Vouchers and tickets stapled together, it was early morning on Saturday 5th February and we were heading down to the platform to board the Enterprise bound for Dublin. We've been down to the fair city of Dublin many times before, generally just to do the same old touristy things. This time was a little different, we didn't visit O'Connell street at all, what we did do was view the city from a Viking Splash Tour, take in some culture at The Chester Beatty Library and consume lots of food and drink, on the way seeing two forms of Duck and a full moon.
It was an early start to the day - we were on the Enterprise and in the Republic of Ireland before the sun had risen. The Enterprise is the name of the train service which runs between Belfast and Dublin and it's quite a comfy ride. It takes about two and a quarter hours. We were heading down in relation to it being a friend's birthday and so it was early morning birthday cake and chatter as we coasted past the hills and by the shore of the East Coast of the island.
The sun wasn't out but the darkness had subsided. An overcast sky met us as we left Dublin Connolly train station and boarded the Luas (an overground tram service). We were headed to meet some friends of friends who were coming with us for the day out. After some Rooibos and some chocolate goodness, we headed back out into the thick of things through some light rain and wandered towards St Stephen's Green.
As we passed by the sights and sounds of Ireland's capital city, we eventually arrived at a wet but well-kept St Stephen's Green and went to see if we could get ourselves on the next Viking Splash Tour. We couldn't get on the one just about to leave as there was too many of us but we were booked onto the next one so had a little time to pass by. We spent it with a quick trip to a chocolate shop that sold hot drinks followed by a walk around the Green.
St Stephen's Green is pretty but on a wet day not really the most sheltered or idyllic place to be. We got a little wet but it was nice to see some ducks and some scenic landscaped gardens.
Central Park in New York is now the park to beat in my experience and although St Stephen's Green is pretty for an inner-city park, there isn't a whole lot to do. We ended up just standing, chatting and taking photographs before it was time to head back and board the DUKW (pronouced Duck); these are former military vehicles designed for the Second World War and amphibious landings. As you can see, our DUKW was named Loki after the Norse God and as honorary Vikings for the trip, the tour helped us live up to the reputation of our boat's namesake.
We set off after a great introduction and everyone onboard was up for joining in; our driver and guide was very personable and funny too. On our first corner we were taking part in an event we'd seen unfold on previous trips that we'd always been jealous of. The people window shopping took it in good heart but they undoubtedly got a scare as this boat of tourists greeted them with a roar. In the past we'd have been on a red tour bus (one of those generic ones you see in every town) and been the ones being roared at. This time though, we were the ones doing the roaring and it was a lot more relaxed and funny.
The good-natured mischievous aspect of our tour was given back to us a little, though in a different form of medicine, by some dude who mooned the DUKW from outside a pub on the way up to St Patrick's Cathedral. That wasn't the only moon we witnessed because there was a construction worker later on in the tour who showed us a good half a moon by accident when climbing into the cab of his van. This wasn't really the craic we were after from the trip but it gave us all a bit of a laugh nevertheless.
The tour told us a lot about the city and compared to the other tours I'll certainly remember a lot of it. Something which is also both good and bad is that the Viking Splash Tour covers a slightly different area to the other tours. You'll not get dropped off anywhere on this tour and it won't go past the likes of the Guinness Storehouse but you do get to see some of the same streets and get a much friendlier experience - a lot of humour mixed in with the facts. The rest of the tour is different as you get to take a dip in the Grand Canal Harbour for one thing and roar at the Celt vessels and wannabe Viking Celts.
The Splash part of the tour was fun but not as much fun as the driving around the city part. It did give a unique experience to a tour though and we got to see the likes of the Grand Canal Theatre.
We were rather baffled when we heard the cost of its modern art frontage. It was nice to know it's not only Belfast that wastes far too much money on 'modern art'! From the water we also caught sight of the Wheel of Dublin as I mentioned here.
The tour was excellent and my favourite between that and the regular type of tour. Apparently there is a splash tour in Belfast too so I think we might have to give that a try sometime in the not-so-distant future. I'm not too sure though if it has the Viking theme which, it has to be said, added a lot to this tour.
After our swim it was back to dry land and back to the Green where we headed to the Metro Café to have a bite to eat. I had a BLT and though impressed with the service, I didn't really enjoy my BLT sandwich - too much sweet/vinegary stuff spread or absorbed into the bread for me. The portion sizes were good though and those who had the puddings said they were delicious.
In the late afternoon we had intended to go around Dublin Castle but as always seems the case with a day trip, we didn't have time to wait for the next guided tour.
The people at the desk there directed us to some alternative attractions around the area and we decided to take in a bit of culture and headed to the Chester Beatty Library to have a look at the collections there. The entrance price is FREE so it's hard to go wrong really. On the way we found a Garda office and some colourful buildings.
The first of the two exhibitions we visited were the Heroes and Kings of the Shahnama, which is an Iranian epic poem outlining many stories of morals and ethics with an almost nationalistic undercurrent. There were stories whose plots would be familiar from the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks and Romans, fairytales and even a character who holds quite a resemblance to the character of Dr Who.
The second exhibition we visited was the The Sacred Traditions Gallery, which was filled with a quick history of the some of the major religions of the world: Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. I learnt quite a bit about some of these, especially of those I'd heard little about before like Confucianism and Daoism. It was quite enlightening although I came out of it still thinking how mad it is that so many people believe so many different things, each thinking their one train of thought is the only correct path to some higher reward, their beliefs and customs generally passed down through history based on a geographical lottery and altered through time to suit and adapt to other cultures and the progress of rational thought. I've always liked toying with the idea of a cyclical existence though, almost like a game where the idea is to make it to the next level. Quite cultish I suppose but in a sci-fi kind of blue-sky thinking it could so easily be incorporated into many current theories of the universe and make quite a story, kind of like Supernatural meets Quantum Leap!
Once we'd read through these exhibits we left and made our way to a bar for some drinks. I can't remember the name of the bar we went to but I was told they change the art in there every few months. It had a lot of Irish Rugby fans watching the France vs Scotland game but we just wanted to rest our legs and have a drink so found a spot for us all in the corner. Rugby-mad and gay-friendly bars don't usually spring together in the mind but that's what this bar was and nice it was too, though as with anywhere in Dublin the drinks prices were a little extortionate. €5.50 for a glass of wine and €4.50 for a pint of Guinness - it did go down easier with the straw though.
We stayed for a good two hours or so then it was time to head to a restaurant for some dinner. Again I can't remember the name of the place we went to but it sold a mixture of Italian and Chinese dishes. Stir Fried vegetables and Chicken in a Blackbean/Soy sauce with Pasta is the dish I went for. It was yummy and we were very surprised by the bill in a nice way. It seems food = cheap and drink = expensive in Dublin which is odd for a place with so many bars and so many breweries!
As with all day trips, they tend to end quickly, and before we knew it we had to leave to make a quick dash back across the River Liffey in order to make it to the train station to get the last train home to Belfast. It had been a fun day and we had a nice ride home, the icing on top of which happened to be some great football results.