O'Leary's Way. Mike Meade explores County Wicklow and learns about flying with Ryanair.
This was my first time flying Ryanair and I have always imagined it would be low-cost, no-frills, travel misery. Well, the cost was low and the frills were none but flying Ryanair to Dublin from Nice was not misery.
What you get with Ryanair is only the basics - a punctual efficient flight in a modern clean aircraft. Everything else you pay extra for - priority boarding so you have a better shot at choosing your seat, checked baggage charges, paid drinks, snacks, meals and even water. It's with these extras that Ryanair subsidises its low fares and the offers don't stop with usual airline fare. The one-class passenger cabin is a flying billboard with ads on the baggage lockers much like in a city bus. There are even ads on seat backs. During your flight you'll be presented not only with alcohol, perfumes, souvenirs and other standard airline items but also car hire, hotel reservations and scratch card tickets. I ignored all this but many of my fellow passengers didn't - the scratch cards with their chance of big winnings were particularly popular.
Flights in both directions were blissfully uneventful. The pilot kept us up to date with announcements along our route and the cabin crew were courteous and friendly. Oddly, the chief steward strummed a few bars on his little banjo as we passed near Paris. Comfort is minimal - the seats don't recline and on the outbound flight there were no seat-back pockets for magazines, no doubt to keep cleaning and turnaround times to a minimum. Considering the price it was all perfectly acceptable, especially for a mere 2 hour flight.
When in Dublin
I never pass up a chance to return to Dublin but for once I spent more time in the surrounding region than in the city itself. I first, though, wanted to see Guinness being made so after checking in to the Trinity Capital Hotel on Pearse street we set off for the Guinness Storehouse. It’s a fascinating edifice where the tour starts on the ground floor with a look at the 9000 year lease which business-savvy Alfred Guinness signed in 1759. Travelling up the floors we learned why Guinness is dark , what's in it and that, contrary to rumour, the water used in brewing doesn't come from the Liffey river that runs through the city. Perhaps the most surprising fact is that Nigeria consumes more Guinness per inhabitant than anywhere else. We finished five floors above with lunch in the simple but excellent Brewery restaurant and a pint in the panoramic Gravity Bar with 360° views over the city. The tour costs €15 without lunch but includes the pint.
Two more stops before heading further afield. First was Trinity College Library and a glance at the Book of Kells and then some personal business at the Merrion Hotel on Upper Merrion Street. Even if you're not staying there this is worth a stop for afternoon tea. The adjoining salons each with a fireplace are wonderfully comfortable. The doorman is a delight (photo) and unlike his Negresco counterpart willingly smiles for pictures with passing tourists.
Leaving the city behind
Pheonix Park is on the edge of the city and is the largest urban park in Europe. Bicycles are available for hire and deer are on the loose. Heading back towards the city along the Liffey, the Brazen Arm is Dublin's oldest pub and a good lunch or dinner stop with a some delicious offerings in the carvery.
County Wicklow south of Dublin is best visited by tour coach or hire car. Glendalough by way of the colourful village of Enniskerry is a must. Nestled in a typically green valley, two adjoining lakes finish with a spectacular mountain cascade at the far end. History buffs will want to visit the Celtic ruins and hikers can enjoy some 135km of paths along the lakes and beyond. The Visitors’ Centre sells detailed walking maps of the area.
Then back to Dublin for dinner at the Shelbourne Park greyhound races. We placed our bets right at our table for an entertaining evening out. Great fun.
Next morning we returned to Wicklow, starting with the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens. In the spring and summer the gardens are spectacular. Don't miss the animal cemetery and the walled species section where the gentle climate allows even Mediterranean plants to be kept outdoors year round. There are two restaurants on the site and the self service Terrace Café is excellent value.
Next to Powerscourt House is Ireland's first Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Resort. A sumptuous room with views over the surrounding valleys would be perfect for a romantic weekend. Indoor pool, gym, spa, hammam and several restaurants mean that you never have to leave the hotel. The traditionally decorated hotel pub is used as a “local” for nearby residents and there are plenty of leafy walks in the area to stroll away any excesses.
We left our hotel at 4h45 to make the 6h30 Ryanair flight back to Nice. It was a Sunday morning in early December but city centre was still alive and buzzing. The airport was already busy and all the airport shops were open at this early hour. Some travellers were having breakfast while others were still on dinner after a night out in town. The lamentable service at Nice could take a tip or two from Ireland’s attention to visitor needs.
Redeye flights are always rather dreary but the passenger in the next seat opened my eyes to a new phenomenon -- "Hotel Ryanair". The clean, well-dressed, twentysomething student from Cork (see Reporter issue 111 or our website) was on his way to Nice - until Monday. He'd been in Dublin for a "lark" and told me many Irish students know that some Ryanair flights are cheaper than a city hotel. On Saturday evening he didn't even know that he'd be off to Nice but just took the cheapest destination on offer for Sunday morning. Most French hotels are cheap by Irish standards and even when added to the air fare were an economic option by his calculations. He often takes longer flights, sleeping onboard in both directions and snoozing at the destination airport between flights. In summer he'll nap on the beach or a park bench in Prague, Faro or Rome. Not what I would call a comfortable option but reminiscent of my own “Hotel Eurailpass” days as a young man. Upon landing he took my tip about the number 23 bus onto town and off he went for a few hours in Nice thanks to Ryanair. Surprising.
From Riviera Reporter issue 125, Feb/March 2008