Shamrocks & Steins: 11 Days in Ireland & Germany

Despite a cancelled concert (then a cancelled flight from Minneapolis to JFK) we had an amazing European adventure to Dublin, Wolfsburg, Munich, Salzburg, Frankfurt, Rhudesheim and Limerick.

For the love of Garth…
The journey began back in the middle of January 2014, when I got up at 3 am (10 am in Ireland) in order to buy tickets to attend Garth Brooks’ Comeback Concert at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. I was so excited to get tickets to the third show—scheduled for Sunday, July 27. Which then resulted in changing a tentative trip to Italy in 2014 to a return trip to Dublin. I looked for every possible way to earn more frequent flyer miles to be used to get to Ireland. In March, I booked a stay The Merrion Hotel—the place I’d wanted to stay on my first visit to Dublin in 2012. Memorial Day Weekend (as part of my birthday celebration) I cashed in all of my miles and we booked our flights to see Garth in Ireland—I was elated. We then booked our flights and hotels for the Germany portion of our trip. It was all so exciting until suddenly there was talk of the concerts being cancelled due to concern for the amount of traffic in the Croke Park area…I thought it would all get straightened out. After weeks of what seemed like endless updates in the Irish media, just a week before our scheduled departure all five shows were cancelled. 400,000 people had bought tickets to the concerts months before, booked flights from around the world and suddenly due to concern about noise and rambunctiousness—it was over. The fans and Garth would all miss “The Dance.”

Given the late change, we decided to take our trip as planned. When we got to the airport, our flight from Minneapolis to JFK was cancelled (which made it feel like perhaps we shouldn’t take the trip?) But once we arrived in Ireland…it was exactly where we wanted to be.

Day 1: Delighted to Make it to Dublin
After a cancelled flight to JFK, an overnight flight to Shannon, a bus from the Shannon Airport to Limerick Station, and a train from Limerick to Dublin, we were more than thrilled to arrive at the Merrion Hotel!MerrionEntrance
Stepping inside was like walking into a retreat from a bygone area. The courteous bellman, the marbled floors of the lobby, charming yellow walls, exquisite artwork, and soothing floral scented breezes flowing in through the windows from the courtyard all said “Welcome Home.” But that was just the start—we were about to discover what would really set The Merrion hotel apart—the exceptional staff. From check in to check out, the staff was extremely attentive. On our day of arrival they accommodated us for a late Afternoon Tea, when we were jet-lagged and missed breakfast time, they set us up for a full Irish breakfast in our own private room in the Cellar (and printed us a train schedule to help us plan our day), the concierge recommended what would become two of our favorite experiences—a train trip to the seaside town of Howth and County Wicklow Tour, and when they couldn’t seat us in the Drawing Room for the hotel’s famous Art Tea, we were treated to complimentary Prosecco in No. 24. One of the staff that really made our stay fantastic was Ciara. She served us drinks on our first night and we got talking about what brought us to Dublin (the now cancelled Garth Brooks shows), and she was genuinely so upset for us! She was sweet and gracious, and started giving us great recommendations on things to see and do. Every night after that she’d greet us and welcome us back for the day and we’d talk about our discoveries. It was so sad to say goodbye to her on our last night! The only bad part of our stay was leaving…our four night stay went all too quickly, but our warm memories of the The Merrion are sure to last!

Day 2: A Religious Experience

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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Having missed the opportunity to step inside on our first trip to Dublin, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was top on our list. What an experience it was! Walking inside, you were overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture…I won’t soon forget the way the sun cast a gentle glow through the stained glass windows.

We were fortunate on our timing, as we were able to walk in and join a fascinating guided tour. We learned all about the history of the cathedral, the story of St. Patrick—the patron saint of Ireland, as well as the various political and social impacts on the building since it was built in 1220! Fun fact: in the 1800’s, the Guinness family helped restore the church which was in disrepair. To this day, the Guinness family still has their own pew!

Day 3: History, Tea and Time by the Sea

Christ Church Cathedral

ChristChurchExteriorThis was another must-see that we missed on our first trip. While it wasn’t quite as large as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it was breathtaking. The nave of the church was quite beautiful, as were the stained glass windows and tile floors.

But what really stands out is our visit to the Crypt. We were a little uneasy about going down there, but it was quite the experience. There were historical details about some of those were laid to rest, but there was also a mummified cat and mouse found during a renovation (stuck in an organ pipe) and the craziest thing—a place to enjoy tea and a gift shop right in the crypt!
ChristChurchTea

Dublinia

VikingShipReplicaThis museum tells the story of Dublin—from being founded by the Vikings to battling the plague, it’s a pretty interesting place to discover. Next to Christ Church Cathedral, you can save yourself some money and get a combined ticket to visit both. It’s definitely a family-friendly museum as most of the exhibits are designed for kids with interactive elements, but don’t let that detour you from checking it out. You start your journey in the Viking Dublin exhibition where you learn about the Vikings’ time in Ireland (they founded Dublin around 841). You walk through a noisy street (where you can watch an artisan make coins), then take a peek inside a Viking home.

Then make your way to the Medieval Dublin Exhibition where you meander through a recreation of a city street, learning about crime and punishment as well as death and disease. Then it’s on to a Medieval fair where you’ll experience the sights and sounds of the times, including a look at a merchant’s kitchen. From there you discover how historians and archeologists worked together to uncover the details of Dublin’s past in the History Hunters Exhibition. At the end of your tour, you climb the 96 steps to reach the top of St. Michael’s Tower—which was part of the church of St. Michael the Archangel, a seventeenth century house of worship that once stood where the Dublinia museum now stands. From the top, is a panoramic view of Dublin—I highly recommend going to the top!

Art Tea

ArtTeaNo Ireland experience is really complete without a proper tea time. But if you really want to be wowed, The Art Afternoon Tea at The Merrion Hotel is superb. Served in the Drawing Room, it feels as if you are having tea in a fine Dublin residence. The hotel houses Ireland’s private art collection, which serves as inspiration for this very special tea. Each day there is a featured work of art that the chef used to prepare special sweets to be served as the final course of the Tea. The setting, the service and the intricate details of all the courses makes one feel as if they’ve stepped onto the set of Downton Abbey.

Howth Lighthouse

Just a short ride from Dublin on the DART, is Howth, a picturesque seaside village filled with Fish & Chip restaurants, beaches and a harbor with fishing boats. We arrived in the evening and walked out to the Howth Lighthouse for a spectacular sunset. Of all the places I’ve visited, I have to say this little town really stole my heart. The sound of the anchored boats bouncing in the harbor, the sea birds, and the smell of fresh salty sea air…everything was so authentic…I absolutely adored it! (On a side note, Garth filmed a song here for his Ireland special in the 1990s, which started my interest in visiting Ireland.)

Day 4: The Wows of Wicklow

The original plan for this day was a relaxed time in Dublin followed by a Garth concert at Croke Park Stadium. But unfortunately, the day didn’t quite go that way and we all missed “The Dance”…

But instead, we took a highly recommended Wild Wicklow tour…and what an adventure it was! We hopped on the bus in front of our hotel with our tour guide James, picked up other guests at several spots around Dublin, then headed to Wicklow. The day started with a beautiful drive along the coast with a stop at Dun Laoghaire Harbor, then onto Dalkey and Killiney, with a slightly off-course drive by a few famous resident’s houses, including Bono and Sinead O’Connor (well, we could see rooftops).

WicklowDunLoughaireHarbor.jpgThen the next stop was Avoca Handweavers & Cafe for some local shopping, coffee and a scone (I had to get an Irish wool scarf).

AvocaWoolenMillsThen we went up into the mountains, passing by the Powerscourt gardens, through Sally Gap where we saw boglands, mountain lakes, the Guinness Lake, the Vikings TV filming set, a few sheep roaming across the street, the bridge from “P.S. I Love You” and mountain areas where “Braveheart” was filmed.

Next up was lunch at a traditional Irish Pub where we leisurely dined, then it was on to Glendalough, a 6th Century Monastic Settlement—what an incredible place. During our time there the weather went from rainy with thick clouds, to a stunning break in the clouds that illuminated the Upper Lake with beautiful rays of sunshine, then the clouds came again with more rain—it was absolutely stunning.

We finished our day with an evening out in Dublin, complete with live music and a pint of Guinness.

Then, in the morning we flew from Dublin to Hanover, Germany!

Day 5: V-Dub Heaven

Considering I’m on my third Volkswagen (two Jettas and a Tiguan), it’s safe to say I’m very fond of the brand. So, when I found out about the Autostadt a few years ago, I immediately added it to my must-visit list…and it did not disappoint. We stayed on the grounds of the Autostadt at the Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg. Offering views of the smokestacks from the original factory, the hotel features an extremely unique outdoor pool which seems to float within the Harbor Basin. Plus, hotel guests receive complimentary access to the Autostadt.

VWStacks

I was quite surprised at the dining options available with in the Autostadt—some fantastic food! We had a lovely steak dinner at the BEEFCLUB.
VWBeefclubexteriorVWBeefclubInterior

VWPavillion

Day 6: V-Dub Love & Prost!

Our day began at the Autostadt’s breakfast buffet, which offered views of the grands and the car towers.
VWCarTowerExterior

One of the most unique features of the Autostadt, is the car towers. Europeans can custom order VWs and then pick them up from what is really a car elevator. It was amazing to watch the robotic arms go several stories in the air, pick up a car, and bring it to the ground level for pickup.

For car lovers, the ZeitHaus Museum showcases an extensive selection of cars from around the world housed within a contemporary setting. Personally, I found the vintage golden Beetle quite impressive, but the entire exhibit was fascinating.

VW1935CarAfter a four hour train ride, one of our most memorable dining experiences of the trip happened in Munich. While on the train from Hanover to Munich we tried to work on our German phrases, we thought we were ready, so after checking into our hotel we walked over to Hofbräukeller am Wiener Platz. As we approached the host’ stand to ask for a table, both of us stammered on our rehearsed lines…thankfully the host asked us in English, “Would you like a table?”
MunichRestaurant

There were not any completely open tables, so the host asked us if we would like to share a table. He led us over to a round table where two young college age girls were sitting, one from Italy and the other from northern Germany. At first it seemed strange to sit and eat with people we didn’t know. Then the two girls discovered we were Americans, and the one exclaimed “I’ve never met a real American!” They recommended some foods to us, including the house-made pretzels. We dined for a couple of hours, talking about American/European stereotypes. It was a wonderful meal…one I’ll remember for years!

Day 7: The Hills Were Alive With The Sound of Musical Rain Drops!

SalzView2Salzburg, Austria! It wasn’t on our original itinerary, but given the rainy weather, our hotel concierge had recommended a day trip via the train to Salzburg, Austria rather than Neuschwanstein Castle or Dauchau. While I’m sad we didn’t visit either, I’m forever grateful to have experienced the Alstadt (Old City) area of Salzburg. The winding cobblestone streets, squares, churches, and fortress overlooking the city felt like something straight from a fairytale. We toured the DomQuartier Salzburg, took in the beauty of the Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart once played, dined on traditional Austrian food, shopped a bit, and took the furnicular up the mountain to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, originally built in the 11th Century.

Despite the clouds and rain, seeing the Alps and the charming city below was breathtaking. It all ended too quickly, but it was a day to be remembered…and a place on my “must return” list.

Day 8: A Memorable Market & the Hofbrauhaus!

MunMarienplatzOn our only full day in Munich, we decided to begin the day experiencing the tastes of the city at the Viktualienmarkt. It was a feast for the senses! We explored the variety of vendors,tried sausages, lebkuchen and sat in the beer garden taking in the whole experience.

After, we checked out the Marienplatz area checking out a variety of shops and restaurants, then making our way to the top of Neues Rathaus for a beautiful view of the sprawling city.

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Then ended our day with a traditional Bavarian meal and a visit to the Hofbräuhaus Munchen…a delightful experience.

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MunDinner
Authentic Wienerschnitzel…one of the best meals ever!

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Day 9: Head North!

After a lovely visit to southern Germany, it was time to head north via the train to Frankfurt. After about 4 hours on the train, we arrived at our hotel and set about exploring the Römer Square area of Frankfurt.

We dined on a traditional meal and explored the festival happening in the historic area. It was fascinating to see all the unique foods and items the vendors were selling.

FRAFair

Day 10: Rüdesheim, the lovely wine town

RhudSignThis picturesque town on the Rhein is home to the “Drosselgasse”. Known as the happiest street in the world, it’s lined with Weinhouses and wine gardens where you can sip the regions best Rieslings, along with Rüdesheimer Kaffee—a delicious treat prepared table side with chocolate and Asbach liquor.

Surrounded by vineyards, you feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairytale village with winding streets, train rides, gondolas and a ringing bell tower. I’ll never forget hearing the table next to us start singing along to the ringing of the bells, and one of my favorite memories is of buying a glass of strawberry wine from a little window as I was meandering down the street.

It was such a charming place, I hated to board the train back to the bustling city!

FRATrain

Day 11: Lovely Limerick

LimCastle2The final stop on our trip was Limerick, Ireland. The day began with a flight from Frankfurt to Dublin. Then we took a taxi from the airport to the Dublin train station, where we boarded a train to Limerick. Once there, we walked a few blocks to our hotel then explored the town on foot in the afternoon. It was a charming city with a Medieval Castle and many beautiful churches to explore.

Our last Irish meal was in a charming little pub, and we ended the day with a drink in our hotel’s cozy bar. In the morning, it was to fly across the pond…

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