Dublin Guys’ Getaway Weekend

Whether you’re a party type, a history buff, a nature enthusiast, whiskey connoisseur, or simply want to check Ireland off the bucket list, just about everyone wants to see Dublin. A list of stops for the perfect guys’ weekend.

Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin
Gaelic Football. Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph, Eoghan McNally — Shutterstock.

After six years living in Dublin, I’ve had to come to grips with one undeniable truth.  Whether you’re a party type, a history buff, a nature enthusiast, a whiskey connoisseur, or simply want to check Ireland off the bucket list, just about everyone wants to see Dublin.  And tiny Dublin is well able to meet your needs.

But, for a group of guys (“lads” in local parlance) looking to get away for a few days of male camaraderie and bonding, the Irish capital is particularly well suited to the task.

With a compact downtown that’s easily reached from the airport and boasts hotels in every price range, hundreds of bars/pubs and restaurants, whiskey shops, sports venues, and great steaks (minus the steakhouse prices), Dublin has it all.  But the wealth of choices can be a bit daunting.

What follows is one American ex-pat’s highly subjective (but, of course, 100% spot on) list of stops for the “perfect” guys’ weekend in Dublin. And I’ve included a few stops where you lads can pick up something for that special someone back at home.

Kevin and Howlin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman

Kevin & Howlin (Wool and tweeds) Acting under the assumption that you’ll want to look the part of an Irishman (or know someone at home who might), this is the go-to spot for flat caps, tweed vests and jackets, and wool scarves that are easy to pack and make great gifts.
31 Nassau Street (www.kevinandhowlin.com)

Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin.
Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Celtic Whiskey Shop (Wine and Spirits) This shop is, hands down, Dublin’s best (and most convenient) shop for everyone from whiskey aficionados to the whiskey curious.  Yes, it’s in a tourist district, but the selection is so extensive, and the prices so good, that it’s the preferred whiskey stockist for locals.  Bottles on offer include not just the full range of Irish whiskeys, but a deep selection of Scotch whisky as well.

The Celtic Whiskey salespeople are not pushy, offer regular tastings, good advice, and will ship your purchases home (though it’s expensive unless you’re shipping in quantity).  The Celtic Whiskey Shop also has an entire wall of sample (airline-sized) whiskey bottles, so you can put together a selection of your favorites rather than buying full bottles.  And for the wine lovers in your party, the other half of their name is “Wines on the Green”.
27-28 Dawson Street (http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com

Whiskey tasting in the Celtic Whiskey Shop
Whiskey tasting in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.

Peterson of Dublin (Tobacconists) – If you’ve left home without cigars for the weekend, or fancy a classic pipe to compliment your new flat cap, Peterson of Dublin has been supplying Dublin with pipes, cigars, and all things tobacco since 1865.

Peterson of Dublin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Peterson of Dublin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Cuban cigars in Peterson's humidor. Photograph, Glenn .Kaufman
Cuban cigars in Peterson’s humidor. Photograph, Glenn .Kaufman

In addition to a wall full of pipes (their signature product), and a wide selection of their own branded tobacco, tools, pouches, lighters, and sage advice, they have a walk-in humidor of Cuba’s best. Yes, you heard correctly.  If you’re from the U.S.A, this is Ireland, where there are no trade restrictions, so Peterson’s humidor specializes in Cuban cigars.
48-49 Nassau Street (www.peterson.ie)

Gaelic Football. Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph, Eoghan McNally — Shutterstock.

Croke Park (Sports) –  If you and your mates fancy a match while you’re in town, then “Croker” is the place to go.  It’s Dublin’s premiere stadium, the third largest in Europe, and the home of GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association, which promotes traditional Irish sports).  Under the GAA banner, the stadium hosts Gaelic football and hurling matches.  It’s also possible to catch soccer (football) and rugby matches. And, in keeping with its involvement and promotion of indigenous sports, Croke Park is also home to the GAA Museum, a fascinating repository of all things Irish sports.
Jones’ Rd, Drumcondra (www.crokepark.ie) (www.gaa.ie)

Steak and chips at the Larder.

The Larder (Steaks, Wine, and Other Good Food) – The Larder is a local favorite for steaks, seafood, and a fresh twist on ‘classic Irish’ fare, Centrally located, but off the beaten path, you’d never hear of it unless a “local” told you about it (you’re welcome).

Prices are reasonable, and the Irish beef (always a good bet) is top notch.  As it’s a fairly small room, it’s best to make reservations in advance (always good advice in Dublin). 8 Parliament Street www.thelarder.ie01-633-3581

Dublin Writers Museum (History & Literature) In a city and country known for its writers, the Dublin Writers Museum is a great place to learn the history of town and country through the lens of its creative class.  The museum is also located just across the street from the Garden of remembrance, a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the struggle for Irish independence.18 Parnell Square North(http://www.dublin.info/writers-museum/)

Avoca (Irish Products and Gifts) – Also located near Nassau Street (Peterson’s, Celtic Whiskey Shop, etc.) Avoca is a sprawling emporium of wool and gifts (Irish and other).
11-13 Suffolk Street (www.avoca.com)

Dublin Pub. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Dublin Pub. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.

Pubs – I’ve deliberately avoided pubs on this list.  There’s plenty online about Dublin’s several thousand pubs, and, frankly, labeling any one as “the best” or “the perfect Irish Pub” is like labeling the best “air”.

That said, you should visit your first pub in Ireland/Dublin armed with a bit of the lingo:

Cider – Hard cider.  A fermented (sparkling) drink made from apples, and generally on the sweet side.  “Dry” cider will be less sweet, while “medium” cider can almost be too sweet.

Crisps – In Ireland potato chips are referred to as “crisps”.  And in pubs, the preferred type is usually salt & vinegar, cheese & onion, or Pringles.

Chips – In Ireland, French fries are “chips”, and are usually thick cut (chunky), as opposed to the thin cut (skinny) chips.

A Glass – A half pint.  In Ireland, you’ll generally get a pint of beer or cider unless you ask for “a glass of Guinness,” etc.

Toastie – A hot ham and cheese sandwich, often made in toaster behind bar. This may well be the only food available in the pub.

Whether you’re a group of old friends or a group who’ve come together from different worlds (to celebrate a buddy’s wedding, etc.), Dublin offers a wide range of things for you to see, do, bond over, and places to buy gifts for the missus.

If you like good food, drink, sports, history, cigars, tobacco, or perhaps always fancied one of those caps John Wayne wore in ‘The Quiet Man,” Dublin is where you ought to go.

Cheers,
Glenn K.

Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in The Quiet Man.

Glenn Kaufmann

Glenn Kaufmann is a freelance travel, food, and film journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.  As a child of the American South, he has a weakness for buttermilk biscuits.  As an escapee from Los Angeles, he has a love for seeing beaches and deserts in the same day. And, now, in Ireland, he’s developed a fondness for whiskey (and a collection to match).

Darkest Hour: Visiting the Churchill War Rooms

A visit to the Churchill War Rooms in London: photographs and history of this famous underground complex where Winston Churchill directed the war.

Darkest Hour: The statue of Winston Churchill looks towards the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph
Darkest Hour: The statue of Winston Churchill looks towards the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph, iStock Photos.

You haven’t seen home in 3 days, and the thing is . . . you aren’t sure your home is actually still there. The bombing has been relentless for nights. One of the reports you read indicates one hit very, very close to your street.

Recently, you whole existence seems to be defined by a warren of passageways and rooms just a few feet below the ground. You’ve been awake for 18 hours now, and you’ll be spending another night in the dormitory here. The mad clatter of typing gets suddenly louder as someone opens a door.

The air, heavy with cigarette smoke, is stale in other ways that have become normal: a combination of food smells lingering from supper a couple of hours ago, and a tinge of the latrine that never seems to quite go away. But he’s here — you’re sure of it. There’s the unmistakable odor of a cigar somewhere close. And that always means the PM is nearby . . .

I visited the Churchill War Rooms when I was last in London. I had planned to write about the War Rooms later this spring, but after seeing Darkest Hour yesterday — I can think of little else. It immediately took me back to my exploration of the underground complex where the leaders of the British Government directed WWII.

It doesn’t take much to imagine yourself on staff and part of this extraordinary period in history.

The London Milkman, 1940
The London Milkman, 1940. The British government censored photographs of Luftwaffe bombing to prevent the Germans from knowing how the British countermeasures were working. This was a staged photograph, designed to say to both the British AND the Germans that English daily life continued — despite the best efforts of the Nazis to destroy their spirit.

Yes. We all think we understand how horrific the bombing of Britain was, but the gulf between an academic understanding, and a personal knowledge is vast. Look at the map below showing the sites of all the bombs dropped between October 7, 1940, and June 6, 1941.

Chilling, isn’t it?

There is something about the visual — all of those pins, all of those bombs, so thick at this zoom level that they all simply merge together in a massive red lump. The brilliance of this project is that on the Bomb Site Project, you can zoom in to the detail of each, single bomb strike, street by street, and bring up information and pictures.

Map from the Bomb Sight Project
“The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.” — from the Bomb Sight Project

As the 1930’s progressed and the situation in Europe deteriorated, many in the British government thought that having an alternative meeting site, protected from potential bombing, was imperative. But indeed, with budget cuts and a habit of continually putting the project off, there nearly wasn’t an underground war room. While the idea had been under discussion for some years, going back to 1933 when Hitler left the League of Nations, nothing had been done.

On March 12, 1938, German troops entered Austria to force its incorporation into the Nazi state. At this time, the British government “planned” to include an underground war room in the basement of a building that was to be constructed and completed in, perhaps,  four years time.

On March 16, 1938, Colonel Hastings Ismay (Deputy Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence) felt sure hostilities were imminent, and there was no time to wait for new construction. He had available basement spaces surveyed, and by May 31, 1938, identified the basements under the New Public Offices (now the Treasury) on Great George Street as the ones best suited to their needs.

The intention was for this to be a temporary underground headquarters until something better could be built. Ismay assigned Brigadier Leslie Hollis to manage the conversion of the space into the central nervous system for a war-time government, and it was full steam ahead.

Hitler reviews troops in Prague after annexation of the Sudetenland.
Hitler reviews troops in Prague after annexation of the Sudetenland.

In September 1938, as Hitler threatened to annex Czechoslovakia, Ismay rushed into outfitting a ventilation system and reinforcing the ceilings of the basement rooms.

Then came the Munich Agreement: on September 30, 1938, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy reached an agreement that permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia.

While this agreement did little else beneficial, it bought time for the War Room project to be improved to the point it could actually be used. It took much of 1939 to convert what Hollis called ‘the hole in the ground’ to the set of facilities we see today. The first test meeting held in the War Rooms came on October 21, 1939.

May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Just a few days later, he went down into the underground complex to look at the Cabinet Room. The moment was later described by Brigadier Leslie Hollis:

As he looked around the empty room, the poignancy if the moment touched him. No one could say what the news would be within the hour, whether or not England was even then under her first invasion in a thousand years. The little group stood for a moment in silence under the humming fans, each thinking his own thoughts, and then Mr. Churchill took his cigar out of his mouth and pointed at the homely wooden chair at the head of the table. ‘This is the room from which I’ll direct the war,’ he said slowly.

Winston Churchill in the Map Room, July 1945, with and Captain RP Pim next to him.
Winston Churchill in the Map Room, July 1945, with and Captain RP Pim next to him.

The Main Corridor

Main Corridor in the War Rooms in London
Main Corridor in the War Rooms.
Weather Indicator in the Churchill War Rooms letting people know what things were like above ground.
Weather Indicator letting people know what things were like above ground.

What’s the weather like outside? You certainly don’t know if you’ve been below ground for any length of time. Check your handy weather indicator sign to the left — Fine and Warm today! And that’s a good thing isn’t it? Did you know that if it says “Windy” that’s a euphemism for heavy bombing in progress!

War Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Rooms
War Cabinet Room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Cabinet Room

The War Cabinet met every day, sometimes twice a day, depending current circumstances.

“The morning meeting invariably starts with reports by the Services on the military situation, and by the Foreign Secretary on political developments.” — General Ismay

War Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Rooms in London
Another view of the War Cabinet Room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Imperial War Museum chose to preserve the Cabinet Room the way it would have looked just before a meeting on October 15, 1940, when bombs had caused significant damage to 10 Downing Street the night before — an event that finally persuaded Churchill to meet regularly in the underground War Rooms.

Note the layout of the seating.

Churchill would have been seated in front of the map where his red dispatch box is, and the cabinet members in the other seats around the outside of the square.

The seats in the inside of the square? The hot seats, where heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force would sit directly across from the PM to be grilled.

How would you feel staring eyeball to eyeball with Winston Churchill?

Map Room

One week before the war began, the first team of officers took their seats in the Map Room. As the central nervous system of all war planning the Map Room was never empty. Shifts of staff worked round the clock for six years . . . until the war was over and the entire War Room complex closed and locked.

The Map Room looks as it did at the end of the war, reflecting Allied positions in the hours before Japan’s surrender.

The Map Room in the underground War Rooms in London
Churchill’s favorite room in the underground facility? The map room. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Churchill’s Room

Churchill's private room in the underground complex. Across the room is his desk where he delivered several addresses to the nation on the BBC.
Churchill’s private room in the underground complex. Across the room is his desk where he delivered several addresses to the nation on the BBC. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Just next to the map room, you’ll find Churchill’s private room. While he spent only a handful of nights in his underground bedroom, he regularly used the room as an office before or after meetings with the War Cabinet. Churchill also took a number of his famous afternoon naps here. Additionally, four of his BBC broadcasts were made from the desk in this room.

You’ll find photographs of more of the rooms in the underground complex below, including the Chiefs of Staff room, Mrs. Churchill’s bedroom, as well as the Churchill’s kitchen and dining room.

In the fall of 1940, Churchill discovered that the War Rooms were not strong enough to survive a direct hit from a bomb. On his orders, a concrete slab was built between the basement ceiling and the floor of the building above, and other sections of the War Rooms were filled with concrete to make them more bomb-resistant.

End of the War

On Tuesday, August 16, 1945, the doors to the War Rooms were closed. Even then, the British government recognized the extraordinary historic value of the space. According to Asbury’s book the Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, impromptu tours of the space were happening as early as 1946, even though there were still top secret documents present. These were removed in 1947.

In the 1970’s, as many as 5,000 people were touring the War Rooms each year. With growing concern about the conservation of the site and its contents, the IWM (Imperial War Museum) finally took steps to turn the space into a museum. On April 4, 1984, the Churchill War Rooms officially opened to the public.

Darkest Hour and the War Rooms

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (Universal Pictures).
Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (Universal Pictures).

Joe Wright’s film Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Churchill has been roundly acclaimed by both historians and film critics. This is one of my favorite films of 2017, and is now on my list of best WWII films ever made.

Scenes from the film take place in Parliament, and 10 Downing Street of course, but nearly four weeks of filming happened in the War Rooms, which were painstakingly reproduced by designer Sarah Greenwood at Ealing Studios in London.

In an interview with Mental Floss magazine, Greenwood said, “I designed [the War Rooms set], drew up the rough plans and everything over a weekend, and when I showed it to Joe, he was just like—and this is very rare—he was like, ‘Yep, that’s great.’ There were very few changes that we made to that,” Greenwood says. “And I think that came from knowing what it was going to be like. Because we’d been to the real War Rooms, we knew what we were trying to capture.”

If you want to get a sense of Churchill in these spaces, the Darkest Hour is the perfect film to watch before a visit to the War Rooms.

Two thoughtful reviews of Darkest Hour are available here: RogerEbert.com and the review in The Atlantic.

Gary Oldman as Churchill in the Map Room.
Gary Oldman as Churchill in the Map Room.

Information for Visiting the Churchill War Rooms

How long should you spend at the Churchill War Rooms?

I would say, at minimum, plan for a visit of 90 minutes. For those with a great interest in WWII, you could easily spend half a day.

In addition to the War Rooms, your admission gets you into the Churchill Museum, an award winning interactive museum about the life and times of Winston Churchill. You’ll find the entrance to the Churchill Museum on your tour of the War Rooms. On my visit, due to time constraints, I focused on the War Rooms. For more information, visit the Churchill Museum information here.

If you do want to spend several hours here, the War Rooms has a Cafe that is quite good. They serve tarts, stews, a variety of salads, and sandwiches. Conveniently located partway through the War Room path, it’s a great place to rest and ready yourself for more time exploring.

Cost

Tickets to visit the Churchill War Rooms are priced two ways: purchased day of visit, most expensive £21 – Adult — (bought ahead online £18.90),  £10.50 – child, 5 – 15 — (bought ahead online£9.45), as of January 2018. There is family pricing that varies depending on the number of adults.

Statue of Winston Churchill facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Statue of Winston Churchill facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph, Mohana Anton Meryl, iStock Photos.

Seeing the War Rooms for less money: If you are doing general sightseeing around London, consider buying a London Pass that gives entry t0 over 70 attractions, including the Churchill War Rooms. Also included is a one day hop-on hop-off bus pass.

You can buy the pass in 1 day up to 6 day lengths. The London Pass is sold by a number of vendors. I recommend reading about the pass on the official London Pass site and then compare prices at Viator (London Pass on Viator), where I found the best price. Viator also gives you the option of purchasing the London Pass in conjunction with an Oyster Card for travel on the red buses and London Underground.

As you compare prices, keep in mind that on the official site, prices are in British Pounds, so you’ll need to convert them to compare value.

Location

Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, London
Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 

You’ll find the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms at the bottom of the Clive Steps. See the map below for directions.

Other Tips for seeing the War Rooms

During the summer and other high-travel seasons, the Churchill War Rooms will be crowded. Very crowded. It’s a tight warren-like maze of hallways and rooms, and it’s a big tourist draw, so it simply makes sense to be there when they open.

If you are a World War II buff, then the Churchill War Rooms should be on your short list of places to visit in London. If your significant other and/or children aren’t interested, do yourself a favor. DITCH THEM.  Send them off to do something they like, then go get your Churchill on! All of you will be happy you did . . .


Interested in WWII Planes?

Onboard the B-17 Flying Fortress

Beautiful: The slow drone of four radial piston engines on a crystal clear November morning as I stepped back in time with this great warbird. This morning, I drove out to a small airport north of Houston for a bucket list experience.


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Hereford Road: Great Neighborhood Restaurant in Notting Hill

Looking for a great restaurant in the Notting Hill or Bayswater areas of London? Hereford Road specializes in British cuisine using locally source fish, meat, and produce.

globe artichoke served with vinaigrette at the Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill Gate in London
A perfectly cooked globe artichoke served with vinaigrette as my starter the first evening. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hereford Road specializes in British cuisine using locally sourced fish, meat, and produce. Owner-chef Tom Pemberton opened his Notting Hill restaurant in 2007 with the aim of providing the area with a neighborhood restaurant serving great food at reasonable prices.

A row of Victorian townhouses in the Bayswater area of West London.
A row of Victorian townhouses in the Bayswater area of West London. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I stayed in the Bayswater area on my last trip to London, and on my first evening didn’t feel like making a cab or tube ride to a different part of the city. I was happy to find Hereford Road in easy walking distance of my hotel, located on the border of the Bayswater and Notting Hill neighborhoods in the western part of the city.

The restaurant has a pleasing decor, cozy booths, and a feeling of being friendly and unpretentious. This is simple food, beautifully prepared — served by a wait staff that is knowledgeable and competent — at affordable prices.

The front part of Hereford Road Restaurant in Notting Hill has cozy leather booths facing the open kitchen.
The front part of Hereford Road has cozy leather booths facing the open kitchen. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hereford Road occupies a site that was home to a butcher shop in the Victorian era. The design is light and informal, using white ceramic tiles that evoke its butcher shop past. Cozy red-leather booths for two in the front have a view of the open kitchen, and the restaurant opens into a larger room with a skylight in the back furnished with a combination of tables and six-person booths. When I was there, clientele appeared to be predominantly British, ranging from their thirties to their sixties in age.

The globe artichoke starter.

There is not a bar, and the selection of hard spirits is limited. This is offset by a good wine menu; most of the offerings are organic or biodynamic, and more than a dozen are available by the glass or half-carafe.

During the day, the skylight brings in great natural light, which prevents the back room from having that claustrophobic feeling many long restaurants without side windows have.

I visited Hereford Road for dinner two evenings in a row. Why? First, the food really was that good, and then a second visit allows me to try more things AND to see whether service is consistent.

The first evening I started with the globe artichoke served with vinaigrette in a ramekin. In late August artichokes in Britain are still in season, and this one was perfectly cooked — tender but not overdone.

Braised rabbit with turnips and bacon at the Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill and Bayswater London
The braised rabbit with turnips and bacon was so wonderful, I started right in before taking the photograph — so sorry! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I worked my way down through the leaves, then cleaned the choke off the heart. For anyone who has not eaten artichokes, they are mild, with a texture similar to a boiled potato, but with a nutty sweetness that is a perfect foil to the mildly acidic vinaigrette.

For the main course, I chose the braised rabbit served with turnips and bacon. The rabbit was so tender that it was almost falling off the bone. The braising broth flavored with turnips and bacon was savory and delicious, well-balanced, and did not overpower the mild rabbit. What beautiful comfort food!

The next evening, I returned. As a starter, I chose the smoked eel, served with potato and frisée with horseradish based dressing.

Smoked eel served cold along with potatoes and a bit of frisée. Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill London
Smoked eel served cold along with potatoes and a bit of frisée. Photograph, Ann Fisher

I have not eaten smoked eel in a long time, and I’m at a loss as to why it’s rarely served in the United States. It’s firm and fine-grained, with just enough fattiness to lend itself well to smoking. This was delicate and delicious, and truly lovely with the potatoes and mild horseradish. Eel has a long culinary history in Great Britain — and it will be on my list to repeat when I’m back in London.

My final course at Hereford Road? The Blythburg pork belly with white beans, hispi, and mustard. Hispi cabbage has a pointy shape, is sweeter than regular cabbage, and is sometimes called sweetheart cabbage.

Pork belly with white beans and hispi at the Hereford Road restaurant in London
Pork belly with white beans and hispi. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Hereford Road pork belly is another fine example of British comfort food — simple in its nature, but beautifully prepared. Glistening, flavorful, tender — all the things you look for in this type of dish.

Menu at Hereford Road restaurant in Notting Hill London
The menu at Hereford Road changes frequently — often from one day to the other.

What about dessert? Well, I’m more of a savory-focused diner :-). And I was so well satisfied by my meals both evenings, that I simply couldn’t eat another bite — perhaps on my next visit to London!

The menu at Hereford Road changes almost daily, depending on the season and the availability of ingredients.

The restaurant typically offers seven starters, seven mains, and five desserts. Prices (in British pounds) range from £6.50 -£8.50 for appetizers, £12.00 – £16.50 for entrees, and £6.00 for desserts. In London, this is incredibly reasonable for a restaurant of this quality.

You’ll find the current Hereford Road Menu here.

Finding Hereford Road: the restaurant is located at 3 Hereford Road, Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4AB.

 

The Hereford Road restaurant is between the Bayswater area and its upscale neighbor, the affluent Notting Hill.
The Hereford Road restaurant is located between the Bayswater area and its upscale neighbor, the affluent Notting Hill. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 


 

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Christmas in Florence!

Buon Natale! If you’re dreaming of a festive Christmas vacation, Florence fills the bill beautifully. A digital Christmas card to all of my readers

Buon Natale everyone, everywhere!

Christmas chocolates at the Caffe Rivoire in Florence Italy
Caffe Rivoire always has tempting chocolates in its cases. The chocolate Christmas trees taste as good as they look!

If you’re dreaming of a festive Christmas vacation, Florence fills the bill beautifully. I love this city anytime of the year, but to see the Duomo decked out with its majestic tree is a real treat.

As a digital Christmas card to all of my readers, here’s a gallery of images from my holiday trip to one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.

If you’re wanting more Italia, have a look are the two articles below, one on my Christmas trip to Florence, and the other a reading list for anyone heading to this Renaissance city.

The Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore -- Cathedral of Florence, is magnificent at Christmas.

My Room with a View

In those winter nights next to the Duomo, life came back to me. It’s an 88 step climb to a week I now carry with me always.  Paolo opened the door of my taxi. “Ciao, Anna. Your trip was good?” He took one of my two small bags, and we mountain-goated it up the seemingly endless flights, Paolo chatting to me the whole way. [. . . .]

 

Duomo in Florence to inspire books about Italy.

Books about Italy: A Reading List for Florence

Here is my reading list for Florence, and whether you’re looking for nonfiction and history, a book written by a famous Florentine, or you’re looking for the best novels set in Italy, you’ll find something here. [ . . . ]

Buon Natale!

Did you know? The Fleur de Lis is the symbol of Florence.

Loving Irish Whiskey

How much do you know about Irish whiskey?

If it’s not much, that’s not surprising, since the industry has come back from what some termed ‘the edge of extinction’ on the international market.

Irish whiskey in a waterford glass
Irish Whiskey. Photograph, iStock Photos.

How much do you know about Irish whiskey?

If it’s not much, that’s not surprising, since the industry has come back from what some termed ‘the edge of extinction’ on the international market. In 2015, the Irish Whiskey Association launched a major marketing and public relations effort to change this, to work on repeating the success of the Scottish Whiskey industry in increasing market share outside of their country.

Before my trip to Ireland for TBEX Europe in Killarney, my knowledge was limited to Jameson’s and Bushmill’s whiskey, both of which I liked. Over my eight- day trip, I sampled many, and left with a list of spirits I sincerely hope I can buy at home.

If you live in the United States, here are some statistics on Irish Whiskey in the American market that might surprise you:

Irish whiskey has been the fastest-growing spirit in the country, with sales soaring over the last 15 years. Consider that in 2002, just 434,000 cases were sold in the United States, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group.

By 2016, that number had reached more than 3.8 million cases, growing by almost 19 percent in that year alone, an astounding growth rate that was nearly three times that of the next highest category, American whiskey, at 6.8 percent, according to the council.

— Eric Asimov, New York Times, Irish Whiskeys Rise Above the Annual Celebration

Teeling Whiskey Single Grain
Teeling’s Single Grain whiskey — love at first taste. Photograph, Ann Fisher

I enjoyed exploring Irish whiskeys on this trip. We had Teeling’s Single Grain on our first evening, and loved the smooth quality of it, which led us to Celtic Whiskey Shop to buy a bottle to enjoy while in Dublin.

Whiskey tasting at the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin
Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin: All three of these were wonderful. Writer’s Tears is a very smooth whiskey (Pat’s favorite), and I like both it and my favorite of the three, Knappogue Castle (pronounced Nappogue). Photograph, Ann Fisher.

While there, we enjoyed tasting Writer’s Tears (Copper Pot), Knappogue Castle 16 year, and Teeling’s Brabazon — and realized how much tasting was in front of us to even start to grasp all of the creative things distilleries are doing in Ireland. Some of the techniques that make each whiskey so different would be decisions about the type of casks to use in the aging process — some might be a particular type of oak, and others are being aged in sherry or madeira casks, producing a great variety of flavors.

The staff at the Celtic Whiskey Shop were knowledgeable and friendly, and we left with a note introducing us to the staff in Killarney, where the Celtic Whiskey people also have a wonderful bar and restaurant.

At the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder in Killarney, you’ll find over 800 Irish whiskeys, more that 1,400 whiskeys overall, making it the largest collection of Irish whiskey in the world, and the largest overall collection of whiskey in Ireland. Lord, what a beautiful thing . . .

And to top it off — they have a great kitchen that serves a variety of small plates and main dishes that are outstanding tasting options with their whiskeys.

The Celtic Whiskey Bar in Killarney
The Celtic Whiskey Bar in Killarney, a beautiful thing. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Irish Whiskey flight Celtic Whiskey Bar Killarney
A flight of whiskey: The Irish Favourites, at the Celtic Whiskey Bar in Killarney. Photographs, Ann Fisher.
The smokiness of the Connemara 12 year old was wonderful.
The smokiness of the Connemara 12-year-old was wonderful. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We chose the Irish Favourites flight: Jameson’s Redbreast 12 year, Writer’s Tears (Copper Pot), Tyrconnell 10 year old Madeira Cask, and Connemara 12 year old (a peated whiskey). It was all good, but Pat came away with Writer’s Tears as her continued top choice, and I favored the Connemara. I found the smoky flavor of the Connemara on top of the fruity notes in the whiskey really wonderful, and like nothing I’ve ever had before — very different from the peaty whiskeys of Scotland.

So, if you don’t know much about Irish Whiskey, you have some delightful tasting ahead of you — what are you waiting for? Get out there and get on it!

The sun’s over the yard arm somewhere . . .

 

Bottle your own Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder, Killarney
Yes, I did! Bottle my own Irish Whiskey at the Celtic Whiskey Bar in Killarney. And it arrived at my home, just as promised, less than ten days later.

 


If you’re interested in hearing the interview with Bernard Walsh on the Irish Whiskey Industry, you find it here:

Additionally, this is an outstanding article on the overview of the renaissance in Irish Whiskey:

The Rise, Decline and Rebirth of Irish Whiskey Part II: The Renaissance of Irish Whiskey

Turning Two in Ireland

My blog hit its second anniversary while I was in Ireland for a travel blogging conference, TBEX Europe.

There’s a symmetry to this for me: as a traveler delving into a new country for the first time; as a writer and lifelong lover of literature arriving in the home of James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw;  as a student in the business of blogging, here to learn more.

Shamrocks
Shamrock, symbol of Ireland. The word comes from the Irish Gaelic word, seamróg. Photo by Quentin REY on Unsplash.
a pint of the black stuff, Guinness Stout
A pint of the black stuff. Love Guinness! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

My blog hit its second anniversary while I was in Ireland for the travel blogging conference, TBEX Europe.

There’s a symmetry to this for me: as a traveler delving into a new country for the first time; as a writer and lifelong lover of literature arriving in the home of James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw; as a student in the business of blogging, here to learn more.

So over the course of my week in Ireland, I raised many pints of Guinness and multiple  glasses of Irish whiskey to life, to travel, and to my anniversary. Sláinte!

River Liffey in Dublin
The River Liffey flows through Dublin, dividing the city into two distinctively different halves. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 Three Days in Dublin

Looking through the gate of Christ Church Cathedral. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

It is impossible to know Dublin in only three days, but my friend Pat Wetzel of Cancer Road Trip and I gave it our all (you’ll find find Pat’s account of our doings in Dublin here). We started with an overview tour, then delved into: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, the Joyce Center, and the Writers Museum, drank plenty of Guinness, and sampled some amazing Irish whiskey.

On jet-lag Friday, we went to the Guinness Storehouse to learn more about how the Black Stuff is made.

The Storehouse is in the St. James Gate Brewery in a fermentation building dating from 1904. It’s a slick museum of Guinness, and the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. What did I think? Well, the words tourist trap come to mind. The Gravity Bar at the very top of the Storehouse has an amazing 360° view of Dublin, and would be an excellent place to enjoy that pint of Guinness that comes as part of your entry fee — except that it was so crowded when we were there that we could barely move.

After preparing for rain, we were blessed with good weather — and when the sun came out during our visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we made a beeline for the green to take advantage of the light.

St. Patrick's Cathedral Dublin Ireland
St. Patrick’s was founded in 1191, but most of the current building dates to the 1800’s. It is the National Cathedral of Ireland, and both the largest and tallest cathedral in the country. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Temple Bar Dublin
On the street in the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

We wandered from St. Patrick’s to Christ Church, then into Temple Bar to find a good pub for lunch. Temple Bar is an area of Dublin bounded by the River Liffey and Dame Street, then Fishamble Street and Westmoreland Street on the east and west sides. It’s home to things such as the Irish Photography Center, the Gaiety School of Acting, and the Irish Stock Exchange, then in the evening it’s the center of a lively nightlife — so there are plenty of pubs :-).

We found one to our liking (BadBobs) and settled in to review photographs and talk. The lamb shank I ordered to accompany my Guinness was outstanding.

Badbobs Temple Bar
The lamb shank at BadBob’s pub , served with carrots, parsnips, and mashed potatoes was flavorful and tender. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

James Joyce and Dublin

Saturday afternoon found us on a walking tour: Introducing Joyce’s Dublin. Parts of the route followed in Leopold Bloom’s footsteps, and other stops, like the one at the Gresham Hotel, took us into stories in The Dubliners, such as The Dead. I thought the tour was great, and anyone interested in 20th century literature will enjoy seeing Dublin through Joyce’s eyes. The James Joyce Center offers several different tours that change from week to week, and when I return to Ireland, I’ll try a different one.

While I easily loved The Dubliners the first time I read it, Ulysses deviled me as a college student. The stream of consciousness style of James Joyce’s writing can be difficult to handle — it requires dedicated attention. Yet it is listed as one of the top 100 novels in the English language, and for a lover of writing, it’s a must-read. The Joyce Center has inspired me to attack the book again, this time with both Ulysses: Dublin Illustrated Edition and the audio version with two narrators: Ulysses Audiobook (additional information about the narrated version is at the bottom of this article).

Following our Joyce tour, we went to see the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial to those who died in the Easter Rising of 1916. Then, still on a literary high — we noticed the Writers Museum across the street from the garden, and went in to explore. I found it disappointing. While they do have a small, interesting collection of letters and books, the displays were incredibly dated, and for most people, this is not a great way to spend limited time in this special city.

Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Photograph, Marc Lechanteur — iStock Photo

The Book of Kells, Trinity College

Book of Kells
Page from the Book of Kells, one of the world’s great illuminated manuscripts.

On Sunday, we made our way to Trinity College. Mission: see the Book of Kells and the Long Room in the Old Library. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the gospels of the New Testament dating from ca. 800 AD, was created at the Columban monastery in Ireland. It is one of this country’s great national treasures.

I would strongly recommend booking tickets for the Book of Kells ahead, and even with this, expect to stand in line for at least twenty minutes. You’ll see the Long Room of the Old Library after you finish viewing the exhibition about the manuscript.

When you know you have to return . . .

The clock was ticking down towards our train ride to the conference.

On our last Dublin afternoon, we drove past the bullet-riddled columns of the GPO, the General Post Office — rebel headquarters for the Easter Rising. I turned my head to watch the building recede, knowing that I’d have to return to “go deep” in Ireland, to really know and understand this country. So I raise my glass to Dublin, and simply say — “I like you too well to leave. And I’ll be back.”

Ah! Ow! Don’t be talking! I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. Declare to God I could hear it hit the pit of my stomach with a click. — Ulysses, James Joyce

Practical Notes: Hotels

We stayed at the Conrad Hotel near St. Stephen’s Green for our first three nights in Dublin, which was outstanding. It really exceeded my expectations. The service level of the staff was outstanding, and the room very comfortable. Breakfast was included in our rate, and I thought the buffet was very good.

Hotel in Dublin: The Conrad

Our one unpleasant experience was at Harrington Hall in Dublin on our final night after our rail trip back from Killarney. The Conrad was not available when I booked, so we chose the Harrington for the last evening before we flew home. It is also near St. Stephen’s Green, but unfortunately right across the street from very noisy nightclubs. There is no air conditioning, and we had to open a window because the room was a bit stuffy. Even though our room was at the back of the hotel, we listened to racket from the bars all night long — things didn’t go quiet until around 4:00 am. Never again.


Reading James Joyce

For anyone who’s struggled with Ulysses, and would like to have another go at it, I found Tadhg Hynes comments on recording the audio book interesting, and the audio excerpt on Amazon engaging. I’ve just started listening to this version on Audible, while reading the Ulysses Dublin Illustrated Edition — makes SUCH a difference. If you’re thinking that this approach might work for you, I’d encourage you to listen to the audio excerpt to see what you think.

 

Narrator Tadhg Hynes: “I first decided to record Ulysses in October 2015. Little did I know then what an unforgettable 18 months lay ahead. Having already recorded Dubliners and Portrait (and being terrified of Ulysses), I decided to give myself a year just to read it. However, after about four episodes I started recording it and became hooked.

Being a Dubliner and having the privilege of walking the pages of this book daily, it became a world that absorbed me totally. Almost everywhere I went in Dublin, Joyce was there. I kept coming across phrases from the book in real life. I was born in Holles St. Hospital some 60 years after the Oxen of the Sun episode was set there. While the city has moved with the times, it’s still unavoidable to get the sense of Joyce’s Dublin even now. . . . I’ve tried to bring out the Dublin wit and the unique language of its people, and I hope that this adds to the enjoyment of this great book.

“I would like to add a special note of thanks and admiration to the wonderful reading of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, given by Kayleigh Payne. Famed for its lack of punctuation and rambling nature, this iconic piece of writing is beautifully interpreted and sensitively portrayed. Kayleigh’s work has brought a new dimension to the recording, and I am eternally grateful.” — from Victorian Classics Audiobooks


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Walking Tour of Florence with a Visit to the David

A review of my 2017 small group walking tour of Florence, skipping the line to see Michelangelo’s David, with the family-owned company, LivItaly Tours.

Piazza della Signoria on a florence italy walking tour
On my LivItaly walking tour, a wonderful view standing in the doorway of the Palazzo Vecchio looking out on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

On Wednesday, I spent a wonderful afternoon with a small group tour from LivItaly Tours.

This tour was nothing like those groups of 20 to 40 you see herding past where the guide is holding a little flag and chirping at the people on a radio transmitter. If you are trying to choose from among the many Florence tours available, this is not the direction I would go.

The maximum group size on a LivItaly Tour is six people. This means your walking tour of Florence feels more like a stroll with friends than one of those larger, impersonal groups — which frankly make me want to run in the opposite direction.

Walks of Florence with LivTaly Tours - Rape of the Sabine
Rape of the Sabine by Giambologna in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our guide, Francesca, met us in the Piazza della Signoria right in front of the famous Caffé Rivoire.

This three hour walking tour started in the Piazza della Signoria, went past the Uffizi to stop on the Arno, lead us through the Piazza Repubblica to the Duomo, then down the Via de Martelli to the Palazzo Medici. We arrived at the Academia, and swept right in past the line to see Michelangelo’s David. The final 30 – 40 minutes of time were in the Academia with the David.

Francesca, a licensed guide for Florence and many other cities in Tuscany, was not only knowledgable — but very funny.

My afternoon with her was like having my own storyteller in the middle of the most important city of the Italian Renaissance. The great thing about the group of six, is that our afternoon was a conversational experience. Everyone had a chance to ask questions.

While I’ve been to Florence a number of times, Francesca connected the Florence of the Roman period, the medieval period, the Renaissance period, and finally the modern period in a way that increased my understanding and connection to the city, really bringing it to life.

walks of italy florence - we stopped in the Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Walking tours of Florence with LivItaly - use bronze 3D map of Florence
Our guide from LivItaly Tours uses the 3D bronze map of Florence to show the course of the medieval wall around the city. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Just a block away from the Arno, Francesca led us down one of the remaining medieval streets in Florence as we talked about the cramped city and the lack of light of that period, then out into the Piazza della Repubblica.

This had been the site of the forum during the Roman period, then the old market, and finally the Piazza della Repubblica when Florence was briefly the capital of the newly united Italy (1865 – 1871).

We paused in the Piazza to use the bronze model of the city to discuss the original streets dating back to the Roman period, then to look at where the medieval walls had been, before walking towards the Duomo.

Il Duomo -- walking tours of Florence with Livitaly
Francesca explained the machines Brunelleschi used to build the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore — knowledge that had been lost following the fall of the Roman empire. Walks of Italy, Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher

In front of the Duomo, we stopped at the Baptistry to look at the copy of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (originals are in the Opera del Duomo) as Francesca explained the doors, and then the competition for the first set of Baptistry doors that marked the beginning of the Renaissance. We were a lively group with questions, and the whole thing was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Walking tour of Florence - no line for the David
If you have a limited time in Florence, which is true of most visitors, it is very important not to waste your day standing in line to see the David. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Skipping the Line to Visit Michelangelo’s David

If you do not make plans ahead, and you simply arrive expecting to walk in and see the David, you may be out of luck.

When we arrived at the Academia museum, and the line to see the David still stretched most of the way down the block — so far, that with the time left before the Academia closed, that the people at the very back might get to enter.

Long line outside the Academia waiting to see Michelangelo's David.
It’s not unusual to have to wait two hours in line at the Academia to see the David. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our little group waited while Francesca picked up our reserved tickets, and as we did, a husband and his wife had a very public melt-down outside of the museum.

“I don’t know why you thought you knew SO MUCH BETTER about how to do this than someone who ACTUALLY LIVES HERE!!” said the husband, his face increasingly red as he spoke.

His wife seemed close to tears. “I just didn’t think the line would be this long, since we aren’t here in the summer.”

“We’re not going to get in today, and we leave first thing in the morning! Mary Ellen bought a reserved ticket ahead, like Piero told her to . . .  but now there are no more of those left this afternoon!”

“Joe, I’m so sorry.”

He bellowed, “Well, at least SHE’S going to get to see him!”

“I wish you would just calm down . . . ”

“You knew that the David was the only thing I really wanted to see here, and now it’s not going to happen!! . . . And I’m not going to calm down!”

We saw the David on our walking tour of Florence.
The David, created 1501-1504 by Michelangelo, walking tour Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

At this point, Francesca re-appeared and whisked us straight into the Academia.

I felt incredibly sorry for that couple. Can you reserve tickets to see the David without taking a tour? Yes, you absolutely can, and if you’re not going to take a walking tour, you definitely need to do that.

The reason this is so much better is that visiting the David with a guide gives you the full context for this amazing work of art. Francesca did a fine job of telling the story of how the young Michelangelo returned from Rome after his success with the Pieta and won the contract to carve the enormous block of marble.

The citizens of Florence were awestruck with the David when they first saw him completed in 1504. David was a GIANT then, and he is a GIANT now.

Francesca concluded the LivItaly Tour at his feet, leaving us to spend as much time with this masterpiece as each of us liked.

I finished my day with a cocktail at Caffé Rivoire, to watch the light in the piazza, and to think about my walk — which had been perfect. Returning to sit in the Piazza della Signoria was coming full circle, a contemplation of my afternoon of time-travel through Italian history.


If you’re looking for: walks of Italy, Florence — you’ve found a review of my 2017 walking tour of Florence with Livitaly Tours.


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Small Group Walking Tour of Florence with the David


Disclaimer: Many thanks to LivItaly Tours for hosting me on their walking tour. As always, opinions and experiences are honest and my own. I’ll never recommend anything I didn’t love myself.