The Magical History Tour – UK 2003

Ailsa’s weekly travel theme this week is History. Pretty much every trip I take will have some element of history to it, whether it’s a visit to a cathedral or museum or historic site. I went to the UK in 2003, planning to travel around and see various friends. Included was a concert in Manchester to see Paul McCartney. (You can read about the concert in more detail here on my website) Because of the number of historical things I saw and did and in honour of the Beatles, I named this trip the Magical History Tour. It didn’t end very well, however. I started to get sick in Cardiff, felt worse in Bath and by the time I got to London I needed a doctor and a place to stay for an extra week because I was in no shape to fly out when I was supposed to. Thanks to a good Samaritan, I had somewhere to lay my fevered head.

But, in honour of the weekly theme, here are some photos from that trip. The full detailed travelogue is here but I’ll write an abbreviated version here as well.

We start the tour in Worcester, on the River Severn, where I stayed with a good pal for a couple of days. Worcester is quite an old city (well, most of the cities in the UK are old) and there’s a strong connection here to the English Civil War. It was near the site of the final battle when Oliver Cromwell’s troops defeated Charles I. They have a Commandery, a military museum here along the canal and a grand old cathedral. There’s also the Royal Worcester china factory and  very old streets in the city center that are still lined with some buildings that date back to Tudor times. We had lunch in the Cardinal’s Hat, a very old pub and visited the cathedral, the seconds shop for the china place, looked into a flea market in the old Guildhall and generally walked and walked. King John I is buried in the cathedral as is Arthur Tudor, the man that would have been king but who died not long after marrying Katherine of Aragon, leaving his younger brother Henry to be crowned Eighth of his name and the rest, as they say, is history.

My pal and I drove from Worcester to Glasgow (in a Smart car!) for a couple of days. Glasgow is a great city, and I prefer it to Edinburgh. While we were there, we went to the cathedral, St. Mungo’s, which is one of my all time favourites. It’s not a huge and spectactular as some, like Worcester’s or Canterbury’s but it’s peaceful and dark and there’s just something about it that I really like. Up a hill behind it is the Necropolis, Glasgow’s Victorian cemetery that has some wonderful old mausoleums. (mausolea?)

We also met up with another friend who lived nearby and he drove us to the Isle of Iona, which is a little speck off the western coast that you get to via another island, Mull (near Oban). Iona is very small and is mainly pedestrian only unless you live there or are coming in a service vehicle. There’s a ferry from Fionnport that will take you across. There’s a small village and a sandy beach with waters as blue as you’d see in the Mediterranean which surprised me. The main attraction here is the old abbey.

St. Columba founded the Abbey on Iona in 563 and it turned into the cradle of Craigtianity in Europe. Over 3 dozen ancient kings of Scotland are said to be buried in the old cemetery, some graves little more than a rise in the ground with a small stone the size of a man’s hand wedged into the ground at one end. There are also some modern graves here including that of political former UK Labour Party leader, John Smith. It’s a quiet place and wasn’t very busy when we were there, early April. It almost feels like time stands still. The abbey is partially restored inside and there are also ruins of a nunnery nearby.

We headed to Manchester to meet up with a few more friends to see the Paul McCartney concert. That’s historic in its own way. The Beatles were probably the first super group of the modern age and each of the band members are and were legendary. Manchester was a few days of hanging out with friends, including a trip to the Lowry Gallery to see the paintings of L.S. Lowry whose pictures of near-stick figure people and the working class of Victorian Manchester bring that period of Manchester’s history to life. A few more friends converged on the city over the next few days and we happily spent time with each other, shopping, eating and having a drink or two.

I left Manchester in the company of a friend who lives in Cardiff. We took the train back to her home and I spent a lovely few days exploring that city. I had a look in the big civic museum, saw a gorgeous war memorial surrounded by spring flowers and trees in bloom, had a walk in Bute Park that abuts Cardiff Castle where I had visited once before so I didn’t pay the admission to go in again. Kind of wish I had now, though. Cardiff is a nice place and has a lot to offer. It’s grown and modernized, especially along the Cardiff Bay development but the city center has galleries, theatre, pubs and shops including an indoor covered market that was fun to browse. We also went a bit out of the way to see Llandaff Cathedral but this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I was not impressed at the modern concrete arch across the middle interior topped with an art deco style statue of Jesus. It really didn’t fit in, I thought.

I continued my onward journey on my own after leaving Cardiff but was most definitely starting to feel ill with some sort of flu. I got to a hotel in Bath, a World Heritage Site, and probably should have found a walk in clinic but I was determined not to spend the next couple of days in my hotel room. I carried on. I went to see the old Roman baths, the pump room, the beautiful Georgian streets where Jane Austen walked. I loved the architecture and I visited the old Assembly rooms which includes the Museum of Costume. Superb stuff! I even walked through the old Pulteney bridge across the Avon, an 18th century bridge with shops lining it on both sides.

Bath Abbey is like a cathedral here and is very old. The current one replaces several editions of churches and religious buildings back to the 8th century and King Edgar was crowned King of the English herer in the late 10th century. The city itself was little more than a village in the late 18th century when the rediscovery of the mineral baths promped a flurry of development by Georgian architects John Wood, the Elder and his son and Bath became the Society’s “In” place, the place to see and be seen for the next 40 or 50 years. It’s a very interesting city and well worth braving the crowds.

I managed to get myself on the bus to London because the trains were not going to be running in to London on the day I was planning to travel. I forget why, now. By the time I got to London, I needed a doctor and arranged one through the hotel. My sister had a friend that lived locally and I ended up staying with him for almost a week until I was able to travel home. So the Magical History Tour had a bit of an ignomanious ending but I won’t forget it!

 

Throwback Thursday: New York City 1998

NYC Metropolitan Museum

Metropolitan Museum, August 1998

In the summer of 1998, I had been sent away several times for training courses. One of the destinations was just outside of Boston so I had the opportunity to spend a little time there. The next course was in Parisppany, New Jersey which isn’t all that inspiring but it was possible to catch a bus into New York. It was a journey of about an hour to Port Authority bus terminal. One evening, three or four of us made the trip in and went up the Empire State Building to see the lights of the city come on at twilight. We walked back to Times Square and were wowed by the lights!

At the end of the week, my flight home was not leaving until Sunday so I had all day Saturday to spend. It was early August and stinking hot and humid. I took the bus into the city again and rather than taking a tour or something, my plan of attack was to see several exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum. As you can see from the photo, one of them was about Tiffany and another about the pre-Raphaelites. I also had the chance to see the Unicorn Tapestries that were on show while the uptown branch of the Met, The Cloisters was being renovated.

The thing that really stands out in my memory about the museum, however, was getting to see Monets and Renoirs that they had.  I’m trying to remember if the National Gallery in London had any when I was there in 1993. I do remember seeing Turners and Canalettos there. In my memory, it was the first time I’d seen something by Monet and Renoir, though, so I’ll stick with that. They were stunning, as you might expect!

The Met is enormous, though, and you won’t see it all in one go. I saw what I went to see, the Impressionist galleries and the special exhibits and then took a cab down Fifth Ave. where I was meeting an internet pal that I traded postcards with. He and his wife and I had a quick lunch and when she went back to work (Sak’s Fifth Avenue!), he and I walked around that area, from Fifth Ave. over to Times Square. I picked up some souvenirs, took some photos and just soaked in the atmosphere of Summer in the City.

Eventually, he had to leave and I was hot, sweaty and very footsore. The heat and humidity were really dragging me down by this time so I completely failed to stay in the city and have my evening meal there, I took the bus back to the hotel where I had room service after soaking my feet in the hot tub! You’ve got to know your limitations!

That was my first nibble at the Big Apple. Graham and I went there for a few days in 2013 and did all of the touristy things and saw a show. We’d love to go back again and take our time, walk, go to museums and galleries, take in a show or two, eat fabulous food and shop until we drop!

May Memories

Boscastle, Cornwall

Boscastle, Cornwall

Facebook has a “memories” thing where it shows you a photo of something you posted x number of years ago. You can then share it if you think others will be interested. If the photo or status involves other people, they may very well enjoy the memory! I don’t repost/share these too often but I do enjoy seeing the ones that pop up in May because a lot of my travels over the past 10 years have been in the month of May. I prefer to travel in the spring and the fall/autumn because the air fares can be a bit cheaper than high summer tourist season. That also goes for hotel prices and if visiting tourist hot spots, spring and fall crowds are a bit lighter (but avoid Easter holidays!)

My husband and I met online and carried on a long distance relationship for 11 years before we married last year and then one more before he moved here this year. We generally tried to visit twice a year, one trip each, and would try to do some traveling on each of those visits, or at least fit in some day trips/road trips. Many of the visits I made to the UK involved a stopover of a day or two in London and we always do a few day trips out of Manchester, Wales, the Lake District, the Peak District, Yorkshire, all are destinations that are easy to visit for a day out.

One year in May, we did a 5 night road trip down to Cornwall with a stop over in the cities of Wells and Bath on either end. Probably the most jam-packed May holiday was the year we flew to Amsterdam, did a day trip from there to Arnhem, visited Brussels and took a day trip from there to Bruges and stopped overnight in London on the way back. I think that was a bit too rushed because we really didn’t get a chance to really see Brussels aside from an abbreviated bus tour and a look around the city centre. It’s a bit of a blur, really, though Bruges was lovely.

New York buildings have ads painted right on the brick.

New York buildings have ads painted right on the brick.

Other memorable trips in the spring were to Copenhagen, New York City and Quebec City. Below are links to various travelogues. I must write up my Quebec City journey as well. North American May holidays included a few days in New York and another journey to Quebec City by train. I would definitely go to Quebec again but I think we’ll get there by some other means than by train or we’ll avoid the rock hard bunks in the sleeper. (Oh my aching back!)

Travelogues:
Copenhagen, Day 1 and 2
Copenhagen, Day 3 and 4
Copenhagen, Day 5 and 6
New York City Impressions
New York City Days 1 – 3
New York City Day 4
Leaving New York City
Cornwall Part 1
Cornwall Part 2
Amsterdam
Brussels/Bruges

The First Time I Saw Paris

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

One of the blogs I follow is Janaline’s world journey, and in her blog today was a posting about the first time she visited Paris. It has inspired me to write about my first visit to Paris which was much less traumatic than the first time I saw London.

In our high school, every year there was a tour offered by the French department that students could go on over the March break week. It always included time in Paris and sometimes other parts of France. The year before I went, it included Paris, plus some parts of Germany and I think also Vienna. (We’re going back to the mid 1970s, so you’ll have to forgive my memory!) Since anyone that went had to pay for it themselves (there were no such things as school fund raisers then at our school) the year I was able to go was during my last year in high school, in March 1977. I had a part time job and I saved up for it. My parents donated some spending money and I was ready to go.

That year the tour included arriving and departing from Rome, with a day in Rome for a quick tour around, then an overnight train to Paris for three days and another overnight train to Nice where we were based for another four days. I don’t think the last train ride to Rome was overnight which was a blessing! The “couchette” cars were not very comfortable.

The train to Paris was crazy. We had compartments which converted to sleeper cars for six people, three on a side. Crazy! I forget if it was the train to Paris or the one to Nice where one of the bunks wouldn’t fit into place and one of our group had to sleep on the floor between the two sides of bunks. Needless to say, a group of over exited 16 to 18 year olds didn’t get much sleep on that leg of the trip!

We arrived in Paris on a Sunday, under grey skies though it wasn’t very cold. By the time we got checked into our hotel on Rue LaFayette, it was early afternoon and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves before an organized meal in the evening. Being the sophisticated children that we were, our first destination was to find some food for lunch and though I shudder at the thought now, we thought it was a very good idea to find the nearest McDonald’s. Yes. I know. But it was familiar, and it was Sunday and we were in a strange and foreign city. I recall that it was really awful, a very different taste than we were used to in Canada. Serves us right.

Our evening meal and where we would eat for the three nights we were in Paris was in a very nice restaurant. Except it was a German restaurant. In Paris. That’s right. You’d think the tour company might realize that you’d want a French restaurant in France wouldn’t you? I think we did manage to have a boeuf Bourguignon on our last night after much complaining.

Notre Dame, 1977

Notre Dame, 1977

Our Monday was taken up with a bus tour around the city and we hit all the hot spots…the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde and a drive down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a chilly, windy day and I didn’t care to go up the Eiffel Tower so I sat below with two or three others that didn’t want to go up for various reasons. I can’t remember if we had to pay our own way up or if it was included. One of the things that made an impression that day was the Winged Victory in the Louvre. It fascinated me. I was also shocked that the Mona Lisa was so small compared to what I had imagined. (Google says it’s 2.5 feet (75 cm) high by 1.75 feet (53 cm) wide) In those days, it was on the wall of a larger room and wasn’t roped off or covered in bullet proof glass like it is now.

I found cashed traveler’s cheque receipts some years ago from that trip and I used $170 for spending money for lunches and souvenirs for the 9 or 10 day trip. Breakfast and the evening meal was always included. The exchange rate was about 5 Francs to the dollar, obviously long before the Euro was installed as common currency. The cost of the airfare and tour together was just under $500 though I may be wrong. If I am, it wasn’t a lot more, maybe another $100. You can’t get a flight to Paris for that these days, or if you do, they add on almost as much for fees and taxes! I think the airfare total was about $300.

Our Tuesday in Paris was a free day. A group of us decided to brave the Metro and go to Montmartre. I seem to recall we lost one fellow on the way, he didn’t make the change in trains in time. We poked our heads in some of the shops. One of the girls bought a long rabbit fur coat and I discovered that the European sizing was very different from North American. We climbed up the steps to Sacre Coeur, passing an older man feeding a flock of pigeons along the way. I couldn’t take as many photos as I would have liked, being a budding photographer even back then, because I still had to pay to get film developed and had only my part time job for resources. The photos were taken with a small pocket camera and haven’t proven up to the test of time though I salvaged some of them.

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Other memories I have of those few days in Paris include the hideous brown and white patterned wallpaper in our hotel rooms and the surprise of a bidet, the first most of us had ever seen, heathens that we were! Our hotel was across the street from a little corner shop where you could buy beer. That was a surprise to us since you couldn’t do that back home (and still can’t in our province! No alcohol in corner shops or grocery stores for us!) Since the legal drinking age in France was much lower than it was at home, it was inevitable that most of us took full advantage of it. I think we cleaned out that shop in the three days we were there and had parties in the hotel rooms every night. Our chaperons, one of whom was a nun, looked the other way as long as we were not too loud and boisterous and were all accounted for when they came around to do a head count before bed. They even shared a glass of wine with us at dinner and one at least one of the train journeys as I recall.

My first trip to Paris didn’t make a lot of long lasting impressions aside from what I’ve described but I always hoped I’d go back. I did, finally, in November 2007, over 30 years later, when my partner and I went for his 50th birthday. That was also just a few days but the memories are clearer and I have loads more photos to remind me. We also planned to go in April of 2014 but that was cancelled due to family illness. I hope we get to go again but there are so many other places we also want to see, both new and repeat visits that Paris is now further down the priority list. I am glad I’ve had the chance to see it and renew those original memories on a second visit.

Road Trip: The Snake Pass

Derwent Dam

Derwent Dam

While in the UK in September, we took the car out on the road for a few day trips. Blackpool was one, you can read about that here. Another was to the Peak District National Park, which covers the north-central part of the midlands of England. It is one of my favourite parts of England (of the areas that I’ve been to so far!) with rolling hills, the Pennine mountains, and plenty of interesting places to visit. There are, as in most areas, some nice country pubs, too! I’ve visited a few different places in the area before, including Chatsworth House, Eyam, Glossop, Buxton, just to name a few. The Peak District mostly contained in the county of Derbyshire, with the edges bleeding over the north, east and west borders. The Pennines dip down into the northern part of the area. There are lots of very scenic drives with excellent views from the higher roads.

We decided to go down into the heart of the Peaks into the Derwent Valley, heading in a southwest direction from Manchester. One route I had never been over is the Snake Pass which starts just outside Glossop and the views were supposed to be pretty great. The road trip started and ended in heavy traffic and it took us ages to get through Glossop but once out of that, we were straight onto the Snake Pass and climbed up into the hills on the narrow, winding road that had amazing views across the valleys surrounded by hills covered in purple heather. I believe they do close it at times in the winter. They’d get snow up this high sometimes even if it’s raining in Manchester. The weather today is perfect.

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

The road traverses the hills and eventually you descend into the Derwent River valley, where there are some large reservoirs. The biggest one is the Lady Bower reservoir which you can see from the main road and it’s joined to the Derwent and Howden reservoirs in a T shape. The Derwent and Howden dams bracket a reservoir that occupies a spot where there used to be a village. The residents were relocated and the village flooded.

By the time we got there, we were ready for lunch and found a really nice pub on the shore of the Lady Bower reservoir, called the Yorkshire Bridge Inn. It’s quite large inside with various rooms and an outside beer garden by the water. We had a really nice meal in there with a very helpful barmaid who drew us a little map to the other dams in the area.

We drove through that area after lunch, stopping in a parking space so I could take photos and then at the visitor center for some more pictures and an ice cream break. This area is also known for being a training area for the Lancaster bombers in World War II and there are information posters and boards up at the visitor centre. We walked a little through the trails to the back of the first damn but it wasn’t letting out an overflow like I’d seen in a photo. I know nothing about dams and thought we’d see the water being passed through it. I suppose that only happens if the water is particularly high which it wasn’t today.

We drove down the very narrow road along the reservoirs, stopping by the dams for more photos. It was quiet, with trees along the road and the sun shining on the water. There were hikers and people on bikes occasionally, along with a car passing now and then. You had to pull over carefully, there’s only barely just enough room for two cars to pass. The road doesn’t come out so we had to turn around and come back out the same way. It really was a pretty drive along the water. Water always makes the scenery that much nicer, don’t you think?

We didn’t want to come back to Manchester through the Snake Pass so we pulled up a map on the GPS and decided on a route, plotted it and took off, wondering where the GPS was going to take us to get to the other road, a bit further north, the A628 I think, which would cross back over the Pennines and the lower Yorkshire moors. It’s always a bit interesting and a bit disconcerting when the GPS (or “Satnav” they call it here) leads you down some narrow roads and lanes to get where you want to go. It’s taken us in circles in the past so we never know for sure if it’s right! Usually it is, mind you and we’ve seen some nice scenery following its lead.

The road back across had a lot more traffic and several times through small towns we were slowed down to a crawl. I think we also passed some more reservoirs as well. Closer to Manchester the roads got wider and busier. We had a really nice day out, driving and enjoying the scenery. There are some really nice rural areas in the north of England, the Peak District, the Lake District and the Yorkshire moors and dales. Some of it is a bit bleak looking but even that has its own beauty.

Blackpool beside the sea

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

One of the places that brings back fond memories of childhood for my husband is the city of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England. Blackpool was and is a very popular place to take your family for a summer holiday, seaside towns being a big draw for the British. Blackpool has been a big attraction since the early Victorian era and really boomed once the trains came. There are miles of beaches and three piers were built out over the sea. The piers contain games, rides, market stalls where you can buy kitchy souvenirs and a bucket and spade for sand architecture. There are lots of food stalls as well.

Along the promenade, the road that follows the seafront, and in the general vicinity are hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, exhibitions and Bingo halls, theatres, shops, and lots of other things for the average holiday maker to do and see. There’s a large theme park at the south end, called the Pleasure Beach. Trams traverse the coast back and forth, and on the beach, the kids can get donkey rides. It really can be quite a tourist trap, but I will admit there’s a lot of things to do as a family, there can be some really good entertainment featured as well and who doesn’t like the beach and the fresh, sea air?

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

I mentioned early in the summer that we were planning a day trip here on my recent visit to the UK. My husband’s family spent many a holiday week in Blackpool and he has fond memories of it. I have to confess, I find it a bit over the top and tacky but it does have it’s pluses, too. The Blackpool Tower is pretty neat and I always like to go up in towers and high places. It has a beautiful Victorian ballroom as well where you can still go for a cup of tea and a dance around the room, accompanied by a cheerful bloke playing a massive pipe organ.  If you like arcades or scary rides, (which I don’t!) then you will be oversaturated by choice. There’s also some world class theatres and venues where  you can attend shows, concerts and gigs.

Blackpool is only 60 miles from the Manchester area so it’s very easy to do a day trip there which is what we did early in September during my visit to the UK. One other thing that Blackpool has is the annual Illuminations and I really did fancy seeing those.  Blackpool city council erected what may have been the first electric street lighting in 1879. It was an event that nearly 100,000 people came to witness. In 1912, to mark a Royal visit to open a new section of the promenade, a display of lights was erected along the street. This was in May and it was so popular that they did it again in September. It was hugely popular and they did it again the next year but World War I put a halt to it until it was revived in the 1920s and aside from a 10 year break through WWII and post-war economics, it has been a yearly tradition, growing bigger and bolder every year. It stretches 6 miles along the Promenade.

Since we planned to stay late to see the lights, we didn’t head out until mid morning, arriving close to lunchtime so that was our first order of business. Food. I don’t know why we picked a pub on the Promenade because I’m sure there were probably much better ones away from the main “drag” where the food was better. This one, a Weatherspoon’s franchise, was very Meh and disappointing. We should have known better, restaurants in the thick of the tourist area generally aren’t the best places to eat. Mind you, most of Blackpool is a tourist area but I think venturing back from the main Promenade will give you better choice and quality. Lessons learned.

We walked behind the Tower (having been up there on one other previous visit) because I wanted to see the Victorian Winter Garden. The Winter Garden was built in 1878. It’s got several venues in it, with theatres, a ballroom, restaurants and exhibition space. We couldn’t go into the ballroom and there was an inside illuminations exhibit also going on which we didn’t visit. We walked through the lobby and up into the main concourse to see the glass roof and dome and peek into the Spanish section which is all done up like the interior of a Spanish pirate ship. It was very nice, what we did get to see of it. Outside, along one of the exterior, less decorated walls of the building were panels of street art which were all interesting to see. Not always sure what the artists were getting at but it was still neat.

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

We then walked down by the beach, watching the children get donkey rides and then went over onto the Central Pier to walk out to the end. School is back in so Blackpool was fairly quiet and most of the rides were still or only had one or two people on them. There were still quite a lot of people but not that many families or children. The pier is lined with a wooden bench built into the sides with old white painted wrought iron bench backs. They are often worn through and rusted and the wooden seats are in very bad repair and I’m sure can’t be very safe. I suppose it would cost a lot of money to restore all this.

As we got near the end of the pier, we noticed a guy running hell bent for leather across the vast expanse of beach to the water’s edge. Graham reckoned the beach was so wide he’d be exhausted by the time he actually reached the sea! About 10 feet before the edge, he stopped and stripped off his swimming trunks and charged into the water, completely naked! Graham shook his head mournfully and said “On behalf of the entire Northwest of England, I apologize”. The guy’s friends were running along behind him and one of them stopped and picked up his trunks, eliciting an angry response by the swimmer. What did he expect? He later came out, covering his bits with his hands, to join his group and no doubt, persuade them to give him back his swim gear.

We had a drink and sat in the sun for a bit and then decided to take the bus to the far northern end of the city, where the illuminations began. We thought we could hang out there for awhile, have our evening meal and then make our way back once the sun set, enjoying the lights, even if we hopped on and off the bus to go ahead a few stops at a time. We got there, and discovered there really isn’t much there to do. It’s all larger hotels, no shops or anything to look at. We had a drink in one pub we found and decided what we’d do is get the back all the way back to the Pleasure Beach where we’d parked the car. We could find somewhere there for our dinner and by that time, the sun would be going down. We would then drive the “strip” to see the lights from the car. All the traffic goes along there slowly so people can get a good look and we would be able to as well.

It’s all right, planning, but plans don’t always go the way you expect. We missed the last bus, which apparently stopped at 6. Doh! Never mind, the tram was still running but they won’t take our all day bus pass so we had to buy tickets. We found a little Indian curry house near where we parked. We were ready for it, too, and it was quickly getting chilly so we were glad of a warm place to sit! The food was good and cheap, what else can you ask for?

The slow drive along the Promenade, with the iPod hooked up to the car stereo for a soundtrack, was fun. There are a variety of light displays, more traditional bulbs, and LED lights, tableaux, signs and two of the old fashioned trams were decorated up elaborately, one like a ship and one like a train. Very good! The far north end had lots of scenes lit up either by spot lights or were made from the lights themselves. Four styles of a sun, Daleks and the Tardis, Alice in Wonderland, American Natives, Dancing girls, a haunted house and more. I think I liked this section the best. It was difficult to photograph from the car, though. I did get some good photos and I did some video clips as well. We enjoyed the ride so much we turned around and came back down the other way and then headed home.

Visiting Alnwick Castle and Gardens

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. When the line descended to a female, the man she married took on the Percy name so that it wouldn’t die out. The Percy family themselves have been in England since just after the Norman Invasion so they’ve been around a very long time. They were the Earls of Northumberland until the end of the 17th century and after the male line died out there, married into the Dukes of Somerset, and after a couple of generations, the Earldom was restored/created by George III in 1766 and the numbering system restarted. They were the couple that returned to Alnwick which had fallen into disuse. Sir Hugh and Lady Elizabeth Percy restored, revamped, landscaped and rebuilt Alnwick into a luxurious palace. The castle has been further renovated and restored in the Victoria era to the Italianate decor we see in many of the State rooms now. The current Duke is the 12th.

The castle has been open to the public since 1950 and is currently open to the public during the spring, summer and early fall months. The family still lives there in the winter and you can see lots of evidence of this as you tour the State rooms, where there are family photos, beanbags for the dogs to lie on and a large flat screen television in the library. The castle sees 800,000 visitors a year. I would expect some of that stems from the use of the castle for some exterior shots in the first few Harry Potter movies. There are many types of souvenirs related to the movies in the gift shop, including wands, costumes, sorting hats, “house” scarves, etc. The castle was more recently used for a Downton Abbey episode in 2014 and will be used again in the final season of the series for an episode. Those scenes included inside shots in the State Rooms. I always enjoy seeing places on television and in movies where I’ve visited!

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Also on the estate is the Alnwick Garden, a garden with many different areas in it. Some of the sections will be nicer during different times of the year than others. For instance, there’s a large cherry tree orchard. We visited in September but in the spring, with the cherry blossoms in bloom, it would be really beautiful. Otherwise, they’re just trees so we didn’t bother.

The gardens were designed by two Belgians, Jacques and Peter Wirtz. The Duchess of Northumberland was instrumental in spearheading the project and the result is a very interesting place to wander and explore.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and drove the half hour or so south along the coast to Alnwick. We found a parking lot in the town centre next to the gardens and surprisingly enough, it was free! It was also nearly full so we were lucky to find a spot. The official castle/gardens parking area wasn’t too far from there, I discovered after coming home, and it doesn’t cost very much to park all day. Free is better. Since the sun was out but the overall forecast was dubious, we decided to do the garden first, just in case. The whole main garden with all the smaller sub-gardens is walled in, with an atrium style cafe at the entrance. We didn’t go through the whole thing for two reasons, one being the weather, two being that there were parts of it we didn’t think would be worth it (see comments about the cherry orchard). We were also driving back across to Manchester and we wanted to fit in the castle before heading on the road and we didn’t want to be driving at all hours.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the "tree tunnels"

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the “tree tunnels”

So the garden, first. The main central feature is a large cascading fountain with the jets shooting from either side in timed fashion. Along the sides and top of it are what looks like tunnels made of trees which, upon closer inspection, are shrubberies or something like it, growing over a metal frame. You can walk through these tunnels and there are some benches in there as well for a place to sit. Near the entrance there’s a labyrinth made of bamboo trees and branches. We had a scoot through that and managed not to get lost in it. We passed through the rose garden but those blooms were pretty much passed their prime.

One garden we did quite enjoy was called a serpent garden. It was filled with S-shaped topiaries made of holly that curved and circled around a series of water sculptures each with frameworks of highly polished stainless steel. It’s a bit hard to explain but they were all really interesting. One of them used gravity from a pond further up a hill which fed the fountain as it filled up and poured out. Another had water flowing over the edge of a circular frame and it was as clear as glass. It was all about how water moves, relying on various aspects of physics. It was really interesting.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

The only other part we took in was an ornamental, more formal garden at the top end of the fountain. G. and M. wanted to rest their feet for a bit and weren’t as interested in looking at flowers and plants and sculpture so they sat on the garden benches while I had a lovely look around, taking photos and looking at everything. There was still a lot in bloom but it must have been spectacular in July.

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

We decided that was enough and headed down to the castle. The castle walls are high but instead of a moat, there are now sheep grazing in the fields and low hills surrounding. As impressive as the castle is as you approach it from across the park, it’s even more so when you go through the gates and enter a courtyard with the cobbled stones under foot and the high, imposing walls of the keep and the inner castle walls surrounding you. You look up. Your jaw drops down. It’s not majestic as such, and not impossibly high, it just takes you by surprise.

When you enter, you’re in a room that has pretty much every inch of the walls covered in arms, armaments, guns, swords, and the like. You cannot take photos inside the castle and there are security cameras everywhere so I didn’t even risk a “Hail Mary” shot from the waist! There are guides in all the rooms, both to watch for cameras and to answer questions. They all know the history of the castle and the Percy family really well. You can ask them pretty much anything and they’re happy, and enthusiastic to talk about it all.

There’s a grand staircase to climb, with fancy plaster work, paintings and gorgeous antiques and artifacts all around you. At the top, you can look over a viewpoint into the chapel which is lovely. You then traverse through all the State Rooms including a gorgeous library that is filled with groupings of comfortable chairs and sofas, two storey high walls lined with books, walls and tables containing family photos and pictures. It looks very much like it’s still lived in and enjoyed by the family. There are drawing rooms, reception rooms, and an extravagant dining room. The paintings are priceless as is some of the furniture and we were told later by the woman in a small shop there that one pair of cabinets is the most expensive set of furniture in the world. French, one of the Louis kings, I forget if it was XIV, XV or XVI. I spied at least one Canaletto on the walls, a painter whose work I do like.

As the castle was used for Downton Abbey last year, there are poster boards through some of the rooms with photos from scenes that were filmed there, with background information and displays of some of the props and costumes, as well. You will also see some exhibits on various members of the family that served in World War I, II, and even as far back as the Napoleonic wars. There’s a small gift shop in this area but a larger one over by another courtyard where there are a couple of restaurants as well. In that area there was also a video presentation on the filming of Downton Abbey and over in an alcove is the magnificent Percy family State Carraige which was recently restored to be used for the wedding of the daughter of the current Duke and Duchess a couple of years ago.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Even though it was a bit chilly, we sat and had a cup of tea/coffee and a piece of cake out in the courtyard. We had a mooch through the gift shop and decided, since the clouds were descending and the rain was imminent, we would not take the extra time to see some of the smaller museums in the gates around the castle walls. They have a lot to see, including activities put on for kids (broom flying lessons!) and for families through the summer. You could spend all day there even without going through the gardens.

Another really neat place to eat, though we didn’t do it, is a tree house restaurant just outside the walls of the gardens. You can also walk through the treetops on ramps and rope bridges. We thought we better hit the road, since we still had a few hours’ drive ahead of us. All in all, though, it was a lovely day, surrounded by history and beautiful things.

Visiting the Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

In spite of weather forecasts that predicted doom, gloom and rain for today, the sun was out, the sky was blue and it proved to be a spectacular day for touring around the Holy Island/Lindisfarne, a small island off the northeast coast of England.

We stayed in a hotel on the harbourfront of a small fishing town called Seahouses. We really did just use it as a base, and didn’t seem much of the town itself other than driving in and out. There was a nice old pub next to the inn but the night we tried to go there, it was full up and we hadn’t booked a table. Seemed odd that you needed to book a table in a pub but there you are. It wasn’t even a Friday night, either. I guess this part of the country isn’t rife with hotels so it gets busy. It might be the middle of September but it’s still more or less high season.

The northeast has a lot of historic sites as well as nature reserves and sites. We’re in it for the history and our outing today is a small island up the coast about 15 minutes. It’s connected to the mainland by a causeway rather than a bridge so you have to watch for the tide times. When the tide is in, the road is inaccessible. There’s a small emergency tower half way across, raised quite high up off the road which gives you a better idea how high the tides can get. We did check and the causeway was clear from about 9:30 am until just after 3 p.m.

One person I know suggested that we should head over just before the tide came in and spend the hours on the island while it’s cut off. There are far fewer tourists on the island then and it’s quieter. We decided against that, preferring to go in the morning anyway. There aren’t too many places to eat in the village on the island and one of the older pubs already had a sign up that said they were fully booked for the evening meal, for those that were planning on staying on the island during the high tide period. They planned ahead for it, clearly.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

We drove up the coast, stopping outside of Bamburgh Castle for some photos. That’s a very old castle and has lots to offer a visitor, apparently but we were there before it opened. I didn’t really think that there was as much to see there as there is, something I found out after I came back home. We probably could have dropped in there after returning from Lindisfarne. Never mind.

The sky was blue, the sun was warm (but not too hot) and there was hardly a breeze, a perfect day for it. You park in a lot just outside the village, a pay and display lot of course. There is parking further in the village but you need to have a disabled sticker to qualify. The village of Lindisfarne isn’t very big but it’s quite pretty. We parked, paid and walked the few minutes into the village.

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has long been a centre for Christianity, as far back as the 6th century. The monastery there was founded by Saint Aidan who journeyed to the northeast of England from the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Later, it became the base for Saint Cuthbert, an important bishop. In the 8th century, York was established as an archbishopric and Lindisfarne was one of only three bishoprics under it. It is also famous for a set of illuminated gospels dating to the 8th century. They are outstanding in beauty and now reside in the British Library in London.

There is one other more notorious event for which Lindisfarne is famous; the island was one of the first places the Vikings raided, at the very end of the 8th century. Raids continued on and off throughout the east of England and the monks eventually abandoned Lindisfarne in the 9th century. The Priory was reestablished in 1093 and remained and flourished until Henry VIII had his wicked ways with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. The ruins that are there now are from the later priory, not the earliest one.

View of Lindisfarne Castle

View of Lindisfarne Castle

The castle on a high rise of land at the end of the harbour was built in 1550. It’s odd looking, with the surrounding land being fairly flat, just a few low hills but the ground that the castle is built on sticks up high, almost as if it was man made. It was extensively renovated inside in 1901. There’s a little walled garden on the north side a little way away, a bit of a hike over from the main road.

We decided our first destination would be the castle out at the head of the island overlooking the harbour. It was quite a walk but relatively flat. We didn’t fancy climbing up the steep inclines to go into the castle proper but we made our way out to the base of it where the disabled parking is. They even had a bagpiper there for the entertainment of the tourists. There were a lot of people walking out when we went but it looked like even more were heading out when we were walking back into the village. There are a lot of great photo ops along the way, too, looking over the harbour, over the fields on the small island and across, in the distance on a good day, you can see Bamburgh Castle.

When we got back to the village, we were ready for a coffee/tea break and found a cafe. Malcom and I nabbed a table outside while Graham stood in the very long queue inside. He came out armed with hot drinks and cheese scones which I loved but they weren’t too keen.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

Fed and watered, it’s on to the ruins of the Priory. I had a two for one voucher from Britain magazine that was good for English Heritage run sites which this was. We perused the displays in the visitor center first, that told the story of the priory on this little island off the northeast coast of England (see above) then it was back outside in the sunshine to climb around the ruins.

The ruins are interesting with superb views over the harbour to the castle. We sat on a bench in a warm, sunny spot for a while and made friends with a local cat who walked right past one other couple to us. There was a breeze off the water but there among the ruins, it was sheltered and really warm.

We then had a look in nearby St. Mary’s parish church that had some nice stained glass and Celtic designs on altar cloths and kneelers.

After that, we decided we and our feet had had enough walking. There’s a bit more to see on the island, though. There’s a display or museum about the Lindisfarne Gospels, something similar to the Irish Book of Kells. They also have a visitor center where you can buy Lindisfarne Mead. We walked back to the car, stopping at a little stall set up just along there, selling preserves and local fruit and veg. I bought a couple of jars, just the thing for toast.

We drove back to the hotel. It wasn’t very late and we decided to sit in the sun in the beer garden overlooking the harbour for an hour or so. The views out over the sea to the Farne islands was great. We saw a bus load of tourists lining up for a tour boat that goes out around the islands where you can see lots of birds and seals.

Tomorrow, we’re heading back to Manchester but we’re going to visit Alnwick Castle and Gardens first. More on that another time.

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

While I was in the UK recently, my husband and I and his best friend went on a three day road trip to the northeast area of Northumberland. Our friend, Mal, had been there before but neither of us had been and there are quite a lot of interesting historical things to see. It was Mal’s suggestion and we thought it was a fine one. I knew, after doing some high level research, that we’d only make a bare glimpse at what the area has to offer but a little taste is better than nothing. Now, what can we put on the “To Do” list?

One place I’d always wanted to see was Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman occupying forces built it, all 73 miles of it, just below what is now the border between England and Scotland, a narrow “neck” of the island of Great Britain. It stretches from present day Carlisle in the northwest to Corbridge in the northeast, which is not far from the city of Newcastle. Emperor Hadrian came to Britian in 122 A.D. and the construction began shortly after. The plans were to build a guarded gate, or Milecastle, at every mile with observation towers between. In all 14 forts were built. There were large ditches on the sides of the walls, which were built of stone and sometimes turf. The plans changed with the addition of a handful of forts for extra protection and it took about 6 years to complete. There’s a pretty good overall history of the wall On the English Heritage website.

The wall was manned and staffed for the next few hundred years until the Roman Empire started to fall. Mainly, the wall and forts were abandoned, with the stone removed for local building over the centuries. What was left was the subject of a campaign of protection by historians and archeologists from the Victorian era forward. There are a number of sites remaining, some of which have been restored and preserved. We looked at the guide books and websites and decided on the Housesteads Fort as the one we wanted to visit. A number of them are situated off the road and a bit of a hike into the hills. In many areas, you can see the turf rising. There isn’t a lot of actual stone wall left but there are sites where you can see it and Housesteads is one of those, having quite a lot of the foundations of the fort and settlement along with a good stretch of the actual wall. Chesters Roman Fort is another very good site as is Birdoswald.

Housesteads it is, then. It was a few hours’ drive from Manchester after picking up Mal. We arrived around lunchtime on a cool day. It had been raining a bit all morning but had stopped just before we got there. We had brought a picnic though it wasn’t a great day for it. Never mind. We had our sandwiches and bought our entry tickets for the site. Remember I said a lot of the sites are a hike up into the hills? This is one of them. We went round the back of the visitor centre to face a path that climbed up for what we were told was a half mile uphill all the way. It might not have been a half mile (just under 1 KM) but it was bloody close. I’m definitely not one of the agile, and most definitely not fit but I was determined. I made the men go on ahead without me and took my time walking up the hill, 50 steps at a time, stop, rest the legs, take a few pictures, continue, 50 steps, repeat. Finally, I got to the top!

There are plenty of information boards around to tell you what you’re looking at and there’s a small interpretive museum and a gift shop just outside the ruins as well. The fort sits on the top of a hill with a ditch plummeting down behind the back wall. The views over the rolling hills are amazing, even under dark and threatening skies. The sheep certainly don’t mind. The wall appears to have been built to keep the incoming “barbarians” from what is now Scotland out, traditionally because they couldn’t be conquered. That probably isn’t exactly the case. They probably just decided that was the far border of the empire as they saw it.

To the left inside the garrison walls are the barracks. There’s the remains of the commander’s quarters, the headquarters building, what is probably a hospital and a granary, with the foundations of what would have been a raised floor to keep the damp from the grain. On the front left corner there is what they say is the remains of a latrine, too. We had a walk through the site and stood looking out north over the beautiful landscape, imagining the hordes of angry Scots/Pictish warrior storming the ramparts. My husband quipped that the Romans were probably standing there in their leather skirts, knees knocking in fear and in the cold north winds. He commented that the Scots were way “harder” than the Italians, after all. A nearby couple overheard him and chuckled to themselves.

We spent some time there then looked into the museum but really didn’t get a good look. It was crowded with a group of school kids and was too small for that many people. We left them to it. I had a quick browse through the gift shop and I wished I had bought a fridge magnet there because the visitor centre back down at the parking area didn’t have any nice ones. We partook of the facilities and headed back on the road, northeast to the little town of Seahouses on the coast, our base for the next two nights.

More about Hadrian’s Wall here.

More of my photos here.

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 6 – Back to Dublin and the end of the trip

Dublin's Grand Canal

Dublin’s Grand Canal

We’ve done the bus tour and we’re  back to Dublin.

Glendalough was our last stop before returning to Dublin. We drove out of the bad weather  and through some pretty valleys on our way to Dublin. The sky was clear and blue by the time we reached our hotel, the Burlington. This is a top class hotel not far from the Grand Canal in the south east of Dublin in the Ballsbridge section, within walking distance of the city center. We have booked an extra night here as we’re not flying out until Sunday.

Mythbusting:

Bill never mentioned leprechauns all week. This afternoon, one of the group asked him why. He delayed answering so long that I imagined he must be thinking “Damn, and I nearly got through the tour without someone bringing that up!” Bill told us that the word “Leprechaun” means “little people” who were shoe makers or cobblers. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend. These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky, Bill informed us. I agree.  Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of Celtic origins, of shamrocks and a people who are easy going, traditional and open and friendly. And the beer ain’t bad either!

A little more Dublin

Carole wanted a rest since she hadn’t slept well the night before but I had lots of energy and I wanted to go for a walk. I headed out, keeping in mind to look for a drugstore for a couple of things, stopping at the front desk to register our voucher for the Saturday night. The hotel seems full of conventioneers this weekend.

I walked across the Canal and ended up on Bagot Street, which seemed to have a lot of shops so I thought I might find a drugstore there. While walking I spotted a green antique freestanding letterbox, the kind you would have outside your own house for mail delivery, not the kind the post office collects mail in. The post boxes in Ireland are green, by the way, not red as in the UK. Anyway, the letter box was standing outside a small shop absolutely packed with … Stuff! Some of it antique, some of it collectible, some of it memorabilia. I spent 20 minutes in there just looking at the eclectic assortment on shelves, tables and hung on walls.

Dublin Georgian Door

Dublin Georgian Door

I continued walking, soon coming into Fitzwilliam square in the Georgian part of Dublin and gawped at some gorgeous architecture. Dublin is famous for it’s decorated and painted doors with their fan lights above and iron railing decorations on balconies and window dressing. The most elaborate door is black but has windows and a fan light that seems to have iron and wood work that looks like white lace covering it and ivy covering the brick surrounding the doorway.

Further down the road I realized as I looked a few blocks ahead of me, that I was at St. Stephen’s Green. I could see the glass enclosed shopping center on the far corner of the park. I knew there would be a Boots in there so I headed over, purchased what I needed and sought out a camera store on Grafton street to replace the lens cap that seems to have gone walkabout today.

We have signed up for the drive along Dublin Bay to a nice restaurant. We left early but the traffic was really heavy leaving the city.  We did finally get off the main road and followed the one that follows the waterfront through Dun Laoughaire, formerly called “Kingstown”,  where the ferries dock from the UK.

Sandy Cove is our stop, just past DL. There’s a martello tower at the end of that cove where James Joyce lived and wrote Ulysses. It’s a museum now apparently. The restaurant was a modern decor.  There was a woman playing the piano during our meal and she took requests. The food was superb! The sun was starting to go down when we left there, which made the view across the bay glow with the last bright light of the day.

The tour is over and we’re on our own again.  After a week of getting up early, we slept in just because we could!  The Burlington Hotel had a lovely buffet breakfast and we lingered over it, enjoying our pot of tea. It’s another sunny day and we’ve decided to have a walk around Georgian Dublin and then take the DART out to Howth at the north end of the line.

Wandering

We set out about 11 and walked the two blocks to the little bridge across the Grand Canal. I was planning to find that antique store on Baggot Street again but I guess I got turned around and we ended up missing it and turned into  Fitzwilliam Square. This is the square where the house with the most elaborate door “lives”. I had seen it yesterday on my travels if you will recall. We admired it and walked on, looking for Merrion Square which is only a few streets away. The attraction here is mainly, for me, the Oscar Wilde connection in addition to the lovely architecture. We saw a few lovely old buildings turned into hotels and the American College on the corner. That’s the house where Wilde lived before moving to London.

Greene's, Dublin's oldest bookstore

Greene’s, Dublin’s oldest bookstore

On that intersection, diagonally across and in one building is Greene’s Bookstore, an establishment of some 200 years standing. There are display bins of books and postcards outside to browse through and inside the shop has several floors lined with old wooden shelves and display tables scattered around. The shop had the kind of atmosphere where you could almost imagine men in stovepipe hats and Victorian whiskers and women in shirtwaist dresses with floor length skirts browsing and climbing the staircase, a leather bound book or two under their arms. I’ve since been reliably informed that it is no longer open and that’s a damn shame!

We had a look on the main level where I found a small pocket sized hardcover biography of Oscar Wilde. It wasn’t his story in any great detail but it was a very good overview. We also found more of the bookmarks that were decorated with individual Celtic alphabet letters as inspired by the Book of Kells.   I had bought one at the bookshop in Trinity and Carole wanted a few for souvenirs but she couldn’t find a “W” for her mother’s name. The young clerk said it was because there was no W in the Irish language. But, wasn’t the Book of Kells written in Latin? (it was)  I thought so, and there is no J or K in Latin yet there were J and K bookmarks. Oh well,  I commented wryly, you could get the M and tell her to use it upside down! *snicker* I crack myself up sometimes!  Bookmarks and postcards purchased, we walked across the road to the square.

Just inside the wrought iron fence of Merrion Square is a statue of Oscar Wilde, depicting him somewhat more slender than is usually seen, dressed in bright colours,  languidly lying back on a rock and holding his trademark flower against a face twisted in a sardonic smirk. The bright colours are all different kinds of marble I guess, it’s not painted. The statue was only erected and dedicated about 5 years ago. I won’t go into biographic details of Mr. Wilde but I’ve always found him a very interesting, flawed and tragic man, ruined in part due to his own impulsive and stubborn decision to sue a man for libel which in turn brought out admissions that destroyed his reputation and his life.

We walked a little way into the park and saw an area off one path that seemed to be a little arboretum with different kinds of trees scattered around a greenspace.  The sun kept dipping behind a cloud and we lost patience waiting for it to beam down through the trees. It just seemed like that photo *needed* sunshine and shadows.

Along the outside of the fence on the North side of the square were works displayed by artists, something you are seeing more of lately. It’s a good place to set up on the weekends with lots of pedestrians walking past. We walked along the little gallery, chatting to one artist who was trying very hard to sell us a rather large and ungainly framed painting. A bit too tricky to carry on the flight as nice as the painting was.

Howth Abbey

Howth Abbey

Side trip to Howth

After consulting our little pocket map of Dublin we set off to find the DART station nearest, Pearce station. We joined the queue for a return ticket and made our way to the platform. The trains go fairly frequently so we didn’t have too long to wait. We were, however, disappointed because the train didn’t follow the shoreline of the bay on its’ way north like it does on the southern route.

Howth is at the last stop. You arrive in an old, small train station with a pub called the Bloody Stream underneath! We walked down the block towards the waterfront, consulted a large “you are here” map and walked along the busy road looking for a  suitable place for lunch. The first two places that appealed were either too crowded or too small. We did find a little place that did ice cream takeaway but had a light lunch menu in a little room to one side, filled with families. It was a bit noisy but we found a table and ordered a sandwich.  We did have a little translation problem with the server who was Chinese. The menu said “Pastries… please ask for what is available” so we did. Blank look. Pastries… Pastries…we pointed to the menu item. Ah… “Ham and cheese, tuna…” No, no… Pastries! Point again. Oh right. Got you now. Scones and apple pie. Now we’re cooking… Carole ordered pie and I ordered ice cream. A few minutes later an Irish server came over to ask what it was we had ordered. She must have had a translation problem too!

Howth is a fishing town and there weren’t a lot of touristy type shops at all. A few postcards outside a newsagent was the extent of it that we saw. It’s a working seaside town with a large marina filled with pleasure craft. It’s a good place for hiking around the outskirts and has a nice sea wall where  you can walk out around the harbour.  There’s a rocky little island just off the coast here called Ireland’s Eye.

We walked around the seafront and then headed up into the village further to see if we could find the ruins of Howth Abbey. The street we chose had a couple of nice restaurants including one that advertised Russian food. There was a small sign at the entrance to a narrow alley of stairs that pointed the way to a restaurant with the promise of a craft/gift shop which was across from the abbey so up we ascended. The craft shop wasn’t to our taste but the Abbey was. There was a little cemetery filled with flower covered graves beside the roofless ruins.  There’s a great view over the harbour from here. We poked around the grounds for a little while taking pictures and then descended back through the village to the main road again.

howthcastlepinkThe map seemed to indicate that Howth Castle was a bit out of town on the main road so we started walking. It was about a mile away I guess and still there was no signs to which road we should turn in. There was a sign indicating where the Transport Museum was so we headed up that way, remembering from the central map that they were close to each other. There was a pretty church that we passed and then the road turn and we saw a stone tower. There was the castle! There were quite old parts, that I believe date from Norman times and some newer parts. However when we were walking around one side, I spied a propane barbeque in a courtyard which seemed to indicate perhaps that someone lived there and that it was private property.

There were no signs about entrance fees or hours so I don’t know if any of the interior can be visited. There wasn’t anyone around so we didn’t try to find out. Never did see the Transport museum but I think it was a little further up the road. There’s also quite a breathtaking rhododendron garden a little farther on but we were too early for most of the blooms Carole said.

We were getting tired by now so decided to walk back to the train station and go back into the City to find some place to eat. We got off the train at Tara street station, which is close to the Liffey and walked down to the river. I wanted to have a look at the huge domed Custom House building which is on the North Side.  We went across the wide O’Connell Street bridge where we stopped to look at some jewelry and leather that a vendor had on display. Up O’Connell Street, where there are many statues of Irish Independence leaders, and lots of shops and a large department store, Clery’s  where we stopped in for a look at the jewelry counter inside the main door.

The General Post Office building is just there as well, with its tall pillars, some of which still bear the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. There’s another pedestrian shopping area that crosses O’Connell Street, Henry Street. We didn’t get there today but Carole was there last week browsing. We also bought some doo-dads in a tourist souvenir shop. This is a good shopping district for tourists but we really didn’t spend a lot of time here. By this time we had been out and walking all day and were footsore and ready for a rest. You lose your enthusiasm for experiencing the ambience of a place when you can hardly put one foot in front of the other!

We found a fish and chip shop that wasn’t filled up after trying a few larger restaurants first. We sat and had our dinner and a restorative cup of tea. Shall we get a taxi from here or walk across to Temple Bar and get one from there? The taxi rank on O’Connell street had a long queue so walk we did. We ended up near Trinity College, thinking we could get the bus as there was a stop right by the hotel but we waited for about 15 minutes and none of the route numbers that we needed passed us by so we walked a little further and realized we were at the other end of Grafton street. We knew there was a taxi rank at St. Stephen’s Green so we went through Grafton street where many of the shops were now closing for the day. We made our way up to St. Stephens, got a taxi and arrived back at the hotel where we arranged with the concierge for a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. After consulting his expertise, we realized the airport shuttle bus wouldn’t be practical and he’s going to get a taxi to come for us about 5:30 a.m. URGH!

Back to our room for an early night. It’s odd that some of the nicest hotels we’ve been in had no tea and coffee making things in the rooms! We repacked out suitcases to distribute our clothes and souvenirs. I managed to get everything to fit so I didn’t have to use the extra fold up carry on bag I brought.

I knew the time I had in Dublin wasn’t going to be enough. 2 full days and a few hours of 3 others. The first few days in a city I always seem to spend walking around covering a lot of ground and seeing the major sights where possible. But mostly I don’t actually spend extra time at each place. For instance, although we did go into Christchurch, we didn’t try to investigate which parts of Dublin Castle were open to the public nor spend time really browsing in Greene’s bookshop. I wanted to “see” as much as I could which gives me a “lay of the land” feel. Strictly tourist.

If I have more time, then I know I can spend a morning in a gallery or a museum or browse through lots of market stalls instead of just 2 or 3.  I can spend a few hours just poking around alleys and churches in just one small corner of  a city.  I do start off with a list of sites I hope to get to see but along the route to the destination, one always comes across interesting shops or a pretty church or an unexpected market in a courtyard that needs investigating, especially if you end up going the long way around because you took a left instead of a right at that intersection back there.  So the next time I come back to Dublin, I want to browse markets, gape in a gallery, find a small obscure museum, breakfast at Bewleys and prowl around the O’Connell Street area in more detail. And whatever else the wrong turn at the intersection reveals.

We had set the clock for something unGodly and you might know, a few of the conventioneers seemed intent on having a party in the hall outside our room. We had tried to go to bed early, about 9, but they were hollering and laughing. At one point Carole peeked out the door and saw a middle aged man on the floor with another one trying to drag him along! There were a few more as well and they had the doors to their rooms open or were parading back and forth banging on each other’s doors and hollering. Finally Carole called down to the desk and they sent someone up to ask them to at least keep their doors shut. It helped some and eventually they settled down or went out or something.

We managed to get to the airport and away the next morning. Carole was flying home via London and I was stopping over in Manchester for a last visit with some friends, flying to Canada from there, via Toronto.   As always it’s good to sleep in my own bed surrounded by my own things. I hate to come home in a way because I so enjoy seeing new places and spending time with friends that I don’t see very often.

Ireland is another place I want to go back to and a quandary, what about seeing new places? We are thinking it might be a good road trip some day. You never know!

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 5

More Begorrathon.