Tag Archives: dublin

Do You Want Curry Chips With That? (with your Baked Curried Cod that is!) Serves 4-6

The other day a very old friend tracked me down via this blog, and since then we have exchanged a couple of emails. The kind of “old friend” I am talking about is the one you are forever bound to because you were in the same place at the same time during those precious formative years; the years where you were beginning to become the person you ultimately became (for lack of a more evolved explanation).

Curried Chips: the reason for this post!

Curried Chips: the reason for this post!

I met Maria when we were thirteen and we were thrown together, for better or for worse, until we were grown women of eighteen (supposedly anyway!), and, except for a few occasions when we happen to bump into each other, and keeping up a little through mutual friends, we had never really kept in touch. I didn’t see this as a  failure on either of our parts. It was just life, and our school friendship was complete in and of itself, unchanged by the years in between and the cheery hello I received from her last week.

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

Of course the way in which friendships like this one are rekindled  is to connect over the events that our lives revolved around at that time; the place we lived, the people we knew, the food we ate etc. And so when we emailed, we both started off with “remember when?” comments.

Maria’s “remember when” was about running over to get batter burgers at lunchtime! What’s a batter burger you may well ask? Basically, the Fish & Chip shop was the only place to have something quick to eat in the 1970’s through the 80’s, and was (and still is) synonymous with the last stop on the way home from a drunken night on the town. It was thought to be a good hangover cure, or at least make it more bearable.

Crispy battered cod

Crispy battered cod from The Saltee Chipper in County Wexford

  ‘The Chipper”, as any one of these places was generally referred to, was by and large run by first generation Italians in Ireland, and they had accomplished the art of frying fish, meat and potatoes (the staples in Ireland back then), in a small vat of bubbling oil to crisp perfection. There is nothing quite like a meal of battered cod and chips (french fries) with a good soaking of vinegar. It can be such a deeply satisfying dish when eaten at exactly the right moment. The batter burger sounds awful, a beef patty dipped in dough batter and deep-fried to a golden puffiness – yep, that does sound awful, but I assure you I must have liked it at one point in my life. Battered sausages were also a popular item but I never had the nerve to try one. They looked like long blistered…well they looked pretty disgusting to me!

Approacing Christ's Church Cathedral

Dublin is a great place for Fish and Chips

Being reminded of foods like batter burgers made me think about the food from the Chipper that I really enjoyed. I still make Fish and Chips today (plenty of examples of this on my blog) but the memory of Curried Chips was what I became fixated on. In Ireland chips came with everything. It was simply unacceptable to serve a meal without a potato on the plate in one form or another. The Chinese restaurants that opened up were soon to learn that serving chips on the same plate as the chicken curry and rice gleaned more hungry Bar-goers and so it became common to eat chips accidentally soaked in curry sauce.

a peak at the view

County Laois

I am really just coming to my own logical conclusion that the flavor of  the curry sauce on the chips was so popular it became a frequent request at the Chip Shop, and slowly but surely Curried Chips became a popular item on the menu. So much so, that along with the obligatory question, “salt and vinegar?” after your chips were hot out of the oil and in a neat little rectangular bag, you were asked if you wanted curry sauce too. It was either poured into the bag or given on the side. As messy as it was to eat, I preferred it spilling out of the bag!

Curried Chips with Cod Fish

My Version of Curried Chips with Cod Fish

The logic continued to follow that I would have to make Curried Chips myself to capture some of that nostalgia. When my son took his first bite he declared, “hey, these are like the curried chips in Ireland”

Enough said!

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For the Curry Sauce:

4 tbs unsalted butter

3 to 4 cups chicken or veggie broth OR 1 good quality bouillon cube and water (which is what I usually do for this. I use Rapunzel brand cubes: really great)

1 1/2 to 2 tbs mild or medium heat madras curry powder

1 tsp sea-salt

freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1 – Put sauce pan on medium/low heat and add the butter. When it has melted, add the curry powder and sir until incorporated. Add the flour and repeat process. If using a bouillon cube, crumble it in, and stir well.

melt butter, add curry powder

melt butter, add curry powder

2 – Next add the liquids 1 cup at a time while mixing with a whisk. Cook sauce (stirring all the while) until thickened and flour and spices have cooked into the liquid, (about 10 minutes or so). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper according to your likeness. Cover and set aside.

Cook for a little

Cook for a little

*If you feel your sauce could be thinner, add more stock or water until the desired consistency is reached.*

add liquid, salt adn pepper

Add liquid, salt and pepper

Serve with whatever you like; in this case, chips or french fries (depending on which continent you grew up on!)

serve with fries

serve with fries (either on the side like this, or smothering the chips completely in sauce!)

Recipe for Chips (Fries):

4 large potatoes (not huge, just large!)

3 tbs olive oil,

1 tsp sea-salt

generous grinding of black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 475*

1 – Wash and dry the potatoes and cut lengthways into thick slices (3/5″, 1cm) and put in large bowl. 2 – Add the salt & pepper and the olive oil to bowl and mix well with hands until potatoes are well coated. When oven is hot take your big baking sheet and add 2 tbs oil to pan and place in lower 3rd of oven.

from potato, to slices, to fries!

From potato, to slices, to fries!

2 – Add the salt & pepper and the olive oil to bowl and mix well with hands until potatoes are well coated. When oven is hot take your big baking sheet and add 2 tbs oil to pan and place in lower 3rd of oven. Let pan warm for about 4 or so minutes. Take pan out (it will give off a bluish smoke, don’t be alarmed) and immediately pour potatoes onto pan (should sizzle).

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients (I added a few sprigs of rosemary that I discovered lurking in the back of the veggie drawer)

3 –  Arrange evenly in a single layer and place in oven for 20 minutes. Take out, let pan cool for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and then turn fries with a spatula (or egg flip/turner?). They should release easily….if not, put back in oven for another 2 minutes and try again. Turn and place back in oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes (peak after 8). Take out, give them a minute to release themselves and get ready to serve or keep warm as the case may be.

great fries

Great fries

Recipe for Baked Curried Cod:

1 1/2 to 2 lbs fresh cod fillets (use 2 lbs if cooking for six), cut into 4 to 6 oz pieces

1 tsp mild curry powder

sprigs of fresh thyme (about 2 dozen)

1 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 tbs unsalted butter

sea-salt and black pepper for seasoning fish

Method:

Preheat oven to 400*

1 – Wash and dry fish. Season fish with sea-salt and pepper and curry powder. Rub a baking sheet with the olive oil and toss the thyme sprigs in the bottom in the even layer. Place the fish on top of the thyme.

*If some of your fish is thick and some thin (the tail end), all you have to do is fold the thin pieces in two to thicken them out and to assure they cook around the same time as your thicker pieces*

Arrange fish on baking tray with other ingredients

Arrange fish on baking tray with other ingredients

2 – Place a pat of butter on each fish piece and bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Take it our of the oven and cover with foil until ready to serve.

et voila!

et voila!

Serve this with whatever you like: if serving alone, add some lemon wedges. This is also great with egg noodles, rice and a sautéed green.

As you can see, I served the fish with curry sauce adn chips - delish!

As you can see, I served the fish with curry sauce and chips – quite delish!

The Ireland Chronicles: Entry 1 – Mummified Cat & Rat, Giant Sand Sculptures, Followed by Lunch at Wagamama’s in Dublin!

When I returned from Ireland, where I spent my entire Summer, my friend Tom posed a very serious question: “Have you stopped writing your blog?”  “Of course not” I snapped defensively, “just couldn’t do all that fun stuff and have time to write about it!’ Now that I am back, it is time to chronicle my adventures. He may be sorry he asked, as seething with envy might be the result of his reading each and every delicious post!

Ha’penny Bridge over the river Liffey in Dublin

And what better place to start than with my trip to Dublin, always an adventure. This city hovers around the top of my list of favorites, and a few of the things I did on this particular day did nothing to change its status, or my opinion on the matter.

Approaching Christ’s Church Cathedral

Myself and the two kids took the 9am train to Dublin and were standing on the quay near the famous St. James’ Gate at the Guinness factory a little over an hour later. We walked up the quay by the river Liffey heading towards our first stop, Christ’s Church Cathedral. I was excited to show them this beautiful 11th century Norman masterpiece.

Christ’s Church Cathedral

As well as marvelling at the various architectural points of interest, such as the Romanesque arch, the medieval stone carvings and the baptistery, we were most excited about seeing something a little less intellectual on one hand, and sensational on the other. One was the tomb of the infamous Cambro-Norman leader, Strongbow (the sensational bit!), and the other was the mummified cat and rat who met their demise (presumably during a terrific chase) in one of the organ pipes in the 1860’s, and now on view in the enormous 12th century medieval crypt.

Unfortunate cat and rat

After a most wonderful visit in the cathedral, I decided to take a walk to St. Stephan’s Green, Dublin’s beautiful city park via Dublin Castle. When we got to the big courtyard we were treated to another feast for the eyes. The whole courtyard was filled with three sand sculptors in process. They were giant and spectacular. I found out that the three men working away with their shovels, chisels, and water were a group of artists called Duthain Dealbh, which means ‘Fleeting Sculpture’ in irish.

Duthain Dealbh at work on ‘Bright Sparks’

The guys  building these sculptures for the past ten years are a trio of artists who have been creating giant free-standing sculptures on location every year for the past ten years.  This year’s theme was ‘Bright Sparks’, inspired by the work of Irish scientists. We were so transfixed that we decided watching these clever manipulators of sand at work would be a better use of our time than taking a tour of the castle, (on this particular day anyway). The castle would always be there, but these “fleeting” sculptures would not.

leaving St. Stephan’s Green through the fusiliers arch at the top of Grafton Street

After a brisk walk through Stephan’s we headed over to the restaurant I was excited to write about: Wagamama’s!

Duncan; one of the managers at Wagamama’s

As I was trying to think of exactly the perfect explanation of why Wagamama’s stood out to me, after all it is one of a chain of restaurants all over the world, so how could it be singular and unique? I was reminded of the fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and of the golden-haired girl’s famous remark after tasting the Baby Bear’s porridge, and I loosely quote, “that porridge was too cold, and that porridge too hot, but this porridge is, just right”, and, as far as my memory serves me, she ate it all up!

Yes Chef!

Well, that’s how I feel about this restaurant – it is just right.

I was in Ireland for seven weeks, visited Dublin four times, and choose to eat at Wagamama’s three of those times. Something must have made an impression on me?

Slurping brothy Ramen

The easiest way to describe my feelings is by analyzing their motto since the first restaurant opened in London 20 years ago: “to combine great, fresh and nutritious food in a sleek yet simple setting with helpful, friendly service and value for money”

Sleek kitchen

The first thing that was obvious to me was the reference to sleek and simple. The initial thing one notices upon entered a restaurant is the “vibe”. It can make or break your mood, and in this case, as I descended the long stairs to the restaurant floor I felt like I needed to saunter and slowly catwalk to my table. You were on display, in a good way, and if you felt like it, you could strut your stuff.

my son’s favorite dish of Yaki Udon (he ordered this every time!)

The kitchen flanked one side of the restaurant with the patrons and help being separated by a high stainless steel counter, where food was dished out with cafeteria-style efficiency. The dining tables were long simple wooden boards with a mod feel, where you could find yourself sitting next to complete strangers (another cafeteria similarity come to think of it?). It didn’t feel awkward as the whole room was filled with a pleasant din and general bustle, like being on the subway or underground with lots of people in close proximity, but still comfortable about ignoring each other.

Duck dumplings

On to “helpful friendly service”: yes indeed. The staff was all that and more, and eating there 3 times gives me the confidence to say that this is normal at Wagamama’s, not just a one time lucky thing. I am invariably more annoyed by rude staff than I am about mediocre food. There is nothing worse than being treated badly by wait staff when you have treated yourself to dinner out.

Chirpy one and two

From the charming manager Duncan, who was accommodating at every turn, to the chirpy floor staff, I felt well taken care of, and catered to. I could analyse and say that this is their job, and my happiness is just part of their job description, but I don’t think that is important. I don’t care if I am someone they have to be nice to, I appreciate the gesture, plain and simple. I don’t need anything else, and am not bothered that when I leave, the memory of my being there merges with the images of every other customer they happen to serve that evening or lunch time.

The kitchen’s creation just for me

It’s time for the “fresh and nutritious” food bit, that is also “value for money: I can’t argue on both points. The food has an Asian feel with lots of quick cooked vegetables, meat or fish, served with rice or noodles. I watched them cook orders as they came in with my own eyes; the smoke spewing from the woks and the sizzle of the chicken or beef on the hot plates. There was nothing extraordinary about the dishes. They were typically seasoned with soy, chili and peppers, but the combination of the atmosphere, the friendly open kitchen and zing of fresh food made for complete satisfaction.

Chicken Ramen

I will say that I was one of those picky diners when I placed my order. I wanted greens and tofu, but none of the dishes totally pleased me. I asked if they would pair the appetizer simmered greens with some fried tofu as a main course, and they made it for me without a modicum of complaint or polite rolling of the eyes. After I had finished my very satisfying meal, the manager specifically asked if I was happy with their impromptu creation, and made mention that they might now put it on the menu, (totally cool with me, and many other tofu lovers!)

Green tea and Mango ice-cream

This review of Wagamama’s is bordering on sycophantic, I know, but they happen to be the restaurant in Dublin located in the right place at the right time for my visits. The right place meaning that they were right off St Stephan’s Green after my afternoon walk with my children, and right across the street before I went to the performance of Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre. I think these things deserve some kind of merit, and being that I am rarely content when leaving a restaurant, I feel like tooting Wagamama’s horn; why not.

Our table at Wagamama’s (remembering Fiesole)

We left Dublin in what had begun to be a pattern; running hot-footed for the train!

Bloomsday Dinner: Bloomin’ Sausages, Onion Gravy & Praties (serves 6)

Bloomsday Dinner: Bloomin’ Sausages, Onion Gravy & Praties.                         “God made food; the devil the cooks.”
James Joyce from Ulysses

Last night’s dinner gave me the excuse to celebrate the wonderful date of June 16th, the date that the events in James Joyce’s book Ulysses take place, and since 1954 has been known as Bloomsday. Joyce’s decision to choose this date was a romantic one: it is the day that he had his first date with his future wife Nora Barnacle.

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls” James Joyce from Ulysses

I made a little trip to see my brother on Friday with my children and we had so much fun we didn’t want to leave: so we didn’t. We also stayed last night, and yesterday being Bloomsday, was a topic of conversation as we drove to a restaurant which my brother declared served “the best burger in the country!” I was happy for the three of them but also hoped there would be something for finicky-me on the menu. I don’t think I am exactly picky, but I didn’t want a burger.

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” James Joyce from Ulysses.  (The Ha’penny Bridge on Aston Quay, Dublin City)

Back to Bloomsday. I was chatting to my kids about Ulysses, and how the whole book takes place over one mythological day, and then went on to tell them that Mr. Joyce hailed from Dublin and all but left the city of Dublin and Ireland for good, by age 22, with brief visits until age 30. After that, he never returned, and lived out his days in France, despite many attempts by family and  friends, with not even the great W.B. Yeats able to convince him to return one last time. The most interesting fact to me however is this: he wrote exclusively about Dublin, dissecting and analyzing the city and it’s inhabitants backwards and forwards for his whole magnificent writing career.

“What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.” James Joyce from Ulysses.

Dublin was literally the world to him. It had everything he needed to write about in it, it was everything he knew, everything that was him, the love, the hate and the in-betweens sprung from his being a Dubliner. Joyce summed up what I am trying to say of course in one sentence: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” It is so simple when he says it: of course every microcosm represents the whole!

“The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.” James Joyce from Ulysses. (Trinity College)

My son who is on the edge of teenagedom was happy to chime in that while he hadn’t of course yet read Ulysses he knew that Joyce’s story paralleled the story of the Odyssey which he and I had read. I was a very impressed parent at that moment and figured I was probably not as crazy as I thought when I made him illustrate every adventure encountered by Odysseus.

“Me. And me now.” James Joyce from Ulysses. (Dame Street, Dublin city)

My brother also had a story. One day while at work, James Joyce’s name somehow came up, and my brother commented on his being from Dublin. A women who happened to be in the group, a professor from some college or other close by, got very hot under the collar and told him that Joyce was in fact french (I’m gathering her area of expertise was not English Literature of the 20th century). My brother asked her if they were talking about the same person, the writer James Joyce, and she said that he was a national treasure in France and that every school curriculum included Joyce. My brother didn’t bother arguing but told her to go home and do a little research. She turned up a few days later and admitted that she was in fact wrong, and was stunned. (If I were french I would try to claim him too)!

” A nation is the same people living in the same place” James Joyce from Ulysses. (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin)

Ok, so this is a food blog, not some stuffy literally sounding board, so all of this Joycean banter has to tie into food for this piece to make sense? The food again is my way of sneakily giving my opinions and thoughts about other things. Food can be brought into absolutely everything, and Bloomsday is no exception. We talked about Irish food (and who would know better than my brother and I!) and decided that the food I would make this evening to celebrate Bloomsday would have to be simple, and, something about it had to be parochial, like Joyce himself. Potatoes (or “praties” a name they are also known by in Ireland) had to be included along with some kind of meat. Since I didn’t want to cook the obvious bacon and cabbage dish, I decided on what my mother used to make when money was tight: sausages and mash with onion gravy.

” Thought is the thought of thought” James Joyce from Ulysses  (Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin)

I updated the dish by caramelizing the onions for the gravy and including chicken as well as pork sausages. I served simple little peas alongside this and it was unctuous beyond belief. We saluted Joyce and thanked him for his brilliance, and giving me an excuse to talk about literature, and cook sausages and praties for dinner!

“yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. ” (St Stephan’s Green, Dublin)

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*This can be a Blood Type A diet Meal if you use Chicken sausages (which are neutral) and omitting the potatoes*

You will need:

2 lbs sausages (I used 1lb pork and 1lb chicken. any flavor will do)

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 large sweet onions, cut in half, then sliced

3 cups chicken OR 1 cup white wine and 2 cups broth (I used the latter which coaxed great flavor)

3 tbs all-purpose flour

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

12 medium/large potatoes, peeled & quartered

For potato mash, you will need: 2 tbs unsalted butter, 1/2 cup milk or cream, 1 tsp sea salt, several grinds of pepper

1lb sweet green peas (I used frozen organic peas)

Method:

1 – Put large all-purpose saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. Place sausage in an even layer on the pan and cook until lightly browned on all sides (this takes about 20 to 25 minutes). Transfer sausage to a plate and set aside.

Fry Sausages

2 – Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Place lid on pan and continue to cook until onions are very soft, about 15 minutes. (You may need to lower the heat when the lid is on the pan)

Caramelize onions

3 – Add flour to the onions and mix well. Add the broth 1 cup at a time, mixing well in-between cups. (If you are using wine as I did, add it first, followed by 2 cups broth). Turn heat up and let gravy come to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper according to your liking. Continue to simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Make gravy

4 – Turn off heat, add sausages, cover with lid and set aside until everything else is ready.

5 – While onions are cooking, place peeled and quartered potatoes in pot and cover with cold water. Place on high heat, with a lid, and boil until soft. Drain water, add 2 tbs of butter, 1 tsp salt, several grind of pepper and a 1/2 cup of whole milk or cream to the potatoes and mash well. Cover loosely with a tea cloth and set aside.

Add sausages to gravy

6 – Five minutes before serving place 1 cup of water in pot and place on high heat. When it comes to a boil, add peas and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside until ready to serve.

Bloomin’ Sausages, Onion Gravy & Praties

Divide sausages, potatoes and peas between 6 plates, giving everyone a generous portion of onion gravy.

File:UlyssesCover.jpg

Happy Bloomsday everybody.



A Day in Dublin

View of Dublin city bus around Merrion Square

I remember when I was sixteen hitchhiking to Dublin with my friend Siobhan.  We would tell our parents we were taking the train and then walk for the train station to the “Dublin road” and stick out our thumbs. I did this for years and it was a great way to get around. It cost nothing and we were not tied to train or bus schedules. That was Ireland thirty years ago, and unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend doing it today. 

Daniel O’ Connell monument on O’Connell Street

On Wednesday myself and the family took a train to Dublin (read previous post on our lovely train trip) arriving safe and sound at ten in the morning ready for the very packed day I had planned.

Really cool ad campaign against littering (posters everywhere in Dublin city)

I wanted to see two very different things; a late 18th century gaol (jail), and a Caravaggio painting. I had also worked in our lunch spot, a bookshop visit, and a detour through Stephan’s Green via Grafton Street. We had eight hours, and so, from O Connolly train station in Dublin we headed straight to Aston Quay by the river Liffey for our bus to Kilmainham Gaol! 

graffiti written by inmates over one of the doors (quote from poem by an executed Irish Freedom fighter Patrick Pearse)

This gaol was completed in 1794 whose state-of-the-art design replaced the antiquated dungeon style jail that had been used for years. I was interested in seeing the jail not so much to learn about how the new system worked, but to see the cells and hear the story of the Irish rebel leaders from the early 20th century, who were imprisoned, and some executed, for the part they played in gaining independence from England.

Wall Mural of Madonna and Child painted by prisoner Grace Gifford Plunkett (her husband Joseph Plunkett was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising)

It was a bone-chilling place where the very lively and informative guide told us stories of the youngest prisoner being 5 years old, and a little boy of 10 being transported, along with a ship-full of convicts, to Australia, for stealing a cloak. We stood in the Stone Breakers Yard where five Irish Freedom fighters were shot, and toured the East Wing where many political prisoners were held. All very grim, but thought-provoking stuff, and a definite rude awakening for my nearly 11 and 13-year-old; no stealing cloaks for them!

Cell Door in Kilmainham

Then it was back onto the double-decker bus (rode on the top deck of course) to Exchequer Street to have lunch at Fallon & Byrne. I picked this place for a few a few reasons; it has a specialty gourmet food shop, a deli, and restaurant, complete with a wine cellar all under one roof. It was also the home of the old telephone exchange, built in 1898. The main floor was once a throng of telephone operators, while the wine cellar’s now trendy-looking giant metal columns housed the thousands of telephone wires and cables feeding the system.

The wine cellar at Fallon & Byrne

I also knew there was enough variety to satisfy all of our palates without burning a big hole in our pocket. The ground floor was buzzing with diners trying to grab something delicious to eat before it was back to work, and, the more packed it was, the more I enjoyed being there. I like noisy restaurants where I can get lost, and eat in crowded anonymity.

One of our tasty sandwiches

We decided to order from the massive choices at the deli counter and then take our food down to the wine cellar where we could eat comfortably and buy a bottle of wine from the huge selection lining the walls. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, with an imposing long bar whose surface was neatly stacked with old-fashioned water bottles, glasses, condiments, fresh flowers and a variety of  wine. The dining tables mimicked tasting tables, with a few high tables made from wooden barrels dotted in between. It was pretty packed but we managed to grab a high table and settled into the business of eating and drinking.

The dim bar at Fallon & Byrne

There is nothing more satisfying than a good lunch, washed down by wine, after a tour of a depressing prison! The food was good, but the wine was better (from Puglia, Italy), and I was glum when my last sip was drained. I left Fallon & Byrne (not before hearing a story about the haunted elevator by one of the friendly bar staff), ready for our convoluted walk to our next destination, the National Gallery of Ireland, where The Taking Of Christ by Caravaggio awaited.

Fusiliers Arch at the entrance to St Stephan’s Green

I was compelled to see this because having just left Italy (where we had been for 3 months – see past posts for more stories about my experiences), my brain was saturated with all things Italian, and I needed to prolong my connection, my love affair with the things that had imprinted themselves on me forever. The other reason I dragged my family across Dublin city to see one painting was to say a roundabout “hello” to my friend Danielle, who is back in Italy, and is an Art Historian who has a professional and deeply personal interest in the painter.

One of the many tree-lined path in Stephan’s Green, Dublin

Our walk took us up the busy and cosmopolitan Grafton street where my daughter insisted on giving a very mediocre busker a euro for her lacklustre singing. We entered St. Stephan’s Green through the grand Fusiliers Arch following a path towards Merrion Square. Stephens Green (as it is more commonly known) is a public park, impeccably maintained, lined with lime trees and immaculate flower gardens, and fountains. It has been a place of respite from the busy city, within the city, since 1880 and on every visit I make to Dublin, I try to step inside the gates if even for a few moments. It is an endlessly cheerful distraction from the noisy and bustling streets.

17th century Hughenot cemetery (Hi Mario!)

When we left the park Dave spotted and old gated Hughenot cemetery, which was a reminder of another friend I left behind in Italy, (odd, but one of his specialties is Death). I managed to take a few pictures for him by standing on a street bench and lifting my camera above the high wrought-iron fence before strolling on.

A view into the Hughenot cemetery near Stephan’s Green on North Merrion Row

The Caravaggio was in the second room of the upstairs gallery, and while my kids ran ahead to find it, I decided to be patient and enjoy the rest of the art on the walls, (I liked this Fra Angelico, a 15th century renaissance painting below (1439- 1442), probably influenced by the fact that he was Florentine and a Dominican monk in Fiesole, a place I had visited with a friend a month or so earlier)

Saints Cosmas and Damian and their Brothers Surviving the Stake

The Caravaggio painting was so beautiful, and I was completely content to stand in front of it for as long as I could and recall what I had learned about this master, and smile when I thought about my time in Italy.

The Taking Of Christ by Caravaggio in the National Galley In Dublin

The jail, lunch and painting were neatly ticked off of my list and then we stopped at a bookshop where I was in dire need of a peruse, before heading for a last cup of tea (and a glass of wine) at the famous Bewley’s cafe on Grafton. I’m not one for patronizing tourist-traps but I wanted the kids to have tea in Bewley’s at least once in their lifetime. I must say, it was not as tacky as I thought it might have become over the years.

Bewley’s Cafe, Dublin

Bewleys opened it’s doors in 1927 and has been humming along ever since. The Bewley’s were a Quaker family from France and were the first real tea merchants to bring tea into Ireland in a big way (2,099 chests from China to be exact) in around 1834.

Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows in Bewley’s

This is the largest cafe in Ireland and it’s interior is pretty magnificent. It was built in the style of the grand Parisian cafes of the day, with added oriental touches (partly inspired by Tutankhamen’s Tomb). The most spectacular feature are the six stained glass windows commissioned from the renowned artist Harry Clarke.

“O commemorate me with no hero courageous
Tomb – just a canal bank seat for the passer-by”  poet, Patrick Kavanagh

It became the center of the literary, cultural and artistic scene in Dublin, with James Joyce, poet Patrick Kavanagh (one of my favorites), and Samuel Beckett being some of it’s clientele. It also became a handy meeting point for me years ago when in Dublin and needed to arrange to meet friends beforehand (no cell phones then!). Upon opening the doors on Wednesday last I got that familiar smell of coffee beans mixed with the sweet smell of cakes and pastries.

Marble-topped cafe tables

We sat in view of the stained glass windows, and it felt very homey and familiar. It was also as busy as ever, and we ate our treats amid the din of trays rattling and boisterous conversations.

There are 44 of these bike stations in Dublin (dublinbikes) and are a fantastic way to get around the city

The last part of out trip was a bit stressful as we misjudged the walk back to catch the last train at 6.30pm, and it turned into a frantic run, resulting in us jumping onto the train ten seconds before the doors closed. Despite the mad rush at the end, it was close to a perfect day in lovely Dublin AND, it didn’t rain once.


The Most Beautiful Train Trip Ever

The Train Trip

I have just left Italy with my family where I have been spoiled for the past three months. Being part of an art program (UGA Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, italy) meant a field trip each saturday to fabulous towns such as Rome, Florence, Siena, Pienza, Assisi and Lucca, to name but a few. The trips were planned with maps, organised tours and points of interest.

Yellow fields of rape flowers (for harvesting rape seeds)

So when we decided to go to Dublin for the day I couldn’t help falling into the pattern I had gotten used to, and figured out what we would do down to the last detail. I know Dublin very well, but there were places I hadn’t visited in years, and now it was time to play tour guide and show my family around.

Bridge in the early morning light

Getting to Dublin from Wexford was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. I had dreamed about taking a train from these two points all of my life, but somehow it never worked out (I grew up in a town on a different line, making it inconvenient and so it never happened). This two and a half hour train ride is touted to be one of the most scenic rail trips in Europe and this past Wednesday I got the opportunity to weigh in on the claim.

Woolly sheep happily grazing in County Wexford

This train begins it’s journey in Rosslare harbor and runs up the east coast to Dublin’s Connolly Station just off the Liffey Quay. We boarded the train in Wexford town at 7.30 in the morning and made sure to snag seats on the coast side of the railcar. The train pulled out from the station and I watched the window in anticipation.

Close to the rocky shore

Don’t you just love when proud boasting falls short of the real truth! The real truth being that my eyes did not leave the cab window until we pulled into Connolly Station. I would have been satisfied to stay on the train and do it all over again, skipping my meticulously planned trek around the city streets (slight exaggeration, since that part of our trip was pretty darn wonderful too).

more shoreline from my train window

From Wexford the train left the coast and turned slightly inland, following the beautiful river Slaney. The Slaney wound it’s way around multi-colored green stretches of farmland where sheep, cows and horses seemed to be very contentedly going about their animal business. Being that the hour was early, we got to enjoy the whole scene through a thin vapor of soft mist, and streaky morning light. I felt at any moment Cathy would appear, gliding over the moist dewy grass in search of Heathcliff; yes really.

Yellow furze bushes found all over Ireland

As we left Wexford and entered County Wicklow, the train headed for the coastline again. First we dipped close to the shoreline, and I watched the waves turning pebbles over as it made frothy contact with the beach. Brisk early morning walkers made their way along the sand in the company of their friends, or a dog, happy to be let loose to run in and out of the cold water, or bound foolishly after scavenging seagulls.

Cliffs in County Wicklow

We then seemed to soar upwards and the train appeared to cling to the rock face. I felt as if I were on a ship with the sea swirling powerfully below me. We were so close to the edge I would have had to hang out of the window to get a sense of how close and high we actually were. There was no question of my doing anything remotely that brave, and so my camera only captured part of the awe I was feeling.

Sailing school in Dun Laoghaire

On a humorous side-note, while we were taking pictures and constantly telling each other to look at this and that, there was a couple sitting opposite us doing the strangest activity I have ever seen on a train. About ten minutes after boarding, the woman pulled a hair straightener out of a bulging knapsack, unwound the cord and plugged it into an outlet on the back wall behind her seat. I couldn’t help staring as she proceeded to straighten her hair, then give the device to her gentleman friend who continued to quaff the back strands for her! She was oblivious to everything else; the fact that she was on a train, the magnificent view, and all four of us sneaking glances when we could. It made my trip all the more interesting, and I was glad for the bonus entertainment!

Graffiti by the bay in Dublin

After leaving the cliff face the train leaped alone beside an old wall separating the train line for the bay. The wall was covered from beginning to end in graffiti, letting me know that the gritty and interesting part of Dublin was still alive and kicking. The wall eventually gave way to the majestic Dun Laoghaire Harbor in Dublin. The picturesque and exotic view bordered on the feel of a more mediterranean resort town somewhere in France, rather than the rugged and gusty Ireland. We arrived in Connolly Station moments later feeling wholly spoiled but ready for more of the same.

Boats in Dun Laoghaire

The train line was the very first built in Ireland in the year 1834, and if you ever visit this beautiful country I strongly recommend you buy a ticket, sit back and stare out of your window. Feel free to bring your hairdryer or straightener. I know for a fact there is an electrical outlet in Car A!

The loveliest train trip

*Stay tuned for my post on what we did in Dublin (coming next)*