Barry Egan in Dublin: There really is no place like home
Barry Egan plays tourist in his own town, checking into a hotel just 10 minutes from home in Dublin.
It was a fascinating, even flamboyant, experiment - be a tourist in your own town. Stay in a deluxe, ultra-luxurious hotel, within just a ten minute walk of your own home. Go see the city through different eyes, from a different perspective.
See your hometown for what it really is, not what you have thought it was. Spend some time with the beautiful city you perhaps took for granted.
Show her the love. Fall in love again with Lady Dublin.
So, last week, we left our home in Portobello and took the long drive to The Conrad Hotel on Earlsfort Terrace. They spent millions refurbishing this hotel and, frankly (or even, swankly) it shows. The rooms were chic, stylish, spacious too. The restaurant - the Coburg - is straight out of something you'd see in London's Mayfair.
Straight after checking in on Tuesday lunchtime, we were straight out the doors of the swanky hotel - our home for the next three days - into Stephen's Green park, which is literally a stone's throw away.
It was wonderful to stroll through this most magnificent of parks in the heart of the city. We stopped at the swans on the lake and then turned to the playground and watched our baby run around. We could see our hotel from the park.
We went for a coffee and a cake at Starbucks on St Stephen's Green. Then we walked down Grafton Street and up Wicklow Street, to St Patrick's Cathedral on Wood Quay.
I remember Patrick Bergin, I think, saying what he liked about the Spire on O'Connell Street is that it made people look up towards the heavens.
With its 43 metre spire it is practically impossible not to look in the direction of God's home when you look up at St Patrick's Cathedral, the tallest church in Ireland, no less. I am ashamed to say I had never visited it before.
Amazing to think, so the story goes, that St Patrick, once upon a time, used a well somewhere around the Cathedral to baptise new converts to Christianity.
Later that afternoon, after having fish and chips in Leo Burdock's on Werburgh Street, we walked back to the hotel (past the statue of Oscar Wilde reclining on a rock in Merrion Square park, facing his childhood home) and picked up the car and drove to Airfield Estate in Dundrum.
Established by the Overend family in 1974, this 38-acre working farm, complete with gardens and a great restaurant, is one of our favourite places in Dublin.
Airfield gave our young child (and us) an invaluable opportunity to educate ourselves about farming, food and nature in a stunning setting not that far from the city.
Seeing your child's face flushed with delight seeing pigs race across a muddy field, or simply hearing a cow uttering a 'moo', is priceless.
We then retired to our sumptuous suite in the Conrad, changed the baby and had a quick glass of Champagne before taking the elevator to for a slap-up meal in the Coburg - the glitziest new restaurant in town.
It's certainly as bona fide a brasserie experience as you'd get in the finer parts of Paris or London.
My normally restrained wife had half a dozen oysters to start, while I opted for the lobster cocktail.
We followed our exquisite starters with a shrimp burger for myself, and a fillet steak for the missus. The baby had chicken with mashed potato and gravy (mashed up by yours truly).
The evening was the ultimate dining experience, albeit with a small child. We were back in the room with the baby by 9.30pm.
The following morning, we were up bright and early to visit Dublin Zoo in the Phoenix Park.
Again, this is one of our favourite places to visit in the country, primarily because the baby gets so much out of excitedly looking up at giraffes and their long necks and laughing at the baby elephants.
It is also a great place to let your inner kid out for a morning.
Am I sensing a theme to this article? Farms? Zoos? This is possibly because when you have a young child animals play a big part in your social life (and your home life too - although they're of the stuffed variety).
After the zoo, we had a picnic in St Stephen's Green. OK, it was freezing - but it was lovely to be sitting on a park bench with your wife and your child munching on sambos and drinking hot drinks from a flask.
The baby had her bottle. After our picnic, we went for a walk along the canal.
We deliberately scheduled our walk that we would actually pass by our house in Portobello for the fun of passing by your house when you are staying in a hotel. It was also an experiment to see whether the baby recognised her house. She did.
It was poetry in motion just to be out walking on a cold winter's day in our home town, the coolest city, in my opinion, in Europe.
Speaking of poetry, we sat beside the statue of Patrick Kavanagh on Mespil Road - and as the canal rushed by, I thought of that line by Mr Kavanagh: 'Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal, pouring redemption for me.'
Redemption for me came later that night in the bar of Lemuel's in the Conrad sipping a glass of red wine with my wife, who was sipping Champagne (my mother-in-law was upstairs in the room minding the baby for the night.)
We didn't have a care in the world. Apart from the fact that we had to be 'home' by midnight. We walked to incomparable Cliff Townhouse on St Stephen's Green where we had the booth booked for a special dining experience.
It was a three hour-long experience of sheer gourmet gorgeousness - one of the finest meals we've ever had in this city - and we finished the night with one last glass of wine in the Conrad before returning to the mother-in-law.
It was a goodbye drink, because in the morning we were leaving our spiritual home on Earlsfort Terrace to go our real home in Portobello, less than one kilometre away. You treat this place like a hotel indeed.
Barry stayed at the Conrad Dublin, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2. Weekend rates start from €269 per room per night, with breakfast - but savings of up to 25pc can be enjoyed with the hotel's winter sale. The Conrad is at the corner of St. Stephen's Green, across from the National Concert Hall.
Offering a number of options for Christmas get-togethers, Lemuel's bar and The Coburg restaurant are taking reservations now. For more information, visit conraddublin.com, lemuelsdublin.com and thecoburgdublin.com.
For more on Dublin, see visitdublin.com
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