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Hay-on-Wye: Town of Books and much more

It was a gloomy day in Wales yesterday. I could hear the rain drops hitting my windows with a great force. The wind sounded like a wounded giant dog howling endlessly. It made me think back about when and why I moved to the Welsh countryside…

Hay-on-Wye: Sheep on the field

Hay-on-Wye: Sheep on the field

Well, I decided to move to Hay-on-Wye a few years ago. The main reason was that I needed a change of scenery, the English town I had lived in was nice but a bit boring. I wanted to live in a magical place, a bit further from my workplace and memories of a broken heart. I learnt how to read when I was 3 years old, since then books have become my dearest friends. Give me a day off and a good book to read and I will not bother you till I finish it. No place seemed more suitable for m to live in than Hay-on-wye (Y Gelli Gandryll in Welsh), a small town with the population less than 2,000, which is beautifully situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is called “the town of books”, which translates into heaven for bookworms (both human and insects)…

Hay-on-Wye, Cinema Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Cinema Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers

I first heard of Hay because of its famous festival which brings hundreds of visitors every year. It all started with Richard Booth, and Booth’s bookshop is still the largest one in Hay. I used to come to Hay from time to time to enjoy being surrounded by books. If you also love reading and browsing through hundreds of books, fancy sitting on the sofa and inhaling the written words, Hay-on-Wye is a perfect place to visit. It can literally take hours to wander around the town and check out all the bookshops. There are a few big ones which look more like libraries, but there are also smaller ones which often specialise in certain areas. I suggest bringing the list of authors or titles you are interested in as you can get lost and overwhelmed quite easily.

Hay-on-Wye, Booth's Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Booth’s Bookshop

Booth's bookshop - don't worry if you are too short

Booth’s bookshop – don’t worry if you are too short

Hay-on-Wye, Booth's Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Booth’s Bookshop

You can also find a few so-called honesty bookshops. They are basically the shelves full of books situated outside and therefore “open” 24/7. You usually pay 50p for a paperback and £1 for a hardcover book using the money boxes.

Honesty bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Honesty bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

What makes me love Hay even more is that it has its unique character not only due to the bookshops. There are also many other shops worth a visit. You can browse through antiques, local products, fair trade items and handmade stuff, etc. It is so refreshing to see original products not only from big chain shops, windows displays full of things often forgotten in other places. I must admit that I have spent quite a bit of money on footwear here (nice pair of red shoes recently…), it is not very expensive but very comfortable and often with a funky finish.

Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye

 

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers - bigger inside that you would expect

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers – bigger inside that you would expect

Dublin – the City of Fun

Temple Bar in Dublin by night

Temple Bar in Dublin by night

 

My last trip to Ireland was more than 10 years ago. I spent most of my time there on the West Coast which is very beautiful, with some remote places where you could catch a bus only twice a week (like Dingle Peninsula, thank you to all the Canadians who gave us a lift there). I spent only a few days in Dublin then and had always wanted to come back. So when the opportunity arose to go to Dublin for the TBEX conference last October, I didn’t hesitate long.

Dun Laoghaire, Dawn2Dusk photo tour

Dun Laoghaire, Dawn2Dusk photo tour

 

For those who don’t know, TBEX is a conference for travel bloggers, a mixture of presentations, lectures, networking and awesome after-hours parties. As I just started my blog in August, I went to Dublin mostly as an assistant to my partner’s venture rather than to promote Somewhere It’s Raining. But I also learnt a lot and met many interesting people who inspired me to come up with some ideas. I especially enjoyed the presentation by Lola A. Åkerström, an amazing woman who really loves what she does. I wish though that I had been better prepared, with the media kit, business cards, etc. But I still learnt more about blogging than I could ever done just by reading.

Temple Bar by night, Dublin

Temple Bar by night, Dublin

 

I arrived at Dublin airport on Tuesday night and luckily my partner picked up a “welcome bag” for me which included a 3-Day bus pass. We decided to book a hostel at Temple Bar. Looking back now I think it was quite brave as no-one there really goes to sleep (ever!). Living in a small Welsh town, I had almost forgotten how it is to go out at night and see busy streets, be able to grab something to eat at midnight, hear live music when passing endless streets filled out with pubs and happy people… We stayed at the Gogarty’s Hostel, a great place to be if you want to be just in the middle of everything what’s going on at Temple Bar. And if you are lazy, you can just go down a few steps to grab a few drinks.

Dawn2Dusk photo tour

Dublin, Dawn2Dusk photo tour

 

On Wednesday morning we went on a photo tour with Dawn2Dusk. To be absolutely honest, I was a bit apprehensive first, because of the cloudy weather with the forecast of rain. But our 2 guides were really great, trying to show us around the coast and share their love of Dublin with us. And it rained, but after a few years in Wales I am used to rain, and I can even appreciate the atmospheric beauty in a scene blurred by raindrops. And then we met that cute little seal waiting for fish leftovers from a shop. I could not stop taking photos of it. I think it is a good idea to choose one of Dawn2Dusk tours if you want some guidance but also some good company.

Seal in the harbour

Seal in the harbour, Dawn2Dusk photo tour

Dawn2Dusk photo tour

Feeling happy, Dawn2Dusk photo tour

Shop selling fresh fish in the harbour

Shop selling fresh fish in the harbour

 

We spent the rest of the rainy afternoon in the Jameson Distillery. To be honest, I am not a fan of whiskey, the taste doesn’t agree with me much, but I actually enjoyed it with ginger ale and lime. I also really liked the venue and it was nice to learn about the process of whiskey making. Unfortunately the Dublin distillery is not a working one so you don’t see the “real” process but it gave me a very good idea of how hard it is. If you have more time and like to experiment, I would recommend trying one of many whiskey containing drinks (both hot and cold) on offer in the Jameson café.

Mash Tun in Jameson Distillery, Dublin

Mash Tun in Jameson Distillery, Dublin

 

We decided to have dinner in the Quays Irish Restaurant which had meals on offer before 6 p.m. I tried the slow cooked beef and guinness stew and it was very tasty. You need to drink Guinness with it to make it even tastier…

Beef and Guinness Stew

Beef and Guinness Stew

 

The Guinness Storehouse made even bigger impression on me. Maybe because of the brilliant TBEX opening party or because I like Guinness so much. The place just blew me away, it’s a great venue, we felt like celebrities, the food was excellent (and free!). If you are ever in Dublin, you need to go the Storehouse. Even better, make sure that you attend the party there, you will never forget it. You can also see Dublin from the very top.

I love Guinness

I love Guinness

 

When arriving at the conference on Thursday, I felt a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who blog about their travels. It made me scared a bit, and I wondered if there was ever going to be anyone wanting to read my stories. We also looked a bit out of place wearing clothes prepared more for a Scotland camping trip afterwards, rather than smart outfits everyone else had on. But I think that Irish hospitality helped newbies like me to feel very welcome. I just fell in love with the country and the people, and once again in Guinness! (It doesn’t taste so good anywhere else in the world).

My time in Dublin was not like my typical more outdoorsy trips. I spent much time in pubs and bars having fun and trying new drinks. One of my favourites was the Dublin Flame served in the Odeon (yes, another TBEX party, this time sponsored by Expedia). It contains whiskey so maybe I should become a whiskey fan after all. I also loved their mini burgers, I could probably eat dozen of them and I must admit that my partner had to stop me from doing it in one go… I love food and I am not sure if mini portions suit me that well.

Mini Burger and Dublin Flame in the Odeon, Dublin

Mini Burger and Dublin Flame in the Odeon, Dublin

 

As we booked our flights for Saturday morning (I am not sure whose idea it was as it seemed really stupid on the actual day), we spent the Friday night in the Church. Well, we weren’t really that reasonable, nobody prays there as it is a very cool bar and club. After a few Mojitos (still can’t decide which one was better: with strawberry puree or vanilla and passion fruit) I felt pretty happy and together with a couple of bloggers we hit the dance floor.

The Church In Dublin

The Church In Dublin

The Church In Dublin

The Church In Dublin

Happy DJ in The Church, Dublin

Happy DJ in The Church, Dublin

 

On the way back I was stopped by two young Irish girls and my partner was sure that they were pickpockets. Especially when I couldn’t find my phone after coming back to the hostel. He ran out to try to find the girls and check if I left the phone in the bar. After some running backwards and forwards and giving our details to the police, it came to a happy ending. I found my phone under the bed where it must have slipped unnoticeably (I am still not quite sure how) and as it was in a silent mode we could not hear it even if we kept ringing it up all night long.

Temple Bar by night, Dublin

Temple Bar by night, Dublin

 

I am looking forward to coming back to Ireland. I really want to go again to the West Coast and drive along the Wild Atlantic Way with its stunning rugged views. Ireland is a great place to visit, easy and cheap to get to (especially if you are in Europe thanks to the cheap airlines) and it will make you want to return to experience the mixture of Irish hospitality and beautiful landscapes.