Dalkey Adventuring

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Here’s what I know about Dalkey: if you’re driving, you should be in a Jaguar. As we sat on a corner eating our lunch in the sunshine I counted at least four in an hour period. That isn’t a ridiculous amount, true, but it still tipped the scales as the most common car that drove past us. So that’s the kind of place that it is. Dalkey is picturesque. There are huge flower baskets on every street light, it’s clean, it’s cute, it’s super fancy. It’s a nice stop for a “nice” lunch.

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After a trip down to the sea in Killiney, we found The Corner Note on a crossroads to sit and watch the world go by. And to eat our lunch. Inspired by our seaside adventure, C had mussels. They were delicious in a rich and tangy broth. I had a simple sandwich that was made much more exciting by the skinny sweet potato fries that came with it. The combination of the sweet potato fries in the mussel broth was actually the big win of the afternoon’s eating adventure.

I’m not going to say it was one of the best lunches of our lives, however Dalkey is a great place to walk around and to be in. It felt a little like we were on holiday; it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re near a city. And if you need some seafood or just a sandwich, the Corner Note will work. If you want to play “count the Jaguars”, even better.

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Killiney Beach Towards Bray Head
Dalkey Adventuring

Union 8

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When we moved to Dublin 8, we knew what we’d miss most about Rathmines was the plethora of dining choices right at our finger tips. Dublin 8 has some great cafés and lunch spots but not many nice dinner options. Union 8 saves the day.

On the crossroads in Kilmainham, Union 8 doesn’t seem like the ideal place to stop. Located at a busy intersection that most people fly through on a bus, in a car or astride their bikes, it catches attention. The busy intersection is actually made a feature by the restaurant: the giant windows allow you to watch the world go by from the simply, classy interior.

For a restaurant pretty far out of town by Dublin standards, I was slightly surprised at how pricey the menu is. The quality would have to be pretty high to demand those prices, I thought.

The early bird menu, though, does provide a great deal. The early bird menu is also perfect for parents of small children. Apologies if this blog is getting a bit child centric.  It’s my life at the moment. And Union 8 makes this baby moment of my life feel slightly more grown up.

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We went for the early bird, four adults and one tiny baby. We were all treated with respect and a full welcome. I appreciated that the early bird menu is the same as the normal menu just for a different price: 23.50 for two courses. There is a seven euro supplement for the steak, which two of us had, but that is fair enough. The steak was a lovely fillet and the pepper sauce was thick and spicy. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

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Each of us had a different appetizer. My nettle soup with chorizo oil was heavenly. Summery yet warm. My mother had beautiful beets with fluffy goat’s cheese. We all agreed the smoked salmon wasn’t quite salty enough, and the scallops, though delicious, were overshadowed by the black pudding lump next to them. We were all satisfied with the openers, though. No complaints.

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My husband drank a really delicious house cocktail that tasted to me like Christmas morning. It came in a gorgeous, huge, glass. That’s what you want in a cocktail. It lasted until just before his steak arrived.

So, yes, then steaks arrived and the fish special for the other two. The fish portions were large and after the well portioned starters, almost hard to finish. That’s another thing I appreciate about Union 8: the early bird’s well-sized portions. It means a lot to hungry, tired new parents like us (there I go again . . .).

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We went back earlier this week with friends who also have children. The restaurant managed all of us and our three babes very well. We were out by 7.30. Home for baths and bed.

Ok, I’ll stop now. About babies and kids. Union 8 is obviously great for that, but I suspect it is great for date nights, meet-the-parents nights, or simply a treat yourself evening. It’s worth the trip “out” of town.

Union 8

Alan Hanna’s Bookshop and Bark Coffee

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In keeping with the theme of trying places I’ve walked past for years and never ventured into, here’s some good advice: a place doesn’t have to be new and hip and full of men in beards to warrant a visit. In fact, when a place has been there for a while (long enough for me to walk past it for years), I’ve found some little gems of Dublin. And this is another one!

Alan Hanna’s Bookshop is a Rathmines stalwart, located on Upper Rathmines Road. They opened a little coffee  shop in the back and had an A-frame out front advertising this fact. This had never drawn me inside until the A-frame read: Kimchi Cuban! Special Sandwich of the day!

I like a Cuban Sandwich and I love Kimchi so this seemed a sign made especially for me. I ducked into the bookshop and headed to the back where the coffee shop is. It is larger and busier than I thought it would be back there. There were plenty of people sitting at tables enjoying their lunch and coffees.

There are no windows which I think can be tricky in a café. It’s nice to look out, even on a rainy day and I called in on a gorgeous sunny day. They make up for it here by putting up huge posters of penguin books to keep you in the book-ish cocoon. I still wanted to escape back to the sunshine, though, so I ordered my Kimchi Cuban to go.

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The other sandwiches on the menu are less adventurous and what you would expect in a café/sandwich shop. They are all made to order, so I am certain there is some personalization that you can do if you wish.

There are brownies and some other cakes, scones, packets of crisps and popcorn and some candy bars on offer. It’s simple but there is something for everyone.

The Kimchi Cuban was delicious. It was warm and tasty. The kimchi was homemade and not too strong. I could certainly have done with stronger, but I appreciate the fact that new comers to kimchi-land may like a lighter introduction.

Check out the A-frame outside the bookshop on Upper Rathmines Road and see if they can entice you in for a book, a coffee or a hefty sammy.

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Alan Hanna’s Bookshop and Bark Coffee

Glendalough

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On St. Patrick’s Day earlier this month, a happy band of family and friends headed out to Glendalough, home of another Saint (Kevin), to walk in the fresh air and get the heck out of the party zone that Dublin turns into on the 17th of March.

It turns out most Irish people in the Dublin and Wicklow areas had exactly the same idea; there wasn’t a parking spot to be had in all of the Glendalough Park official car parks or along the road leading to the park. At one point I was afraid we had reached grid lock as we tried to pass from one lot to another. Everyone seemed to think that St. Patrick’s Day morning was a super time to stretch the legs, breath fresh Irish air and take in the fantastic scenery Glendalough offers.

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We managed to finagle a space about a mile up the road eventually. The plan was to hike the full Spinc Trail which runs around the lake, through the old mining village up over the ridge of the valley and back down through the forest on the other side. Eight miles in total.

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The day was foggy and grey as we started out around the lake. The trail was busy (not surprising considering the car park situation), not only with adult hikers but babies, children and dogs of all shapes and sizes. A celebration of the national holiday in one of the most gorgeous locations.

As we started our ascent out of the mining village, the sky began to clear. I ate an apple. We climbed up and up along the rocky, switch-back trail and after about an hour or so found a gorgeous grassy, not-too-windy spot to have our picnic.

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Luckily we’d packed enough food and treats to sustain us for the remaining climb and descent. I’d never walked the Spinc before and the views are incredible. It’s well worth the little burning in the quads to be high up above the Glendalough valley looking down on the lake, the graveyard and the mining village.

As we began our decent through the forest, we were aided by wooden steps. There is an option of walking up the steps and around the path the other way. Many people were coming at us from that direction. I am, however, thrilled that we went up the other way and didn’t have to face climbing all those stairs. The ascent that way would have been much steeper and more punishing. Also, if you go up the way we did, you get the views of the valley facing you as you walk back down. I don’t want to toot our own whistle, but that was clearly the best way.

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Once safely (if exhaustedly) returned to the valley, we had a little gander through the graveyard. The sun was over the lake, and the mist from earlier made the air sparkle a bit. It’s easy to see why Glendalough was considered such a spiritual place. It’s part of the new Ancient East Trail.

We rewarded ourselves with pints of Guinness (or whatever you’re having yourselves) before the mile long walk back to the car. If we’d parked a little closer the day would have been too close to perfection. The distance to the car made us feel very smug about our ten-mile walk.

Glendalough is close to Dublin and there are buses out there every day a few times a day if you don’t have a car. I highly recommend going. There are other trails and loops to follow if you don’t feel like the full eight mile Spinc adventure. Just being there is magic.

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Glendalough

Sweet Treats and Fun Times in Lisbon

 

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Some People Travel to Portugal for the Sun. Not Us. But It Was a Perk.

One of the best reasons to travel anywhere is for food. Local food is a great excuse to go to a new country. It’s even better if you already know that you love the local cuisine. I thought I loved ramen before I went to Tokyo, but my Tokyo ramen experience changed the way I view noodle soup. I actually said to my husband, “this ramen is changing my life,” let alone my view of noodle soup. Drinking Guinness in Dublin is a completely different to drinking it anywhere else in the world. This past weekend we were in Lisbon, Portugal where we made a pilgrimage to the mecca of Pastéis de Nata.

I have eaten quite a few pastéis already in my life. I was introduced to them in Paris by my Portuguese cousin-in-law three years ago. At their wedding later that year I opted out of the cake option and into the “how many pastéis can I eat without popping out of my dress” option. Soon after, “Portuguese tarts” started appearing in Butler’s Café here in Dublin of all places. I didn’t partake. Mass produced pastéis in Ireland didn’t feel right to me.

We’ve been talking of a trip to Portugal for real pastéis, among other things since that first Paris experience. This past weekend, it happened. The entire four days were geared towards getting to Pastéis de Belém. We even booked our Air B&B to be closer to it.

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Do Not Pass Go, Just Get It

Knowing this was the plan, I decided I would make sure to partake in a few other pastéis once in the country. Just for comparison sake. A scientific study, if you will. My first pastéis and coffee was at the airport, right off the plane. I figured that even if airport pastéis were bad, they would be better than I’d had yet in my life. I was not wrong. The filo pasty was flakey and crisp. The custard was smooth but not runny. It was sweet but not too sweet; no donut sickliness here. Just hints of sweetness to take the edge off the coffee. And it was a bargain!

My second pastéis was the next morning at a local café. Now we were nearer to Belém, but not there yet. Every café makes it’s own pastéis. Our local had a slightly runnier custard but still had the same unassuming, comforting taste. If you are not a person who goes for donuts or pain au chocolate because they’re too sweet, pastéis are a great option.

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Local Café Version

Third time’s a charm: it was now time for the main event. We got to Pastéis de Belém on Saturday afternoon which seemed to be when everyone else in the area decided to go for their pastéis too. The queue was massive, both for take away and to sit in. It reminded me of Café du Monde in New Orleans, the bignet mecca. Tiled walls, no fuss, not fancy, but more like an upscale cafeteria. Even with our “local knowledge” about the huge back room, we still had to wait about twenty minutes for a table. Most of the people in the queue were Portuguese. There were families, couples, a pair of sisters in their 80s, four month old twins . . . no age limit for love of pastéis!

Luckily once we sat down we knew exactly what we were going to order. They come to the table warm. They are fresh. Pastéis de Belém pumps out about 30,000 pastéis daily. DAILY. But I’m not surprised. Plates were passing us by that had up to ten pastéis on them. For a table of four people. Those people are winning at life, make no mistake.

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Anticipation . . . 

These super pastéis have a perfect nest of filo pastry as their base. They look like many of the others in café windows around town, but when you bite into the warm custard, you know you’ve just taken your pastéis experience to the next level. The custard is whiter and lighter. We sprinkled a healthy amount of cinnamon and a light dusting of powdered sugar on these to bump up the taste explosion. Our pastéis game went from JV to Varsity in a matter of seconds.

Like my ramen experience, or ordering Guinness at an Irish pub outside of Ireland, having had my Pastéis de Belém experience, no ordinary pastéis will do. Not that it will stop me from ordering one occasionally if the mood strikes, but I’ll be that person nibbling away who says, “you know, you haven’t really had a pastéis until you’ve had one in Belém.”

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Aftermath. Worth It. 
Sweet Treats and Fun Times in Lisbon

From California Sunshine to Irish Autumn

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C and I just spent a really wonderful two weeks in Southern California. I grew up in Los Angeles, so landing at LAX always feels like “home!”, even though I haven’t lived there for longer than I have lived there.

The day after we arrived we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara. The Pacific Coast Highway is a great drive. The big, dry mountains down to the pacific waves couldn’t look more different to Ireland. This stretch of road It is mostly populated and there are houses hanging over the sea and built into mountain sides. You’re never far from humanity in California.

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We also spent time out in the desert, staying in Palm Springs for three nights and Joshua Tree for one. The desert landscape feels completely foreign to me. The lack of green, the dryness, the browns and beige and soft colours are the opposite to the lush jewel tones of autumn in Ireland. The harsh sunlight is also a clear difference as well.

There is something quite wonderful about waking up and knowing the sun will shine. Seeing a perfectly blue sky, palm trees, and the sun every day really does make it feel like a holiday. It was a treat to spend time in pools, lounging in the warm shade, and getting to leave all “outerwear” safely packed away.

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I think it is good for the soul to get a chance to be in landscapes so completely opposite to those you live with every day. Parts of Joshua tree were almost like a joke: piles of rocks and sand and cacti. It was like being on the set of The Flinstones movie.

It was a relief to come back to turning leaves and cool autumn air. Driving on the motorway yesterday was like being inside a pumpkin; the orange and yellow glowing along the road against a dark sky.

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I am certainly more suited to this Irish climate, but it is lucky to be able to get out and remember to appreciate it. That blast of heat and sun and sand and memories of all those palm trees will carry me through the dark winter that is descending.

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From California Sunshine to Irish Autumn

Amsterdam Part II: Things in Windows

I could walk around Amsterdam all day, every day. I don’t know if I could get bored of the wonky storybook buildings, the lazy canals, the cozy bars and coffee shops . . . maybe it’s better not to find out. Leave wanting more!

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One of my favorite things was walking around and looking into people’s houses. Nothing makes this little creep happier than spying a lovely living room, a well-kept kitchen, or a stuffed bookcase. I love getting a glimpse of how people design and decorate their homes. Happily for me, the Dutch are very open. Rarely were shades or curtains drawn.

“Look at their orchids!”

“Wow, I love a bookcase that goes over the doorway.”

” I want to have that kitchen.”

And on and on. C and I were ready to move into a few houses around the city.

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There were also some fun surprises that greeted us as we looked up and around the city too.

A fierce nun,

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The three graces on a balcony taking the sun,

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And this creepy fellow probably trying to dissuade me from my peeping ways,

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Though the museums were fantastic, the two gigs we went to (one comedy, one music) were moving and so enjoyable, just walking around Amsterdam and getting glimpses into life there was the best.

Amsterdam Part II: Things in Windows