IT WAS the moment we truly felt on holiday in our own city when, trailing overnight bags past the office where I work every day, my wife and I found ourselves walking in step with a colleague, Herald movie critic George Byrne, for half a mile or more and him oblivious
to the tourists he had in tow.
We were invisible and it was delicious.
We’d foregone a city break in Europe, something once the norm for us, now too pricey to afford, in favour of having relatives mind the kids, packing light and taking the train into town. A short hike and we were at the city base from which we would rediscover the capital, the luxurious Westbury Hotel, tucked away just off Grafton Street.
Like everyone, we’ve already enjoyed day trips into town to shop or at night to go to shows, but always with the spectre hanging over us of a €20 car park bill, a long wait for a train or bus and a tiring journey home.
How nice it would be to have the luxury at the end of a day’s shopping or after a show, instead of heading for the bus queue, train or taxi, to be able to nip up a side street past the doorman with his top hat, through a gleaming revolving door and in minutes be stretching out on crisp, clean sheets. It more than changes your perspective of the town in which you live and work, take it from me, it can turn the world on its axis. And the Westbury is the perfect hub.
Situated in a corner of what we were to find is probably the most beautiful and bustling set of small streets in the city, the Westbury, as it turned out, was only too delighted to be a co-conspirator in our sneaky mid-week getaway.
We stayed in an immaculate, modern room, with a view across the green domes, spires and towers of Dublin 8 all the way to Guinness Brewery – and when we had quite finished leaping around on the four-poster bed in childish excitement (alright, that was me), we stole away from the bright quiet of our luxurious hotel hidey hole, through the Westbury
Mall and spilled out onto the city streets.
What a joy to explore this part of the city, with nowhere we needed to be but dinner, already booked in the Westbury restaurant, Wilde for 7pm. Hotel staff had smiled at our plan and suggested over magically produced pocket maps which we could keep, a walking route to suit just the level of exploration we wanted to whet our appetite for the centrepiece meal we were so looking forward to later.
We slipped around to Chatham Row. From here down to Wicklow Street and over as far as South Great George’s Street is a hive of music shops and market arcades, street cafés and backstreet boutiques. The best of Dublin on our doorstep and the Westbury sitting like a jewel in its crown. We wandered blissfully aimless like characters in a romance film,
before settling down to people-watch with beer in hand outside a little gastro pub on sleepy, pedestrian Castle Market between Powerscourt Townhouse Centre and George’s Street Arcade. How nice to watch the busy folk go by and not have to elbow our way into the fray and match their pace. We caught each others’ eyes and couldn’t help but laugh. It was like playing hooky from school, a couple of love-struck teens.
That night we ate at Westbury’s Wilde Room and felt like rock stars, the service was that good. I’d bought a floral shirt, the kind you buy on holiday and never wear again. Yes, the self-deception was complete. We could be in Cape Town but we were a hop and skip from home, dining on steak and sole, our wine glasses being discreetly refilled from an ice
bucket nearby and a perfect view of the twinkling lights of Grafton Street outside.
Later, having stopped off in our room to freshen up and change outfits for the third time that day (just because we could), we went to a show in Bewley’s Cafe Theatre where someone sang wistfully over a piano, songs that told stories about people in cities and my wife and I found ourselves holding hands. We wandered then from pub to pub to check out late night bands but best of all was falling into bed just minutes up the street, the late night bustle just a whisper far below our Westbury room.
Next day we woke and hatched a plan over strong coffee and the hotel’s piping-hot breakfast feast to visit Guinness Brewery, get the full tour, learn to pour a pint and end up in the incredible Gravity Bar by sunset to see the city glint in the late evening glow.
The Westbury desk was only too happy to organise things and we not only did the brewery tour, but found ourselves entirely captivated by a personal tour guide who took us through every aspect of the perfect pint of plain. It was, dare I say it, brilliant. We loaded up on
souvenirs. Taxiing back over the whoosh of cobbles then through the colourful ancient streets around Christ Church Cathedral, I suddenly felt flushed with contentment. Perhaps it was the Guinness but I realised I’d never felt quite this relaxed in my own town.
That night we ate out, choosing a tiny side street Italian family place to pop a cork and stretch out over pasta dishes and fresh bread.
“We’ve come a long way, baby,” I mimicked.
“Not really,” laughed herself, “sure half an hour and we’d be home.”
“Sssshhh!” I chuckled. “That’s our little secret!”
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What a lovely surprise to be taken to the Westbury Hotel by my husband. No booking flights, no waiting at airports, just get the train into Dublin and relax. An offer to good to refuse! It was a lovely sunny Wednesday morning and Grafton Street was full of buskers. Normally when I’m in Dublin I’m in a hurry, on a mission to get something or surrounded by my four kids all wanting different things at once. Looking at Dublin through the eyes of a tourist, with all the time in the world was a whole different experience.
Everything seemed magical.
We were greeted at the Westbury by smiling staff before being shown up to our sumptuous room. With two huge windows, high above all the rooftops, we could see most of the city. We looked at each other and giggled. This was the life! I thought it just couldn’t get any better but that night we ate in Wilde, the restaurant in the Westbury. We were treated like royalty. He had a steak and a tray of different cuts was brought over for him to choose from. I had the sole and a waiter de-boned it at the table.All the courses were beautifully presented and tasted delicious. It was a showcase for Irish cuisine.
Over the next two days we explored our own city and found places we had never been before. We discovered the hidden beauty of the Iveagh Gardens (really pretty and full of locals walking their dogs). We learned how to pull pints at Guinness Storehouse (not as easy as it looks). We had a trip in a cycle taxi at the top of Grafton St with a very fit and friendly driver. We shopped together and apart, but it was more fun being together.
We found live music everywhere on Thursday night, every pub was crowded and every band had a different sound. We explored the back of Dublin Castle and read the newspapers in the sun. We enjoyed lunch outside The Bistro on Castle Market St and noticed a stream of people going in and out of a shop opposite called Harlequin, thus we were introduced to the delights of a true vintage store (he got sunglasses, I got a leather skirt to die for).
We met friends by chance but not by design. We went where ever the mood took us and I loved every minute. We were a young couple again, having fun and enjoying each others company. This was a moment in time I will always remember.