Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Thanksgiving in Ireland: Dublin City Bike Tour

One of the best ways to explore a City is on Bike and Dublin is no exception.  With it’s flat landscape and ample bike lanes, Dublin is a perfect City for bike explorations.  We contracted with Dublin City Bike Tours and met them a small hostel not too far from the Gibson Hotel (where we were staying).

There was a bit of a hiccup as Brian, our tour guide had forgotten the keys to the bike locker and had to return home to get them.  We still left on time, so there was no harm no foul but I was concerned that if he forgot something as key (pun intended) to this tour, what else would he be forgetting.

Our tour group had 11 people and two tour guides.  There were 5 women in their 50-60s from Scotland, a family with two college aged kids and parents from Birmingham, England and me and MS.  Brian and Cian were our tour guides – Brian was the leader and Cian brought up the rear to make sure everyone stayed together.  This is a great model, unlike in Barcelona where we lost someone and to sit around for about 20 minutes while we looked for this guy.

The bikes we used were single speed folding bikes.  I was a bit concerned at first, but since Dublin is so flat and we kept at an easy pace we didn’t need bigger wheeled multi-speed bikes.  I couldn’t imagine using this bike for the Bike and Wine Tour in South Africa though.

Brian and Cian unfold the bikes

Safety was a priority on this tour. Not only where we given helmets (which I require anytime we are on a bike), but we were also given a florescent yellow reflective harness. Cars would have to WORK to not see us on the street.

Safety First
Prepped and ready to Ride

We started out heading south of the river and stopped to talk about the Great Potato Famine and the Mass Emigration from Ireland to the US and Canada.

Replica of the boats that took the Irish
away from their home to Canada and the US.

The Famine Memorial depicts several starving Irish people in rags walking towards the dock as they leave Ireland.  There is an equivalent memorial in Toronto, but in Toronto the people are walking away from the dock towards their new home.

Famine Memorial

The next stop was the Samuel Becket bridge over the River Liffey designed by Santiago Calatrava. It was a hinged bridge that swing from being perpendicular over the river to be parallel to the river allowing larger boats to cross.  The bridge hasn’t swiveled since it opened though.  In the background of the picture below you can see the modern convention center (the cube building with a glass cylinder offset inside it).  This building is also called God’s Guinness or the Stiffy on the Liffey.

We continued to the docklands area and stopped outside of the Bord Gas Energy Theater and heard about the rehabbing in the area, the financial and real estate collapse and the history dating back to the time when the area had a leper colony.  An interesting story came from this area – the men who worked on the dock worked near the leper colony and they would often be quoted as saying “I wouldn’t touch that person with my dock pole”, which was a 10-foot pole used on the docks.  Hence the phrase “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole.”

These red posts represent the 10-foot dock poles
Mix of Modern and Classic architecture in the Docklands

We continue the tour away from the river and docklands south.  We stopped on a corner and peered up, seeing this woman (statue) climbing the building.  This building housed the Irish Treasury.  The thought was that this woman was attempting to climb up and break into the building to steal the money.  According to Brian, this is now where the IMF is based when they are auditing the Irish books.  The story is now that this woman is trying to escape from the IMF investigators as there is no money left in the Treasury.

We saddle up and continue to Merrion Square, a large Georgian Square on the south side of Dublin.  This beautiful park is home to a street lamp museum — no two street lights are the same.

The square is also home to a statue of Oscar Wilde – one of the worlds greatest writers, poets and drunks.  Some of my favorite quotes are attributed to Mr. Wilde.  

A seductive statue with Mr. Wilde lounging on a rock in the background.

We stopped by the old home of George Bernard Shaw, but then was turned into a museum that depicted his home when he lived there.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough interest or money to keep the museum running.

We continue our ride through the City and came across Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I didn’t see a single snake or a snake memorial for that matter. We did hear that Saint Patrick was able to fully explain Christianity and the Holy Trinity to the polytheists of Ireland by using a three leafed shamrock.  If that’s the case, then why is a four leafed clover lucky?

Many foreign dignitaries were set to be in Dublin while we were there and mostly working at Dublin Castle.  We snaked our bikes through the limited castle grounds and spent just a few minutes gazing upon this 12th century structure (most of it dated from the 19th century though).

As we finished the tour, both Brian and Cian gave us a great list of recommendations – fantastic restaurants or pubs with food and live music. They even drew a map of the route we took and outlined the highlights of the tour and pinpointed other locations we should visit.

Map and route of our tour
If you want a larger version of this map, let me know and I will email you the full sized file.  Brian and Cian did an absolutely amazing job.  I would argue this is probably the best city bike tour I’ve ever taken.  The worst part of the experience? I left my gloves in Chicago and my hands were quite cold by the end of the experience.
If you are visiting Dublin you must take this tour. If you have a week or just a day, you need to reserve your spot. You will not be disappointed.  If you decide to do this, send my greetings to Brian and Cian – and let me know what you thought about the tour itself.

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Thanksgiving in Ireland: Guinness Factory Tour

Our first attraction in Dublin was the Guinness Factory Tour.  I have never been a big fan of Guinness, but I figured, when in Rome, do as the Romans, right?  We had to first return the rental car, but couldn’t find the rental car office in the City.  After we had to schlep all the way out to the airport to drop off.  We hopped in a taxi and headed straight to the Guinness Factory. The taxi driver must have thought we were crazy – hopping off a plane and heading straight to the Guinness Factory.

We bought tickets and headed in to the tour staging area. We took some pictures then were greeted by the “tour leader”.  This guy wasn’t really a tour guide though, he just welcomed us and we guided ourselves through the factory.

I was hoping this tour would be more like the Heineken Tour I took in Amsterdam in 1999. At Heineken we had a true guide walking us though the facility talking about the history and adding color.


We quickly walked through the facility. Reading about the ingredients that make Guinness a Guinness: Water, Hops, Barley and Yeast.  We spent about 20 minutes working our way through the space.  Not beer aficionados, so we just read the basics and moved on.  We had more to do in Dublin than just learn about Guinness — we had to drink some!


Half way through the tour we were given a small glass with a tiny bit of Guinness in it.  As you can see below, MS was quite excited about this little treat.

With your ticket price you get your small sample beer.  You can then continue to one of the several bars on site and trade in your admission ticket for a full size Guinness.  You can go learn the proper way to pour a Guinness or you can go up to the Gravity Bar and see a beautiful view of Dublin and have a full pint. We opted for the latter. Why would I want to wait in a 30 minute line to learn to pour a beer? You can only get one beer in the Gravity bar – no cash bar up here.  A couple, who didn’t drink, gave us their tickets as they were leaving. Score, an extra free beer!

I am not a big Guinness fan, but I do think this is something you need to do while in Dublin. You can spend as much time as you’d like studying or drinking Guinness here — if we didn’t get that extra free beer or if we weren’t there at sunset I could see us spending less than an hour here and moving on to another tourist location.

When I go back to Dublin, will I revisit the Guinness Factory — no, I did it once, I checked it off the list and I am done.

Have you visited the Guinness Factory / Storehouse?  Do you think Guinness tastes differently in Dublin than it does elsewhere?  Do you try to visit specialty breweries or wineries when on vacation?

Shanghai for the Weekend?

I have an opportunity to visit Shanghai for a few days in January. I have never been to China, hell, I’ve never been to Asia.  January is a horribly busy time for me at work so the most time I could take off is two days.

I would leave on Thursday and land in Shanghai on Friday around 15h00.  I would then leave Shanghai on Sunday around 17h00 and land back in Chicago at 16h15 (on Sunday as well). I’d get to spend about 48 hours in Shanghai — which would leave me a good amount of time to see some of the City, but still leave me wanting more.

I also have $500 in United vouchers that I need to use at some point before Q2 next year.  I would fly United and be guaranteed at least Economy Plus seating or exit row.  The hotel would be free too.

I am seriously considering this. What do you think – is this just crazy or a fun and a once in a lifetime adventure?  I will close with some pictures (from a quick Google search) of the City to help inspire you.  What would you do, would you go?

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Thanksgiving in Ireland: Gibson Hotel

In Dublin we stayed at the Gibson Hotel (@thegibsonhotel) located in the Docklands area, just north of the River Liffey and next to the O2 Center.  This is a very sleek and modern hotel.  The hotel has parking, but if you drive I guarantee you will drive around the hotel at least once, missing the parking garage entrance — we did it twice.

The hotel lobby is on the third floor and has such high ceilings and an open feel.  We planned on parking the car just long enough to unload it, check in then return the car to the City rental shop.  We approach the front desk and the only woman working really jumped into action.  I loathe when you walk up to a check-in area and the customer service person just stands there like a bum.  Not here.

She told us about the hotel amenities, including complimentary wifi and that breakfast was included in our room rate (I must have found a coupon or a code of some sort while I was booking, because I would not have paid the 25 Euros per person for the breakfast).

There were no king rooms available (which isn’t unheard of in Europe), so we were given a great queen room. The room also had a small desk in the corner, two very comfortable club chairs and a floating shelf with a TV.  There was a patio door that opened onto the courtyard, but the patio wasn’t large enough to actually stand outside.

This hotel gets it. There were two outlets on the desk, two outlets under the desk in the nightstand cubby on each side of the bed and two outlets on the floating shelf near the TV. I wish every hotel added extra outlets like the Gibson does.  Kudos Gibson, Kudos.

Like the rest of the hotel, the bathroom was sleek and modern.  It also had a speaker that piped the sound from the TV into the bathroom.  I first noticed this at the Pullman Toulouse Center in France.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to adjust the volume level at the Gibson.  I haven’t come across this “amenity” in the US before, but it seems relatively common in new hotels in Europe. Have you come across this before?

The water pressure was great and the temperature was consistently hot.  How great.

One wall was all windows and brought in a great amount of sunlight and looked out on the internal courtyard of the hotel and the Conference Center.

We stayed at the Gibson Hotel for two nights (Friday and Saturday), ate the included breakfast each morning and slept pretty well the entire stay.  The area isn’t the most ideal for exploring Dublin, but there is a tram stop immediately outside of the hotel which made it pretty easy to make it to a part of town with more life.

Would I stay in this hotel again? Absolutely. I wouldn’t think twice about it. The rate was reasonable, the staff was friendly and efficient and the rooms were clean.  I would highly recommend this hotel for all tourists in Dublin.  Here you will not find an old/historic property that played a key role in Ulysses, but it will be a great staging ground to see historic Dublin.

Have you stayed at the Gibson Hotel before? When in an old City like Dublin do you prefer to stay in a modern hotel with fantastic amenities or an old world traditional hotel?

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Thanksgiving in Ireland: Rural Ireland Drive

As we left Kinnitty Castle we headed to Dublin, but instead of making a beeline to the expressway, we meandered through the Irish countryside.  The route was suggested by the good folks at Kinnitty Castle and was quite beautiful.

Our first stop was the small town of Birr where we first explored the local pharmacy as MS had a pretty bad cold and we needed to get some serious symptom relief.  We then continued to walk around this small town and popped into a small hotel to get a boxty and a cider.

Main Square in Birr
St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Birr
St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Birr
Ruins in Birr

After Birr we traveled on very small country roads over hills and through rolling meadows.  We didn’t run into many other cars, which is very lucky, considering the roads were often so narrow it made passing a bit tricky.  Of course we also came across a couple of tractors while on this scenic drive.  We survived though.

We eventually made it to the expressway and worked our way into Dublin. We really didn’t have any traffic issues until we reached the very edge of Dublin then traffic really seemed to build up. It wasn’t like the traffic in southern France, but it really was night and day from the roads outside of the City.

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