Tonight's accommodation: Clontarf Castle. Yep, were staying in an actual castle (now partly converted into a hotel) as a treat for our anniversary. The interior was modern and it felt like a typical boutique hotel, but the outside still retained its original castle-like appearance. We spent the afternoon in the huge, comfy bed, eating Camembert and sipping the same Bordeaux that we drank on our wedding night two years ago (we picked it up in France earlier in the year). The hotel also gave us a free piece of cake, knowing that it was our anniversary, but for some reason the waiter said "Happy birthday" as he entered. It was a lovely gesture nonetheless.
For dinner, we both dressed up for the first time in ages (jeans have been the official uniform for months) and were shuttled over to Bon Appétit, a one Michelin-star restaurant. Our hotel booking included a dinner package, but we opted to splurge on the uber-expensive menu instead. We were glad we did, because it was insanely good. The copious amounts of quality wine we devoured were also superb. It was a wonderful way to celebrate.
Sadly, we had to leave the Castle the next morning, but not before gorging on a gigantic buffet breakfast. After subsisting on cheap muesli for 95% of the year, to have a thousand options in front of us for our first meal of the day was overwhelming. Of course we stuffed ourselves to breaking point and felt sick for the next few hours.
After checking out, we dropped off the hire car, booked ourselves in to a hostel (quite the step down from last night) then jumped straight into sightseeing. For a change, beautiful blue skies followed us for most of the day. First stop was Trinity College, where we wandered through stunning, old buildings and large courtyards. At the back was the Science Gallery, which offered an exhibition on water usage that was surprisingly interesting. Unfortunately the Modern Art Gallery wasn't as enthralling, containing a small exhibition of photographs by an American photographer.
Leaving the College behind we took a stroll along the river, admiring the ancient buildings lining the modern shopping streets. Danny left me here to go in search of the famous Irish woollen jumpers (which he found, and he looks ridiculous), while I visited a few of the galleries around the city. First was the Photography Gallery, which was tiny – there were only about 20 photos on display by eight different artists. It didn’t take long to complete the tour, but a handful were excellent. Next was the City Art Gallery, where half the rooms were under repair. Naturally, the rooms that were closed held the paintings I most wanted to see, so overall it was disappointing. Finally, I wandered through the National Gallery, where a third of the rooms were shut off but at least I could view some of the better pieces.
The following morning was our last full day in Europe, and what did Danny decide to do? Lie in bed all day. I, on the other hand, tried to cram in as many touristy things as I could. I walked through two parks, photographed numerous architecturally-impressive buildings, passed two grand churches and ventured inside another that contained a large crypt and a few old, old, old Bibles, and then strolled around Dublin Castle and its Chester Beatty Library. Chester Beatty was a keen collector of old and rare manuscripts, books and prints, and the Library had only a minute proportion on display. The exhibition was small but interesting, and I learned a little about the production of books hundreds of years ago before printing came into effect.
That was just the morning.
After grabbing noodles for lunch, I made the long trek over to Kilmainham Gaol, which was in operation between 1790 and 1924. The only way to see inside was on a tour, so I signed up with roughly 80 others and we were guided through the blocks. The main hall looked like a film set, and it turned out that a dozen or so movies had been recorded here. I couldn't believe how many different cell types there were, adapted as required over the years but all extremely cramped and gloomy. The one exception was a luxury cell that had held a political prisoner, which had its own sitting room with a fireplace. The prisoner received breakfast in bed daily and he was allowed leave to visit to Paris for two weeks during his sentence. I doubt if he was rehabilitated was he was freed. On site was a museum that taught me a great deal about Irish history, which, unsurprisingly, was rather depressing.
I met Danny back at the hostel (he had managed to leave the room briefly) and we walked down to a crowded bar at the end of the street that was playing live music. We only lasted one drink before moving on to a Mexican restaurant, which wasn't a very authentic last meal but the food was fantastic. Afterwards, we wandered over to another bar playing upbeat Irish music, with a decent-sized crowd listening in. Even though I had only heard of this style of music for the first time in Killarney, I actually recognised a few of the songs they played. I'm definitely not anywhere near being an Irish music fan, but we both agreed it was the perfect way to spend our last night in Europe.
Two exceedingly long days of travelling followed. Our alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. yet we were both awake by 4:45 a.m. We packed our bags, jumped in the shuttle bus, checked in at the airport, grabbed a hot breakfast, and used up all of our Euros on junk we didn't need. On the flight back down to Bristol we watched a mesmerising sunrise the entire way, distracting us from our drowsiness. After landing, we caught the shuttle bus over to the train station, where we sat in a café for a couple of hours while we waited for our train to arrive. Once on board it was a never-ending two-hour journey to London, which was spent staring mindlessly at the passing scenery. Thankfully, this time we had booked our seats, so there was no need to sit on our bags.
In London we caught the Underground to Danny’s cousin’s house, where our large backpacks had been stored while we toured around Ireland. As we had a bit of time to waste, we spent the next few hours watching TV, eating cheesecake, and attempting (but failing) to make our packs weigh less than 20 kg. When the time came, we jumped back on the Underground to Heathrow, lingered around for another two hours, used up all our loose change and finally boarded the plane that would carry us away from this incredible continent that we had spent the better part of a year exploring. It was a bittersweet moment as we reflected on what we had achieved, but we knew it was time to make our way home.