My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.
- Terry Pratchett
My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.
As I was saying, I flew to Edinburgh on the spur of the moment, staying nine days from the end of August through early September. In my earlier post I covered the generalities: the whys and whats and wherefores. I went because I could, because I had the time and the freedom and the money. I went for the Edinburgh International Literary Festival (which expanded to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as a bonus) and out of love I’ve nursed for Scotland as close to all my life as it interests me to relate.
What makes this remarkable isn’t just that I upended my life and left; it signaled the end of one very, very (very) long married phase and the beginning of the rest of my life.
Dull. Let’s get to the fun bits.
I have no reason to lie to you; the trip cost a fucking fortune. Nervous breakdowns are expensive. I’ve been using the bank statement listing all my foreign transactions as note paper; I can’t bear turning it over and facing reality. I know what the plane cost (ouch) and roughly the hotel (oucher). Food, cab fare, festival tickets, souvenirs, beer… Not like I can return any of it for a refund or would even want to.
Note paper. All note paper.
Flying into a European city at the height of its festival season (books, the arts in general, the military tattoo and films: four separate affairs) without having pre-planned to do so, at a time when hotels are booked to capacity, is nothing short of foolhardy. In any case save duress, this would be a very bad idea. Duress, in my case, meant if I didn’t get the hell away I would risk losing the last bit of my goddamn sanity.
I had all of two hotels from which to chose, two with rooms available so late in the festival season. One was a guest house/B&B so expensive it gave me a nose bleed, the other a mansion far out of the realm of reality even if I’d knocked over a bank. Because I’m too pretty for prison, I went with the nosebleed, a beautiful little B&B – Appin Guest House – off Dalkeith Road, in a residential area to the southeast of central Edinburgh. I was by Arthur’s Seat, not far from the Palace of Holyrood, the walk to the Old Town roughly half an hour to forty minutes depending how many wrong turns I took and how many distractions.
Now, the B&B was expensive but it was ungodly amazing, like walking off the streets of 21st century Edinburgh straight into the Edwardian era. Have you seen that horrendously saccharine time-traveling film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour? Something something in time? That but without the gagging, a sort of time warp, space/time anomaly, timey wimey wibbly wobbly thing. Step outside and I’m a tourist in rumpled, not fresh as they could be clothing, dragging luggage. Step inside and my high-fashion silk dress squeezes me into a perfect hourglass, lace-up leather boots with sharp toe ringing on the floor, all topped with a hat nestling my well-coiffed hair – as opposed to flat and somewhat frozen locks on the one side, from resting it against the wall of the plane, sticking straight up in front because Edinburgh’s more than a little bit windy.
The floors of the hotel were marble, broad stairway showing gracefully well-worn wood, crystal chandeliers hanging from coffered ceilings, tastefully muted tartan carpeting throughout and general gob-smacking splendor. Fresh from navigating the streets of Edinburgh, dragging my worldly belongings behind bumpity bumpity down cobble-stoned streets, reaching that foyer I wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the floor. And this before I’d even experienced their Full Scottish Breakfast.
Many more photos of Appin House here on Bluestalking’s Tumblr
The absolute silence of the place was a bit spooky. I’d forgotten hotels in Europe aren’t like those in America, they all but close down for several hours between breakfast and check-in time. I knocked on the “Employees Only” door, receiving no answer. I strained my ears to hear even a whisper of human noise, even the scurrying of a mouse. The quiet was almost oppressive but there was a chair to rest my weary bones, an outlet to charge my phone and little else I wanted aside from that. Half a sandwich from a New York layover sufficed for lunch with water from the Edinburgh airport.
I could wait ’til Doomsday, if need be. Communication with the outside world re-established, weary self safely and warmly ensconced in a luxurious setting frankly too good for me, it was time to start texting bragging pictures home.
Eventually, it was the maid who came along to save me, tsking both that I’d had to wait so long and also that the gardeners had left the front door unlocked, allowing me to come inside in the first place. I’ve never received such a warm and assuring, flustered and disbelieving welcome before in my life. Welcome! And how did you get in here… ? Oh, and your room isn’t ready, did I mention that?
My room hadn’t been cleaned but she took care of it in less than an hour, while I sat unmoving in the foyer, alternately texting madly and cackling at the consternation of friends I’d awoken at an ungodly hour back home in Chicago. For all I cared she could have repainted and tiled the walls, while she was at it. I had Facebook! Twitter! Text messaging! Pictures I’d already taken! THE WHOLE DAMN INTERNETS!
But breaking eye contact with my phone screen long enough to – with no small degree of annoyance at the interruption – look up at her antiseptic-smelling self hovering above me, I fell in love instantaneously. As the clouds parted, she handed me the key. “You must be so tired,” she said, in the way soothing, ethereally beautiful angels must, at the point of our death. I’d been bright-eyed and more than a little manic-looking, eyes evolved huge and staring wide from gazing at the flickering blue screen in the almost dark, but her eyes were so kind, her raw need to see me rest so urgent. Pulling the charger plug for my phone from the ancient socket in the wall, cord whipping behind me, I charged up the stairs into my newly-cleaned room, peeked to see that there was in fact an en-suite bathroom (it’s Europe, you can’t take these things for granted) and threw myself into sheets so white and starched I thought I’d never crawl out again.
The angel left quietly, soft clouds caressing my cheeks in her wake. To sleep, perchance to awaken and shower before nightfall. “Sleep, my precious… Sleep.” she whispered.
Three minutes later I heard her above, vacuum roaring away. My angel.
Thinking back, I’m not positive I ever once set out in an intentional straight line from the hotel to central Edinburgh. Lie: I did but never made it without streets changing names and buildings popping up where they hadn’t been the day before. Greyfriars Cathedral alone must have gone poof and re-assembled itself in a different location a good dozen times before all was said and done. For one solid day it was there every time I turned a corner, like some sort of twisted-ass Harry Potter wizarding trick. I could set out with it at my back, make a beeline in the opposite direction, then find myself smack in front of it again in half an hour without having made a turn.
It was not rational; it bent the laws of physics in half.
It got to the point I found myself ecstatic to recognize places I’d gotten lost previously. It’s not that I remembered how I eventually managed to get where I was going from these points. Rather, I was disproportionately gleeful I came to find streets I hadn’t meant to be at least once before. If I’d been anyone else tagging along with me I’d have ripped off my head, shoving the map down my neck as blood spurted from my arteries like a sprinkler. On my own, I just slapped myself on the back – a bit too sharply, at times -laughing it off.
In my peripheral vision, Greyfriars stood sentry, biding its time.
So, I spent these first couple days wandering, getting my bearings and memorizing every line of Greyfriars Church. I had no agenda save book festival events a couple of days hence, leaving fate to take me where it would. Putting a foot out the door each morning, I had no set plans. I picked a direction and followed my nose, which also seemed to pop up in unexpected places several times an hour. My map and smart phone were in my backpack for emergencies but the only real need I had of them was navigating back home at the end of the day. Because, well, they weren’t going to get me anywhere I actually intended seeing, anyway.
I floated through the city, embracing my own discombobulation, getting lost cutting through dark alleys, taking photos of details.
Uphill and downhill… Up and down, each up more steep than the downs, I swear to God. Defies all laws of physics. Or geography. Or geological who’s it. But you cannot tell me it’s not so.
Thank goodness for those huge breakfasts on subsequent days. I didn’t need to eat all day, not until dinner.
So I walked.
And got lost.
Walked some more, got tired, sat, got up and walked. Found a pub, had a pint.
Sword Swallower – Fringe Fest
Finding myself in Princes Street that first day, I blended with the crowds watching street performers.
And cringed along with them.
Found myself in the square in front of St. Giles Cathedral.
I gawped up at the architecture.
Gawped some more.
A bit more.
The cathedral was emptying out for the day, whisper quiet as I walked around taking photos. Just me and a handful of other tourists.
St. Giles, Interior
One last look, before they closed for the day.
Outside again, dusk had begun falling, travel weariness dead on its heels. All the early excitement walked out of me, I started coming back down. I dreamed again of starched sheets, dreamed of dreaming on starched sheets.
Just as I’d begun drooping, the Fringe Festival was revving up. Actors and comedians and singers passed out handbills to lure in well-fed and watered tourists looking for entertainment. At any given time I must have held thirty advertisements in my free hand. Not sure why but grabbing papers from strangers became almost giddying, all those hands stuffing things at me at once, elevator speeches chattering full force. I found that manic smile on my face again.
Crowds don’t usually amuse me, much less crowds popping out with hands. Must have been over-exhaustion making me slap happy. It got to be a game: how many papers can I grab?! I must have all the papers! GIVE ME ALL THE PAPERS.
So many venues, so much to see and quite reasonable. Dirt cheap, most of it. Had I not enjoyed so much free sampling on the streets earlier I may have been tempted, myself, on the first day. But I was growing exhausted.
And evening was coming on quickly.
Performance artists posed.
And all the posters and posters and posters glued everywhere.
Buildings grew dark as street lights began to glow.
And while the excitement of the revelers was palpable and alluring, gearing up for a long night, I’d just flown in from the States. Already awake more than 24 hours, I hit a wall.
Hungry for the first time since that hours’ old sandwich consumed at the B&B, dinner was another cold sandwich from a shop. Quick and easy. The forty to fifty to three hour walk back was exchanged for a cab.
Day one – a mere late afternoon and evening – was done. The next would be my first full day in the city. What little energy I had left I’d use reading that guidebook I packed, to research what I hadn’t made time to before, leaving in such a rush, and study a map more for ornament than anything. Then shower dust and sweat and the palms of dozens of people I’d brushed from Chicago to New York to Edinburgh, falling asleep on sheets ironed by an angel.
Grateful I’d fought against every excuse to not, yet came, anyway.
Back to Edinburgh.
“Adventure should be part of everyone’s life. It is the whole difference between being fully alive and just existing.” ― Holly Morris
If my Grand, Impulsive Excursion to Bonnie Scotland were a book, it could best be described as pitch perfect, the work of a writer at the height of her powers and, that perennial favorite of mine, readable.
It was a solitary endeavor, a lone wolf journey abroad made by a newly-single woman with an abiding love of a good, cold stout served up at a dusty, dimly lit pub and a post-divorce chip on her shoulder the size of, well, a really big chip. And yes, it was a little scary going it alone, thanks for asking, though not so much as it could have been had I not just last year flown to Ireland on my own. My 2014 trip proved I can rely on myself, plan and execute a solo vacation and not at all blend in with the locals because who am I kidding, I scream American from five miles away even in English-speaking nations.
I’m a strong woman who can handle herself, a perfect candidate for solo travel. I also enjoy my own company more than that of most others. Disagreements with myself are few, seldom resulting in violence. At only one point in the trip did I become so aggravated I stopped speaking to me, a brief period which flared and subsided as quickly as it came. I bought myself a drink, we laughed, it was soon forgotten.
Ah, the memories!
Edinburgh isn’t just awesome and beautiful, full of history and bagpipes and beer and whisky and beer but also a mecca for all things arts and literary. A safe city for a woman alone, during my nine days there not a single murder was committed: not in Edinburgh, in Scotland or the entire UK. Meanwhile, back here in the USA not only were there violent killings in the Chicago suburbs but my very own street was staked out by a SWAT team, shite you not. So, for those considering a trip abroad but concerned with personal safety, shut up and go, for fuck’s sake. Quite whining. You’re more likely to be harmed here than there.
God bless the NRA!
In fact, the closest approximation to a traumatic situation I encountered was a man urinating proudly and profusely through a wrought-iron fence near the Sir Walter Scott monument. Despite his vigorously healthy stream, at no point did I feel endangered. In fact I envied the man, as I do all of his gender, his possession of equipment enabling urination while standing up, in a set direction no less, a feat nary a female could accomplish without impaling herself and making a huge mess. And if that’s the worst that happened to me I count myself lucky.
Ostensibly, my official “reason” for flying over was to attend the Edinburgh International Literary Festival, that most deservedly lauded celebration of books and authors and books and authors, coupled with a deep love for Scotland I’ve enjoyed more than half my life. Abroad on a student ambassador program at the tender age of 18, I proclaimed to no one in particular, “This is where I will spend the rest of my life!” Then promptly didn’t, because hey that’s how 18-year olds are, dramatic and pretty well powerless.
Not that I didn’t give it a noodle. I entered college with every intention of studying abroad a semester at Edinburgh University and would have, too, had my then boyfriend (now ex-husband, IRONY) not popped a diamond on my finger as a sort of insurance policy I would not dump him and hook up with a man in a kilt. And how’d that work out for me. Believe me, not a year goes by I don’t regret that.
Worse, to this day I still do not know for certain what Scottish men wear underneath their kilts. Suspicions, yes. Verifiable proof, no, despite having visited during a particularly windy week. Hopes dashed, I default to a firm belief it gets pretty windy under there.
Sadly, many literary festival events were sold out before I arrived. Things had been going on full-swing a couple of weeks before I showed up and though I bought tickets online before I left pickings were quickly growing slim. Let this be a lesson for anyone planning to act on impulse. Always pre-plan your unexpected adventures.
I wound up attending only two events: a Michael Frayn talk about his new compilation of tiny plays, Matchbox Theatre, and an Ian Rankin discussion with singer-songwriter Stuart David – of Belle and Sebastian – upon publication of his new biography, In the All-Night Café: A Memoir of Belle and Sebastian’s Formative Years. Though I had tickets to see Denise Mina, I’d exhausted myself walking around that day and couldn’t bear the thought of dragging arse back to Charlotte Square. Instead, I stayed in my hotel room watching really bad British TV and eating takeaway fish and chips, followed in short order by horrendous indigestion and a bad case of insomnia by saturated fat.
All in all the trip was, technically speaking, amazeballs. Ireland and Wales last year, Scotland this… Which was the better trip? The trip would have to go to 2014, since my daughter was with me and if she reads this she’ll be really pissed off if I don’t say that. However, which city is better? God I‘m sorry Dublin but it’s Edinburgh. Purely Edinburgh. Just remember I love you, too.
So I have loads of pictures to share, as well as a strong possibility of anecdotal bloviating. I’ve prefaced my adventure here and will continue telling my story in subsequent posts. Hope you’ll tune in.
magnolia cemetery, charleston, s.c.
I don’t want to hear about the weird lighting affect in this photo, how the sunspot and lighter area on the statue is weird or spooky or what-not. I was shooting against the light; I was bound to get a lens flare.
I found the level of detail in this statue amazing. They don’t make monuments like this one anymore.
“We survive. We’re Irish. We have the souls of poets. We love our misery, we delight in the beauty of strange places and dark places in our hearts.”
– Ellis Flynn, Wear Black
Having finished posting about the first leg of my adventures in Ireland I’m feeling rather contemplative re: what it meant to me visiting the homeland of two of my family lines. Working on all this genealogy lately I’ve been struck, all over again, by the interconnectedness between us all.
Amazingly, tracing back relations by direct lineage and marriage I was able to hit upon a vein ripe with English and Scottish nobility, which sideswiped me. We all want to say we’re related to historical figures and what I found far exceeded that. I’m descended from a governor of the Virginia Colony. The generation before him were nobility from Wales, a fact that pleased my Wales-loving daughter to no end. Because of him, it doesn’t stop there but rather branches out through Europe and back as far as the Middle Ages, because nobility had the advantage of record keeping the poorer didn’t share.
My reaction to all this was, at first, laughter. The generations I know from both sides of my family are not rich nor, on one side, particularly well-educated. They’ve lived in poverty as far back as I’d ever known, farming cotton, barely scraping. So, how does a family of noble origin sink so low? The Civil War, maybe. It knocked the legs out from under entire generations of Americans; it was the great equalizer. The South still has not recovered economically and won’t in my lifetime, nor in my childrens’. It may never climb back to its pre-war economy. There’s justice in that, in one way. An economy built on the backs of slavery has no honor, yet I believe in the right of redemption. So many generations later, I wish things could turn around for them. Sadly, circumstances are stacked against them.
Visiting Ireland the the UK, not realizing I had Welsh ancestry at the time, brings a lot home to me. I identify strongly with the Irish part of my ancestry, you may have noticed. Not only did the red hair and blue eyes come down the line but the sense of humor and a few cultural bits, as well.
I loved Ireland before I saw it and being there cemented my feelings. It’s not just the beauty, which is stunning, but the people I connected with and fell in love with. They’re a kind people, quick to help, expecting nothing in return. They saved me great trouble many, many times. In particular, I will never forget the employee of Irish Ferries who saw me sitting out front of the building at Rosslare, knowing I wouldn’t see a bus or taxi for hours. He walked up to me quickly and with purpose, asked where I needed to go – in this case, Dublin – grabbed my suitcase and led me to the train station, which wasn’t terribly far but was the most hidden station I’ve ever seen – honestly, what were they thinking? He took my luggage onto the train for me, set it on a seat, then disappeared as I was thanking him profusely, almost crying in relief. It was as if my thanking him was an embarrassment; he didn’t help me to impress but out of human kindness.
I ask myself if an American in the same position would have helped me like that and feel ashamed of the answer. If someone newly arrived here, feeling desolate and unwelcome, deserted and even a bit frightened, would be visited by an American guardian angel. Of sorts, I mean. I don’t believe in angels, nor in a God, but after my trip my faith in human kindness has been renewed. Created, actually. I didn’t much believe in it before but there is no denying the Irish and Welsh people are, in general, more kind than your average American, with exceptions of course.
No wonder I felt such joy visiting, torn apart upon leaving. Whether I get there again or not, I have the knowledge some of my people came from that land of empathy and indescribable beauty.
Forever, I will be thankful for that, more than I’ll ever feel pride in my distant noble ancestry. Because the milk of human kindness is the one thing truly without price.
Yeah, I realize it’s taken me more than double the time to tell you about my two weeks in Ireland and Wales than it did to experience them. And you’re probably sick of hearing that old excuse about how busy I am and how exciting my life is and how my social life consists of rubbing elbows with such literati as Jonathan Lethem, whom I met last Sunday. He was great, generous with his time and shared his thoughts on, among other things, living in New York City and the evolution of books and technology. Hint: he’s not worried about books.
The whole story is long, because I do not have normal days. It involved the failure of Apple Maps (you SUCK) to get me anywhere near the venue, making me 45-minutes late, street parties that forced me to take side detours through a maze of Chicago alleys and a pen that exploded all over me, to top everything off. Then there’s the fact it was nearly 100 degrees and the a/c in my car wasn’t working.
By the time it was my turn to have my books signed I looked like an insane woman, hair standing on end, ink all over both hands, smelling of sweat and desperation. To top it off, I shared everything with him in a rant that tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop it. No, not too humiliating. When I saw him in the bookstore after the signing I apologized for unloading on him, begging him not to think of me as a smelly, disheveled bitch. It was no problem, he told me, which may have been designed to make me go away and allow him time to duck out the back door.
What, not enough for you? Happy my life isn’t all sunshine and unicorns?
To save time
and having to compose a written post, I decided to go with a photo essay to represent our second Irish bus tour, to speed the process of what’s become a shamefully slow synopsis of my two weeks abroad. After all, pictures are worth blah, blah, blah.
no, not the liffey but the corrib (and it looks like there’s a body floating in it, just below the surface)
remaining old city wall, Galway city, Ireland
bustling shopping area
note the chicago sign 🙂
home of the claddagh ring
interior – cathedral
wish I knew what this is… yeah, a FLAG, shut up, but which and why
cliffs of moher
think i’ll throw myself off here when i’m done with life
It was a great tour. We had much more time to stop at less places, so we were able to see everything in more depth. I was miffed we couldn’t stop and buy a claddagh ring in the home of claddaghs, so we wound up buying ours elsewhere. I really wanted to buy Allison’s ring in Galway, not some gift shop. Bastards. Because you can’t go to Ireland and not buy a claddagh ring. Okay, you can, but why? Ditto a wool sweater. I bought one supposedly made on a small charming island off the coast of Ireland (a big charming island), signed by the lass who knitted it. It’s a lovely, bulky fisherman’s cardigan that took up half my suitcase coming home. Oh, but this winter it will all be worth it.
For now, this ends the Ireland leg of the trip. Next up: Wales, then back to Ireland for me. Staying in Wales another month for me daughter.
I’d never booked a bus tour before Ireland but in order to see more of the country outside Dublin I thought it behooved me to try it. It’s a risk trusting your vacation to someone else, even tour professionals. All you can do is research the route, trust to reviews from past travelers and cross your fingers.
Fortunately, my daughter and I are a lot alike in personality; we’re a good travel partner match. She’s like me in my ability to laugh when things go wrong and find humor in the ridiculous. Stupid inconveniences aren’t the end of the world and disasters that don’t kill anyone make for pretty good memories. Even when the bus tour you booked doesn’t turn out exactly how you anticipated and when buses break down not once but twice in the same trip, leaving you stuck in the middle of the Irish countryside.
There are far worse places to be stranded.
I chose two different tour companies for two separate journeys. The first Paddy Wagon Tours, on Sunday, May 25 for the following itinerary:
The “Ring of Kerry” Tour:
Paddy Wagon had so many tempting tours it was difficult narrowing it down. In the end, I decided journeying south to Dingle Bay would give us a good cross-section of that part of the country. To be honest, I also chose Paddy Wagon for the garish buses, because I thought it was funny riding in a vehicle emblazoned with the face of a leprechaun. It’s understated and elegant, not whoring national folk traditions at all.
And, full disclosure, I was anticipating Allison’s reaction to finding out she’d be spending a full day in it. I’m always willing to go that extra mile for a laugh.
Lovely Adare! I’ll never forget the blur of its beauty as we drove straight through it. Didn’t get a single pic but no worries, Google:
Adare is one of the reasons I booked this particular tour. Everything I found mentioned what a gorgeous showcase Irish village it is, with thatched-roofed houses: a picturesque beauty with brightly painted front doors, a veritable village in the shire – minus hobbitsses. Would have made for some lovely pictures. We sort of got a glimpse of it as we barreled through, on our way to Killarney. When I turned around in my seat, I think I saw a thatched roof, growing smaller and smaller.
Not to bad-mouth Paddy Wagon; I suppose it was my fault for not realizing listing a town on an itinerary doesn’t mean you actually stop there. Sometimes it just means it’s pointed out on the fly.
Keep that in mind while planning trips, kids.
The driver/tour guide turned out to be lovely; just a treasure. The second one, that is. The first drove us to where he’d left his car at the beginning of his prior shift, where we picked up the driver with a distinguishable personality. Well worth the stop. Our first guide said nothing on the hour long plus drive to his car, save to sit back and rest, as it was so early in the morning. The second was hilarious. A portly gentleman, a good-natured, red-headed stereotypical Irishman, regaled us by singing along to the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” which had us laughing so hard we cried. It was all in the delivery. Classic.
If you take a Paddy Wagon tour, ask for the sexy ginger man.
Our first actual stop, Torc waterfall:
Lush and verdant, that’s how I’d describe Killarney National Park, based on the fifteen minutes we had to find the waterfall, take photos and get our arses back on the bus. We were so giddy to stretch our legs, it was almost as nice as the waterfall.
trees – magical and spooky…
From the waterfall we visited the nearby home of a rich person, some man or other who’d made a lot of money (thus was rich). Someone not famous enough to merit actual memory space in my brain. Instead, the link is below my pic:
muckross house, killarney national park
As for its history, Queen Victoria once visited. Wonder if she was amused?
“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”
– Queen Victoria
In 1932, the house was given to the Irish nation. Now it’s a hotel and conference center, has a magnificent library (which I didn’t see or know about), a book bindery and is generally a pleasant place to walk around – if not in.
And this is the view:
fit for a queen
You can pay for a horse and carriage ride along the lake path, or, like us, you can wander until you feel you can safely get back to the bus on time. Supposedly there was time to see the interior of the house, as well, though you’d be choosing that over the walk by the lake. Given our time constraint, I think we chose well.
Killarney town was our lunch stop. Unlike Adare, our time here was much more extensive: HERE’S KILLARNEY YOU HAVE HALF AN HOUR TO FIND LUNCH BE BACK ON TIME.
pretty killarney, where something must have happened once, damned if I know what it was
Allison and I just bought sandwiches, so we could walk around and actually see something. We sort of accomplished that while strolling down the main street far enough to find a mini grocery store. I don’t know how those who ate in restaurants managed. I suppose they just saw the interior of the place and their food. I don’t recall seeing anyone else from our bus while in Killarney. Come to think of it, I barely remember Killarney.
I found the bookshop and we found a church:
take pictures, quick! we’ll figure out what it was later!
What it was:
St. Mary’s Church of Killarney
Present church built: 1870
I found out later there’s much more to Killarney than shops and pubs, things like: lovely churches, a castle, ruins of medieval buildings, etc. But no big deal. We enjoyed cheap sandwiches, went to a bookstore and saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in fast-forward. I feel so worldly, so well-educated.
So ripped off.
If you want to see Killarney, go there on the blasted train, please. Otherwise, you’ll see the bit the tour company wants you to, the commercial parts where money is spent. Interested in Irish history and culture? Go there and hoof it around. What we missed is heartbreaking.
For instance, this:
I give the bus driver credit, though. He didn’t lie. He said there wasn’t much time and it would be a miracle if we found the medieval castle and made it back to the bus on time.
There are no miracles.
Didn’t see it.
This leg was pretty. Very pretty. Our time here was more generous, twenty minutes to half an hour, somewhere in that range. Half an hour to eat and see an entire town, twenty minutes to half an hour to take photos of a beach. Yeah, that sounds about right.
dual Irish/English sign for the beach
Lesson: there are pros and cons to travel by bus, just as there are pros and cons of train travel. Buses take you to more places in a shorter period of time, so you see less of more. Trains are the opposite. With trains you are at least partially in control of your own timetable.
Both allow you to see the countryside, assuming you’re traveling by day. It’s just a matter of how much you want to see in the time you have.
Given the opportunity to do this leg of our trip over, would I choose the bus? Hard to say. I saw a glimpse of Adare, enough to whet my appetite and frustrate me. Killarney National Park was lushly gorgeous but I love history more. Killarney town still frustrates the living hell out of me, knowing what we could have seen but didn’t. Killorglin went missing after we lost time the first time the bus died but Inch Beach and environs were well worth the trip.
Looking back, what I’d do is take an extra month or six and see it all by train and foot. That’s my answer. Stay longer than you’ve arranged or told anyone you’re planning, then make up a story about how you fell, hit your head and got amnesia and can’t recall anything after that. Those photos of you giving thumb’s up by castle ruins? Who knows how they got there? You certainly couldn’t be expected to!
A person can navigate train routes with amnesia, right? And manage to book lodging and eat, maybe buy a few souvenirs.
It’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Never forget that.
[I will be posting more photos on Bluestalking’s Tumblr blog: http://bluestalking.tumblr.com/ I’ll let you know when they’re up]
Was just going about my business, la di da, when this came through my FB feed:
I’ve been to Scotland, let’s see… one, two, three times and found it staggeringly beautiful but I’ve never seen any of the sites photographed in this article.
God, my heart just stopped beating.
It isn’t that I don’t love my own country and know we have beauty spots but holy mother of god. I have less interest in what’s here but that’s normal, isn’t it. Do people who live near these sites in Scotland know how fortunate they are? Would any trade for life in the Chicago suburbs?
No, really, would they? Because I have a nice house on half an acre I’d trade in a heartbeat, once my heart starts beating again.
I love rugged countryside, not snow-topped mountains. Areas of tropical beauty, like the Appalachians and Smoky Mountains (named for a near constant haze), leave me breathless but Ireland and Scotland specifically offer what’s most to my taste, rocky and mostly treeless hills and mountains, overrun with heather. In this country we really don’t have that. I take that back. Some of our western states are similar in look but not climate. They’re hot, dry and dusty. Gorgeous for their austerity but too hot by far.
“We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trod. The good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. However, as the state of mind in which we are, generally gives the coloring to events, when the imagination is suffered to wander into futurity, the picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one. Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”
– Meriwether Lewis (Lewis and Clark expedition)
What gets my blood pumping are castles and abbeys and lochs/loughs, history often bloody and filled with major figures history often knows little about, adding to their mystery and potential for new discoveries. I love myth and legend, druids and fairies and shape-shifters, knights, ladies, monarchies… I cut my teeth on Robin Hood and the Tales of King Arthur, both of which my late brother patiently read to me as a child, teaching me to read by alternating pages, helping me stumble along until I learned to read proficiently. He was obsessed with history, as is my older son, who shares my brother’s middle name. My son’s university major? Teaching of History with a minor in languages. Is it coincidence he shares my brother’s name and proclivities? I wonder.
So when I see photos like these of rugged Scotland, castles and lochs and brilliantly colored autumnal mountainsides it reminds me what I haven’t seen and more than likely never will. I recently had a taste of the beauty of Ireland and Wales, and long ago the beauty of Scotland. It all just leaves me wanting more.
I hope my children carry on their wanderlust and see more than they could ever hope. Two have been abroad, my daughter most extensively (studying in Wales for a semester, traveling to Italy, Ireland and Paris) and my youngest is awaiting his turn with as much patience as can be expected. My older son has been to Italy to meet family, planning to study abroad in Italy, maybe Siena or Florence, and will certainly travel to Rome and Venice. He’s already made his lifetime travel list: starting in Portugal and making his way east, visiting Ireland and the UK then looping around for the rest of Europe, bit by bit, over his vacations.
I’m fortunate to have been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen. As a family we’ve seen almost all 50 states, all contiguous but one of the Carolinas (South?). Hawaii would be nice but I’d rather see Alaska. Traveling as we did, by car, is rare these days and can be mind-numbingly dull. Ever driven the width of Montana? We have and it made us so slap-happy we celebrated all the tiny towns along the way as if they were the gilded streets of heaven. Because there is nothing else in Montana, at least via the West-East highway we took. There was one town sign I still wish we’d have stopped to photograph. It said something like, “Home to Six Nice People and One Jerk,” with photos of all. Funny, of all the states it’s Montana that comes to mind first. Because we made misery so funny, I guess. Misery being a staple of our family vacations.
I’m the most traveled of all of us, by far, having seen most of Western Europe, from Sweden south to Italy, Ireland east to the former Yugoslavia. I saw the Queen of England and Prince Philip in Dundee, Scotland. I sat on the patio of the Houses of Parliament in London, with a P.M. who took me to tea because I’d been a teenage ambassador once. I saw the first President Bush’s limo stuck in mud in Denmark, at a 4th of July celebration. In Austria I climbed in a castle where Richard the Lionheart had been held prisoner. I’ve seen Stonehenge, Glamis Castle (Macbeth), the Matterhorn, parts of Moorish Spain, canals of Venice and Bruges, Belgium. The home of Anne Frank and red light district of Amsterdam, a Lego village in Rotterdam. The Mona Lisa, statue of David and Sistine Chapel, The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and the Eiffel Tower.
If I die tomorrow I’ll have been better traveled than most people on earth. So how can I complain?
Oh, I still can and do. Justifiably, not really. But it doesn’t stop me. Two more kids left to study abroad mean two more chances to justify flying over to visit. And if one settles overseas? Please let it be Ireland or the UK. Please please please.
Save a room for mom, kids. Or a key and I’ll house sit. If you have any hesitation I’ll blog, in great detail, every little thing about your births and how uncomfortable my pregnancies were.
We had but one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. I know what you’re thinking, a totally American way to see Europe, but originally I’d designated the day we arrived as a sightseeing opportunity. Couldn’t have counted on Allison’s 1,000 hour layover in Rosslare (the core of hell, just wait for it) or my miserable, frozen caffeine-deprived day of total soul crushing, mental defeat. The other two days slated for Dublin I’d previously booked with bus tours into the hinterland, early morning ’til after dark. Since our arrival day was such a fiasco of layovers and delays, minimizing the time we had to see the city our first day, that left not much time at all to see a lot of a lot. It left one day.
Phoenix Park Hotel, Dublin – located, conveniently, near Phoenix Park (duh)
Worse, we slept late on our one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. Like late late, 11 a.m., after the free Full Irish Breakfast included in the room price had ended.
I had a sort of excuse: jetlag, though honestly it didn’t really hit me that hard. Not so hard as, say, five hours spent sitting in a damn train station watching women walk around with blow up dolls and inflated penises. Allison’s overnight ferry and subsequent long, dull wait for the next train to Dublin was worse for her than my seven and a half hour skyride next to two Irish businessmen soaked in red wine, listening to them laugh like drunken, Irish frat boys then pass out and snore for four hours while I sat wide-eyed, praying for death.
Tired and dehydrated, my eyeballs felt furry. While the businessmen gurgled in their sleep I wondered how much effort it would take to open the emergency door, sucking us all into oblivion over the Atlantic. Fortunately, the low energy of chronic depression saved all of our lives. All hail ambivalence and wrenching sadness! I couldn’t be bothered to summon energy enough to crawl three feet from my seat, cheek to the active petri dish that passed for carpeting.
For once, depression saved lives.
Guiltily, we realized Dublin would be given very short shrift; we’d see very little in one shortened day. I’d be back for two days before I flew home, so I was good. Not pleased, but okay. Not so for Allison but then she wasn’t even sure what was in Dublin to begin with and ignorance, as they say, makes things suck less. She was along for free room and board, a few dozen pics and some souvenirs, and the assertion she had been to Ireland once.
I guess that’s fortunate?
I’d pre-purchased tickets for the Hop-On/Hop-Off Dublin Tour Bus, little knowing one of the stops happened to be just around the corner from our lodging, the Phoenix Park Hotel. Huzzah! The tour website promised seamless transportation to all major ports of call in Dublin , drop offs near most any part of the city. Videos of happy happy tourists enjoying happy happy times attested to the sheer wonder of it all. Unicorns leapt! Glittery pots of gold overflowed!
I felt rather smug whipping out that email confirmation. I was a planner! Time had been spent poring over maps, googling history and sites and persons of interest. Once we’d bought and consumed the most expensive ordinary sandwiches ever (about, oh, $ 5 for a cheese sandwich), our alternative to a hot Full Irish Breakfast, we stood beside the curb waiting for our super happy fun bus.
Here it comes! Ha ha, it looks stupid, we’ll feel so touristy. It’s cold, let’s sit downstairs. Glad we got tea! Haha! Aaaaand it blows right past.
Okay. Next one. It’s green, does that make a difference? It says Hop-On/Hop-Off, must be a fashion choice. Here it comes, get your camera ready! Aaaaand it blows right past.
Glance at sign, watch, email confirmation. Hop-On/Hop-Off. Check. Two days, paid. Check. Dates match. Check. Glance back at sign. Well, here comes a green one, let’s seeeee…. And it’s gone.
Ask at the hotel! They’ll know!
“YOU ask,” sez Allison.
The clerk wasn’t the same clear-eyed, ruddy-cheeked Irishman from check in, the one who’d expertly circled all the sites in walking distance then scribbled YOU ARE HERE where we were. Haha! So sweet, so funny. So not here anymore. He’d morphed into a she, a less giddily friendly clerk who did know, I think.”It’s across the street,” she said, “just over something something … something something bus stop” in a thick Eastern European accent (maybe Russian?). “Thanks!” a bit too brightly. Back away quickly.
Let’s just cross the damn street. Screw it.
There’s a red one. I’m feeling CONFIDENT. Wave, wave, my good sir!
Reader, IT STOPPED. A friendly smile from a driver completely invested in us, it’s about freaking time. I hand him my printed out email confirmation, glowing with pride. I am a planner! He looks at it. He pulls off his glasses. He looks some more. A little more.
This is not starting well.
“I think…” He scrutinizes. He shows to the tour guide, who scratches her head. “I think you want the GREEN bus.”
“But I don’t want you to stand here forever, so I’ll drive you to a GREEN stop.”
We sit. Oh, how happily we sit. Tra la, this man is our savior. The tour guide chats amiably into the microphone, same old same old to her but she makes it sound new FOR US. Interesting! Dublin is wonderful!
Halt. “And there you are, right as rain, here’s your stop. There aren’t as many green buses but one should be along…. shortly?”
And one was along. Aboard we hopped and I handed my email printout to the driver. “Errr…” Scratching head. “I think you want the RED bus.”
“We were… on… the… red… bus. He said we need the GREEN bus.”
“Well, just have a seat. Can’t have you just standing around.”
We ditched him and his stupid GREEN bus at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and never saw him again. Screw you, Hop-On/Hop-Off, wherever you are. We are the only two tourists on the planet who could NOT manage to figure you out. We are only two but we are mighty. As mighty as my social media reach. Chew on that.
The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert version of the script known as “insular majuscule”.
The place of origin of the Book of Kells is generally attributed to the scriptorium of the monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location.
It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.
Being a planner, I’d also pre-purchased our tickets for the Book of Kells exhibit. Unlike the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus, our Book of Kells tickets gained us admission as promised.
I have no photos of the Book itself, nor the exhibits preceding it. You can’t photograph anything before the Old Library part of the tour and that only without flash. I previously posted a couple photos of the Old Library, which is so overflowing with history and culture my heart swelled to bursting. Give me that smell of old leather and dusty vellum, dark wood vaulted at the ceiling, anchored to the floor by way of strong, thick columns.
I’m a dork that way. Even Allison, not particularly into old books, found the book making exhibits of interest and took a lot of her own photos of the Old Library.
If she was just humoring me that’s okay. She didn’t make one move to hurry me.
So, no photos of brilliantly colored illuminated pages, sorry. That’s what Google’s for: ripping off copyrighted images since September 4, 1998:
The book gave me chills imagining medieval monks hunched over the vellum, feather pens dipping into brilliant blues and reds and gold inks, scratching away by candlelight. Once in that groove it’s transcendent. I know that feeling of creation, not on this scale but artistic creation as a whole. Hours and whole days fly by. You forget there is anything but you and your art until your back complains or your bladder sends you an urgent signal. Interruptions are irritations. Insistent, though, and once back it takes but a short time becoming immersed again. There’s no feeling of hunger, little of thirst. By the time exhaustion hits, demanding you put the piece aside, you’ve gone so far beyond it’s a sort of high, like starving yourself beyond what’s healthy. Unhealthy, manic creativity is fueled by abuse of the body. The monks would have known this. I wonder how long they lived, at what point the next shift pulled them off their stools and took over. Maddening the only writing they did was transcription and not personal, yet blessed are we the only writing they did was transcription or we wouldn’t have the wealth of culture we do.
For a bibliophile, there are no mental images more romantic as the bald – save for a fringe of hair – brothers sitting side by side, desk beside desk, in a muted monastery away from temptations of life. The handwriting’s so perfect, so tiny. Pencil guide lines are visible on the manuscript as are tiny hairs left unscraped from the calfskin. Hair ducts, too, eliciting a bit more sympathy for the poor animals. Modern books are worth more for content, medieval manuscripts for artistic merit first, more only if you’re either an avid historian or student of religion.
It’s the art: the sweat and labor and meticulous detail. And the romance: the names never known, artists never credited. Nothing left behind save the glorious beauty.
Video with a few details:
I wish I could say we saw loads of other sites after the Book of Kells. Truth is, we went shopping in the shopping district. A hopefully genuine Irish-knit cardigan, sheep coffee mug, few t-shirts and miscellany later we walked back through the Christ Church Cathedral area on the way to dinner and our hotel.
What we saw of Dublin was shamefully minimal. The (short) bus rides took us past monuments and buildings and a crazed-looking person in a leprechaun suit but mostly we saw what we did as we walked aimlessly through the city. If ever we wind up there together again we’ll rectify the shameful waste but this trip was ma & Timmy/Jimmy bonding time, more about time together than sites seen. We saw more than I mention here and it was, all in all, fabulous time spent in lovely Dublin, my new favorite city until the next dislodges it.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Next up lovely, touristy Killarney, Cliffs of Moher and more…
the two americans? they went that way…
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a word of what I’m saying.”
– Oscar Wilde
“sphere within sphere” – arnaldo pomodoro
trinity college, dublin
old library, trinity college
street performers, shopping district (note American influence)
lovely pubs everywhere
lovely pubs, redux
shopping shopping shopping
wish i knew – maybe