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Cobblestone streets, blooming floral displays, and tiny churches welcome you to this wonderfully pretty harbour. The town of St Peter Port is as pretty as they come, with glowing flower displays painting practically every street corner and window-ledge with colour. As the capital, and main port of Guernsey, St Peter Port puts all of the island’s gorgeous beaches, wonderful history and inspiring stories at your fingertips. Feel the gut punch of the midday gun firing at Castle Cornet, which stands guard over one of the world's prettiest ports. This 800-year-old, Medieval castle offers staggering views of the harbour from its imposing, craggy island location, and you can look out across to the looming shorelines of the other Channel Islands from its weathered battlements. With four well-tended gardens, and five museums offering a rich overview of Guernsey's history, you’ll want to leave a few hours aside to explore the many treasures that lie within the castle’s walls.
For many visitors Tresco is the most attractive of the Isles of Scilly. This is especially due to its Abbey Garden, which is home to thousands of exotic plant species from around 80 different countries. Plant collector Augustus Smith began the gardens in the 1830s on the site of an old Benedictine Abbey by channelling the weather up and over a network of walled enclosures built around the Priory ruins. He had three terraces carved from the rocky south slope and maximised Tresco’s mild Gulf Stream climate. Even in mid-winter there still are hundreds of plants flowering here. Another surprising attraction at the Abbey Garden is the collection of figureheads from ships that wrecked among the Isles of Scilly.
The cliffs of small Skomer Island off the southwest coast of Wales are accessible only by boat. Skomer has a large population of breeding seabirds that include Manx Shearwaters, Razorbills, Great Cormorants, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Atlantic Puffins, European Storm Petrels, Common Shags, Eurasian Oystercatchers and gulls, as well as birds of prey including Short-eared Owls, Common Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons. The island’s slopes are covered with bluebells and a variety of wildflowers. Grey seals and harbour porpoises can sometimes be seen in the surrounding waters.
St Kilda is a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some 40 nautical miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. The stunning cliffs and sea stacks are home to the most important seabird breeding colony in northwest Europe. St Kilda is one of the few places in the world to have received dual World Heritage status from UNESCO in recognition of its Natural Heritage and cultural significance. Village Bay on the island of Hirta once supported a population of over 200, but the last islanders left in the 1930s. Recent restoration work on the village by the National Trust for Scotland offers a marvellous link with the past. One of the caretakers acts as shopkeeper and postmaster for any visitors who might like to send a postcard home from St. Kilda.
Dublin is making a comeback. The decade-long "Celtic Tiger" boom era was quickly followed by the Great Recession, but The Recovery has finally taken a precarious hold. For visitors, this newer and wiser Dublin has become one of western Europe's most popular and delightful urban destinations. Whether or not you're out to enjoy the old or new Dublin, you'll find it a colossally entertaining city, all the more astonishing considering its intimate size.
It is ironic and telling that James Joyce chose Dublin as the setting for his famous Ulysses, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man because it was a "center of paralysis" where nothing much ever changed. Which only proves that even the greats get it wrong sometimes. Indeed, if Joyce were to return to his once-genteel hometown today—disappointed with the city's provincial outlook, he left it in 1902 at the age of 20—and take a quasi-Homeric odyssey through the city (as he so famously does in Ulysses), would he even recognize Dublin as his "Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills"?
For instance, what would he make of Temple Bar—the city's erstwhile down-at-the-heels neighborhood, now crammed with cafés and trendy hotels and suffused with a nonstop, international-party atmosphere? Or the simple sophistication of the open-air restaurants of the tiny Italian Quarter (named Quartier Bloom after his own creation), complete with sultry tango lessons? Or of the hot–cool Irishness, where every aspect of Celtic culture results in sold-out theaters, from Once, the cult indie movie and Broadway hit, to Riverdance, the old Irish mass-jig recast as a Las Vegas extravaganza? Plus, the resurrected Joyce might be stirred by the songs of Hozier, fired up by the sultry acting of Michael Fassbender, and moved by the award-winning novels of Colum McCann. As for Ireland's capital, it's packed with elegant shops and hotels, theaters, galleries, coffeehouses, and a stunning variety of new, creative little restaurants can be found on almost every street in Dublin, transforming the provincial city that suffocated Joyce into a place almost as cosmopolitan as the Paris to which he fled. And the locals are a hell of a lot more fun!
Now that the economy has finally turned a corner, Dublin citizens can cast a cool eye over the last 20 crazy years. Some argue that the boomtown transformation of their heretofore-tranquil city has permanently affected its spirit and character. These skeptics (skepticism long being a favorite pastime in the capital city) await the outcome of "Dublin: The Sequel," and their greatest fear is the possibility that the tattered old lady on the Liffey has become a little less unique, a little more like everywhere else.
Oh ye of little faith: the rare ole gem that is Dublin is far from buried. The fundamentals—the Georgian elegance of Merrion Square, the Norman drama of Christ Church Cathedral, the foamy pint at an atmospheric pub—are still on hand to gratify. Most of all, there are the locals themselves: the nod and grin when you catch their eye on the street, the eagerness to hear half your life story before they tell you all of theirs, and their paradoxically dark but warm sense of humor. It's expected that 2016 will be an extra-special year in the capital, as centenary celebrations of the fateful 1916 Easter Rising will dominate much of the cultural calendar.
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