Bargain shopping for castles – a fire sale on Ireland real estate

The great recession hit Ireland especially hard. Irish bankers lent money they didn’t have to people that spent it on speculative real estate made more expensive by the Irish bankers flooding the market with the money they didn’t have. Basically, cash became too accessible and property prices skyrocketed. This is the nature of any proper bubble. Like the tulips in 17th century Holland or a Jose Canseco rookie card in the early nineties, market hysteria drives prices up even when the true inherent value is stalled out in a place called reality.

As we know now, the market came crashing down, and today Irish castles can be purchased at a bargain, along with many other types of distressed real estate.

According to Bloomberg, the 12th century castle of Kilkea is currently on the market for 6 million euros – 10 million less than one year ago. The property had been used as a hotel for decades, though its last few tripadvisor reviews are not exactly glowing. Describing the establishment as “desolate and freezing” with “filthy outdated rooms,” the property is likely in need of gargantuan updates. On the bright side, Kilkea castle has its own wikipedia page. Does it get any more legit than that?

The castle has 36 bedrooms, 140 acres of land, and an abandoned nightclub. It also once housed a wizard. Sounds like the type of place Michael Jackson would have bought. The curious star had a penchant for Irish castles.Maybe castles are not your thing, too bourgeois perhaps. Well, around Dublin, many deals are to be had on all types of distressed property. With commercial property values dropping by up to 70% thanks to the failed perpetual value machine that was Irish banking, even the building cranes and forklifts are being auctioned off.

In the nightlife mecca of Temple Bar, you can purchase a flat for 80,000 euros. A 3 bedroom penthouse in central Dublin, once valued close to 1,000,000 euros, is a steal at 230,000 Euros. Perhaps you have plans of building your own mini castle. Well, land in beautiful Wicklow county is as cheap as 20,000 Euros for a plot. Check out more of the deals here. Maybe it is time to become an Irish expat.

The auction for distressed properties will take place April 15 at the Shelbourne Hotel.

flickr image via meglet127

Five things to do in (and around) Dublin, even in the rainy winter

Ah, Dublin. Home to Guinness, a Leprechaun museum, an absurdly tall spire and the famous / infamous Temple Bar quarter. It’s also home to around 300 days of cloudy or rainy weather, which begs the question: why are you fixing to fork out hundreds, possibly thousands more just to visit in the summer? There’s no question that the weather in Europe is far more palatable in the spring and summer months, but it’s also shockingly expensive. A flight to anywhere within the EU jumps up by orders of magnitude as soon as you select June, July or August as your departure date and in the case of Ireland, there’s really no need to hand over extra to an airline when you could be spending those dollars Euros on attractions, pub food and better hotels. I’ve always been a fan of visiting places in the off-season, and Dublin’s no different. Read on to learn of five slightly off-the-wall things to do in (and around) the Irish capital.

%Gallery-117267%Visiting U2’s former recording digs: Windmill Lane Studios

A good part of the entire world knows that U2 hails from Ireland, but if you’re a hardcore fan, you owe it to yourself to see where things began. The (now-defunct) Windmill Lane Studios is where the group recorded Joshua Tree, War and Boy, and while the studio itself has now relocated to a different section of Dublin, the prior building still stands as part of the Rock ‘N Stroll history trail. It’s covered in graffiti, and you’ll know you’re near the entrance when you start seeing loads of U2 shout-outs from tourists around the globe. Feel free to pack a Sharpie and leave your token of appreciation (and hometown) behind. Directions to the studio are here — this is one time where you’ll need to read up rather than trusting Google Maps.

A dainty stroll through Powerscourt Gardens and The River Walk

What’s a trip to Dublin without a trip out of Dublin? The Powerscourt Estate sits just 45 minutes south, within County Wicklow, and it’s a slice of age-old paradise. The House & Gardens are well worth exploring — it’s some of the most beautiful grounds these eyes have ever seen — and since it’ll tough to return after just a day, I’d recommend an overnight stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt. You’ll get free cycles to rent, a free pass to the absolutely stunning River Walk and pampering that you’ve always dreamed of. The only problem? It’ll make your city center digs seem downright plain. Read more on our visit here.


Pub hop on O’Connell Street and the Temple Bar area

If you’re coming to Dublin for the first time, there are two names you really need to know within the city center: O’Connell and Temple. The former is dotted with a massive spire and includes a number of famed pubs and shops, while the Temple Bar area is just across the bridge (look for the giant Heiniken sign, and turn right). There, you’ll find budget accommodations (hostels galore), and more pubs than any lightweight could ever visit in a night. The Auld Dubliner is a personal favorite for grub and drinks, and the live musicians that show up there are tremendously talented. Oh, and make sure you order Guinness. Anything else just wouldn’t be Irish enough.

Venture west to the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Bunratty Castle

The east coast is gorgeous, but the west? Doubly so. Paddywagon Tours offers a 12 hour day trip to the west of Ireland, hitting County Galway (and the Bay), Corcomroe Abbey (a gorgeous church left in ruins), Poulnabrone Dolmen Portal Tomb (a standing monument from 4,000+ years ago), The Burren (a totally unique and mind-blowing rocky landscape), Doolin (Ireland’s unofficially official Irish music capital), the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher and finally, Bunratty Castle. At around $70 per person (admission to the Cliffs inclued), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value when it comes to gawking at the highlights on the opposite side of the Republic. Try to peek the forecast ahead of time and lock down a day with a lesser chance of rain, but even if it pours, take a raincoat and soak it all in — Ireland wouldn’t be as green as it is without nature’s tears, you know!


Leave the country… by car

If you’re brave enough to take the wheel while situated on the passenger’s side of the car (not to mention remembering to keep your motorcar on the left of the road), you can head straight to Northern Ireland via road. And you’ll be there in under two hours. Belfast and the surrounding areas offer some pretty extreme outdoor activities, and while it may be a bit chilly and rainy in the off-season, you’ll be fighting fewer crowds all the while. If you aren’t so adventurous, the lovely lads at Paddywagon offer another day trip to Belfast, and we can personally attest to their adeptness at handling reverse traffic.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

All of these activities were enjoyed during the height of the off-season in Ireland, and I’d obviously recommend ’em to anyone. Pack a few warm layers and a solid raincoat, and head out with a mind to enjoy yourself no matter what. If you have any other off-season Dublin must-dos, toss ’em into the comments section below!

Undiscovered New York: Romance in the Big Apple

Given that this Saturday is Valentine’s Day, it’s only fitting that we dedicate this week’s Undiscovered New York to a closer look at some of the city’s most amorous locations.

At first sight New York (especially in February) can seem a vast, cold and lonely place. But this initial impression held by many visitors is an oversimplification. Delve beneath the “hard” exterior of pushy, fast moving New Yorkers and you’ll discover a city of warmth and surprises that spring from just about every corner. In other words, New York is the perfect place to explore and uncover with that “special someone.”

But once you’ve taken the carriage ride around Central Park and been to the observation deck of the Empire State Building for your Sleepless in Seattle moment (I swear, I’ve never seen it), what else is there do? A city this big is bound to have dark corners, fabulous panoramic views, and hidden activities where you and that special someone can spend some quality time alone, right? And what about the staunchly single? What’s there to do that’s not overly cheesy and romantic? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to “Romance” in the Big Apple, plus a special guide for the “proudly unattached” at the end of today’s post.
Drinking the Night Away

New Yorkers are the first to admit – nothing loosens the tongue and warms the heart better than a good alcoholic beverage. And befitting a city of its size and scope, New York has some astoundingly good candle-lit cocktail lounges where you can sip an artfully crafted beverage with the one you love. Here’s three of our favorites:

  • Angel’s Share – inside an unassuming Japanese restaurant in the East Village, up a flight of stairs, through a huge throng of tables and past a side door is Angel’s Share. This Japanese cocktail lounge, which specializes in artfully crafted cocktails made from scratch with fresh ingredients, practically guarantees you a romantic night out. If it’s not too crowded make sure to ask for a table near the windows to watch the symphony of life pass by below.
  • Temple Bar – perfectly hidden on busy Lafayette Street, Temple Bar beckons visitors inside with a sumptuous wood paneled interior and lush, moody lighting. Though not particularly well announced outside (the only clue giving it away is a metal lizard and tiny sign), the interior and bar’s expertly blended drinks seem to speak for themselves (and for your date).
  • Apotheke – down a non-descript sidestreet in Chinatown behind a inconspicuous door lies Apotheke, a parlor of artfully blended cocktails arranged around an antique drug store theme. Apotheke seems to carry the cure for whatever might ail you – behind the bar sit hundreds of bottles special blended herbal concotions and flavor-infused liquors, perfect for that totally unique cocktail and that totally unique Valentine’s Day.

Taking in the View
Nothing better embodies the unique feeling of a “New York moment” better than its many panoramic vistas. Whether viewing the city laid out from atop one of its many skyscrapers or confronting it head-on from the perspective of one of the many sweeping harborside views, you’re sure to be confronted with a scene that both inspires and delights. Here’s where you can do it best:

  • Brooklyn Heights Promenade – one of the most stunning views in all of Manhattan can only be seen from Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This stunning walkway runs along the Brooklyn waterfront, affording visitors with amazing views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, downtown Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. It has to be seen to be believed.
  • The Rainbow Room – high atop New York’s famous Rockefeller Center sits one of the more amazing vistas of New York at the Rainbow Room. Sure, the drink prices are ridiculous. Yeah, the music might be cheesy. And yes, the property’s future might be in danger. But you know what? When you see that vista of all of downtown New York laid out before you, glittering in the twilight, it can make up for a multitude of sins.
  • Staten Island Ferry – 25 minute trip to Staten Island, one of New York’s least visited areas? Free. 2 bottles of Corona beer? $6. An amazing, trip around New York Harbor? Priceless.

Unexpected Activities
Sure, February 14th is supposed to be all about love. But those of us not so lucky to be partnered or still feverishly pursuing that special someone might feel a bit left out so far. Here’s a few unique New York activities for non-believers and lovebirds alike:

  • Chelsea Flower District – along a short two block stretch of West 28th Street is the Chelsea Flower District, New York’s principal business area for the wholesaling of floral and fake floral products. Nothing better embodies the gritty industrial charm and symbolic weirdness of Valentine’s Day than a visit to this odd street. Stop by early any morning (6-8am) and you’ll be confronted by huge bouquets of exotic flowers, the manic activity of shop workers and the rusted facades of fading floral shop storefronts. It’s a fun commentary on the meaning of romance and an interesting sidetrip if you’re looking for something different.
  • Museum of Sex – everyone might say Valentine’s Day is about love. But let’s face it, New Yorkers like to get to the point – it’s really about sex. And what better way to explore your carnal desires (or lack thereof) than a visit to New York’s Museum of Sex? The museum’s permanent collection houses over 15,000 “sex artifacts” including everything from art to photography to clothing and costumes as well as an extensive “multimedia library” (euphemism anyone?) of sexually related material. Perfect for partners and perverts alike.

Rock band U2’s frontmen win battle to expand Dublin’s Clarence hotel

The lead singer and lead guitarist of U2, Bono and The Edge, won a protracted legal battle yesterday in their effort to renovate and expand Dublin’s Clarence hotel, which they own.

The Clarence, located near the Temple Bar district of Dublin, is one of the city’s most famous hotels.

The architect that the two musicians have hired for the $235 million renovation plan intends to completely gut the hotel before expanding into neighboring property sites, ultimately more than tripling the number of rooms currently offered.

The duo’s plan had been marred in a 4 year legal battle, as preservationists argued that too many other protected buildings in the vicinity would be affected, including several which now will have to be knocked down.

Ireland’s planning board approved the Clarence expansion, but with conditions, including calling for an archeologist to be on site throughout the project.

Naturally, preservationists say the celebrity of Bono and The Edge, two of Ireland’s richest men, allowed them to bypass planning laws that would have thwarted anyone else.