, but our hosts wanted to show us their globally renowned sporting facilities and other claims to fame. As we were making our way from the auditorium to the gymnasium, imagine my delight as we were treated to a “surprise” (it was totally staged for our benefit) trad session in the corridor.
Besides their reputation for programs in athletics, sports medicine, and engineering, another popular field of study at the University of Limerick is their degree in Traditional Irish Music. In truth, very few of the musicians in this photo are indeed Irish. The music program attracts international students from far and wide. The performers may not have been Irish, but the music certainly was.
Disclosure and acknowledgements: I visited Limerick alongside other members of the travel media on a press tour organized by Failte Ireland. Many thanks to our hosts at the University of Limerick for our eye-opening campus tour and to our inimitable guide Tony for keeping us on track.
Needing to stretch our legs on the drive from Limerick to Dublin, we stopped in at the Kildare Village outlet shopping complex.
Initially I was looking for a unitard, or perhaps some new shoes to replace the ones I lost in South America, but I struck out on that front. The shops at Kildare Village had lots of high-quality, designer goods, but nothing quite fit the bill of what I’m looking for. One of the side-effects of living out of a suitcase for months on end is that I have become extremely picky about what I buy. Ridiculously, frustratingly picky. (Seriously, I need some shoes already!) If I don’t find the exact thing I want or need, no deal. There’s no room in my nomadic lifestyle for impulse buys.
What quickly captured my attention was the gorgeous, colourful needlework on a massive scale that cropped up around every corner at Kildare Village.
I’m fascinated by yarnbombing, which is the act of festooning objects in public spaces with knitting or crochet, often done clandestinely without permission. I saw it for the first time in the Tremont district of Cleveland, but I had never seen anything like this. The vibrant yarn was at least at centimetre in diameter and my inner maker stood perplexed, thinking about what it would take to knit with the gigantic yarn.
The installation is the work of Uniqverse Studio and was commissioned by Value Retail to create an experience in its shopping centres that would showcase wool.
There’s something inexplicably captivating about this yarn that awakened my senses. I’m a tactile person and even viewing the pictures now, in retrospect, makes me feel alive. After the Revolution, all public spaces shall be embellished with fuzzy, colourful textiles. That is my decree!
On that note, I will leave you to enjoy these purty pictures.
Disclosure and acknowledgements: On this trip I was a guest of Failte Ireland. Many thanks to Brian Kitson at Value Retail for hosting us at Kildare Village and helping me to delve deeper into the story behind this installation. Note that this post describes a temporary exhibit that may no longer be on display.
Since St. Patrick’s Day just passed, I thought I’d treat you to a vision of Dublin.
In this scene, the sun has just set as the brilliant twilight hues and the silhouetted cityscape are reflected in the calm waters of the river Liffey. In Temple Bar, coming up on our left, the (in)famous Dublin nightlife is about to hit its stride as night falls on the Irish capital.
This mural spoke to me when I first spotted it on the Internet. When I learned that it is in Dublin, I set out on a quest to track it down to see it for myself, and I did. Unfortunately there’s always a car parked in front of the best bit.
Apparently, having tea at the Shelbourne Hotel is one of things you have to do in Dublin. I was told as much the day after I arrived in Ireland, when I met up with the local BookCrossing group.
When Mariellen of Breathe. Dream. Go. came to town, it seemed like the perfect time to enjoy this must-do Dublin experience. Afternoon tea isn’t something I normally indulge in by myself, and Mariellen is a tea aficionado. Though, as someone who drinks the stuff approximately as often as a solar eclipse and is thus wholly ignorant of its complexities, I was mildly intimidated by the extent of her tea geekitude.
They call her the Grand Old Lady on the Green (the hotel that is, not Mariellen. No matter how zen India may have made her, I expect Mariellen would still object to being referred to as old) because she is an ornate, historic hotel overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. She’s like an elderly auntie who still knows how to dress to impress and has all kinds of wild stories to tell you if you bother to ask. “Peter O’Toole?” she’ll say. “Oh yes, he loved to bathe in Champagne.” Or maybe she’ll tell you about the time she hosted the drafting of Ireland’s Constitution if you seem interested.
The Shelbourne has so many stories that the hotel has a tiny museum in the lobby to share moments from its past. Shelves are lined with guest books filled with the names of heads of state, big names from the silver screen, corporate movers and shakers, and lesser-known but well-heeled guests of yore who have stayed at the Shelbourne, while the walls feature photographs of the property and Dublin’s streetscape through the years, as well as portraits of famous guests.
Speaking of stories, one of the most surprising and impressive amenities at the The Shelbourne is their Genealogy Concierge. Since tracing family roots is a popular reason people travel to Ireland, the service makes sense and isn’t just for the sake of novelty, but it’s still unusual and intriguing.
Once we’d flounced around the hotel a bit, and seen some of the guest rooms, (which are proactively redecorated and refurbished before they have a chance to need it) and chandeliers as big as your car, we sat down for afternoon tea in the Shelbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Lounge, which is just off the lobby as you enter the front door.
Francois is the Tea Concierge, and he helped us navigate the extensive tea menu. I realized Mariellen is a tea nerd when I caught her testing Francois with questions about the varieties of tea in specific blends listed on the menu. Later, she confessed to being a “tea snob.” Apparently my berry-infused herbal tea is not tea, but a tisane, and purists care about subtle distinctions such as this. It was tasty enough for me. I ordered it because, not being a regular tea drinker, I was concerned that I might dislike a proper cup of tea and since my face is an open book I could accidentally offend our hosts.
Since I don’t like tea, it’s logical that you might be wondering why I chose to go for afternoon tea at the Shelbourne Hotel. Two things: the food and the atmosphere. For me, proper afternoon tea is more about the experience than the tea itself, and The Lord Mayor’s Lounge makes you feel as though you’ve taken a spin in the TARDIS and stepped into another, more elegant era.
Afternoon tea cannot be rushed, and there’s something about being faced with a towering tray of dainties that forces me to slow down and savour the moment. The Shelbourne’s head chef Garry Hughes enthusiastically takes inspiration from the hotel’s heritage and, thanks to that aforementioned museum, often refers back to menus from historic moments in the hotel’s 190-year history.
The desserts served at our tea harkened back to ones served on memorable dates in the years 1924, 1954, and 1956, while our sandwiches were a contemporary update on stereotypical tea sandwiches, each made with artisanal heritage breads. Mariellen’s gluten-free sandwiches were especially impressive. Personally, I’m quite thankful that Ireland won its rugby match against Wales in 1956 because the dessert served that day — a gold-leafed chocolate mousse with mango and passionfruit — was by far my favourite.
Disclosure and acknowledgements: Many thanks to The Shelbourne Hotel for giving us a tour and providing Afternoon Tea for the purpose of this review. Thanks also to Francois for taking the group photo above.
We nerdfolk aren’t typically known for our athletic prowess or active lifestyles, so extreme sports might not be what you’d expect to find on a geek travel blog. Throughout my childhood I fit the mold of the stereotypical nerd who is hopeless at sports and is always picked last when choosing teams. One of the most vivid memories I have of Grade 7 is when I scored a 3-point shot in basketball…on my own team’s net (hey, I got dizzy and confused!)
So yeah, I never really considered myself an athlete, even though pretty much everybody in my family is an athletic superstar of some kind or another. For many years I shied away from physical activity unless it involved cool costumes or weaponry. Then I made a tremendous breakthrough. I may always be utterly hopeless at team sports, but it turns out that I can kick some butt at individual sports when I put my mind to it.
Nonetheless, my default, ingrained assumption when trying some new physical activity is that I’m going to be hopeless at it. Luckily one of my major strengths is that I have no reservations about making a fool of myself. Another helpful attribute is that I am mostly fearless. Well, not completely fearless but I’m afraid of stupid stuff like Spongebob Squarepants, Gremlins, and persecution, but not heights, falling, or death. I have made my peace with mortality, but a flaccid-nosed anthropomorphic sponge sporting lederhosen is more dissonance than my psyche can handle.
Wakeboarding in Dublin?
I was genuinely shocked to discover that in Dublin there are oodles of opportunities to do adventure sports. I was determined to go beyond the usual, well-trod paddywhackery, but when I began researching this trip, that’s all I found. I kept looking and chanced upon Wakedock cable wakeboarding park in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock. Their website made it seem as though learning to wakeboard might be something I could actually pull off.
The Obligatory Angst
Still, I was mighty nervous leading up to my wakeboarding initiation. I fretted about whether my lacklustre swimming skills would hold me back, and whether I would be able to get in and out of a wetsuit without causing a major disturbance in The Force. I worried that I would be wasting everyone’s time, or that I wouldn’t be able to properly capture the experience for the blog. As soon as I arrived, all of my anxieties were assuaged by Nina and Colin who run Wakedock. Even the fact that in obsessing over what camera gear to bring on the day, I neglected to pack my swimsuit and towel turned out to be no big deal. They thought of everything.
Soon I was suited up and out on the Wakedock pontoon in the middle of the canal dock, ready to try wakeboarding in Dublin. Peter was my instructor and cable operator. He gave me a quick tutorial on the stance I needed to aim for, and then within five minutes I was in the water holding on to the cable and starting my first run.
Okay, “run” is an exaggeration. The first six times or so I could not get upright. Then I did. The next few times I got upright, I immediately fell on my face. Then I didn’t. With each go I got better and better. Next, I was staying upright and riding down the course with the board perpendicular to the cable. Then I learned how to turn the board so it was in line with the cable. As the lesson drew to a close I was learning to steer and able to do a full run of the course without falling. Have a look:
Why Cable Wakeboarding Rules
Going in I was skeptical of how much could be accomplished in a session lasting less than an hour, but I was amazed by the progress I made. I attribute this rapid learning to the cable wakeboarding system Wakedock have in Dublin. With cable wakeboarding the rider is not towed by a boat. Instead, there is a permanent, fixed system with a frame and motorized cable that pulls you along. Because the system makes very little noise, Peter could give me immediate, useful feedback that I could implement straight away. Since you don’t have to wait for the boat to circle around and get back into position when the rider falls, a lot more boarding can be fit into a short span of time. Given my propensity for falling at the start, this made a huge difference. Peter also had a great deal of control over the speed and he adjusted it accordingly as I progressed and stopped it instantly whenever I fell (did I mention that was a lot?)
What You Need to Know to be an Overnight Wakeboarding Success
One of the cool aspects of constantly trying new things is that the more I do it, the more I find that I’m not starting from square one at all. When Peter was teaching me the movements required for wakeboarding, I found that every time he gave me a new instruction I was able to draw a parallel with something I already knew, and these transferrable skills were invaluable. Holding on to the cable while turning the board was just like tango, where your torso and lower body are often required to move in different directions. The stance was similar to ones I’ve learned in martial arts, fencing, and weightlifting. The way I needed to move my feet to control the board was a lot like operating a Segway, and so on.
Wakeboarding in Dublin was a fantastic experience. Though I fully expected to be hopeless, I turned out to be “impressive” according to Colin (Before you ask…no, he wasn’t trying to sell me anything) and he suggested a whole raft of other hotbeds in ireland for extreme sports (though Wakedock is the first cable wakeboarding park in the Republic of Ireland.)
Maybe someday I will be able to do this:
Acknowledgements and Disclosure: I am very grateful to Colin and Nina at Wakedock for hosting my wakeboarding experience and providing me with complimentary tuition for the purpose of this review. Many thanks to the stellar Kris Goodbody who shot all of the photos and video in this post except where noted, and to Peter Taylor for showing me how to wakeboard and not drowning me.