Viking Splash: A city break with a difference in Dublin
Big splash, little museum
Gemma Fullam enjoys a little museum, a big splash, the Sound of Music and a surprising hotel on a city break in the capital.
Being from Kilkenny, there are many occasions during the year where I have licence to roar my head off - the first Sunday in September (generally) being the apogee - but, being of somewhat reserved inclination, I tend to demonstrate my enthusiasm by clapping politely, and leave the shrieking and screeching to others.
So no one was more surprised than I, when, one recent fine Saturday, I found myself wearing a horned helmet, aboard an amphibious truck, bellowing and whooping "YAAAARRRRR" at passers-by, along with a group of equally raucous strangers.
I was on a Viking Splash tour and was having a blast; if you've been to the capital anytime in the last few years, you can't have failed to spot the bright-yellow, open-sided DUKW trucks, loaded up with cheering 'Vikings' (see vikingsplash.ie).
Our driver, Gerry O'Neill, a Dub, with a dry wit to match, was also our tour guide, and he was truly superb. I've been around the capital's sights before, but the Splash tour has a unique dimension all its own and I learned much about the city I've worked in for the last seven years, including that O'Connell Bridge is unique in Europe as the only bridge wider than it is long; the term 'daylight robbery' came from the 17th-Century window tax, which resulted in windows being bricked up to avoid payment - the Bank Of Ireland on College Green being a case in point; and that the Giant's Causeway inspired the architecture of the Marker hotel, down at the Grand Canal Dock.
It was in this vicinity that our DUKW took to the water and pootled around the Basin for a good 20 minutes, as Gerry waxed lyrical about the area's history.
After 90 minutes of the best fun I've had in ages, I landed back at the tour's drop-off on Stephen's Green and, just down the way, met my mother for a delicious brunch in Hatch & Sons, which is located in the basement of the building that houses the Little Museum of Dublin. The Little Museum was on both our must-see lists and it didn't disappoint.
Aoife, our ebullient guide, led us through the permanent exhibition, which is a mixture of ephemera and important historic items and documents. On our visit, there was also the small but perfectly formed, Ireland at the Movies: Costume in Irish Cinema 1987-2015.
It had Kate Hudson's (impossibly tiny) wedding dress from About Adam; an exquisite 1930s dress that Meryl Streep wore in Dancing at Lughnasa; and the iconic Crying Game sequined dress in which Jaye Davidson caught the eye of Stephen Rea. The Little Museum has carved its own niche when it comes to compelling exhibitions; at the moment, it has a tribute to the enigmatic Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, a great Irish writer who remains practically unknown here. See littlemuseum.ie.
Despite the earlier, stone-splitting sun, it was teeming with rain when we emerged onto the Green, so we made a run for it down Grafton Street and into the sanctuary of the Westbury, where we sipped chilled Prosecco until the shower gave way to watery sunshine.
Our lodgings for the weekend were in the swish Gibson Hotel, located in the heart of the trendy Docklands area. The hotel is handiness itself to get to, as it's adjacent to the last stop on the Luas Red Line (the Point) - and faces the 3Arena. There's something of a New York vibe to both the hotel and the area; as you ascend the escalators to the third-floor reception, you glide past a vast wall of glass and another of of living foliage; visible in the distance is an enormous mural, one of several inside and outside; and a glittering panorama of the city.
The Gibson, as you might guess from the name, has a musical theme throughout; unusually, it also has a yearly Artist In Residence programme; 2016's is street artist James Earley, whose family ran a stained-glass studio in Dublin for over a century. The hotel is having an official launch of Earley's work next month, details will be on its website.
We refreshed and beautified ourselves in our zen-like room - which found great favour with me as it had the two items I think every hotel room should have but rarely does: a) hair conditioner (Rituals, no less!) and b) a proper hairdryer, rather than one of those worm-like stuck-to-the-wall things that inevitably result in bad-hair days.
So it was with good hair and rumbling tummies that we made our way to coda (Led Zep fans will get it), the hotel restaurant, which had just launched a new menu, designed by chef Nicholas Woollard, that proved just as delicious as the surroundings. The hotel - designed by Scott Tallon Walker, also responsible for the Aviva - has an architect's skilled touch evident throughout, but particularly so in the restaurant, which feels intimate and cosy, despite the soaring ceilings and extensive use of glass. The design, much like the food here, is perfectly pitched.
Sublimely satisfied after a feast of ham hock and hamburger for me, and scallops and melt-in-the-mouth cod for my mother, we kept to a musical theme, as our destination was the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, which is just minutes away, to see a production of the Sound of Music.
My mum has been there many times, but it was my first visit to the Libeskind-designed venue and it was a delight. My mother started bringing me to musical theatre when I was very young and we both find it a life-affirming joy. This night was no different and, post-show, we walked the short journey back to the gibson, singing and skipping as we imagined we were Maria on the grassy Salzburg slopes.
Having slept like logs, we were blessed to wake to a sunny Sunday and opted to take the bing-bing into town to do a bit of pottering and see where the mood took us. We ended up in the 'dead zoo' on Merrion Street, aka the Natural History Museum, which is free, and utterly fascinating. My mother has a phobia of snakes (be they dead or alive), so she was a little wary, but I could have explored the Victorian interior for hours. The museum has everything from native pygmy shrews to aardvarks, elephants and the extinct giant Irish deer. It is quite an awe-inspiring place.
Following a delightful supper at the quirkily named hemidemisemiquaver bar back at the Gibson, we finished our musical weekend with a visit to the Olympia, and a mind-blowing performance of Once.
Yes, Dublin can be heaven . . .
Book a family room at The Gibson (thegibsonhotel.ie) this Halloween for two adults and two children, including breakfast for only €130 per room, or add dinner for the family for an extra €69. This offer is based on two adults and two children. Offer valid from October 25 - November 1 2015.
For those looking for an activity break in Dublin city, why not explore the hotel's Viking Splash offer - one night bed and breakfast with a family pass on the famous Dublin Viking Splash Tour for €165 (based on two adults and two children).
The gibson hotel also offer a very popular Dublin Zoo package for only €165.00 for an overnight stay with breakfast, including a family pass to Dublin Zoo (based on two adults and two children).