Friday, April 23, 2010

A Different Kettle of Fish Altogether

It wasn't too bad. Actually, it was pretty OK.

My birthday was Saturday the 10th. And for a couple weeks before, my DH (dear husband) Peter kept asking me what I wanted. I kept saying, "A cake and Taco Taco." You'll understand the latter in a minute. To be honest, I didn't expect a cake. I just like winding him up! But he rose to the challenge and brought home a cake Friday evening. Not only did he get a cake, he got a chocolate one! Well, of course we couldn't let it sit until the next day, so on went the candles, out came the extinguisher, and soon there were slices on the plate. And to be fair, that cake was full of cocoa goodness all the way through.

The next day we got up relatively early and took the LUAS light rail into Dublin City for a few hours. The journey is about half an hour, part of which is spent along a section of the Grand Canal, which is really lovely. The Grand Canal and the Royal Canal were built in the mid 18th century as a way to connect Dublin to the west and transport goods.

We disembarked the train on the Jervis Street stop and spent the day between O'Connell Street and Smithfield, which is an area just north of the River Liffey, most of which is locals territory, ie: very few tourists. Our first port of call, Taco Taco!

In all the years I've lived in Ireland and the time I've lived around Dublin, I'd never heard of the Epicurean Food Hall. It was mentioned in discussion on Ravelry when some American expats living here groused about things we missed from America. The main thing was masa harina--lime treated corn meal, effectively, which is used to make corn tortillas, chili rellenos, and other delicious Mexican dishes. One gal said, "Oh, you can get masa in Taco Taco in the food hall." My eyes snapped open. "Say what?" I got the low down on the food hall and put that on my list of first places to visit when we were in the city next. And my birthday was the day!

The food hall appears to be a covered courtyard of sorts, the roof of which is glass. Around the perimeter are ethnic food counters...Greek, Italian (pizza and pasta, and one for coffee and desserts), Pan Asian, German, Turkish (kababs), Irish (Burdock's Fish and Chips), as well as a NY bagel bar, a sandwhich counter, cupcake counter and Mexican. The center of the hall is all seating under the glass roof. As I understand it, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, there's live Irish music and dancing.

So, we come to Taco Taco. This food counter sells all kinds of traditional Mexican yummies...borritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, nachos, and yes, tacos. And the prices are really affordable, especially compared to a sit down restaurant. My order of beef tacos was just €4.25. The guacamole was something like 50 cent extra, but well worth the cost. The avocado was fresh, as were the tomatoes, onions and spices in it. The salsa was just as fresh. Peter got a burrito the size of a rocket ship! It was full of beans, rice and roasted chicken. We washed our lunches down with Dr Pepper and contemplated our next plan of action.

Taco Taco also sells a few items for customers to take home, including salsa, mole sauce, tins of tomatillos, frejoles (refried beans...negro and traditional), green sauce, etc. and sacks of Maseca masa harina. They also sell premade corn tortillas in two styles. Didn't know there were two styles! One is a traditional thin yellow tortilla I'm familiar with from home. They're usually fried for tacos and tostadas, or rolled for flautas, or cut for chips. The others were smaller, thicker, and creamy colored. The woman at Taco Taco told me the bigger ones are used for tacos dorados, basically, traditional tacos. The others are for steaming. I made notes of what I wanted so I could return on the way home and buy a few things. Didn't need to carry around a 5 pound sack of corn flour!

Edited to add that the Epicurean Food Hall closed March 2016 :-(

From the food hall, we ventured a block down to the River Liffey. Typical of Ireland, the street name changes at just about every junction. When we reached the river, the road to the left (east) is Bachelor's Walk, and to the right (west) is Lower Ormond Street, named for the Earls of Ormond from the 13th century...incidentally, the title passed to Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn, and who was given land in the lower midlands. Part of Anne's dowery was a tower near Holycross, Co Tipperary which is now part of the larger Farney Castle. But I digress.

Over the river is the famous Ha'penny Bridge, so named because it used to cost a half penny, or ha'penny, to cross it. It's free today, and just as lovely as it was on opening day. The big archway in the building across the river leads into Temple Bar, famous for traditional Irish food and music. The ugly building in the background is the Central Bank, controversial when it was constructed because it's just so damn ugly.

Directly to the east of the bridge, parallel to Bachelor's Walk, the city built an great boardwalk suspended over part of the river. It's a popular spot for city workers to sit and take their lunches on a fine day, or just stroll without being hampered by street traffic.

On the corner of Lower Ormond and overlooking the bridge is the Dublin Woollen Mills. Don't let the name fool you. It's basically a fabric store with a very small yarn/wool department, but it's been around for years. With so few yarn shops around Ireland, even in Dublin, every little bit helps those with a knitty addiction.

Here's one of Dublin's monuments, a pair of old dears enjoying a good auld chinwag in the sun! Sponsored by Arnott's Dept Store, as you can see by yer wan's bag.

Speaking of Arnott's Dept Store, it's seen here to the extreme right with the red brick architecture. I've said to Peter for years that someone should open and Artoo's beside Arnott's! ;-) It should be noted that Arnott's is Ireland's oldest and largest department store, having been opened in 1843 by Sir John Arnott. The store has three floors and takes up most of the 'block' behind the GPO, which is the General Post Office, on O'Connell Street. Bloody big!

In the distance is the Monument of Light, aka the Millennium Spire, the Spire of Dublin, the Dublin Spire, the Spike, the Spike in the Dyke, the Stiletto in the Ghetto, and the Erection at the Intersection. I kind of like the last one! The spire is 398 feet tall and capped with a light that's supposed to be seen from space. Along with the light at the Luxor in Las Vegas, maybe a few other countries should adopt this and spell out HELP across the planet. Hmm...

Anyway, this road is Henry Street and is just a couple streets up from the river going toward O'Connell Street, which is the main street of the city. Just before O'Connell Street is the famous Moore Street. What makes this side street famous? There's a daily street market here. Mainly produce sellers, but also florists. Market stalls line both sides of the street the full length of the street. And when it's busy, sellers move onto Henry Street. Both streets are mainly pedestrianized during the day.

Where do they get their produce, I hear you ask? There's a place a few blocks away called the Dublin Produce and Flower Market. It's a huge enclosed area where wholesalers sell their produce and flowers. They open at 6am and are usually done selling before 8am. This is where most of the restaurants, cafes, and pubs that serve meals get their produce. And the street vendors. Anyone can buy from the market, as long as you buy in bulk. Such as a 50 pound sack of onions, 50 and hundreds of peppers, cauliflower, carrots, younameit. Flowers are the same. You can't just buy one bunch. You buy a bucket of bunches. I didn't get a picture, but late in the morning elderly women go into the market with old know the ones from the movies with the huge wheels...and buy bananas and grapes. They load up the prams and set up on street corners selling them. They're everywhere in this part of the city, but mainly down around Capel Street.

Prices per item are very reasonable, as produce and flowers are sold wholesale, but since you have to buy so much, you'd almost want to take an order from the neighborhood and rent a van before shopping there. But it's fun to see. Unfortunately, we were way too late on Saturday so we returned on the 19th...when we returned to the city for Peter's birthday. We got there before 9am and the place was ghost town. Still too late. Must try the 6am thing some time!!

OK while I'm in that general direction, across from Smithfield Market is the Market Hacienda Bar. When I first saw it I was half expecting to see senorinas and muchachos wandering around. Reminded me a bit of an old bar from San Juan Bautista back home. Haven't seen it open yet, but I fear it's one of those places you go to at night. Might have to give it a miss, as the market area of the city is a ghost town after hours, and at night would be kinda scary if you're not a local! Still...would be interesting to see the inside of the place.

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, Moore Street Market. We walked up and back on Moore Street to see what was for sale. Loads of fruit and veg, but nothing remarkable. I always have my eyes open for artichokes whenever I see a farmer's market or produce market. Sadly, none of those there. Just lots of carrots, onions, potatoes, leeks, beets, etc.

From there, we went into Ilac Shopping Centre. This is a typical indoor shopping center with clothes shops everywhere. Down the center of the mall was a little kiddy go karts and a place for kids to do a sort of bungie swinging. For €4 you can put your under ten on the cables and watch them bounce up and down. One boy who got on thought he was starring in the Olympics, as he was doing backflip after backflip after backflip. He tried to do front flips but couldn't quite get it. He persevered though and eventually figured out that if he put his arms on the front of the cables his center of balance shifted and he'd be able to make it over frontways. He was very proud of himself with the accomplishment.

We sat at a little kiosk selling cupcakes and coffee while we watched the kids. Johnnie Cupcakes is a funny name, but the cupcakes were really good. They have all kinds of flavors and colors, and they specialize in making birthday cakes in the shape of giant cupcakes.

From there we wandered down Mary Street, going toward Smithfield Market...though we didn't realize the market was so close at the time. Mary Street is going into the locals area of the city. Shops cater to local needs. Just as we crossed into locals territory, we spotted the Church Restaurant. Mary's Church was converted not too long ago into a restaurant, and the area surrounding the church is alfresco dining. Behind the church the old gravestones were pulled off the ground and stacked at the back of what they eventually turned into a plaza. Benches surround the center plaza and on one side are all rental bicycles, courtesy of the bike sharing scheme through Dublin Bikes. It's a really cool idea and a great way to get around the city quickly while not having to use a car, bus or train.

There's some great Georgian and Victorian architecture spread around the city, including this part of the city. Such as this Georgian building which now houses AXA Insurance. It's amazing that the decor on these buildings have remained intact for so long, especially in an inner city location. The plaster and stone work on this building in particular is impressive. And during restoration, the building was painted in one of the traditional Georgian colors. Really pretty. But, what do I see? Are those cannabis stems near the window arches? Hmm...

From this point on, the area became a very 'locals only' place. Hubba hubba!! OK, I'll try to keep this clean. At the corner of Mary Street and Upper Jervis Lane(?) was Erotic Glam World, which doubled as a head shop. EGW's store front showed off erotic glamor wear...teddies, bra and panty sets, that sort of thing. But there was a 'rear entrance' down the alley. The walk of shame includes this interesting mural. The front door was half open through which was very dark standing outside in the bright light. But there was something golden glowing which caught my attention. I tried not to be obvious, but I tried to focus on the guy standing in the doorway. He wore a black leather get-up...mask over his head, silver studded straps crisscrossing his chest, chaps on his legs, and a thong looking thing. Poking out of his thong was a rampant...for the lack of a cleaner word...fake ding dong! This was a mannequin stood near the door to grab attention. Well, the leather get-up at the door was an attention-getter alright, but the shocker was how the golden ding dong shone in the sunlight. I don't shock easily, but this was shocking. "Peter, Peter, look at this. Look. Look, damn it!!" He'd already seen it and was hightailing it down Mary Street away from the shop. Smart man. I was going to take out my camera for a picture. "Peter, come back and stand by the door!! Where you going??" ;-)

Needless to say, no pictures of Ding Dong Man, but I did get this picture. The Sinn Fein office on Parnell Street. The banner has been up a while, as it's celebrating 100 years of unbroken continuity, 1905-2005. I guess that makes 105 years, lads! Time to change the banner. Ironically, next door is their local, affectionately called Mischief! Another pub that would be interesting to see the insides of, but it looks like another night time pub.

We walked up and down Capel Street, which is known for shops full of furniture and antique stores. I only saw one antique store though, but it was big. I had to go in just to look. They had some incredible Tiffany style lamps, loads of antique mirrors, fireplace surrounds, hundreds of lead crystal chandeliers, some furniture, and other household items. I wanted to buy one of the old well buckets for my yarn, but was pulled away. Probably a good thing.

From here we walked the rest of the length of Mary Street and found Smithfield Market, as above. Once the market is closed, there's nothing, nada, zilch, zero to do in the area, so we walked back up Mary Street to the Church, cut across the plaza and went into Jervis Street Shopping Centre for wee. When we lived in Shankill and Bray, we often took the DART train into the city on the weekend and headed to Jervis. Being back after about ten years was kind of startling. Nothing changed. It was like we were there yesterday. It was so much "the same old thing" that we just used the toilet and left. The main entrance into Jervis is on the corner of Jervis Street and Middle Abbey Street, and across the road from the Jervis Street stop for the LUAS light rail.

We still had one more stop to make before getting back on the train. You got it, Taco Taco! I couldn't leave the city without a sack of Maseca and a pack of both types of corn tortillas. Of course, while there, we rehydrated. Me with water and Peter with a cup of mud from the Italian coffee counter. Really, I think it was a short Americano with a double shot, but what do I know about coffee?? And we shared a portion of chips from Leo Burdock's Fish and Chips, est 1913. Burdock's has a reputation for being the best fish and chips in Dublin. I can't speak for the fish, other than it looks really good, but the chips were just kind of same-old same-old to me. I'm just not a fan of greasy chips. But, they were pretty OK as far as greasy chips go.

While we relaxed before getting back on the train, we people-watched. As a writer, I refer to it as researching ;-) There are some interesting characters in Dublin, but by far the best was a man sitting near us. He was a very unassuming kind of guy dressed for the cool outdoors, ready for anything with a novel in his pocket and his satchel full of who knows what. It wasn't long before a little face appeared in his arms. A little dog! He sat there for the longest time just stroking the dog's head while it slept. Both seemed very content.

Overall, both Peter and I had a nice time in the city, which is saying a lot for me, as I normally hate cities. They're too crowded, too dirty, too noise, too many rude people. But we had a great time and the weather was really good. We just wandered, looked at architecture, watched the people, ate some good food, and did a little window shopping.

Other than Mexican corn products, I did come away with one other purchase. I live in Crocs when I'm home. They're better than slippers and I can be seen in public with them if I wear them shopping! Would you believe our local supermarket has a sign at the door telling people they'll be ushered out of the store if they come in wearing their PJs? Cool! Someone has to set some standards!! Anyway, Crocs has a new line out on the style of Vans called Crocbands. Already having a pare of orange and purple Crocs in the old style, I was drawn to the new style. In red no less! Cool or what? OK, yes, I also bought the little catapiller on the toe. Hey, I'm a big kid at heart! If the shop had better Jibbitz, I'da probably bought more of them. **I'm looking for the monarch butterfly, so if anyone sees one...

As I mentioned, we returned to Dublin on the 19th, as it was Peter's birthday. We stuck to the same area for the most part. Our main purpose of the trip was to get into Smithfield Market to see the early morning trading, but as I also mentioned, by 9am it was well-over! We wandered inside the market building though, which still had a few traders in it.

The name Smithfield comes from the Irish Margadh na Feirme, meaning Farm Market. The area was originally laid out in the mid 17th century as am open area surrounded by innercity farm yards for livestock. Under the HARP program (Historic Area Rejuvenation Plan), the area was remodeled, using plans won in an architectural competition in 1997! Part of the restoration included lifting over 400,000 cobblestones, most of then 100-120 years old, hand cleaning them, then relaying them to form a modern square, or plaza, which is now surrounded by buildings housing apartments and offices. The square was meant to host concerts and other outdoor entertainment, but locals complained so nix to that plan! However, the traditional Smithfield Horse Market is still ongoing. The horse market takes place every first Sunday of the month. This isn't a high quality horse market by any stretch of the imagination. More often than not, horse traders are of questionable repute and horses aren't always in the best condition. There are a lot of nags. It's not uncommon for young boys to be seen dressed as adults and haggling with the best of the grownups.

It's the Dublin City Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market which is in the old Victorian warehouse that I referred to above, and is more commonly called Smithfield Market.

The area is coming to be known as the Museum District, as the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks is also in line with Jervis, Smithfield and the Four Courts. We'll eventually wander this area too, so watch this space!

However, the one museum we did happen upon was on the corner of Jervis Street and Mary Street. I kid you not, there is a Leprechaun Museum in Ireland! An American woman and her young daughter were in the food hall when we were there the 19th (waiting for lunch time to come around so we could have tacos before getting back on the train for home). She'd asked a woman beside us where the Leprechaun Museum was. The woman told her she thought someone was playing a joke on her. She'd lived in Dublin her whole life and never heard of such a place. I remembered hearing something about the museum opening, but didn't know where it was. I kind of thought it was an April Fools prank so I didn't think anything of it. Before I could ask the woman if she knew which street it was on, she was gone. Well, walking back to the train I spotted it a block away. So YES, the Leprechaun Museum DOES exist. And I'm SO taking my family there when they're here in two weeks!

Observations...once you get out of the tourist areas...Temple Bar, O'Connell Street, St Stephen's Green, etc...and go into a locals community, it's a whole other world. Sure, there are tourists around, but not many. But the characters on the street are very memorable in their own way: from the produce and flower stall vendors to the banana ladies with their prams, from those with no fashion sense to those with their own style. They're all there. The area around The Church seemed to be like a joining of the waters where the posh and not-so-posh rubbed elbows.

And the areas where we walked, there seemed to be a huge number of eateries. A few take-away kind of places, but a startlingly large number of nice sit-down places open for lunch and dinner. No wonder, I discovered on Monday that the Four Courts (court house) is at the edge of where we wandered, therefore a lot of solicitors and other officials, as well as friends and family of those on trial, would be looking for meals and snacks.

There are three LUAS stops in this general the Four Courts, Smithfield, and Jervis...and we wandered around just about all of it. There's a lot of dereliction, but there's a lot of urban renewal, too. I believe now that the LUAS is bringing more people into those parts of the city that people can't help but fix the place up. And with the more upscale areas around Jervis and the Four Courts, and with the Smithfield reconstruction not too long ago, any derelict buildings will soon be given new lives.

However one sees Dublin City, or just parts of it, there will always be something interesting to see and do. And failing that, just sit and watch, because it'll be an entirely different kettle of fish altogether from what you're used to, as we see here on a building along Ormond Quay.