I became a traveler again, faced with all a traveler’s problems.
I was in the center of Dublin — the city I called home from 2008 – 2010 — and instead of a resident, I was a visitor with a visitor’s worries: where to stay, where to eat, what to do, how to manage my time wisely. I love a well-written travel narrative, one that transports you somewhere new, introduces you to new characters and ideas. Yet sometimes, you need the basics covered first.
One source for this type of no-nonsense, exactly what you need when you land type of information is the Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan from New York Magazine. During my recent trip to Dublin I researched new places and revisited old favorites, pounding the pavement for my contribution to this column, ‘See the Contemporary Side of Dublin‘.
One sunny morning I opened the gate to Number 31, a boutique guesthouse in city center Dublin that I was visiting for the first time. Tucked into a laneway off bustling Leeson Street, Number 31 Leeson Close is immediately inviting with its sunken living room and peat-burning fireplace. I followed charismatic owner Noel through the living room, up the stairs, and took a seat in the conservatory for breakfast.
Whenever you live somewhere long enough, there are certain tastes that start to feel like home. In Dublin, that taste is fresh-baked brown soda bread. Noel revealed part of his philosophy about the famously warm Irish hospitality, ‘feed them a good breakfast to set them up for the day’. After placing my order for smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (to accompany that fresh brown bread) I happily nibbled on fresh berries, vanilla poached pears, and cranberry-nut loaf.
The conservatory at Number 31 has a long communal table, surrounded by flowering plants and plenty of windows letting in natural light. Here all hot breakfasts are made to order, and it is possible to try something different each morning of your stay. There is an option for every appetite, from the full Irish breakfast to a little bowl of porridge. Each morning of my stay, everything from eggs benedict to scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was simply perfect.
After my first breakfast, I sat down with Noel to learn more about the history of Number 31. I learned that the building is an architectural landmark in Dublin, designed by Samuel Stephenson, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. I learned that the home became a symbol of glamour in 1960s Dublin when American actors and politicians gathered around the peat-burning fireplace. Each of the 21 rooms are individually decorated, located either in the main house or through a manicured garden in the Georgian house.
There are many hotels that like to attach the word ’boutique’ to their description because they like the way it sounds — yet they fail to deliver on the very qualities that make a hotel boutique. Individual attention. Exceptional service. Unique design. I wondered, sitting at the table one morning for breakfast, how many hotels I’ve been in where the owner began to feel like an old friend by the end of the stay? How many hotels where the owner was a presence every day at breakfast, dishing out advice on local restaurants or a road trip to the west of Ireland?
How many hotels, when you walk in, tell you to drop your bags at the door, and sit down by the fireplace for a cup of tea and a biscuit?