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Spirits of Dublin wait to greet you; travel In the week we celebrated St Patrick's Day, RACHEL COX tells us about the delights - and darker side - of Ireland's capital city, Dublin.

Byline: RACHEL COX

WITH my first anniversary with my boyfriend Mark coming up, we wanted to do something a bit special.So when we heard a romantic trip to Dublin was on the cards we snapped it up.

Having been to the capital of Ireland before on a girls' weekend away, I always wanted to return and see what else the city had to offer apart from drinking in Temple Bar, shopping and drinking some more. So staying at the newly-opened Hilton Kilmainham, we knew we would be in for a treat in the well-known worldwide hotel chain.

After boarding our Ryanair flight in Newcastle, we touched down at Dublin airport a mere 55 minutes later, and after a 20-minute taxi ride we arrived at the Hilton. The taxi journey cost us 45 Euros, a bit steep, so it's best to pre-book your taxi through the hotel, saving 15 Euros.

We arrived early morning and walking into the modern, marble foyer we thought we would have to abandon our bags at reception and check in later, however our room was ready for us on arrival and we were allowed straight up to unpack and get to grips with the hotel.

We were in a deluxe room, complete with complementary bathrobes and slippers, champagne on ice and handmade heartshaped chocolate - as well as a free swimming cap each for us to try the leisure facilities out. Our room was light and spacious, decorated in cool whites, oranges and greys, with floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony, overlooking views of the Wellington Monument at Phoenix Park, a king-sized bed with goose feather quilt and featuring all the modcons you would expect in a new hotel; large plasma screen telly, internet access and wi-fi, and not forgetting an immaculate white bathroom with large power shower big enough for two!

The hotel is situated in Old Kilmainham, opposite Kilmainham Gaol, a 1792 prison turned museum, and if you don't mind a 20-minute walk into the city, breathing in the crisp, winter air, it's perfect for a quiet break away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.

After a good stroll around the city and a trip to the Guinness Storehouse for a free pint of the 'black stuff', what better way to warm up than in the hotel's leisure facilities?

Donning our free swimming caps, we headed down to the ground floor to sample the Jacuzzi, hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room. Although only small and without a full length pool, for those who like to do a few lengths, the spa was a great place to unwind and relax after our flight and a hard day!

When on trips away, it's very rare we eat within the hotel as we like to explore what is around and about.

However we took the opportunity to eat in the hotel's restaurant, Cinnamon, and being a special occasion, we went all out for a three-course meal and a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio. When opening the door to the restaurant, the delicious smell of hearty food entrances you.

Everything was cooked to perfection, the staff were very friendly and the restaurant was stylish yet very comfortable.

Dublin offers many bus tours, a brilliant way of seeing all the places of interest in one trip.

However, after walking through the castle grounds, over Halfpenny Bridge and seeing some of the other sights on Dublin's easilyaccessible tram system, we decided to go on something a little different - a Ghostbus tour!

Waiting on a cold, dark O'Connell Street, expecting an open-top bus, we were excited to see a ghoulish looking coach turn up.

This tour was far from your average ghost hunting tour, where actors in Halloween costumes jump out at you. No, this was a mixture of laughs, terror, screams and the occasional soaking from the tour guide's water pistol!

Our tour guide took us to Bram Stoker's house, in St Stephen's Green, to learn about the gruesome Walking Hangman and past the College of Physicians, to see if we could see the ghost of Dr Clossy, the surgeon who dabbled in bodysnatching.

The bus stops at graveyards and old churches to see if we could feel the presence of any spirits or catch any ghosts on camera.

The tour cost 25 Euros each but it was well worth if for two hours of terror and an interesting alternative to learning of Dublin's darker history.

Dublin has a great zoo, which is situated only a 15-minute walk from the Hilton at Phoenix Park. The zoo, set over 30 acres, houses an abundance of animals and is part of the European Endangered Species Programme.

The entry fee is 14.50 Euros, but check the weather forecast before you go as some of the animals go in their huts for shelter.

Dublin is a brilliant and vibrant city, with something to offer for everyone. It provided the perfect romantic getaway.

CAPTION(S):

SPOOKY - Rachel scares herself silly on the ghost hunt; SWANKY - The swish Hilton hotel in Dublin offered the perfect romantic getaway; THE BLACK STUFF - The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin; right, Mark and Rachel enjoy a pint
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:857
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