Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Recommendations Vs. Reputations

After such a great start to our Dublin adventure, we had big plans for our first full day. First on our list was the Guinness Brewery, but it wouldn't be so much fun if we got there the easy way, right? After filling up on free breakfast, getting ready in the (yay, clean!) showers and checking in online, we headed back down O'Connell Street, this time only stopping for a photo at Eddie Rockets before continuing over the bridge that spans the River Liffey.

We had plans to find a food market we saw advertised and wandered through the streets of Temple Bar to find it. Temple Bar was like striking gold - everything I imagined Dublin would be, right down to the last detail, was crammed onto these streets. Cobblestones, red brick, thin roads and thinner footpaths. Hanging baskets of flowers, handpainted pub signs, wrought iron lamp posts and chalk drawn menus. We only ever managed to find part of the market - it's normal location was being renovated and so stall holders were spread around three locations. We found one and got coffee and crepes but we didn't bother searching out the other two locations - too much like hard work when all we wanted was breakfast.

We accidentally fell upon the State Apartments and in turn Dublin Castle when we spotted a walking tour and were curious as to what they were looking at. We hadn't planned on seeking out the castle, not only because we were a little castled-out from the Burren but because Dublin Castle just didn't look that great online. It wasn't, although better than expected. Photos taken, we continued an age towards the Guinness Brewery. It dawned on us as the pubs and shops got rougher and the broken windows more frequent that maybe the Brewery wasn't in the nicest of Dublin neighbourhoods. It wasn't until we returned to the hostel that night that we found out just how rough, thanks to our lovely friend Google.

Guinness Brewery kept Courts happy for the best part of a few hours. We didn't expect it to be so museum like, but it was very professionally presented as a real tourist attraction. I expected to be led across viewing platforms overlooking the machinery and workers, but the whole thing was actually in the original Storehouse, with views over the current brewing premised. There are 5 levels of exhibits showing every step of growing the barley, hops and yeast, sourcing the water and processing it all, along with 200 years of advertising, bottling and branding.

The entire tour is self guided, and while most of the way is easy to follow thanks to big orange arrows on the floor, at times it was a little overwhelming or confusing, in part due to layout and in part due to the huge crowds of people. That's the other thing I didn't anticipate - despite knowing the brewery is Ireland's top tourist attraction I really didn't imagine so many people to be there. Courtney was in Long Haired Heaven, soaking in every morsel of information - and free Guiness - he could. Personally I got a little bit bored at times with the level of detail, but overall it was really well done and worth doing. The absolute highlight was the Gravity Bar on the top story. It provides 360 degree views of Dublin from one of the highest points in the city, all served with a pint.

Not satisfied with our achievements for the day, we set out to find Kilmainham Gaol, which by the tourist map appeared to be a stones throw from Guinness and had been highly recommended to us by Irish friends. First up, the tourist map lied. We walked for miles, feeling more and more uneasy with the area we were in (I'm pretty sure it was the basis for Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, but without Jason Statham to protect us) before turning back. Tired, grumpy and unable to find toilets let alone the damn Gaol, we bickered our way back almost to Guinness before deciding to water the gardens of a nearby hospital (Shhh) and then catch a taxi.

The taxi took us all the way back the way we had tried and then some - we would have never found the Gaol on our own. We were just in time for the last tour of the day and after all that walking and grumping we weren't leaving without what we came for. The tour was really good but not amazing. I was a little spoilt having done the awesome Fremantle Prison tour in Perth, Australia, and this one didn't quite match up. Courts on the other hand needed to pee the whole time, again (thank you Guinness) so he didn't enjoy it as much either.

By the time we made it back to Eddie Rockets for the second night running, we had walked miles, literally through both the warmest sun of the trip and the heaviest rain. It was a long, long walk back to O'Connell Street after Kilmainham but Eddie made everything OK. Well, maybe not in Courtney's books - even Eddie would have a hard time making up for that walk because our Courts ain't a walker!

At the end of the day, I was left wondering about the attraction of the attractions of the day - if that makes sense. Guinness, on the one hand, has an entire culture preceeding it. Every single bar in Ireland proudly displays Guinness signage and when you research a trip to Dublin, whether you drink Guinness or not (I don't) you are almost obliged to visit the brewery because it's so culturally significant. We hadn't actually heard of anyone doing the tour though and so went entirely based on the idea of it. Kilmainham on the other hand was something we wrote off until several people recommended it and we went solely on their recommnedations. So which is better? Despite probably enjoying Guinness Brewery more, I think I would usually rely on real life recommendations over branding - although I do love a good gimick. Which would you prefer? Ever been let down by branding or a good recommendation?

Penelope_nz's Dublin photoset Penelope_nz's Dublin photoset