Daytripping to Powerscourt

For all the house guests we’ve had in our year abroad, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just recently gone to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was such an easy drive (or easy bus ride, if we have more than one adult traveling with us) from south Dublin. Definitely easier than bringing a pregnant friend to Howth and trying to hike in icy lashes of wind and rain along slippery trails. (That was in May.) So Emily, who loves gardens, this is for you.

The Powerscourt Estate is situated on a hill looking out at two distinctive Wicklow Mountain peaks, Little Sugarloaf and Great Sugarloaf

We had the great fortune of a spectacular fall day, one where Ireland was out from under its frequent gray shroud. In the warm full sun (no wind reaching down into our bones), the shimmering greens and autumn tones of changing leaves were unbelievably beautiful.

View from Triton Lake of the back of the house. You can see the winged horses at the top of the lake

Powerscourt was the site of a castle built around 1300, and by around 1600, the Wingfield family was given the property as part of Sir Richard Wingfield’s appointment as “Marshall of Ireland.” The Wingfield family hired Richard Cassels to construct a Palladian-style mansion around the original structure in 1731. Descendants of the family lived in the estate through the 1950s, although it was mostly a summer home. There was no central heating in the mansion for much of the house’s life, and anyone who visited us this past shivering “spring” would appreciate one family member’s recollection that:

…the old Celtic idea of hell was somewhere intensely cold. Powerscourt in winter would have qualified.

(This grand house was hotter than hell at least on one night, though, when in 1974, the eve of its public opening, a fire gutted the entire thing.)

The original gardens were laid out in the 1740s by Daniel Robinson. An aside in my Lonely Planet guide explains that Robinson supervised the construction laying down in a wheelbarrow with his bottle of sherry, in increasing states of inebriation.  Sláinte, Mr. Robinson. The grounds are magnificent in spite of, or perhaps because of, your intoxication!

The walled garden

We strolled for over an hour through the Italian gardens down to Triton Lake, the Japanese garden and through the hollows of the grotto, where it was noticeably colder. On one of the mossy stone archways, I zoomed in with the camera to find a dangling icicle!

On a soft slope in the gardens, there is a pet cemetery my in-laws had mentioned to me, since they know I am insanely in love with my cat. 

Touching epitaphs at the pet cemetery

It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.

We went on a Friday morning in mid-October, and it was fairly quiet. We glimpsed these beautiful horses through the trees on one of the paths. Seems like one of them had a foal (resting under what I assume is his mama in the left)

The toddling, stroller/buggy crowd would have a tough time negotiating some of the non-paved footpaths and fully exploring the grounds, like climbing to the top of Pepperpot Tower.

Pepperpot tower on the estate grounds with the peak of Great Sugarloaf in the distance.

 

A better bet for kids is the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall (the largest in Britain and Ireland), which is technically part of the estate but is not accessed through the main gates of the manor house drive.

This is Ireland. Driving in Wicklow.

On the grounds there, you’ll find a playground, picnic areas, and a sand pit with a short nature walk to the thundering fall. (“It’s very loud,” G said, as we approached the almost 400-foot sheet of water.) The moss and lichen-covered rocks were slick, but the boys loved scrambling over them and observing the shallow pools of water in the gaps.
All in all, this was one of my favorite daytrips from Dublin. Definitely worth visiting.
PS: Any more skilled bloggers have tips for reducing image file sizes without compromising quality? These images are exported as “medium” from iPhoto because the original file sizes are much too large and would slow down loading, but I notice quite a decline in the image sharpness.

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Scenes from the weekend: St Paddy’s Day in Dublin and Bray

There was a funny email going around Sascha’s office last week about what it means to be Irish:

  • Describing someone with longstanding, persistent and untreated psychosis as “a character.”
  • Saying “There’s definitely no recession here!” every time you see more than 5 people in a pub.
  • Saying “Ah but he’s very good to his mother” about some utter langer
  • Liking TK Red lemonade and white pudding. Not together of course
  • Your ma or da greeting you with the phrase “d’ya know who’s dead”?
  • That mini heart attack you get if you go out and forget to turn off the immersion
  • You’re not drinking??? Are you on antibiotics?
  • Wallpaper on your school books
  • Being Grand!!
  • Boil everything in a huge pot for 3 hours
  • Being absolutely terrified of a wooden spoon.
  • Learning a language for 12 years and not being fluent
  • Going absolutely mental at concerts because famous people rarely come over
  • Knowing that Flat 7UP heals all illnesses
  • Calling Joe Duffy or any radio station instead of the Guards from my HTC/iPhone!

I got a good laugh over most of them.  I also laughed over Frank McCourt’s explanation. He was writing about Limerick in this quote from Angela’s Ashes, but it’s still applicable:

Above all — we were wet.

Out in the Atlantic Ocean great sheets of rain gathered….The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year’s Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges.

This past weekend was perhaps the most recognizable celebration around the world of being Irish–St. Patrick’s Day.  I don’t know why in the U.S. it is St. Patty’s Day, and here it is very definitely St. Paddy’s Day, but it is.  After three sinus infections (something I’ve never had a problem with), and some pharyngitis, laryngitis, and conjunctivitis, I’m pretty sure my respiratory tract looks something like this:

I now understand what "catarrh" is

So I did not attend the parade. Sascha took the boys and braved the crowd of 500,000 revelers to see the parade in Dublin. Some had been there for hours to reserve a spot. Many had brought ladders to stand on; others climbed atop the monuments and statues in the city centre to get a glimpse. The boys could see only when their dad hoisted them onto his shoulders.

On Sunday, we drove south to Bray and visited the The National Sea Life Centre, a small aquarium.

Hi!

Giant octopus! It seemed to respond to our touching the glass.

Touching a starfish. It's not the most impressive aquarium, but the staff was great with kids and there was a playroom with ball pit inside

Bray has the slightly faded, dilapidated feel of seaside resort towns that have seen better days, like spots along the Jersey Shore or Coney Island, which is part of its charm. There was a carnival along the water so we rode the carousel. The boys had great fun digging on the beach and the sea air helped clear my head for a few hours.

Bray Head

Daytripping to Howth

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Howth is a peninsula that juts out into the sea just north of Dublin, about a half hour by car but also accessible on the DART line. A mom friend suggested it since a playground, a working pier, and the … Continue reading

Daytripping to Dun Laoghaire

When my mother and Sascha’s parents were here for the boys’ birthday, we drove down the coast to Dun Laoghaire in search of cupcake toppers at a place called Cakebox. There I found Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train sugar discs to dress up the cupcakes I made for their crèche (and if you are a very fancy baker, they have everything you might possibly need). Luckily, Blue Steel was still running well (as she is again, thanks to a new battery and new oil seals or some such) at that point. My mom gamely agreed to ride with half a butt cheek in the backseat, squished in between the boys.

Dun Laoghaire is an adorable, upscale seaside town about twenty minutes south of Dublin. Cakebox is on upper St. George’s St, and from there it was an easy walk to People’s Park.

People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

Here is where C made his first "wish" with my mom by tossing a penny in the fountain. Then he wanted the penny back

Since there was a playground, the boys were very happy.

On the gates of the park I noticed a sign saying the tea room was open. After the boys played for a bit, we walked up to check it out.  The Tea Room, run by a lovely man named Enda and his son, is open 7 days a week in the winter. I wish every park had something like this! The wind had seeped into our bones standing around the playground. We wrapped our hands around cups of hot chocolate (so yummy with steamed milk) and fresh coffee. Looking down the gentle slope of the park, we watched the boats out in the harbor.

The blue building behind G is the Tea Room

On Sundays, People’s Park hosts markets.  A nice side trip from Dublin with kids, accessible by DART.

The blog is going to be a bit screwy this week. Still trying to catch up on uploading galleries of some amazing visits with family, including a daytrip to Howth, touring the Hill of Tara and Newgrange, and hiking the Cliff Walk at Greystones–and I’m headed to the States for a quick week.

New Year’s Day Dublin 2012

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Dear reader, It’s been a while. I hope you missed me. I am surfacing after the typical pre-Christmas feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed, but it was compounded by a nasty cold virus, then a stomach bug, and the boys … Continue reading

Donnybrook tree lighting

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We missed the tree lighting in Ranelagh–almost every village in Dublin has their own–but on Saturday Sascha noticed the signs for the one in Donnybrook.  So last night, we bundled up the boys and went first to eat at Eddie … Continue reading

Dining in Dublin with kids: The Odeon

I’ve decided to get all service-y, and add a new section to the blog for those of you who may be visiting Dublin, or those who may happen upon my blog and be less interested in my nostalgia and more interested in information.  Sascha and I eat out a fair bit, at least once a week for a date night and with the kids frequently on the weekends during our explorations. The wave of immigration to the country during the boom years means there is a lot more to dining here than stew and potatoes and veg soup, but almost all of it is extremely expensive, so hopefully this will help you decide what’s worth your euros and what isn’t. For those brave souls who may be traveling with young children, this may guide you where to eat with them without getting dirty looks for daring to reproduce and take a night off from the kitchen, which some city-dwellers seem to treat as a crime against humanity.

There will be two versions: DiD (Dining in Dublin) with kids and just plain DiD (Dining in Dublin). If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Housed in an old railway station, The Odeon is a grand building with Art Deco flourishes. If you are traveling with kids, you probably don’t care about that, but what you will care about is the fact that the LUAS stops right outside its door. The LUAS is the Dublin tram and perhaps the easiest method of public transportation for strollers/buggies. It’s easy wheel on/wheel off, unlike the DART, with its treacherous gap between train and platform.

The Odeon

On Sundays, The Odeon features a family brunch club from 12-6. Children under 3 eat free (we didn’t know this ahead of time and were quite happily surprised.) The kids menu features goujons, chicken nuggets, and sausage–all with chips (fries), as well as penne pasta with chicken, char-grilled vegetables, and tomatoes that run from €5-5.95 if your child is 3+.  At 2pm, a big screen plays a kids’ film (this Sunday, 4 December, The Odeon will screen “Muppet Christmas Carol”).

I got this off The Odeon's website. I did not take this photo.

The good: There are comfy chairs and roomy banquettes and a full bar. I had a goat cheese spinach frittata, which was yummy, though my margarita was weak and not salted. The service was a bit  s – l – o – w, but considering there were kids everywhere, rolling around on the floor, shrieking and running through the cavernous space, climbing up on the banquettes to watch the trains coming and going, you might imagine it’s the waitstaff’s least favorite shift. Crayons and paper are provided, and for parents, there’s free wi-fi and a full bar.

The boys and Gramby check out the rugby match

As the afternoons get darker and the wind lashes out, this is a great weekend option because you can spend a few hours there and children certainly aren’t restrained from moving around the space, which as any parent knows, can drastically shorten one’s eating out time. The Odeon has a range of other events outside its family-friendly Sunday brunch.  A Spanish woman who had arrived early for the salsa night directly following the family brunch noticed C dancing and came over to chat him up. Though normally a flirt, he ran for his life.

Tram-watching

The Odeon Sunday Times Brunch Club, 12-6, with screenings at 2pm. 57 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2. LUAS stop: Harcourt

The age of unreason (and what we’ve been up to)

As some of you know, I’m woefully behind in blogging because we’ve officially hit the Age of Unreason with the boys and my nerves are thrumming with anxiety. C is fighting his nap and seems to want to clamp himself onto me, even though he is so tired that the tiniest thing will trigger an enormous tantrum.

In light of this, forget any attempt at weaving a narrative. The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is being loosed upon my world. No update on Sashi, but thank you for asking. At worst, as I understand it, she can come in January when the rules change in our favor, though she will have to be re-chipped (and checked to see that the chip comes up in the scan), and re-vaccinated in the meantime.

So here it is:

First frost. The Arctic air is edging in, but still we've had a succession of gorgeous fall days.

First fire. (That they are aware of.) Over here, we use peat briquettes

First art fair. Our neighbor Esme gave us tickets, so we walked up to the Royal Dublin Society to check it out

The Royal Dublin Society

The art fair ended up being a great place for the boys (as long as we held them). They were fascinated by all the paintings and sculpture on display and we enjoyed listening to how they interpreted them.

C did some performance art of his own

The boys found the art fair inspiring. (I hope our landlord is not reading this.)

Later that evening, we got a knock at the door and met another neighbor from the next street over. Her name is Maureen and she came bearing a bag of apples from her yard (which we made into applesauce, since you can’t find jarred applesauce here), and coffee (LOVED her for that), from her recent African safari. She told Sascha that our two little streets usually hold a block party in the warmer months, which Sascha was extremely excited about. East Williamsburg once inspired him, after all, to write a Blue’s Clues episode about a block party.

A few days later, we enjoyed chatting with Brian, who lives on the same street as Maureen. He was pulling out things from his recently flooded playroom, and gamely allowed the boys to try out some of the tantalizing toys:

On another weekend, we took the light rail south to check out the Dublin Children’s Museum, Imaginosity. It is essentially like Kidcity, but it is very new and is all eco.

No surprise that C wanted to be in front of the camera

Test driving an Audi with Daddy

Power struggle in aisle two

And now I must get to bed.

Goodnight, (full) moon.