Phew! It's a been a few months since we last updated, but it's great to be back. How are y'all?
A few updates on us: Mani finally has the Texas State Bar Exam behind him. Results aren't posted until May, so we've have quite a while of anxious thumb-twiddling ahead of us. Val got measurements done for her cap and gown, and can't wait to get through her last few weeks of school. Other than that, we've been busy wedding planning and recovering from our trip to Europe.
We celebrated Val's last Spring Break ever in Ireland and Liverpool, England. Coincidentally, St. Patrick's Day happened to fall within the break, so there was extra merriment to be had on the Emerald Isle. We both have always wanted to travel to Ireland for a few reasons: its inspiring revolutionary history, famously friendly natives, lively beer-drinking culture, breathtaking natural beauty, and because it's home to one of Mani's favorite bands--U2. ($800 for roundtrip tickets and hotel for a one-week stay didn't hurt either! Thank you, Expedia.)
Making the musical pilgrimage to Liverpool has been a lifelong dream for the both of us. The one band that has remained a constant for us from the cradle into our adult lives is the Beatles, easily the greatest band in music history. That band has had a profound effect on us as people, and the greatest tragedy of our lives is being robbed of the opportunity to share the planet with all four Beatles when John Lennon was shot dead in New York in 1980. Until we met one another, neither of us thought we'd step foot in Liverpool, which made that leg of the trip truly a dream-come-true.
And now we'd like to share some of our adventures, culinary and otherwise, with you all:
Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and The Brazen Head
On day one of our trip, we met up with two recently-engaged friends from America for a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. The storehouse is laid out over seven floors and is in the shape of a pint of Guinness.
Along the tour, we learned the story of Arthur Guinness, the creator of the beer, who was inspired by the popularity of London's porter-style beers in the early 1700s. After inheriting £100, he took on a 9000-year lease on the 4 acres that is now the Guinness Brewery. The tour also introduced us to the beer's four ingredients--yeast, hops, water and barley--and to the beer's distinct brewing process.
The Irish definitely love their Guinness, as they export 2/3 of their annual product and consume the remaining 1/3!
On the top level of the storehouse, we got to sample a freshly-poured pint. We ran up several flights of stairs, only to be greeted by disco music, a packed house and a beautiful view of the city. Believe us when we say that the best pint of Guinness you'll ever have is in Dublin. It's crisper and creamier than anything you'll get in the States.
After the tour, we had dinner and drinks at the Brazen Head, which is the oldest pub in Ireland. Established in 1198, the pub was a safe haven for Irish revolutionaries including the likes of Daniel O'Connell and Robert Emmett. Prior to our trip we watched watched a PBS documentary (hosted by Angela's Ashes author, Frank McCourt) on the historic pubs of Dublin. In fact, many of Dublin's pubs served the same function as the Brazen Head in Ireland's revolutionary history. Likewise, Dublin is home to many of the world's literary greats including Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, all of whom frequented the very same pubs.
Dublin is notoriously one of the most expensive cities in the world, so we opted for pub food the majority of our stay. It was a cheaper way to experience traditional Irish fare. However, on average, even a plate of pub grub ranged from €10-€15 (roughly $14-$21). And an average pint of beer cost €5 ($7). Having to budget our money was a definite bummer to say the least, but we still managed to sample just about every dish we set out to try.
The Brazen Head had fantastic food. Irish fare is very meat-and-potato heavy. You'll find a lot of stews, pies and protein-and-starch dishes. Ireland produces some of the world's tastiest lamb and beef after all, but interestingly enough, the Irish have a historic aversion to seafood in spite their being an island! More on that later...
Val ordered the steak and Guinness pie, which had cuts of tender Guinness-marinated steak, onions and mushrooms in a rich broth, served in a homemade bread bowl.
Mani had the fish and chips, which were crispy and juicy, but the chips were a bit limp. Honestly though, the fish and chips at Red Lion here in Houston are still tops in our book! (Apologies for these awful food photos. We need to invest in a better lens for nighttime food photography!)
Dublin: Historic Sites, Leo Burdock's and The Old Storehouse
Trinity College: the oldest, most prestigious university in Ireland. It was founded by Queen Elizabeth I as a Protestant institution intended to rival the Catholic universities on the continent and to stop Irish students from gathering "revolutionary" ideas and from being influenced by the Pope. Catholics had to get special permission from the bishop to attend the school or face excommunication. Frank McCourt, a Catholic, was allowed into a Ph.D program, but Trinity refused to award him a degree. Other notable alum include Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker and Edmund Burke, among others.
The famous River Liffey
One of the many foot bridges across the River Liffey.
The General Post Office
The GPO was one of the sites of the failed 1916 Easter Rising. Val took some Irish History courses in college, so it was very exciting for her to finally see the GPO.
Europe's answer to McDonald's :(
Leo Burdock's is the oldest fish-and-chips establishment in Dublin. We ordered ours with a side of curry sauce. The portion was huge enough to split between two people and was very affordable. The fish was crisp and flakey, but like at the Brazen Head, the chips seemed like they'd been sitting out for a while. During our entire trip to Ireland, we never had a fish-and-chip dish that could rival Red Lion's, but then again, we only tried two dishes. And we didn't get a chance to try them at O'Neill's pub (more on O'Neill's later). They looked amazing there. Ah well, next visit.
The Old Storehouse
If there's anything the Irish love as much as their beer, it's song and dance. Here in America, when we think of bar bands, we generally think bad Led Zeppelin cover band. But in Ireland, there is real talent in pub entertainment, whether it be traditional Irish music or music with a more contemporary bent.
Our favorite place for live music was the Old Storehouse. We went there a couple of times for drinks during our stay, and the musicians were phenomenal. They did their own renditions of songs spanning King Louie's (of Disney's The Jungle Book) "I Wanna Be Like You" to U2. Both nights, the entire bar sang along and patrons near the stage danced. The electric fiddle never sounded so good!
The Old Storehouse also had great food. We split the bangers and mash, which was excellent. Irish sausages are unlike anything we've had in the States. They're much creamier in texture. They're typically made with finely-ground pork, seasonings and breadcrumbs in a natural casing that has a nice snap to it.
More on the rest of our trip later!