So, here I am, returning to Seville at last. I have to warn you, this entry can not possibly be as entertaining as the first Seville entry was. Seriously. I just reread that entry, to remind myself of what I covered, and I have entirely intimidated myself now. Like, how is me-now supposed to compete with me-then? That guy was good! Gotta tell you, feeling Imposter Syndrome in the company of yourself is really taking it to the next level. Go, me! Only the greatest determination induces me to continue writing this and not simply walk away.
Determination, and the hope that getting back to my blog will get me sleeping again. It’s been mostly 5-6 hours a night for a few weeks now, and I still haven’t spotted the source of stress that surely is causing it. Of course, it might simply be the day/night cycle here in Edinburgh.
It’s warm enough here that I have to leave the window and shutters partly open, and so I get street noise — and possibly just too much light in the morning, rather than internal stress. Sigh.
Anyway, it’s rough when you feel Imposter Syndrome around your own writing (and software), and I rather suspect that it’s only going to get worse. “Oh, yeah, that Charles-in-his-30s guy sure did write some great software. Me? No, I haven’t touched that stuff in years. These days, I don’t even remember how to set the clock on my VCR. What do you mean, ‘That’s not a VCR?’ I guess that would explain why my Duran Duran tapes don’t play on it anymore, damn it. Well, could you set the clock on it anyway? Since President Snowden moved us to Daylight Metric Time, I never know when to eat my tapioca.”
By the way, speaking of President Snowden (and, by extension, politics), my Aunt Florida sent me this pretty amazing article written by one of the long time Fox News commentators, about how its shows are as carefully constructed as WWE wrestling. Independent of one’s political party, it makes for a fascinating read. It also rather supports my longstanding view that Rupert Murdoch is not a conservative media magnate, he’s a businessman; he doesn’t care what “truths” his channels are promoting, just that they generate reliable revenue. I’ve always said that if Rupert thought he could make money on a Baby Harp Seal channel, we’d be getting our warm, fuzzy, daily news from baby harp seals. It’s just product to him, and any negative opinions about the net result are more a condemnation of unrestrained capitalism and greed than they are of the political ideology that the greed is riding into the ground. Anyway, it’s a pretty cool insight into how that process works, and a reminder that there’s a *lot* of PR manipulation going on in our systems right now, with the usual motivations of money and power. (Like the amazing Facebook manipulation driven by Cambridge Analytica.) Reading and viewing widely, from sources across the political spectrum, is one of the few counters to it. (As is reading nothing at all, I suppose, but ignorance is rarely a useful solution.)
But, if all that leaves you a bit tense or worried, don’t be. There’s always this.
So, in my prior post, I covered my first few days wandering around Seville, mostly looking for groceries. And a yoga mat (twice). This seems like a good time to repeat the map of Seville that I posted then, for orientation purposes:
Central Seville. The old city is on the eastern side of the river (you can still find large chunks of the old wall around it). The train station, Sevilla Santa Justa, is circled on the right, and my Airbnb place is the circled star near the top on the right (to the right of the Basilica de la Macarena, where I assume they have dancing at church services, like Pentacostals).
I’d like to say that I did other things during my stay there, so I shall: “I did other things during my stay there.” It’s not true of course, but it feels very affirming to say.
As I pointed out in the last post, my time was soon subsumed by Elder Scrolls Online — not exclusively, but largely. Let it not be said that, when I get into something, I don’t commit.
When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.
— Shunryu Suzuki
But, despite my own personal Burning Season, I did get to wander about the city, sometimes looking for groceries, sometimes following my walking tours app, sometimes just picking an arbitrary point and walking there because I needed the movement. (It’s very annoying, that I trained from early childhood to sit unmoving for hours at a time, generally while reading, and became quite good at it. And now, all grown up and with time on my hands, if I do that too much, I WILL DIE!!!! Hardly seems sporting.)
So, here’s a bunch of stuff that I ran across while wandering Seville, 70% of which looked like this:
Narrow alleys with pastel buildings and (one hopes) lots of summer shade.
And 20% of which looked like this:
Wider street, with sidewalk, cars, and cafes.
And 10% looked like this: wide arcades with churches and trams and quaint local coffee shops and street musicians playing ethnic music:
Made me nostalgic for Disneyland, this did.
That was taken on avenue running southeast from the Plaza Nueva (marked with a star on the map above, almost at the center of the map and just above a little blue box that indicates a tram stop), until it reaches another tram and subway stop at Puerto Jerez by the river, near to the Torch Coffee Roasters (where I went looking for some decent coffee beans). Google, for some reason, does a terrible job of showing that this street exists, unless you really zoom in — but despite that omission, it’s a lovely street:
The Plaza Nueva. This was a nice place to sit out with a cup of coffee. I reach that conclusion by deduction based upon observation, rather than by experiment, as I only sat out there without coffee. But I have a high level of confidence in my conclusion.
A building along that avenue. I’ve mentioned before how pathetic most U.S. architecture is, right? Of course I have. Consider that reiterated.
I mentioned that there was a church along this avenue, right? It’s this, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, aka Catedral de Sevilla. No big deal, just 80 chapels, 500 masses per day (as of 1896). Thought I’d mention it. You can see some more pics here, and interiors here.
I never quite made it inside that church, because I was distracted by finally catching enough Magikarp to evolve a Gyarados!
It takes 400 Magikarp points to evolve one into a Gyarados, so I was super happy to finally get one, and named it after the city itself. Seville was worth visiting for that happy achievement alone!
(I also caught my first Ditto here — also very exciting — but that was as nothing compared to getting the Gyarados! Woo-hoo!)
The other end of the avenue, near what seems to be a subway station. I never needed to take the subway, but it’s good to know that it exists. Also, again: architecture. Come on with the come on!
And then, of course, continuing past on the left of that orange-banded building, you reach the river:
This is scenic in direct proportion to (a) what season it is and (b) how fully you are in the shade when you view it. In the sun, on February 1st, it was quite nice. I’m pretty sure that as I write this on June 14th, it’s another story entirely.
Of course, not all of Seville looked this quaint — some bits were more modern, or a bit more run down and decorated in Decaying Modern. Like, this was literally the first place on the other side the river:
♬ There was a plaza, ♫ had some kitsch, ♫ and Bingo was its name-o. ♬
And this thoroughfare ran out from that plaza. I mean, the streets are clean and all, and it’s not hideous — but would you want to live there? Cheek by jowl with hundreds of other hive-homeys in modern pillboxes, above constant traffic? On one side of the river, beauty, and on the other, despair, as if divided by the River Styx. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps they’re perfectly happy there. *I wouldn’t be, but it takes all kinds, etc, etc.
On the other hand, they *did* have what is clearly a Euthanasia shop just down the street, so maybe I’m right after all.
I headed back across the river pretty quickly, and was rewarded with street art:
Like this bit of poignant commentary on the burdens of fashion — and it was on the side of a church, no less! I was impressed at their willingness to display graphic cultural commentary like this.
All these years that I’ve heard this song, it never once occurred to me that it referred to a street. I’m not sure why this street was such a big deal, it didn’t look special. Maybe the songwriter grew up here? Ah well, learn something new every day.
I suppose I should mention, since much of this walking about was motivated by grocery shopping, that I did find places that sold decent coffee — the regular grocery store coffee that I mentioned last time wasn’t actually that bad, but the organic shops had better. They also had some decent organic beers — I’ve had mixed success with organic beers in the past, but Seville had a nice selection, and the regular market had Guinness, so all was right with the world. Though there was one beer that I gave a pass:
Rule of thumb: the more high-concept a beer gets, the worse it generally is. (There are notable exceptions, like anything from Dogfish Head brewery, but it’s pretty true in the general case.) It’s like Christian Rock — the quality of the music is generally sacrificed in the interest of driving home the message. In this case… no. I don’t even like “chocolate” beer, or “coffee” beer. If you think I’m going to like “weed” beer, you really are high. (BTW, ratebeer.com agrees, and gives it 1 star out of 10. Ouch!)
Mind you, weed beer wasn’t the only thing I deliberately passed up:
“JapoKitos”? Which are, somehow, Japanese-themed, though only the branding suggests that? And are fronted by a malevolent looking tween wielding cat-themed fake chopsticks? I give up.
Although in retrospect, I probably should have purchased and consumed the JapoKitos in preference to this:
At the time, I was jonesing for ice cream, and could not find my usual vanilla or coffee, just weird strawberry stuff, or Ben & Jerry’s There’s So Many Flavors In Here That We Just Gave Up And Picked A Random Name Out of the Dictionary Of Cultural Literacy. (I hate that flavor.) But I saw this and thought, “Well, ‘leche’ is milk, and it’s Häagen-Dazs, how bad can it be?” All. All of the bad. “Dulce De Leche”, it turns out, means caramel, and whatever you may think about the virtues of caramel, throw them out. Because it turns out that when you mix caramel with already sugar-intensive ice cream, the result is an insulin-shock inducing swamp of concentrated candy that would send even a Japanese person running for the vomitorium. It. Was. Horrible. First bite: “Huh, ok, not what I was expecting.” Second bite: “Ok.” Third bite: “Yeah, really not my thing, I think.” Fourth bite: “Must. Not. Waste. Food.” For the avoidance of doubt: I did not finish the pint.
But I find that I’ve gotten a bit derailed by the food topic. Back to my walkabout. I have to say, I found Seville to be generally a very nice walking city. The car exhaust was maybe a bit much on the main thoroughfares, but you could avoid much of that by sticking to the narrower streets, of which there were many: winding, disorganized, chaotic lanes of varying sizes running through seemingly endless blocks of ancient, pastel apartment blocks, opening up occasionally into tiny plazas and shopping arcades.
Perfect example: a random little plaza, with fountain and orange trees, and with shops and homes around it. There’s no not loving that, none at all.
If you think that’s too small and quaint, and you’re impatient for something larger and more dramatic, just hold your horses. (Or let these guys do it for you.)
And if you want really dramatic:
I tripped across this one day, and I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, but I love it and I have dubbed it Eggo Plaza, the name by which it will henceforth be known to all who may ask.
Or, if you want something smaller scale, the shop windows were often entertaining, though I wasn’t always sure of the motivation behind them.
I’m not sure what shopping demographic is served by selling figures of ceramic turnips, Depressed Jesus, Disney dwarves, and Darth Cleric, but I have to assume that they know their business. (Knowledge that I find myself grateful not to have.)
“Please come in and buy our totally official, and not at all home made, brand name merchandise. Sweatshop-free since 2015!”
Did I mention the magic wand shop down the street from me? I totally meant to go in there and ask what sort of cores they use, but I never got around to it. Plus, the language barrier. (And, I really can not carry anything else with me, my pack is heavy enough already.)
There were a *lot* of little restaurants that I passed on these walks. I kept looking for a place that served rabbit — which I assumed would be labeled “conejo” on any menus — as part of my goal to eat The Rabbit of Seville. (Damn, but it’s hard not to stop writing and watch that all the way through.) Unfortunately, despite some serious looking, I was completely unable to find one in the month that I was there. I did find lots of these:
A lot of places made dishes from something called “tapas”. I’m not sure what animal “tapas” comes from, but given the way some meats disagree with me, it seemed like a good idea to just avoid it.
Fortunately, there was an alternative:
O’Neill’s Irish Pub, which Google Maps will actually let you virtually walk into, here! I came back here at least 2 more times. I always sat inside — I hate sitting outside next to busy traffic, and this was a super busy intersection. I heard the Irish bartender talking about the weather with another patron, and he said that sometimes they get hot, dry, sandy winds all the way from Africa — another reason to get out of Spain before summer. The burger, with bacon and egg on it, was super good, btw. 😀
(Side note: Murphy, my current host in Edinburgh, says that *they* sometimes get sandy winds from Africa! It comes as very fine dust, carried in the upper atmosphere. I guess that’s not any weirder than 25% of San Francisco’s pollution coming from China, but still. Would not have guessed that.)
One of the nice things about a lot of these older cities that I’ve been in, is that you continually trip across interesting things, just in random wandering.
This little side street near O’Neil’s Pub particularly struck me. It was like a street that in most cities would have been a run-down side alley, but they’d kept it up, kept it clean and scrubbed, and it stayed quite nice as a result. So, yaay that.
There’s very little of that in large modern cities. Like, I can walk for ages in Manhattan and never see anything out of the ordinary — it’s mostly all of a piece, and that piece is generally a bit worn. San Francisco, though I love it, is much the same. It’s city, and there may be oases where you get something different, but mostly it’s very planned and constant. I have found that less true in the older cities, and I’m not quite sure why. At least some of it has to be that their old stuff stands out to me as different, and noticeable, because it comes out of a different tradition than I’m used to — whereas most of the new, modern stuff that younger cities are made out of reflects the same broader (American-dominated) world culture that I’m used to seeing everywhere else. Maybe some of it is because they’re old societies that have had their roots in the same neighborhoods for centuries and learned to keep up the place they live in, so their back alleys look prettier and don’t look as ignored? Maybe because they’re so Old, the New has to move in slowly, and the controlled interplay between them creates a wider variety in what you see roaming around, than what you see in more purely new cities.
Of course, not all of that interplay really, um, works:
At the end of a long day of Nude Newspaper Selling, you need a beer. I don’t judge.
On a wall plastered with concert posters, this made me laugh. It’s one letter off a Japanese term for — well, this is a family blog so let’s just say, “little boys” and leave it at that. I’m not sure the artist would be pleased by the association. 🙂
The Isla Mágica water park across the river was closed — doubtless due to the bitter winter weather — but it apparently features a sort of German beer garden with what appears to be a German beer drinker, with barrel, suspended in mid-air. (For reasons which I’m sure were clear to the park’s architect, perhaps while in his cups.)
The water park was part of a larger stretch of park that ran for quite some length along the west bank of the river (paralleled by a narrow park-ish embankment on the east side). Much of it was very pretty to look at and be in.
The south-of-the-water-park section had some developed river-pier areas, though in this stretch they seemed to be used more for jogging than for anything actually nautical, despite the water traffic passing them.
It also had some sections that quite terrified me!
This was taken February 3rd. The beginning of February! For Pete’s sake, what do I have to do to avoid Spring?!
Thankfully, I was due to leave on the 17th, and Seville is nowhere near as green as Zagreb, Croatia, was. But still… my Post-Traumatic Spring Disorder runs deep.
The other thing this park had was, as usual, tons of orange trees. The oranges were simply falling ripe onto the ground, clearly underutilized, so I took the risk of violating the public order and picked one. A little research quickly turned up why the city’s ubiquitous oranges were underutilized:
I think I’ve mentioned before, that I have that genetic variant (in common with much of my family — in the traditional manner) that means I don’t really detect bitter tastes. It contributes to my fondness for dark beer, dark chocolate, strong coffee, and other things typically described as being bitter. I barely notice that aspect of them.
This, I noticed. Wow. It was an interesting experience, and I don’t regret it, but thereafter I bought my oranges at the grocery store like everybody else.
Curiously, now that I think of it, I still can’t really conjure up what “bitter” tastes like. I mean, I recall that orange being a really strong, not very pleasant taste, but I can’t bring it to mind the way I can sweet tastes, or savory, or tart, etc. I remember discussing this with Brandon a few years ago, that I was supposedly had a poor ability to taste bitter and that I couldn’t even bring to mind what bitter tasted like. So we did a test where we drank a beer with a strong hop taste, that would be considered bitter — and there wasn’t anything in it that particularly stood out to me, versus other beers of its style. I could vaguely detect something in its flavor that was kind of like something that marmalade had. But I still couldn’t describe what that was, and I cannot recall it now. I guess those neurons in my brain never needed to develop, because they so rarely got that input. Kind of weird, but kind of cool, too. You can do a lot worse than going through life never really noticing the bitter parts.
On the western side of this bit of park was a gated-off complex with a futuristic look and no clear purpose:
This is exactly the sort of location they’d use for films like Gattaca, or Battle for the Planet of the Apes, where you need some futuristic city backdrop, and people in weirdly cut suits walking up and down the stairs. I’m sure it was something much more innocuous, like a government lab for developing super-viruses.
There was also a fair amount of graffiti, some of it fairly complex:
I always appreciate good graffiti. The kind that are just lazy signature scrawls do nothing for me, but there was a lot of this better sort along this stretch of the river, and it was pretty cool.
And some of it was super complex:
Sines of the times.
Making liters out of mole hills.
Oooo, you’re a rebel, scrawling graffiti about force and change. Get a job, hippie.
The north end of this long park was much wider, spread out across what would have been a number of city blocks, and it had what appeared to be proper groves of oranges, kids’ playgrounds, adult exercise equipment, lots of trees and grass, a tiny functional train circuit. And yet, somehow, it managed to never be out of earshot of nearby freeways and heavy-traffic roads. I’ve got really no patience for that sort of thing; traffic noise is not restful to me, and whatever peace might be derived from pleasant trees and grass is completely wrecked by the distant roar of 18-wheelers. (Similarly, city cafes with outdoor seating next to busy streets. I do not get the appeal of eating next to the noise and stink of traffic. I mean, maybe there are people who just never get outside, so sitting in *any* outdoor setting is worth it to them. But, if so, wow. That sounds painful, man.)
And then there was this:
My PokemonGo app calls this point of interest “Huevo de Coloń”, or The Columbus Egg. I don’t know if this is the official name but it’s descriptive, so good enough. I have mentioned before, my reaction to monuments to Columbus, so I won’t repeat it here. But the egg is weird enough that I can’t entirely disapprove.
Though the day I walked this park was rather long and tiring, and least I had something cheery awaiting me at home:
This mead, and other beers, are apparently made by a brewery in the Seville area, despite the Nordic name. I ran across a little beer shop that carried them, bought a small variety, and enjoyed them all. 🙂
There was another park across the city that wasn’t as large but seemed more quiet:
I liked this place, but it was completely without grass, and I got the strong impression that they’d simply given up trying to keep it alive in the summer and settled for packed clay as a lower maintenance solution. Can’t say that I blame them.
I took that shot on my way to the Plaza de España, an impressive complex of gorgeous buildings (mostly serving as government offices), tiled courtyards, water, and parks. Which I took a ton of pictures of, only to discover that even the Wikipedia page for the place has better pictures. Well, pictures that are at least as good, lets say that. Of course, Wikipedia doesn’t have this:
I cannot recommend resting on those benches, if the men’s and women’s toilets are where the sign seems to indicate.
I did capture a couple of pictures that seem nice enough to be worth saving — though I don’t dare do a Google Image search, where I’m sure even they would be put to shame.
Come on, that’s just pretty, right? I mean, I don’t get the people who chose to rent a rowboat to go back and forth along the tiny canal. And I bet the stone & tile plaza is bloody hot in the summer. But other than that, it’s charming!
The base of the building, running along the curved edge below the arches, is a series of little decorated niches, alternating sitting areas and small fountains (which weren’t running at this time of year).
Eventually, I pieced together that each niche represented a different region of Spain, and had little painted scenes that reflected important events for that region. The ones with the little fountains might have been nice to sit next to, if the fountains had been running and if you had a lot of sunblock on.
The surrounding park was also very nice, with trees and benches and fountains and this:
The little waterfall was nice, and there were nearby benches to sit out and listen to the water and not hear the traffic, and I even nodded off a little resting there. The hill had a little gazebo on the top, and I wanted to take a panorama from the gazebo. But there was a couple snogging up there and they lingered until I gave up and left.
On the walk home, I stopped at a gelato shop on the Av. de la Constitución, and they made the most amazing construction out of my 2-flavor request:
I almost hated to ruin this by eating it. Almost. (It was as yummy as you could expect.) I’m not sure what they called this, but a gelato rose by any other name would taste as sweet.
I should point out that, in visiting Seville, I’d wanted to do 2 things specifically: eat some rabbit, and get a haircut. As reported, I failed at the first of these, but, thankfully, was successful at the second, about a week before I left.
Trip not wasted, and a decent haircut out of it. Yaay, me. 😁
And that’s about it.
So, on February 17th, I woke up early, tidied whatever I hadn’t tidied the day before, left the keys on the counter, and headed off to the train station. I don’t think I ever saw my host after the day that I checked in, but the place was more like apartments than a shared space, so that wasn’t surprising. But we exchanged a few e-mails, got along well in them, and left each other nice reviews, so it all worked out.
My train left at 8:50am, so I retraced my arrival path, got there in plenty of time, grabbed a second-breakfast sandwich for later, and caught the train for Barcelona as expected. And that was Seville.
I liked Seville. It would be too warm to spend much of my year in, but I could see going back sometime. Probably won’t be this lifetime, but almost certainly the next, for like a weekend or something. (I mean, Elder Scrolls Online is releasing new content all the time, and I just don’t see how I could fit another visit in, this lifetime. You’ve got to be practical.)
First, sorry for the earlier blog post false alarm. I went to save my progress on the draft, and hit the wrong button and published it instead. My bad. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
Ok, so it’s been a while since the last entry. As you are doubtless aware. My last entry was Feb 4th, a couple of weeks into my stay in Seville, and my time was starting to free up a bit. I was doing less gaming: leaving Skyrim, playing a little Fallout Shelter on the iPad, and doing a little more Elder Scrolls Online but not a great deal. I was doing yoga every morning, doing a little walking around the city (mostly, but not exclusively, in search of groceries), watching a bit more TV, and thankfully starting to read properly again. It was good to have the time back!
And then it all came crashing down.
The Elder Scrolls Online folks released an update in mid-January that added the ability to buy player homes in the game (with in-game gold or with real-world cash), and to add on to them, build structures, and decorate. This sort of thing is like crack cocaine to me — you may remember me mentioning the settlement building functionality in Fallout 4? I spent countless hours building up small towns around post-apocalyptic Boston, and setting the settlers up with food, water, and electricity, defenses, housing, etc. There wasn’t a settlement in Boston that wasn’t a fully functioning seed of a restored civilization when I was done with them, and it was time consuming and awesome. I’ve loved planning houses and building since I was a kid — age 8, designing underground homes based on stuff I’d read in my dad’s hippie, alternative living magazine (Mother Earth? Mother Jones? I no longer remember the magazine’s name, but I’m almost certain it was Mother Something. It was 1970.). And I spent weeks building Skyrim housing add-ons. Software architecture scratches much the same design itch, but in the last 5 years of building housing mods for Skyrim, settlements in Fallout, and now home building in ESO, I’m starting to suspect that I may have missed my calling as an actual building architect. Ah well, next lifetime, perhaps.
So, I buy a convenient home in the game, and then have to start roaming the landscape searching for building materials, and building a deck, and lights, and fireplaces, and laundry rooms, and all of that. In preparation for this blog post, I spent a little time recording what the place looked like before:
(Note: this is a little choppy at the start, thanks to running the game and the recording software at the same time and straining the system. It settles down after 20-30 seconds, after I leave the starting town.)
Mum recently talked me into entering the place into a little housing contest that one of our player guilds was having, and then she played hostess to the judges (since it was the middle of the night, my time, and I was asleep). I entered it with some reluctance, but Mum is quite the saleswoman (to me, and to the judges) and I took first place! 🙂 So, time well spent.
Just as I was winding down on home-building (I continue to tweak the place, but the basic work on it was done in the first month), ESO started an anniversary event for the release of one of their add-ons, the Thieves’ Guild DLC.
(DLC is “downloadable content”, extra stuff you can add to the main game after its release. Most big games have a few big DLC packages that you can buy, to keep the game fresh and interesting, and never-ending games like MMOs (Massively Multi-player Online games) will keep adding stuff indefinitely.)
I’d never played the Thieves’ Guild DLC (nor a couple of the others), because I was sunk into Fallout 4 when it came out, but there was some special stuff you could get if you played it during this anniversary event, so I thought that I probably should start it. I’ll omit all of the riveting details of my gaming experience and just say that it was, in fact, fun. And it took about a month, getting me from Seville to Barcelona.
Just as that was winding down, they started an April Fools event, the Jester Festival! More fun — and rather silly — stuff to do, and… well, let’s just say that you could get lots of fun/cool things if you did that stuff, repeatedly, every day, with every character you’d created for the game.
If this sounds painfully repetitive… you need not check your hearing, because how it sounds is pretty much exactly how it ended up being. I have a built-in inclination to try to optimize results, and if I can get the most stuff by doing a repetitive thing for a bit, then I’ll do it without thinking twice. Unfortunately, this meant spending about 3 hours a day for the whole month of the event — just doing the repetitive, administrative tasks, without even playing any new, adventure-y content — and I was really feeling pretty done with the whole affair as the end of that month approached. (This covered mid-Barcelona to my first couple of weeks in Edinburgh.)
Then they announced a Brand New Event, this time for the anniversary of the game’s original release 3 years ago. More. Stuff. You. Could. Get. Now, I was actually starting to get a bit cross. “OMG, give me at least a short break between events, it’s too much!” But, if you play the game, it was really good stuff to get! So, gritting my teeth slightly, I started the new event, running all of my characters (I had 8, and made a 9th for the event) through variations of the same activities every day. There were actually a lot more activities I *could* have been doing daily, but I stuck to the handful that got me the most rewards in the shortest amount of time; they were really as much as I could handle. (Have pity for my poor mother, who has something like 40 characters spread across 3-4 accounts. And understand that at least I come by the trait honestly!)
For what it’s worth, much of this was, in fact, fun. I did actually manage to get a lot of long-term game goals accomplished during this event, which made me very happy, and I’ve been getting the benefit of that time investment ever since. And I spent some serious time with that brand new 9th character, and got him quite advanced in abilities and he’s going to be very useful for certain types of game activities. But by the end of all of this, I was about ready to bite the head off lead game designer.
This was roughly weeks 3 through 6 in Edinburgh. Around weeks 3-4, I deleted Fallout Shelter from my iPad; I don’t know how much time I’d spent building up my Shelter in the 20 months or so the game had been out, but it was just too much of a time-suck in addition to the other things. So, I threw it out. This may be reassuring to anyone who worries about game-addiction: once the experience stops being fun, I move on. (To another game, but whatever. Shut up.)
“Newly announced: ‘Morrowind’, a massive, new addition to the Elder Scrolls Online, coming out June 6th! Help us beta test the game! Here’s your exclusive key to download the pre-release software!”
No. Uh-uh. I’m done. By this time, it was the end of April and I needed my space. So I dialed back. I did some beta testing, and it was cool, and I reported a bunch of bugs that I found, and it was nice being able to help them out. But it’s nothing like the time I was spending before, maybe 2-3 hours a day, and I start getting out more, walking more, reading more. And I think that’s the level I’m going to be at for a while, even if they add new events down the line. I expect I’ll cycle up and down a bit on time spent in the game, a bit more when I have a goal I want to accomplish, less in between. That works for me.
They released the expansion early, to people who preordered it, so at the time of this writing I’ve been playing it for about a week and my previous time balance is what I’ve been maintaining, quite easily. A little more, a little less, depending on the day, but it’s been much more balanced.
And that gives me time to catch up on the blog. In theory. No promises. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂
Where Am I Now?
Currently, we heading towards the end of May — at least, that’s what my friends in Scotland are hoping is the case, but the election is still 2 weeks away. Still, Labour is doing really well in the polls, after coming back from terrible polling before the snap election was called. And Jeremy Corbyn had a great and widely watched TV interview, back-to-back with a terrible Theresa May interview, so that helps. Fingers crossed, that the UK should get back to principled and competent leadership. (At least one of us should escape!) In case it wasn’t clear, I am in Edinburgh.
I was originally planning to be here for 2 months, while I possibly looked for a place to possibly stay longer term. But getting a permanent place here has proven to be impractical, as neither of the conventional options works for me. I can’t really rent, because I can only stay in the UK (on a standard visa) for 6 months a year, and renters don’t want to rent to someone who plans to then (effectively) sublet the place on Airbnb for 1/2 the year. And, I can’t really buy: paying cash isn’t an option when my money’s in longer-term investments, and mortgages would be hard to get (local banks don’t want to lend to non-citizens, U.S. banks don’t want to lend on foreign properties).
And, as I’ve had time to let the idea sit, I’m not sure that I actually want to get a place for a longer term. I *love* Edinburgh, it’s my favorite city in the world so far, but there are still other places to see — and certainly cheaper places to live. (My spending rate has been too high this year, and I need to head back towards my original plan of staying in cheaper parts of the world, in keeping with my ‘Jane Austen heroine’ lifestyle.) And, as much as I like being in nice places while I’m in the place, I like moving on to the next new thing even more once I’m on the road again. Which, I guess, means that no matter which I’m doing — staying put or traveling — I like that thing the most, at the time that I’m doing it. And so I guess I can’t complain about that too much. Hence, continuing with my travels really rings more true to me now. It took me a while to resolve that in my head, but I eventually did.
But I decided that, even if I wasn’t moving here, having a break where I didn’t have to move around would be nice, so shortly after I arrived I talked to my host here, Murphy, to see what he thought of my staying an additional 2 months, for 4 months total, and leaving in mid-July. He said, essentially, that I was genial enough, so sure, and that’s what we’re doing.
That means I’ll be here, in Edinburgh’s New Town, a few blocks north of Princes Street, until July 17th.
Where Am I Next?
OMG, I spent so much time and worry trying to figure this out. Lest you think that all I have been doing for the last 5 months was playing games. Which, in fairness, is probably what I was implying above. Granted, I was mostly gaming. But I also:
Watched the new season of Sense8 just after it was released (goaded into timely viewing by my friend Jenni, who wanted someone to discuss it with)
Finally watched the 1980s movie A Boy And His Dog, based on the Harlan Ellison scifi novel. Its tale of a boy (late teens / early 20s, played by Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog (played by some sarcastic curmudgeon of a voice actor) surviving in a low-budget, Mad Max, post-WW4 wasteland was one of the inspirations behind the recent Fallout games. The movie is terrible. Teerrrriiibbblllee. Its only redeeming virtue is that it has a happy ending. Of a sort. I liked it. (Read the wiki for spoilers.)
Watched the new Iron Fist series, the next part of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration. It was… not good. In short, weak writing and plotting, and a lead actor who was supposed to be the world’s best martial artist and instead looked like a sulky harem boy. I’d have gladly watched a series about a sulky harem boy, but not one pretending to be a martial artist. They couldn’t have found *one* young actor with real martial arts chops? One who could hold a basic form? Jeeze. I’d had high hopes for that series, knowing the brilliant comics it was based on and knowing how good the other Marvel/Netflix series were, and I was very disappointed. 🙁
Read a few books, some of which I’ll mention in these blog posts.
A *lot* of Twitter. As usual, really — though in the depths of ESO, I mostly read a pared down subset of my usual feed because I just didn’t have time otherwise.
Just a few days ago, I watched Colossal in the theaters. It may have already come and gone where you are, but I highly recommend it if you can see it. It was weird and funny and kind of horrible and wholly original, and did *not* go where I was expecting, and it’s a wondrous and rare thing to be surprised in the movie theater.
And, within a couple of weeks of arriving in Edinburgh, after confirming with Murphy that I could stay here until mid-July, I started planning my post-July year. As I mentioned before: This. Was. A. Hassle.
I’ll try to compress this hassle into something not too meandery. The Schengen Agreement is the bane of my European travel, particularly this year, because while it creates a single travel zone and conveniently eliminates border checks across nearly all of Europe, it also limits your stay across that whole area to 3 months out of any 6. I barely had to deal with this last year, because most of my places — Croatia, Ireland, and the UK — weren’t part of the Agreement. But this year, I started my trip with 2 months in Spain, so my Schengen 6-month block began in early/mid-January. Then came to Edinburgh, and, if I plan to leave Europe in early November to return to the U.S., that really means that I’ve only got 3 months I can stay in the rest of Europe after I leave Edinburgh. So I either go into the Schengen territories for 3 months and then return to the UK until it’s time to fly home, or I stay in the UK until early August.
I’d thought about Amsterdam and Berlin, but I’d also thought about Norway. A Norwegian cruise was *very* tempting, but *super* expensive; I could live for 3 or 4 months for the cost of a week or two on one of those boats. And, the World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Helsinki, Finland, this year, from August 9-14th. I was pretty sure that I wanted to go to that… but that clearly puts me in Scandinavia in August. And I only have 3 months. And I want to go to Norway. And Airbnb is usually way cheaper if you book for a month at a time. So, 3 months = 3 places. Finland, Norway, ????. And where do I kill time before August 9th that’s not Schengen? It’s pretty much got to be the UK, but where?
Locking this in, as I was researching places and travel arrangements, I tripped across an amazing flight deal: on November 7th, a directflight from Oslo, Norway, to LA, for $218! There really was no passing that up, so I grabbed it. You may await with anticipation my stories of what a hell flight this surely must be — I very much fear that I will be forced to check my trekking backpack for the first time, for example, and may the gods have mercy on my gaming peripherals. But there we are.
So: Helsinki at the Start, Oslo at the end, and anywhere not in Scandinavia is going to be a nuisance to get to and back from. I toyed with a bunch of variations on this theme, sent a *bunch* of Airbnb requests to places that often had not updated their listings and were not really available for many different reasons, and the only arrangement that ended up working out was: London -> Helsinki -> Oslo -> Stockholm, Sweden -> catch a train back to Oslo and fly home. It’s a slightly imperfect arrangement — it would be better, obviously, if I my last month could have been in Oslo, since I’m leaving for LA from there, but the only Oslo places that I thought were appealing (and affordable) were booked for a chunk of that last month. So, there we are. I’ve updated my itinerary page accordingly.
On with the blog
So, where does this blog go next? I’m going to end this here now. I was considering including the last leftover photos and such from Seville in this post, but after my publishing failure a few hours ago, I think I should just kick this guy out as a general status update, and then do the remains of Seville in the next post. (I’ll start that in the next few days.) Then I’ll write up Barcelona in the post after that, and conclude with Edinburgh — which, in truth, has not changed much since I was here last fall. Except for the weather, which has been amazing and very uncharacteristic of Scotland in late spring. It was 84° a few days ago, warmer than it was in L.A. that day! Simply nuts.
So, thanks for bearing with me these last few months. This blog is always a bit irregular, based on my distractions, and this spring it has been excessively so. But that should be done now. I hope. Feel free to berate me if it’s not. I give you leave. 🙂
I am writing this instead of stepping out into a warm, sunny, afternoon in Seville. This is almost certainly an error on my part, and I’m going to spend the next several paragraphs trying to persuade myself to go out and see something. But I woke up late (7am!), spent most of the morning reading e-mail and Twitter and playing Fallout Shelter), followed by an hour of yoga, and then lunch, and I have groceries to last until a couple more days, and I’m feeling very inclined to do a bit of meditation and book reading and maybe go out tomorrow instead. Since I’ve done *nothing* in Seville except wander across the city in search of good groceries, leaving the “sights” largely unseen, I’m trying to tell myself that I’m wasting my month here and really should go out more.
But I’ve rarely felt less inclined to be out and about as I have been here. Maybe because it’s a largish, well equipped studio with a nice patio, lots of sunshine, and great internet. Maybe it’s because I’m sleeping well, and doing an hour of yoga a day, and so I have 2-3 hours less time awake than I used to. Maybe it’s because my Twitter feed has filled with reports of the ongoing lunacy in our executive branch, and I feel like the obligation to be informed — and pass the important, or funny, bits along — is swallowing a massive chunk of my day. (Bans based on religious affiliation? Really? The Constitution means nothing to you lot? Thank gods for the courts, and the ACLU, because few members of our national legislature seems to have any backbone at all, in either party.) And with the blogging time, and getting back into my reading, and catching up a bit on TV shows…. Honestly, it’s amazing I manage to get out even for groceries!
So [I paused here, and am continuing this the next day], instead, I stayed home, did meditation and caught up on some good TV, and today I’ll likely do the same, plus write in the blog a bit. I’ll probably get out a bit tomorrow, following a walking tour of Seville in my walking tour app (GPSmyCity), or for groceries if nothing else, and then hit my first local museum on Tuesday
In the meantime, I’m leaving Philadelphia!
Monday, January 16th
So, as reported in my last entry, I left my Airbnb place in Philly at around 10:30, took the local subway to the airport, and hung out there until my plane left at 6:50pm. It was a bit of a wait, but I read Twitter, played Fallout Shelter, meditated, ate a couple of times, and it was a pretty easy wait. Mostly.
On the way to the airport, a guy I know from Twitter (and a friend of other friends), suddenly twigged that my tweets were coming from Philly — it turns out, he lives there. Alas, too late for us to meet for a beer, which we’d totally have done. But next time. Philly being a central airport hub — notably, for American Airlines, where most of my frequent flier miles are — I’m likely to be there again in a year or so.
Also, the only airport I’ve been in that’s ready if it starts raining men.
One plus of flying American was that my TSA pre-check thing worked, and I got to just walk through security without having to unpack/repack my luggage. That was *awesome*, and doesn’t happen when flying out on foreign airlines. (There is a global version of the precheck, that works on more of them, but I’ll wait for my my current one to expire before I fork out for the expanded one. Especially since it lasts through 2018, and that year should be my North America tour.) And then, when boarding, they did that thing where if you have their associated credit card you get to board in an earlier group, which was also awesome. The flight itself was rather uncomfortable, but solely because I tried to sleep and maybe — maybe — got 3 hours of fitful rest. The flight lasted about 7½ hours, which wasn’t too bad, and I’d picked an aisle seat about as far back in coach as you could get, with nobody seated next at the window next to me. (The stewardesses did some weird rearranging after I was on the plane, seemingly needing to clear a couple of rows for reasons they never explained, and I ended up getting moved, a few rows forward — but the flight wasn’t too crowded and the end result was the same.) And economy class was fine: I’ve learned that on these shorter flights, it’s just not worth blowing a large chunk of frequent flier miles on business class. I have trouble sleeping on a plane, even in lying down in reclining bed-seats; then, you combine that with a shorter flight, the nonsense at the start and end of the flight that reduces your sleeping time, and then the dinner and/or breakfast time. I wasn’t going to have time for much sleep, even in the unlikely event that I’d be able to, so springing for business class doesn’t buy me much, if anything. But, even with the relative luxury of the whole 2-seat row to myself, there was just no way to get comfortable enough to nod off. Maybe if I’d put the seat back more… but I always hate doing that to the person behind me, and it probably wouldn’t have helped much. Planes and trains just aren’t places where people like me can sleep much.
So, we arrived over Madrid a little before 8:00 am, and it was still nearly pitch black outside, which astounded me. Madrid is nearly as far south in Europe as you can get without a prescription, and I wouldn’t have thought it would be that dark that late in the morning. But, all of Europe is pretty far north to begin with, and Madrid is about the same latitude as Philly, maybe half a degree further north. And, more importantly, it’s on the far western edge of the Central European Time Zone, which has been deliberately stretched out to include pretty much all of the EU proper. Since the UK isn’t part of that (and will be even less so, if Brexit goes through), my old stomping ground of Edinburgh, Scotland, is one time zone further west than CET; but Edinburgh is actually slightly east of Madrid, and therefore has its sunrise over an hour earlier by the clock. And if I’d been flying into Croatia, on the far east side of CET, the sun would have been up for a while already. In Madrid, the eastern sky was just turning that brilliant indigo color that you really only see from airplane windows.
Most of my trips through foreign immigration have been pretty easy; the UK is more uptight than most, but nothing compares to the U.S. for making a bloody nuisance out of even a citizen’s entry into their home country. So, getting into other countries generally seems like a bit of a cakewalk. Spain was cake with ice cream and ginger ale. I didn’t do much more than wave my passport under the nose of the official and in I went. There was the usual separation of post-passport routes into “I have something to declare” versus “I have nothing.” Does anyone deliberately take the “I have something” route? I mean, I had nothing, but what would someone be carrying that they’d feel they had to ask for extra hassle? Well, regardless, the “I have something” line wasn’t even staffed at the absurdly early hour of 8:10am, so if anyone did have anything to declare, they declared it to their traveling companions and kept walking. (You don’t need government assistance for everything, after all.)
The one universal in all airports: your international flight arrives as far as possible from the immigration checkpoint. 3rd world countries have smiles awaiting you at the end. 1st world countries have pedwalks, but no smiles. Your call.
Working out the route from the Madrid airport to the Seville train station had been a bit of a challenge. Based on my Google research, it looked like I needed to catch a bus from the airport to get to the Madrid main train station, about 40 minutes away. And then it was a roughly 2½ hour train ride to Sevilla Santa Justa Station, and a 22 minute walk from there to my Airbnb. My check-in was at 3pm, so I had left myself lots of time on both ends and booked an 11:00am train, figuring I could just hang out at the train stations on both ends. But I wandered around what looked like the airport bus stops for a while, on arrival and departure levels, looking for the bus Google told me I should take, with no success. Then, I found that there was an actual subway line that ran straight from the airport to the train station! How civilized! How weak of Google not to tell me! But there were very few signs in English, though, so when I found the area that looked like gates to the subway, I went to the nearby information booth and asked how to get to the train station. The very nice young woman there directed me to the farthest set of ticket machines and gates, and, with some effort, I picked my way through the indifferent English available on the ticket machine, got a ticket for the subway train to my destination, and, after trying it a few times in the wrong subway gates, was directed by an attendant to the correct ones.
As an aside here: I’ve often commented on how easy it is to get around the world if you know English. Spain is shaping up to be a bit of a weak link in that chain. I still can’t call it hard — there are plenty of people who know a little English, and my usual handful of words (“no”, “si”, “no hablo Español”, “Donde esta casa de peepee?”) plus Google Translate are enough to get me by. But it’s almost as if they already speak a language that’s used all over the world, don’t really feel a huge barrier to staying connected with it in their native tongue, and don’t feel like they need English to bridge the gap. Weird, really. Well, regardless, the most notable lack is in machine and web translation. The ticket machines — and the train company’s online presence — is surprisingly weak in English options. It’s like, they have them, but only in places, and other places they just give up and you have to guess and hope you’re not really buying a ticket to Burkina Faso, and telling them that you need an extra seat for your grandmother, who’ll be in a pet carrier. Honestly, a couple of times, I could have been saying anything, just guessing based on common web site design. So far so good, but…. The supermarket checkout ladies here (and they’re always ladies, don’t ask me why) ask me a question, and I say “no” with a vigorous head shake — but only because she’s almost certainly asking me either (a) if I have their supermarket card, or (b) if I want a bag. (And “no” is always a safe answer, there, because outside of her giving me my groceries and me giving her money, there is really no other thing that I want to have or to happen. “Would you like complimentary heroin?” “No.” “Would you like to be saved?” “No.” “Can I hug you?” “No.” My answer is always no. It’s how I roll.)
Anyway, once I had the subway ticket, with the train number on it, I was able to confirm with Google Maps that this was, in fact, an available route. Not that I doubted at this point, but Google gave me details of the timing and intermediate stops, and it was all good. I boarded the train when it arrived (one is rarely well advised to do it earlier), and 5 stops later I was at the Madrid Atocha train station.
This stands a pretty good chance of being about as much as I ever see of Madrid. The descriptions of it that I read don’t particularly draw me. In truth, any city in a climate as dry or drier than Southern California has a bit of a hurdle to overcome, in my book. Seville made it, as did Barcelona. I might go to Gibraltar sometime. Madrid not so much.
The Madrid Atocha train station has the feeling of a transportation nexus combined with an underground mini-mall.
Nice enough, but super functional and no-frills.
Ok, some frills. I ran across this atrium while looking for the restroom, about 20 minutes before my train was scheduled to depart. I didn’t have time to explore it properly, so I’m not quite sure what was there other than the plants, but It didn’t seem well trafficked compared to the rest of the station.
Arriving at around 10-ish, I played with the railway’s ticket machines for a bit until I coaxed one into giving my the ticket I’d pre-ordered. Then I checked the boards for my train and found it, but there was no platform announced for it yet. So I stopped at a nearby sandwich shop, got a ham and cheese croissant and some kind of electrolitey-looking water, and settled at a table to check e-mail, interrupted only by a rather aggressive beggar woman who, after a few rounds of “we don’t speak each other’s languages”, shoved her hand in front of my face, leaving only after I physically recoiled from the gesture. Lady, personal space, come on! (I give money to street people, occasionally — there are, sadly, too many to give to them all — but not when they’re super in my face about it. You get the behavior you reward, and I’m not rewarding that.)
While I was waiting, I got a message from my Seville Airbnb host saying that she’d be home earlier, and I didn’t have to wait until 3pm to check in. So I told her I’d go straight there when my train arrived, and should be there by 2pm. Yay, no more waiting in station diners!
At around 10:35, I got up and checked the boards — still no platform — went looking for and found a restroom (€0.60 to use it, for Pete’s sake!), and settled in front of a large board watching for my train’s platform listing and worrying that something was going wrong. Never makes sense to me when they can’t figure out the platform in advance — but maybe I’m spoiled by airport scheduling, and by Grand Central Station in New York, where you often know the platform hours ahead. Of course Penn Station, for my New York to Philly ride, didn’t know until the last few minutes before departure. (I’d even double checked with the lady at the info desk, but she’d assured me it was just arriving and would be on the board shortly.) So, maybe it’s not uncommon… but it seems really weird to me.
It’s the *next* train. How do you not know where the *next* train is going? (I’d say it’s a bunch of bull, but that’s the 11:35 to Pamplona.)
So, I stand there in Madrid until about 10:55, when the time finally pops up, then walk quickly to the security checkpoint (for the only set of gates with no gate numbers above the security entrance, but I triangulated…), get a cursory scan of my bags through the machine, and find my train and my seat. The rest of the trip is uneventful.
I don’t have many pictures from the train south, because my seat was on the east side of the train, and the sun screwed up most of the shots. No huge deal, really. Just imagine Southern California, but with a more sparse population, more olive groves, and with the decaying stucco and Spanish tile on 200-500 year old buildings instead of 20-50 year old buildings. Otherwise, very similar.
I arrived in Seville as scheduled, and started walking. Speaking of which:
Spain. The capital, Madrid, is pretty much dead center. Seville is south and west, towards the Atlantic, and Barcelona (my destination for month 2) is on the northeast coast.
Central Seville. The old city is tucked into the bend on the eastern side of the river (you can still find large chunks of the old wall around it). The train station, Sevilla Santa Justa, is circled on the right, and my Airbnb place is the circled star near the top on the right (to the right of the Basilica de la Macarena, where I assume they have dancing at church services, like Pentacostals).
Seville is a much larger city than I’ve had a chance to notice while I’ve been here. Wikipedia says that it’s the 4th largest city in Spain, with over 703K people in the city proper and over twice that in the general metropolitan area. (Which means it’s about the size of Edinburgh, but half again as concentrated in the city proper.) Seville dates back to Roman times, and has been a significant port city — while not on the coast, it’s on a major river leading up from the Mediterranean. After Columbus “discovered” the New World, pretty much all of the Spanish New World pillaging wealth came through Seville — I ran across a major statue to Columbus while walking through a public park (The Monumento a Cristóbal Colón). In deference to the large group of Chinese tourists, I did not spit on it — although they probably wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual or cared.
I was here largely because (a) I wanted a destination in Spain, (b) I was going to 2 cities in Spain, and Madrid didn’t appeal to me, and (c) I wanted a haircut. Visiting The Barber of Seville seems like a necessity.
The walk from the train station took about 25 minutes, along a street with lots of shops including a promising sushi place, and a barber. I was certain that the latter would satisfy my need for a haircut while in Seville, but I found a better alternative a few days later. (More on that when the event arrives.) Also:
There are orange trees all over the city. Anytime there’s a tree planted, odds are about 33% that it’s an orange tree. They go back to an old tradition of a despotic local ruler who planted orange trees and forbid the people to eat from them in a time of famine, feeding the oranges to his cattle instead. A local hero rose up, started stealing the oranges, and distributing them to the people at churches. The ruler sent in troops to catch him but the people led the troops on wild goose chases until they eventually led them into an arena with the ruler, barred the doors, and then let loose a bunch of maddened bulls. The ruler was destroyed, and the people had oranges from then on. Or, maybe I’m making that up. There are a *lot* of orange trees, is what I’m getting at.
The Airbnb I’m staying at is here. The host, Nadia, met me at the door, led me down a central hall to stairs going up to the top, 3rd, floor, showed me where everything was, and that was that. She was a cheerful woman in maybe her mid to late 30s, with a husband and son (neither of whom I’ve met); she spoke a very little English, and had already said that she used Google to translate our Airbnb conversations. Between her basic English and the Google Translate app on my iPhone, we managed everything just fine.
The place itself is basically a semi-enclosed, square rooftop, with a large square patio in one corner and a studio wrapping around it along the two sides of the roof, with windows and sliding glass doors facing the patio on both sides. This means, by the way, that while it was a pretty comfortable temperature in Seville — 40s-60s — it could get pretty cold in my place at night thanks to all that the radiating glass. I’d turn on heaters in the morning, and it wasn’t uncomfortable — quite the reverse, really, and the bed was soft and the blankets warm and the neighborhood quiet. Then, in the afternoon on a sunny day, the place would get quite warm and I’d open the doors and enjoy the fresh air to avoid overheating. Super glad I’m here in January, though, because I bet this place bakes in the summer.
The interior is about as thoughtfully designed as any place I’ve been. Basic IKEA-style furnishing, cupboards, and the like, but all pleasant enough and *lots* of surfaces and storage and plenty of pots and pans and utensils, and great WiFi — and even a wired ethernet cable! I kind of wish I was staying here longer. I did notice that the pans were degrading a bit. I don’t know what people were cooking in these things, but the non-stick surface was breaking down, and my first scrambled eggs were a bit unnerving. Seeing tiny flecks of teflon in my eggs did give me a moment’s pause — but a little thing like fear of eventual Alzheimers was not going to stop me from having breakfast. (“I’m going to remind you that you said that.” “You’re going to have to.”) One pan was worse than the other, so I switched to the better one for future dishes, and no more flecks, so yaay that!
She had also provided a capsule coffee machine, similar to a Keurig, and a bunch of capsules. As she started to describe how to use it, I interrupted politely to say thanks, but I had a French Press with me. (Thanks, Jane!) What I did not say was, “I wouldn’t use one of those if you paid me!” I did not say that, because it would be a lie. I would totally use one of those if you paid me to; a little extra income never hurt. But you’d have to pay me and I’m not cheap (despite what they wrote on the bathroom wall at Starbucks).
I asked Nadia about grocery stores, and she mentioned there was a large supermarket just two blocks away, and I found it on Google Maps easily. I also asked her about organic grocery stores (organic is commonly called “ecological” in Europe, in whatever the local language is), and she quickly dismissed that, saying that she didn’t know of anything like that nearby. I was suspicious of that, and later Google Maps turned up half a dozen within a 30 minute walk of me. But that was for later. For today, I just wanted the basics, and the local grocery store was fine.
And, in fact, it was fine. They had great, inexpensive goat and sheep cheeses, and sardines, and beer — your 3 basic food groups. They had mostly instant coffee, and some pre-ground, and only two bags of whole bean coffee. One of those was a mix of arabica and robusto beans (robusto are hardier, grow faster, and are more inclined to taste like petroleum), so I went with the other one. They had a wide selection of meats, some presented in forms that I was not really accustomed to, but were still very impressive:
A tourist from the city passed a farmhouse and saw a pig with a wooden leg. He went to the farmer and asked him about the pig. The farmer said, “Oh, this is a great pig! There’s no pig like him anywhere! Once, when I was plowing a field, the tractor tipped over and pinned my leg to the ground. This pig saw me and went to the house to get my wife. He saved my life! “Another time, my wife and I were asleep in the house when a fire started. This pig woke us up and got us out of the house before it burned down. He saved me again! He’s a wonderful pig!” “But you didn’t tell us how he got the wooden leg,” said the tourist. “Oh,” said the farmer, “a pig like that, you don’t eat all at once!”
Can you imagine walking through a RenFair munching on one of those? That’s a business opportunity there, is what that is.
Vaguely similar languages makes grocery shopping soooo much easier.
Large blocks of goat cheese for a few Euros. Mmmmmm.
Every country has some common, grocery store product that you will miss once you’ve left. Japan has rice balls and convenience store meals, Scotland has cream, and Spain has these giant round crackers that are OMG insanely good. They’re about 5″ wide and come in half-a-dozen varieties, including cinnamon, and orange, and a sort of “original” flavor covered with sugar crystals (too much sugar, but wow was it tasty)… ♪ and my fave: Rosemary and Thyme. Remember these when you have left there, they were once a true snack of mine. ♪
Probably the weirdest thing about this first grocery run: they don’t refrigerate the milk in the supermarket! I was looking all over for milk (well, cream for my coffee, actually), and I can’t find it, and I’m thinking, how is this possible? They have cheese. They have yogurt. They have kefir. How do they not have milk? Finally, I realize that the boxes I’m passing in one of the aisles actually hold milk, rather than, say, dry goods. We. Ird. It’s one thing not to refrigerate the eggs, but the milk? Anyway, I brought home a box and put it immediately in the refrigerator. I can’t save them all, but I can save that one. Be the change, and all that.
So, with basic groceries procured, I settled in, did some unpacking, got the computer set up, dinner, YouTube, took my melatonin, and was sound asleep by 9pm.
Wednesday, January 18th
And got 13 hours sleep! 13! I don’t remember ever getting 13 hours sleep in one night before. I mean, I’ve been sick (or hungover) once or twice where I’ve mostly slept on and off for a big chunk of a day. But I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to sleep and awakened 13 hours later! That’s insane!
I was *very* happy. 😁
And I did *nothing* on Wednesday. Hung out, read Twitter, watched YouTube, played Fallout Shelter, ate groceries. It was just a day to ease back into the world and into European time.
Thursday, January 19th
This was my day I started to establish more of my daily pattern. Ideally, I’d wake up, check in with the Fallout Shelter game (for things in its simulated world that had completed overnight), do morning yoga, shower, eat, and get on with other activities. Unfortunately, yoga as an initial activity was out — it was cold enough outside that my space was just too chilly to be comfortable for stripping down to my skivvies and trying relaxation poses. My great Yoga Studio iPad app (thanks, Mark!) does not have an entry for “Downward Freezing Dog”. Later in the day, the place warms up a bit, and I can forceably rip myself away from some other activity and do my yoga, but not first thing in the morning. When the weather warmed up enough, that settled into starting at 9:30-11:00, but for the first week(ish), it was an afternoon activity.
And I’m still wrestling with how to manage Twitter. I’d really hoped it would calm down after the election, but Trump’s being Trump, a firehose of events, and it’s hard not to feel like you should stay informed about current events. I follow a lot of science and arts-related accounts, and even they can’t get away from it — national policies affect how they do their jobs. I feel like my time reading the news has doubled. Not like the good old days, when Grandpa would read the Wall Street Journal in the morning after breakfast. A newspaper will only get so large; if there’s too much news, it gets truncated or dropped. But not on the internet. More news? Great! Here, have it all! I’m skipping and scanning more, but I need to find a way to reclaim some of that time. It’s just too much.
I did get an update from Sarah with a scan of some recent e-mail. One of them I had to save off to my phone, so that I’d have it readily available.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a few years now, and recent events have made it a priority. I remember, growing up, it was a conservative’s knock on someone they thought was too liberal, that they were “a card-carrying member of the ACLU!” (Preferably announced dramatically, with a southern twang.) Later, I learned what the ACLU actually did, like defend free speech no matter what the speech was, and it started to sound a lot more appealing. And now I’m carrying their card. It feels like a worthy thing.
Plus, I want “Guardian of Liberty” on my business cards. Of course, I no longer have a business. Maybe “Guardian at Liberty” is more accurate?
Anyway, just after lunch I made a list of extra groceries I still needed, like organic oatmeal and vegetables and proper coffee (I was still working on the leftover bag of Whole Foods coffee I’d bought in Philly, and hadn’t started the local grocery store’s coffee yet, but I had my doubts about how good the latter was going to be). Then I marked a few organic food stores on Google Maps, and a few sports shops. The tile floors in my studio were *not* going to work for yoga — they’re fine for standing and lying down, but you don’t want to have to kneel on them. (What if Zod shows up?). So I was going to have to break down and get a proper mat. I don’t know if I have room to take it with me later… I might have to buy a new one in every city, just because of the space and weight required, leaving a trail of abandoned yoga mats behind me wherever I travel. But if I do, I do. I need the exercise, it’s well past due.
So I headed out. You’ll see on the map, above, that there’s a central area colored in brown, with lots of place names and little stars of places I’ve saved for future reference. That’s basically the core of the old city, with lots of old buildings around narrow, winding streets, with progressively more and more shops at ground level as you head towards the center.
The large street just south of me, Calle Muñoz León, highly trafficked, and with a good length of the old city wall still standing and in good repair.
A similar street, showing a fairly typical view of the modern neighborhoods, from the next day’s walk. Notice the way the cyclist is bundled up, protected against the bitter 56° weather; the locals were just as bundled up on 66° days. Again, I do *not* want to be here in the summer.
Moving inward: more dense, but still fairly modern.
Denser still, and showing some of that rich coloration that back streets in Rome had.
I really like these understated, sandy pastels. They’re relaxing.
Neighborhood sign warning people to flee indoors from the Dark Hunters after the 20:00 curfew (8pm CET).
It also struck me, looking at these buildings, that there are probably families who have been living right in apartments right next to each other, faux-balconies and hanging laundry lines cheek-by-jowl, for hundreds of years. It felt both claustrophobic and amazing, at the same time.
I did find the sports shop I was looking for, the Decathlon City Rioja, in the more intensely shopping oriented, pedestrian only, central part of the inner city (you can see a star next to the shop name name in the middle of that brown section on the map), and they had several types of yoga mats, so I took the risk of buying one that looked lighter and thinner and was a bit longer and looked more likely to be something I could carry with me later. This, I discovered, was a mistake. I don’t know what function that mat was supposed to serve, but it was entirely too thin for a bony guy like me to use on hard floors. Within a couple of days I gave up trying, went back to the shop, and bought a heavier mat — which I’ve been very happy with. Quite aside from its virtues as a yoga mat, its surface is so grippy that it’s serving as a sort of loofah for the soles of my feet. It’s weird to see the little bits of ripped up callous, flaking off like a peeling sunburn, but I feel quite virtuous.
From there, I walked to what I thought would be a good organic grocery, the one closest to where I was living, “La Ortiga, Cooperativa de Consumo Ecológico”. So much more romantic than “Whole Foods”. I suspect that the Most Interesting Man In The World shops at grocery stores with names like this.
Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed. I managed to partly decipher a nearby sign that suggested that on some days, they closed at 2pm. I eventually figured out that a *lot* of places around here close around 2pm, and I strongly suspect that this is the “siesta” thing that I’ve only heard about, but that is common in very warm climates. You close down in the heat of the day, and then reopen later and stay open later. I think. All I really know is that I’ve been to that shop 4 times, and never quite managed to get there before it closed. I blame lunch. Anyway, I’m almost surprised that they need it. With the narrow streets, I was in the shade most of the time, and I’d think that this would mitigate the summer sun considerably. Not enough, I guess.
So, with “La Ortiga, Cooperativa de Consumo Ecológico” (be sure to roll your “r”s) closed, I had to go to my next option, “Centro Ecológico Gaia”, which was a bit south along the curve of the river. The trip to the closed shop wasn’t wasted, though, as I did get a chance to pass a lovely neighborhood park on a smallish city block.
I call it a park, maybe “city square” is more appropriate. It’s not like there was grass or a playground. Just a place to sit in the shade, or hang out with friends. The photo doesn’t really convey how huge that tree in the center was. I saw a few others like it, in other parks, some larger, with trunks 15 feet in diameter and branches going up 3-4 stories. I’m in love with those trees. (There’s another failed conservative insult of liberals: “tree huggers”. Hell yeah! Why wouldn’t hug trees? Trees are awesome!)
So, heading a couple of blocks west, I got to see some of the river and some of the interesting architecture on the other side:
You can see some sort of decorative modern bridge up the river, looking rather like the harp bridge in Dublin. I’ll have to try to check that out, later.
(Note: I did check that out later — by which I mean, I looked it up on Google Maps, with the initial intention of going there, but that bridge takes me to Isla Mágica, a “New world–themed adventure park with roller coasters & water slides, plus live shows and a lake.” So, basically, Seville’s Epcot Center. Might be amusing to go with a friend, but not really on my own.)
Looking south. It looks like the east riverbank, between the river and the main road paralleling it, is largely open park. Again, not a huge amount of grass — I’m getting the impression that the climate is too hot and dry for that — but there are trees and benches and running paths and the like.
A lot of folks don’t realize that the Vikings raided all up and down the coast of Europe, and had trading routes even farther. Like Dublin, Seville seems to have preserved one of their ruined longboats. Yaay, archeology!
It’s funny how, being nomadic, you get homesick for odd things from your travels. Seville has these gas stations that look like little partly-enclosed structures, set amongst regular, taller buildings, completely unlike the way we have gas stations in the Western U.S. — but just like a place I used to pass walking to and from where I was staying in Sapporo, with Kenta. A gas station in Seville made me homesick for Japan. My life is weird.
Seville has a lot of graffiti; this is my favorite so far. Topical!
Which reminds me, there was an anti-Trump rally in the city on the Saturday after I arrived, according to a website I ran into that listed a bunch of world-wide rallies. I tried to go — I wanted local color, and I wasn’t going to go see bull-fighting, but bullshit-fighting sounded like a worthwhile substitute. But I got there a little late, and either it hadn’t happened, or it was short, or they’d marched somewhere else without leaving a trace. Oh well.
I’ve said things like this before, but I’m saying it again: America needs better architecture. You rarely encounter crenelation in daily American life, and that’s a shame. My next home is totally going to have battlements. (And may well need them.)
I did find the organic food place I was looking for, a decent sized shop with a chill room that had their vegetables. I spent fricken forever in there, because they had a price list on the wall, and a little electronic scale that…. How do I explain this? I ran into these in Croatia… instead of getting your vegetables and taking them to the checkout, where the check out person weighs them and charges you appropriately, the Croatian grocery stores make you do that yourself. The produce bins have placards with the usual information on them plus a number code. You take the produce and go to a scale in the produce section where you weigh what you’ve picked, type in the number code, and it prints a price label for you. You put that label on the produce, and then checkout person rings it up accordingly. This saves the checkout person having to be trained to recognize the produce (Clementines versus Mandarins, anybody?) and weigh it themselves, but it does create a slight barrier if you’ve never seen the system before. (It also makes reusing the produce bag a bit harder, since the label sticks to the thin plastic bag in a way that hard to remove without tearing the bag.)
So, the produce section in this store had a scale like that. But the bins didn’t have numbers. However, there was a price list on the wall, so maybe you type in the price when you weight it? Except the names on the price list often didn’t seem match the names on the bins. Like, they had 5 kinds of tomatoes, and at least 6 tomato types in the price list, and only one of the names matched. Then, another customer tried to ask me for help, and I got to practice “No hablo Español” — which was cool — but the section was tiny and she kept futzing about right in front of the scale (but not using it), while I politely waited. Eventually, she asked a shop worker for advice, solved her problem and left, and I returned to futzing with the tomatoes and the scale, trying the only tomato whose name matched the price, typing in the price, looking for some button that looked like “Enter” or “Do it” and hitting buttons semi-randomly in the hopes of it doing something. Eventually, the checkout lady walked past, saw me there, and said something completely indecipherable but which I clearly understood to mean, “That doesn’t work. Just bring them to the counter.” Don’t ask me how I understood this, I couldn’t tell you. I think traveling in foreign countries is making me more psychic out of necessity. (Also, I don’t think we give context and tone the credit they deserve.) So I did, and everything worked like an American supermarket from there. Except with less smalltalk.
Backpack now loaded with groceries, I walked the half-hour home.
I liked the look of this, so I’m sharing. That quartered circle thing at the top is particularly cool. (It looks like where you insert the key to wind the church up.)
It’s really high time that I mentioned my (at that point) latest book. I started this on the plane from LA to New York, and continue reading it until just after my last blog entry, but it’s quite finished now and worth mentioning: The Pigeon Tunnel, Stories From My Life, by John le Carré.
John le Carré is, of course, the best-selling author of a large number of spy novels, many of which have been turned into movies (often with him screenwriting as well). He’s also the father of one of my favorite authors, Nick Harkaway, who wrote the truly excellent The Gone-Away World, which I very highly recommend if you like weird, over-the-top, super science stuff with ninjas. (And who doesn’t?) Fun fact: John le Carré is a pen name, and the author’s actual name is no secret. I was just recently surprised to discover that Nick Harkaway is also a pen name. I’d been following Nick on Twitter for some years and it never occurred to me that that wasn’t his real name, until he said something obliquely referencing the fact. It was kinda freaky, like you’ve discovered an old friend of yours has a secret identity you never knew about. (An old friend who doesn’t actually know you exist, of course, but still….)
Anyway, I’d never read any of John le Carré’s books before — spy novels don’t normally interest me. But I somewhat recently learned that he’d written The Perfect Spy, a book that a BBC series I’d seen was based on. The main character was raised by a con man, who ropes him into a number of his schemes, and when the lad reaches college, he attracts the attention of the British spy services, who recruit him into their ranks, where he’s a natural, having been raised from birth to be deceptive and take part in schemes. I won’t give away the plot, but the show overall had a deeply melancholy tone — which I don’t normally care for, but the characters were so well realized and well acted that the series has stuck with me ever since. And when I heard that John le Carré had written The Perfect Spy, I also heard that it was partially autobiographical: he, too, had been raised by a con man, and recruited into the British spy service, before eventually leaving to write novels. So, hearing that he’d written a recently published autobiography, I had to read it!
It was not the experience I expected. The subtitle “Stories From My Life” is appropriate. The book doesn’t start with his youth and follow linearly through his life, demonstrating character evolution or, at least, an historical pattern. (His early years are at the end — he says in the intro that he had chosen to put the stuff with his father at the end, because his father insisted on being the prime character in all situations and he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of starting the book with him.) The whole thing is mostly written as a series of shorts, one incident after another, initially discussing specific experiences working for the British government; nothing that you’d really think of as a spy story, just interactions with foreign people of varying levels of importance, often with a lot of historical background. And then, in the many years after becoming a writer, most of the stories dealt with writing, traveling to research his writing, working with actors and directors on movies, etc. All of it written in an intelligent, seemingly sincere, and quite mellow tone, what one might expect of a smart, relaxed guy in his 80s with a bit of a sense of humor. Most of the stories were interesting, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bit bored. They were all quite standalone; there was no narrative thread tying them together really. That changed in the last 20% of the book, when he finally got to his Dad, and then it became a bit more linear and, in my opinion, more interesting. But the whole thing had a quasi-distant feel to it. There was very little about his own emotional life, except as it directly related to the point of a particular story. He refers to things like his first marriage not working out (for which he claims much of the blame), he refers very glancingly to the existence of kids, and of a second (still current) wife, and once or twice to taking a son with him on some of his trips and that son was the right age to be Nick Harkaway — so, a minor point of interest for a Harkaway fan. But that’s the limit. In that last 20% of the book, you learn more about the family he grew up in, but at the end of it I could tell you almost nothing else about his childhood (did he have friends at school? Damned if I know) or about his non-professional life once he hit adulthood.
So, this strikes me as the sort of book that people leave next to the toilet. Read a chapter in 5 minutes, and then read another one the next time you’re there. Or read bits of it on the bus or train, confident that your stop won’t shock you out of a gripping plotline. Or, possibly, pick up one of his spy novels instead, to get more in-depth characterization. Don’t get me wrong: I *like* him as a person, based on this book. But I can’t say that I got a lot *of* him and, for an autobiographical book, that seems like an omission.
And, that seems like quite enough for one entry. I shall continue with Seville next time.
So, I started writing this on Friday, January 20th, 2017, from my studio in Seville, Spain. I’m part way through my Glasgow write-up (which I started in November, back in Edinburgh, and weirdly just ignored ever since), and I fully intend to go back and finish that. But I wanted to sync my blog with where I actually am now, to recapture some of the immediacy of my experiences that the early blogs have. And, also, to not make the entries have to cover weeks of time and seem like insurmountable challenges.
Plus, it’s a good way to ignore Twitter, which is weirdly dark today for some reason.
Half my feed is like this. Probably something astrological going on, like Earth is in retrograde. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
So, for a quick catch-up: it’s been a few months since my last entry, on Dublin, which I wrote at the end of my month in Glasgow (which was 8/27-9/27). I was in Edinburgh for 6 weeks after that, left there on November 7th to head back to the US (via Dublin and New York, 5 days apiece, because plane fares from Dublin to JFK were super cheap). I was in LA until Jan 4th, staying with Mark and Jane (and, amongst other thing, playing the newly rereleased Skyrim game, and the Fallout Shelter iPad game), and then staying in New York with Brandon and Sallie until the 9th, and then spent a week in Philadelphia, where I went largely because of nonstop cheap fares between Philly and Madrid, Spain. So, on Monday the 16th, I flew to Madrid, arrived Tuesday morning, took a train down to Seville near the southern coast, and will be here for a month. Then Barcelona for a month, and then back to Edinburgh for 2 months more.
I quite liked Glasgow — more on that in the Glasgow Catch Up post — but Edinburgh is cementing its place as possibly my favorite city anywhere. Mind you, there are plenty of places I haven’t seen yet that I might equally enjoy — I still haven’t been to Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Berlin, or anywhere in New Zealand — but Edinburgh is perhaps the first place ever in my life that I’ve thought, “This would be the perfect place to live.”
I’ve been considering getting a place there to use as a base 6 months out of the year, and travel the other 6 (while renting it out on Airbnb in my absence). That also might be a better balance of stability and travel than I have right now. I’m currently on my own a little more than is optimal. Having a place where I could build some connections, maybe join a hiking club or an anime group or something, or at least establish a favorite pub where everybody knows my name… that would be nice. I’ve looked a bit, in my 6 weeks there, but haven’t quite found anything that suits my needs; so I’ll go back there in the spring and look some more. I’ll try to find a place to rent (or possibly buy though that’s harder, with all my cash in long-term investments). The idea being that I could stay 6 months out of each year in a town that I *really* like, and travel the other 6. If I can find an Edinburgh place that works during the 2 months of my return, I’ll stay there for 6 months total and schedule other places like Berlin and Amsterdam and Oslo around it. If I can’t, I’ll let it go as not-meant-to-be, go spend more time in those other places, and just head back out somewhere else for 2018. Probably either my North America tour, or New Zealand.
Anyway, that’s where I am. And, since my travel year starts when I leave the home of the last of my holiday-visit friends, that means it starts with my Philly trip, on January 9th.
Monday, January 9th – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
So, after 5 entirely pleasant days visiting Brandon and Sallie, a bit north of New York City, Brandon dropped me off at the train station on his way to work and my travel year began again. (It’s not as though I mean them to be my jumping off point each year. But the first year, it just made scheduling sense to have them as the last friends I checked in on, as I made the rounds before starting my new, nomadic life. And the last two years, I’ve been going to Europe, and they’re the closest.)
The train ride down was fairly straightforward. 7:14 train, an hour to get to Grand Central Station, take the short shuttle subway east-to-west to get to Penn Station, and catch the 10:52 Amtrak train from Penn Station to the 30th Street station in Philly, arriving at about 12:15. The check-in for my Airbnb place was 4pm, so I had some time to kill once I got there, but I found a restaurant in the station, had a beer and a burger, and hung out reading until about 3:30, so it was entirely pleasant. The train station was a decent enough place, with that old, northeast-US public building architecture that ranges between solid/lofty/grand and cavernous/worn. This place was sort of in-between; I’d love to show a picture of it, but this is all I seem to have:
Still, I think that it captures the important part of my stay there.
A quick map of central Philly (the part I care about, at least) is probably in order here:
The 30th Street train station is circled, on the left, on the west side of the river. My Airbnb is the circled star in the upper center. Ignore the State Penitentiary a few blocks northwest of the Airbnb. I’m sure the locals do.
I had intended to walk from the station to the Airbnb; Google predicted about a 25 minute walk. But the temperature was about 23°, there was snow on the ground, and the two times I tried to leave the station I couldn’t find the pedestrian river crossing. (“There’s a river of pedestrians you have to cross? That’s crazy!” Shut up, you. You’re interrupting.) It turns out, I was looking just a little too far north; I should have gone south to Market street. Or something. Whatever. After two tries, I decided it was just too damn cold, and walked to the long line of taxis instead. It was a short trip, so I overtipped the driver, but I didn’t have to worry about freezing my hands (my light gloves are way too light for 23°), or slipping on snow and ice and breaking a hip. Or, more importantly, my gaming laptop.
The Airbnb building is in a reasonably upscale neighborhood: the buildings are all kind of worn brownstone tenement types, but the cars parked on the street tended toward the mid-to-high range, it’s super close the the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art (in the large park, a few blocks west), and there’s a giant Whole Foods a few blocks southeast of my place.
Whole Foods is a sure sign of an upscale area. They don’t open Whole Foods stores in the hood, and this one had two little restaurants inside of it and a pub!
Not exactly a winter wonderland, but pretty enough in its own way.
The Christmas Hacienda is a nice touch. Got to say, was not expecting Spanish tile this far north. Muy sorprendente.
Kudos also to whoever built the Lego Fairy Tale Church down the street from me. Churches aren’t usually so… I don’t know… charming? So, well done there.
If I understand correctly, the building owner runs a pub/restaurant on the ground floor, and rents out the rooms in the building above; the guy running the Airbnb listing (which is here, btw) was not the owner. My room was on the second floor, a little studio that mostly resembles the pictures in the listing, except that there was a free-standing, open frame closety thing set up between the two windows, and that tall, bar-style table and stools was placed in front of the window next to the bathroom (on the right). There was also a small cabinet with a microwave, coffeemaker, and toaster between the frig and the TV.
Oh, also different from the pictures is that it was freezing inside. Well, in truth it was 50°, but, still, that’s rather colder than one normally likes indoors. I knew it was 50° because there was a heater thermostat on the wall, locked away in a clear case, that showed it was 50° and claimed that it was shooting for 70°. I knew it was running, because I could hear it in the closet, a muffled hammering like a small power generator. It turns out, that heater was for the whole building. It wasn’t a deafening noise, but it did permeate the room and you’d have had to deliberately talk over it. (I sent the host a message asking if there was a way to turn it off, and he said it was for the whole building and the owner didn’t allow adjustment.)
Fortunately, it was just muffled enough, and regular enough, that I could sleep through it, and I had to, because it ran continuously until late morning the next day. By that time, the outside weather was warming enough that the chill air pouring off the windows became not quite as chill. Also, I’d been running a small space heater continuously, and running the electric stove during my waking hours, and between all of that we got it up to 70° and the heater cut off.
Unfortunately, all that dried out the air so much that my sinuses kicked in as if I was in an LA Santa Anna. The same problem I’d had in LA a few weeks before, with headaches and feeling generally ill, which I’d cleared up with a Netti pot running water through my sinuses, hit all over again. It had started a little in New York — northern heaters really dry out the air, for some reason — but hadn’t bothered me too much then. But here? Full on sick, all over again. So, I went to a nearby CVS and bought one of the little Netti-pot-equivalent squeeze bottles and a bunch of the powder, and started irrigating again. And boiling water in a couple of pots on the stove. Between that and the building heater turning off and mostly staying off, I got over it in a couple of days. But Tuesday was pretty much a loss; I was not in a mood to go anywhere except out to Whole Foods for food. Or even think too hard. Mostly, it was just the computer, Fallout Shelter, and reading, all very low energy.
So, I was not enchanted with this place. A cute enough studio, in a good location, but not someplace you want to be in really cold weather. Which was basically how I phrased the review, after I left. (There were other oddnesses. There was one blanket, and it was too thin for that temperature; but there were a surprising number of towels, so I piled them up on the bed and was warm enough. There were little hotel-sized shampoo+conditioner bottles, and hotel soap, but the hotel soaps were these little Howard-Johnson-grade wafers that wore out fast or cracked and fell in half; I made do, but they were a nuisance. There was a nice set of pots and pans, but no cooking utensils. And for eating, there was a set of steak knives, but only one fork, and one dinner knife, and no spoon. It was… a weird set of equipment choices.)
Wednesday, January 11th
By mid-day Wednesday, I was feeling close enough to decent that the need to get out overrode my lingering malaise. So I got a salad and juice at Whole Foods and ate it there (while eyeing the pub longingly), and then continued on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The museum is set near the southern end of a large park that runs for quite some way north along the river. Just across the street from it is a statue of, I’m going to say, George Washington, with assorted animals, settlers, and Indigenous Americans draped around the base in seemingly disinterested lethargy.
The grand steps leading up to the museum were made famous in the movie Rocky, because he ran up and down them for aerobic conditioning while exciting music played. Philly seems to have taken this movie to heart, and erected a statue of the Rocky character at the base of the museum, just visible in the photo above if you look under the “C-1” sign and across the street.
Or, you could just look at this close-up, which is probably easier. There were a bunch of people taking pictures of each other in front of this statue — probably the same sort of people who get excited by the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I find the whole thing a little irritating. Although, I shouldn’t, really. Popular movies become part of our cultural mythology, and we’ve always turned our myths into statues. And, in truth, if it were a statue of Gandalf, I’d have no complaints. So, whatever, to each their own. I did catch a lot of the fighting-type Machop pokemon around here though, enough to evolve my first Machamp! So, it was worth something.
FYI, walking up those stairs feels weirdly like a counter-cultural protest: all the tourists run up them and look excited when they get to the top. And I’m thinking: yeah, that’s great lady (or buddy). Do it 50 more times, and maybe it will be a proper homage to the movie. Doing it once is just a way of saying, “Hey, look! I’m not technically disabled!” (No slight intended to those who are technically disabled. I’m just saying.)
When I arrived, there was a crew in the process of taking down the Christmas tree that must have been placed there earlier. I looked at some of the surrounding architecture, including a nice — what would you call it, a gable? — decorated with Greek gods in color.
Little known fact: Greek statues used to be colored! But the colors faded and wore away over time, and their later imitators saw them as plain white marble and didn’t color their more modern pieces. (I remember an old Superman comic book from when I was a kid, that pointed out that on Krypton, the Kryptonians colored their statues and, wow, wasn’t that weird and cool?! Turns out, we used to do it too.)
I went inside, bought a ticket, and was directed to coat check to check my backpack — a thing that always annoys me a little. What, are they afraid I’m going to stuff a painting into it? I used the time in the short coat check line to take pretty much everything out of my backpack and put it in the pockets of my jacket, before handing it to the coat check guy, feeling very much like I was sticking it to The Man.
And, from there, I started wandering.
Much like this guy. Except *he* got to bring his backpack. Anarchist.
I saw that they had a wing of Asian Art, and headed straight for it. Unfortunately, I still had to go through some other, intrinsically less interesting rooms.
I’m not sure what this exhibit of china and silver serves that wouldn’t be equally served in the cutlery section of Macy’s, but who am I to judge? I’m sure that my grandmother would have liked it, so I guess I’ll allow it to remain. For her sake.
The landscapes were nice enough. Some quite nice, really. But a web page of photos of paintings of landscapes seems like too many degrees of separation to be worth it, so I’ll stick to this pano.
I think this one was titled “A Temperance Meeting”, by Winslow Homer, but I shall always think of it as “I’ve got work to do too, you know. Fetch your own damn water next time.”
I confess, I’ve never seen the point of still lifes. “Oh, look, some vegetables. On a table. With nothing remotely interesting happening. I’ll take two!” I mean, I guess they’re useful as practice for the artist in exploring the mechanics of representing light, shadow, and perspective, but why they end up in museums as opposed to on the practice heap, to be scraped and have their canvases reused for something more engaging, is beyond me. Maybe they were sold to medieval markets, to advertise their produce sections? That’s the best I can come up with.
Finally, I got to the Asian Art wing, which is really quite impressive. For example, one room has an entire Japanese tea house (where they occasionally have real tea ceremonies), guest house, and Buddhist temple built into it.
A scene so familiar, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d been here in a previous life. Or in this one. Because you had. Well, I had, at any rate, during a couple of extra days after a comic book convention 6-8 years ago. Which I’d completely forgotten about visiting the museum during, and only started to suspect otherwise when looking at the Rocky statue and museum front steps, becoming certain in this room. Jiminy Christmas! At this rate, a few years down the line I’ll be coming back into England and the border guard will ask, “Have you been here before?” And I’ll answer “Nope, first time!” And he’ll say, “What about all these stamps in your passport? And, in my database, it says you were knighted for heroically taking a bullet for the Queen.” And “I’ll say, OMG, you’re right. But the knighthood was really overblown. In truth, I just took in a ballet, set to Queen music.” And he’ll laugh, and say, “Yeah, like *you* would go the ballet.” And then I’ll feel slightly embarrassed, and… But I think I may be getting a bit off track here. My point is, I suddenly realized that I’d visited this museum before. It’s still a cool place, though.
♬ Oh, what a feeling ♬ ♬ When we’ve dragons on the ceiling. ♬
It’s so cute! Like a cheery woodland sprite peeking out of a dragon costume.
One of the museum’s long-time curators was a woman who’d traveled extensively in Asia, and had a large collection, which eventually included much of a ruined Hindu temple. She had it set up here, one of several such large rooms, including the tea house room, and a Tibetan hall (which for some reason I didn’t take a picture of). You rarely see large scale permanent exhibits like these. They’re very cool.
There were other cool things, like Buddhist and Taoist statues, Persian swords and armor, and the like. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and I left that section and headed into medieval European art. And you know what that means:
Gods damn, did medieval artists all have bad relationships with their mothers? Because, as you’ll recall from many blog posts last year, Madonnas and Children who look at all happy with each other or their lot in life are few and far between. Here, we have the classic “Madonna Who Dropped Out of College When She Became Divinely Impregnated And Is Still Regretting The Career She Gave Up, and Child.”
Let’s be super clear: I am in no way intending to mock the story that — for want of a better word — “inspired” this piece. But could the artist not show even a hint of maternal/filial affection, or happiness with the state of things? Here’s what I get from this painting: “Even the happiest part of our religion is dreary and unpleasant. Good luck avoiding Hell.” I’m just saying, they could be doing better.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s his favorite bed-time story, he drags it with him everywhere. I’ve read it to him 43 times so far. But who’s counting?”
“Make that 44. I’d swear it’s getting longer every time I read it.”
Mary’s extra clavicle-boobs were the main reason God chose her to be the receptacle of His grace.
“He smells like he needs changing.” “It’s your turn to change him.” “No, way, I changed him last time! Get the guys with the diaper bags to do it, it’s their job for Pete’s sake.”
And, what collection of medieval Christian art would be complete without at least one Annunciation featuring a Mary who is clearly having none of it:
“Uh uh, buddy, you’re not getting your ‘divine seed’ anywhere near this girl. Go away, and for gods sake, wash your hair. And maybe try a conditioner!”
We all remember where we were, when we heard that Firefly was cancelled.
Finally, a decent rendering! Of course, it was dated 1646, and was in a different gallery entirely. But, still, wholesome and not at all disturbing in any way! Yaay, that.
Moving on, there were rooms of medieval arms and armor:
If there is a red-blooded male for whom the armor and weapons room of a museum is not the best room, I do not wish to know them. (Which, in fairness, does not much distinguish them from any other human, red-blooded, or male, or otherwise. But, you know, still….)
Amongst the bravest of his peers, Heinrik the Handless did not let his disability keep him from the field of battle.
This was actually pretty impressive: the wreath looks remarkably 3D, even in a photograph of the painting. Imagine how absolutely amazing and trippy that must have been to contemporary viewers, before the days of 3D glasses. The artist is lucky they weren’t burned as a witch!
Finally, one more Madonna and Child from today’s trip:
“Our Lady of the Reedbed of Irún with Donor, Captain Joaquín Elorrieta” from Ecuador, around 1750. Weird, but strangely cheerful. I like it.
By this time, it was getting close to 5pm, so I retrieved my backpack, repacked it, and headed over to Whole Foods for to pick up a salad and call it a day. The museum ticket was good for two days, and there was plenty I hadn’t seen yet, so I figured I might as well come back on Thursday, and maybe walk the surrounding park a bit more. And, as it turns out, I was right.
Thursday, January 12th
I spent the morning on e-mail, Twitter, meditation, yoga, miscellaneous stuff, and headed out towards the museum after lunch. This time, a slightly different route treated me to some new views:
Seeing that huge wall a few blocks north, I started to walk towards it. Until I checked Google Maps, and realized it was the State Pen. (Not to be confused with Penn State, though I understand they may now share some folks in common.) So I turned back and kept going.
Another church. My apologies for the slight skew of the right side of the church; despite many attempts, I could not seem to get a panorama that didn’t tilt either all or part of picture to the right. (Maybe a subtle political message from God?)
Standing on the museum steps, facing the south end of the park. Note the old guy on the left, celebrating his single run up the steps. Good for you, mate. Your laurel wreath awaits.
Today, after once again emptying my backpack into my jacket pockets and checking it, I headed into the Modern Art wing of the museum. Rather against my better judgement, truth be told, but you never know: I might find something impressive and inspiring.
Or… not. As usual, I find myself wondering what the point of this is. And it’s a Picasso, for cripe’s sake! This, as I see it, is the museum’s fault. Picasso is supposed to be some great painter, so would it be too hard to add to the plaque something explaining why I should be impressed with this scratchy-looking painting of some woman’s disproportionate head, neck, and shoulders. I am *very* willing to be educated on this subject. I don’t see the appeal, so please explain it to me. Because “Oil on cardboard” is not enough to win me over.
Or this, a Renoir. “Woman with a Guitar.” More precisely, “Out of focus Woman with a Guitar.” I guess it’s a vaguely pretty collection of colors, but why am I looking at it? What message am I meant to get or, alternatively, what virtues of the painterly art is it meant to exhibit? Because all I felt from it was the need to clean my glasses, and I don’t wear glasses.
Oh, you are gods damn kidding me.
“Bride”, by Marcel Duchamp. Or possibly “Two Sailboats Mating.” I think my notes may be out of order.
Either “Man, Woman, and Child” by Joan Miró, or “Toucan Having an Existential Crisis”. Your call.
An exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly works, showing his mastery of putting black paint on an off-white background. “Coming to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in New York, Kelly’s singular view influenced several generations of younger artists.” For this alone, his soul is condemned to wander beside the lake of screaming goats until the turning of the age.
Leaving the Modern Art wing, I quickly came to more palatable fare.
This was not only more pleasant to look at than the preceding pieces, it was a marvelous example of 19th century artists’ willingness to portray assassination in a favorable light. One so rarely sees garroting shown in such a positive way these days. Our loss.
I saw many other pieces in the museum, but they were generally pretty standard European fare: more Christian art (often dubious); landscapes with idyllic Grecian ruins; portraits of overdressed and doubtless overflattered noblemen/women. It was all well and good, but you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. There’s little need to reproduce it here.
Afterwards, I collected my backpack and wandered north through the riverside park — which would have been lovely if not for the major roads and freeways passing around and through it for — as far as I can tell — its entire length. I gave it about 45 minutes, and then got tired of listening to traffic and headed back in the general direction of Whole Foods, passing through slightly different neighborhoods this time — the highlight of which was passing a building that’s now condominiums but used to be a beer brewery. I’d show pictures… but it’s really just a standard-looking apartment building with a sign out front announcement its formerly beery nature.
One thing I noticed, as I walked around on the various days of my stay: Philadelphia does not seem terribly interested in Walk lights at street crossings. I might have seen a couple during my visit, but mostly there were just traffic lights, and pedestrians were supposed to figure it out. There were even traffic lights used when only walk signals would have made sense, sometimes facing away from the traffic on one-way streets. Go figure.
Anyway, that was the day.
(FYI, there was a Rodin Museum nearby, but it was closed this month for renovations. I’d love to include an appropriate image of someone looking a bit sad and pensive over the closure, but nothing comes to mind. Ah well, moving on.)
Friday, January 13th
Friday was the now usual mucking-about in the morning with email and Twitter and Fallout Shelter and yoga and meditation. Then, after lunch again, I walked east across the city to a movie theater about a block east of Independence Hall, at the lower right of the map above, where I planned to watch the movie A Monster Calls. I’d been looking forward to it ever since I’d seen the trailers, months ago, and only a few days before I’d realized that it was out in theaters, and I had this one week in Philly to see it before I left for Europe and it was relegated to later Amazon or Netflix viewing. So, I looked up where it was playing, and the time (1:40pm) and headed off.
I’m going to leap ahead very slightly and report that the movie was not at all what I expected it to be. It *looked* to me like one of those urban fantasy, supernatural intruding on real life, kid meets a powerful spirit guardian and gains magical powers to solve his real-world problems sorts of stories, where I would want to see it alone because I’d probably end up crying because the magical elements resonated so strongly. And I did end up crying. But it wasn’t really that kind of movie at all. It was built around a kid dealing with the tough hand he’d been dealt, and trying to come to terms with it — not a light, exciting, fantasy romp but instead a much darker story, and more real. Though, at the same time, my first impression may not have been that far off. It’s hard to say, without revealing things. But it was a really terrific movie, and I can absolutely recommend it.
Along the way, I passed some pretty cool stuff, as is the custom on such walks.
Such as this.
And this. Walking through Philly’s Chinatown, it seems a little more functional, a little less tourist-centric, than those of some other cities, like San Francisco and New York. It feels a little more like Chinese and Chinese-descended people still live around here and go to these places. I could certainly be wrong — one casual stroll through a few streets hardly makes me an expert — but that’s how it struck me. I did pass a restaurant that I ate at with some friends many years ago. I’d have been tempted to go in and have a meal, but I had places to go.
One sign, of many. Turns out, there’s a lot of stuff to see in Philly’s Historical City Center.
The sign describing Franklin Square, a modest park on one city block, bordered by a busy road and a freeway. I’m sure it’s nicer in other seasons, when the trees are green. But it mostly felt like another park where you couldn’t get away from traffic noise.
Still, not without its virtues, I guess.
I was tempted to go there. I’d read online that they had one of the first public printings of the Constitution there — the original being in the Smithsonian. But a building just *about* the Constitution didn’t feel like a strong draw. I can find that sort of thing on the internet.
The Constitution Center is at the north end of Independence Park, behind me, and Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both drafted and signed — is on the south end, ahead of me. The building with the Liberty Bell is on my right.
Looking at these places, it came to me that this was a really good place to be visiting, at this turbulent time in our national politics. With literal fascists being appointed to high office, under a leader who, at best, gives no appearance of caring for the principles of these documents or even for making a consistent set of statements (much less the loftier goal of speaking some viewpoint of a truth), visiting the foundation of our democracy and meditating more on the principles established here seemed particularly apt. But I had a movie to get to. So, later, democratic principles!
So, movie watched and enjoyed, and post-movie emotional sniffles concealed from the humans around me, I left the theater and briefly considered stopping in to see these sites. But it was late in the afternoon, I had longish walk back in chilly weather, and I thought it might be better to not be rushed through the exhibits, and be able to walk home while the sun was still up. So I did, down Chestnut Street, which like many of the surrounding blocks is chock full of shops and restaurants and semi-official buildings and seems like a lovely place to stroll and shop on a warm spring afternoon. I, myself, set a very brisk pace to stay warm, pausing only to catch Pokemon and occasionally take pictures of interesting and historic sites.
This Monument Left Intentionally Blank
You can, if you like, reproduce my walk with considerably less exertion, by going to the Google Maps street view and stepping your way east. If you cross a river, you’ve gone too far.
I read about these guys; they’ve been much more successful since they changed their name from Harmful Savings And Loan.
This is something we don’t have nearly enough of on the West Coast. Random castles. Feels very European.
I stopped by Whole Foods again, but this time I bought a salad bar box and a small cheesecake, went to their indoor pub, ordered something dark, and had dinner there. Don’t recall the beer’s name, but it was quite good, and I felt suitably fortified afterwards.
Saturday, January 14th
Nothing of significance. Really. I don’t think I left the studio. I was scheduled to play ESO with Mum and Sarah from 1-3 my time, and that was sufficiently in-the-middle-of-my-day that trying to compact anything around the sides of it just seemed like too much work. (I’d originally thought I’d try to see the University of Philadelphia campus and surrounding area sometime on this visit, but it didn’t happen. With Philly as a central airport hub, I’m likely to get other chances, so next time, I guess.) So, Twitter, reading, yoga, meditation, YouTube, etc. That sort of thing.
Sunday, January 15th
The day I’d had earmarked to visit Constitution Hall. Normally, you have to get tickets — which are free, but you’re advised to reserve them on the website — but during the 2 or 3 coldest months the crowds are lower and they don’t use them. So, around 9:30 I had a fortifying snack of Icelandic Skyr, and headed out.
Thank Whole Foods for providing this exotic treat. Which is, um, yogurt. That’s pretty much it. “It’s different from yogurt because we use Icelandic bacteria!” No… that just makes it local yogurt. You think anyone else doesn’t use local bacteria? You think the Greek’s are importing Turkish bacteria to make Greek yogurt? No. They use Greek bacteria, make Greek yogurt, and you know the fancy name they market it under? “Greek yogurt.” Ooo, we use traditional German yeast to brew this, so it’s not beer, it’s “Alkoholmitspeziellenlokalenhefe”. No, it’s “beer”. “Bier”, if you really want to go native. Get over yourselves. (FYI, it was pretty good yogurt.)
BTW, looking at that photo, I just noticed that I ate it a day past its sell-by date. No harm done. (Maybe that Icelandic bacteria is hardier than normal? Or less so? I’m not sure which would be better, when you’re talking about eating expired food.)
Along the way, I saw the usual sights:
I didn’t realize that Philly was such a science city, but they have a charter school specializing in String Theory. That’s pretty cool!
Thankfully, I was on a roll and didn’t have to land here. Could have cost me $200!
From the front — this one from when I was here on Friday afternoon. Sunday morning, there was a pretty steady stream of tourists going in that front door, let through in guided groups after going through a metal detector and bag scan.
The Wikipedia page has much of this building’s history, and links to the people, events, and documents related to it. My group’s tour guide was a member of the National Park Service, and may well have been a Shakespearean actor in a former life. A stout fellow in maybe his late 40s, with a seriously booming voice, he led us first to the state court room.
The ground floor held two rooms, and we saw the western room first. Originally the state courtroom, it was briefly the site of the U.S. Supreme Court, until that moved to a different building and later to other cities. Here, the guide gave us mostly background about the building and some miscellaneous info — like the original British crest above the judges’ seats was taken down when we declared independence and paraded through the streets to be shown and mocked before being burned with a bunch of other symbols of British authority.
I can’t say this strongly enough: these are the founding sites of the American Myth, the stories that we are told as children, taught in schools, read in books, watched in movie theaters. There’s a power that you feel, when you’re in the presence of your cultural myths, a sense of something so much bigger than yourself. And, in the case of these particular American Myths, it’s a solely positive myth and therefore that much more awe-inspiring. If you were British and went to visit the crown jewels, or Buckingham Palace, or the Magna Carta… they’re complicated. The authority of a King, or the symbol of a group of nobles taking power back for themselves, is a mixed symbol, that may or may not move you in different and possibly conflicting ways. Rome’s Colosseum is a pivotal symbol of Italian history, as is the Vatican, but there’s both good and harm in them for an Italian. Most cultural edifices grew up organically, over long periods, and have a lot of mixed associations.
Not so with Independence Hall. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out here, and those ideals themselves were not complete at the time. But they were perhaps the first coherent statement of the rights of mankind to be crafted into the founding of a nation. We can debate aspects of their meaning and interpretation, and how to update them as our civilization matures, but the defining story of the American identity was established here, a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”[*] This is where that seed was planted, the seed that grew into who we are as a people, and if you come from our culture and believe in these principles, it would be hard to visit this place and be unmoved.
Our country has always had challenges to overcome, both within and without. And there are always those who seek to deny or diminish the freedoms that were established here and those freedoms that have grown up from these initial principles. People who want to restrict freedom of speech (because they fear unfamiliar or disagreeable viewpoints, or they want to suppress dissent), or freedom of religion (because of heresy or fear of extremist minorities), or they wish to govern by personal preference, or the desire for money or power or attention, or simply by unquestioned fiat. But, in the end, this clear, defining, foundational statement of values and principles — of government deriving its authority from the governed and in the interests of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is such a matter of national identity and shared Myth that there are always those who will strive to retain and extend its promise. And that gets us through times of strife and corruption and past (sometimes too slowly but still inexorably) our national errors and failings. We are not a perfect nation, but we share an ideal of perfection, and from that shared ideal progress comes, despite all trials and obstacles.
I ended up in Philly almost by accident. But it was a good time to be here, and I’m grateful that I was.
The brief tour ended in this second room, and I offered my compliments to the guide, as I passed him, for an exceptional presentation. Leaving the building, there were a couple of adjacent buildings, which hardly anybody went to; they did the tour, and then took off. But the other buildings were definitely worth the visit. The first that I went to was a ground floor space holding some historical documents in protectively dim lighting, such as this one:
George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, that he carried with him to remind him of his duties.
Words from its signers.
Descriptions of its contents, in many of the languages of its immigrant citizens.
And, in the building next door:
On the ground floor, the original meeting hall of the House of Representatives, in Congress.
On the second floor, in addition to various administrative rooms, is the original meeting room of the Senate.
There were National Park Service attendants in these other buildings also, though they weren’t as much tour guides. I noticed they had standard brief statements explaining the rooms, and then simply answered questions when asked. I have to say, I was very impressed with everybody in the NPS here. They were unfailingly upbeat (but not in your face about it), friendly, and informative, and seemed able to give the same spiel over and over again to new tourists without losing any of its freshness. It was a vital service, and they performed it admirably.
After this, I went across to the Liberty Bell building, across the street to the north. This was a long, low building with an entrance (and security screening) on one end, the bell on the other, and a series of exhibits all along the way, dedicated to the association of the Liberty Bell with the freedom and civil rights of Americans throughout the nation’s existence. Starting with this sign on a windowed block next to the entrance line, before you even got in the door:
And then, once through the entrance:
A great point of significance, as described here and in the Wikipedia article about the bell, is that it only exists as a symbol of American freedom and ideals because of the abolition movement. I think most people have a vague concept of the bell as having been rung to announce the signing of the Declaration, or perhaps to warn the city of British attacks, and maybe the famous crack in it came from British bullets or canonfire. Nope on all counts. It used to hang in the Independence Hall tower, there’s a line from Leviticus on the bell about liberty, and the abolitionists seized on those things, made it their symbol, and gave it a name. And once you give a historical artifact a mythic name like that, it becomes a part of the broader Myth. I had to wonder, while I was walking through, if all of this gives visiting racists pause. Do they get upset at the “contamination” of something they regarded as a national symbol that should be independent of <viewpoints they don’t agree with>? Do they glower past the exhibits until they get to the bell, view it, and leave resentfully? Or do any of them take that message of “Liberty for All” away with them, and reconsider? I can only hope for the latter.
There were many pictures of minority groups (or, in the case of women, a majority group) fighting for freedom and civil liberties, sometimes on their own and sometimes in direct association with the bell.
While I was there, there was a little girl, maybe 10 years old, determinedly reading out loud all of the text of this exhibit about the struggle for women’s rights. It was really kind of moving.
Well, hello Dalai!
And the Liberty Bell itself. The holographic doctor from Voyager was another excellent Park Service presenter. (Kudos to his programmer.) And his most interested questioner was the little Asian-American girl next to him.
And, the exhibit’s final message:
Well, that’s timely.
And that, I think, will be that. This was my last full day in Philadelphia, I checked out the next morning at around 10:30, walked 25 minutes to a subway (in a surprisingly clean and well organized subway nexus), and rode it around 40 minutes to the airport to catch my 6:50pm flight. A bit of a wait in a warm, arid, airport, but there was WiFi and meditation and reading to be had, so no biggie.
Next entry: Seville! (Coming soon, to a blog near you.)
So, Glasgow proceeds apace. I’m here for another couple of days, and then back to Edinburgh on the 27th. It’s all going well; the people are great, it’s super international, there’s lots of holistic stuff going on, the weather is varied (but generally thought to be unseasonably warm — or, what most of us would call “cool but comfortable”). I quite like the city so far.
But I get ahead of myself. Haven’t left Ireland yet, have I? So, back we go….
(NOTE: I fit the whole Dublin experience into this post, so it’s a bit longer. If you decide you want to read it in smaller fragments, I will not look askance at you.)
Tuesday, August 23rd
Liz dropped me off at the Kinsale bus stop at around 12:40, to catch the 1:00 bus to Cork, which arrived at around 1:40, more than enough time to walk across the downtown area to get to the bus going to Dublin at 3:00. She said I could probably catch the next bus, an hour later, and still be fine, but why have to rush across downtown? Carrying probably closer to 50lbs of backpack (including a full bag of oatmeal — I’d overprovisioned), I agreed.
It’s probably worth including the UK map again, since it shows Ireland, Cork towards the bottom, and Dublin on the center-east coast. (As usual, ignore the reused image comments.)
The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn’t make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.
The bus trip had the usual medley of Irish sights: narrow roads, green fields, green trees, cows, more cows, and buildings in various states of repair.
You know letting things fall into disrepair is a tradition in Ireland, when even little geolocation games recognize landmarks by their abandoned status.
The bus arrived without difficulty, and over the next 25 minutes or so I walked my way from the stop, over a bridge spanning the lower tributary branch of the Lee, and over to the main bus terminal near the Port of Cork.
We arrived from the south, getting off at a stop that I think was just below that “R610” roadsign, below the lower branch of the River Lee. Across the upper tributary, where you’ll see the star, was where my Dublin-bound bus departed from — almost directly across from the main bus terminal next to the Port of Cork. Why the first bus didn’t arrive at the terminal, nor my second bus depart from it, is beyond me. But it did give me a chance to wander through a bunch of streets in downtown Cork, which seemed to have been turned into a large, pedestrian-friendly, outdoor shopping/dining district, similar to Zagreb’s.
Downtown Cork seemed delightful, for the few minutes that I spent trudging through it; a bit old and worn, but accessible, and welcoming. And busy? OMG. After almost 3 months on a rural peninsula, I couldn’t believe how busy it was! People! Commerce! Dining! Traffic! It was like I’d forgotten what all that felt like. (Hint: It felt awesome!)
Little point in my going into these shops (especially with all my gear), but it was nice to see them there.
I couldn’t really sightsee, with all that I was carrying, but some things were in easy reach.
A small bit of green next to the river, with a couple of WWII monuments, a coffee shop, and a seafood cafe. Which I wouldn’t have known to track down, except there was a Pokestop at the Hiroshima/Nagasaki memorial. So, um, yeah.
You know, you could probably get an idea of me walking through foreign cities, never looking up because my eyes are glued to the PokemonGo app. Funny thing is, I’ve ended up seeing more things because of it. (A) It encourages me to be out walking around for longer than I might be otherwise. (B) Much of the time, it’s at my side or in my pocket, and I use an earpiece to alert me to when it wants attention. And (C) the Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms at set up at points of interest (as marked in Google’s database), which I often wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Many times I’ve been walking from point A to point B and heard (via the one earphone I use in my right ear) the characteristic “swush” alert of a nearby point coming into range. I pull out the phone to see what the app has found, and discover some curious architectural feature, or a well-known mural on a side-street, or a plaque commemorating the birth/life/death of some famous figure. As in that snapshot above, you see the picture, and a title, and sometimes you can click in the title and see some details. Just a few days ago, in Glasgow, I found a Banksy painting on a wall near my walking path which I’d have never looked for if the app hadn’t told me. (I’ll include a picture of it when I “review” Glasgow.) So, while the app’s not without its cons, the pros have definitely been outweighing them for me.
The lower branch of the River Lee, next to the Hiroshima Memorial / seafood cafe.
The upper branch of the River Lee, facing east, with the main bus terminal a block or so down on the right and the Dublin (et al.) bus area that I wanted on the left.
Two interesting things at the end of the bridge….
A couple of odd things to note in the picture above. The first is “Paddywagon”. That’s a term I grew up hearing and knew to be a term for a police van used to round up drunks/brawlers/rioters to bring them in for booking. I’ve since heard people say that it’s a bigoted term one shouldn’t use, because it comes from the East Coast view of the Irish as being problematic: “Paddy” refers to St Patrick and hence to the Irish, so it’s a van used to round up “those drunkard Irishmen”. Ok, I’d thought; I can see how that’s a concern. Thing is: (a) if there are folks in the U.S. who still care whether someone is Irish or not, I haven’t heard from them in my lifetime; and (b) the Irish seem pretty happy with the term. I saw a few of these Paddywagon shops around — I think it’s a chain of bookie joints — plus a bunch of other “Paddy” things. So, I think I’m going to stop worrying about it. But with the criticisms I’ve heard about the term, it was surprising to see it so readily used.
The second is the Warhammer shop, part of what appears to be a chain in the UK. Warhammer is an institution in fantasy board and video games and books, and game shops seem to be doing much better in the UK than they are in the states. Maybe because the cities are more centralized and people can get to physical shops more easily? Maybe. But it was cool and surprising to see.
I had a bit of time to kill before my bus left, so I wandered over to the bus station, used their bathroom, marveled at the abundance of city Pokemon, and eventually sat down near the bus and snacked on my provisions. At the appointed hour, we boarded (it was, thankfully, not too crowded and I had no one but my backpack next to me), and were on our way. It was uneventful, except for one moment near the end when the bus driver stopped, came back to check the restroom, and then announced that smoking wasn’t allowed on the bus and don’t *make* him turn this bus around or we’d be sorry! Or words to that effect.
I took pictures out the window, but, you know: green. Quite pretty really, but not really anything new there.
Oh, very well. I guess one won’t hurt.
I’d been a bit melancholy, leaving southern Ireland and Liz and Lia and the cats and my very comfortable room in the old farm house. But watching the landscape pass from the bus window, I felt really free again and the melancholy just evaporated. So that was nice. 🙂
One rather annoying bit: watching our arrival in Dublin, via Google Maps, we drove within a few blocks of where I was staying, before going on to our official stop a 25 minute walk away. Sigh.
So, at about 6pm, we got off in the heart of Dublin, at a point known as Batchelor’s Walk on the River Liffey, which runs through the center of the large, old downtown.
A map of the center of Dublin, with a few points of interest circled. I was staying at the star circled at the lower left. The bus dropped me off at the circled star in the center of the map (not far from the National Leprechaun Museum — but more on that later).
I trudged my way through picturesque streets with lots of traffic, taking note of things I ought to visit later.
The green-outlined building on the river’s south bank. Despite the tourist trap name, I was really quite set on going to “Traditional Irish Pub”. It didn’t pan out, but next time!
The first restaurant I’ve seen that was named after how you’d ask your phone to help you find a place to eat. Like a modern version of naming your business “AAA Acme Products”.
After a walk that made me intimately aware of the weight of my belongings, I eventually arrived at my home for the next 4 nights:
The Hell Pit
Whoops, spoilers! (Although, since it starts the section, “Whoops, title!” is probably more appropriate. Not so much foreshadowing, as justbeforeshadowing.)
You can see where the place is on the map, the circled star at the lower left. Good location, easy walking distance to the center of town, museums, etc, and only a few blocks from the Guinness Storehouse, where they do the brewery tour. So, locationally, ideal. Here’s the Airbnb link. It’s one in a row of Irish rowhouses, which I should have taken a picture of while I was there, but Google Street View will suffice:
It’s a couple of doors down on the left. A bit bleak looking on the outside, but those are the old buildings. The pics on Airbnb show it’s modernized on the inside. A lot of these dingy looking homes had shiny new doors — that’s gentrification for you.
The picture of the bedroom they were renting out looked a bit small, but I was only there for a few days, so no big deal. Though, as it turned out, the overall inside of the 2 bedroom place was scaled to match; if that home was 800 square feet in total, I’d be surprised. (For reference, if that value doesn’t feel meaningful to you, my old condo in Santa Monica was about 1300 square feet. Combine the small size with the row house placement, and you get a powerful sense that this was where the poor people used to be packed in, until they had to sell their children for scientific experiments.
Well, I’ll let my Airbnb review describe it:
Sara and Thomas are very nice people, and their place is clean and pleasantly decorated, a modernized, 1-story row house that is an easy walk south of the Guinness Storehouse, and close to a grocery store and several bus lines. It’s very well located in Dublin, about a 20 minute walk from the city center. It has a lightly equipped kitchen, and decent WiFi.
It’s downsides are all related to nature of the space. The apartment itself is small; the room size is clear in the pictures but the whole 2-bedroom place is compact, and the clear acoustics and otherwise-quiet background make even small sounds carry, so you hear pretty much everything from everyone. I recommend white noise apps and/or earplugs to any travelers, generally, but definitely here, and I was very self-conscious about any noise that I made myself, including shower noise, squeaky door handles, etc. (And felt guilty about a small electronic beep from a device that I didn’t even notice until after the host pointed it out.) Similarly, the interior doors are mostly frosted glass, so any light from other parts of the place will unavoidably light the bedrooms; you’ll want blinders if you’re light-sensitive when trying to sleep. The small bedroom has little air circulation, so I’d advise leaving the door open when possible. (Some of these problems could be easily solved with a small adjustable fan, for white noise and air, and a curtain for the door glass.) The mattress was Ok for me, but you are aware of the springs when you lie on it; if you need something firm, due to back problems, it may not work for you.
In summary: this a small space in a good location hosted by nice people, that’s probably better suited to short stays where you’re looking for a place to crash while you’re out sightseeing most of the day.
This might be the most negative review I’ve ever written for a place, and for the overall rating I only gave it 3 stars. I think I gave that little box in Chiang Mai’s Old City, where I was sick from air pollution and the shower made me fear electrocution, 4 stars. In fact, part of me wanted to give the Dublin place a mere 1-star, because I hated this place. I said that Sara and Thomas were nice people — it would be more correct to say that they acted friendly, but I got this weird vibe the whole time I was there, like I was intruding. Between that, and the size, and the feeling that every noise I made disturbed them, and the poor ventilation in the room, the whole thing felt claustrophobic as hell!
The thing is: there was no false advertising. The listing has no inaccuracies. My reactions are simply my reactions. And, judging by most of there other reviews, most people don’t have a problem with it. So, I tried to describe the downsides objectively, and be positive otherwise, knowing that simply describing the downsides would warn off anyone who cared about such things.
When you fill out the review survey, you can say things to the host privately that won’t appear in your public review — in this case, I did not. But you can also say things directly to Airbnb that the host doesn’t see, and I occasionally do (positive or negative). Here was my comment to Airbnb:
I think this might be the worst rating I’ve given a place since I started using Airbnb. I did my best to write as positive a review as I could, while still noting the really very strong problems so that others would know what they were getting. The hosts are really very nice people, and I feel badly that I couldn’t write a more favorable review. But I felt *so* self-conscious of every little sound I made while I was there, and heard most of theirs, and I’ve never felt as claustrophobic in a space as I did while staying there. Leaving felt like an escape! I should be clear: there’s nothing intrinsically *wrong* with it or them, it’s just a super odd space. If it doesn’t bother any other guests, awesome. And, in fairness, maybe they were equally glad to get rid of me. (“My gods, every sound he makes just *carries*! How does he do it?”) Anyway, thanks for the chance to vent here. 🙂
It turns out, I was being a bit prescient in that. One nice thing that Airbnb started doing, shortly before I started using it, was not posting the reviews until both parties have had a chance to review each other. That way, you don’t know what they said about you when you write your review of them, and so you can’t give a negative “revenge” review if the other party reviews you badly. (Which I’ve read was not uncommon, before I joined.) After a couple of weeks, the review window closes. A few days after I submitted my review above, Sara posted hers, and then we could both see them:
Unfortunately we didn’t like the experience of hosting Charles. We didn’t really appreciate many things he was used to do: eating in the room, waking up at 5:00am everyday with no reason, after that spending almost 2 hours in the bathroom making so much noise…Any kind of communication with us. Please, POKEMON HUNTERS in our house are NOT welcome!
My very first negative review! Woo-hoo!
I was kind of relieved by this, first because it substantiated the subtle sense I was getting (despite their surface affability) that I wasn’t welcome. “Yay, it’s not just something I’m mocking up in my head!” Second, it’s not as coherent as it might be. Sara and Thomas are Italian, and while their English seemed good enough, it doesn’t seem to extend to writing compelling text. Are they complaining that they got too much communication with from me (my noise level), or too little (I didn’t chat with them), or did they not like the kind of communication that I gave them? I can’t tell. (I have come to suspect that they wanted me to be super friendly and sociable and hang out with them, but I never felt in sync enough with them to do that.) And they don’t like that I play Pokemon Go? Which you play… outside, not in the apartment at all? And that is a problem… why? (I suspect they were mistaking a different electronic noise for being that game, but that’s just a guess.) And I’m up at 5am for no reason? So, you know that I have no reason, how? (Actual reasons: a, I’m a morning person; b, I’m super uncomfortable in your space and waking up earlier than usual, even though I’m tired.) Anyway, if people are going to condemn you, you certainly want them to condemn you badly. It makes them look less credible.
You get to respond to a review (positively or negatively), which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. (Only one response, and there’s no counter response, so it can’t degenerate into an argument.) So I wrote this:
I’m very sorry that my stay didn’t work out for you. I don’t know what the “2 hours in the bathroom” was, but your bedroom is right next the bathroom, and sound carried really well in your place — so maybe you stirred when I used the restroom, and again later when I came back to shower and shave, and thought it was all one visit? That’s the only thing I can guess, there. On the eating in my room point: I would suggest, if I may, that you add “Don’t eat in your room” to the house rules, if it’s a problem. I’ve seen a few other Airbnb hosts do that, and it’s very useful to know. (Or at least please do say something, when it comes up.) I always check the house rules before I arrive; I was trying really hard to stay out of your way, and if I wasn’t supposed to eat there, I could have easily gone outside or eaten somewhere else. I have stayed with a lot of different folks in my travels, and I’m quite happy to accommodate most rules or preferences, as long as someone tells me about them. Cheers!
I tried my best to hit the right tone: to neutralize the points that I thought might be problematic to other potential hosts; to explain to other hosts why these guys might be reacting as they did; and, most importantly, to sound more charming and reasonable and coherent than my critic (even while politely suggesting that they’re the ones at fault). All while being sincere. Sincerity is important, even if it’s hard work to fake. 😉
They never responded to my review of their place. Maybe they recognized the validity of my points, and couldn’t rebut them. (In truth, denial would be hard. Those things may or may not bother you, but they’re exceedingly real.) Or maybe my referring to them as “nice” despite the apartment’s problem, while they were less positive about me, made them feel guilty? Or maybe they thought it wouldn’t matter compared to their many other almost uniformly positive reviews. (Nearly all Airbnb guests give short, favorable reviews. I rarely see detailed reviews on properties — positive or negative — and even more rarely see negative reviews on properties where the host lives there and you meet them. I think some people just don’t want to bother writing details and others can’t confront saying anything bad when they’ve met the host. I feel like I have an obligation to write what I’d like to see in a review — what I’d want to know myself. So I do. Be the change, and all that. But I try to be gentler when the host is nice.)
What I did do, later, was update my Airbnb guest profile. Partly because I wanted to make sure I fully countered the review — for example, I hadn’t included anything specifically about the early rising in my response, because I didn’t want to focus attention on it in case it made some hosts reluctant. And as I thought about it afterwards, it seemed not only better to address that somewhere, but better in general to make it clear in my profile. After all, if someone’s going to have a problem with that, why would I want to stay with them?
So I expanded my short paragraph (which used to be just the first paragraph below, not including the last sentence) into the much richer detail below. (Airbnb says that it’s helpful to include lots of details, and I think I now agree with them.) Then I ran it by Mark to get a “how does this sound” sanity check, which it passed. There’s a fox guarding the henhouse aspect to that, but whatevs. (BTW, the “Twitte.r” thing in the first paragraph is not a typo. Airbnb edits your text to hide things it thinks are problematic; and it typically hides links. The word “Twitter” seems to count, for some reason, so I had to mistype it to get past the filter.)
I’m a retired software architect, currently nomadic, living out of an overstuffed backpack and traveling the world, connected by my laptop. Hobbies include reading, meditating, sightseeing, online gaming, anime, and Twitte.r. I love walkable cities with good public transit and lots of greenery, and places to stay with solid, fast Internet. And I generally like to stay in places for longer periods, to get a better feel for the real lives of cities than you get in a whirlwind tour of tourist attractions.
I’m not an extrovert but I like people, and I usually get along pretty well with my hosts — how much we hang out depends on our schedules and temperaments and communication styles, of course. I’m a morning person, and a pretty quiet one — and what I most often hear from my hosts is that when we weren’t talking they hardly knew I was there.
That said, my only negative review (it had to happen sometime, I guess, and it’s worth noting) came from a couple whose place was *very* small, where I could hear everything they did and they could hear me. They were night people, and our mismatched schedules were a problem: I was fine (I have earplugs and a white noise app, so I could sleep despite their noises), but my being awake and moving before 7am was waking them up. Those 4 nights were not a comfortable experience for either of us. So, if your place is set up such that someone moving, taking a shower, or making a cup of tea in the morning would disturb you, we might not be a good fit. Beyond that (and this is also based on that review): if you have any problems during my stay, *please* do let me know. I’m very adaptable (you have to be, living in different spaces all the time), and I don’t generally mind changing how I do something if it will help. I pay attention to the house rules, and on longer stays I make a point of asking how things are going, and if there are any changes my host would like me to make, just in case they’re reluctant to bring something up. So do tell me, I won’t mind at all. 🙂
I’m pretty sure that will cover it.
Anyway, remember how I used to say that cottage on Koh Samui was the worst place that I’d ever stayed? Not any longer. This place in Dublin will be forever known by me as The Hell Pit — beating out the place with crazy heat and humidity and gnats and mosquitoes, where a swarm of tiny insects once flew in my front door and spontaneously died in a heap on the floor. We have a new Champion!
Other Than That How Was The Play, Mrs Lincoln?
The rest of Dublin was quite nice.
Wednesday, August 24th
I had made a reservation to take one of those hop-on-hop-off, city bus tours, like the one I’d done in Edinburgh, where you sit on the top of a double-decker bus and ride around the major tourist sites while a live or taped announcer tells you what they are and what you’re passing. So, after an uncomfortable, stuffy, mildly claustrophic Tuesday night, I left Wednesday morning at around 8:30 and walked down to where the tour bus agency said their primary location was, stopping for Pokemon things along the way. (Take that, Hell Pit people!) And for amusing sights.
The names of some old establishments don’t really hold up well over time.
When I first saw this, I could have sworn it said “Brexit Cancer”. Understandable, since everyone I follow on Twitter thinks of Brexit that way.
Finding my tour bus turned out to be a bit problematic. Because the location is in front of the Gresham Hotel (marked on the map above, a little north of my arrival point) there are 4 or 5 other tourist buses that all stop there, and several offices for their agencies, and trying to find the one that matched my reservation was harder than it might sound. But I made it, and then was treated to a 90 minute ride around the city, hitting so many Pokestops and catching so many of the little guys that it made me dizzy! (Metaphorically.) Oh, and we saw stuff too, which was an excellent side-effect of riding the tour bus, and one could almost recommend the activity for that reason alone!
This shot manages to capture a couple of things: (a) a really pretty morning sky, and (b) the rather drab nature of most Dublin buildings. I mean, not that they’re any worse than, say, a 70s-style apartment building. And it’s not like they’re hideous. But there’s a kind of utilitarian, warehouse style to many of them. Compare the row house picture of my Airbnb location… It’s just “housing that gets the job done”.
Amusingly, out of a whole 90 minute run round the city, that’s the only photo I took. I’m sure the Pokemon is partly to blame — I was looking and listening to the tour, but switching to the camera in time to take a picture of something we were passing was, apparently, too much for me. (In truth, tour buses are lousy places to take pictures from, and I’ve mostly given up trying.)
Anyway, when it was done, we were back at the Gresham and I could proceed to my walkabout of the local sites, many of which I’d noted on my tour. (After a modest lunch at what I suppose could be called an Irish pub, though I had a basic beer and burger and it really felt more “standard lunch place” than a pub per se. I had fully intended to let go of my “no Irish pubs in Ireland” conceit; but, in truth, none of the places I ate at were proper pubs with “traditional” Irish fare. Thankfully, Flexibility is my middle name. (My folks had hopes they were raising a Yoga instructor; I fear that computers were a poor substitution.)
The birthplace of Oscar Wilde. The bus tour had taken us past his statue, at a nearby park — and I wasn’t really impressed by it. But my Pokemon Go app alerted me to this plaque as I got near it. So, winning!
Merrion Square, the park that the Oscar Wilde statue is at the corner of. FYI, we had pretty good weather while I was in Dublin, and the parks were super popular hangouts. A couple of the days I was there, I just lay down on the grass of the nearby St Stephen’s Green, just out of the sunlight, and relaxed. Near multiple Pokestops, of course, so that I could play while I was there. And, btw, there were tons of people doing the same (I could often overhear bits of their conversation), and there was a really cool community feeling to it.
The Natural History branch of the National Museum of Ireland was near this park, and was free (like the other National Museums), so I stopped by. It would be more accurately called The Hall O’Dead Things.
You know how some museums have rich, detailed exhibits that not only explain what you’re seeing but tie it into a rich fabric of interconnections and understanding? This was the other kind. It’s dead, we got it, come and look!
You want sea life? We got it!
You want waterfowl? We got all kinds!
Ducks not your thing? How about some predator birds? Lethal killers, every one!
Maybe some nightmare-inducing Thestrals for the kids! Remind ’em they still need mommy and daddy to keep away the night terrors. 😀
“You cannot comprehend the horrors we’ve seen.”
“Psst! If the Manager gives you a ticket to the Dark Carousel, for the love of God, run to the Holy Church! Trust not, lest ye share my fate.”
After that museum, I headed home — the backpack trek across the city the day before had been a bit uncomfortable, and the night more so, and I was looking forward to salad and chilling and watching a bit of Youtube (with headphones) and going to sleep. Apparently, exactly the sort of thing that upset my hosts, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Thursday, August 25th
The usual rising ritual, modified by my increasing paranoia about making any noise in the morning. I managed to get out fairly early, at around 7:45; my host Sara was up, and I said a cheerful good morning on my way out, receiving the same from her. They had a policy of taking shoes off at the door, so I grabbed mine on the way out and paused outside the door to put them on. She followed me outside, to tell me that it was Ok to put them on inside, and I cheerfully said thanks, I was fine, no worries. I’m pretty sure that this interaction annoyed both of us. In retrospect, she was probably thinking, “Why is he ducking conversation?” And I was thinking, “We just had a perfectly pleasant conversation. Why are you making this super awkward?” We were really just not in sync.
This day was a bit more of a casual wander, passing a variety of interesting things.
The Irish take their Viking heritage seriously. This Viking longboat ruin has been carefully preserved in its original state. Quite commendable.
I was initially looking for a place to settle, have some coffee and maybe a snack, use the WiFi, and just chill in a place that didn’t feel so oppressive. Then, at the other end of a side street:
<Cue angelic choir.>
My second order of business was fixing my broken hiking shoes. You may recall from the last post that the soles on both shoes had been separating from the uppers. I’d looked up a shoe repair place downtown named Bryan’s Master Cobbler (?), which was right on the river, across the river and a couple of blocks west of where the bus had dropped me off. It opened at 9, and I was there by 9:30. I showed the guy the issue, and he said, no worries, it would take him just minutes to fix it. The industrial glue he used set super-quickly so I could easily wait and wear them out again, and it would cost me €8 (about $9). What a deal! Then, while I was waiting, a woman came in complaining that her new high heeled shoes were too high, and the guy fixed those too. (One assumes, correctly.) A few minutes later, and I was confidently enshoed and on my way again. I was very happy with these guys. It’s kind of amazing how much your comfort level improves, when you have been walking around for a couple of weeks worrying that your progressively-disengaging soles may trip you up if you misstep, and now you’re no longer worried. Sooo much better! (If only my progressively-disengaging soul could be so easily repaired.)
After that, the wandering.
Another spot that I was led to by the Pokemon Go app.
I am sure that this Dublin eatery’s licensed and Marvel-approved. Of course it is.
While much of Dublin’s downtown area is walkable, commercial, and semi-touristy, some parts are more so, and the area near St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is more so, with several pedestrian-only blocks and street musicians. The center itself, while not terribly impressive as a mall, is cool to look at:
A visual delight, and a Feng Shui horror.
Of course, the real sign of a shopping-centric district does not come from shiny malls.
I really should go into these, every 5 years or so, to see if they’ve added anything interesting. I’m guessing that, since their big window display is about a sequel to a film about a fishing trip, now is not the right time.
Um, is this supposed to persuade me that you’re great?
In fairness to the above establishment, I bet there’s a rich, dynamic world of dining challenges the people who eat out late have to deal with. (Ha, ha, losers!)
Hah! I see what you did there. Well done! 🙂
I ate lunch at a little restaurant with a patio on a small, pedestrian-only alleyway (the same one that the earlier hotel with the murals were on), that had Irish coffee and Irish stew, had a nice chat with the overworked waitress (it wasn’t rush hour yet, so I wasn’t holding her up), and it was entirely pleasant. The bathrooms were downstairs, in what had clearly once been the servants domain. But they were, odd.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to use this. Because I’m not sure how you stand inside to close the door. Maybe lower the toilet lid and stand on it? ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
“Viking Irish Tours”. This may be the best thing I’ve ever seen.
I do not know what this means. Is it a place you go for drinks while your new hairstyle is drying? Is that a thing now? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s too trendy for me, in my flannel and hiking shoes and self-cut hair.
“Oy, mate, you can’t come in. Can’t you read the sign? It’s reserved, and I’ll thank you to step back, please. Thank you. — Why hello, Miss September, it’s good to see you again. Please, this way, the others have been waiting….”
After lunch, and some walkabout, I ended up at the branch of the National Museum of Ireland that is dedicated to Archeology. Thankfully, not as Stacks-O’Dead-Things centric as the Natural History branch.
It’s not a huge museum, but it’s a nice one. The central atrium was filled with old jewelry, torcs and such. (I blew past these looking for the restroom, but I did come back later and they were cool.)
I was a bit worried at first, because the first halls I walked into had Mediterranean and Egyptian exhibits, and I was thinking, “Here now! I’m here for Irish stuff, don’t go wasting my time with Egyptology, I can get that in any country!” It did shortly occur to me that this was being a bit unfair. Museums in the U.S. don’t just have U.S. artifacts, and they are where U.S. citizens go to see things from Egypt, Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. Irish museums should be serving their Irish citizens in the same way, and tourists should come second. Quite right. (And I soon moved out of those rooms into more tourist-appropriate sections anyway. They might have had Egyptian artifacts, but they didn’t have many. So, yay that.)
But as I thought about it later — and by later I mean yesterday, when I started thinking about writing this up — I don’t think I’ve seen any artifacts from the Americas in the European museums I’ve been in. I know they must exist. Europe was raiding American cultures for hundreds of years before the Europeans actually in the Americas took over and established a monopoly on it. So there must be stuff. But I haven’t seen any except one room (actually in this very museum) that had an exhibit about how an Irish scientist reported on terrible treatment of South American indigenous workers by a British company. There were a few woven baskets and weapons in that, but it was mostly text displays on the walls and a few photos. And a sign outside warning that things inside might be upsetting. Still not sure why. This just seemed to be about super lousy working conditions — doubtless terribly unpleasant, but not horrific. The British have done way worse than what was recounted in that room. (Way. Worse. Like, you don’t even want to read this report about Kenya. Jesus.) Still, maybe I missed something. There were a lot of words, and I do loathe words.
So, there was a little of the Egyptian stuff (which was pretty generic, so no photos), and then it moved on to some Irish Christian idolatry:
🎶 Without my walking stick, ♫ I’d go insane. ♫ I’m only half a man ♫ Without my cane.🎶
“Contemporary illustrations show jugs being used for a variety of purposes.” So, alcoholism and… what is that? Bestiality? (I hope the curators were chuckling over their choices as they posted this. You very rarely see satirical museum plaques, and I think that the field is sorely missing out by not going with satire more often.)
I’m not even going to ask.
🎶 Strumming my pain with his fingers, ♫ Singing my life with his words, ♫ Killing me softly with his song, ♫ Killing me softly with his song, ♫ Telling my whole life with his words, ♫ Killing me softly with his song.🎶
After a bit of the old monk-and-saint, it moved on to proper archeology, with an exhibit about Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin.
It was kind of a weird one; it had a recreation of a small Viking ship, and swords, and helms, and shield, and plaques explaining in a slightly disjointed way what had gone on with the people involved and the battle, but it wasn’t presented in a structured narrative that you could easily follow. And that’s despite a large wall display, with video, that seemed to be mostly about asking Irish people what they knew of their Viking heritage, and pointing out their weak answers — without going into what the correct answers were. Kind of frustrating.
I knew Brian Boru by name, but I knew only a little more about him after the exhibit than I did before. Honestly, other than a bit of extra soap opera backstory to some of the principals, I got as much out of the Wikipedia entry about the battle as I got out of the exhibit.
They had other rooms of Viking stuff — it seems to have been Viking Summer here at the museum, and it’s hard to go wrong with Vikings — and what looked like a 1980s BBC documentary about forts. And they had a pretty huge exhibit on Irish bogs and how they formed and the things found in them, which was pretty cool.
Bog Butter, which I’d heard of before: great lumps of butter buried either for storage or as offerings. Some of it is still edible, thanks to the oxygen-free environment of the bog. Not this bit, I’m guessing.
Bog Buddy. My Aunt Olive used to have a saying, about someone who looked like they’d been “ridden hard, and put away wet”. I’ve met a few folks like that over the years, but never this extreme.
Their collection of gold torcs and other jewelry was kind of impressive. The Celts liked their bling.
After that, I wandered over to St Stephen’s Green park, lay out on the grass and got some badly needed relaxation in, and caught a bunch of Pokemon. As noted earlier, I was not the only one.
I was lying out on that farther right island of grass. There were many people in this park who weren’t catching Pokemon, I’m sure, but I don’t think any of them were near me, judging by the surrounding conversations.
The walk home to the Hell Pit offered a brief explanation of why I so rarely get to hear local music:
“From 9pm till late”? So, from 9-9:30 then? Why would I even bother going to a show that brief?
I got home around 5:30, and was varying degrees of uncomfortable until I left the next morning.
Friday, August 26
Today was Guinness day! I’d made an online appointment for 9am, the first available slot, so I hung out in my room until after the hosts had left, and then walked the few blocks to the Guinness Storehouse.
This is a pretty typical Dublin street, as far as I can tell. The city center is more picturesque, but the morning light is hitting these buildings nicely.
I took the usual picture of the Guinness Storehouse Gate — which is off to the side, away from the tourist entrance — but it’s a wooden gate with the Guinness logo on it, and I won’t toy with your patience by uploading it. (See here, if you desire more.)
What followed was a 4 hour wander through the storehouse, as it guided me (and others) through Everything Guinness. The building has been sculpted to look like a pint glass, and you work your way up from the ticket booths at the base, to the gift shop and first-level exhibits about how they get the ingredients (Guinness alone uses 2/3 of the barley produced by Ireland!), up through old-timey brewing equipment displays and exhibits about cask and barrel making, shipping, tasting rooms, history of advertising displays, a couple of restaurants, and finally an enclosed observation lounge at the top with a bar.
The central well, from below.
The whole thing runs 8 levels total, and it took me about 2.5 hours to work my way through.
The Storehouse website is here, and has a bunch of pictures and info, if you want to browse.
It took the tourist groups who rushed past me considerably less time, I’m sure. A side effect of this was that, by the time I made it to the observation lounge (called the Gravity Bar), it was pretty crowded, and I resisted the temptation to grab a beer and sit with it, largely because there was no longer any place to sit.
Probably a nice place to hang out with your fellow touring companions. I’m guessing. If I ever come back here, I’ll go in and 9am and head straight to the top for my mid-morning beer first, propriety be damned.
I took a ton of pictures, but I’m not sure how many to include here. Partly because this post has a prodigious word count already and I’m getting tired, and partly because I’m not sure how many of them are really worth including when a Google Image browse would be nearly as good (and the actual website possibly better). But here are a few I liked:
The barley video convinced me that the fields around me in southern Ireland were probably growing barley all summer, and not corn as I’d assumed. It looked just like these pictures.
You can see the little green buds on the vines, on each side of this video display, which are the hops. The video is about their harvesting — the height of the vines is surprising! (I read that they used to be harvested by guys on stilts. They must have had an amazing workman’s comp plan.)
Water. Ok, Guinness, now you’re just showing off. (All right, it was cool. What-ever!)
A largish exhibit on the famous cartoon animal advertising campaign from the middle of last century.
By the time I made it up to the Gravity Bar, and was ready to leave it, it was 11:30 and I was really ready for food. Unfortunately, the restaurants on the level below didn’t open until 12:00. Fortunately, I had a few crackers in my backpack for just such an emergency, and I hung out until they did. Then had a great meal at 1837 — a restaurant named after the Guinness brewery’s founding year — where my table looked roughly like their website’s view of it, minus the *super* annoying looking foursome. I seriously over-ate here, but how do you say no to a Guinness burger (which comes with fries), and their Foreign Extra Stout on tap (wow, that was a good beer), and then a Guinness chocolate mousse (if you can say no to that, I do not wish to know you any longer), with which coffee is naturally appropriate. That was at least 1/2-again as much as I needed to eat but no regrets.
(I almost had the squab, but it was really underdone, and I had to send it back.)
On the way out, I swung by the gift shop to see if there was anything I could reasonably pick up as a souvenir. Sure enough, they had knit caps; since I’d lost mine to a laundry accident as Liz’s place a week before, this seemed like a reasonable and practical souvenir to pick up. So I did.
It doesn’t bring out my eyes — but, since I normally sleep in it, that’s probably for the best.
When I left the Storehouse, that open-topped city tour bus came by, and my ticket on it was good for 3 days (it had cost slightly more for 2 days, but they threw in a 3rd “for free”, so I figured why not?), so I grabbed it. It took me past their giant park, which I’d passed through during the prior tour, that has the zoo in it — the park was mostly open, well groomed spaces, and I figured I could skip it, but there are pictures here if you want them. And I let it drop me off near my original landing point nearly Batchelors Walk — with my belly full of food, it was nice to not have to walk it.
The drop-off point also happened to be near the Leprechaun Museum — a thing which is hard to say no to. But not, as it turns out, hard to say not quite to. First, there was considerable wandering and being distracted first by nearby Pokemon and second there was weird map behavior that made it oddly hard for me to find.
But find it I did, despite the lack of a rainbow leading me to it.
You might expect a pot of gold to be forthcoming — and in fact there was one. I overheard the ticket seller talking to the people ahead of me, and the ticket price was €14! In richer days I might have said, what the heck let’s do it. But I’d just spent about €25-30 on lunch, and another €12 on the cap, and €14 on the Storehouse tickets, and — let’s face it — what’s a Leprechaun museum really going to have in it? Artifacts from Leprechaun colonies unearthed in Irish bogs? Actual Leprechaun skeletons? No. It’s going to be a little cultural amusement, and probably not a large one, and that’s it. I’d have done it for €5-7, probably, but €14 was just more than I was comfortable for, when the national museums were free. So, here’s their website, and some Google Images. It looks cute.
Instead, I walked back to the Gresham Hotel and picked up the next tour bus, figuring I could ride it around to near St Stephen’s Green again and hang out in the park for a while.
FYI, on the way to the bus I passed the Spire of Dublin again. Might as well toss in a picture of it, while I have the chance.
And we started out Ok. But it was getting close to 4pm on a Friday, and traffic was getting pretty heavy, and were were spending most of our time stopped. Bus rides were not really the ideal way to get around town at this point. So, I got off a little way down the river and walked.
You’ll see downriver the Samuel Beckett Bridge, designed to look like a harp, Ireland’s national symbol.
The bus driver said it was even playable, on special occasions. I’m a bit suspicious about that claim, as a quick search for the bridge online didn’t turn up any references to it making music. Possibly, they do something like play harp music in time with bridge lights on the strings? It does, however, swing open and closed to pass ships, and that’s pretty cool.
Continuing on to the park:
When you pass something in a foreign city that reminds you of home. In this case, the UPS truck. Sigh.
St Stephens Green, in augmented reality. Once more, a busy place.
After a relaxing hour there, I swung by a nearby gelato place and headed back to the Hell Pit. Another uncomfortable night there, I packed up early on Saturday, left a polite note of thanks to my hosts, and escaped to the bus stop by about 6:15 to go meet my ferry to England.
My verdict on Dublin: A nice enough city, well worth visiting, but I wouldn’t normally rush to go back there. Hell Pit aside, Dublin — and the other places I was at in Ireland — had a kind of worn feeling to them. Like the modern cities were built on top of a kind of tension that had been there for a long time, and they’d just worn down a little. The touristy downtown didn’t feel as vibrant as Edinburgh’s touristy downtown, the wear not as comfortable as Croatia’s wear. The people I talked to — outside of American Liz and her daughter — I didn’t feel like I was really connecting with much, even when they were perfectly nice. I’ll end up being here again in the future — my trip back to the US goes through Dublin, so I’ll have a few more days there in November, and maybe I’ll like it more without the Hell Pit underlying the experience. But I think Ireland and I aren’t really quite in sync. No great criticism, and I expect I’ll enjoy any future visits. Just, not especially overwhelmed. YMMV.
So, since my last post, I’ve left southern Ireland, whipped through Dublin (3 days, not counting travel), and have now been in Glasgow for 11 days. I’m staying here, in Glasgow’s West End near the university, which I was advised was the best part of town to be in for the money, and it seems to be true so far. I’ve got this post, of miscellaneous southern Ireland things, then the Dublin post, and then I can talk about Glasgow, so I shall say no more about it for now.
So in the last post, a couple of weeks ago, I talked about my nearly 3 months in southern Ireland: the place, the room, the folks I stayed with, and such, giving details of the place and an overview of everything else. This time, I’m going to plug in some selected details, largely guided by the photos I took.
First, here’s a couple of the map pictures from last time, to remind you where everything is:
The peninsula I’m on is in the south center, with the star on it. Kinsale, to the north, has the pin, about a 17 minute drive away (or a 2 hour walk down roads with no sidewalks — no thanks!), and Cork is a 50 minute drive north.
The peninsula, with Points of Interest.
Kinsale, the nearest town of any substance, is this little port town of (normally) about 2500 people, with a prior history of fortification and battles and now mostly a tourist stop. The Wikipedia entry notes that the population swells “during the summer months when the tourist season is at its peak and when the boating fraternity arrive in large numbers”. The “boating fraternity” sounds like a great reason to avoid the place, but I found it pleasant enough. A tiny downtown of a handful of streets, clearly catering to the tourist industry, including a handful of grocery places and one largish upscale supermarket. It’s the town Liz picked me up from, we went back to it once or twice a week for groceries — she went more often, to visit friends or do business — and she dropped me off there at the bus stop when seeing me off.
The picture I posted last time, from my arrival by bus, is a good one; it’s the main intersection, looking north:
Kinsale has been a significant naval port, with a couple of notable forts, and is now a small, seaside, tourist town exactly like every other small, seaside, tourist town in the world. A nice place, but a bit pricey to actually live in.
Here’s a map of the town and the local area, from one of the signboards outside the tourist center:
The picture from the bus was taken just northeast of the “You Are Here” pointer — we came in from the north, along Eastern Road, and turned left onto Emmet Place, and the picture is looking northwest along Pearse Street. We continued to curve around the water onto Pier Road, and stopped near the Town Park, where Liz was waiting and where she dropped me off at the end of my stay.
Kinsale is built around this inlet, Kinsale Harbour, into a fold in the hills, so there’s a little level bit right around water level and pushing back a few blocks northwest at the “You Are Here” mark above, but it’s all fairly insulated from the wind. The Kinsale Harbour lets in from the English Channel to the south, between the Charles and James Forts. I visited the Charles Fort not long after I arrived — it’s about a 45 minutes walk away, up and down a hilly road — and I’ll have pictures below. The James Fort is a ruin, and I didn’t make it there, but you can see pictures here.
A quick search turned up this useful aerial pic of the area. The James Fort is on the little peninsula jutting in from the left.
Looking onto the harbor from downtown.
The same area, viewed from the right side of the last photo and — more significantly — at low tide.
The town had a bunch of little shops and restaurants, and the Town Park with a carousel, and a church — and a “French Prison” that I walked to several times (it had a Pokemon Gym “in” it), but I never attempted to visit. First, on general principles. But, second, I know what old prisons look like, and I always had something in town that I’d rather be doing than looking at small, slightly unpleasant, stone rooms. Kinsale is a boating center, and apparently there are yacht races and such that center around there, but most of my experience of those comes from Liz complaining about the town traffic when they happened.
One of the grocery stores was super nice, though. Pricier, but like an upscale US store (like a Vons Pavilions store), and that’s where I invariably shopped. Particularly after discovering this:
<Cue angelic choir>
They also stocked really nice, premade meat pies and pasties.
Just in case you ever read about pasties in Harry Potter and wondered what they were, this is one. Basically, a dough shell wrapped around a meaty filling, a hand-held meat pie. “West Cork Steak Pasty: Like a Cornish Pasty, but made in West Cork.” Just in case that concept was confusing you. “Wait, it says it’s a pasty, but I only know Cornish pasties. How can this be?”
There were several pubs in Kinsale, but I didn’t eat at any of them, mindful of my Aunt Florida’s (perhaps unintentional) suggestion that if I were eating at Irish pubs in Italy I should be eating at non-Irish places in Ireland. So, I had fish and chips at “Fishy Fish”, a slightly pricey seafood restaurant (it was Ok, but overpriced), and I had a pretty good pizza at Vista Bistro, and I had ice cream at the same ice cream shop (one of several in this tourist town) pretty much every time I was in town.
A scoop of coffee and and a scoop of whiskey, which was like Irish Coffee turned into a desert.
At one of those earlier town visits, Liz pointed out that the Charles Fort was not too far along the coastline (you can see it as the orange bit in the lower right corner of the town map, above). She was going to be in town for a few hours, so I decided to make the trek.
The Charles Fort
You know that thing where you take some pictures of a place, and then you want to write about it, so you look for an aerial overview, find great ones, and wonder, “What’s the point of my pictures, then?” That.
This comes via the Irish Freemasonry site — though, since they don’t mention hiring a plane, I assume they got it from somewhere else. If anyone wants to claim authorship of the image, do let me know. I’ll wager it was taken not long after a major renovation, because everything looks clean and sharp-edged and well landscaped, rather more so than when I was there.
The plaque outside the fort, memorializing the Spanish Armada’s brief invasion of Ireland, and temporary residence in Kinsale. It’s in English, Irish, and Spanish. I saw several references to this event in Kinsale, and they all seemed vaguely fond of the Armada, as if “Yeah, you invaded and stayed a while. But everyone got along well enough, so don’t be a stranger!”
(BTW, I can just hear people saying, “You said there’s a plaque in ‘Irish’. You do know it’s called ‘Gaelic’, right?” Yeah. And German is really “Deutsch”, Croatian is Hrvatski, and Chinese is Hànyǔ or Zhōngwén. Any other objections?)
The fort is maybe 25% worn down towards ruin; there are some rooms that are still used as rooms, for a ticket office, cafe, a small museum with “army life through the ages” type displays and video presentations, and the like.
Military recruiters: shaming Irish men into signing up for battle, since 1914.
But most of the fort is unused or unusable. Like, here’s a view looking southwest from the middle:
You can see barracks buildings, but they’re missing walls and ceilings.
Similar barracks elsewhere in the fort.
The museum exhibit on the fort’s construction talked about how the “star” fortress structure had become the new technological development in Europe during the dawning age of canons, and how a premiere fort-architect had been hired for the job here. But, unfortunately, the location was terrible, with nearby higher land rendering the fort vulnerable. The architect tried to compensate by designing a paired fort nearby, but the government never funded that part. So this place limped along for a while, and eventually was used to garrison British troops, and then was burned during an Irish Civil War in 1922 (Wikipedia has some of these details). It continued on the slow path to ruin until the 1970s, when it became a national landmark and some effort was put into fixing it up, and that effort is still going today. From the look of it, the journey back into function is as slow as the journey towards ruin was.
BTW, I noticed a lot of semi-ruined structures in southern Ireland. You’d have a perfectly functional farm, and then one building on it that was literally a wreck, like this:
Look, I’m hardly a Master Craftsman, but all you need is a few boards and some sheet metal to make this building at least a viable storehouse. Or go crazy, refinish it a little and have a rustic guest house you can rent out to travelers. But why let a valid, useful structure slowly degrade into rubble? I don’t get it. Liz would talk about the Irish never being on time for anything, and visiting 13 times to “fix” a thing; this may be another example of that. If you don’t care, stuff degrades. A damn shame.
Anyway, at least they’re fixing the fort now. Me, I’d be turning it into something dual purpose: a fort museum *plus* a garden center, or a music school, or a retirement home (a museum with built-in docents!), but it’s not me, is it? It never is. Sigh.
Looking west; you can see the English Channel inlet to the left, and Kinsale in the distance on the right, past the peninsula that holds the Fort James ruin.
I should note that it was quite the walk to get here, up and down steep hills along the bay and the same long walk back — but in reverse (the route reversed, that is; I walked forward). I passed a bunch of clearly expensive (though not terribly notable otherwise) homes, and weirdly fuzzy stone walls:
Locals so lazy, even their walls don’t bother to shave. But, that aside, this is the first time I’ve seen a stone wall where the stones aren’t stacked but instead are laid on their sides. There were a bunch of these around the area. I’m not sure if there’s a functional reason for it, except maybe to make the tops so uncomfortable that it keeps kids from sitting on them while waiting for the school bus. Maybe that’s enough?
My theory is corroborated by this sign cautioning the children. The sign itself is a little vague about what it’s cautioning them about, but it’s probably contextual from the placement next to a wall. Little kids can’t read, anyway.
The street signs, here and elsewhere, make the Irish weird names a little more sensible. You see them on maps, funny names like “Ballinspittle” and “Shanballymore” and “Knockalisheen”, and you think, “Ha ha, how quaint those Irish with their silly names.” Then you see this:
And you realize the Irish had perfectly reasonable names, in their own language. Then the English came along, couldn’t cope with them, turned them into whatever sounded closest, and stamped the Anglicized names on everything. (Irish versions of Bombay and Ceylon, replicated 1000 times over.)
I wonder if there’s a special ministry that’s responsible for these….
The Lusitania Memorial
Moving on to other tourist spot topics, the Old Head Peninsula that I was on is notable for a few things: the nearby beaches at the base, that I mentioned last post; a lighthouse at the tip; a gated golf course occupying the very end, surrounded by a very old wall and blocking access to said lighthouse; and a memorial to the Lusitania.
On that Google Maps stitch-together I made, above, you can see where I’ve marked the memorial and the wall. The golf course is that whole end knob that’s south of the wall, and the light house is on the end of that knob. I think they very occasionally organize tourist trips in through the golf course to see the light house, but I made no attempt to join the only one I was aware of, which happened right at the end of my stay. My general response to “We don’t admit the plebs” is “Well, this pleb is happy you’re self-segregating. Thank you!”
I went to the Lusitania memorial nearly every day; it was right on my walking loop around the peninsula, and had no less than 3 Pokestops and a Pokemon Gym! For those unfamiliar with the Lusitania, it was a British passenger ship sunk by a German submarine early in World War I. That sinking, which cost 128 American lives, was a significant factor in America becoming involved in World War I, a European war that American public sentiment had not supported getting involved with before this. (It’s a fairly big deal, historically, and Wikipedia has rather exhaustive detail about it, if you’re interested.) It was sunk fairly near here, and so here is where the memorial is.
Of course, the memorial does not consist merely of Pokemon stops, those being a very recent addition. It had several physical-world components, also:
This column thingy, and surrounding seats, which I think is technically the actual memorial.
A pair of large plaques to the awesome politicians who helped make the column happen. Seriously, folks, give it up for the real stars here!
A museum, which was built into a remodel of an old signal tower.
I found a photo of the building before the remodel. Lia, my host’s daughter, thought that the remodel was hideous, and I agree with her.
I often thought of paying the £3 or so to visit the museum, but I never did. At first, I thought it would be amusing not to, while staying a 20 minute walk from it for nearly 3 months. (Besides, you go to enough of these sorts of things and you know what’s in them. Lots of explainers, some props from similar ships, newspapers clippings from the sinking, maps, etc. It’s not a large building.) Then, right at the end, I thought, “Oh, why not? The joke can be how long I waited.” But then I got busy with the blog, and then the weather was lousy for a few days, and then suddenly I was leaving and hadn’t done it. Oh well. 🙂
(I’d point you to their website, but I can’t find one for them. I did find this article about the museum, which explains that the ground floor is all about the “restoration” of the tower, and only the 2nd floor is about the Lusitania itself. So, only half of this tiny museum is about the thing it’s a museum for? And the other half just talks about how they came to do such a crap job creating it? That might be amusing in itself, but it’s probably cheaper and more rewarding to just imagine how amusing it might be.)
I did end up in this area for easily an hour a day, or more, after the Pokemon game came out. I needed the daily walk around the peninsula for exercise, and the field between the memorial and the golf course was about the only place nearby to catch pokemon, so I’d wander around it for ages, usually in the mornings.
No, no, wandering around the edge of a cliff staring at your phone is perfectly safe. Why do you ask?
“Caution On Cliff With…” what? Caution on cliff with what?!?!
Of course, sometimes the fog rolled in, and you had to be a little more careful while catching them all:
“Aye, the Pokemon ye meet in the Fog, they be terrible things. Best ye stay indoors, traveler. They ain’t fer the like o ye.”
But, for non Pokemon players, this area was still plenty scenic.
The view looking south, on the east side. You can just see the lighthouse out at the end of the golf course. Can’t tell you how many cars I saw drive down there, only to be turned away at the gate.
And the same place, on the west side. Those cliffs had a bunch of seabirds nesting in them, and flying in and out and calling. I took a couple of videos, at different times, but both times the wind was high enough that it was slapping something — headphone wire? shirt cuff button? I don’t know — against something else, and the noise is maddening. So I deleted them. Imagine seabirds doing that, and have faith.
Time and Tide
You’ll doubtless have noticed that pretty much every picture I take of anything more than an arms length away is chock full of green and big skies. It was like that all over. I’ve got, like, 50 photos sorted into the “BigViews” folder alone. Mind you, the weather was often terrible, overcast or drizzly, sometimes the wind just howled past — and was almost always blowing at some level. Like this day, when I had to get out of the house and did my walk when the wind was in a lull, at about half it’s former level:
But there were unusually many warmish, sunny days this summer, so I had plenty of scenic photos too. I included a few views that I liked last time, but there’s just no way to include them all. So here’s a scant handful more:
The nearer of the two beaches, looking south towards the peninsula. You can just see the Lusitania museum tower peeking up in mid-frame. There was a vast difference in this beach area between high and low tides, easily 60-80 yards or more.
Tide In. From just a bit south of the beach (back towards my place along the ocean cliff path), looking north.
Tide Out. Exposing a ton of fascinating geology. Just look at the way the sedimentary layers have been deformed and folded up, and the way the ocean’s eaten into the softer layers to create those ridges! So cool. (More on that later.)
Here’s that tide, just recently turned and coming in:
This was sometimes a source of frustration: the further beach where the surfing classes were taught would vanish almost entirely under the tide. Which I wouldn’t have cared about, but there were two Pokestops out there under the waves at high tide, like this one!
And I’m supposed to get to this, how? (Note to fellow trainers: none of my Pokemon know the Surf move, yet. So, no way!)
Where I’m standing in that picture is on a bridge where, at high tide and with a decent wind, the tops of waves would blow over the road. Don’t know if that was always true, or if it’s a recent thing due to the fact that global warming’s predicted ocean rise is literally already starting. If anybody reading this has oceanside property, sell it now, while there are still people stupid enough to buy it. (This is totally fair, because stupid people are the reason we didn’t fix this problem 30+ years ago when it was already obvious it was going to happen.) And, btw, if you were considering living on an island (like, say, Hawaii, or Fiji) — don’t. Just, don’t. Big islands will still have places above sea level, but they’re going to loose a *lot* of land area, and beachfront property and resorts, and the disruption is going to be massive.
Anyway, the tidal inaccessibility of those Pokestops was responsible for my making the north walk past the memorial far more often than I made the walk south and back. The north one I could do any time. The south one was much less useful except when I was going out near low tide.
And low tide was just generally better. Then I got to check out more cool geology.
Layers and folds and sharp slip-faults and all kinds of cool stuff. And there’s a small nudist beach here somewhere too, though I didn’t seek it out.
I mean, look at those layers, and that folding!
LOOK AT THEM!
Those black layers got a lot more exposed in other areas, when the tide was out, and the rock had a really woody look to it. Not like a black metamorphic rock, but more like black peat, laid down aeons ago and now quite solid.
Here, it looks like worm-eaten wood. So cool.
Another bit of cliff, further on, between the 2 beaches. The layers have become so fractured, they look like a broken stack of pencil leads.
This has pretty much become The Nature Channel, so I might as well include plants and animals. Here is what many of the fields looked like when I arrived:
I assume that the plastic sheeting is to keep the wind and rain from washing away the soil from the spouting plants.
The same fields, a month later. Don’t ask me what kind of plant this is. I had assumed that these were corn, because ‘Murica. Later, when I learned how much barley Ireland grows (2/3 of which is used by Guinness to brew beer), and saw pictures of barely fields, I came to suspect that it was actually barley. Look, don’t ask me what early-growth grains look like, any more than what an alternator looks like, or a pre-appled apple tree, or any pre-processing plant product. And meat is that red stuff you buy in slabs at the market, and that’s all I care to know about the process.
The walking path between the fields and the cliff passed through or across the natural vegetation, which consisted largely of dense layers of matted grasses so thick that it was like walking on a bouncy mattress. You really get how this stuff keeps decomposing, as layers and layers build up above it, until you end up with that woody black rock on the beach below. Really very cool.
This struck me as the most perfect dandelion I had ever seen.
I got curious about how the dandelion flower develops — I’d never seen one before it was all puffy like this. Surely each strand didn’t slowly expand out from the center like an afro growing from a shaved scalped, until it was ready for release? It took me a surprisingly long time to find earlier stages of the plant, but I did. You can see: the strands form in a bud, whose leaves then fall back to let them puff out. (I’d whine about how long it took me to find these, but few of you would get the reference.)
I’d include a lot more pictures of flowers, but I think I pretty much exhausted that topic in my Zagreb post. But this one is worth including:
Irish heather started blooming, in the last half of my stay. Liz said it was a sign of autumn approaching. (This was the end of July. Though I’m not saying she was wrong.)
Wait, one more:
Ever wonder what a blooming artichoke looks like? Liz grew them in the back yard garden, along with many other vegetables.
There were also animals. You’ve seen cows in my last post, and cats. But there were dogs too! And spiders and bugs and snails and slugs. And there were foxes:
I know, it’s impossible to make out any more than a brown blur here. But the fox and its kit that I saw my first day out walking ran into hiding as soon as they saw me, so I never got a better picture.
And, one rainy morning, I came out into the kitchen and saw a fox coming through the fence and into the backyard. I ran back to my room to get my phone, but by the time I got back he was already back out into the field, and this blurry thing is the best photo I got. (The fox is at the center, just over the wall, trotting leftward.)
Don’t know what kind these were. I did see a bunch of gulls, and a couple of raptor types, and countless little songbirds, and a flock of what might have been swallows.
And whatever this is:
Don’t you just want to pet it? No? Well, fair enough, I didn’t either.
There was a lot of odd and end stuff that happened over the summer, and notes that I jotted down so that I’d be sure to mention them. Here are a few:
Gnats like beer. At the start of my stay, I’d regularly take a sip from a glass or bottle and find a bug in my mouth. I quickly learned keep my beer in the bottle, so that I could to keep its cap resting on the mouth to close it off (or, if it really needed a glass, to keep a napkin over the top). I almost always remembered to do that.
There was no lock on the bathroom door. Liz’s son had a knack for showing up to use the downstairs bathroom just when I was seated there. I soon learned that if I heard the nearby house door open, to reach over and grab the door handle. About 2/3 of those times, sure enough, he’d try to open it without knocking.
I love the idea that you might have different marmelades designed to accompany different meals during the day. “I shall put on my smoking jacket, Jeeves, if you’ll ready the whiskey, digestive biscuits, and after-dinner marmelade.” “In the stoat-thrashing room, sir?” “Yes, Jeeves, an excellent choice. That will do nicely.”
I’d had the idea that I’d get to see a rich night sky, out there on a peninsula on the English channel. This largely failed because (a) when I arrived, the night sky was still lit from sunset until nearly midnight, and was brightening by about 4:30, (b) it was cloudy at night surprisingly regularly, (c) even if you could see the sky, there was often enough haze to catch nearby community lights and smear them all over the background, (d) if you cleared all those hurdles, your odds of having a bright moon out were surprisingly good. I tried to watch the Perseiid shower in August, gave up thanks to the moon at a little after midnight, woke up early in the morning a day later to try again, and ended up seeing maybe 3 meteors as the haze rolled in. Ah well.
I did like this shot of the moon through the clouds. I’m surprised that my little iPhone camera managed to catch this at all!
Liz often had the radio on in the kitchen, 24/7. It was homey, and alternated between NPR-style news and music, showtunes, and what if the Lucky Charms leprechaun had a morning rush hour show? With comedy like, “What’s smaller than a pigeon? A smidgen.” It was cute.
Speaking of the kitchen: I’m used to seeing where my hosts put things, and then being super careful to always put stuff back in the same place. Even if it’s the “wrong” place. (You know what I mean. Like everyone has their preferences, and ways of doing things, and that’s fine. But if you toss sharp kitchen knives randomly into a big drawer with everything else (as my current Glasgow hosts do), you’re just asking for trouble. If you put cups and mugs away with the mouth up, so that they collect dust and don’t stack as firmly… Hey, do whatever makes you happy. I love you, you know I do.) But this wasn’t an issue with Liz, because there really wasn’t a “same place”. Sometimes the dish towels hung on the oven door handle, sometimes on the backs of the chairs. Sometimes the pots stacked one way, sometimes another. Sometimes the tiny kitchen knives were if one drawer compartment, sometimes a different one, lined up one way or maybe the other. Finding where the salt was, this time, was a daily adventure. You might think that would be the sort of thing that would drive Charles mad, but it’s really very freeing. I never had to worry about doing it wrong, because there was no right. So, hey, whatever! 🙂
I did get out to Cork twice, while I was there, on a brief errand run with Liz and on a visit to a Farmer’s Market (so much great cheese, and so cheap!). And we went to a nearby town of Bandon, where I wandered around the picturesque shopping town (Liz said it was expensive to live there), catching marveling at all the Pokemon available to city folk and taking only one picture I think is really much worth keeping:
An Irish school teaching a Korean martial art with a “Little Ninjas” class. Hey, whatever keeps your business afloat, right?
Towards the end of my stay, I tossed my warm knit cap (that I just use for sleeping because it’s not been that cold) into the wash with my other laundry, forgetting that the water temperature was hot and the cap was wool. Sigh. It occurs to me now that maybe I should have looked online to see if there’s a way to stretch out shrunken wool garments, but I didn’t know of one and simply threw it out. (I replaced it in Dublin, but I’ll discuss that in a later post.)
You were pretty free to go traipsing across fields and over fence wires — usually a single wire strung from post-to-post around the edges of the field to keep the cattle in. But it was worth noting that some of those wires were electrified, to really discourage the cattle from crossing them.
Want to guess how I found out what these yellow strips signify? Yep, you guessed it in one! Well done.
You may recall, that I deliberately left my French Press and Croatian coffee grinder in Zagreb. I saw a cheap French Press in the local supermarket and bought it, and it was decent, but the pre-ground coffee in the supermarket was not that great, and the grind was too fine for a French Press. After putting up with that for a while, I decided I was buying a US grinder I could take with me, and Lifehacker had a review of the best ones — including manual grinders! This was the perfect solution: without the motor, they’re compact, lightweight, and quieter in shared spaces. So, I ordered one from their list, the Hario Coffee Mill Slim Grinder, and it’s been great. Filling the grinding bowl with beans generates exactly the right amount of grinds for my French Press to make the amount that fills my thermos mug, and it’s only 11 oz in weight! Very happy. I’m alternating between cold brew and hot brew preparations, and I’m still not sure I really notice a difference. Maybe a taste test with friends, once I’m back in LA?
The Hoka hiking boots I bought at REI in December started to fall apart the last couple of weeks of my stay, with the thick rubber sole just peeling away from both boots, starting at the toe at nearly the same time on both. Only 8-9 months old — such a nuisance — and I was worried about how to replace them. Thankfully, I found a repair place in Dublin that fixed them right up (more on that next post).
I don’t normally pick up souvenirs in places, but Kinsale had just what I’d been looking for for ages:
You’ve no idea how excited I was to find these. If I’d known how much I was going to need to close up random packages of groceries in my travels, I’d have bought them 2 years ago. I’ve been making do with rubber bands and plastic clothes pins ever since.
And, with that, I think I’m done. As usual, there were a bunch more pictures, but I don’t think I’m leaving out anything significant. Since I left, I’ve exchanged e-mails with Liz and Lia; they say they miss me, and it’s weird not having me there, and the cats look confused. And Liz has moved downstairs and taken over my room; it’s got a better WiFi signal and she wants that for the online job she’s lining up. So, it’s like I’ve left home and gone to college and the folks converted my old room. Weird. Who knows when I’ll make it back there, and even when I do, it won’t be the same. The place will seem smaller, and I’ll be in a guest room, and none of my posters will be on the walls anymore. I can’t believe it was only 2 weeks ago that I left. The wheel turns.
So, that’s that. I’ll write up my days in Dublin next time, which should be in the next week or so.
So, here I am in southern Ireland, due to depart Tuesday (August 23rd) after 2½ months here. As you’ve no doubt observed, I’ve had quite the flurry of catching up on blog entries in the last few weeks, with the goal of being current when I leave. You can attribute this new found dedication to the freeing up of my time caused by being done with Fallout 4. As I mentioned in a prior blog, there’s another content pack for the game that will be released in a couple of weeks, and I may force myself to get back in and play it (it looks kind of fun), but I haven’t touched the game in a few weeks now. And less time in front of the PC gaming makes me more willing to spend more time in front of the PC blogging! Everybody wins. 😄
I had fully intended to finish my Ireland posts before I left, and I started it last week in plenty of time. But I had *so* many photos from my months here, that just sorting through them took many hours. Then, I bought and started playing No Man’s Sky, that game I mentioned a post or two ago, that came out last week. Which I wasn’t going to do immediately, but I was annoyed that there were a bunch of folks outraged that the game wasn’t what they expected, and I wanted to support the game team. (The basic game is *exactly* what was advertised. There are some extra things that were talked about while the game was still in development that didn’t make it in to the initial release, but the small development team of 15 is still adding extra features, and none of the missing features appear to fundamentally affect game play. So the legit criticisms are being swamped by whiny baby people. As usual.) Then, I finally found a local chiropractor (mah back’s all honked up, ya’ll), got an adjustment (I’ll need more such in Glasgow), and had a couple of days of feeling headachey from related neck stuff, which made me disinclined to write. Now, I’m getting back to it and it’s Monday afternoon as I write these words.
I think what I’m going to do is write a main, overall summer post, and release that now. Then I’ll head to Dublin tomorrow, on to Glasgow on Saturday, and write a follow-up Ireland post that’s mostly photos and side comments shortly after I arrive in Glasgow. So, sometime next week. We’ll see.
So, off we go.
Tuesday, May 31st – Getting there
My plane from Edinburgh to Cork arrived at around 2:35, and I had planned to take the bus down to Kinsale, where my host Liz would be meeting me to take me to her place. So, let’s do a little orientation, shall we?
In the interest of not uploading *another* map of the UK, here’s the last one pointing out where Edinburgh is. It also happens to show Ireland, with the cities of Dublin (middle east coast) and Cork (south), and a couple of stars at the bottom of the map for where I’m staying (south of Kinsale, on the “Old Head” peninsula), and a nearby town of Bandon.
The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn’t make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.
Focusing more on Ireland, I’m suddenly struck by how much the highways look like tributaries all flowing into Dublin. It makes me wonder how accurate that is; everyone around here seems to care mainly about Cork, the local city. But clearly at the national level, Dublin is the hub and the main roads all flow between it and other places. Going elsewhere, they’re all smaller highways.
Looking at the local area in a little more detail:
The peninsula I’m on is in the south center, with the star on it. Kinsale, to the north, has the pin, about a 17 minute drive away (or a 2 hour walk down roads with no sidewalks — no thanks!), and Cork is a 50 minute drive north.
This actually turns out to be a really appropriate map, because the views from this peninsula really make this coastline clear. But more on that later.
FYI, Ireland is super pretty from the air. And from pretty much everywhere else.
I got off the plane at the airport (as one does), and found it to be a typical, small city airport — modest lobby space, a couple of cafes, some rental car agencies, and ATMs, which supplemented my leftover Italian Euro stash nicely. The bus stop was just a a couple of dozen feet from the main entrance, and had a ticket machine that I managed to convince to give me a ticket to Kinsale. (It just now occurred to me to wonder if I’d bought a round trip ticket… Oh well, too late now if I did.) The bus arrived in a few minutes and I was on my way, sending my host Liz a status update via the Airbnb messaging.
Ireland, where it’s easy being green.
A little under an hour later, we arrived in Kinsale, a little tourist town in an inlet on the coast.
Kinsale has been a significant naval port, with a couple of significant forts, and is now a small, seaside, tourist town exactly like every other small, seaside, tourist town in the world. A nice place, but a bit pricey to actually live in.
After about 25 minutes of trying to figure out where she was versus where I was, I found her car and we headed to her place, via a couple of grocery stores (a cheap one that I went to just that once, and a pricier one that I went to the rest of the time).
Where I was staying was at this Airbnb, and the entire foundation upon which my time in southern Ireland has been constructed can be summed up by, “Not what I was expecting, but it worked out.”
What I was expecting, partly based on text and partly based on images conjured in my head:
an older Irish woman in a computer-reliant job,
who worked mostly from home, but traveled to Dublin maybe one day a week (so I could ride in with her and see the city),
and who had an updated, modernized, old farm house
with 3 nice small dogs and 2 cats
on a peninsula surrounded by water,
at a not impossible walking distance from a couple of villages,
in which I’d be renting a sunny, upstairs room
with its own bathroom.
What I got:
Liz is 60, was born in Ireland, but her parents moved their family to New Jersey shortly after she was born, where she lived into her 20s — before moving to Germany, marrying a German and having two kids, and then having a bohemian, New Age, wandering lifestyle with the two kids and settling back here a dozen years ago. She has a clear Jersey accent, and the locals call her “American Liz”. A fascinating combination of good-hearted, no-nonsense, reiki-using, tarot-card-reading pragmatism as you could hope to find, but about as Irish as I am, really. Her 29 year old daughter Lia (Irish accent) is just graduating college, and moved back in just after I arrived (she’s lovely). Her 27 year old son Leo (yes, Liz, Lia, and Leo — there’s a story) (mostly English accent, for Reasons) bought a camper trailer, parked it in the back yard, and stays there occasionally, between work, girlfriend, and trying to get a rap career off the ground (a decent chap, though we have few points in common to provide an easy ground for conversation).
She’d been laid off not too long before I arrived, and was no longer taking regular trips into Dublin for her job. By the time I’m leaving, she’s lining up a middle-management tech support job with Apple, who need a tech support manager who can speak and write German, which she does, while working from home. In between, she hasn’t seemed super worried about money — maybe a combination of Irish unemployment insurance, Airbnb rentals, and maybe some parental inheritance money? (It seems rude to ask.)
The 260 year old farmhouse is just that. No real modernization involved, rustic as hell. More on that later.
3 dogs are friendly, smallish, furball dogs, cute enough — and when Liz or her daughter are gone, they’re put into Liz’s closed off bedroom upstairs, from which they bark continuously. Con. Tin. U. Ous. Ly. I put in earphones and largely ignore it. And, about 10 days before I left, Liz tried leaving the barkiest one out to roam the house, to see if that would help, and it did immediately. Barking fell by 95%.
It’s definitely a peninsula, but we’re 2-3 farm fields away from the water and you don’t usually hear the waves (which aren’t terribly wavey, anyway, except in strong weather). It’s scenic, and quiet, and very nice, but it’s not like I’m hanging out under an awning out back watching the surf.
The closest village is an hour walk away, and the pub closed a while back. There *is* a pub closer, but Liz isn’t impressed with the food and I haven’t bothered. (4 days left, though — anything could happen! (It’s not going to happen.) )
Instead, I have a dark, downstairs room. More on that later also.
Two shared bathrooms, one of which only rarely has hot water in the shower.
Liz rents out two rooms in her house, and I’d rented the upstairs one, which is what that link is for. However, when we arrived, she led me to the downstairs room instead, which was much darker and low-ceilinged — and a little depressing looking, truth be told, after the light and openness of my Edinburgh place — but it was notably larger, and had a couch, and had plenty of room for the small desk that she offered to roll in for me. Here’s a picture, taken at the peak of lights and sun and cheeriness, which is how I’ll mostly remember it.
There’s a fireplace, but it has birds nesting in it so it’s not really useable (not that I’d probably have used it, though there were peat brick in it, ready to be burned). Pillows and blankets are largely positioned to control where the cats will sleep. They spend most of the day in my room, and they’d nap wherever it’s least convenient. Because cats.
He’s not a Maine Coon, but he’s a serious cat. Don’t try rubbing that stomach unless you want to lose skin.
She said I could have the upstairs one if I wanted, but I gave it a moment’s thought and this one was farther from the other bedrooms, put me closer to everything else in the house (namely the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, and avoided the steep staircase, so I went with the room she suggested.
I feel vaguely like I’d looked at the other room originally, when I was renting the place, and there were differences between the listings that made me pick the one I’d picked, including differences in the photo. But Liz has been updating the listings since I booked the place last fall, and I don’t remember exactly what the original descriptions look like. For example, I’m certain there was a price difference, but they’re identical now. And both rooms now have the photo of the upstairs room — which is either an oversight, or a way to make clear to the other summer guests what their room would look like, since I’m staying in the room that I didn’t technically reserve.
There was a lot of stuff like that. I’m certain I remember the listing mentioning a private bathroom, which was a notable inducement for me (though not the primary one). In fact, there are two bathrooms — a tiny one upstairs with the 3 bedrooms, and one downstairs off the kitchen — and they’re both shared, though I’m the primary user of the downstairs one. And the downstairs shower hasn’t had hot water for most of the time I’ve been there. The house has a weird hodgepodge heating system, with an oil boiler in a corner closet heating water pipes running through the house that warm the walls and heat the water — but only within a few hours of the heater being run. It’s run once at night, for an hour, and so the water was typically cold in the downstairs shower by the time I got up. Liz and her adult daughter Lia kept suggesting I use the upstairs shower, which has an electric heater — but that bathroom is tiny, is right next to the upstairs bedrooms, has the stairs to deal with, and sleeping dogs to possibly awaken…. I just stuck to downstairs, and let the cold showers build character. (I have soooo much character right now, I could star in a Dickens novel.)
There was a separate electric heater that would heat the downstairs water, but it was problematic. First, it was installed in the closet in Liz’s master bedroom upstairs, although it only seemed to affect the water in the kitchen OR the downstairs bathroom. (One OR the other, depending on a switch.) Second, you run it for a while, and turn it off, and then that water is supposed to be hot for many hours — so it must be heating a water tank up there. But, the whole time I was there that didn’t work — at first, it would only stay hot for a couple of hours, and then it didn’t heat at all. Third, Liz called her landlord to get it fixed, and the Irish plumber took nearly 3 weeks to come by, worked on it for 10 minutes, called it fixed, and then it turned out not to be. So, she called again, he came back within 10 days, and *did* fix it (which was awesome in the morning), and that lasted for about 4 days and then stopped again. Liz had many words to say about Irish repairmen: apparently, the repair people her landlord sent about an electrical issue, previously, came 13 times trying to fix it — and then threw up their hands and suggested that she might have a ghost problem. (She called her own repair guy, he fixed it in one visit, and they were done.) So, this weird secondary heater never really worked.
I didn’t really complain about the shower — indeed, I kept reassuring them that I was fine, that they should only fix it if they needed the hot water for other reasons (like, as they noted, to have hot water in the kitchen sink), that it builds character, etc. After all, I *had* the option to use the upstairs shower, and was choosing not to. Mostly for the reasons above, but at least partly out of a kind of stubbornness — “I was promised a bathroom, gods damn it, and I’m not really feeling like I should have to give that up”. And also because I can be mostly Ok with cold showers. A yoga teacher of mine used to sing their praises. And there were a few of times in my Santa Monica building where the shared condo water heater stopped working and I had a few days of cold showers. They’re really quite doable, if you can stop resisting them. And you sure use less water! (A big deal in LA. Less so in Ireland.) Eventually, in late July, Lia suggested that they tweak the timer on the main boiler, to run it later during the night, so that the main water would still be hot in the morning. So, my last few weeks there had a lot of hot showers, and — though I display my weakness here — they were in fact much nicer than the cold ones. (I feel my reserves of character slowly draining, but it’s totes worth it.)
In other peculiarities: from the original pictures and description, I had kind of a mental image of this being an old house with a lot of modern updates and expansions. It’s not. It’s a 260 year old, 2-story farmhouse: originally a kitchen and living room on the ground floor (with low ceilings) and 3 small bedrooms above, with a separate outhouse. Now, what was probably an upstairs closet has become a small bathroom, it has with a more modern kitchen/bathroom (maybe 50 years old?) added onto the side, what was the original kitchen is a living room and the old living room has become a larger bedroom and my Airbnb space. Rustic as hell.
Taken on the next to the last day I was here. (The day didn’t start out nearly this nice, so yay that!) You can see the old farmhouse, with the added kitchen/bathroom part on the left. My bedroom was on the ground floor on the rightmost corner (blocked from view by Leo’s camper).
Nice, once you get used to it, but nothing properly “modern”. Thick walls, small windows, gets musty smelling if you leave it closed up. I kept my window at least a bit open, most of the time; thank gods I was here in the summer, when the weather often allowed that. If the weather’s bad, you just hunker down and wait it out. Liz says this summer has been unusually warm and sunny — yaay Global Warming! — and, in truth, it’s not been bad. But there have been plenty of days when it was just high winds and cold rains. She says that she’s not even renting rooms, once winter approaches.
Also, from the pictures, it wasn’t clear to what degree this house was on the water. It’s not. Here’s a satellite view I stitched together from Google Maps.
The peninsula, with Points of Interest.
As you can see, Liz’s place — at the star, roughly in the middle of the picture — is back across a couple of farm fields, from a set of cliffs that you can walk north along to get to some beaches. It’s all super scenic, as we’ll see below, but I rarely even heard the ocean. Possibly because the waves were so small here.
There was a surfing class held daily, at the beach north of me with the Pokemon stops/gym. This is about as powerful as I ever saw the surf there.
I’m sure there were days with stronger surf. But those would have been days with *much* stronger weather, and I’d have been staying inside on a day like that because I’m not a crazy person. (Not that kind of crazy, at any rate.)
So, not on the beach.
It’s all a bit free form, but it seems to have worked out. (This, by the way, seems like it could be Liz’s life motto: “It’s all a bit free form, but it seems to have worked out.”) Because it really did.
When I arrived and was looking at the dark, low-ceilinged bedroom, I was thinking, “OMG, what have I done? I’m here nearly 3 months!” And, while the weather was sunny the weekend that I arrived, for most of the first month it was normally inclement, rainy and windy, so it was hard to get out and exercise (and nowhere really to go when I did).
Also, I’d made the reservations last fall, when I’d figured I’d have been in cities for so long that a break in the country, where I could see the stars would be nice. Then, I was trapped hiding from pollen for most of 2 months, and didn’t need the break after all. And the night sky is normally cloudy here, so not real big on stars. Sigh.
But. The room gets cheerier when you turn the lights on. And the internet is generally quite good. And, most mornings, I could make my coffee and oatmeal and sit out in the backyard and watch across the fields to the bay and read Twitter for a couple of hours, which was lovely.
The backyard in the afternoon. Liz’s vegetable garden on the right went crazy after a few weeks and pumped out lettuce and broccoli and cucumbers and tomatoes and all sorts of stuff.
A pano from just outside the back wall.
Those last couple of pictures were sunny days. In truth, the early mornings as I had my breakfast tended to look more like this. Overcast, chilly wind, farmer, dog, cattle being brought in for milking, etc. Chock full o’pastoral archetypes.
I really felt bad for these poor creatures, waddling back with their swollen udders. But, the Irish cream I put in my coffee was pretty awesome, so whatevs.
Then, after milking, the deflated cows would be sent back into the mist to process more grass for our consumption.
Often enough, these guys would be standing around on the other side of the wall, when I brought my food out to settle down, prop my feet up, and read. And, periodically, they’d decide it was time to poop, and a stream of liquid manure would gush forth. My image of perfectly formed cow pies was quite shattered. I don’t know if they’re feeding them differently here than in Texas, but it did *not* look healthy to me. And it sure taught me to step carefully, crossing those fields to get to the cliff path.
The cliff path, by the way, was pretty cool, skirting around the edge of the fields and eventually reaching the tidal beach to the north — a sandy stretch that would become quite vast at low tide, and on sunny days would fill with Irish tourists coming down for the warmer weather. The sand was quite blinding — no, wait, it was the skin of the Irish tourists that was blinding, the sand was pretty normal. But the geology along the cliffs was impressive.
I’d catch a ride back into Kinsale once or twice a week with Liz, mostly to get groceries and wander about — and later, to play Pokemon Go (it’s a Google Maps-based game, and towns and cities in the real world have more things associated with them in the game). We went to another town, called Bandon, once, and once made a brief trip to a Farmer’s Market in Cork (which had amazing local cheese). And the rest of the time, I’d walk around the peninsula — I started forcing myself to go out for an hour, even in marginal weather, to get the physical movement; then, after Pokemon Go came out, I’d get out for a couple of hours on most days. And it’s really super pretty — I’ll put up a bunch of pictures later, but here’s a couple more to tide you over:
From a spot along the cliffs, a bit north up the coast, looking mostly west.
It was a little too hazy to see much of the Perseid showers, when I woke up early for them, but I walked up to the Lusitania memorial and got to greet the sunrise for the first time in a long time. Hail, Mithras!
And here’s a near-sunset to go with it.
I have to say, the closer I got to the end of my stay, the more appealing the farmland got. I’m probably getting out before the autumn/winter storms start — Liz has spared no expense in playing up how miserable the weather is going to become. And I’ve been impressed at how nearly-nonstop the wind has been, and along with that the weather is constantly changing. I think everywhere I’ve lived, people have talked about how quickly the weather changes where they live: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes, it will change,” they proclaim, as if they’re boasting. Bullshit. I know that now. Here, where the wind from the Atlantic whips right across this narrow peninsula with nothing to discourage it, it’ll be heavy fog, then the wind kicks up and 2 hours later it’s perfectly sunny, then it’s foggy on only half the peninsula in the afternoon, and then the winds kicks in again and starts to howl, and the rains come. And it’s like that all the next day, and through the night, and when you wake up again, and then the next time you look the wind is next to nothing and the kitchen is basking in the sunshine again. It’s proper weather, I love it! And I’m probably glad to escape before it gets worse.
And Liz was excellent company, as was her daughter Lia — really terrific people that I will be sorry to say goodbye to. Intelligent, funny, easy-going; I’ve gotten on well with all of my hosts so far, but they have been by far the best company, and I keep puzzling over in my brain how I might schedule things to come back sooner than 3-4 years from now.
My reading was pretty much all done in room, and I did get a few books out of the way, so I should probably include one here. I almost feel like I should hold off on discussing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child until I’m in Edinburgh (that being a more Rowling city) or even Glasgow (For Reasons That Shall Be Revealed Later), but I read it here so I’m reviewing it here.
I’ll bet many of you have already read this, despite it having come out just 3 weeks ago. But, for anyone who’s unfamiliar: this tells the story of Harry Potter’s middle son Albus, who is sent off to Hogwarts in the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book. Things do not go smoothly for young Albus at Hogwarts, and the events that he gets involved with involve his family and friends and friend’s family, in ways that continue to tell Harry’s story as much as they do his son’s. So, this essentially fleshes out the tale of Harry’s mid-life, only touched on in that epilogue.
I loved it. Loved. It. I can see it throwing some readers: it’s written to be the script for a play, and so the reading experience of it is different. And, accordingly there’s a lot less descriptive world-building and sparkly magic stuff, and a lot less of Harry’s (or Albus’s, or anybody’s) internal thoughts. It’s a play, so it’s all external dialogue and whatever magic could be stage-performed, and it’s also more emotion and reaction driven, rather than fantasy-plot driven. So it’s a very different way of presenting that world.
But there are funny parts and weepy parts and good-weepy parts, and clever ideas. There were some things I wasn’t wild about. Like where Rowling deliberately used a name from someone in the real world as a character name; it was a kind of a nice tribute to them, but it quite broke the 4th wall and snapped me out of the story. My first reaction was, “Hah, cool!”, and then it immediately got under my skin. And then there’s also — let’s see how to describe this without spoiling any plot lines — the magical premise around which the central plot is built, is one which, I think, is inherently problematic. You see it more in science fiction than fantasy, and it’s almost impossible to do it in a way that makes any kind of sense. It’s not just a case of suspending disbelief that a thing exists, you have to suspend any desire to have that thing make internal sense. Rowling had touched on this kind of magic in a previous book, but did it in one of the few ways that don’t raise any issues. Here? It’s all about the issues. I wish she’d built the character development around a different problem, but, hey, she didn’t consult me.
And yet, despite that, I still loved it. Everything else is everything I would want it to be. You don’t need me to recommend this book: if you’ve been reading Harry Potter, you’re going to read this, and if you haven’t been you have no reason to. But it was probably the highlight book of my summer, so there we are.
And with that, I’m going to end this entry. I’ll add more details and a bunch more photos in the next post, but that’s How I Spent My Summer.
So, picking right up from my last post. This will be a short one, just finishing off the end of my Edinburgh time before I head off to Ireland.
Monday, May 30th
I’d say I woke up early and headed straight for the National Museum of Scotland, to see the rest of the exhibits there, but that would be a blatant lie. In fact, I woke up at my usual time (which I did not note, but the odds are good it was probably around 5:30-ish), had a leisurely morning of breakfast and Twitter, and after a few hours strolled over to the museum to be there just after it opened at 10:00. Being a morning person means never having to say, “I didn’t hear my alarm go off, I’m going to be late!” (Jinx, ptooey, ptooey, knock on wood! I do sometimes have super-early flights to catch, best to not get cocky.)
While there was much I had not seen in my previous brief time in this museum, the primary reason to return was this:
I would like to note that the Telegraph and the Observer must be written by faint-hearted people, if they are stunned or staggered by museum exhibits. I can only imagine the museum staff calling up to administration, “Can you have Nurse Amy come back down with the smelling salts? The reporter from the Observer has passed out in front of the pottery again.”
I’d say that it would be hard to imagine passing up the perfect opportunity of seeing an exhibit on Celts in a Celtic land — but I do have a powerful imagination, and can easily invent at least a dozen causes that might yield such a result. However, I see little benefit in doing so, when actually attending the exhibit was quite feasible and was, indeed, something that I was able to do with little difficulty or ill repercussion, as I shall describe below.
Or, at least, I would describe it, except that it would cost me many thousands of words, because pictures were not allowed. In some places, I’ve found that irritating. Here, they explained:
“The Celts exhibition includes many significant loans from 28 institutions across Europe and the UK, for some of which it is a condition of loan that photography by exhibition visitors is not allowed. As these loans are spread throughout the gallery, we are unable to allow photography in this space and ask visitors to respect this in order to ensure these fantastic objects are available for all to enjoy when visiting the exhibition.”
So, basically, “Hey, we’d love to let you take pictures, but if we didn’t obey the arseholes’ conditions we wouldn’t have as much cool stuff to show you. Sorry.”
What I’ll have to do instead is link you to the museum’s Celts exhibit page, where they have pictures and videos of things in the exhibition. It should be good until the end of the exhibit, in late September. After that, I’ll try to remember to check back and see if they have a “Past Exhibits” page that keeps the information, and update this entry if they do. And, if they don’t, I’ll suggest Googling things like “celtic torcs”, “celtic chariots”, “celtic horns”, “celtic manuscripts” and the like, because they had some pretty fantastic examples of all of those things, as well as some audio visual presentations that were pretty cool. I wouldn’t say that I was stunned or staggered, but I was certainly impressed.
So, I arrived at the museum, hung out for a few minutes having a fortifying pastry and cup of coffee in a slightly underprepared break area (I don’t think they were expecting someone to arrive first thing Monday morning and make a beeline for the snacks, but we managed), spent about 2 hours in the Celts exhibit, and then wandered out to check out the rest of the museum at about 1:00. This turned out to be good timing, as the Millenium Clock was just kicking into gear:
A musical clock with carved figures like Death copping a feel on a nude woman is a peculiar thing to see in a public space. I like it!
The museum provides portable folding chairs! I’ve never seen that in a museum before, it’s brilliant! I did not need one, but if there’s a gap in time between my becoming moderately infirm and supportive powered exoskeletons becoming cheaply available, you can be sure that I will use them.
In an earlier post, I showed the main natural history section of the museum. But they had a bunch of others:
All sorts of curious along the main gallery walls, from whale jaw bones to bronze dishes to airplane propellers.
Several sections on religion.
Tibetan ceremonial garb, with an audiovisual presentation about the precise, meditative dances that the monks perform in them.
Folklore from around the world.
From a display of ancient Scottish tribal religious artifacts.
The thing that particularly impressed me with all of the religious displays from foreign and local cultures was how reverently they were treated. It’s common enough to see religious artifacts in museums, and most of them are treated condescendingly at best, or negatively at worst. They’re described from either an atheistic viewpoint or a Christian one, and there tends to be an undercurrent of “Look at these primitive peoples’ beliefs”; even if they don’t sound condemnatory, they carries with them the viewpoint, stated or unstated, that these beliefs aren’t real or valid.
This museum did none of that. Each one was treated as inherently real, a way of describing the universe and the group’s relationship to it, without any interjection of a separate, judging, external viewpoint. “This is what they do, or did, to the best of our knowledge, and we’ll do our best to help you understand it.” Considering how many museums I’ve been to in my life, even how many good ones… this was unusual and approaching unique in its breadth and consistency. It felt really good.
And it was even more unusual in a museum that had so much time and space devoted to science and engineering. For example, there was a huge section on the geological and ecological history of Scotland:
Each of the displays in this section presented the data in a coherent narrative, and then included a section called “How do we know?”, that laid out the evidence. I’m not sure how much of that was just intended to be informative, and how much was to close off any possible Creationist objections. “Nope, sorry. Here is the evidence that supports that conclusion. Just let it go, mate.”
The path Scotland’s land mass has taken across the globe in the last 650 million years.
It also had a couple of large floors in a connected building that covered Scottish history and politics. (I’ll have to just point you vaguely at their website’s history page for that, I seem to have taken no pictures there.) Really, the place had everything. And, since I left, they’ve added a couple of whole new wings, so I’ll have new stuff to see when I go back.
This has now moved above New York’s Museum of Natural History in my rankings, and vies with their Metropolitan Museum of Art in overall quality. It was super impressive.
And that was my Monday. There was no lunch break; I had a Clif Bar to tide me over, at around 2:00 or so, and headed home at around 3:30. A quiet evening ensued, eating the last of my groceries and watching YouTube, and that was it for sightseeing. This round.
Tuesday, May 31st
So, my flight from Edinburgh to Cork, Ireland, was at 1:00, arriving at 2:35. I’d had the idea, originally, of taking train and ferry to get to my destination but, as had been the case with my original travel planning, I soon learned that no land options got me near where I was staying before 10pm or so. It was all very inconvenient. So, I bought another plane ticket.
I figured I’d get to the airport early and just have lunch there before the flight. So, I walked downtown at around 9:30, got on the express bus to the airport, dumped my massive backpack (with my fleece trekking jacket clipped onto the back) onto the luggage rack, and settled in for the ride. It went quickly, I disembarked at the airport, stumbled about a bit looking for the security gate, and then, in line at the gate to go through the luggage nonsense, realized that my jacket was no longer clipped to my backpack! Aaagh!
Nothing that could be done at that point. Jacket gone. Oh well. 🙁 ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
The weird thing is, not only was the jacket gone, but the clip was gone too. And it was a pretty secure clip. I could understand if the jacket had gotten caught on something when I lifted it free, and the little jacket collar loop that I had hooked through the clip had torn loose. But for the clip to go, too, I just don’t get. Did someone specifically steal it, unhooking the thing while I was looking? No idea. Oh well, again. And sigh.
On the plus side, the airport had a conveyor-belt-sushi restaurant!
At last, my dream fulfilled! I have had Kaitenzushi! And in Scotland, no less, prepare by authentic, pale, red-headed Scotmen! Amazing. It very nearly made up for the loss of the jacket.
The flight left very nearly on time, with all the romantic pleasure you would expect to associate with an Irish prop plane:
A charming scene, made even more charming by being full of sushi and beer.
And airplane coffee made with actual grounds! It’s a bloody miracle! (They wanted Euros, the currency of Ireland, but thankfully took pounds, which were what I had handy.)
And we arrived in Cork in an even more timely fashion than we had departed. Winning!
So, that will be it for this unusually short blog post. Ireland shall be next, and of a more respectable size. You may rest assured on that score.
So, on Monday, May 23rd, I arrive in Edinburgh. On Tuesday, I go walkabout (and rideabout) and see stuff. Then we get to Wednesday…
Wednesday, May 25th (and Thursday, May 26th)
To explain this, I need to back up a little. My primary credit card, the one that gives me my frequent flyer miles on American Airlines (and associated fliers), was due to expire in May. I’ve been paying attention to this for about a year, and figured that, when they sent the new card, I’d have to ask Sarah to express mail it to me at wherever I was at the time. It probably arrives just before the beginning of May, maybe a week in the mailing system… no problem.
Oh wait! Problem! Sarah no longer lives near our P.O.Box, and doesn’t get there all the time, particularly not just after the end of tax season (a busy time of year for an accountant). So, she’s having the mail sent to her new place in batches. So, between one thing and another, it’s not until May 18th that it arrives at her place. *Maybe* it could be sent to Zagreb before I leave, but that seems like a tight schedule — and it’s nearly twice as expensive as sending to Edinburgh, $90-$120 instead of $55-$85. She could send it to my Irish address… but the card expires on the 31st, and it would be good to have a few days leeway to change online services’ info, to have some padding in general, etc. So I ask her to send it to my Edinburgh address, and it gets scheduled for a Wednesday delivery. No problem, I think. I won’t mind having a day to veg, out of my 7 non-travel days there.
So, Wednesday morning, I check the tracking info: it’s in Edinburgh, out for delivery. I know from long experience that, in LA at least, that could mean it will show up at 6pm, so I settle down to play Fallout. A new block of content had been released a few days before I left Zagreb, and I had downloaded it and started playing it there, but I was kind of eager to make more progress, so that I could avoid spoilers on Twitter and YouTube. I made sure not to put headphones on, so I could hear the buzzer. And I waited.
To summarize most of a long story, here’s the status update I sent to Sarah on Thursday:
Just FYI, in case you were wondering why I haven’t sent an e-mail saying “Got it!”, it’s because I haven’t.
Waited around all day yesterday, got nothing. Checked the tracking site, and it said “Delivery Exception” with no details.
Called them after the 6pm “Deliver by” time, routed to “Scott”, who said he’d look into it and call me back at 9am the next morning.
At 10:20am I called Scott back, and he said he’d look into the exact time of delivery today and get back to me. And, in response to my question, he said he didn’t know why it had failed but he’d look into that too.
At 3:30, I called him, got his voicemail, and left message saying (a) still not here, and (b) “You were going to get back to me?” He called back shortly, said he’d pursue it, but he promised it would be here today.
At 6:09, I checked the site again, and there’d been another Delivery Exception at 4:49, again with no explanation of why.
Called Scott back, left message saying “I think we need to have this held someplace tomorrow where I can come get it, because it’s not being delivered, and you guys don’t seem to know why not, and I actually need this.” He called back, said he was *so* sorry (actually sounded kind of sincere, this time!), and said they would hire an outside courier to deliver it to me tomorrow, since nobody knew what the actual problem was, and he’d call me back first thing in the morning with the delivery time.
We shall see.
So, there we are. On the plus side, having two days at home meant that I did get a chance to finish the main questline of the new Fallout 4 DLC, so now I don’t have to worry about major online spoilers. So, yay that! ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
Scott didn’t call me back on Friday morning, as he’d promised — again — and I was going to call him a little after 10, again, to see what was up. But at 9:55, the local courier they’d hired rang the doorbell, I ran downstairs and signed for it, and it was, indeed, a Citibank credit card. Yaaay! I sent Sarah a confirmation e-mail, hung around a bit longer to snack on something, and then headed out to sightsee.
Later, I played a bit of phone tag with Scott, who called while my phone was out of reach to be sure I’d gotten the package. Which, I guess, is cool. But it does seem as if he would have gotten the delivery confirmation — so, really, the only time he called back in a timely fashion is when he knew I wouldn’t be berating him? Anyway, I called back, got his voicemail, and said, basically, “Thanks, I’ve got it, appreciate your help.” Cheerfully. Because it’s not like getting mad would get me my 2-1/4 days back, and anyway I don’t really do “mad”. Futilely peeved is about as close as I get, and I’d rather take the high road than the ineffectual one.
And anyway, Wednesday and Thursday were rainy. I’d have enjoyed being out in it, but there are advantages to not, also. And it was a nice view to wait by.
Taken on a rainy Thursday night, 9:54pm. Still pretty light, considering the cloud cover.
Friday, May 27th
So, at around 11, I head back out into the city. Before I set out, let me re-add the city map, for easy reference.
A map of the main part of Edinburgh; see below for details….
(Ignore the comment; as usual, it repeats when you reuse an uploaded image.)
So, my objectives today were to go get lunch, and go to a museum.
This was not either. But it’s been a while since I included a Starbucks from my travels. I’ve noticed that Starbucks has a hard time taking hold in places that have a strong, native, coffee culture already. (Not just Starbucks, any other chain coffee place.) It’s done well in the U.S. because we only knew diner coffee, and chain coffees are a massive step up from that. But in places like Italy and Croatia? It’s a step down. Of course, they don’t serve coffee in Big Gulp sizes, so I have to say I lean more towards Starbucks. What can I say, I’m a philistine.
This was not either, either. Just a reminder that we’re in Scotland.
I was actually heading for the World’s End Cafe, which we’d passed on the tour bus.
For some reason, I don’t have an exterior photo, so here’s one from their website
The World’s End is so named because because it used to be just inside the city wall, so it was as far as the citizen’s world went. The story and a bunch pretty good pictures are here, and that website is extra amusing because the writer went for the same reason I did: the movie of the same name, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the last of their Cornetto trilogy that I mentioned way back in one of my first Chiang Mai posts. And the writer discovered the same thing that I had simply assumed, that this bar had nothing to do with the movie. It’s just a great name. Better than the food, IMO, from my single sample size. I don’t even remember what I ate now, I think it was a haggis and leeks sort of thing, vaguely adequate, with a dessert called cranachan that I think was not terribly well made — too tart, and the flavors didn’t blend at all, just stared balefully at each other across the dessert cup and blended in my mouth and stomach only unwillingly — like some weird metaphor for the English and Scots in the city around me. (I had it someplace else, later, and it was quite nice, so I think that World’s End just had more poorly integrated ingredients, and being bused to my table had not reduced their mutual intolerance.)
I did see this, on the way out:
Amusing enough — although not *so* amusing that they didn’t think it would be improved upon by writing a laugh track on it.
So, lunch having been accomplished, I wandered down to the Princes Street Garden — that little green bit between the New and Old City sections in the map above — to visit the Scottish National Gallery, Scotland’s main art museum.
Scenic enough for you?
I ended up visiting 3 different museums, in my few days here, and one of them twice, because the museums here are free to enter. Talk about a progressive city! It actually supports its citizens enriching their lives! The wonder of it! One of them, the National Museum of Scotland, did have a special exhibition that had a fee — but I get ahead of myself. Anyways, the National Gallery wasn’t super huge, but it had some good stuff. The usual selection of religious art, that no European museum would be complete without, but often with weird aspects that leave you scratching your head a bit.
Of course, the obligatory bored Madonna And Child. “Give me the toy, peon, lest I smite thee.”
This one’s actually quite nice, and manages to capture that parental look of letting the child go just enough to feel independent, while being ready to grab them if they get into trouble. Nicely done. But check out the plaque….
First, “unusually large”? Maybe they mean, by the usual standards of Madonna and Child paintings, where the adults have horse faces and the child looks like a wizened gnome. Because, in real life, that’s a pretty normal sized kid. Second, “The Madonna of the Yarnwinder”? Staring “at a cross-shaped yarnwinder as if already aware of his future crucifixion.” Crucified by yarn? Should we have been praying to “Christ on the Scarf” this whole time, parishioners going up to the priest to receive the Holy Cats Cradle? It just sounds a little weird, is all I’m sayin.
This was a depiction of a city of hermits (with St Ephraim in the Theban Desert in Egypt). Wrap your head around that concept, eh?
Ok, a guy holding a dinner plate to his ear getting stabbed in the back, over a dismembered body. Seems pretty normal….
Let me see if I’m clear about what happened. The only thing that could kill the saint of God A was the priest of God B? And, this is an advertisement for the power of which of these two gods, exactly?
“How about you give my friend here that plump baby you’re carrying, in exchange for this sheep? Would that work for you?”
Gods damn, dude. I know feet are hard to draw and all, but seriously with those toes! There are chimpanzees going, “I feel so inadequate now”. (Art museum chimps. All the best galleries have them.)
When you only come to Book Group for the alcohol.
Wheneeeever you’re done with your “solo”, our sheet music is right here.
We now pause for a moment of legitimate respect.
Rembrandt — both the artist and the subject.
And, back to our regular program, already in progress.
It wasn’t easy keeping Sir Reginald from chewing at his stitches, but the family worked something out.
Hey, I know that skyline, I’ve been here! Cool!
You don’t often see a portrait subject with so much evident character. I’d really like to have known this person. The plaque said she was “Mary Degg, Lady Robert Manners (1737-1829)” and that, “The daughter of William Degg, a British army officer, Mary was orphaned in very early childhood. But she went on to marry Lord Robert Manners, son of the 2nd Duke of Rutland, in 1756.”
I got a little curious about this bit of history. Lord Robert Manners was one of 17 children of the 2nd Duke of Rutland, from a set of 8 he had with his 2nd wife. He was born around 1721, and had a long and distinguished military career, and several children with Mary. So, he’d have been about 36, and she 19, when they married — which, depending on his good health (and temperament) might not have been too disagreeable.
Curiously, I found a Wikipedia entry that said Lady Robert Manners inherited a manor house in 1788, which would be 6 years after Robert died. Perhaps she inherited it from him, and the dates are slightly off, or perhaps she was the heir of someone else, friend or relative. (Orphaned just means that her parents died, and not that all her living relatives were gone and she grew up in an orphanage.) And she seems to have been well known in society, because the entry for Mary Bruce, Countess of Elgin, describes her entering London society through her grandmother, Lady Robert Manners.
So it all sounds very Jane Austen. She seems to have had a long and well-respected life, and I find myself pleased, for no especially relevant reason.
After this, I walked home, stopping at the local market for something dinnery. Which was not this:
Mexican flavours: “Wheat flour, Milk & Eggs”. How exotic! I confess, my diet of grass and water has grown a bit stale, perhaps a little adventure is just what I need!
Saturday, May 28th
One of the things you often do as a tourist in a strange city is go to the theater — or so I’ve heard, never having done it much myself. But Edinburgh is famous as a center for the arts, and it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. So, on Saturday, I managed to get out to see this in the late morning:
I’d been a bit worried I’d miss this, but figured it probably had enough legs to last until I could make it to Edinburgh. And indeed it did. The local cineplex was in a largish complex with eateries and some sort of live performance, stage-based show in the building next door — I don’t remember noticing what that was, as I didn’t note any significant keywords on the marquee (“Thor”, “dragon”, “lasers”, “magic ring”, etc.). I bought some coffee ice cream at the theater to tide me over until lunch, and splurged for the super-special theater seats. Unfortunately, the seats were nice, but were way far back from the screen. So I went back and traded them in for regular, closer seats. If I want comfy seats and a small screen, I’ll just wait till the movie streams. And the movie was great! Great actors in well-established, fairly well written roles, relatively few flaws, and very punchy-splodey. And *so* much better than the comic book “Civil War” event that it was theoretically based on, which had a deeply flawed premise that I won’t burden you with the description of. (Ask me separately, I’m always happy to (a) explain fictional storylines, and (b) vent about why they’re stupid.) This was not deeply flawed, only mildly flawed, and plausible outside of that. So, yay!
After the movie, watching people leave the theater, it suddenly struck me as weird to think that they all spoke my language. Like, natively even! You know you’ve been traveling for a while, when that’s a standout sensation.
So, it was about 1:45pm and I walked back to the city center:
After the rain of the past couple of days, the weather turned warm and sunny for the weekend. This is a piece of the long avenue running from my place to the city center, just northeast of the red map pin, and I include it (a) to give you another view of what the city looks like and (b) to show you sunshine. Very happy making.
(I should mention that walking about Edinburgh had a slight irritation about it, as my back had gone a touch wonky just before I left Zagreb, and has remained so ever since, and that sometimes bugged my knees as I walked. They were a bit stressed at the end of my Holyrood hike on Tuesday, and I was a little worried about walking around with my luggage on my back. But I made it to Edinburgh Ok and — spoilers! — made it to Ireland just fine after.)
People think bagpipes are a Celtic thing; few know that they were invented by the aboriginal American tribes. It’s nice to see someone paying homage to that. (Taken on Princes Street, looking northish from the Balmoral Hotel. Hey, don’t ask me, I’m just a reporter.)
Turning left just before the Balmoral Hotel, you cross over the Waverly Station rail lines, on your way from the New Town to the Old Town. Looking east from that bridge, you see Calton Hill on the left, and Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat to the right, over the station rooftop. I quite like this view, for some reason. I think it’s the juxtapositioning of earth and old architecture with modern, utilitarian structures and construction, that does it for me.
Lunch at The Cellar Door, in Old Town near the National Museum of Scotland. I had intended to eat at the Frankenstein Bier Keller that I saw from the tour bus, but I got there and the interior looked stuffy and uninteresting. But, across the street, was The Cellar Door, which advertised stereotypically Scottish food. So, I went down into the cellar and had some. I think it was a Haggis and Neeps dish, and a vastly improved cranachan for dessert, with a Stewart’s Brewing Embra ale that was entirely good. So, that was successful!
While I can’t say I had time for a lot of reading in Scotland, this was a nice place, and I did read here, and I can even make out what I was reading. So, it does seem like I’d be rather letting down the side if I didn’t discuss it. The book was Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, by Dominica Malcolm.
It was a very broad collection of variations of scifi/fantasy type stories written by asian-pacific authors, things like: Australian post-apocalyptic stories, Korean urban fantasies, retellings of Chinese myths, and the like. Some stories were more my thing than others, but all of them were well written, and some of them I’d have liked to see more of. And, being short stories, it was easy to read one or a few, here or there, as I had time during these couple of weeks of travel. So, well worth it, and I’d buy a sequel anthology, if they made one.
After lunch, I went around the corner to the National Museum of Scotland, which was as free as the National Gallery. (Scotland is quite the nation, no denying it.)
Three floors of galleries in this section alone, and you’ll rarely have the pleasure of being in a building that feels more Edwardian than this one does. You can easily imagine gentlemen in high-necked black coat and tails and women in bustle skirts strolling about and looking at the exhibits, under the buttressed glass ceiling. (Fun fact: Hillary Clinton is specifically barred from this gallery, for fear of shattering that ceiling. It’s a safety measure, and who can blame them?)
Another gallery, filled with natural history exhibits, and interactive displays, and habitat dioramas, and evolution diagrams, and more dead things than you could shake a stick at. Which, thankfully, you wouldn’t need to, what with them already being dead and all.
Speaking of dead things, it’s clear that the Scots care fuck all about scaring the bejesus out of their kids. There was some *creepy* stuff in here. Like this creature, that crawls into your bed and plucks the dreams out of your brain while you sleep.
It will ask you a riddle, and if you cannot answer you must forfeit your eyes, which it finds particularly tasty.
There was a sign saying this was a Thestral, but I heard some patrons asking why the stand was empty. Which was daft, because it was clearly standing right there!
There were several sections to this museum, but I ended up not staying long. It was already close to 5pm, and the museum closed at 6, and it was free, so I figured maybe I’d come back before I left and see the rest. They had a special exhibit on The Celts, that charged admission, and I really wanted to see it but I didn’t want to spend the cash on something I only had an hour to enjoy.
There were nice nice views on the walk home:
Walking downhill towards the Princes Street Gardens, I looked back uphill. Nice. 🙂
The Princes Street Gardens and the railroad run in parallel. Here, I’m looking from an overpass, east towards that bridge I was shooting from earlier.
I confess that the other reason that I left the museum when I did was that I was cranky. It grew on me during the day, but hit harder while I was in the museum running out of time, and only got stronger on the walk home. The reason was this: I had Sunday and Monday still in Edinburgh, and then Tuesday I traveled to Ireland — and my plan was that in August I’d go off to Amsterdam, and then to Berlin, before going home.
But I liked Edinburgh. I’d liked it when I’d been there before, and I really liked it now. It has the kind of good vibe you get from places like SF, without feeling like an overwhelmingly large city. It’s got art and science and green and lovely temperatures and good food, and I’d planned to be here for 7 solid, non-travel, days of sightseeing and I’d lost 2-1/4 to sitting at home, so now I was down to 4 and a bit.. I was keenly aware of all the places I wouldn’t be able to go, in the two days I had left, and more and more I didn’t want to leave. Well, I mean, I was clearly going to Ireland on Tuesday. But I was really starting to want to blow off Amsterdam and Berlin for the fall, and just come back here. Suddenly, the idea of going back to countries where English wasn’t the native language was horribly unappealing. It just seemed like so much *work*!
I kept trying to tell myself that I should stick with the plan, that I was planning to be in Edinburgh in 2017 anyway and I could just do it then. But I just couldn’t shake free of not wanting to leave, and was getting super crossed and tense and sad about it.
So, on the walk home, I decided: screw the rest of Europe, it could wait a year. After Ireland, I’d come back to Edinburgh, and just enjoy the rest of the 2.5 months here, before returning to the U.S. for the holidays. And, poof! All the stress vanished. After that, I’d think, “Well, I mean, I could stick to Amsterdam and Berlin, what’s the harm?” But it didn’t have any traction. This was where I was coming back to, end of story.
Since then, I’ve booked my post-Ireland plans, and you’ll see them on the Itinerary page. I’ll leave southern Ireland, travel through Dublin, out to Glasgow for a month, and Edinburgh for the remaining 6 weeks. Then back through Dublin, which has cheap air fares to JFK, and home to LA. Next year: Spain or Portugal to start, then Berlin, then Amsterdam, then maybe Scandinavia, Edinburgh for a month in August for the Fringe Festival, and who knows after that?
Sunday, May 29th
At long last, promised in a blog entry so long ago it seems very nearly unto a week, IT is here!
Edinburgh Castle, a fortress built on a volcanic plug, where human settlement is known dating back at least to the 2nd century AD and likely farther.
I would have a hard time attempting to describe much at all about Edinburgh Castle, because there is simply too much. It has always been the central fixture of the battles between the English and the Scots, because it’s such an obvious strategic target and defensible fortification. And yet it managed to change hands with remarkable regularity. At one point the English had control, and a Scotsman delivering meat to the soldiers dumped his wagon in the middle of the opened gates so that the Scottish guerilla fighters could rush through and retake the castle by surprise. At another time of English occupation, the Scots scaled the cliffs under cover of storm and retook it. Once, they half destroyed it to render it unusable to future English invaders (who did retake it and rebuild it). It’s seen the birth of English monarchs (notably, Mary Queen of Scots bearing James the VI here), and the murder of young princes, and it gets 1.4 million tourists a year now, so their sacrifice was clearly not in vain.
I’ll leave the real description to the wiki page (with its massive bibliography), the Historic Environment Scotland (which has a TL;DNR version of the castle’s history), a nice historical archive of pictures here, including this view from above that gives you a pretty good idea of the layout:
You come in through the main gate at the bottom of the picture (the northeast corner, where the ticket office now is), follow the road up and to the right, curve around past the outbuildings and prison, back into an inner courtyard with ancient chapel and battlements, and then reach the square of the household buildings on the left.
Wikipedia kindly lays out what every building is, in detail:
I reproduce it here for your convenience, courtesy of Wikipedia’s Creative Commons licensing. That first photo above, taken as I approached the castle, is when I’m in Area A, to the east, looking towards the Gatehouse (B) where you enter, with the curve of the Half Moon Battery (U) above it and the Royal Palace (W) above that.
I picked up an audio guide, and got lots of details as I walked through, and there were elaborate signs with even more details. The pictures in those links above should be giving you a pretty good idea of what it all looks like, but here are a few I took that I liked:
The path running from the Gatehouse (B) to the Portcullis (D), as you enter.
Looking north to the Firth of Forth, across the city fair. My Airbnb on the right must be, though I could not tell you where.
(I can tell you, though, that I was standing at E on the map.)
Canons not currently in use, except as a tourist attraction. (Still at E.)
I have a picture of one that *is* currently in use, The One O’Clock Gun, at point F, but someone made a video so let’s use that instead:
The castle has a bunch of buildings, including former royal quarters and weapons halls, current regimental museums, and such. Some are in active use, some really just serve tourist functions.
(Underneath the Queen Anne building at Y, which you reach by walking down the aisle between N and O.) They used to keep naval prisoners of war here, for a time, and other prisoners later. These are some of the nicer facilities; it seems to have been fairly civilized. (At least, that’s what they’re telling us.)
Prisoners actually ate pretty well (in a culture that never saw a leafy green that it wouldn’t dump out for the cattle to eat).
Standing just west of point P, amongst the outbuildings, looking north over the canons towards the city and the Firth.
OMG, I just remembered what’s been itching at my mind about the Firth of Forth. Th-Fronting! This is that thing where some British people — mostly male, originally Cockney but now also commonly in the north of England too — pronounce “f” as “th”. Like “wif” for “with” and “ovvah” for “other”. Here’s a short example:
I’ve been watching a lot of Fallout videos the last 9 months, and for whatever reason, a lot of my regular YouTubers are younger English guys who talk like this all through their videos, like this guy, Davey:
Anyway, imagine living near here with that, and always talking about “the Firf ov Forf”? That was stuck in my head the whole time I was there, “Firf ov Forf”, “Firf ov Forf”. And now, 2+ months later, I’ve been writing up Edinburgh and going, “Wait, there was something, what was it?” and obsessing about the rhythm of the sound. Th-fronting. Ov course!
(Side-note, or maybe side-side-note: I can never remember that it’s called th-fronting, and I keep thinking of it as “t-thwacking”. ‘Cause I’m adorable like that.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Edinburgh Castle.
Anyway, I stopped for lunch in the commissary at 12:30 (building G, formerly the “cartsheds”), which you can just make out in my last picture, on the left past the trees.
Super yummy, with an Eden Mill Seggie Porter (nice, though a little thinner than I like in a porter).
Fortified, I continued onwards:
From the same position as my last picture, but now looking east towards Foog’s Gate at P.
Another panorama, in almost the orientation as the last one, but on the higher level at point R and including more of the Western view. From here you can see commissary patio on the left, the One O’Clock Canon to its right, the lower battlements below us (from which I took the last picture), and on the far right, an actual dog cemetery just below us where beloved castle dogs have been buried. Also, look how sunny it’s gotten in just 3 hours!
The Crown Square (V), in that inner square courtyard. In the Royal Palace with the clock tower (W), you can see the small room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI, and from there walk past the Honours of Scotland (crown, sword, and scepter). (At a fairly brisk pace, there’s no lollygagging where the jewels are concerned.) Armory to the right (X), former-barracks-now-war-memorial on the distant left (Z), officer-quarters-now-admin-building to the left next to me (Y).
The armory. The arms are a bit out of date, but times are tough.
In the war memorial, where a plaque honoring veterinarians seems to depict them loading animals into the guns to fire at the enemy. I guess, if you’re out of other ammo, but it seems a bit haphazard. (Everything and the kitchen skink.)
“Bible – Official Copy”. Um… I didn’t think Heaven let those get out. Seems like the sort of thing you’d want better protected.
WOW did they make a big deal about this. I have reproduced the entirety of that epic quest, in the paragraphs that follow:
I can’t tell you how often I tripped across things lauding the “discovery” of the “lost” Honours of Scotland by the heroic Sir Walter Scott. Here’s what happened, the entire epic tale, distilled to the best of my ability into the crucial points you need in order to fully understand the heroism of all those involved:
The Honours were hidden in the castle during a fight with the English, to keep them safe.
Some years later, in 1818, after they were 1 big happy kingdom, someone thought it was Ok to get them out again.
Sir Walter Scott went to the room where they were supposed to be.
He opened the chest they were supposed to be in.
They were there.
My gods, what a story! I laughed, I cried, it’s a part of me now.
[So help me gods, that’s exactly what happened. And WOW did they make a big deal about this, despite adding not even 1 piece of information beyond what I laid out above that would make it sound more dramatic. My FedEx delivery had more drama.]
So, with that bit of legend told, I shall exit the castle, stopping by famous Throne of Scone on the way out.
The Throne of Scone was less impressive than I expected, but still very popular with the tourists. (The name derives, of course, from the high fiber scone one traditionally has with one’s tea in morning.)
And, from here, I began my walk home.
Once a cathedral, now something called “Cafe Hub”, what surely must be the world’s fanciest coffee house.
One of the things I’ve always loved about the idea of living in big cities like New York and SF, is the idea of living above the places you go to regularly. This is basically a small castle over a backpacking shop. Might as well have my name on it. (Like, I don’t know, “Castle Berry”.)
Oh, come on with that! Now you’re just toying with me.
When you’re wandering, not 100% certain of your location, and randomly find an appropriate Lord of the Rings quote in neon. ‘Cause that happened.
No big deal, just another random, incredibly scenic street.
Done, for now.
I really thought I was going to finish my Edinburgh time in this entry, but I’m up to 5500 words and I’ve got one more day of museums to go and then my departure. So, maybe I save that for the next one, and let that be a short one. It’ll be in the next few days. I’m determined to wrap up Ireland before I leave my current place, in under 2 weeks, so wish me luck. 🙂