Thursday, September 11, 2014

10th Event of 2014: Rock 'n' Roll Dublin!

Unofficially the 10th Event of 2014: Rock 'n' Roll Dublin Half Marathon

July 30th (evening departure from Philly) and July 31st (morning arrival in Dublin):

With 4 long days of meetings behind me (at Allard USA's HQ in New Jersey) I boarded a plane in Newark. 10 hours later I was seeing Ireland for the very first time. Originally this was going to be an extension of my work duties but as our GetBackUP campaign was finalized over the early months of the year this Dublin trip eventually got the ax. However, Jim and I had been so excited about the possibility of another international RnR event that we decided to make this our summer vacation off we went! 

NOTE: Since this trip wasn't so much about the campaign (though I was still working PR and sharing the GBU message throughout our 6 days) I'm going to submit an abbreviated blogpost which will focus on some highlights of the city and the race itself. I'm also going to include what I consider to be useful information if any of you are considering running the Dublin Rock 'n' Roll race in the future--which I can now highly recommend! The photos will represent about 1/50th of the actual quantity of pictures I have from the vacation.

Back to the entry....

We could have flown directly from Newark to Dublin but our frequent flyer miles on USAirways allowed us to upgrade for free if we took a flight from Philadelphia had something to do with the American/USAir merger not quite fully "merged" yet. So a short trip to Philly from Newark, then onboard a 9:00PM flight for an overnight trip to Dublin. With the time change we were in sight of Ireland before 8:00AM after a surprisingly restful night thanks to our complimentary Envoy upgrade to First Class!

My first glimpse of Ireland.

Moments before landing on Irish soil

This is the reason we decided not to
rent a car for our short stay--
driving to the left at roundabouts and steering
from the right side of the car!
Things I learned--Lessons 1-4:

1) While many people do rent cars and learn rapidly how to drive on the opposite side of the road, I am so happy we opted not to do so. Had we planned to tour around all of Ireland we definitely would have rented but with only 6 days here we wanted to be able to 'put down roots' and thoroughly explore the greater Dublin area. We quickly discovered that driving in the city can be treacherous for foreigners: roundabouts are everywhere, traffic is heavy, pedestrians and cyclists abound, signage is difficult to read and streets aren't labeled well at all! Even the taxi drivers get nervous and they're experienced. Plus, public transit in and around Dublin is cheap and very convenient so why bother with a car?
2) After researching currency exchange for Dublin we were told it was best to use credit cards wherever possible (assuming you don't have foreign transaction fees assessed) but also it was a good to have a few hundred Euros as well. Yes, Southern Ireland uses Euros while the UK and Northern Ireland use pounds sterling.
3) If you land in--or depart from--any European country at a "popular" time (and for the record, 8:00am on a Thursday is a popular time to arrive at the Dublin airport and 11AM on a Wednesday is a popular time to depart in the summer!) you should allow 2-3 hours to clear customs. It's a loooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnggggggg, ssssssssssssssllllllllllllllloooooowwwwwww, boooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring process so use the potty before you get in line and make sure you have a snack in your bag.
4) From our past experience in Europe (and from the reminders of my international Allard co-workers) we remembered that it was important to stay awake as long as possible upon the day of arrival. Otherwise it takes much longer to acclimate to the time change and to recover from jet lag.

Without knowing anyone who spent significant time in Dublin we opted to book a hotel in what appeared to be the most recommended area in online-polls: City Center, just south of the River Liffey. Jim researched hotels in the area and found a very reasonable rate at a chain hotel called we held our breath and hoped we'd like it. We pre-paid for the first night in case it didn't meet our approval but as it turned out it was fantastic. I won't post my photos--they don't really do the Maldron justice--but you can check out their official site which is very realistic to what it looks like in person. The rooms were roomy and quiet, the facilities impeccable, the staff very friendly and helpful and the location was's that for a recommendation?

The only thing that was loud in the room was the sound of the pillow calling my name! :-)   Seriously, I was suddenly exhausted from the overnight flight and the beds looked sooooooo inviting...but we had made a pact to stay up until nightfall so we dropped our bags and went out to explore. The sun was shining, temps were in the upper-60's to low-70's and we had absolutely no plan!

A few selected sights from the first day:

Our friends, Kristen and Steve O'Connell,
gave us a list of a few "must-sees" in Dublin.
This was one of them, The Brazen Head Pub,
which claims to be Ireland's oldest pub.

This is the view from upstairs at Sweetman's, a local brewpub
just a few blocks from our hotel along the River Liffey.

Our first taste of Ireland!

Our first brew in Ireland was NOT Guinness. I wonder
if we could get deported/expelled for this...

This is the Grand Canal Square area behind our hotel,
which is also behind the Bord Gais Energy theater:

To the south and west of Grand Canal we walked through Merrion Square and found Oscar Wilde waiting to greet us...

From there we kept walking east to get back to the area called Temple Bar, the most touristy district in City Center, and we took the southern route rather than follow the congested sidewalks along the River Liffey to the north. On almost every block we saw (and smelled) gourmet gastropubs and cafes, which came as somewhat of a shock to us. I'm not going to mention any names but before we got to Ireland we spoke to about 5 different people who said the food in Ireland wasn't great. So far--from the looks of things anyway--this information was utterly false!

Everywhere you looked there were delicious
temptations, all locally made.

I wish you could be here to smell the
intoxicating aromas...

We managed to walk by hundreds of tempting cafes but were holding out for something more substantial for a late lunch. We happened by a little Italian cafe on our way to Trinity College where the food looked so good that I made a mental note to return unless we found something that looked even better. Yes, we're in Ireland and we should be trying authentic Irish food, but we're also in Dublin which has become known for outstanding international cuisine. What can I say? My olfactory senses won out--we returned to Dunne & Crescenzi's for a wonderful lunch on the sidewalk patio.

This may look simple--and it was--but the flavors were
so fresh and intense. Homemade spaghetti with basil
tomato sauce.

Jim ordered a gourmet cheese & olive foccacia sandwich; our dishes
were both so good that we opted to divide each in half and share.
When we travel, both Jim and I like to have small bites or small meals everywhere rather than having 1 or 2 big meals--this way we can sample more places and get a better feel for the true scope of the city's cuisine. At D&C there were so many dishes I wanted to try but we kept it simple with these 2 choices, after all, we needed to save room for about 4 more small meals today!

By this time it was mid afternoon and we had walked more than 7 miles since morning. To give you an idea of scale, Dublin City is considered to be the oval-shaped area centered upon the River Liffey in the below map (click link for interactive version). It's about 4 miles x 3 miles in area but we walked well beyond the limits of the map below to visit the "city-villages" surrounding Dublin-proper:

We continued winding our way in and around Dublin City, stopping at a few of the must-see sights but mostly trying to stay awake while we did a grand reconnaissance tour. We made notes of places we'd hoped to return to and also wrote down each and every suggestion given to us by the locals.

To reiterate, this blog entry in no way reflects the full scope of our activities and experiences in Dublin--it would take me too long to write about everything and everyone. I'm just trying to provide a good overview of what you may expect if you come over to visit--or specifically, if you come for the Rock 'n' Roll event.

Just an average street corner in Dublin's City Center

Trinity College campus.

More of Trinity College.
After walking at least another 4 hours we made our way towards the neighborhood of Ballsbridge, about 2 miles southeast of our hotel in Dublin City. For some reason we were both craving pizza, even though we had Italian food mid-day. I guess it had something to do with the time change, lack of sleep and 10 miles of walking but we had more carbs on our first day in Ireland than I'd normally eat in 4 days! Anyway, Jim found a highly rated wood-fired pizza place just outside of City Center so we made that our last stop of the night:





...PRIZE! One Pizza Marguerite...

...and one Mediterranean Vegetable Pizza.
Oh my goodness, these pizzas were so delicious. Every bite melted in your mouth, every ingredient was freshly picked and perfectly seasoned. No, we didn't finish both "personal size" pizzas but they went back to the hotel with us where I ate them for my breakfast on my second day in Dublin!

Things I learned--Lessons 5-7:

5) One of my favorite activities when I travel is shopping but I rarely shop for myself. Instead I like to shop year-round for gifts for my friends and family--selecting presents that are unique to the places I travel. Despite having walked the entire circumference of Dublin City--and then some--I saw what I considered to be very few boutiques, gift stores or galleries for a city this size. The shops I did find were recommended by locals, thankfully, because the tourist guides for "Shopping in Dublin" focus mainly on the chain-store shops along Grafton and O'Connell streets. There was an official "House of Ireland" store which touted high-end goods made by Irish artisans, but even this seemed touristy. Not surprisingly, the various Dublin museum shops offered some of the best selections and are totally worth a visit even if you don't have time to tour the entire museum. Without going into details, if you're interested in finding the better local favorites you can start here as a reference and then ask local vendors for their best picks:
6) When I was wide awake at 2:30am (I think it was 7:30am according to my body clock) I turned on "the telly" and thanks to a BBC business channel I learned something about the dearth of local stores in Dublin. The gist of the particular segment I watched said that many of the Irish merchants succumbed to the effects of severe recession amid banking scandals and political unrest. Add to that the phenomenon of e-commerce, where according to the BBC the Irish outpace much of the world when it comes to percentage of shopping they do online. When I returned home I read more about this, here's just one of the articles I found:
7) My last "lesson learned" related to shopping and stores in Ireland concerns the VAT, or "Value Added Tax" which varies between 12-21%. YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE YOU MAKE ANY PURCHASE! Basically, this 12-21% is included in the ticket price which locals have to pay in full. However, if you are from outside the European Union you can get this tax refunded but you must do this at the airport prior to leaving the country and you must have all proper forms and documentation. It's easy to keep track of once you know what to ask for, it's a pain to have to deal with at the airport, but it's well worth the efforts when you are handed back more than 100 Euros after relatively few purchases in Dublin! Here's all the info you'll need:

Friday, August 1st-Saturday August 2nd:

I think I actually slept more on the flight over than I did Thursday night, my first overnight in Dublin.  I was wide awake from 2:30-6:30am Friday and just when I decided to give up and get up for the day I was suddenly overcome with sleepiness. 4 hours later I awoke to heavy rain outside the window and by then it was nearly lunchtime. I'll confess, the rain was no great incentive to leave my cozy covers. So Friday was a lazy morning followed by an afternoon of museums. Saturday was more museums, galleries and other sight-seeing. I think I could spend an entire month in Dublin and still not see all there is to see in the wealth of their museums--I'd return just for these! Here's a link to let you explore  them on your own:

Sunday, August 3rd:

We were up early and grabbed a coffee to-go for our walk back down towards Ballsbridge to get our race packets. From our hotel it was an easy, scenic 2-mile walk to the Expo which was held at the Royal Dublin Society arena, or RDS. The rains from Friday and early Saturday were by now long gone, though the skies were overcast and the air was a bit chilly.

Just across the Dodder river is the city-village called Ballsbridge.

Ready to rock!

The grounds of RDS outside of the Expo pavilion.

No Merle (Sweaty Bands)...
No Emily (Terryberry RnR Marathon Jewelry)...
 No Dorcas (Women's Running/Competitor Group)...
but there are CUPCAKES!!!
The Dublin RnR Expo had more treats
than I'd ever seen at any expo ever.

More at the RnR Expo...

and more...

and MORE...


Whew, I had to get out of there before I had a Veruca Salt moment.
(Thanks to those of you who got the reference,
from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For
anyone that didn't, here's how I was feeling:

To my cousins Abby and Sandy, I think we should come
back to Dublin for a horse show here at RDS!

We left the Expo with our race packets and decided to head due north
from Ballsbridge towards the River Liffey. Somewhere just across the
river is the start line for the race tomorrow so we wanted to get our bearings.

The Dodder River,  the largest tributary to the River Liffey.

The bridge over the Dodder, for which this city-village is named.

The view looking south towards Ballsbridge, my back is to the River Liffey, along the Dodder River.
Aviva Stadium is in the distance with the hills of Dublin in the distant background.

The view as we cross River Liffey to the neighborhood known as The Point.
The opening to the Irish Sea is in the distance.

We walked about a mile north of the river to check out this local market.

Race packet still in tow, Jim is off to find some treasure at Merchant's Market.
For the record, there were better Flea Markets and Craft Fairs in Dublin, this
one appeared to have seen better days.

We're in the northeastern section of City Center here. We wanted to scope out
more of the north side before dropping our bags at the hotel. These tracks run
parallel to the River Liffey and terminate (originate?) at the harbor near The Point, behind me.
The remainder of Sunday was spent visiting some of the "must sees" along our particularly-chosen route for the afternoon. We were off to tour the Guinness Brewery, we figured we had to see it while we were here, so we opted to walk to the far western side of Dublin City and sightsee along our way.
Dublin Castle: Chapel Royal is to the left, Record Tower in the middle.
Images of Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle:

The Record Tower is adjacent to Chapel Royal.

Bedford Tower, directly across from Record Tower.

Art on the grounds of Dublin Castle:

Next stop, Christ Church:

And finally, we made our way to the world-famous, original St. James's Gate Brewery, home of Guinness Irish Stout. The self-guided tour was more enjoyable than I anticipated--especially if you "enroll" in the Academy while there--but the tour de force is definitely the final stop on the tour, Gravity Bar...scroll down to see why. Here are a few of the highlights:

Along with hops, yeast, roast malt extract and barley, water is the final ingredient
in a pint of fresh Guinness.

Don't drink the water! (That is, at least not until it's turned into a pint of Guinness.)

Here's to Arthur!

The tour takes you up and up and up, from basement to Floor #7...but before you get there... should stop in at the Academy and learn to pour a perfect pint!

I'm now legal if ever you'd like for me to pour you a pint.
And finally, a stop at "7th Heaven", otherwise known as the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse. From here you'll have breathtaking views of Dublin City--360 degrees around!

So, the view from Gravity Bar alone is truly worth the price of admission to the Guinness Storehouse tour (and the price includes a Pint!). Just make sure you go on a clear day or you'll miss out on the best attraction there.

Walking back to the hotel I noticed this rainbow (background) and wondered if
I should run off in search of the pot o'gold at the end.

Making our way back towards the hotel through the heart of Temple Bar district.

We made a stop at another of Steve & Kristen O'Connell's recommendations: The Bank

The Bank is a converted bank (of course) but now does business as
an upscale restaurant/pub.

A perfect bite after our Perfect Pints at the Guinness brewery.

As we neared our hotel the sun was just setting on another beautiful day in Dublin. These were beautiful sights along the River Liffey as we strolled "home" to rest up for tomorrow's big run:

Good night, Dublin!

Things I learned--Lessons 8-10:

8) The food in Dublin is AMAZING. Locally grown produce, fresh fish and culinary expertise abound everywhere you turn. I didn't post photos but along with all the "ethnic" cuisine we've had some great traditional Irish meals including Fish 'n Chips--complete with salt, vinegar and a side of mushy peas (that's really what they call them)
9) The people of Dublin are some of the nicest people I've met anywhere, anytime.
10) Dublin is a beautiful, friendly, walkable city rich in art, culture, history and lore. I know that there's more to Ireland than Dublin but I will tell you that you cannot possibly experience all it has to offer if you merely stop here for a day or two during a trip to Green Isle. I am so thankful we decided to spend all of our time in County Dublin.

Monday, August 4th--RACE DAY!!

Yet another picture-perfect day in Dublin! Our hotel is behind
the second building on the right (south) side of River Liffey.
Directly across from there is where the race starts, but since we
don't have a boat we had to walk 3 blocks up then 3 blocks back down
the left (north) side of the river. 

The day started out with "jacket weather" but very
quickly it got warm enough to ditch the outer layer.

Getting Back UP in Dublin...Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, here we come!

Jim spreads the word via his accessories! Carter--you made it to Ireland!!

Amazing fortune! We found our fellow RnR gypsies in the crowd at the start.

Just us and a few of our closest friends...

...ready to rock and roll!
Since I told you initially that this was mainly a blog about the race I'm going to tell you what to expect if you're planning to add this one to your schedule. It's a flat start, small hill around mile 2.5, then another hill climb from mile 4 to 6, a short drop at 6 but then a steeper climb from 6 to 7.5, another drop from 7.5 to 8, a longer, steady climb from 8.5 to 11, a drop from 11 to 12 (with one short steep section near 11.5) and the final mile is uphill to the finish line in Phoenix Park. Be prepared to approach the finish line area--then swiftly turn and run AWAY for 2 miles--before you make your way back again to actually cross the finish line. You basically start at sea level (0ft.) and climb successive hills until you reach the peak at about 175ft above sea level. It's not a very tough challenge if you're expecting some hills but it is a net-uphill, point-to-point race. You'll note, however, that the scenery is quite lovely throughout:

We run by the front of the Guinness shipping docks.

This is one museum I didn't get to tour, the Irish Museum Of Modern Art (IMMA). It's
on my list for the next visit here!

Sculpture gardens of IMMA

Leaving the grounds of IMMA through the back gate.

Until now we'd been running along the south side of River Liffey. Now we make our way north
and wind through neighborhoods in our approach to Phoenix Park.

Entering Phoenix Park.

Read here for more about Dublin's most famous natural area. Spanning 1752 acres and established in the year 1662, Phoenix Park is one of the largest enclosed recreational areas of any of Europe's capital cities.

Way off in the distance is the Papal Cross.

The Papal Cross stands 116ft tall, made of steel girders.

We caught up with Mindy (whom we first met at the last race in Chicago) around mile 10.
With the sun beating down on us & the hills having taking their toll we all spent the last
part of the race alternating between a slow jog and a brisk walk. It was a great way to get
to know Mindy better and alsonmade it easier to appreciate the beauty of Phoenix Park.

From Phoenix Park there are plentiful free shuttles (large, air conditioned buses!)
to take all the runners back to the City Center. There were 2 stops, ours was the center bridge
on the River Liffey, less than a mile from our hotel--perfect! 
All in all I'd say that the race itself was a smashing success. I loved the course (though I wouldn't have minded if they took out a hill or two) and we had a great time taking in the sights. As for conditions, this was the warmest and most humid day of our time in Ireland but it was still in the low 70's so really nothing to complain about. It was also great to see a few of the familiar faces among the new friends we met throughout the run. If you've ever wanted to run an international RnR event, this would be a great option!

Post race meal at Rustic Stone. Here's the link to the menu for easier reading:

Healthy vegan and raw dishes are among the selection, in
addition to farm-raised meats and fresh catches.

Of course Jim opted for a bigger-than-his-head burger. That's not the official name but it is just as accurate
as this description: "Very special mince ground from a recipe of different cuts, chargrilled, served with herb mayo,
tomato and lemon chutney, crispy onions and Irish smoked cheddar in a brioche bun...served with polenta chips."

I chose a salad called the Luscious Lime: "Floppy lettuce, baby gem leaves, watercress, torn iceberg,
cucumber, pickled ginger, shaved mouli, slices of mango, coriander and watermelon dressed in lime-roasted
coconut, dill seed, olive oil and lime juice." 

My Penne Pasta was almost too pretty to eat. When my mom saw this photo though she
asked if that was someone'stongue on top. No, Mom, that's a marinated sweet
tomato slice. Officially, I had the  "Good old-fashioned chunky basil pesto
 marinated tomatoes and roughly chopped great black olives with pine nuts and parmesan."

Thanks to my friend (and now co-worker), Tamara Smith, I have a new word for this type
of meal: The Commit Sandwich. Why? Because once you have it in hand you have to commit
to eating it all or watch it fall completely apart if you dare to set it down before you're done.
Jim did pretty well, considering...I just wish he'd let me post the photos of him getting it into
his mouth, what an adventure!

The view from the street.
"Apres-run" live music, courtesy of friends we met on our first night in town. We're really going to miss the music we enjoyed every day in Dublin!
Siaran Finn and Eddie Wheelan play Merchant's Arch in the Temple Bar district.
The medal for Dublin's RnR Half Marathon...

...and the bonus "World Rocker" Heavy Medal for running a non-North American Rock'n'Roll event.
Things I learned--Lessons 11-13:
11) Even if you've never been abroad, or at least not to Dublin, the RnR team makes it easy to navigate an event in a foreign city. Don't be intimidated to try something across the pond!
12) Don't forget to get your passports in order, buy an Irish converter AND adapter (most likely you'll need both to charge phones, use small electrics or to run your electronics) and bring good walking shoes and a dependable rain jacket.
13) I didn't want to purchase an international plan on my phone, nor pay for incoming/outgoing texts while in Dublin. As it turned out, it was quite easy to communicate via email and Facebook messenger with everyone, including the new friends I met in Dublin, via my mobile phone without incurring one single extra fee. I simply changed my settings upon landing in Dublin, turning off all "cell data" and using the wireless option only. I never had a problem with this plan and was able to stay in touch with important folks back home. The FB message system was suggested to me by the first person I met in Dublin, Marta, who has now become a was very easy to communicate with her to make plans to meet up over our time in the city.

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