Christmas 2016 was the best Christmas I’ve had since I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and that’s because I got to spend it with my parents after 5 months apart.
The week leading up to their arrival I was filled with anticipation and excitement. I researched restaurants and activities, and planned out their trip with what we should do for each day.
My parents arrived on Wednesday, December 21. The flight connected through Amsterdam, and their flight was delayed, so they didn’t arrive until after 1pm. I got to the airport around noon because I wanted to greet them as they came out of arrivals, and I ended up eating McDonald’s and watching people greet their loved ones as they came home for Christmas and I nearly cried about a dozen times. There’s nothing quite like the Dublin arrivals hall in the days leading up to Christmas. There was actually a professional photographer on hand taking pictures of families reuniting. It was like the scenes from Heathrow in Love Actually, I kid you not.
So my parents arrived, and were understandably a bit tired. We got our rental car and set off to my apartment to grab my stuff. From there we got on the road to Cork where we would spend our first 3 nights. On the way to Cork we stopped off in Durrow. I wanted my dad to see the village before things shut down for Christmas, because I knew when we were in Durrow on Christmas he wouldn’t get to fully experience it. We went into Sheppard’s so my dad could have a quick look around, and we also headed into Bowes Cafe to get my mom a scone but since it was nearly closing time they were actually sold out.
After briefly exploring Durrow we headed over to Tara’s so my parents could get a cup of coffee, and so my dad could meet Tara. After the coffee break we headed onto Cork and found our hotel after a bit of driving in circles. Neither of my parents take navigational instruction very well, I’ve learned. We got to our rooms and tried to decide what to do about dinner. Last year, my mom and I went to a place called Market Lane which we loved and we definitely wanted to go back. We walked over to the restaurant and there was a bit of a wait, so they took my cell phone number and told us they’d call when our table was ready. We headed to a pub down the street and had a drink while we waited. It was so nice for the three of us to sit down in the cozy, Christmassy pub together. A little while later our table was ready and we sat down to a really nice meal. Even though my parents were exhausted, wine and good food woke them up a bit. I would highly recommend Market Lane to anyone visiting Cork.
The next morning I was the first one up, and I rang my parents’ room to get them out of bed. We went downstairs for breakfast and then headed off to the seaside village of Cobh. Cobh is known for its cathedral, and for being the last port-of-call for the Titanic. We spent the morning walking around the village, and we visited JFK Park and Kennedy Pier. We also had a good laugh at the Irish Navy’s “pier” which was just a small dock with signs posted everywhere saying “no trespassing” in big red letters. We decided to go to the little Titanic Museum and it was actually really enjoyable. After we left the museum we decided we should head on to Kinsale for lunch.
We had a pub lunch in Kinsale, which was delicious, and then we walked around the village a bit while my mom and I sipped some fancy hot chocolate. I’ve become a bit of a hot chocolate snob since experiencing Butler’s hot chocolate, and I can no longer drink the powdered stuff. Only real melted chocolate for me.
On the way out of Kinsale we stopped at Charles Fort for a look around. They were closing soon, so we didn’t have much time there but we had the whole place practically to ourselves. From the fort we got a beautiful view of the harbor, and we stopped to take a few pictures.
That night we decided to check out the Franciscan Well Brewery, as it had been recommended by pretty much everyone as a cool thing to do in Cork. We each had one beer, and it was a nice place but it didn’t beat First Magnitude or Swamphead from back home. After a drink we went to the Strasbourg Goose for dinner. It was such a cozy atmosphere and they were playing classic Christmas music, and we had a great meal there. After dinner we went into an extremely crowded pub but then decided we’d rather have a quiet drink in our hotel which is exactly what we did.
The next day started out windy and wet. We walked to the English Market, got soaked, and I was entertained by my parents trying to use umbrellas in Ireland during a storm. There’s no point trying to use an umbrella here because within seconds your umbrella will be bent inside-out and you’ll be soaked. After a semi-unsuccessful morning the weather improved and we decided to go to the Jameson Distillery in Midleton. Every bottle of Jameson is made and bottled there. We had a nice lunch in the distillery and went on the tour, and I got to be a special taster which meant I got to do a taste test comparing Jameson to Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. To be perfectly honest, my favorite was the Jack Daniels (which surprised me) but I’m still a Jameson fan. After our tour we came back to Cork City and tried to figure out what to do about dinner. The Friday before Christmas was the last day many restaurants were open, and most of them seemed to be fully booked. We walked from restaurant to restaurant being turned away until finally we went to Star Anise where we were squeezed into a tiny table meant for two, and we had a great meal there. After dinner we went back to the hotel bar for drinks. It was so nice to get an entire week to spend with my parents, and even though we were just sitting in a hotel bar drinking wine (or in my mother’s case, hot whiskey which she discovered she liked) and talking those were some of my favorite times we had on the whole trip.
On Saturday we woke up and I was in a rush to get us on the road back to Dublin. We wanted to see the Christmas Eve busking and I knew we would also have to get some last minute Christmas items and I wanted to make sure we got to town before the shops closed. My parents were staying at the Shelbourne, which of course was decked out with Christmas spirit. We checked in and went to M&S to buy champagne and snacks to bring for Christmas dinner at Tara’s, went to O’Donoghue’s pub for a light lunch of toasted sandwiches, and then attempted to go to Grafton Street to see the buskers. Unfortunately too many people showed up, and the busking had to stop after 3 songs. However, I did get to stand next to Hozier and smile up at him (he is SO tall) as he was trying to make his way to the stage so it wasn’t a total loss. Pretty much every restaurant in Dublin was either closed or booked for Christmas eve so the three of us had room service and drink some wine while we watched the Inbetweeners Movie. It isn’t the most Christmassy movie (or family friendly) but I love the Inbetweeners and I think my parents enjoyed it as well. It reminded me of when my mom came to visit me last November and we spent an evening watching an entire season of the Inbetweeners. It was nice.
My parents and I have a few Christmas morning traditions (and I’m a stickler for traditions), but this year we didn’t do any of them. Normally we make mimosas, cook cinnamon rolls and open presents in age order. This year we woke up, went down for breakfast, and then took a nice long walk around Dublin. Christmas morning was a crisp and clear day, and Dublin was empty. It was cool to be able to walk around with my parents and show them the city because it felt like we were the only ones here. My dad also got to see the Dublin Fire Brigade in action in Temple Bar, and we stopped to get a picture of him with their fire engine.
After our walk we got in the car to drive to Durrow. Christmas at Tara’s was great because not only were Tara and Jason there, but so were Liara and Rebecca and both of their babies. It was such a fun atmosphere, and totally different to what I’m used to coming from a family of 3. We were all drinking G&T’s, then wine, and then everyone under the age of 24 started doing shots. All before 8pm. We had a great traditional Christmas dinner, we lit Christmas pudding on fire, and pulled Christmas crackers. I have so many amazing memories around that kitchen table in Newtown, so I was happy that my parents got to experience what it was like to have a special dinner there. It was great fun, but since my dad was driving he was eager to get back to Dublin so that he could have a glass of wine and chill. When we got back to the Shelbourne we went in the Horseshoe Bar for a few drinks, and then up to the room where we watched Love Actually which was a perfect end to our Christmas.
On Monday morning we had Starbucks for breakfast and we headed for Howth. Howth is my favorite place in Dublin, and it was a gorgeous day for doing the cliff walk, which I knew my parents would really enjoy. We had lunch at the Summit, walked back down through the village and headed back to our hotel after a day outdoors. That evening we discovered most restaurants were closed (the 26th is a holiday here) so we tried to have dinner in the hotel, but the earliest reservation was for 9pm. We decided that in the meantime we would go up to our room and order some soup for an appetizer, and drink the bottle of champagne we had forgotten about on Christmas. We finished off the wine while watching Criminal Minds waiting for our reservation time. Finally it was time for dinner, and I’m pretty sure we were the last people seated for dinner.
Tuesday morning came around too quickly. It was my parents’ last day here. We went shopping in the morning, and then drove out to Wicklow so that my mom could buy an Avoca blanket from the original Avoca. Apparently the Avoca on Suffolk Street (which is bigger, and better) wasn’t good enough. It was a nice drive though, and we ended up stopping in Bray on the way back for lunch at Ocean. From Bray we drove back to Dublin through Killiney (so that I could show my parents Bono’s house, or at least his gate) and Dalkey, which my dad hated because the roads were narrow and we ended up going in circles for a good while in Dalkey. The sun was going down and my parents returned their rental car and we went to their airport hotel for a few drinks before it was time to say goodbye.
I am writing this 2 months late, but I started this post in the days after my parents left. The last 10 months of my life have involved a ridiculous amount of change, and anyone that knows me knows that I do not love change. I graduated from college, packed up my childhood room and college apartment, and within the span of 3 days my physical ties to home were gone and I moved to a new continent full of uncertainty. I had no job, no place to live, and while I know plenty of people in Durrow, Dublin was a totally new place for me. In my 23 years I have only had a Christmas away from my childhood home 3 times. Once at my grandparent’s house, once in Colorado, and this Christmas here in Ireland. I do not enjoy breaking tradition, but I think Christmas 2016 was the best one I’ve had. I got to spend nearly a week with my two favorite people, showing them all the places and people I have come to love here. It was important for me to share that with the two of them. Also, going so many months without seeing my parents made me appreciate the time we got to spend together so much. We didn’t do gifts this year, but I think getting to spend time together in this place that means so much to me was the best thing we could’ve received.