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Day 5 - May 21, 2009 - Dublin, Ireland

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 53º 21'N, 006º 11'W
Weather: Partly cloudy with scattered showers
Air Temperature: 14ºC

This morning I woke up as we were coming alongside in Dublin's port. I had an early breakfast and as soon as the ship was clear, went down the gangway to meet the coaches and wait for disembarkation to start so we could get underway on our tour. Most of our guests chose to come on the day-tour to Mount Usher and Powerscourt Gardens. Others chose to make their own plans and enjoy the city of Dublin at their own leisure.

Driving through Dublin gave me time to marvel at how much Dublin has grown into a major metropolitan city over the last 15 years. One third of Ireland’s population lives in the greater Dublin area and a large amount of the country’s business is carried out here.

Dublin is a beautiful city with a superb location on the banks of the River Liffey in broad Dublin Bay. The Wicklow Mountains (extending 30 miles south from Dublin to Arklow) form the backdrop to this city.

The drive to Mt. Usher took about an hour and a half, the skies were clear, the sun was shining, and I was mesmerised by the beautiful countryside scenery of rolling pasturelands separated by the bright yellow of gorse shrubs.

Mount Usher is a lovely compact, romantic style garden with easy walking trails. It was once a working mill - initially a tuck mill, but later turned into a corn mill. The mill used the Killiskey River, a tributary of the River Vartry, to turn its wheel.

Our guide led us down the garden path and soon revealed the garden’s amazing beauty and kaleidoscope of colour. It truly was amazing to see this garden in all its splendour. The rivers, weirs and the constant sound of running water truly made this a magical garden.

Although the tour lasted 90 minutes, I felt the time had flown by. It was such a tranquil atmosphere. From the gardens, we made our way across the evergreen Irish countryside to the town of Byre where we had a hearty lunch at the Barracuda Restaurant, enjoying the ocean views.

The very formal gardens at Powerscourt were in sharp contrast with the gardens of Mt Usher. As you walk out of the main house to the gardens, the very first thing that catches your eye is the huge, sloping, perfectly manicured lawn that sweeps down to a pond and fountain. The Wicklow Hills provide a magnificent backdrop. The property is located at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and, in fact, the original architect (Cassel) actually designed the front of the mansion to be a similar shape as the mountain.

This property has a rich and diverse history, and was once considered the best country estate in the whole of Ireland. The house, however, suffered an extensive fire, which gutted the entire house in the mid 1970s. The Slazenger family had bought the house to refurbish it to its original glory for public display. By the time of the fire, most of the internal renovations had been completed. After the destructive fire, limited funds had slowed the refurbishment, and only the main ballroom has been partially restored.

The gardens, which had not been affected by the fire, are immaculately maintained. The very formal front lawns and pools with fountains are surrounded by a variety of other gardens such as the Walled Garden, Japanese Garden, Pet Cemetery and Palm Trail. The grounds are so vast one could easily spend two days there and still not see everything.

Most of us were particularly enthralled with the Japanese Garden, complete with pagoda overlooking a carp pool with fountain. The azaleas were in bloom, and the whole garden was awash with bright reds, oranges, pinks and purples.

Once back on the ship, we all gathered at The Theatre for a Recap & Briefing with the Expedition Team, followed by the Venetian Society cocktail party and dinner. Meanwhile, the Prince Albert II was sailing down the Liffey out of Dublin into the Irish Sea, and heading for the Islands of Gigha and Islay, our next exciting destination and first Zodiac landing.

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