What to Pack for Iceland

 

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In a few days I’ll finally be setting off on a cruise around Iceland. The great thing (I’m hoping!) about cruises is that you pretty much have your transportation sorted for you – there’s no need to worry about missing a train or catching a taxi, or getting lost. The less-than-great thing is that you’re basically trapped on a boat with no access to the normal stores you’d find in a town or city.

In other words: you better pack well.

Luckily this is my second trip to Iceland, so I’ve got the benefit of experience. With that in mind, here’s a list of the bare essentials I’m bringing along with me. This is for a summer trip to the island, so I’ve focused a lot on clothes that I can layer. If you’re visiting in the autumn or winter, you can still use this list as a base – just bulk it up a little.

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Dispatches from Dublin: In the Footsteps of St. Patrick

 

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In the US we have a saying: “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

So close is America to its Irish roots that we wear green, put on parades, and even dye the White House fountain green to mark the occasion.

Amidst all the pomp and circumstance, however, the meaning of Ireland’s national holiday has been lost to many of us.

On my recent trip to Dublin I sought out to uncover the man behind the holiday.

Who was St. Patrick?

This was the first question our guide asked as we began our walking tour through Dublin. Not surprisingly, our group – which consisted of mainly Americans I might add – didn’t come up with any satisfying answers. Not to worry, our Dublin-native guide filled us in.

St. Patrick

St. Patrick (Image Source: http://www.catholic.org/)

According to him, the patron saint of Ireland started out life in 5th-century Roman-Britain. Some say Wales, others aren’t quite as convinced. Either way, most agree that as a teen he was enslaved and brought to the Emerald Isle where he worked as a shepherd in modern-day Country Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was here that he forged a relationship with God. After six years he escaped slavery and journeyed back to Britain.

Back home and reunited with his family, Patrick experienced a “vision” some time later that urged him to return to Ireland. Following his vision he sailed back to the Emerald Isle, where he converted and baptised thousands of early Dubliners to Christianity.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Our walking tour in the footsteps of St. Patrick took us through the very core of Dublin; past remnants of old Viking settlements, past Christ Church Cathedral, and then finally to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Situated in an otherwise unremarkable corner of the city, it occupies the same general area where Patrick did his handy work. Legend has it that Ireland’s future patron saint used the clover – or shamrock – to explain the Holy Trinity to early Dubliners. Evidence points to him converting thousands of pagans to the Christian faith, and is thus credited for driving the snakes (paganism) from Ireland.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Stone marking the site where St. Patrick baptised early Dubliners

Stone on the cathedral grounds marking the site where St. Patrick baptised early Dubliners

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Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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Green floor tiles of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The cathedral’s simple stone edifice conceals a colourful interior featuring geometric floor tiles and intricate stained glass injected with a heavy dose of green. Forget the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Whiskey distillery, and the rowdy pubs of Temple Bar – THIS is Dublin’s must-see attraction.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

Patrick was named the patron saint of Ireland in the 7th century. Much of what we know – or think we know – about him comes from a handful of old texts and through oral history.

As the centuries wore on, his legend grew. Evidence of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, originally a religious feast, can be traced back as far as the 11th century. The holiday’s more recent incarnation, which is much more closely tied with Irish nationalism, can be traced back to Irish uprisings during a time when the whole of Ireland was under British rule. St. Patrick’s shamrock and the colour green soon became synonymous with Catholicism and Irish national identity.

Dressed in green for St. Patrick's Day

Dressed in green for the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was started by a group in homesick Irish immigrants in New York City in 1762. In moderns times the holiday has gone global. Monuments across the world, including the Pyramids of Egypt and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil all went #Green4PatricksDay this year. Over in Ireland’s capital city, it has evolved into a multi-day festival highlighting Ireland as a cultural and tourist destination.

As St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spread across globe, I think it’s interesting to look back and see where it all began. If you’re visiting Dublin in mid-March you can walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick with Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours of Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is open daily to visitors.

For more information on what Ireland and Dublin have to offer, visit Ireland.com and VisitDublin.com.

(My trip to Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. However, all opinions are my own.)

 

A City Unknown: Diving into Dublin

 
Dublin during St. Patrick's Fest

Dublin during St. Patrick’s Fest

As soon as the seatbelt sign clicked off following a bumpy take off, the plane ended its brief stint at cruising altitude and hastily made its way back down to terra firma. At scarcely over an hour away, Dublin and London are practically neighbours. And on the surface, the two capital cities have a lot in common.

In addition to geographic similarities, there is some architectural and aesthetic overlap. Dublin, as a tour guide described it, is very much a Georgian city – a stamp left by the British Empire who claimed Ireland as its own until the 1920s. Of course, Westminster left much more of a mark on Dublin and the rest of the Emerald Isle than a few stately buildings.

A sign stating Fáilte Ireland greeted me as I exited Dublin Airport. Fáilte is a Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) word for welcome. And while the Irish accent, with its heart-melting diphthongs and sing-song tones, is beloved around the world, it is Gaeilge – not English – that is the national language of the Republic of Ireland.

A result of a concerted effort on the part of the British Empire to suppress Gaeilge and align the Emerald Isle closer with the crown, English became the de facto primary language of Ireland. A globalised economy means that this is unlikely to change, but I was told by more than a few locals that Gaeilge is experiencing a bit of a comeback.

St. Patrick's Day Parade

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

My visit to Dublin coincided with St. Patrick’s Fest, a multi day festival culminating in a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the centre of town. To celebrate, the city was doused in generous proportions of green, white, and orange – the colours of the Irish flag. Filling the streets of Dublin were tourists, mainly from the US, donned in Kiss Me I’m Irish t-shirts, orange leprechaun beards, and green Viking helmets.

St. Patrick’s Fest, admittedly, is probably not the best time to witness Dublin at its most authentic. However, the national holiday does provide an excellent opportunity to discover the history and heritage of Dublin and its people.

Amidst the endless pints of Guinness and bright green regalia, this worldwide-celebrated holiday honours St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the outskirts of central Dublin marks the site where Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, baptised 5th  century Dubliners, thus aiding in driving the snakes (paganism) from the island.

Floor of St. Patrick's Cathedral Dubline

Beautiful floor tiles in St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Walking in the footsteps of St. Patrick, my guide led me through the story of Dublin. From its original settlers to clashes with Viking invaders and the British Empire, it became clear to me that Dublin was nothing like London. Looking past the Georgian buildings and peeling back the English language, I discovered a city previously unknown to me.

Yes, St. Patrick’s Fest is for tourists. But alongside the shots of Jameson and tourism dollars, the festival beautifully showcases Dublin as an Irish city, with an Irish heritage unmistakably distinctive from its neighbour to the east.

Getting to Dublin

Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus operates regular flights from multiple destination in the UK as well as the US.

Where to Stay in Dublin

Buswells Hotel Dublin Ireland

My room at Buswells Hotel

I stayed at the three-star Buswells Hotel. Occupying an elegant Georgian home in the centre of Dublin, it was clean, comfortable, and had a fabulous pub and restaurant. It did feel, however, a bit dated.

For more modern accommodation, try the Conrad Dublin. The hotel is located a little further out from the centre, but it’s not a bad trade off considering the modern facilities.

Dublin’s most famous, historic, and prestigious hotel is The Shelbourne. This five-star establishment was the site where the Irish constitution was drafted and boasts a long and proud history. Former guests include President Kennedy and Jackie-O, among others.

Where to Eat in Dublin

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Irish Stew and Soda Bread.

Tucked away in Dublin’s photogenic Georgian quarter, Matt the Thresher serves up heaps of delicious seafood in a modern setting and attracts locals and tourists alike.

Quite possibly Ireland’s poshest supermarket, Fallon & Byrne in central Dublin also boasts an impressive upstairs dining area where guests are treated to delectable local dishes. Fallon & Byrne is an active participant in the slow food movement, which focuses on preparing food using ingredients from local sources.

Dating back to 1198 (no, that’s not a typo), the Brazen Head Pub is far and away the oldest pub in Dublin. While it’s worth a visit for that reason alone, patrons also come for the live music, Irish storytelling, and the free flowing pints of Guinness.

Additional Reading

For more information on what Ireland and Dublin have to offer, visit Ireland.com and VisitDublin.com.

(My trip to Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. However, all opinions are my own.)

Has anyone else been to Dublin before? Fill us in on what you thought about the city and your favourite attractions in the comments section!