A Trip to Dingle

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I went to Dingle last weekend in the company of the new lady in my life. We stayed in the Dingle Skellig Hotel. The hotel is the best in Dingle and one of the best in Kerry. It features a spa and leisure center, a range of lovely rooms, a beautiful restaurant and a very pleasant and spacious bar also. The full four star treatment !

Arriving late on Saturday night we headed into Dingle town to sample the music, nightlife and atmosphere of the town. Bearing in mind that it is February and still very wintery here, and the tourist season is in ticking over mode, the town was surprisingly busy and the ambience was verging on the festive. Dingle, I am told sees a trickle of visitors all year around now.

It functions as a nice balance to the main tourist hub of Killarney and being a little more off the beaten track it features more young backpackers and solo travellers than Killarney. It also attracts many Irish holiday makers and is a popular enough location for a domestic stag party.


After a little wander around the small town. I found one of my friends from music sessions in Cork, Garoid O Duinin, accompanying an accordion player in The Courthouse pub. Garoid lives in Baile Bhuirne and commutes impressive distances to play sessions in Cork, Killarney and Dingle. Originally a rock guitar player, he has been playing traditional guitar for many years now and indeed played with many of the greats including Paddy Cronin, the famous Kerry fiddle player. I found him again in the same pub on the following night accompanying a fiddle player. A busy man ! When I put it to him he was working hard these days, he told me to him music was not work at all, but enjoyment. He is dead right too !

Back at the hotel that evening, there was a quintessential one man band performing in the lobby. With songs from Christy Moore, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and others sandwiched together, and with barely a pause for breath in between, it was quite the rollercoaster ride through our musical milieu.

Breakfast in the hotel restaurant, the coastguard restaurant, was beautiful. The location was stunning with the morning sun streaming in across Dingle bay and the buffet breakfast was very pleasant and had an impressive choice of hot and cold foods.

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After breakfast we headed out towards Mt. Brandon for a walk in the mountains. There are three main routes to Mt. Brandon; The Saints Road, The Pilgrims Path and The Brandon Range Walk. We opted for the intermediate Pilgrims Path, a route that took us over a gentle ascent before bringing us down into the valley in front of Mt. Brandon. Having already walked for two hours, we opted to turn back at this point and so, while we didn’t make it all the way to the summit, we did have a good long hike in stunning scenery and on a beautiful day too.

The mountain takes its name from Brendan the navigator, a remarkable saint who is reputed to have spent time praying and fasting here before sailing to America hundreds of years before Columbus. But that’s a story that deserves its own post! ( or even a book !).20180225_130245.jpg

I was so happy to be on the mountains. I really enjoy hiking and even running on mountains. The exhilarating views, crystal clear air and natural beauty make for a wonderful, invigorating experience.

After returning to the hotel, we went to the leisure center, which was very nice also. The pool is 17m. which just about allows for a decent swim and there is also a steam room and a jacuzzi but no sauna.

After a good dinner in the hotel bar (the restaurant was closed as it was a Sunday), we headed back into town again for a few drinks and some music. The tourist season is at low ebb but there was still plenty of music and fun in the town. Spanish fishermen, Japanese tourists, local musicians of varying standards and a good smattering of locals out for their Sunday pint all in good spirits. Irish tourist towns are a strangely global affair these days !

After another delicious breakfast we drove around the peninsula on the Slea Head drive. Highlights included Dun Choin, beautiful views of the Blaskets and Ballyferriter. Here are some photos.

It’s a short enough spin around the peninsula and features breathtaking views at every turn. There were many people walking it also as part of the Dingle way.

The Dingle Way is an 8/9 day hike around the peninsula which, while it does feature beautiful views, is also along fairly busy and narrow roads. Personally, I would prefer to keep my hiking to the traffic free mountains but I do admire the hardy souls on the Dingle way, particularly at this time of year. I hope more off-road paths open up in the future too.

Alan Coakley is a travel director with Trafalgar Tours.

 


Lisbon in February

I have just returned to Ireland after a few days in Lisbon. Lisbon strikes me as an aspirational city with a deep past. The old town siting alongside new spacious hotels and conference centers has a gentle prosperous buzz and a strong sense of an old identity that make for a winning combination.


I was there for a work conference and my impressions are gleaned from a few busy days in the city. In my limited free time I visited two art galleries and explored the Alfama district where I listened to some Fado music in one of the many restaurants in the beautiful warren of streets that constitutes the old town. I really only felt I scratched the service of what this wonderful city has to offer.

Arriving early from Dublin, I went to the Museu Nacional De Arte Antiga after finding the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian closed. It was stunning. I was delighted to find many works by many artists I was unfamiliar with. Although I have a limited knowledge of visual art, I love to stroll around galleries. I am happy to allow the paintings seep into my consciousness and do not want feel a need to broaden (or perhaps burden!) my appreciation with more detailed historical knowledge or technical understanding. I am happy more or less to stand and stare; awed and enriched by the majesty, beauty, vision and technical scope of the art.

I love this mode of journey into the past. It is a chance to dive beneath the secular, scientific surface of our society and encounter an older way of seeing humanity and the world, often with strong religious elements.

Here are some of the wonderfull pictures I saw.

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The museum itself is on the Northern bank of the river, to the East of the Alfama district and housed in the former palace of the count of Alvor. The collection dates from 1833 when much property was taken from Catholic monasteries after the church backed the losing side in the wars of succession between absolutist and liberal forces in the 1820’s and 30’s.

On my final day in Lisbon I went to the Museo Coleccao Berardi, an uber cool modern art galery. I am always suspicious of modern art with its inflated sense of importance and bombasticity but the Museo Coleccao  surpassed my expectations. I had a thouroughly enjoyable wander through the gallery. And I must admit that it changed by percetion of modern art. I felt many of the pictures documented the fragmentation of modern life with its attendend confusion, commercialism and colour brilliantly. Here are some of my choice stand-out pieces.

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My final night in Lisbon was spent in search of Fado music in the Alfamo district.  My initial hot tip from a local, Tasca do Jaime, was closed so I had a very enjoyable walk down throught he old district of Alfamo in search of fado. Eventually I found some at the “restaurant de fado”, where the waitresses took turns to sing alongside guitar players. I found the performance captivating. The music is heartfelt and visceral and, while constrained by the commercial, tourist setting, retains much of its power, spirit and beauty.

Here are some recordings:

 

Alan is a travel director with Trafalgar Tours.


 

Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction with over 1.6million visitors in 2016. With Dublin full of wonderful things to do, I want to help you decide if it is worth your while.

My first impressions of Guinness storehouse was that it was an overly commercial venture with little cultural and educational value. Indeed, I have not changed my mind on that score but my view has been tempered somewhat by both my own experience visiting it and by chatting with others who have been there.


Now my view is that it is an incredible place. It is an ode to our modern culture of branding and commerce. It is living proof of the expression “nothing succeeds like success”. Commercial branding is, of course, a hall of mirrors and the Guinness storehouse is effectively that. It is a mirror to our society and culture. The brand is legendary because it is successful, successful because it is legendary. And the Guinness storehouse is opulent and translucent in its depiction of all this. Come and look at the legendary advertisements it tells us. Admire our marketing genius and sink a pint of the legendary black stuff after, it intones with a knowing wink and mischievous smile. Guinness is the magician who can’t resist telling you how it’s done and knows that you will love him for it anyway. Guinness knows that even though you have seen the magicians trick you will still be seduced by the magic.

For all this chuzpuh, marketing brilliance and pychological double bluff Guinness deserves a visit. It does make a perfect foil for a morning spent exploring a museum or art gallery. The exhibits on advertising are excellent but the sections on brewing are pretty ordinary and standard for this kind of thing. There is also the opertunity to learn how to “pull a pint” which celebrates the art of creating “the perfect pint” from the tap and there is also the Gravity  bar on the top floor which has wonderful views across the city. It also has an excited and  almost skittish atmosphere that is as intoxicating as the brew itself. It is, of course, a bar full of hard working people on their holidays.

And really why not come here? It’s where everyone goes, isn’t it ?

Getting there:

Bus no. 13, , 40 from college green (outside Trinity), 123 from O Connell street or college green.

For a real luxury tourist experience you can share a jarvey (horse and cart) ride back to the city center after !

Cost.:

20Euro if you turn up (13.50Euro) for children. Over 18’s get a free pint.

Online discounts available in advance from as low as 14 Euro @ https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/tickets.

Alan is a Travel Director with Trafalgar Tours based in Ireland.