When big ships like Westerdam call list Waterford as a port of call they’re really stopping at Dunmore East, a small village with a picturesque harbor that’s about a 30-plus minute drive from the bigger city.
It’s also a bit of a hassle from the ship as this is a tender port, which means Westerdam doesn’t dock in town; it anchors out in the harbor and transports passengers via tenders, also known as lifeboats. That adds another 45 minutes or so to the journey (leaving time to queue on either end and then the 20 minute, very beautiful ride to the town dock).
Dunmore East, which sits high on craggy rock cliffs, looks sweet and charming but there are few shops or services here (I did learn that Powers is the pub to visit but alas, no time). To get to Waterford itself you can take a taxi for about 25 Euro or, as the region laid on a shuttle, pay 4 Euro each way to ride a motorcoach; you’re dropped right by the slick and splashy tourist center. It’s got a museum, a few shops and a cafe.
For a long time Waterford’s claim to fame is of course the presence of the mighty Waterford Crystal factory. The company was sold and most operations moved away (some pieces, particularly large commissions and trophies and such, are still made here), but that’s left the city with a marketing challenge. Though it’s got quite a lot of history – dating back well before the year I was born! – its 17th century history is the most evident, lying at the bank of the River Suir (particularly notable are restored parts of a medieval wall).
It’s clear too, on this short visit that even beyond the significant loss of much of the crystal industry, Waterford has really struggled with the recession.
Here are some snaps from the day:
Unusually for a town of Waterford’s relatively small size, it’s got two cathedrals. Even more unusually, the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity were designed by the same architect. The former, pictured here, is one of the most beautiful, in a simple way, Anglican churches I’ve ever seen; walls are a buttercream color and it oozes peace and serenity. Holy Trinity is also simple in its own way (having just come off a trip to Italy, where churches are crammed with art and artifacts, it’s really really plain!), and is also beautiful but a bit moodier.
You can see a number of deserted storefronts throughout the city’s retail area, but what I liked most about the shops is that so many had a local feel to them. You could find a handful of High Street chains like Debenhams, Monsoon, Boots and Next but they weren’t overpowering.
This sign, in Kilo’s Food Store, is pretty self-explanatory, don’t you think?!
The Hemporium purports to be a wacky, 1960s-like counterculture boutique with a “name your own price” bong collection and packaged herbs with brand names like Doobies that, according to the shop girl, are ersatz versions that have the same effect as the real thing.
Ireland of course is a country of readers and there’s no shortage of them here in Waterford. I don’t know though, this fantastic bookstore (with coffee bar and gift shop) has made it so comfortable to sit and stay for awhile, it feels more like a really swell library than a commercial enterprise.
One of the city’s best restaurants is La Boheme which alas, wasn’t open for lunch. But L’Atmosphere, a French country bistro, was – and it was magnificent (the duck confit, served in an iron pot, was superb).
The House of Waterford Crystal is described as a “fascinating visitor centre and crystal factory tour and an opulent retail store housing the largest collection of Waterford Crystal”.
To me it felt like a tourist trap with little authenticity (but a very nice loo if you need one) and very high prices on the crystal. When I popped in it seemed as if half the passengers from Westerdam were mingling around (most of whom were on shore tours).
We’re heading back to Westerdam from East Dunmore across a pretty rocky bay with swells so deep you expected wavelets to break into the tender. Alas, the ride was dry if a bit of a roller coaster and we set off this evening, under gloomy skies (that seem to be sticking with us).