Uncommonly good weather this afternoon for an Irish wedding and a brief but welcome reunion with old friends and colleagues. The afters were also a welcome departure from tradition with the usual late-night drunken “revelry” nowhere in sight and everything, instead, wrapped up nicely by 6pm.
It looked like hours of sunshine ahead, so I hopped on a south-bound DART and ambled around Seapoint, Monkstown and Dún Laoghaire as the moon rose over the sea. The sea is absolutely my favourite thing about Dublin – something I’ll write about some other time – and although I still harbour plans to move away, just occasionally you get an evening here as spectacular in its own little way as anything you’ll ever see anywhere in the world.
The route began at Seapoint DART station, where several divers and other water-dwellers were enjoying the Irish Sea. It’s a straight walk up to the east Dún Laoghaire pier, where a steady but manageable stream of walkers and roller skaters mingled under the clear sky. I bought a hot dog and ice cream and made my way out to the end of the pier: a small crowd sat here admiring the setting sun over Poolbeg Station while a lonely few ventured behind the pier wall to savour the far rarer vista of a perfect moon rise.
Here, at the end of the world, a lone banjo player strummed Irish airs for both camps as the light slowly faded.
A good stretch of the legs from Grand Canal Dock out to the western pier of Dún Laoghaire, taking in Sandymount Strand, Booterstown and Blackrock Village enroute. Fine Irish weather – considering our chequered summer thus far – and a mercifully free weekend made this a very fine way to spend an otherwise bone idle Sunday afternoon.
I’ve been meaning to walk this route for some time, with vague notions of following the original Westland Row – Kingstown train line in my head. Ian Marchant’s book, “Parallel Lines”, (extract here) has a full chapter memorably outlining how this line was built as part of an effort to provide a fast link between the first two cities of the British Empire, London and Dublin. More significantly, by providing multiple stops along the journey into the city centre, it was also the world’s first commuter line when it opened in 1834.
Fergus Mulligan’s “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Irish Railways” contains a very detailed account of the line’s construction and first years of operation; one part that particularly struck me describes the “night patrole”, introduced in 1837 to counteract acts of vandalism. On duty from 8pm to 7am, “two hardy men walked the entire line from Westland Row to Kingstown and back” with a weapon, “dark lanthorn” and whistle. Mulligan notes that this must been quite a prospect in the months of January with the “east wind howling across Dublin Bay”.
Whatever became of those men, the new train allowed for the possibility of living in the countryside whilst working in the city and, so, it played no small part in the development of the pleasant suburbs in the south of the city, the results of which can still be enjoyed on a pleasant summer afternoon.
Today, the sight of Poolbeg Station looms large on the horizon, omnipresent wherever you are on Dublin Bay. The tide at Sandymount Strand was out even further than usual, allowing for a direct walk to the footbridge over the tracks at Booterstown Station. From here, a brief rest in Elm Park before a stroll through Blackrock Village before reaching Seapoint and, soon after, the pier of Dún Laoghaire where the Stena Sealink negotiates the harbour opening. A meal in Real Gourmet Burger repairs the damage before a chance encounter with an old music friend and, of course, the DART home.
Pink glowed the yellow plastered walls of the courtyard as I settled down for soup; looking out revealed the sky throbbing a perfect pink against a dark blue of the approaching night. Tea was glossed over before rushing camera up towards the sparkling water of the Grand Canal. Though the best light had shone away, docklands rarely looked better: mottled water, pink sky and bright colours of bold newcomers to the landscape combining to make summer in Dublin a very particular and occasional delight.
Afterwards, only in Dublin could investigation of the year’s finest sunset end with a solid drenching under a heavy shower of rain.
Still working my way through San Francisco with the help of Frommer’s. I’ve got most of the standard tourist stuff out of my system and now I’d like to simply explore the neighbourhoods.
Over lunch in the Ferry Building, the man sitting next to me strikes up conversation; also here on business, his work involves something called “blue ocean thinking” – which sounds intriguing – and it turns out we both studied computers at college and are both ex-IBMers. Like me, he’s arrived in San Francisco a couple of days early to soak up some the city’s atmosphere. With this common aim in mind, we agree to take the cable car up Pacific Heights and then explore the streets for a few hours.
The California cable car (unusally quiet today) whisks us up California past Union Square and Nob Hill and up through to Van Ness and Washington, on the outskirts of Pacific Heights.
Out here, the streets are so photogenic – houses are eclectic, colourful and quintessentially San Franciscan with their Victorian fronts and flights of stairs leading up to the entrances. The highlight of this area proves to be Fillmore Street, with several excellent coffee shops such as “The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf”. We sit down here with the locals who are here enjoying a lazy coffee afternoon, in a way that’s increasingly – and with great difficulty, thanks to our weather – becoming popular back in Dublin.
A couple of parks punctuate the streets along the way and afford some nice views of the city, as well as one very intriguing cat out taking her owner for a walk..
Now, we head down through a neighbourhood called Cow Hollow toward Union Street (not to be confused with Union Square), another little haven of one-off shops, coffee houses and restaurants. Thus ends a tour of another little corner of San Francisco…you just can’t go wrong in this city.
Frommer’s recommends taking the Powell-Hyde cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. An excellent suggestion, as it turns out – Union Square doesn’t take long to see and Fisherman’s Wharf is a notorious tourist trap…joined by a fun cable car ride, however, they all make for an enjoyable day out.
There seem to be conflicting theories as to how the cable car came about:
- the inventor saw a horse injured when the carriage it was hauling up a typically steep San Franciscan hill broke and fell.
- the inventor was also the inventor of a very strong type of steel rope, the monetising of which he was completely stumped until he realised that it could be used in a slightly bizarre mechanism to haul passengers up the steep slopes of the city.
Well, maybe it’s both. They are absolutely perfect for the city, though – slightly old fashioned yet unique…and perfect for steep streest. So perfect, in fact, that at their peak, over 100 miles of cable car lines criss-crossed San Francisco. However, as usage slowly declined, so lines began to close. Just before they all disappeared forever, local campaigners managed to make the city see sense and in 1964 the cable cars were designated a national landmark.
Just three downtown lines remain, a fascinating (and surely very rare) example of old-style and one-off train systems remaining in use in a major city.
A wonderful little book I picked up in Mountain View is Frommer’s “San Francisco Day by Day“. Inside is a list of 25 recommended walks of the city, along with 3 or 4 suggested itineraries along with transportation directions between each item.
It’s really different from sight-seeing with the help of a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet. These monster guides expend loads of pages on accomodation, arrival, eating out and entertainment. Thing is, accommodation is easy to find, I’m already here and there’s good cheap restaurants on every single block in the city.
The trick to visiting a city is discovering which bits of the town to see and in what order. You never know which parts are really worth seeing and/or how long it takes to get there. Frommer’s does this adn points out a few notable shops and restaurants. No more detail than necessary to wander about enjoyably.
So, I entrust myself to Frommer’s…they recommend starting at Union Square, a few minutes walk from the hotel. Then it’s a cable car up to the waterfront, walk down Lombard Street and explore Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s actually a lot more lined up for today but Mr. Frommer obviously has more energy than I do – his three-day itinerary will take me the rest of my trip to complete.
It’s been a while since I went for a hike.
The first time, it was wet and very misty. The second, very wet and misty.
Today, in the middle of June, just days after the summer solstice…it was very wet and very misty.
I’ve seen it all now.
We met at Glendalough and headed for Derrybawn, Mullacor and Lugduff. We had to miss one, however, owing to the rain.
Another grand day out, weather aside.
Pearse DART to Blackrock DART.
The sun splits the stones after the horrors of the bank holiday weekend and all its associated attempts at merry-making.
Looks like summer has returned; needless to say, the Leaving Cert starts in the morning. Three weeks of guaranteed good weather, at least.
A lovely evening for a jaunt out to Blackrock. I find a nice little park adjacent to Blackrock DART station.
My longest evening walk yet, but no matter where go along the coast, it seems, Poolbeg is sure to follow.