How I Spent My Summer – Part 2

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 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.

The peninsula, with Points of Interest.

Kinsale

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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?"

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.

Including a 2-scoop coffee and whiskey combination that was like Irish Coffee turned into a desert.

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.

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!"

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.

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.

You can see barracks buildings, but they’re missing walls and ceilings.

Similar barracks elsewhere in the fort.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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....

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.

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 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.

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 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?

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?!?!

“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."

“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.

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.

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.

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 yards or 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.

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. (More on that later.)

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!)

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.

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 that!

I mean, look at those layers, and that folding!

LOOK AT THEM!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wildlife

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.

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. 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 an alternator looks like, or a pre-appled apple tree, or any pre-processing plant product. Meat is that red stuff you buy in slabs at the market, and that's all I care to know about the process.

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.

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.

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 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.)

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.

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.

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 left of center, just over the wall, trotting leftward.)

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.)

And rabbits:2016-08-06_Rabbit

And birds:

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.

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.

Don’t you just want to pet it? No? Well, fair enough, I didn’t either.

Miscellaneous

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.
  • Breakfast marmalade
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 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'm surprised that my little iPhone camera managed to catch this at all!

    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?

    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 mean?

    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.

    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.

Moving Out

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.

 

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How I Spent My Summer

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

The Place

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. Otherwise, they'd nap wherever it's least convenient. Because cats.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Reading

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.

Cursed Child

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.

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Endingburgh

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 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!

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 chairs! I've never seen that in a museum before, it's brilliant!

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.

All sorts of curious along the main gallery walls, from whale jaw bones to bronze dishes to airplane propellers.

Several sections on religion.

Several sections on religion.

Tibetan ceremonial garb, with an audiovisual presentation about the precise, meditative dances that the monks perform in them.

Tibetan ceremonial garb, with an audiovisual presentation about the precise, meditative dances that the monks perform in them.

Folklore from around the world.

Folklore from around the world.

From a display of ancient Scottish tribal religious artifacts.

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."

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.

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! Amazing.

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.

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 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.

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Godot Now Works For FedEx

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 at 9:54pm. Still pretty light, considering the cloud cover.

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....

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. 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.

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

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.

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?

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."

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....

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….

"The Madonna of the Yarnwinder"? Staring "at a cross-shaped yarnwinder as if already aware of his future crucifixion." With yarn? Should we have bee 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.

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?

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....

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?

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?"

“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.)

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.

When you only come to Book Group for the alcohol.

Wheneeeever you're done with your "solo", our sheet music is right here.

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.

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.

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!

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."

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!

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 love the theater

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.

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, opposite the Balmoral Hotel. Look, don't ask me, I'm just a reporter.)

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.

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. 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!

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.  Amok

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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. :-)

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.

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.

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), 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.

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. The photo above, taken as I approached the castle, is when I'm in Area A, to the east.

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.

And of course, there’s always Google Images.

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 to the Portcullis, as you enter.

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.

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.)

Not currently in use, except as a tourist attraction.

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.

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.)

(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).

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 amongst the outbuildings, looking north over the canons towards the city and the Firth.

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).

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 the inner gate.

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 and including more of the West. 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.

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 Royal Palace, in that inner square courtyard. In the clock tower, you can see the small room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI, and from there walk past the Crown Jewels of Scotland. (At a fairly brisk pace, there's no lollygagging where the jewels are concerned.) Armory to the right, former-barracks-now-war-memorial on the left, officer-quarters-now-admin-building to the left behind me.

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.

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.)

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....

“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

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:

  1. The Honours were hidden in the castle during a fight with the English, to keep them safe.
  2. Some years later, in 1818, after they were 1 big happy kingdom, someone thought it was Ok to get them out again.
  3. Sir Walter Scott went to the room where they were supposed to be.
  4. He opened the chest they were supposed to be in.
  5. 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 famous Throne of Scone was less impressive than I expected, but still very popular with the tourists. (The name, of course, derives from the high fiber scone one traditionally has with one's tea in morning.)

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.

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".)

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.

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 a Lord of the Rings quote in neon. 'Cause that happened.

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.

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.  🙂

 

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Bonnie Prince Charles

[That’s right, “Charles”, not “Charlie”. I do not bend in this.]

I am determined to catch up to present time before I leave this farmhouse in Ireland.  So, lucky you, you get another few thousand words to slog through, in less than a week since the last weighty tome.  You can thank me later.

Not that there’s much new going on in present time since the prior updates. I’m continuing to play the heck out of Pokemon Go, which gets me a couple of hours walking a day.  Up to level 21 (out of a reported max of level 40), and I’ve caught or hatched or evolved Pikachus and Bulbasaurs and Jabberwocks and Slytherins and Hypotenuses and Prophylactics and all kinds of creatures. Considering how empty this little peninsula is, I’m patting myself on the back rather a lot for my progress.  Imagine if I’d been in a city when this came out?  I bet I’d have a caught a rare Duodenum by now!  Well, soon enough I suppose.

Sadly, this leaves very little time for Fallout, and I confess that I seem to be quite done with that.  I had some things I still wanted to do in the game, and I haven’t been able to summon the interest in a couple of weeks now.  They just released some new content, and will release a much larger, final pack sometime this month, and I suppose that I’ll have to push myself to get back in and finish it off, but I’ve clearly run out.  Thankfully, No Man’s Sky is coming out in a week, so I’ll have something else to keep me busy.  For a little while, at least; I expect I’ll lose interest long before the 585 Billion Year gameplay minimum.

In the meantime, on with the journal.  As of the last entry, I was leaving Zagreb, Croatia….

The Change of Plans

Those of you who remember my original post-Croatia plans may recall that I had planned on traveling by train to Amsterdam for about a week, and then heading to my summer in southern Ireland (where I am now).  Then I was planning on Berlin for the fall.

Well, while in Zagreb, I started to look at travel to Amsterdam and Ireland and realized that it was a really super inconvenient way to go.  There’s no direct Zagreb-Amsterdam route, so the best way seems to be overnight to Berlin, and then Berlin-Amsterdam in the morning.  (I read some great reviews of the scenery along the Zagreb-Berlin leg, but since it travels almost entirely at night, I’m really not sure what the selling point is. “The darkness is amazing! You have to see it!”)  But that was doable, and I found an appealing looking Airbnb place in Amsterdam.

But then, a week later, I’d have to go Amsterdam to Kinsale (at the very southern end of Ireland), where my Airbnb stay started on May 31st, and it’s waaaay inconvenient. The recommended route seems to be: take an overnight ferry from Amsterdam to near London, then a bus from the docks to Euston Station, train to the Holyhead on the west coast, ferry to Dublin, train to Cork, bus to Kinsale.  Gets me into Cork after 10pm, Kinsale close to midnight.  Aside from being many steps, this has two downsides. One, the overnight ferry arrives about 30 minutes too late to catch that Euston Station train, implying an overnight stay somewhere.  Two, even if I stayed overnight in London (pricey), catching that Euston Station train gets me into Cork/Kinsale too late.  Bother.

What this really meant is, unless I just wanted to meander around staying overnight in various places along the way, in each leg, the only reasonable way to do this was to fly.  I was hoping to avoid the hassle of airflights this year, but… sigh.  Ok.  The thing is, once I’d committed to flying, I realized there was no rationale for stopping in Amsterdam.  It was no longer “on the way” in any meaningful sense.  So… where should I go instead?

I considered Dublin, as “on the way” as I could really get.  But I expected I’d make it into Dublin during the summer, for a day here or there — my host said she drove into work there occasionally, and I figured I could ride in with her, so no need to schedule an explicit trip.  London was an option, but I’ve been there a couple of times before in my life, and wasn’t really feeling it.  Then Edinburgh, Scotland, occurred to me, and just took over.  I was planning to go there in 2017, and I figured I still could, but I could fly into Edinburgh for a week and then take a train from there, ferry to Dublin, etc, and get in at a reasonable time.  I booked the flight immediately.  And, I figured, I could still do Amsterdam, but at the end of my Ireland stay, on the way to Berlin, and that should make for much more convenient travel arrangements.

Monday, May 23rd

So, at the end of my Zagreb stay, I caught a taxi to the airport at around 09:30.  The taxi driver complained that it was a terrible airport, but I thought it was fine. It had air conditioning and that put it at least 2 levels up on some of the places I’ve flown through.  British Airways took us out of Zagreb and into London Heathrow for the connecting flight, with the usual airport security “empty your giant bag into the bins” in each of those places.   Sigh.  I swear, one day someone is going to have an alien bacteria that eats X-rays in their luggage, and the screening will make it turn into The Blob and eat the whole airport.  Heathrow processes thousands of people a day, it’s *got* to happen sometime.  It’s just statistics, people.

There was a bit of a delay at Heathrow, but I got into Edinburgh at around 5:15pm, and found the express bus to downtown Edinburgh.  Before I get into this, I suppose I should say a little something about where and what Edinburgh is, for those who may not be terribly familiar with it.

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 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 I’ve drawn a rough approximation of it in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.

The big cities in Scotland are Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Glasgow is an old seaport and industrial town and the largest city in Scotland.  While I hear it has its virtues, it has been depressed for long enough — and so much the victim of terrible urban planning — that the average lifespan of residents is 4-7 years shorter than the national average, a phenomenon referred to as the Glasgow Effect. (It may be getting better.)  Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland for much of the land’s history, and has often been fought over and occupied/restored during the wars with England, which were only settled for good in 1707, in a treaty that joined the two countries.  Their positions with respect to each other have varied greatly over the years, and that continues today. Scotland had a national referendum for independence just a couple of years ago, which only narrowly failed — and that question has come up again since Brexit.  The Scottish districts voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and the Scottish First Minister has declared that, based on that vote, they were staying, and “If that means leaving the UK… well, heigh-ho I guess we’re off then.”  I may be paraphrasing that a bit, but really it wasn’t much different from that.  And the EU basically responded, “Come on over, we’re looking forward to it!” (The EU’s not real fond of England, right now.)

Anyway, there’s been so much back and forth in Edinburgh that the city has a very mixed flavor, with a more northern England accent and less of the heavier Scottish brogue that you can hear in other places, and Scots elsewhere can get a bit snobbish about how English the city is.  I don’t know how justified that is, given that it’s the Scottish capital and all, and it certainly celebrates Scotland everywhere you go there.  Maybe it’s like non-New Yorkers mocking New York; the flavor of America is different in New York than other cities, but it’s certainly no less American. (And the same is true of L.A., Chicago, New Orleans, and other strongly-flavored cities.)

The city’s got almost 1/2 a million people in the city proper and a little over a million in the general area.  And the weather’s cool but mild, rarely below freezing in the winter or above 72° in the summer.  (Their record high was 89°!  Love. That.)

I have been to both Glasgow and Edinburgh in the past: maybe 15 or 16 years ago, I spent a couple of weeks backpacking around the UK, and spent a few days in Glasgow and a few in Edinburgh, and *loved* Edinburgh. Many of my ancestors are Scottish — I’m mostly Scots/Welsh/English on my mother’s side, and mostly Scottish on my father’s side (though I know less about that side, except that my grandmother was a Graham).  So I was very enthusiastic about going back.  Land of my people, and all that.

I’d made reservations to stay at an Airbnb location here, a 2 bedroom condo owned by a youngish guy named Sam from northern England — who looks a bit like a scruffy hipster in person but was very friendly and quite well read.  Sam wasn’t going to be off work and home to meet me until 7:30pm, but recommended a pub across the street called the Brass Monkey if I wanted to wait.  I ended up having a great burger and beer there, and successfully resisted getting pulled into the pub’s Quiz Night.  (Pub quizzes seem to be a big feature of British pub life; I’d need to be in a *much* larger group than just myself, before I’d participate in one.  Solo, it doesn’t seem that interesting.  Or even doable, given the content of British trivia. And my inability to hear the questions over the background noise of the pub.)

But, even on the way in from the airport, it just felt *right* to be here.

Barely outside the airport and it's already super pretty.

Barely outside the airport and it’s already super pretty.

Edinburgh Castle. More on this later.

Edinburgh Castle. More on this later.

I said later. Stop pestering me!

I said later. Stop pestering me!

Be it ever so humble. It's going to be ironic if the only place I stay this year, that doesn't have a view, should turn out to be Florence.

Be it ever so humble. It’s going to be ironic if the only place I stay this year, that doesn’t have a view, should turn out to be Florence.

Now that I’m ensconced in my room for the next week, I should maybe do a bit of orientation.

A map of the main part of Edinburgh; see below for details....

A map of the main part of Edinburgh, with annotations; see below for details….

There are Things To Be Noted here:

  • The Old Town (surrounded by the orange line), the historic center up on the hill where the castle is. There’s been something at the castle site for as long as there have been people, so this part’s old. (Burnt down and rebuilt more than once, but still… old.)
  • The New Town (surrounded by the red line), an economic center of mostly Georgian apartments built along straight lines, planned and built from 1750-1850. Princes Street, running east-west, is the main divider between Old Town and New Town.
  • The West End (surrounded by the green line), a cultural center with a lot of arts venues.
  • My place, northeast of the New Town, along a major thoroughfare called Leith Walk, which is also the name by which that upscale area goes.  Seems to be a bit of a yuppie central, so I was pretty comfortable here.
  • The airport is about 35 minutes away from the red Google pin in the city center, by express bus.  It dropped me just over a block west of that pin, at a transit center / railway station, Waverley Place, about a 25 minute brisk walk from my place.
  • The Firth Of Forth, the blue at the north, is the first fjord I’ve seen. It’s the body of water that Edinburgh is up against, a giant crease inward in the coastline of Great Britain.
  • The whole of the Old Town, New Town, and West End are less than 2 miles across, and quite walkable — though the Old Town is a big volcanic ridge (with the castle perched on a volcanic plug at the west end) and a bit steep along some streets.
  • Holyrood Park is a huge, wild but treeless space, probably nice for picnics and kite flying in warm weather, but bring your own shade.

So, after the burger, fries, and beer at the Brass Monkey, I walked across the street to Sam’s building, got buzzed in, ascended 3 flights of steep stairs to the top, met Sam, met my room, and, after some conversation, went to bed.  Sunset was at 9:34 that day, and my windows face west, so the room was quite well lit when I went to bed.  Thankfully, Sam had a pretty good set of blackout curtains.  Also, I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ambient light when I go to bed. (Less good at ignoring it in the morning, but even that’s gotten better.)

Tuesday, May 24th

Sunrise was at 4:45am.  You may remember the problems I had with sunrise/sunset in Sapporo last year?  Same deal, except Edinburgh is even further north, by about 12° latitude.  Which, as I think about it, makes it really interesting that its weather is so mild.  An average summer high maybe 13° lower, but a winter average low maybe 14° warmer.  Probably an effect of the North Atlantic Current, which keeps Western Europe warmer than it should be for its latitude. Fun Fact: scientists think the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet due to global warming may dump so much freshwater into the Atlantic that it may shut down the North Atlantic Current, making Europe way colder while the rest of the world is getting warmer.  (Global warming is like Gozer commanding, “Choose the form of the destructor”, but instead of only one person’s choice happening, every possibility happens. Pacific Northwest rainforests burn? Check. Europe freezes? Check. Syrian drought leads to civil war?  Check. Zombie anthrax hatched from melting Siberian permafrost? Check.  Ice skating on the Thames?  Make your reservations now.  Florida lost under the sea? Ok, that one’s not so bad. But you get the idea.)

Anyway, so that was sunrise.  (It was a busy day.)

I had made reservations, through the Viator tour site, for one of those hop-on-hop-off tour buses traveling around Edinburgh, to get me oriented.  All I really remembered from my last trip there was a bit of the Castle, Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park (I used to have a pyramid-shaped red stone from there, sitting on my living room bookshelf), and a bit of the Waverly train station, so the tour bus helped.  I had carefully plotted out on my Citywalks app where all the bus’s stops were supposed to be, and I’d show that map here, but an update to the app seems to have added like 100 blue dots (probably “Points of Interest”, but I don’t care) and the walking map has become so cluttered that it’s useless to show it.

I can summarize though: I walked back to the bus stop near the red pin, got on one of the first buses of the day at around 9:35am, sat on the upper, open deck (a bit chill and breezy, under initially overcast skies, but I was prepared), plugged in my noise canceling headphones into the seat-side jack, and soon was off.  We basically traveled west along Princes Street, the border between Old Town and New Town, then looped back south and east to travel through Old Town, past the Castle and other places, until we got to Holyrood Park, Dynamic Earth (a sort of natural history museum), and Holyrood Palace (just northeast of it, where the queen stays).  Then we drove up Calton Hill, back down Princes Street, looped up briefly through New Town, and then came back to where we started at a little past 11:00.

So, not a super long run, if you never get off the bus.  And I didn’t, because my purpose was orientation, not transportation.  As I said, everything was walkable, and I expected to.  So I listened to the prerecorded tour, by a very polite and mildly but surprisingly sarcastic Scotsman, watched the scenery, and took pictures. Like these:

The small mall and largish train station that all Edinburgh trips start and end from, by law. (Is what I read. Right here!) I kept thinking of the TV show, The Wizards of Waverly Place -- which I've never seen, and which was set in Greenwich Village, in New York City, but whatever. I only looked up its real setting just now, so shut up!

Waverley Place, the small mall and largish train station that all Edinburgh trips start and end from, by law. (Is what I read. Right here on this blog!) I kept thinking of the TV show, The Wizards of Waverly Place — which I’ve never seen, and which was set in Greenwich Village, in New York City, but whatever. I only looked up its real setting just now, so shut up!

I’d intended to take pictures of the interior of the train station, but I think I needed a ticket to get into to the good parts.  Have these, instead.

I took this picture mainly as a bookmark, to eat there later. And then, when I went back a few days later, a nearby place looked more appealing. But, hey, it's World Famous, so here's a picture.

I took this picture mainly as a bookmark, to eat there later. And then, when I went back a few days later, a nearby place looked more appealing. But, hey, it’s World Famous, so here’s a picture.

The north west corner of Holyrood Park, near the Dynamic Earth.

The north west corner of Holyrood Park, near the Dynamic Earth.

The Royal High School for Boys, on Calton Hill. Sadly, they said it wasn't currently in operation at that site. I can't imagine the new place looks that grand.

The Royal High School for Boys, on Calton Hill. Sadly, they said it wasn’t currently in operation at that site. I can’t imagine that the new place looks as grand as this one.

The Balmoral Hotel. Apparently famous. Rowling finished writing Deathly Hallows here, and signed a bust in the room to commemorate it. Most places, that's called vandalism. The Balmoral placed the bust under glass, renamed the room the J.K. Rowling Suite, and now charges £1,000 a night, because they're no fools. (And people pay it, because they are.)

The Balmoral Hotel. Apparently famous. J.K.Rowling finished writing Deathly Hallows here, and signed a marble bust in the room to commemorate it. Most places, that’s called vandalism. But the Balmoral placed the bust under glass, renamed the room the J.K. Rowling Suite, and now charges £1,000 a night, because they’re no fools. (And people pay it, because they are.)

There were a few other tour-bus-based photos, but it’s hard to get a good picture of something that you’re already passing before you realize that you want the photo.  Especially when you know you’ll be walking past them later, and can take a picture at your leisure.  So, in the spirit of more leisurely pictures….

After getting off the tour bus, back at Waverley Station, I started retracing its route, walking west along Princes Street and the Princes Street gardens. The Sir Walter Scott Monument is one of the primary constructions here (my photo from the bus wasn't nearly as good).

After getting off the tour bus, back at Waverley Station, I started retracing its route, walking west along Princes Street and the Princes Street gardens. The Sir Walter Scott Monument is one of the primary constructions here (my photo from the bus wasn’t nearly as good).

You can go to the monument, OR you can go anywhere else. The choice is yours.

You can go to the monument, OR you can go anywhere else. The choice is yours.

No, not yet. Shush.

No, not yet. Shush.

Princes Street Garden isn't super huge, but it's quite pretty, and it has a couple of museums in it. And it has places to sit! Winning!

Princes Street Garden isn’t super huge, but it’s quite pretty, and it has a couple of museums in it. And it has places to sit! Winning!

It was one badly timed gassy moment, at Mrs Haversham's party, but the baroness never lived down the nickname.

It was one badly timed gassy moment, at Mrs Haversham’s party, but the baroness never lived down the nickname.

I know where the riot grrrls stay, when they play Edinburgh. Perfect.

I know where the riot grrrls stay, when they play Edinburgh. Perfect.

I guarantee, any place with a Claret Bar is outside of my desired price range.

I guarantee, any place with a Claret Bar is outside of my desired price range.

Looking for a lunch place I'd seen from the bus, I found The Meadows, a very large park south of The University of Ediburgh (south of Old Town). It had this great walkway leading to it, next to some amazing looking apartments called The Quartermile.

Looking for a lunch place I’d seen from the bus, I found The Meadows, a very large park south of The University of Ediburgh (south of Old Town). It had this great walkway leading to it, next to an amazing looking mixed-use complex called The Quartermile. Looked like an awesome (and pricey) place to live.

The main part of the very large park, at the end of that walkway.

The main part of the very large park, at the end of that walkway.

Apparently, I arrived in time for Cherry Blossom Season!

Apparently, I arrived in time for Cherry Blossom Season! (Not a joke: those were cherry trees blooming. May 24th seems a bit late, but it’s a cool climate so it makes sense.)

I had a decent fish and chips and peas and beer at the place I’d been seeking, Doctors, when it opened at noon.  It was good, but I’m not likely to go back.  (A) Because it wasn’t *that* good, and (B) because the owner kept stopping by and asking me to be sure to rate them on Yelp.  Ask me once, I might have done it. Twice, forget it. Three times, I am *so* not coming here again.  Criminy, dude, back off!

Thankfully, I have options other than Doctors, for local cuisine.

Thankfully, I have options other than Doctors, for local cuisine.

I walked back east from here, to Holyrood Park.

Scottish hummingbirds are huuuge! You wouldn't think a bird that large could hover while I carefully line up the shot, but the photographic evidence is right here. Amazing.

Scottish hummingbirds are huuuge! You wouldn’t think that birds that large could hover while I carefully line up the shot, but the photographic evidence is right here. Amazing.

It’s a bloody long, steep slope to get to the highest points in this park, and I’d just had 2 months of very little exercise in Zagreb.  So, it was a bit of work.  When you’re 20 and your heart’s pounding, you think, “Wow, this is hard!”  When you’re 53 and your heart’s pounding, you think, “Wow, I still haven’t given Mark my medical power of attorney.  I need to do that!”

Kodak Picture Spot! The red sign tells you where to stand to get the best picture.

Kodak Picture Spot! The red sign tells you where to stand to get the best picture.

Holyrood Park has several hills including the highest point, known as Arthur's Seat, which was my primary destination. I was not alone. If you can make out the little prickly bits on the top of that hill, looking at a distance like pigeon guard spikes, those are tourists. Noisy ones. Lots of them. I waited out the crowd on this more southerly hill, and was rewarded with some nice views.

Holyrood Park has several hills including the highest point, known as Arthur’s Seat, which was my primary destination. I was not alone. If you can make out the little prickly bits on the top of that hill, looking at a distance like pigeon guard spikes, those are tourists. Noisy ones. Lots of them. I waited out the crowd on this more southerly hill, and was rewarded with some nice views.

A pano looking south from my waiting place, with Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh behind me, and a southward bend of the Firth of Forth to my left.

A pano looking south from my waiting place, with Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh behind me, and a southward bend of the Firth of Forth to my left.

Eventually, the crowds ebbed a bit and I climbed up to Arthur's Rather Uncomfortable Looking Seat. It took a while to get a clear shot of this: tourist pairs and triplets and groups kept clustering around it to get their pictures taken by their other party members. But, eventually, I got my own turn to take a picture of my traveling companion next to it.

Eventually, the crowds ebbed a bit and I climbed up to Arthur’s Rather Uncomfortable Looking Seat. This is looking east, towards the Firth.  It took a while to get a clear shot of this: tourist pairs and triplets and groups kept clustering around it to get their pictures taken by their other party members. But, eventually, I got my own turn to take a picture of my traveling companion next to the landmark.

Looking North across the more eastern side of the city, roughly towards where I was staying and beyond that to the Firth.

Looking North across the more eastern side of the city, roughly towards where I was staying and beyond that to the Firth.

And looking northwest, towards Edinburgh Castle.

And looking northwest, across the Old City, towards Edinburgh Castle, the West End, and the Firth again beyond that, as it begins to narrow. I photograph the Firth of Forth far more frequently than other fantastic foreign sites like forts or fields. It’s a fixed, familiar frame of reference, a fair focal point for wayfarers, and I shall offer no further defense thereof.

I went down the eastern side of Arthur's Seat on the way back, partly for a different route and partly in the hopes of a shallower one that would be easier on my knees. You can see a bit of Calton Hill to the left, with the Burns monument on the top. It's very green.

I went down the eastern side of Arthur’s Seat on the way back, partly for a different route and partly in the hopes of a shallower one that would be easier on my knees. You can see a bit of Calton Hill to the left, with the Burns monument on the top. It’s very green.

I picked up bits of trash and cigarette buts and the like on my way back.  It’s not like there was a lot of that, but there was some, and it always bugs the hell out of me.  Who goes to beautiful, wild places, and then mindlessly discards trash there?  Aren’t you there because you value the natural beauty?  If you don’t, fine.  Go to a pub.  Smoke, drop your stubs in the provided ash trays, and have a nice life.  Don’t go to the wild places and trash them up, too!  (And don’t vote for Trump — you know you were thinking about it, you loser.) My gods, have a moment of clarity, ffs.

Arthur's Seat, from below. It's just so pretty!

Arthur’s Seat, from below. It’s just so pretty!

My place was pretty much straight north from there, and I passed Holyrood Palace, where the Queen stays when she's in Edinburgh. They must have a lot of unused rooms there the rest of the time; they should Airbnb them. It just makes sense.

My place was pretty much straight north from there, and I passed Holyrood Palace, where the Queen stays when she’s in Edinburgh. They must have a lot of unused rooms there the rest of the time; they should Airbnb them. It just makes sense.

I walked home, stopped at a co-op grocery store that Sam had recommended, across the street from his place, and had a nice salad for dinner.  And a nice beer, though I don’t recall which one.  And that was the evening.

I’m going to end this entry here.  It’s a nice, modular block, and it’ll give us a break before the Drama of the next 3 days.  Yep, I said it: Drama!  Oh, wait, I’d promised no more cliffhangers.  Just pretend I didn’t say that.  Everything was fine, no worries.  😀

 

 

 

 

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The War of the Roses

Ha ha! Starting the next post just days after the last one.  Truly, I am a god amongst bloggers!

Mainly, I want to get Croatia wrapped up and done, which will get me to the end of May and very nearly caught up.  In theory, this should be difficult: I spent 2 months in the next place, and I should have had a ton of stuff to write about. And yet… well, let’s get on with it.

Tuesday, March 22nd

I woke up early in Split, had a nice breakfast, finished my packing, and set off down the pier towards the ferry area, which had the closest bus terminal, to catch my 9:00 bus to Zagreb.  I’d been feeling kind of rough the last couple of days — I think Spring may have been starting to arrive, and bugging my allergies, making me feel headachey and unpleasant and out of alignment, much as I had just before leaving Florence (and for a few days after, too, though a remote session Roger helped handle that). But I got it settled down for the day of the trip itself, and managed my travel without much difficulty.  As I write about getting down to the terminal (consisting of a ticket shop and a row of buses parking outside it on the street), it occurs to me that, as I put together my previous post, I didn’t run across any photos of the slightly seedy looking ferry zone, a row of inexpensive looking shops, coffee houses and bakery counters, casino, at least one strip club, and the bus terminal, opposite where the ferries docks.  I thought I’d taken one or two pics, but oh well.

[ It has been occurring to me, since the last post, “Hey, you didn’t mention X”, or “You’d meant to include a picture of Y”.  I don’t know that we need to get into Y… what happens in Split stays in Split, after all (not counting my previous 6000 words about the city).  Did I sufficiently emphasize the pleasure of listening to the rain on the vaulted roof of the studio?  Did I mention that I was sleeping really well there, like 8-9 hours a night, really ever since I arrived in Europe?  No? Well, regardless, you should probably assume that other things happened, and that they exist in the realm between too trivial to mention and too classified to share, and that the curve probably skews to the left.  In particular, if you’ve ever looked at my photos and exclaim, “How does he get such amazing pictures?!” — and, in my head, you often do — just know that for every picture I include there are 5-10 that get discarded and sent to the trash.  Not scenic enough, not funny enough, too many other scenic photos just like it, just tired of writing,… gone.  If it doesn’t make it to the blog, I don’t keep it. (Except for Y. Y is just for me.) ]

So, I got down to my bus in plenty of time, picked up a pastry to eat while I waited and a sandwich for later.  Then the bus arrived, and I figured out that the bus had arrived (two very different things), boarded, found my assigned seat on the aisle, and shoved my giant backpack into the seat next to me.  Then, not long before we were supposed to depart, a Croatian guy in my age-ballpark came to take my backpack’s seat, and I had to get off the bus and get them to stow the pack under the bus for me.  The bus ended up quite packed with the Zagreb-bound — probably because it was one of the few express trips from Split to Zagreb, not stopping at a dozen towns along the way.  (Which might have been more scenic, I guess. But also maybe more tortuous.) We took off mostly on time, with a driver and, I guess, the driver’s assistant.  We stopped for 30 minutes at a transit stop along the way, where people could get food (and I could eat my sandwich), and arrived in Zagreb at almost exactly 2pm.

Google insists on showing me several routes with different times; I *think* we took something like the blue one, but it was basically 5 hours including the stop.

Google insists on showing me several routes with different times; I *think* we took something like the blue one, but it was basically 5 hours including the stop.

You may remember I said it was dry in Split. This was the countryside for most of the time we were on the coast. Makes southern California look kind of lush.

You may remember I said it was dry in Split. This was the countryside for most of the time we were on the coast. Makes southern California look kind of lush. (Probably not now, during the LA-area wildfires, but other times.) It did turn into green farmland and trees as we headed inland and north.

Zagreb

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, situated on the edge of the country’s northern mountains (that I’m going to call the foothills of the Alps, because it sounds cooler that way).  It’s been around in various forms for around 1800 years, but only formally existed as a single town starting in the 19th century.  Croatia was merged into Yugoslavia, in what seems to have been a very messy and confused process, in the early 1900s, became communist under Tito at the end of WWII, agitated increasingly for independence even before Tito died in 1980, and then fought their way clear as Yugoslavia broke apart into 6 different countries in the early 90s. There are constant reminders that the Croats were unwilling partners in communism, and glad to be free of it.

No, no, it's just about simple geography. We're not resentful at all.

No, no, it’s just about simple geography. We’re not resentful at all.

We all remember what a mess of ethnic warfare the Yugoslavian disintegration was. Interestingly, a lot of folks moved out of areas dominated by the other ethnic groups, and moved into the deserted houses of the other groups who had fled the other way, becoming much more ethnically pure countries in the process. It’s hard to think well of “ethnic purity”, but it sounds like the result is that Yugoslavia is much more cleanly partitioned than a lot of other messy places, and has been more peaceful since as a result.  (Is my distant and cursory impression, at least.  We certainly haven’t heard much from any of them since it all settled down.)

Downtown Zagreb, with a few significant sites. Where I stayed was at the star to the upper right.

Downtown Zagreb, with a few significant sites. Where I stayed was at the star to the upper right.

Like a lot of these old cities, Zagreb is divided into an Old City in the center north and a new city sprawling beyond it to the south and sides.  The Old City, occupying most of the center of the map above, is mostly 18th-19th century buildings, with a few Soviet-era grotesques, and a few more modern glass and steel buildings.  The new city, sprawling beyond it, I gather looks rather more modern, though I spent no real time in it.  (There is a big sports village and stadium and park and some other things, but I spent no time down there.) There are very few tall buildings, thanks to a height-limit in the municipal code.

A view across much of the Old City, from its upper level to the north.

A view across much of the Old City, from its higher level to the north.

You’ll see, at the bottom of the map, a congestion of railway lines, which is where I’d expected to arrive, before I learned that the bus was faster and easier.  It appears that I’m now adding buses to my travel repertoire, something I’d never have seriously considered for most of my life but that seems to be working out pretty well and has been no where near as horrible as Tales of Greyhound Travel make it sound.  I say that confidently, from my sample size of 2 experiences.  (It seems likely that bus travel across the vast, empty distances of the U.S. might be rather different from shorter, European hops, but let me cherish my illusions.)  The bus arrived at a part-terminal/part-mall on the right hand edge of those rail lines, just below that major intersection in the lower right.  Once there, I found a restroom, sent a quick e-mail to my host and started walking north along that road, for about 40 minutes: up Avenija Marina Drzica, bending right up Subiceva ul, left on Srebernjak, and splitting off onto Dugi dol where my Airbnb was.  (Like a lot of Slavic languages, Croatian sounds a little like you’re talking through a mouthful of gummi bears.)

In Croatia, you park on the curb, not on the street. This was in Split, too, but this is the first place where I saw parking lines drawn on the sidewalk. Usually, people just drove up over the curb and parked, hopefully leaving you enough room to walk past their cars. It was weird.

In Croatia, you park on the curb, not on the street. This was in Split, too, but this is the first place where I saw parking lines drawn on the sidewalk. Usually, people just drove up over the curb and parked, hopefully leaving you enough room to walk past their cars. It was weird.

The place I stayed at was this one, booked while I was still in Chiang Mai.  It’s a rather large 2 bedroom suite, forming the entire middle floor in a 3-floor house, in a quiet neighborhood with a back patio at ground level against a green hill, which sloped up to a row of houses up at the top.

In theory, the people in those houses could look down on us sitting out on our patios, so nude sunbathing is probably not advised. In practice, that is not advice that I generally need.

In theory, the people in those houses could look down on us sitting out on our patios, so nude sunbathing is probably not advised. In practice, that is not advice that I generally need.

The owner, a woman called Nevia of about my age, blondish and generally attractive but a bit worn looking (as most Croatians seem to look by their 40s), lived in the lower level, which also had a ground-level patio opening out onto a private garden on the street side of the house, and her husband lived on the top level.  It would never have occurred to me to ask why they didn’t live in the same space, but when she mentioned the arrangement she followed that with “Some marriage, huh?”  She then moved on to another topic — not in any apparent rush, but more quickly than I could have formulated a neutral reply to a line like that.  And, in fact, she was in a bit of a hurry: her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were visiting, and they were going to be leaving to do things around town.  So, after she gave me a quick run-through of the place, she took off — promising that we’d get together for coffee soon (which we never did) — and I told her I’d be fine and encouraged her to hang out with her family while they were here, and we could deal with anything that needed dealing with later.

This place ran me around $940/month, more than I’d normally be keen on spending, and you may be asking why I got a 2-bedroom place at all.  Well, I was having a really hard time finding a Zagreb location, when I was in Chiang Mai.  One location, a little out of the way but a good rate, responded that they’d rented the place out to a physics doctoral student (I replied that I was happy to make the sacrifice for Science, but grumbled to myself about people not updating their listings for availability and making people waste their time).  Another didn’t respond to my inquiry about their internet until about a month later.  A third looked very promising, and not terribly pricey, but was kind of away from the center of things. I expanded my price range, ran into this place and it seemed nice but expensive, and then I thought, wait, my Chiang Mai friend Damien said he was going to Europe in the spring; maybe he’d be interested in seeing Croatia and we could split the rent and have the pleasure of each others’ company.  So I sent him an e-mail, and he said, basically, “Yeah, sounds great, as long as you don’t mind the risk of my schedule changing that far out and me canceling.”  I said, works for me.

Then about 2 weeks out, after I started sending him update/scheduling info, he canceled.  There were Reasons, but I strongly suspect that the biggest one was that given a choice between early-spring Zagreb and Bali, Damien was not finding it a challenging choice.  He likes him the warm weather, to the extent that I had privately been giving him no better than even odds of going through with Zagreb in early Spring.  So, I ended up rattling around in a pretty large space for 2 months, and spending 3 months of my preferred target rent on a 2 month stay.

This may have been just as well, though, because I turned out to be largely trapped in my own home by the introduction of my mortal enemy:

Spring

I arrived at the end of March, and stayed until the end of May.  The first few days, I was getting over what had hit me at the end of my Split stay, and so I made it out for groceries and that was about it.  I ended up totally retreating into the Fallout game that I’d started in November, because I could play it without having to do or think or focus much, and that’s about what I felt up to.

Then, I had maybe a week where I started to get out more — though not quite as much as I might have because I was kind of hooked into the game again, and I had 2 months in Zagreb, so there was no hurry, right?  So, I made it to the city center, wandered around the area a bit (more on all that later), bought a really nice French press and a coffee grinder, found an organic grocery store (Zagreb has a *lot* of organics, it was very nice), and was generally easing into things.

Then, it happened. You remember that parking picture from above? See the bare trees in it, still leafless from Winter?  This is a similar street, just 2 weeks later:

Spring. Springing. Like a tiger upon its unsuspecting prey. Which, in case any element of that simile is unclear, would be me.

Spring. Springing. Like a tiger upon its unsuspecting prey. Which, in case any element of that simile is unclear, would be me.

Spring blasted its way out of whatever crevice it had been lurking, and the city transformed.  From a chilly place of old stone buildings into a slightly less chilly place drenched in procreating plant life.

Along the sidewalks.

Along the sidewalks.

Across people's lawns.

Across people’s lawns.

In the trees.

In the trees.

The trees.

The trees.

The other trees.

The other trees.

The other other trees.

The other other trees.

My gods, they're everywhere.

My gods, they’re everywhere.

Strewing petals and pollen across the ground.

Strewing petals and pollen across the ground.

I'm sorry, that last one was too understated. How about this one?

I’m sorry, that last one was too understated. How about this one?

Coating every surface. I picked my iPad off the patio table and thought, what's this brown dust? Pollen.

Coating every surface. I picked my iPad off the patio table and thought, what’s this brown dust? Pollen.  The city smelled like a perfume shop. Not a normal flower shop, mind you, but an actual perfume shop, so dense that you’d give its doorway a wide berth. Except here, the doorway was a season, and you’re trapped in the shop with no way out.

They're all around us! Run! Run for your lives!!!

They’re all around us! Run! Run for your lives!!!

I kept the double-paned windows shut tight, and every time I went outside, my allergies flared up.  I discovered that I had maybe an hour that I could go outside, to walk down to the grocery stores, stock up on supplies, and then walk straight back — and then spend the next day in recovery.  I’ve had worse allergy attacks in my life, during Santa Annas in Los Angeles.  But they would only last a few days, and I had Roger then.  Now… I called him a couple of times, and he worked on it remotely, and then advised me to pray.  (Well, technically, he told me to work with my MAP team, but the distinction between “Do your best to resolve your holistic issues with your group of disembodied entities” and “Pray to god, ’cause I’m out of tools” is a slim one.)  Every so often I’d consider the outdoors…

It looks pretty outside the window....

Scritch, scritch, scritch,… Charles… Open the window, Charles… You like fresh air, don’t you? Just let me in…..

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

And that lasted for a solid 5 weeks.  Every so often, it would rain, flushing all of this out of the air, and I would leap out and dance in the streets (in my usual subtle way, often mistaken for a brisk walk), inhaling great lungfuls of air and rejoicing in my ability to stay out for hours on end.  Which made up for the once or twice, at the start, that I underestimated just how heavy the pollen was, and came back 2 hours later with my skin itching, wanting to scream, scrubbing and soaking in the shower hoping to get it all off.  But, for the most part, I just stayed inside.  I played Fallout like its nuclear apocalypse had already happened.  I watched Jessica Jones on Netflix, and Daredevil season 2, and a bunch of network TV from my TiVo.  I read a lot of Twitter.  And even caught up on a few books (one of which I’ll mention below).  But it was a long, slow, trapped sort of time, and rather a challenge to get enough movement to keep my toes from swelling up like little sausages.  I managed.

I did start sleeping more poorly again, and thought that my brief window of sleeping like a normal person might be over.  But, as I started to be able to get out more again, I started sleeping better again, and got back to full nights’ sleeps once more.  Stress.  Who knew?

And, with all of that, it was still better than my spring in that hellish little beach bungalow in southern Thailand.  So, yay that.

This might be a good time to mention one of those books I read, and I shall choose Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. Every Heart a Doorway

I’d read a recommendation about this — I don’t really recall where.  Maybe it was nominated for something, I don’t know.  But I mentioned it to my friend Jenni and we decided to co-read it and talk about it over Skype afterwards, which was an excellent and very enjoyable choice on our part.

The book, also, was excellent and very enjoyable.  It is, however, so full of unexpected quirks and surprises (pleasant and dark) that I’m reluctant to describe it in very much detail for fear of spoiling any of them.  So, here’s the book description on the Tor website, which I advise you read before continuing.

Done? Great.  Well, what I *can* say is that you quickly learn the book’s basic premise: that occasionally a child will go through a portal into a magical realm (as the stories tell us), but everyone’s realm is different, matching the peculiarities of their own personalities.  And, in some of those cases, the child ends up coming back to our own world, intentionally or not, but now they no longer fit.  They’ve been in the land of their heart’s true nature, and they can’t bear to be back in our own, ill-fitting world.  But very few of them ever find their portals again.  And for the rest, the lucky few make it to a sort of half-way house / boarding school, designed to support them until they learn to fit in to our own world again.  It’s a brilliant and original premise — and I might have hated it when I was younger.  The idea of being cast out of your fantasy world might have been too terrible for me. I have hated Time Bandits ever since it was released, thanks to those stupid dwarves wrecking the young hero’s perfect new life as Sean Connery’s adopted princely son.  It was horrible, and I hate it to this day. Hate.

This book, however, was delightful.  I’m now old and cynical and have learned that you’re much better off learning not to want things, and I can appreciate with more detachment the agonies of those who still do.  And the book was cleverly written, the characters have engaging personalities, and the book did not go in any of the directions that I thought it would, pretty much all the way through. (There was a brief risque bit near the start that I was *not* expecting, and it made me laugh from surprise.)  If I had any complaint about it, it was that it was too short — maybe a 2-2½ hour read.  I think that the author means to write more of them, though, so that will be something to look forward to.  And she’s written other books, which I will now have to read.  So, yaaay!

So, the lethal nature of the nature around me paid off.

Non-Lethal Nature

In fairness, it really should be noted that if you are *not* cursed with allergies — and I’m normally pretty good at keeping mine under control, but this was insanely excessive — Zagreb in the spring is really quite beautiful.  The lush foliage and flower-strewn streets were gorgeous — like a flock of beautifully plumed birds, before you realize you’re an extra in a Hitchcock movie.  No, I’ll be serious for a moment: this little window of the Blooming Season lasted for about 5 weeks, as every set of plants took their seasonal turns to have public sex on a truly vast scale, and it neatly divides those with allergies from those without.  I said this in my review for the Airbnb place: if you have allergies, schedule your trip for a different time of year.  But if you don’t have allergies, this is the very best time to go.  It was amazing.  There was the giant Maksimir Park about a 25 minute walk east of where I was staying, and I went there several times — during the rainy parts of the Blooming Season, and a couple of times after it was over.  It was very pretty.

The park map. I'd typically enter at the top of the open glade on the lower left, and then meander for a couple of hours.

The park map. I’d typically enter at the top of the open glade on the lower left, wander east along the red path toward that little round central hub (where there was a small outdoor stage), and then meander for a couple of hours.

In Zagreb, it's easier being green than it is in other places.

In Zagreb, it’s easier being green than it is in other places.

Rain on one of the small lakes.

Rain on one of the small lakes.

Sooo green. ❤️

Sooo green. ❤️

If you were ever going to encounter Dryads, this is the place. Walking through these trees, I suddenly got the strongest sense of how legends like that get started.

If you were ever going to encounter Dryads, this is the place. Walking through these trees, I suddenly got the strongest sense of how legends like that get started.

In Narnia's more civilized days, the Park of the Lantern Tree was the only sign that the path to War Drobe and Spair Oom had ever existed.

In Narnia’s more civilized days, the Park of the Lantern Tree was the only sign that the path to War Drobe and Spair Oom had ever existed.

The park has a gazebo, dedicated to the Goddess Echo.  It’s pretty cool, and the recording turned out really well!

I took one of these walks on a rainy day that turned out to be May Day.  That’s normally a pretty big holiday, in countries that are/were communist and/or have strong workers’ rights movements.  And there was a bit of a festival going on here, although I think the turnout cannot have been what the organizers were hoping, given the rain.  But they did have some decent music, if not at all what I was expecting for Croatia.

I confess, this made me miss my Dad rather a bit; he’d have loved this.  He was an accomplished dancer, in his own sphere, a long standing member of Alabama bop clubs and Cajun dancing, played the banjo and Cajun music, and I think he’d have happily joined in here.  I remember it struck me then how much he’d have liked this whole lifestyle I’m engaged in.  He looked back on his travels in the Navy with great fondness, and the time I visited him during his couple of years in Florida, and took him to Disneyworld (’cause there was no way I was going that far without seeing that park), the international part of Epcot Center was the only part of the whole Disney thing that he really sparked to.  (He was an emotional lead weight the rest of the time. Gods, that was a painful trip. But that’s another story.)  Substitute banjo for video games, and this is really the retirement *he* should have had.  Oh well; better luck next life, mate.

OMG, it's clearing! We must flee, before the agents of Nature attack again!

OMG, it’s clearing! We must flee, before the agents of Nature attack again!

If the park had one failing, it was that there weren’t enough benches, and none under cover.  It would have been lovely to come out here with a thermos of coffee and a snack and read and listen to the rain.  Nakajima Park in Sapporo did that part much better.  But this really was beautiful.

Things Other Than Nature

It turns out, Zagreb is a city, and cities have buildings and stuff.  So, maybe I should show some of them?

I was living about a 25 minute walk north east of the city center, so a brisk walk soon took me from residential buildings into commerce and architecture.  The downtown area was almost one large outdoor mall, with a giant farmers market open most days of the week, a large array of shopping and dining streets, museums, and the like.

I passed the Church of the Eternal Condom almost every time I went into town. I'll miss its well protected glory.

I passed the Church of the Eternal Condom almost every time I went into town. I’ll miss its well protected glory.

The shop where I bought my coffee grinder, in case you're wondering what an average Zagreb street looks like (pre-Spring).

The shop where I bought my coffee grinder, in case you’re wondering what an average Zagreb street looks like.

Another Zagreb street.

Another Zagreb street.

And another. They had a ton of them!

And another. They had a ton of them!

The few glass-and-steel buildings really stood out. It's hard to call this an eyesore, but it doesn't really fit.

The few glass-and-steel buildings really stood out. It’s hard to call this an eyesore, but it doesn’t really fit.

An unusual and cool car.

An unusual and cool car.

Ok, that's... odd.

Ok, that’s… odd.

"Hah, it's a Hello Kitty car. Wait, that looks weirdly like... Surely that's not... Ah. Ok. It is. Right."

“Hah, it’s a Hello Kitty car. Wait, that looks weirdly like… Surely that’s not… Ah. Ok. It is. Right.”

The Zagreb Art Pavilion. I was actually doing one of my tour app walks, and wanted to hit all the stops, so I didn't go in at the time. Then, Spring. Then I went other places instead. I'm sure it was lovely.

The Zagreb Art Pavilion. I was actually doing one of my tour app walks, and wanted to hit all the stops, so I didn’t go in at the time. Then, Spring. Then I went other places instead. I’m sure it was lovely.

I was tempted by Fashion Victims Square! Then I realized that it was actually Fascism Victims Square, which doesn't sound nearly as funny. I kept walking.

I was tempted by Fashion Victims Square! Then I realized that it was actually Fascism Victims Square, which doesn’t sound nearly as funny. I kept walking.

The Croatian State Archives building. Still sorry I never got to see the Dewey Decimal System in Croatian. Another bucket list item left unchecked.

The Croatian State Archives building. Still sorry I never got to see the Dewey Decimal System in Croatian. Another bucket list item left unchecked.

Apparently, the Chippendales tour stopped in Zagreb. Sadly, the allergies drove the event right out of my recollection.

Apparently, the Chippendales tour stopped in Zagreb. Sadly, the allergies drove the upcoming event right out of my recollection.

A panorama of Marshall Tito Square, which has several museums around it. You'll also notice the partial cars driving by; Croatian economy is struggling, and it takes some people a while to save up enough to buy a whole car. They make do.

A panorama of Marshall Tito Square, which has several museums around it. You’ll also notice the partial cars driving by; Croatian economy is struggling, and it takes some people a while to save up enough to buy a whole car. They make do.

The National Theater building in Marshall Tito Square.

The National Theater building in Marshall Tito Square.

Ban Jelačić Square, the central square in Zagreb. It features a mounted statue of a great Croatian hero, Ban (Governor) Jelačić, who joined two local towns into the city of Zagreb, and won the country's independence from Hungary. (Turns out, the Hungarians don't like him nearly so much. Go figure.)

Ban Jelačić Square, the central square in Zagreb. It features a mounted statue of a great Croatian hero, Ban (Governor) Jelačić, who joined two local towns into the city of Zagreb, and won the country’s independence from Hungary. (Turns out, the Hungarians don’t like him nearly so much. Go figure.)

Ban Jelačić Square is essentially the center of the huge downtown outdoor mall that the Old City has become.  There are 3 or 4 electric trams lines running efficiently through the center (and more on the periphery), there’s tons of shopping, a few small indoor malls, a giant farmer’s market up the hill to the left of this scene, museums, restaurants, etc.  And there were different things going on here most weekends.  When I took the picture above, there were touristy shopping stalls there.

I came back another time, it was all cleared out... Much easier to get around like this.

I came back another time, it was all cleared out… Much easier to get around like this. I think this turned out to be a national holiday that I didn’t know about, because almost all the shops were closed and the streets were almost empty. Just a few tourists like me wandering about, wondering if the zombies had risen and why we were the last to know about it. It was eerie.

On another day, in late May, I found the square filled with this:

It started a couple of blocks away, and OMG those whistles were far more intense than they sound on the video.  Thank gods for my noise canceling headphones.  Seems it was end of term and graduation day for the local schools — I don’t know if it was just college, or high school also.  Very cheering, either way. 🙂

This was also pretty close to one of the two places that I had really wanted to go in Zagreb: The Tolkien Pub.  How do you not go to a place called The Tolkien Pub?

This is how. You find out it's a small building with people smoking inside at maybe 1/2-a-dozen tables, patio seating outside (in chilly weather), only drinks and no food, and nothing really Tolkien/Middle-Earth themed on the inside. I have no idea why it was called The Tolkien Pub. Maybe just to lure in a little extra random custom, without having to put any work into it? (Sounds kind of sensible, when you put it like that.)

This is how. You find out it’s a small building with people smoking inside at maybe 1/2-a-dozen tables, patio seating outside (in chilly weather), only drinks and no food, and nothing really Tolkien/Middle-Earth themed on the inside. I have no idea why it was called The Tolkien Pub. Maybe just to lure in a little extra random custom, without having to put any work into it? (Sounds kind of sensible, when you put it like that.)

Where I actually ended up eating the most was at the Bulldog Pub, in a strip of outdoor seating areas in the downtown demi-mall:

It seems pretty common in Crotia to have long rows of outdoor seating with awnings, next to or between the buildings. The Riva in Split was a good example, and there were strips like this all over downtown Zagreb. Really nice to sit under when it rained -- which, for some weeks was the only time I could be out there.

It seems pretty common in Croatia to have long rows of outdoor seating with awnings, next to or between the buildings. The Riva in Split was a good example, and there were strips like this all over downtown Zagreb. Really nice to sit under when it rained — which, for some weeks was the only time I could be out there.

The Bulldog Pub became sort of my Zagreb Cheers.  I’d eat there a couple of times a week, usually having an Irish Coffee and their “Beef Burger” — which was pretty good, though the fries that came with it varied significantly from day to day.  I became fairly friendly with a few of the waiters, and one of them would often comp me a second Irish Coffee at the end of the meal, which was super nice.  He was a career waiter in his late 30s — he’d served in the military, traveled a bit after, and lived in other countries, but he liked his current job of 12 years (if I remember that number correctly), was good at it, and felt no real urgency to do anything else.  Which, if it works for him, is fantastic.  And it worked out pretty well for me.

Here's a picture from the second seating area, looking towards where I was sitting the first time. Where I am now ended up being my normal seat, for about 90% of the times I ate there. It's not as smoky as the inside would be, but, being in a side street, is out of the direct wind on windier days. The awning keeps both the rain and sun off. It's near the edge of the seating area, so there won't be anyone sitting next to me on at least one side, and there's an aisle behind me so no immediate neighbor there either. It's close to the restaurant, and I can flag down waiters more easily, and it has a clear view of the main pedestrian walkway so that I can people-watch, without being so close as to actually ever have to interact with them. It was the obvious choice.

Here’s a picture from the second seating area, looking towards where I was sitting the first time. Where I am now ended up being my normal seat, for about 90% of the times I ate there. It’s not as smoky as the inside would be, but, being in a side street, is out of the direct wind on windier days. The awning keeps both the rain and sun off. It’s near the edge of the seating area, so there won’t be anyone sitting next to me on at least one side, and there’s an aisle behind me so no immediate neighbor there either. It’s close to the restaurant, and I can flag down waiters more easily, and it has a clear view of the main pedestrian walkway so that I can people-watch, without being so close as to actually ever have to interact with them. It was the obvious choice.

I did eat at a couple of other places: a sushi place, one of the first few days I was in the city, which was weirdly nostalgic. And another Croatian restaurant with outdoor seating, on a very rainy day, about a block from the Bulldog, that served (among other things) a nice little pork chop dish. And, at the Bulldog, I did once have the risotto (the national dish of Croatia) — and then spent most (all?) of the following night awake and feeling lousy.  I think it was MSG poisoning; it’s been so long since I’ve had any MSG in my food that I didn’t recognize it, but afterwards I put the taste and the after-effects together, and I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.  I stayed away from the risotto thereafter.

As usual, I ate mostly at home, shopping mostly at an organic food store that had some pretty great stuff (pricier than the regular supermarket, but whatever). And I learned to cold brew coffee!  (It’s not rocket science: use a coarse grind, let it sit in water for 18-24 hours, strain out the grinds (or just do the whole thing in a French Press to start with), and drink it cold or heat it in a pan.  I’m not convinced that it’s a lot better than a hot brew, but it is a little bit smoother, and the ‘experts’ say it’s better.  I really should do a proper taste test, but in lieu of that I’ve been cold brewing half on faith.)  And I enjoyed the occasional gelato at the local gelato shops.

Anyway, continuing on….

Apropos of nothing, really, this downtown shrubbery was insanely soft with new spring growth. I'd actually detour to walk by it, just for the brief moment that my hand would rest on it as I passed. It was a happiness shrub.

Apropos of nothing, really, this downtown shrubbery was insanely soft with new spring growth. I’d actually detour to walk by it, just for the brief moment that my hand would rest on it as I passed. It was a happiness shrub.

If Croatia ever gets its own section in Epcot, it's going to look like this.

If Croatia ever gets its own section in Epcot, it’s going to look like this.

Those twin spires above were part of a very respectable cathredral. (Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, as its proximity to Italy might suggest.)

Those twin spires above were part of a very respectable cathredral. (Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, as its proximity to Italy might suggest.) I like the way they cover the construction work with a picture of what it’s supposed to look like. It’s weirdly surrealistic.

An interior shot (in case that wasn't obvious).

An interior shot (in case that wasn’t obvious).

The cathedral, which has some very fancy external stonework, had deteriorated under communist Yugoslavia. But it's now being restored, and had a little before/after display of one of the many little spires that is being worked on.

The cathedral, which has some very fancy external stonework, had deteriorated under communist Yugoslavia. But it’s now being restored, and had a little before/after display of one of the many little spires that is being worked on.

Just outside the cathedral, a group of costumed marchers decided to, well, march by, with a couple of flags and 3 drummers. Have no idea what the occasion was, but if memory serves, that was the same day another group of marchers had passed where I was eating at the Bulldog. Except that was one guy with a drum followed by a line of supermodels. It was... odd.

Just outside the cathedral, a group of costumed marchers decided to, well, march by, with a couple of flags and 3 drummers. Have no idea what the occasion was, but if memory serves, that was the same day another group of marchers had passed where I was eating at the Bulldog. Except that was one guy with a drum followed by a line of supermodels. It was… odd.

A little bit north of where I was staying, there was the huge Mirogoj Cemetery, which I wandered up to one afternoon. I'm not sure how many acres it occupies, but this pano is only a tiny fraction of it.

A little bit north of where I was staying, there was the huge Mirogoj Cemetery, which I wandered up to one afternoon. I’m not sure how many acres it occupies, but this pano is only a tiny fraction of it.

I wandered around Mirogoj Cemetery for a couple of hours and didn’t see all of it — it’s large enough, and famous enough, that there’s an online database for finding out who is buried where.  What I did notice was that: (a) even the older graves were being visited fairly regularly, judging by the offerings; (b) the Croats like having pictures of the person embedded into the tombstone, in progressively better renderings as technology has advanced; and (c) Mirogoj Cemetery is multi-religious, and while there are clearly some sections with more of one religion than another, I saw Christian and Muslim and Jewish graves right next to each other, without any apparent need for distinction other than their symbology.  Which was, in an odd way, nice, and probably very supportive of tolerance among the living.  (Elsewhere, I saw a church that served both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities, so maybe that was an effect of that laid back attitude I was seeing.) I’ll also say that, after looking at tombstones for a while, it gets progressively harder to look at the graves of those who died young, thinking of the feelings of those who buried them.

Vacancy! Apply within.

Vacancies! Apply within.

On the walk home, I passed a university, and the nearby housing struck me as rather pretty.

On the walk home, I passed a university, and the nearby housing struck me as rather pretty.

And I appeared to be walking back along Consulate Row; there were several of these sorts of plaques on buildings.

And I appeared to be walking back along Consulate Row; there were several of these sorts of plaques on buildings.

Burkina Faso? My gods, I haven't heard of them in years! Decades? Wow.

Burkina Faso? My gods, I haven’t heard of them in years! Decades? Wow.

I don't know what goes into a PSA for wolves. Probably warnings about domestication, or "Always eat the girl in the red hood first."

I don’t know what goes into a PSA for wolves. Probably warnings about domestication, or “Always eat the girl in the red hood first.”

Did I mention their comprehensive electric tram line? I did? It almost made me wish I wasn't close enough to walk everywhere.

Did I mention their comprehensive electric tram line? I did? It almost made me wish I wasn’t close enough to walk everywhere.

I have no idea why this building has a whale painted on it, but good choice!

I have no idea why this building has a whale painted on it, but good choice!

You just can't buy this kind of irony.

You just can’t buy this kind of irony.

I wanted this in the worst way. But (a) I think it's designed for women and (b) I really can't travel with it. Sigh.

I wanted this in the worst way. But (a) I think it’s designed for women and (b) I really can’t travel with it. Sigh.

My gods, the Dead Kennedys are still a thing? I remember Mark being offended by their name back in college! I thought they were as dead as their namesakes. Wow.

My gods, the Dead Kennedys are still a thing? I remember Mark being offended by their name back in college! I thought they were as dead as their namesakes. Wow.

Eyesore, or cool? I never could quite decide.

Eyesore, or cool? I never could quite decide.

 

The Museum of Broken Relationships

By this point, I’m well into May, and the pollen was starting to settle down, and I finally made it to the second place that was on my list of things to do in Zagreb:

I fell in love with the name of this place when I saw it on Google Maps the fall before, and there was no way I’d leave Zagreb without visiting.  What this turned out to be was a series of rooms of various sizes, on one floor, lined with small exhibits generally consisting of an object that represented a relationship that had, at some point, stopped, and accompanying text in Croatian and English telling the story behind it.  The rooms tended to have themes: most of the relationships were romantic ones, in various age and gender combinations, but there were also sections about parents and children, told from both directions.  And while some of the stories were sad, or tragic, or angry, or resentful, many were funny, and not uncommonly a celebration of a thing that had existed for a time and been wonderful, and then had come to an end in a fairly natural time.

This plaque at the beginning is their statement of purpose. I also see that it's on their website's About page, but I like the look of the photo so I'm including it instead of copying the text.

This plaque at the beginning is their statement of purpose. I also see that it’s on their website’s About page, but I like the look of the photo so I’m including it instead of copying the text.

If you go to the website above, you’ll see some samples in the Exhibits section.  I did take a couple of pictures of things that I particularly liked.

I was astonished to see this exhibit with art from my favorite TV show, which I've mentioned here before: the anime Cardcaptor Sakura. Awesome!

I was astonished to see this exhibit with art from my favorite TV show, which I’ve mentioned here before: the anime Cardcaptor Sakura. Awesome!

The Toaster of Vindication!

The Toaster of Vindication
“When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

A Linksys router We tried. Not compatible.

A Linksys router
“We tried. Not compatible.”

You could donate things, with stories, and the museum gets things sent to them from around the world, to rotate through the museum or include in traveling exhibitions.  They also had a book you could write in, telling a story of your own.  I was tempted, but decided against it.

If you’re in LA, they have opened a new branch there in June.  Based on the Zagreb location, I can highly recommend it.

Other Museums

One day, I’ll come back to Zagreb — in a different season — and see more of its museums.  There were a bunch of them near the downtown area.

I'll skip the Museum of Torture, though. There are modern art museums in New York that will serve that purpose well enough.

I’ll skip the Museum of Torture, though. There are modern art museums in New York that will serve that purpose well enough.

This little church, in a government square just north of the Museum of Broken Relationships, is a bit of an iconic structure in Zagreb. The doors were closed when I was there, but it's an older, smallish building, so I suspect I wasn't missing much.

This little church, in a government square just north of the Museum of Broken Relationships, is a bit of an iconic structure in Zagreb. The doors were closed when I was there, but it’s an older, smallish building, so I suspect I wasn’t missing much.

I ran into a Museum of Croatian History nearby, and decided to go in.  They seemed to have been specializing in WWII, with a fairly fascinating large screen in the lobby showing an animation loop of the main events and movements of armed forces and territorial control during the overall war.

Unsurprisingly, they had a fair amount of detail on what was going on in Croatia at the time, but that was also interesting. So many ways that war could have played out differently. Good thing we never have to worry about a crazy person like that taking over a major industrialized nation again, am I right!

Unsurprisingly, they had a fair amount of detail on what was going on in Croatia at the time, but that was also interesting. So many ways that war could have played out differently. Good thing we never have to worry about a crazy person like that taking over a major industrialized nation again, am I right?!

The lobby was also filled with cubes, on which were printed information about events going on the the world at the time, like scientific discoveries, the release of classic movies, etc.

The lobby was also filled with cubes, on which were printed information about events going on in the world during the war’s final year, 1945, like scientific discoveries, the release of classic movies, etc.

2016-05-20_BlockMartin

2016-05-20_BlockDewey

Something for Brandon.

Something for Brandon.

Block - Eniac

The upstairs had most of the exhibit, including a room full of official war time documents, a large diorama of prison ditch-digging, official portraits, art and music and clothing of the time, etc.

In case you've never watched a period movie in your life, here's what people looked like.

In case you’ve never watched a period movie in your life, here’s what people looked like.

Bars you don't necessarily want to bring back matchbooks from.

Bars you don’t necessarily want to bring back matchbooks from.

That moment when you first realize the guy next to you on the official podium is a raving lunatic.

That moment when you first realize the guy next to you on the official podium is a raving lunatic.

And this, which set me back a bit:

A rather sobering thing to run across unexpectedly. (I never did like camp.)

A rather sobering thing to run across unexpectedly. (I never did like camp.)

 

And Now For Something Completely Different

Not really interested in ending on that particular note, so here, have a completely different remembrance of my time in Croatia.  It’s only slightly exaggerated.

That brings me to the end of my trip.  On May 23nd, my hostess Nevia had kindly arranged a taxi for me to the airport (I’d considered walking to the buses/trams, but it seemed like a serious schlep to start my day with, so I thought I’d cheat for a change).  My taxi driver, a guy in his mid-20s showed up promptly, and spent most of the ride complaining about poor job opportunities in Croatia and pumping me for advice on how to get move to another country (and maybe work in computers).  I did my best, but I’m not optimistic about his chances.  The plane ended up a bit delayed, but all went smoothly otherwise and I was off for Edinburgh!

 

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Time To Split

Still in the southern Irish farmhouse, for about another month, until August 23rd. The weather continues to be quite variable, with more fog recently, alternating with bright sunshine and sometimes very pretty summer weather. A succession of other Airbnb guests come and go, occupying the other available room in 1s, 2s, and 3s, and when a family of 3 and the host and her adult son and daughter and her 3 small dogs and 2 cats are all here, as well as I, it gets quite pleasantly homey. (When it’s just me in the house, and the dogs are shut upstairs and yapping for hours on end, it’s somewhat less appealing, but into each life….)

I’ve been out on 2-3 hour long walks every day, thanks to the miracle of Pokemon Go, the new geolocation app that came out 3 weeks ago. You may remember my playing Ingress when I was in Japan, walking all over Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo in pursuit of abstract game goals in a shared, science fictional, virtual world — kind of a mini-MMO built on top of Google Maps. Well, the company that created that, Niantic, has built a version of the Pokemon game using that same technology, and just like Ingress it rewards walking around. It’s more than a little buggy still, and the servers keep getting overloaded with player demand (it’s already passed Tindr and is over 10% of Twitter’s active user base already and is still growing), but it gives me the incentive I need to walk longer and farther than I would otherwise, for which I am grateful.  I’ve never been good at exercise for the sake of exercise, but if you give me some other purpose or goal that happens to involve it, I’ll happily work myself into wonderfully good shape.

In truth, the bugs are super frustrating sometimes. But the exercise and the views are reasonable compensation.

In truth, the app’s bugs are super frustrating sometimes. But the exercise and the views are reasonable compensation.

I think I mentioned, in a previous post, that I’ve worked out the post-farmhouse schedule: a few days in Dublin, then off to Glasgow for a month, then back to Edinburgh for 6 weeks.  I’ve now gone on to work out what’s next: it turns out, it’s super cheap to fly Dublin to JFK, so I’m going to go back to Dublin for a few days on 11/7, fly to JFK and stay in an Airbnb in New York for a few more, then fly round trip to LA on 11/15, staying through Jan 4th before flying back to JFK.

This turns out to be the cheapest course, will give me shorter flights that I won’t feel the need to spend business class frequent flier miles on, and should also minimize jet lag.  (I may not manage any side trips during this round of holidays, I’m afraid; the crucial Seattle keystone of those northern legs is missing this year, and the travel’s a bit pricey without it. Next year, for sure, though.)  I’m not sure of my exact schedule after that, but at some point after January 4th I’ll fly on to southern Europe — probably Spain or Portugal — and proceed to another European leg from there.  I’ve updated my Itinerary page accordingly.

I’ve also added a Books page, next to the Itinerary link above, listing the books I’ve talked about in this blog and linking to the posts I mentioned them in. I read a bunch in my next locations, and was having trouble remembering which ones I’d reviewed in the past and which I hadn’t.  The Books page took me longer to compile than I’d expected: I had to browse all my previous posts, and ended up quite happily reading at least 1/3 of them.  Turns out, I quite enjoy the sound of my own literary voice!  Who’d have thought? (Ok, probably all of you would have thought that.  But still.)  But it was a kind of crazy nostalgia trip looking at all those pictures; seems like forever ago, now.  And just this morning, I was reading this Lifehacker article on how to be a digital nomad, and I could see that not only did I do pretty much all of these things, they’ve largely become second nature to me.  It suddenly struck me that this felt like it was just my life now.  For 18-20 months, it’s been this weird adventure experience that I’ve been on… and somehow, just recently, it’s shifted psychologically into Just How Things Are.  Read, watch TV, browse Twitter, go on walks, sometimes see interesting things, plan where to live next and how to get there, go to a new city, live with new people, lather, rinse, repeat.  (BTW, does anyone actually repeat that?  Isn’t lathering and rinsing once enough, like 99% of the time?)  It’s become as routine and natural as anyone else’s life would be, as much so as any other phase of my life.  I rather like that.

So that’s where I am now.  But between now and my last blog post is a good 5 months of elapsed time.  Don’t worry: I think I can wipe out 1 of those months in one post, today, and the next 2 months in my next one by the end of the week.  Let’s see if I’m right!

Leaving Florence

So, at the end of my 2 weeks in Florence time, it was Monday, February 22nd, and I was supposed to go to Split, Croatia, a sea town on the other side of the Adriatic Sea from Italy.  If I recall correctly, one of my earlier maps of Italy includes both Florence and Split, so lets see if I can find that…

A fortunately comprehensive map, you can see not only the route I took, but also other major Italian cities, and my later route out through Bologna (north), down to Ancona on the coast, Split on the other side of the Adriatic, and Zagreb in the north east.

A fortunately comprehensive map, you can see not only the route I took, but also other major Italian cities, and my later route out through Bologna (north), down to Ancona on the coast, Split on the other side of the Adriatic, and Zagreb in the north east.

Yes, that was it — my whole world from February through May.  And you can see how this lays out on the map… It had taken me 90 minutes by train from Rome to Florence, so thumbnailing the map I’d figured I could take a train from Florence to “the coast” in a couple of hours, then a boat across to that little bit of water to Split in 5 or 6 hours, and boom we’re done.

No.  Not remotely.  First, there *is* no train to the coast.  There’s a train up to Bologne, and then a connecting train down to Ancona, where most of the ferries to Split leave from.  Except that most of them don’t leave in February, which is the off season.  Of the 4 or 5 ferry lines, only one, Jadrolinija, is running at that time of year, and they only have one boat, an overnight ferry that leaves Ancona at 7:45pm and arrives in Split at about 7am.

And it took me no small amount of time to sort that out, sitting in my room in Florence while the wind and rain whipped by outside, hunting through websites with varying levels of English-accessibility and trying to put together an itinerary.  I considered trying to take a train all the way, going around the Adriatic instead of across it, but that involved 4 trains and 3 countries and probably having to navigate immigration at each stop, and still took something like 12 hours minimum, getting me in super late.  I considered taking a train back down to Rome and flying to Split, but that was weirdly expensive (and would involve the usual airplane hassles).  Eventually, I got it all sorted out: my train would leave Florence at around 11:30, take 45 minutes to get to Bologne, a 45 minute wait for the train to Ancona, 3 hours for the trip there, and a leisurely 3.5 hours to get to the ferry — and maybe grab some dinner beforehand.  And if somehow I missed the train for the second leg, there was another that still left me plenty of time.  Perfect.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! <nervous twitch> Well, it started out well.

  • A slow morning,
  • relaxed packing,
  • walk to the train station,
  • sit there staring at the boards trying to figure out why my train to Bologne isn’t appearing on them with the right info,
  • hear that it’s delayed,
  • realize I’m looking at the Arrival board not the Departure board,
  • go to the Departure board and see the 15 minute delay (relax, plenty of leeway),
  • get on the train when it arrives — yaay!
  • arrive in Bologne 15 minutes late
  • quickly find my train and grab a seat in an uncrowded car at the end
  • leave on time — yaay!
  • the other 2 people on my car get off at different stops
  • the whole train stops on the tracks for over an hour, while I sit there in the empty car hearing very occasional announcements in Italian and (thank gods) English, getting progressively more nervous and noticing that the deserted empty car would be a great place to be murdered
  • start up again and make it to Ancona without further delay — yaay!
  • walk 25 minutes through an almost industrial seaside area to get down to the pier
  • see what has to be my ship (a triple decker ferry with the Jadrolinija logo) but no visible offices to check in at except for the currently closed customs agent
  • wait until after 6pm for it to open,
  • stand in a line of people (2/3 Chinese) waiting to get on,
  • get told by the customs agent that my eTicket won’t get me on, that I have to take a shuttle to where the Jadrolinija offices are, almost back to the train station, get a ticket, and come back — but don’t worry the shuttle runs constantly you have plenty of time
  • worry anyway
  • go out to the street and catch the shuttle within 5 minutes — yaay!
  • get to the ticket offices in 10 minutes, get my ticket, go back to the shuttle stop at 6:20 to wait for the next shuttle with a group of other miscellaneous travellers,
  • wait
  • wait
  • start making contingency plans in my head for missing my boat
  • wait
  • shuttle arrives at 6:55pm
  • get back to customs at 7:15
  • get on the boat and breathe sigh of relief.

Jadrolinija could really do with some more explicit instructions on where to go if you buy your tickets online.  I could have saved myself so much time and effort and worry if they just said, “Hey, you’ve bought your e-ticket, comrade. Stop at this address to pick up your boarding document!  Thanks for sailing Jadrolinija.”  I’d have detoured 3 blocks on my walk from the train, and it would all have been handled.  Oh well.

So, the customs guys let me through, I walked around the only available route to the landward end of the ferry where the cars enter, showed my ticket, and was led through the parking level to an interior stairwell.  Found the check-in desk, got a key card, and found my berth.

Every field has its own technical vocabulary. Turns out, the nautical term for "walk in closet with beds" is "state room".

Every field has its own technical vocabulary. Turns out, the nautical term for “walk in closet with beds” is “state room”.

When I booked this place, I pored through a bunch of options and picked the one that (a) had a window, (b) had its own bathroom  and (c) had only two beds.  With tax, it cost me about 1,085 Crotian Kuna — there’s a 7-1 ratio to the dollar so that was about $160. I could have gone as cheaply as about $90 (interior, 4 beds, no bathroom), and I could have paid even more for a single-bed room, but I gambled that, in the off season, the place wouldn’t be packed and I’d have the room to myself.  This turned out to be correct, so yay me!

Not sure there's any point to including the picture of the bathroom, but in case you ever wondered what a Croatian ferry stateroom bath looks like, this is it. Thankfully, I had my trusty Thai washcloth with me, and could wash up reasonably well in the sink in the morning.

Not sure there’s any point to including the picture of the bathroom, but in case you ever wondered what a Croatian ferry stateroom bath looks like, this is it. Thankfully, I had my trusty Thai washcloth with me, and could wash up reasonably well in the sink in the morning.

The ferry had a couple of dining rooms; I picked one at random, was greeted by a Croatian waiter who cycled through 4 languages until he found mine, and was seated by the window in a space that looked like a moderately well decorated, Soviet-era banquet room.

Legend has it that you're not supposed to eat or drink while in ferry, lest you be trapped there forever. But I was hungry.

Legend has it that you’re not supposed to eat or drink while in ferry, lest you be trapped there forever. But I was hungry.

When I got back to my room, I set my alarm to get up in time to have breakfast before we docked — but then we docked in Split about an hour earlier than scheduled, so I ended up rushing a bit to eat, get packed, and get out before the cleaning crew arrived.  (FYI, sleeping on a largish ferry, even on modestly turbulent seas, is little different from sleeping in any small hotel room, and *way* more peaceful than sleeping on a train.) An uneventful walk down the pier got me to Croatian customs, I popped through that quickly, and was officially in Split by 6:30!

Split

A photo from the day I arrived, looking south from a spot just a little ways up the Marjan hill, and a little above my Airbnb place. Scenic as hell.

A photo from the day I arrived, looking east from a spot just a little ways up the Marjan hill, and a little above my Airbnb place. Diocletian’s Palace and the Riva are near on the left, and the ferry docks are just east of those. Scenic as hell.

Here I am already talking about directions, and I haven’t even given you a map yet.  Where are my manners?

This is really the whole of Split, minus maybe 10% clipped off on the right that extends into the metropolitan surroundings. My Airbnb place has the little arrow drawn next to it, next to the giant park.

This is really the whole of Split, minus maybe 10% clipped off on the right that extends into the metropolitan surroundings. My Airbnb place has the little arrow drawn next to it, next to the giant park (which is a huge hill that I’m maybe 10% of the way up).

Split is a very old city, the second largest in Croatia, dating back around 2400 years, and it’s been a tourist center for about that long.  The wiki page I just linked has a ton of information about its history, economy, and the like, but the reality of it seems to devolve into a few key ingredients.

  • The Old City, which is mostly what you see to the left in that panoramic picture (and starting a couple of blocks right of my arrow on the map), primarily containing a huge walled area of very old 3 story stone buildings and narrow streets known as Diocletian’s Palace, after the Roman emperor who had it built in the 4th century AD.
  • The Riva, a recently built outdoor restaurant arcade, reclaimed from the water (which used to lap against the Palace’s south gate) and built up between the water and the palace.  (I wish them luck with that, when global warming raises the water levels by up to 6 feet.)
  • Tourists from all over Europe (and some from Asia), who come to Split in the warmer seasons for its modest beaches, warm weather, and low cost of living (i.e., its weak and grateful economy).
  • A vast expanse of Soviet-era buildings, outside the Old City, that look like slightly-decayed modular hell.  Think of early-70s architecture, square, looking like stucco and/or aluminum and metal panels with worn and fading pastel colors.
  • The Marjan hill, a large, mostly undeveloped park with a high peak and a great view.
  • A normally super dry climate, drier than southern California.
  • Sweatpants.

Honestly, I’ve never seen as many men in sweatpants as I did in Split. (Zagreb too, but Split the most.)  It’s like every eastern European cliche realized.   It reminded me of a music video for “Horse Outside” by the Rubberbandits; I saw that a few years ago in the U.S., and I looked it up and embedded it here.  But when I sent a link for it to a friend this morning, they said it wasn’t visible anymore in the U.S. — and I proxied into a U.S. connection and couldn’t see it anymore (just derivative videos, not the original).  So, I’m deleting the embedded video, with regret. Here, have a Pokemon Go stampede in Central Park instead:

Anyway, I say it’s like an Eastern European cliche, and there’s some truth to that.  “Sweatpants” is a stand in for a key truth: this is a Slavic country, culturally connected to Bulgaria, Hungary, and the like, and part of Yugoslavia since WWII, until that broke apart into Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, etc.  Croatia has long been culturally influenced by Italy, and they were not happy members of Yugoslavia, and were glad to be out it.  Since then, they’ve been investing in infrastructure and building and it seems to have been helping.  The country isn’t economically strong, and there’s a lot of unemployment (as there is in most of southern Europe), but they’ve got some amazingly shiny highways and my place in Split had possibly the best internet I’ve yet had in my travels, U.S. included!  They get 3 times as many tourists each year as they have residents — mainly from Italy and Germanic countries, and everyone I encountered spoke at least some English, which was super convenient.  I, of course, spoke almost no Croatian except for the standard useful phrases (excuse me, thank you, good day) and “Ne razumijem Hrvatski”. (“I don’t speak Croatian.”)  I’m told that my pronunciation of that last is excellent.

If you’ve spent anytime around Eastern Europeans and Russians, you’ll know they have this weary look to them, and attitude of, “Life’s rough, there’s nothing you can do about it, just keep going.”  The Croatians have an echo of that, but it’s much more cheerfully inflected.  It’s almost the same look, but it’s more, “Life’s rough, there’s nothing you can do about it, so just relax and enjoy what you have and the world around you.”  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people that looked — by our standards at least — relaxed.  They’re just being there.  I’m sure they get stressed, but — coming as I had from LA via New York and Italy — they sure didn’t seem to show it.  And friendlier than anyplace I’ve been except possibly Chiang Mai, and even Chiang Mai seemed tenser — like the Thai knew there were opportunities to be had and some fighting to be done to make the most of them. The Croatians seem to have just let that go.  Whether that’s better or worse is a different question, but they felt really kind of nice to be around.  The Canadians of Europe.

I had arranged to meet my host, Ivana, at around 9:20 at a church at the western end of the Riva, so from the ferry I walked down a sidewalk between the piers and a row of kind of slightly seedy-looking travel and tourist shops, until I got to the eastern end of the Riva, which was much nicer.  I found an ATM, found a coffee shop, and settled down to catch up on email and Twitter.

It was raining lightly, off and on, for most of the day, so I got to sit out on the Riva, have some coffee (in cups really a bit smaller than I'd like) and just enjoy being there. It was a great way to arrive.

It was raining lightly, off and on, for most of the day, so I got to sit out on the Riva, have some coffee (in cups really a bit smaller than I’d like), listen to the rain, and just enjoy being there. It was a great way to arrive.

I did take a few other pictures of the Riva while I was there, but, as is sometimes true, Google does as good or better, and with more variety.  It’s basically like a Santa Monica Promenade, except with a 1700 year old building on one side, water on the other, and almost all restaurants (plus 2 banks and a tourist info center).  So, nothing like the Promenade, really.  They’re both outdoors, that’s the main thing.

After a couple of hours there, I wandered over to the church, Ivana (a very pretty, recent mother in her late-20s/early-30s, very friendly and with excellent English) drove up on her moped in the rain, and directed me up the street to an intersection where she waited to direct me to the base of some stairs, take a left, and walk down to where the Airbnb place was.  (I’d rather expected her to meet me in a car, but following her breadcrumbs in the rain worked well enough, and it was only a few blocks up a mild slope.)

The Airbnb place was pretty great; the listing is here.  Ivana turned out to be a property manager for a British couple who owned the two unit building and had recently renovated it.  They weren’t there most of the the time, and only used the lower floor, so the upper floor studio was rented out on Airbnb.  It was a very comfortable space, a single largish room living and dining spaces, a kitchenette (small fridge, range, and microwave, but no oven), electric kettle and French press (but no coffee grinder), high wood-beamed ceiling, a perfectly pleasant bathroom.  And, as I mentioned earlier, fantastic internet.  Super fast, super stable.  The patio had a bit of view of the harbor and rooftops — not a super impressive view in itself, but quite pleasant in the mornings.  The weather was normally cool — it was February-March, after all — often windy, sometimes rainy.  In short, nearly perfect. And there was *no* traffic noise, except for some occasional boats or seaplanes in the harbor. I gave them a great review on Airbnb, and you should be able to read it on the listing, if you want more details.  And I got totally sucked into another round of playing Fallout 4, mixed with finishing season 1 of Daredevil, and reading.

Speaking of which, this studio was a great place to sit and read, and I got a couple or 3 books out of the way while I was there, between the other activities.  Including this one, Peace, by Gene Wolfe:

Peace

Gene Wolfe is a famous SF writer, especially known for a hard-SF series called The Book of the New Son.  I’d read that years ago, and it’s really, really excellent, one of the classic, famous works of SF.  So, recently, when Neil Gaiman mentioned Peace being one of his favorite books, I thought I should give it a go.

Alas, while I think I see what Gaiman likes about it, I was largely bored.  The book is basically the narration of a very old man in a midwestern town, as he recalls various experiences of his life, starting when he was born in the early 20th century.  You immediately realize that something is weird, as he talks to people that he knows aren’t really there — indeed, from the beginning it sounds almost as if he’s the only person left alive in the world — but the book keeps the mystery of what’s really going on running all the way through.  It spends most of its time in the past, and very little on his present state.  There are clues, although they took me in a direction that subsequent online reading suggests was the wrong one.  And, apparently, there are whole websites devoted to analyzing what Wolfe was doing in his books, because it seems that he’s fond of unreliable narrators (those whose viewpoints you can’t trust to be accurate), and he likes mystery.  I don’t really mind that — I can be happy with a lot of mystery, and while I think I prefer my narrators to be reliable about their own experiences, I’m not married to it.  The thing is, aside from this one central mystery, the book is really just an autobiography of an old guy in a midwestern town.  The writing is good, the characters are well realized.  But… well… nothing really happens.  There are maybe three significant events, and all three of them are brushed past or occluded in a way that saps them of any excitement.  I think, in retrospect, that I see what Wolfe was doing here, but it doesn’t make it any more interesting.

And, when I did read Gaiman’s afterword, looked up an online analysis, and got a better sense of the mystery, it wasn’t one of these amazing illuminations that completely changed my view on it.  It was just a, “I guess that makes sense. Yeah, I see it, sure.”  I suppose there were people whose minds were blown by it, but I wasn’t one.  It’s clearly presented that there*is* a mystery; maybe if you’d fixed in your head what that mystery was, only to have it overturned, you’d be more thrown.  But, for me, it was just floating there through the whole book, until Gaiman and others encouraged it to gently settle on a perfectly suitable solution.  Ok.  There we are, then.

So this is clearly a YMMV.  I found myself to be disappointed by it, but it’s a well regarded book, and if you find a copy of it in a library or something, you might well turn out to like it.  In other words, don’t let my mild boredom with it discourage you from finding out if you, too, would be bored. 😉

The couch in the studio was a really Nice Place To Sit And Read.

The couch in the studio was a really Nice Place To Sit And Read.

As long as I’m here — the view out the north window:

 

Food

The owners of the studio had left a fairly comprehensive booklet of things in the local area, including a nearby seafood restaurant that they recommended, and I ate there my first night — one of the only two places I ate out at during my stay in Split.  They recommended a seafood stew, and the owner persuaded me to have a white wine with it.

It was really good, but wow was that a hassle to eat! Wine normally gives me a headache; this didn't, but I couldn't tell you if that was because of the wine or because I only had one modest glass of it. I can live with that uncertainty.

It was really good, but wow was that a hassle to eat! And wine normally gives me a headache; this didn’t, but I couldn’t tell you if that was because of the wine or because I only had one modest glass of it, instead of drinking it all night at a party. I can live with that uncertainty.

It was a good meal, and I was auspiciously placed under a display of Croatian tennis haiku.

Why would this be here?<br/>I'm the last to complain of<br/>weird haiku choices.

Why would this be here?
I’m the last to complain of
weird haiku choices.

There were various smallish grocery stores nearby — Konzum is a popular chain, as is Tom’s — which I frequented until I found the really big Konzum 25 minutes walk away in what might be their only mall.  It was a tiny mall, but no less a mall for its small size than a dwarf person is a person, or a dwarf planet a planet.  (Pluto, forever.)  The mall was called “Joker”, and you can see it on the map, where I have a star labeled “Cinestar”, the name of the theater in that mall (part of a Croatian theater chain).  It was there that I got to see Deadpool — yaay! — in English with Croatian subtitles as expected.  Damn, but that was a good movie.  Not for everyone mind, and a *lot* of over-the-top violence done in a deliberately cartoony style. Deadpool is a Marvel character written very much for laughs, as a bit of a parody of hyper-violent comics heroes of the 90s, and known for breaking the 4th wall and talking directly to the reader — or player, in video games that feature him — or viewer, in this case.  And there was a lot of that sort of thing, from the title sequence credits labeling everyone with their stereotyped roles (“Directed by: An Overpaid Tool”), to the Deadpool character mentioning the name of the actor playing him, and commenting that the guy gets acting gigs based on his looks rather than his acting chops.  I was really looking forward to this movie, and it did not disappoint.  (And, once more, mind blown by people leaving the theater before the after-end-credits scene.  Even in Croatia, have they learned nothing?)

Speaking of grocery stores, shopping in Croatia was sometimes a challenge.  Nothing like Japan, mind you, but trying to find the word for oatmeal (turns out, it’s  “zobene pahuljice”) was a real challenge.  They do get some products with English labeling, or German, or Italian.  And I had a real blast from the past: in German the word for animal food, what we’d call “feed” as in “horse feed” or “cow feed”, is “futter”.  Want to guess what you call “trail mix” in German?

"Student Feed"

“Student Feed”

Hah! I’d forgotten that, from my German classes!  🙂

I was, btw, completely unable to find ½-n-½ or cream, and had to make do with milk for my coffee.  Wait, that’s not quite true, there was what appeared to be cream, but the ingredients panel was chock full of chemical things, probably intended to preserve it, and I didn’t want to get anywhere near that.  It was weird.

"Vrhnje" appears to indicate cream. It's clearly pasteurized ("Kratkotrajno sterilizirano") and homogenized. But it has stabilizors and "emulgators", and "zgušnjivač". Do you want zgušnjivač in your coffee? I didn't think so.

“Vrhnje” appears to indicate cream. It’s clearly pasteurized (“Kratkotrajno sterilizirano”) and homogenized. But it also has “stabilizators” and “emulgators”, and “zgušnjivač”. Do you want zgušnjivač in your coffee? I didn’t think so.

Language differences are always fascinating.  I was delighted to see this:

The vegetable, or a Croatian name? Either way, it seems refreshingly sincere.

The vegetable, or a Croatian person’s name? Either way, it seems refreshingly sincere.

Before I leave the grocery subject, I should mention that instant coffee was *everywhere* in grocery stores.  Thankfully, I managed to decipher this, and didn’t buy any.  Non-instant, pre-ground coffee was in the minority, but it was available.  Alas, it was ground way too fine for a French press; I made it work, but the grounds clogged up the press’s filter, and I had to press down so hard that I end up stripping the plastic screw attachment that fitted the central rod to the filter disk.  (It shouldn’t have been made of plastic at all, but that’s a different problem.)  I sent Ivana an e-mail saying, “Hey, it’s either my fault or the workmanship, but I checked Amazon and that model is 150 kuna. If I leave 200 in the end table, would that be all right? Sorry for the bother.”  She said that was fine — and seemed pretty enthusiastic about it.  I’m guessing most people just keep their mouths shut instead of volunteering about the problem.

I was able to continue using the press anyway, by jury-rigging the action with a fork. But I switched to whole beans — I kept hearing that Croatians loved their coffee, but apparently they love meeting at cafes for coffee and don’t necessarily love making it well at home.  Whole beans were rare, and while I was willing to buy a coffee grinder — and leave it and its Croatian electrical plug in Zagreb when I left that city in May — I literally could not find a grinder anywhere. Not even in appliance stores that carried coffee makers and espresso machines! So I picked up some baking paper and a rolling pin, and used manual grinding.

OMG, you forget how much better freshly ground coffee is. (My thanks to Brandon, for demonstrate this technique during a power outage in New York.)

OMG, you forget how much better freshly ground coffee is. (My thanks to Brandon, for demonstrate this technique during a power outage in New York.)

FYI, the studio’s kitchenette had a couple of battered pots and pans, but I went ahead and bought my first ceramic pan to cook eggs in.  It was amazing!  Perfectly non-stick, and (being ceramic) not made out of suspect, Eastern European, non-stick materials.  I left the pan in Zagreb too; *that* I’ll miss.

On my way to the Joker mall, with the big grocery store, I’d often pass this building, which I think is for a Croatian insurance company:

Why am I including this? You see the ladder propped up against the side of the building, where the logo is apparently being repainted? Nope. That's an illusion. It's a painted-on ladder! For no obvious reason other than the coolness of it. Love that!

Why am I including this? You see the ladder propped up against the side of the building, where the logo is apparently being repainted? Nope. That’s an illusion. It’s a painted-on ladder! For no obvious reason other than the coolness of it. Love that!

Pretty sure this is not what the American Dream looks like, but I wasn't going to burst their bubble.

Pretty sure this is not what the American Dream looks like, but I wasn’t going to burst their bubble.

Several apartment buildings near the mall had abstract musicians on them. Here's a guitar player and a saxophonist. Have no idea what the idea is there, but I like the randomness of it.

Several apartment buildings near the mall had abstract musicians on them. Here’s a guitar player and a saxophonist. Have no idea what the idea is there, but I like the randomness of it.

Marjan and Other Scenery

The Marjan hill above my studio is covered by a massive park covered with scrub pine and succulents — I saw at least 3 kinds of cactus my first day hiking it, which — combined with the parkas that the locals were wearing — persuaded me that I did *not* want to still be in Split come summer.  But I hiked that steep hill to reach the top, at least half the days that I was in Split, and it was quite scenic.

An outdoor stage near the top. And a gazebo nearby, that I'd have probably gone to to read had I been there for much longer.

An outdoor stage near the top. And a gazebo nearby, that I’d have probably gone to to read, had I been in town for much longer.

There's a small plaza, and a Croatian flag, at the top of Marjan, and here's a panorama looking east down the peninsula, including the bay to the north and the Adriatic to the south (with one of many islands visible in it).

There’s a small plaza, and a giant Croatian flag, at the top of Marjan, and here’s a panorama taken from there looking east down the peninsula, including the bay to the north and the Adriatic to the south (with one of many islands visible in it).

A view to the north. Notice how bone dry the cliffs look? This is not an illusion. I think there are also hermit caves in those hills; if they'd been closer, I might have gone to visit them, but I guess that would have defeated the point.

A view to the north. Notice how bone dry the cliffs look? This is not an illusion. I think there are also hermit caves in those hills; if they’d been closer, I might have gone to visit them, but I guess that would have defeated their purpose.

I thought this sort of cactus was a US southwest thing. But I guess they're like pine trees, and have made it anywhere that suits them.

I thought prickly pear cactus was a US southwest thing. But I guess they’re like pine trees, and have made it anywhere that suits them.

Little H signs were set in various places along the Marjan path. I thought they were some kind of distance marker (A, B, C, etc), but they only ever had H. I thought maybe that's where the hermit caves were, but no sign of those either. Maybe they were used for Hydrogen refueling, back in the zepellin days?

Little H signs were set in various places along the Marjan path. I thought they were some kind of distance marker (A, B, C, etc), but they only ever had H. I thought maybe that’s where the hermit caves were, but no sign of those either. Maybe they were used for Hydrogen refueling, back in the zepellin days?

I was walking along one of these paths and I thought I saw a small black bear ambling towards me.  I stopped dead in some alarm, but it turned out to be a bloody huge dog.  There were a lot of giant dogs in Split, but this was a monster.  I don’t think it was a Caucasian Shepherd Dog, but it wasn’t far from it.  I respect big dogs.  Still wouldn’t want a dog, but, if I had to….

A nice view down the main Marjan entry path, with a view of the Riva and Diocletian's Palace, and even one of the 3-story Jadrolinija ferries docked at the pier. (I could have sworn I'd taken a picture of the ferry, but this will do.)

A nice view down the main Marjan entry path, with a view of the Riva and Diocletian’s Palace, and even one of the 3-story Jadrolinija ferries docked at the pier. (I could have sworn I’d taken a picture of the ferry, but this will do.)

Split has a few sandy beaches, and this is one, along the southern waterfront, on the other side of the Riva looking west towards Marjan.

Split has a few sandy beaches, and this is one, along the southern waterfront, on the other side of the Riva looking west towards Marjan.

I had a good long walk along the southern waterfront that day, intending to circumnavigate the city.  Instead, I covered almost all of the southern boundary, turned inland a little way, and was too hot and tired to finish and walked home from there.  A minor defeat.  But I got gelato when I hit the Riva again, so it wasn’t wasted.

What, another amazing view? Don't mind if I do. This time, looking east along the water during my walk that day.

What, another amazing view? Don’t mind if I do. This time, looking east along the water during my walk that day.

In case you're wondering what a normal Split neighborhood looks like.

In case you’re wondering what a normal Split neighborhood looks like.

BTW, appropos of nothing except that I ran into a screenshot of TurboTax in my iPhone, I got my taxes done in plenty of time in mid-March.  (Thanks again to Sarah for sending me pictures of my tax documents.)  Plenty of money back this year, since I got my severance check at the start of 2015, for about ½-a-year’s salary, and they always tax that as if you’ll be earning at that rate for the whole year, which I hadn’t.  Didn’t have as many tax deductions in 2015 as usual, of course.  Not surprising, with no condo expenses and a much smaller budget for charitable contributions, and I confess that this aspect of my retirement bugs me a bit.  I wouldn’t mind more money for non-essential expenses, but I don’t really need it.  But I would like more money to give to charities, though. Or kickstarters. Or just people.  And even based on what I think I can afford there, I’m still living with some uncertainty about my living expenses, and it makes me reluctant to donate as much as maybe I could.  I guess I just need to be patient; 4-5 years down the road, I should have a pretty solid pattern down, and can kick the contributions up a notch.  Until then, you do what you can.

Diocletian’s Palace

You may wonder why I haven’t included much of Diocletian’s Palace.  That’s partly because it’s really just a walled set of city blocks, with the formerly interesting bits turned into Christian chapels.  I’d just had that in spades in Rome and Florence, and wasn’t really pushing for more here.  But I did make a point of hitting the 4 gates before I left:

What the palace used to look like. The Riva is where the water used to be (and probably will be again).

What the palace used to look like. The Riva is where the water used to be (and probably will be again).

The South Gate faces onto the Riva — which, if you don’t remember from earlier, has 50 million pictures on Google.

The view from the eastern end of the Riva, looking at the southeast corner of the Palace.

The view from the eastern end of the Riva, looking at the southeast corner of the Palace.

The East Gate; needs a little work to be properly defensible again. There's a pretty large outdoor market in the block behind my back, but you've all seen vegetables, handbags, and sweatpants in stalls, so I didn't take pictures. (Did buy some nice cheese, though.)

The East Gate; needs a little work to be properly defensible again. There’s a pretty large outdoor market in the block behind my back, but you’ve all seen vegetables, handbags, and sweatpants in stalls, so I didn’t take pictures. (Did buy some nice cheese, though.)

The West Gate

The West Gate

Just inside the West Gate, with a view of typical walls and a nice bit of tower.

Just inside the West Gate, with a view of typical walls and a nice bit of tower.

The Middle Bit. The center has what used to be a temple to Jupiter, but you know how that story ends.

The Middle Bit. The center has what used to be a temple to Jupiter, but you know how that story ends. I did not grace it with my presence. (One assumes that God’s grace is sufficient.)

The North Gate

The North Gate

Outside the North Gate: Mickey Mouse's boss from the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Is what I'm guessing.

Outside the North Gate: Mickey Mouse’s boss from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Is what I’m guessing.
Whose name was Gregory of Nin, in case you’re wondering.

Leaving

And that was Split!  On Tuesday, March 22nd, I packed up early and caught a 09:00 bus to Zagreb (ticket bought 2 days before, because the ticket sellers had almost laughed at me when I tried to buy 2 weeks ahead).

I have to say — and, indeed, there is no reason why I should not — that I really liked Split.  It’s not a huge place, and there wasn’t much going on there (I mean, there were some late night dance places and plenty of gambling facilities, but not much for me).  But it was pretty, had a huge park, lots of sea air, very friendly people, plenty of English, a great room to stay in.  I could really see myself going back there in a couple of years and doing it again.  Particularly since I didn’t learn about the most amazing thing in Split until long after I’d left it, when I was in Edinburgh!

I cannot believe that I missed Froggyland!!!!! :-(

I cannot believe that I missed Froggyland!!!!!  Gaaaahhhh!!!!  🙁

Next time.  Next time.

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Interlude: Voting for Hillary

I have no intention of getting into politics much in this blog — my friends and family who read it are mostly on the same page in these matters, so aside from the occasional venting, or irresistible opportunities for humor, there’s little point.  But while playing ESO recently with Mum and Sarah, we got to talking about Hillary.  She’d just picked Tim Kaine as her running mate, and we were talking — in various flavors and degrees — about Hillary not being our first choice, but that even if you actually didn’t like her wouldn’t you have to vote for her to be sure that Trump didn’t get in?

This, of course, is the Choice of Sanity.  You may or may not be wild about HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton), but she’s incomprehensibly better than HTF (Human Tire Fire).  I would vote for a rutabaga before I would vote for Trump.  Rutabagas stir up very little nationalist, racist, astoundingly-Nazi-sounding sentiments, rally few Klan members, and are very unlikely to push The Button in a fit of pique.

But, as far as my feelings about Hillary, I’ve gone through a bit of an evolution on this, over the course of her two campaigns, from liking her before the first one to not liking her much by the end of it, and liking her even less, recently… but I’m currently liking her more than I used to and not minding so much that I’ll be voting for her.  I mentioned some of the reasons for that when I was talking to Mum and Sarah, and then this morning I sent them an e-mail with links to a couple of the things I’d brought up that had influenced my change of heart.  It occurred to me that they might be as helpful, to anyone else having the same concerns, as they have been to me, so I thought I’d repeat them here.

BTW, none of this is intended to persuade you to like her or to take any particular political position. 🙂  She wasn’t my first or second choice for the job, and anyway we’re all on the same page, I think, that voting for her is at least necessary to keep HTF out of the most powerful office in the world.  But, in the last few months, I have reluctantly gone from really kind of disliking her (“Fine, I’ll vote for her if I have to.”) to wondering if maybe she won’t turn out to be actually good at the job?

The first thing that had influenced me was an article I read a couple of months ago that I cannot now find hide nor hair of — sometimes the internet’s like that, if you don’t bookmark something, it’s lost in the sea of similar search terms — on where the commonly reported knock on Hillary’s truthfulness comes from.  Some reporter had traced through the media over the last 25 years and found what appeared to be its first source, many years ago, from an opposition accusation that the Republicans picked up and kept repeating until it stuck.  (More on that later.)

The second was a chart compiled from the fact-checking group Politifact, that I’ve seen several times, that very favorably ranked her honesty in comparison to the other candidates.  This was a bear to track down, but I found a copy, along with a very good article with other useful links, at a website called Mormon Press, of all places!

http://www.mormonpress.com/lying_liars_who_lie_2016_edition

It shows that she has a higher percentage of statements that are True or Mostly True than any of the other leading politicians, including Bernie and Obama.  And her pants are less on fire than anyone but Sanders. 🙂

The third was a recent article by Ezra Klein, a Vox reporter who began to wonder about the disparity between public perception of her and what he kept hearing from people who actually knew her. I didn’t remember the source, at first, but it was much faster to find than the chart:

http://www.vox.com/a/hillary-clinton-interview/the-gap-listener-leadership-quality

It’s not a whitewash, and points out a couple of potential issues.  But it suggests that she’s good at working with people, listening, forging agreements, and making sure that the right opinions get heard and acted upon. And then on Friday she picked a VP who is massively liked and respected on both sides of the aisle, and that really suggests that she’s interested in building unity and agreement and getting what she wants through Congress at a practical level.  Which Obama has not really been great at — he’s obviously been fought tooth and nail to an absurd level by Republicans, who value political gain over national benefit, but my reading suggests that he didn’t expect that level of resistance to obviously beneficial actions, and thought that plain compromise would get them through. It’s clear that Hillary has no such illusions, but she sounds, from the Klein article, like she may be better at dealing with it.  And I would assume that Tim Kaine will be relied on heavily for that.  (Hopefully, we can deliver a Democratic congress, to make it even easier!)

As I said earlier, I couldn’t manage to find the article I read a couple of months ago, tracking down where the original accusation of her lying started, but I did recently see this great Veritasium video on how simply repeating a thing — any thing — causes it to be viewed as better, more true, etc.  It’s a kind of amazing video, and I highly recommend it:

I do still have some Hillary concerns, though I think some of them have been moderated by Sanders and Warren getting on board.  I don’t like the way she’s sometimes a very political player nor some of the things she says while acting that way, and that viewpoint is unlikely to improve. (It’s not uncommon for politicians, but it doesn’t make it laudable.)  I don’t like the support she had for fracking in other countries when she was at State, and I’m certain she won’t reign in the drone attacks we’re doing in other countries, which in my opinion are a betrayal of basic American (and human) principles.  (Of all the candidates, only Bernie would have been likely to have done that.)  She’s unlikely to pardon Snowden.  (Again, only Bernie.)  I wasn’t convinced that she would create the real financial reforms that this country needs, but Warren is supporting her and I suspect that there were concessions involved in that support. And Warren leading banking committees in the Senate, with Hillary’s support, could be a very strong combination.

And Sanders pushed the party platform leftward, and I’m pretty sure got some concessions from her in exchange for his support; some of her recent proposals (such as for reducing student loan debt) are clearly Sanders related.  And if Trump can help us get a Democratic congress, we could get a lot of vital stuff pushed through.

But, based on the information above (and other, similar articles), I’m coming to the conclusion that I’ve been misled in some areas by the constant slander against her, and that at least some of concerns may not have been exaggerated by its influence. (Mother Jones magazine has a kind of amazing list of conspiracy theories about her, which I won’t link to because Veritasium, but it’s easy to Google if you really want to.)  Even without liking her, she is clearly competent to do the job, and if I mark my concerns about her integrity as suspect, as I’m coming to think they are, then I’m not sure I have any strong objections.  Would I like her to have some different viewpoints on some things? Sure. Is that true of every president? Sure.

So, I’ve gone through a bit of an evolution on this; I’m still not sure, but I have come to feel better about her, I’m hoping that she’ll prove my concerns to be unfounded, and I’m maybe even optimistic that she might turn out to be much better at the job than I had thought she might, based on how she’s described by associates in the Ezra Klein interview, by her VP pick, and by Sanders’ and Warren’s support.  So, I thought I’d lay all of that out here, on the off chance that it will be helpful for anyone else who has had similar concerns.  Maybe it will help you feel better, at least, as you cast your vote against the Human Tire Fire.

-Charles

P.S.(Also, as a traveler, I’m just grateful that the Brits had Brexit.  Suuurrrre took the heat off America, in the “dumbass nationalists” department.  Nobody over here is spending time talking about HTF.  Let’s all do our best to keep it that way, shall we?)


UPDATE: 09/15/2016

Since I wrote this, I’ve run across a couple of other really good pieces about Hillary, which I’m going to add here.  Nobody is ever likely to see this, but, what can I say? I’m a completist.  ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

One person’s experience with Hillary as Senator

Garrison Keillor: “Hillary Clinton’s concrete shoes”

I’ll add more, if I trip across any that I think are really good.

-C

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Bonus Views (Florence Part III)

Still in Ireland, sitting in this rustic farmhouse with intermittent rain outside and a wind that almost never stops.  I’ve lived on the coast for almost half my life, and never been where the wind so rarely paused.  I try to get out for a walk once a day, when it looks like it won’t be raining for a while, but I’ve given up waiting for the wind to die down also.  Here’s a sample from yesterday; I went out for a walk around the peninsula during a lull, when the wind had dropped by about half:

YouTube doesn’t like all the movement in this video, and is making the whole thing much blurrier than the source.  I’ve heard YouTubers mention this in the past; it’s very annoying. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯

Florida, New York City, LA, SF, Seattle, Split,…. I’ve been in a lot of coastal cities, and never seen a place as reliably windy or weather variable as this.  I guess being out on a peninsula in the English Channel, rather than having your back to a continent, is probably what makes the difference.  There’s no back-pressure to stop the wind ripping across, unimpeded.

Still… yay, nature!

Meanwhile, across a small bit of sea, the Brits are Brexiting, everyone’s freaking out, both liberal and conservative parties are disintegrating, Scotland may secede, and Ireland is wondering what the hell is going to happen between the south (its own country, not part of the UK, but in the EU) and the north (part of the UK, but voted to Remain in the EU like southern Ireland). In case you’re unclear about the current state of affairs, a chap posted this useful summary on Twitter to explain it:

Hope that helps.

Hope that helps.

So, in the words of my Grandfather, oft-repeated in our family, “Never a dull moment.”

On with Florence

You may recall that in my last two posts I tried to cover all my A Room With A View stops, which were the central goal and organizing theme of my time in Florence.  What’s left are the things in between those stops, and my overall thoughts about the city, and I shall wrap those up here.  There’s a lot to cover, but by the gods I shall finish it!

Starting With Lunch

Ran across this interior photo of my Florentine Cheers. Must have been lousy weather outside that day, if I'm in.

Ran across this interior photo of my Florentine Cheers, The Lion’s Fountain Pub. Must have been lousy weather outside that day, if I’m in.

 

The Uffizi Museum

So, if you recall from last post (and even if you don’t), the Uffizi Museum occupies the buildings around the Uffizi Gallery, the street with the serious-looking statues which leads from the Piazza della Signoria (where Lucy faints) to the Arno (where George throws her photographs into the water).  I don’t mean to imply that everything in Florence must be judged with respect to A Room With A View, but clearly it can be so judged and I believe that I am as well qualified to do so as any person, being simultaneously a Great Fan of the Movie, a World Traveler, and an INTJ — the J is for Judging!

My gods, it's like they're reading my soul!

My gods, it’s like they’re reading my soul!

 

I had seen a long line in front of the Uffizi Museum, on the South side of the Gallery, when I walked by there before, so I took the precaution of booking tickets online the day before, for an 08:15 entry.  This, as you may well suppose, diminished the risk of crowds considerably.  I arrived close to the front of a short line, showed my confirmation e-mail on my iPhone to a ticket person, and received the printed materials that I would be throwing away a few hours later, easy peasy.

The ground floor has mostly ticketing, lockers, restrooms, and the like, so you immediately head of a set of stairs going straight up 3 floors, filled with little statues and busts that everyone blows by on their way to what surely must be “the good stuff” on the gallery floors.  Everyone but me, that is.

Busts! I bet these guys were pretty important once, whoever they are.

Busts! I bet these guys were pretty important once, whoever they are.

Lorenzo di'Medici, one of the most powerful men of the Rennaisance. (Largely because his jawline was so strong, he never bit off more than he could chew.)

Lorenzo di’Medici, one of the most powerful men of the Renaissance. (Largely because his jaw was so strong, he never bit off more than he could chew.)

I should note that, like much of Florence, the Uffizi was built by the Medici family, who were the centerpiece of Florentine government for generations and contributed massively to the arts and sciences of the Renaissance.  The family eventually faded out, leaving a final heiress, Anna Maria Luisa, who bequeathed most of the family’s estate and art to the Tuscan government on the condition that it never be removed from Tuscany.  (I don’t know if museum tours count or not.)  I think we tend to consider those Italian merchant-rulers as being rather corrupt, like the Borgias, but the Medicis were the real deal.  They must have had their jerks also, but they had a lot of sharp folks who cared about getting things done right, and Florence seems to have benefited considerably from their presence.

I have no idea what Queen Victoria is doing here. There was probably a plaque explaining it or something -- as if I'd remember what was on it!

I have no idea what Queen Victoria is doing here. There was probably a plaque explaining it or something — as if I’d remember what was on it!

As I mentioned above, the Uffizi Museum runs around that outdoor street with the statues in it, so it’s basically a long hallway down one side of the street, a short hallway across it on the Arno end, and then a long hallway back along the other side. On three floors. With rooms off of the hallways holding lots of art.  So when you come up the stairs to the upper floor and step out into the south-side hallway, you’re greeted with this view of its length:

Reminds me of my old condo... if you stick to just one of the vaulted square spaces. And remove the ceiling paintings. And reduce the classical statues to action figures. And get all of the people out. (Obv!) No view of the ocean, though, so I guess I win that one.

Reminds me of my old condo… if you stick to just one of the vaulted square spaces. And remove the ceiling paintings. And reduce the classical statues to action figures. And get all of the people out. (Obv!) No view of the ocean, though, so I guess I win that one. Of course, I no longer have that condo — but the Medicis no longer have this house either, so sic transit gloria, losers!

One of those many ceiling squares (slightly distorted by the panoramic photo). Portraits of significant Medicis along the walls at the edges. Remember me saying (last post) that, "Traveling in Europe, you realize how much of the door technology of our ancestors has been lost to the ages. We just don’t make impressive doors anymore." This goes double for ceilings. The best we do now is a nice bit of exposed wood grain. I am now resolving, when I get my next place, to hire art students to paint the ceilings. So let it be written, so let it be done.

One of those many ceiling squares (slightly warped by the panoramic photo), with portraits of significant Medicis along the walls at the edges. Remember me saying (last post) that, “Traveling in Europe, you realize how much of the door technology of our ancestors has been lost to the ages. We just don’t make impressive doors anymore.” This goes double for ceilings. The best we do now is a nice bit of exposed wood grain. I am now resolving, when I get my next place, to hire art students to paint the ceilings. Action figures on plinths, and a bust of me with an exaggerated jawline, and I’ll be set proper.

The portraits along the edge of the ceiling are interesting enough I guess (generic Florentines rendered with varying verisimilitude depending on their era), and the statues are nice, but the real money is in the rooms off the hallway, which are crawling with art.

As I've said before -- and will almost certainly say again -- I have never seen a portrayal of the Annunciation where Mary seemed happy about it. "Yeah, I see what you're saying. Now get away from me and take that swarm of baby-headed swallows with you!" (Even the attendants are unimpressed, looking out at the audience like, "Can you believe this wanker?")

As I’ve said before — and will almost certainly say again — I have never seen a portrayal of the Annunciation where Mary seemed happy about it. “Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Now get away from me and take that swarm of baby-headed swallows with you!” (Even the attendants are unimpressed, looking out at the audience like, “Can you believe this wanker?”)

"Talk to the hand, coz the face ain't listening."

“Talk to the hand, coz the face ain’t listening.”

And in my other "Bad Religious Art" pet peeve: Unhappy Madonna And Child. Mom's like, "I still don't understand where you came from,", and Child's all, "Oh fuck, how much did I screw this up?"

And in my other “Bad Religious Art” pet peeve: Unhappy Madonna And Child. Mom’s like, “I still don’t understand where you came from,”, and Child’s all, “Oh fuck, how much did I screw this up?”

Botticelli's Madonna of the Pomegranate. Even a famous painter like Botticelli couldn't make Madonna or Child look like they give a damn. Mom looks mind-numbingly indifferent, Child has the look a cat gets when it's about to squirm out of your lap, and even the One Direction winged boy band looks bored.

Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate. Even a famous painter like Botticelli couldn’t make Madonna or Child look like they give a damn. Mom looks mind-numbingly indifferent, Child has the look a cat gets when it’s about to squirm out of your lap, and even the One Direction winged boy band looks bored.

Ok, this one's a bit better. I think however bad medieval artists may have been, some of them at least had happy mothers and can relate. But who knows what being Annunciated to is like? (In fairness, if someone, say a random stranger in a bar or a library, Annunciated to you, you'd probably look at them like they're a freak, so maybe these are accurate enough. But hardly inspiring, am I right?)

Ok, this one’s a bit better. I think however bad medieval artists may have been, some of them at least had happy mothers and can relate. But who knows what being Annunciated to is like? (In fairness, if someone, say a random stranger in a bar or a library, Annunciated to you, you’d probably look at them like they’re a freak, so maybe these are accurate enough. But hardly inspiring, am I right?)

Some of the rooms you could only look at from the outside. Not sure why they were any different, though.

Some of the rooms you could only look at from the outside. Not sure why they were any different, though. Ignore the marble in front, I think they’re just wrestling (not “wrestling”).

Same room, different barred entrance.

Same room, different barred entrance.

A panoramic view from a different barred entrance. A bit dark, but shows more of it.

A panoramic view from a different barred entrance. A bit dark, but shows more of it.

The ceiling, with what looks like a clock in the cupola. Seems like a super inconvenient way to check the time ("Hey, how long till dinner?" "I'm not sure, let me walk to the naked wrestling room and check the ceiling."), but I guess in the days before mantle clocks you did what you had to.

The ceiling, with what looks like a clock in the cupola. Seems like a super inconvenient way to check the time (“Hey, how long till dinner?” “I’m not sure, let me walk to the naked wrestling room and check the ceiling.”), but I guess in the days before mantlepiece clocks you did what you had to.

A view of the Uffizi Gallery, that the Museum wraps around, looking east toward the Lucy Fainting Plaza, from the short hallway on the western end.

A view up the street between the wings of the Uffizi Gallery, that the Museum wraps around, looking east toward the Lucy Fainting Plaza, from the short hallway on the western end. Note: Landmarks!

They had a Botticelli room, with the Madonna from above and some others:

Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. As art goes, it's kind of a big deal.

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. As art goes, it’s kind of a big deal.

Botticelli's Spring

Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring. (Sometimes called “Primavera”, though less often because of confusion with the pasta.)

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

Beer goggles, my young friend, are a bitch. (Number 73 in my series, Advice To Subjects in Classical Art.)

Beer goggles, my young friend, are a bitch. (Number 73 in my series, Advice To Subjects in Classical Art.)

There was, obviously, much more art than this, but a man can only photograph so much. (And so can I.)  But the walk home yielded other treasures:

"Dov'è Waldo" indeed! Someone needs to talk to the Italians about the concept of "spoilers".

“Dov’è Wally” indeed! Someone needs to talk to the Italians about the concept of “spoilers”.

When religious icons get stripped of meaning. Dreamcatchers, with more dreamcatchers growing off the side, in an Italian tourist shop.

When religious icons get stripped of meaning: Dreamcatchers, with more dreamcatchers growing off the side, in an Italian tourist shop, like a Mandelbrot set of subverted and commercialized imagery.

 

The Academy Gallery

The day after the Uffizi Museum, I visited the Academy Gallery, where the Statue of David is kept.  I didn’t buy advance tickets this time, but I did leave early and was in the short line when it opened at 8:15am.  On the way, I passed this:

OMG! I took this picture because of how creepy the doll looked, and I only just now properly registered their expressions: this window display is basically every Madonna and Child ever! (Surely not intentional.)

OMG! I took this picture because of how creepy the doll looked, and I only just now properly registered their expressions: this window display is basically every Madonna and Child ever! (Surely not intentional.)

Standing in line afforded me the opportunity to see this across the street:

As perfect a commentary on the true nature of organized religion as one could hope for.

As perfect a commentary on the true nature of organized religion as one could hope for.

Once inside the Gallery, you get a decent selection of art, though it’s not a huge place.

I'm titling this fairly typical example, "Christ's Sermon on Mom's Lap".

I’m titling this fairly typical example, “Christ’s Sermon on Mom’s Lap”.

Or, maybe, "Christ's Sermon on Mom's Lap, featuring Marty Feldman."

Or, maybe, “Christ’s Sermon on Mom’s Lap, featuring Marty Feldman.”

"We're all bored, Mom, but don't nod off. You're about to drop me!"

“We’re all bored, Mom, but don’t nod off. You’re about to drop me!”

"Ew, ew, get away, don't touch me. My friend Lisa said you can get pregnant from that!"

“Ew, ew, get away, don’t touch me. My friend Lisa said you can get pregnant from that!”

The angels tried to convince him that "fishwalker" was not a real profession, but he had a dream.

The angels tried to convince him that “fishwalker” was not a real profession, but the young man had a dream….

Nothing attracted the demonic babyheads like adults playing dress-up.

Nothing attracted the demonic babyheads like adults playing dress-up.

They'd reached the crypt too late! With his party dead or in enthralled slumber, Van Helsing realized that fleeing was now the only option.

They’d reached the crypt too late! With his party nearly all dead or in enthralled slumber, Van Helsing realized that fleeing was now the only option.

If she prayed hard enough, maybe his Father would change the damn diaper for once.

If she prayed hard enough, maybe his Father would change the damn diaper for once.

Saint Camber of Culdi was renowned for channeling the Word of God into special Laser Beam attacks to defeat demons.

Saint Camber of Culdi was renowned for channeling the Word of God into special Laser Beam attacks to defeat demons.

So, this art is all very inspirational and all, but let’s get to the main event:

Damn, that's a big statue.

Damn, that’s a big statue.

The Academy Gallery has several Michelangelo pieces and art in this wing, a wing literally designed around this one statue.  David has an interesting history, being basically a giant block of marble intended for another purpose, that a couple of people had had a go at, before it sat untouched for a generation.  On the “use it or lose it” principal, the Florentine elders had one more try at finding someone to do something useful with it, and the young Michelangelo made a case for himself being the man for the job.  He figured he could turn the mostly undeveloped marble into a David, and completed it after 2 years of work.  It used to be out where the replica now is, in Lucy Fainting Plaza, but was moved inside to protect it and had a bunch of repair work done (most of which looks pretty good, though he’s in dire need of a pedicure).

I really needed the farther shot to establish his scale; you'd have no idea from this close up how large he is.

I really needed the farther shot to establish his scale; you’d have no idea from this close up how large he is.

As I said: badly in need of a pedicure.

As I said: badly in need of a pedicure.

What the Academy says about it.

What the Academy says about it.

I took a bunch more pictures of it, because you sort of feel like you have to when you’re there.  And they’re, surprisingly, all worthy pictures. But I’m not sure that they add anything — certainly nothing you couldn’t get from a Google search — so I’m going to let them go.  But it will be nice, in a few years, when I unpack all my stuff in wherever my new home is, to be able to say, “See that refrigerator magnet? I saw the original!”  Très cosmopolitan.

The Academy had a large musical instrument exhibit, with accompanying audiovisual presentations on nearby computers.  It was surprisingly good.

Thankfully, the instruments were all under glass, so as not to disturb your quiet viewing.

Thankfully, the instruments were all under glass, so as not to disturb your quiet viewing.

A Stradivarius. You hear about these things your whole life, so it's kind of cool to see one in person.

A Stradivarius. You hear about these things your whole life, so it’s kind of cool to see one in person.

They also had a room of plaster casts, used as models for making sculptures over the centuries.  The sculptor could carve the soft plaster as desired, throw it away and start over cheaply if it went wrong, and then, when they had what they wanted, they’d drive small nails into the plaster and use the nails as reference points in carving marble to match those dimensions.

They plasters end up looking like cool sculptures with bad skin conditions.

The plasters end up looking like cool sculptures with bad skin conditions.  This is a mild example; a few of them look like Pinhead.

I like this one from the museum's website better than I like mine, so here it is.

I like this one from the museum’s website better than I like mine, so here it is.

This room is a reminder that I am not a connoisseur in any respect (with the possible exception of internal consistency in science fiction and fantasy, for which I have high standards).  When I first walked into the room, I had no idea whether these were plaster or marble, and it was a little while before I ran into the descriptive information that explained what they were.  The subtleties that make it possible to distinguish one rocklike white material from another are quite lost on me.  These looked a little dirtier than most, but why they hadn’t been cleaned yet was not immediately apparent to me.

Deadpool

I should note that the Marvel superhero movie Deadpool came out while I was in Florence.  I found a movie theater nearby and tried to see it, but during my difficult interaction with the ticket seller I realized at the last moment that the movie was dubbed in Italian, not subtitled!  Italy is a large enough market that American blockbusters are often dubbed in Italian, and if there was an English Deadpool to be found in Florence, I did not find it.  Quite disappointing, as I was rather looking forward to the movie.  But I had hopes to find it again in Split, Croatia, where it would almost certainly not be dubbed for the tiny Croatian-language market.

The Walking Tour of the Arno South Bank

A few days before I left Florence — and two days before my walk out to Fiezole — I did one of the walking tours in my CityWalks app, the Arno South Bank Walk.  There were about 17 stops, and the app claimed it would take 3 hours.

This, it must be noted, is 3 hours without spending a serious amount of time anywhere. The Palazzo Pitti, sight #7, has over 500 paintings, and would have been a trip in itself, much less 3 hours.

This, it must be noted, is 3 hours without spending a serious amount of time anywhere. The Palazzo Pitti, sight #7, has over 500 paintings, and would have been a trip in itself, much less part of a mere 3 hour thing.

So, at a little after 9am I set out from my place (by the tiny roundabout towards the upper left, next to the river), and starting walking along the river bank to get to Stop #1, maybe a 10 minute walk.

Stop #1, San Frediano in Cestello, is a church and a seminary, and the tour app spoke highly of the church’s frescoes (why they need a fancy name for “wall paintings” I don’t know, but “fresco” is it).  However, if memory serves, while there were plenty of seminary students wandering the street at that hour, it didn’t look like the church part was currently accessible.  So that part was a miss, but feel free to supplement my description with a Google search if you so desire.

On my way to Stop #2, I passed this:

Maybe this is a translation error?

Maybe this is a translation error?

Probably a good time for a public service announcement, just in case the problem is not apparent:

Just past the Not-Really-So-Hidden-As-All-That Pub, the #2 stop in the tour was Dolce Vita, described as “An elegant bar attracting a chic crowd.”  There is nothing in that description for me, and I walked past it without doing more than pausing to note that I had done so.  (The outside was just a door and a sign, and not worth a photo.)

But just past this was Stop #3, the Santa Maria del Carmine church:

#3 - The Santa Maria del Carmine church. There's the church, and an adjoining monastery/convent building that I did not see because they charged admission and it didn't look terribly large or terribly interesting. But the church itself was nice.

#3 – The Santa Maria del Carmine church. There’s the church, and an adjoining monastery/convent building that I did not see because they charged admission and it didn’t look terribly large or terribly interesting. But the church itself was nice.

My guide app says that this church’s frescos are among the most influential in the history of Italian art, and it’s easy to see why:

A bit antiseptic but quite beautiful, especially the ceiling.

A bit antiseptic but quite beautiful, especially the ceiling.

This ceiling was really quite amazing.  You see the sculpted mini-domes over the side windows, and the arches across the roof?  No, you actually don’t.  They’re illusions, all painted on.

It's going to be super hard for you to tell, from a 2D photo of a 2D simulation of a 3D space, that it's not a 3D space. But the wall around each window has bit of a cap above the window, and then a round, carved space on the wall, and then everything outside that circle is painted perspective tricks. I bet most of the people actually in the church didn't realize what they were seeing, based on how little attention they paid to it.

It’s going to be super hard for you to tell, from a 2D photo of a 2D simulation of a 3D space, that it’s not a 3D space. But the wall around each window has bit of a cap above the window, and then a round, carved space on the wall, and then everything outside that circle is painted perspective tricks. I bet most of the people actually in the church didn’t realize what they were looking at, based on how little attention they paid to it.

The final arch at the end is real. Everything else is illusion, just paint on an curved ceiling. I've never seen anything like it. It was stunning.

The final arch at the end is real. Everything else is illusion, just paint on an curved ceiling. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was stunning.

The bit over the entrance.

The bit over the entrance.

It is beyond me why this place isn’t packed with tourists.  I’ve seen some impressive ceilings in Italy, but they’re mostly just paintings of people in the sky.  This proto-Escher stuff was amazing.  From what I read in the church, an artist named Masolino da Panicale was commissioned to work on the chapel, brought on a 21-year old associate named Masaccio, to help him, and then split for Hungary leaving the kid in charge and resulting in the amazing art we see today.  Sadly, Masaccio died a couple of years later, and it was another 60 before somebody else completed the project.  While the church writings were a bit vague on exactly who worked on what (and they probably didn’t know for sure), the Wiki on Masaccio says this:

“Despite his brief career, he had a profound influence on other artists. He was one of the first to use linear perspective in his painting, employing techniques such as vanishing point in art for the first time. He also moved away from the International Gothic style and elaborate ornamentation of artists like Gentile da Fabriano to a more naturalistic mode that employed perspective and chiaroscuro for greater realism.”

So, I’m pegging him for that ceiling.

Not that other bits, like the transept, weren't nice. They were just more conventionally impressive.

Not that other bits, like the transept, weren’t nice. They were just more conventionally impressive.

I think it was Pope Clement XIII who said, "You've seen one nave, you've seen them all."

I think it was Pope Clement XIII who said, “You’ve seen one nave, you’ve seen them all.”

Ok, that's pretty cool.

Ok, that’s pretty cool. (The slight tilt to the room is mine, FYI.)

Stop #4 was La Specola, billed as the oldest science museum in Europe.  I was sorely tempted to go in, but simply didn’t have the time.  “I’ll try to make it back before I leave,” I thought. Ha!

Stop #5 was another church, the Chiesa di San Felice. It’s one of the two oldest churches in the area, and perhaps as a side effect of that age is largely uninteresting.  Basically, a box with some faded art.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The Wikipedia page I just linked to will give you an idea; I took no pictures here.

Stop #6 was Casa Guidi, an undistinguished building notable mainly for having been the home to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  It’s now owned by Eton college, and can be booked “when not being used by Eton boys”.  (Seems like that would remove the primary appeal of renting the place, but I guess they know their own business.)

BTW, the odd visual angle is real, not a panorama effect. The building is built into a sharp corner, like the Flat Iron building in New York.

BTW, the odd visual angle is real, not a panorama effect. The building is built into a sharp corner, like the Flat Iron building in New York.

And there’s a plaque on the wall outside:

I suppose the quote is meant to be reflective of the place. Otherwise, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would be much inclined to win one any literary fame. But what do I know?

I suppose the quote is meant to be reflective of the place, a sort of “See, Elizabeth Barrett Browning *did* sleep here.” Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would be much inclined to win one any literary fame. But what do I know?

Stop #7 was the Palazzo Pitti, a former Medici home and now large museum, with over 500 Renaissance style paintings.  If I didn’t have time for La Specola during my walk, I certainly didn’t have time for this place.  Next time I’m in Florence, though: totally going there.  Similarly with the Boboli Gardens (Stop #8), which sits behind the Pitti Palace, and is filled with greenery and statues.  I’m sure it’s nice, but I had walking to do.

Stops #9 through #13 were the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and a few churches near it, which I’d seen on previous days (and described in previous posts).  But Stop #14 was Fort Belvedere, which was right next to the Boboli Gardens (on their other side).

I'd have gladly stopped in here -- my sense of purpose was stronger than art or gardens, but could not resist a well built fort -- but it was closed. :-(

I’d have gladly stopped in here — my sense of purpose was stronger than art or gardens, but could not resist a well built fort — but it was closed. 🙁

Coming down the hill from the fort is one of the longest stretches remaining of the wall around Florence.

One of the walls, at least. Florence has had several. But the largest, youngest wall, includes this area on the Arno's south bank.

One of the walls, at least. Florence has had several. But the largest, youngest wall, is part of defenses designed by Michelangelo and includes this area on the Arno’s south bank.

Stop #15 was probably near the bottom of this hill.  I say “probably”, because it was another club, called “Zoe”, “A great place to stop before doing a night of clubbing.”  So you know that wasn’t happening.  “On Friday evenings the dance floor heats up when a live DJ spins tunes to an eager crowd of hip yet unpretentious party goers.”  Really?  “Hip yet unpretentious”?  Not even the reviewer achieves that goal.

But after this was a steep walk up the hill to Stop #16, a place called the Piazzale Michelangelo — Michelangelo Square, a hilltop with an impressive view of Florence, dedicated both to Michelangelo and to selling tchotchkes in his honor.

Indubitably the best View that I had in this city.

Indubitably the best View that I had in this city.

The view south along the Arno, with Florence to the left. It struck me that, if you were going to live around Florence, that would be the place. Not far from the city, but quieter and Chock Full o'Nature.

The view south along the Arno, with Florence to the left. It struck me that, if you were going to live around Florence, that would be the place. Not far from the city, but quieter and Chock Full o’Nature.

There wasn’t actually much else up here — it’s quite nice, but it’s just plaza, view, another replica of David, and a couple of restaurants.  Here’s some Google Images, if you want them — at a glance, they agree. It’s all about the View.

It was close to 1pm by now, and I was getting rather hungry. There seemed to be two places to eat up here: one was a pricey restaurant, and the other was a not-pricey one with a small outdoor seating area and a nice view.  So I took the second choice, asked a staff member that I’d seen bussing a table if I could sit anywhere and she said yes so I did.  25 minutes later, and no further sign of a staff member, and I decided to leave.  It’s possible that I was meant to order inside and then it would be brought out to me, but that’s the problem with eating out in foreign cities: nobody explains what everybody knows.

The last stop, #17, was just up the hill from here, a basilica called San Miniato al Monte, most of which was closed while I was there.  Still, Google provides, and I caught another nice view.

Spent a while out in the church yard here, having a snack and admiring the view, along with other tourists and locals.

Spent a while out in the church yard here, having a Clif Bar and admiring the view, along with other tourists and locals.

On the way down the hill, I spent a bit of time in a small Japanese garden that I was surprised to find there.  It was really very small, and if you’ve been to nearly any other Japanese garden in your life, you’ve seen better.  But it was nice nonetheless.

A pano of a tiny space. I think I used to have something like this in a pot on a shelf at work.

A pano of a tiny space. I think I used to have something like this in a pot on a shelf at work.

At the base of the hill, actually near that photo of the old wall from earlier, I found the gelato shop that I mentioned in my first Florence post, where I got some great gelato for just around €3.50 (two scoops in a waffle cone).  So my walk home was very happy.  🙂

Galileo Museum

My final notable destination was the Museo Galileo, which sounds unnecessarily rhymey, but there it is.  The place owns one of the world’s major collection of antique scientific instruments, and I stopped there, on the Sunday a couple of days before I left, because it’s hard to be a science buff and not stop at “The Galileo Museum”.

It’s housed in an old stone building next to the Arno, with a weird sundial out front that I could not figure out for the life of me.

In fairness, I was operating at a bit of a disadvantage that day

In fairness, I was operating at a bit of a disadvantage that day

Inside, is an impressive collection of instruments: the place is pretty much packed to the gills with arcane (and some mundane) devices, in atmospheric lighting:

The Renaissance ancestor to the worlds' largest ball of twine.

Back before the invention of rubber, rubber band balls had to be made out of brass. Thank gods those days are gone!

The Hall of Galileo's Actual Stuff.

The Hall of Galileo’s Actual Stuff.

Including His Actual Finger.

Including His Actual Finger.

I think it's the one he gave to the Catholic Church.

I think it’s the one he gave to the Catholic Church.

Renaissance telescopes.

Renaissance telescopes.

Renaissance Microscopes

Renaissance Microscopes

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

How Whiteness Was Measured in the Days Before Nickelback.

How Whiteness Was Measured in the Days Before Nickelback.

The Room Of Electrical Devices

The Room Of Electrical Devices

My list of things I want in my next home is not getting any shorter. "Do not touch The Machine," I shall say. "I cannot vouch for your safety if you do."

My list of things I want in my next home is not getting any shorter. “Do not touch The Machine,” I shall say. “I cannot vouch for your safety if you do.”

There was vastly more here than I could hope to include. You can see more cool pictures here (including novelties like wax anatomical cut-aways of pregnant women, if you’re into that sort of thing), or take the museum’s virtual tour, which has much of the multimedia that was present in the museum itself and is well worth the browsing.

Some random pictures

Doing a quick scan of my photo directory for anything useful I might have missed turns up a few things:

In case you're wondering what old Florence looks like at the street level, it's basically either this or a plaza with a cathedral on the side (previously shown).

In case you’re wondering what old Florence looks like at the street level, it’s basically either this or a plaza with a cathedral on the side (previously shown).

Here's one of the wider streets. Ah, romance.

Here’s one of the wider streets. Ah, romance.

Wow, my sense of history is all screwed up. I totally thought this was somewhere else.

Wow, my sense of history is all screwed up. I totally thought this was somewhere else.

A bunch of the buildings in central Florence had hooks and rings of various sorts bolted onto them, as if they were ships ready to be tied up at dock. Maybe, with all the floods, they were hoping for a Venice vibe?

A bunch of the buildings in central Florence had hooks and rings of various sorts bolted onto them, as if they were ships ready to be tied up at dock. Maybe, with all the floods, they were hoping for a Venice vibe?

There were a lot of things to look at in this plaza. Guess which one grabbed my attention.

There were a lot of things to look at in this plaza. Guess which one grabbed my attention.

Those who don't learn from History are condemned to repeat it.

Those who don’t learn from History are condemned to repeat it.

Where the young people in Florence go to hang out when they're boared.

Where the young people in Florence go to hang out when they’re boared.

Remember when I mentioned in a previous post, the wall Lucy Honeychurch would have had to "fly over" to get away from George after she fainted? I could have sworn I had a picture of that, but it wasn't with the others. This is it. She could have totally climbed over that, bustle or no bustle. Stupid George.

Remember when I mentioned in a previous post, the wall Lucy Honeychurch would have had to “fly over” to get away from George after she fainted? I could have sworn I had a picture of that, but it wasn’t with the others. This is it. She could have totally climbed over that, bustle or no bustle. Stupid George.

I almost missed mentioning THE cathedral of Florence, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers), which has the huge red dome that you see in all of the scenic shots of Florence.  (“What, another St Mary’s?” you exclaim.  Yup.  This is the price you pay for monotheism, kids.  A very limited set of holy names to choose from when titling things.)  I hit this place up way back on day 2 of my visit:

The outside decoration is wonderfully intricate.

The outside decoration is wonderfully intricate.

Crazy intricate.

Crazy intricate.

The inside? Not so much. You don't often see this much contrast between the inside and outside of a church. So, um, well done there?

The inside? Not so much. You don’t often see this much contrast between the inside and outside of a church. So, um, well done there?

It had, like, maybe own thing of note, which was its dome. It's, for sure, a nice dome. But nothing especially out of the ordinary, and I'm including mainly for completeness.

It had, like, maybe one thing of note, which was its dome. It’s, for sure, a nice dome. But nothing especially out of the ordinary, and I’m including it mainly for completeness.

As usual, I feel slightly guilty for calling that “nothing especially out of the ordinary” given that, if you’d given the job to me, it would be a long series of cat and human stick figures chasing each other around in circles, interspersed with geometric lines.  (I’d have made an awesome Muslim religious painter, though.)  But, there we are.

Starting just across the river from my Airbnb, and running for quite a ways north along the bank, was a public park that was pretty cool.

Starting just across the river from my Airbnb, and running for quite a ways north along the bank, was a public park that was pretty cool.

It contained a monument built, I assume, by the true rulers of Florence, the Illuminati, in 1693.

It contained a monument built by the true rulers of Florence, the Illuminati, in 1693. (Full disclosure: I’m guessing at the date.)

Not that everything along even the touristy bits of the Arno is super scenic. But I bet you get a great view of the big red dome from those places.

Not that everything along even the touristy bits of the Arno is super scenic. But I bet you get a great view of the big red dome from those places.

All right, that will have to be enough.  If there are other amusing photos, I shall let them be absorbed by the gentle mists of time, and forgotten.

Overall Impressions

So, now we come to the end, at last, of my time in Florence:

It's been travel-blog gold, hasn't it?

It’s been travel-blog gold, hasn’t it?

Given that it was my primary Italian destination, how did I like it?

Alas, I cannot give it my best rating.  A solid C+ is as good as I can do, I’m afraid.  Why?  Well, as one might expect, several reasons.

  1. There was very little green.  I’ve ended this series with a couple of pictures of a park, but here and some bits near Michelangelo Plaza were about the only public greenery in Florence.  You had to get out of the city to get any greenery and that wasn’t super lush (it being a largely Mediterranean climate).  So it’s all basically stone pavement and buildings, some of them well decorated but most not.  In truth, it’s exactly the Platonic Ideal of the Renaissance city that I grew up knowing about: stone buildings, narrow streets, done.  It’s cool to have seen that, neat to have visited, but that sort of thing isn’t my go-to for great places to live.  Rome’s a great counter-example to that. I wasn’t expecting as much green as they had there, and little parks and open spaces.  It’s no Portland, natch, but more than I expected from an ancient city.
  2.  Even the thing that it’s specializing in — buildings — were pretty drab.  You can see in the pictures above, they’re all either grey or very muted, faded sand or salmon pastels.  The often-overcast weather didn’t help the impression, but these places were pretty muted even by sunlight, and I found them to be vaguely depressing. Or, maybe not exactly depressing, per se, but they gave you nothing.  You had to generate all the energy yourself. Rome, again, provides counter-example.  Even back alleys were often colorful, and the whole places seemed vibrant and alive.  Florence mostly seemed sterile and dreary.
  3. The weather was often lousy.  This is slightly unfair as a condition to judge the city by, being (a) seasonal/transitional and (b) hardly Florence’s fault.  But when we’re talking about how one felt about a place, the weather is going to matter.  Maybe coming back in a warmer season would have been better, but I doubt it. I like rough weather, and I’m often cheered by walking about in the cold or rain.  Not here, though.
  4. It seemed like an expensive place to live.  Not New York expensive, but not a first choice for someone on a modest budget.
  5. There weren’t a lot of places to just go and hang out.  There was the park near my Airbnb, and Michelangelo Plaza, but to be in central Florence and grab a cup of coffee and sit out someplace decent and read?  There wasn’t really a whole lot of that around.

So, in short, while the Tuscany region of Italy may have been a favorite of the English since they started visiting the country (my Roman host Max informed me of this, and said there’s a town there where they don’t even bother printing menus in Italian, just in English), I think my favorite part of it will remain the bits I’ve seen in my favorite movie about the English going there.  I’m glad that I went, might even go again someday, but I’m not likely to spend much of my future retirement years there.

And that was Italy.  Next installment, I shall be traveling to Split, Croatia, and I’m reasonably confident that I can cover my 3 months in Split and Zagreb in one post.  Challenge accepted!

 

 

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A City With A View (Florence Part II)

Ok, time to knuckle down and post the other half of the Florence trip.  Or maybe the second third.  We’ll see how far I get.

I am currently in southern Ireland, near the town of Kinsale, staying here with “American Liz” (an Irish-born woman raised in New Jersey), as of almost 3 weeks ago, and that followed what was supposed to be 8 days in Edinburgh.  I say “supposed to be” because, of course, the first day was traveling there, the last day was leaving, and 2.5 days were waiting for FedEx to deliver the updated credit card that my sister very kindly forwarded to me.  At the end of the second day, when the FedEx guys still had no idea why the delivery wasn’t happening, they volunteered to send a 3rd party courier to deliver it to me; that happened mid-morning on the 3rd day.  So, I ended up with, effectively, just 3-1/2 days in Edinburgh and it, frankly, just wasn’t enough.  I love that town.  And I was super edgy and uncomfortable and sad about leaving, until it occurred to me that I didn’t *have* to go on from Ireland to mainland Europe, I could just go back to Edinburgh.  Then I brightened right up.

So, I’m going back.  Amsterdam and Berlin will have to wait for next year.  When I leave here in late August, I’m going to spend a few days in Dublin, then go to Glasgow for a month, and then back to Edinburgh for the rest of the fall — probably around 6 weeks.  (I was contemplating a package tour of the Highlands, but it’s like $1200 minimum and there are luggage restrictions, so I decided to pass.)  Then I’ll return to the U.S. for the holidays.  (It may be just LA and New York this go around, in the interest of saving rather a lot of money.)  Then, 2017 will start in Spain, head up to Amsterdam and Berlin for the spring, Norway for the early summer, and then maybe back to the UK for late summer and fall.  I may end up repeating myself a bit on that UK part, but (like America’s founders) my ancestors are mostly British/Scottish/Welsh/Irish, and I’m finding it an awfully easy fit in this part of the world.

A quick side-note: booking the Airbnb places for my post-Kinsale time has been surprisingly tough, with attempts at places I liked falling through rather a lot, mostly because hosts haven’t listed their availability correctly on the Airbnb site.  But it’s not helped by Airbnb’s deliberate vagueness of site locations.  Great example:

Probably a side effect of quantum mechanics. We do know their velocity pretty exactly, after all.

These 4 rooms are in the same home, but appear to be spread out across 3 blocks near Edinburgh. Are they on the beach? On a busy street? Who could know? (Probably a side effect of quantum mechanics. We do know their velocity pretty exactly, after all.)

Florence, Part The Second

Gosh, what was Part The First?  Wait, let me reread what I wrote…. Oh, right.  I’d included this map of my A Room With A View location walk:

For some reason, the little pins are dropped slightly below where they should be. So the (1) pin, for my Airbnb place, is too low, the (2) pin, for my first stop should be across the river, etc. But it gives you the idea.

For some reason, the little pins are dropped slightly below where they should be. So the (1) pin, for my Airbnb place, is too low, the (2) pin, for my first stop should be across the river, etc. But it gives you the idea.

Where (1) was my Airbnb place, (2) was the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge across the Arno with shops on it), (3) was the “Pensione Bertolini” of the movie, (7) was the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata (a plaza that Charlotte and Eleanor Lavish walk across), and (6) was Santa Croce (where Lucy sees frescos, avoids a persistent tour guide, and finds the Emersons).  Moving on….

Yeah, what about a house in Florence? Sadly, this was never answered.

Yeah, what about a house in Florence? Sadly, some mysteries are never answered.

Piazza della Signoria (Pin 4)

After leaving Santa Croce, where she saw the Emersons, Lucy purchases some photographs (all the rage amongst British tourists of the day, as they lacked portable cameras and were selfie-impaired), and wanders into this place, which I’m going to translate as the Ladyplaza with no fear of inaccuracy.

ARWAV_PiazzaDellaSignoria

A still from the movie, originally screen captured at the Movie Tourist site I mentioned last time. You can see the Neptune Fountain on the left, a replica of the statue of David (not the original!) near the center, and the Loggia dei Lanzi (a platform full of statues) on the right.

It’s here she witnesses an argument between 2 Italians, which leads to a knifing and (probable) death.  She faints, George Emerson catches her (despite nearly fainting himself, or so he claims), and carries her to the Loggia dei Lanzi to recover, and before, during, and after this sequence we see various landmarks around the square including:

Neptune's Fountain, where the stabbed man's friends carry him to... well, splash water on his face (a classical medieval remedy for stabbing).

Neptune’s Fountain, where the stabbed man’s friends carry him to… well, splash water on his face (a classical medieval remedy for stabbing).

You’ll notice, perhaps, the African gentlemen standing on the left, holding little poles and other oddments.  These guys — or guys very much like them — were all over Florence and Rome (I had intended to mention them in my Roman posts, but I’m not sure I got a Roman picture of them), selling primarily “selfie sticks”.  For those unfamiliar with the term — and there may be a couple of you who are — that’s an extendible pole that you attach to a camera or cell phone so that you can hold it away from yourself and take your own picture, or a picture of you with your friends without having to sacrifice one of your party to be the picture taker.  (Or ask a stranger to take it.)  There are varying levels of response to the phenomenon of selfie sticks, ranging from “Clever!” to “Meh, whatever” to “OMG I hate you shallow self-absorbed assholes with the heat of 1,000 suns!”  I fall somewhere between the first two of those, moderated by this:

Just say no, kids.

Selfie-related fatalities. Just say no, kids.

But I will note that, at the risk of it sounding comedically racist, that Africans seem to fill the same socioeconomic niche in southern Europe that Mexicans serve in the southern U.S.  Which in functional terms is not terribly surprising: a large source of readily available cheap labor from an economically weaker neighbor to the south.  But it was strange to see the same situation that I’m used to seeing in the U.S. translated through a prism and reproduced in another culture with different but parallel players.

It was also striking how *very* dark actual Africans are, as opposed to most of the African-Americans in the U.S. who have been blending with Europeans and Indigenous Americans for (in many cases) generations.  The classic example was always the Cosby show, where skin tone range amongst the kids was improbably wide, from the very dark son (Malcolm Jamal Warner?) to the very white Lisa Bonet.  And I remember reading a story on the genetic testing website 23&me, from a guy who had grown up in an African American family, did the ancestry testing, and discovered that they were only about 3% African ancestry — about the same amount that I am Neanderthal, btw.  The guy went on to describe how upsetting the news had been to his family, especially his mother, who had just had a massive part of their sense of identity destabilized by the news.  Then there are the Indigenous American tribes, for whom a criteria of acceptance into the tribe often involves negligible genetic inheritance (a recent RadioLab story involved a child in a tribal custody dispute who had something like 1.5% “tribal blood”).  I’m 1.1% Asian (including 0.1% Japanese) — thanks, I suspect, to the Mongol horde invasion of eastern Europe, from which some of my father’s ancestry comes — and I greatly resent not having a Buddhist temple to adopt me as their own.  All of which goes to say that unless you live in a *very* isolated population pocket, we are all far more mixed in America than most of us credit, or normally pay any attention to.  And so it becomes very striking when you see people that are perfect examples of their inherited phenotype — rather stunningly black Africans, Irish girls with translucently white skin and flaming red hair, tiny old Japanese guys with 3 hairs on their unshaven chin like every anime you’ve ever watched.  You forget that these aren’t the exceptions, they’re the rules — only within their own domains.

That digression aside, I’m kind of surprised that there was such a robust market for selfie sticks.  I mean, I can see them being popular, but if you’re the sort of person who uses them, why wouldn’t you have one already?  Are there that many people really buying them on the spur of the moment?  I guess there must be.

The Loggia Dei Lanzi. Lucy recovers on the stone benches at the back, while George goes back out to fetch the photographs that she dropped. (Which have blood on them, despite her not actually having been anywhere near the stabbing. Italian blood, very energetic.)

The Loggia Dei Lanzi. Lucy recovers on the stone benches at the back, while George goes back out to fetch the photographs that she dropped. (Which have blood on them, despite there having been no blood on the ground where she fainted and dropped them. Italian blood, very energetic.)

The movie has a dramatic shot of this statue, featuring the severed Medusa's head. Amongst others, as part of conveying the extreme emotion of the scene. In truth, it's a rather graphic statue, with an improbable amount of neck-entrails.

The movie has a dramatic shot of this statue, featuring the severed Medusa’s head. Amongst others, as part of conveying the extreme emotion of the scene. In truth, it’s a rather graphic statue, with an improbable amount of neck-entrails.

Some angles seem rather more serene.

Some angles seem rather more serene.

Rarely noted, in Greco-Roman statues, is the really absurd amounts of nudity.  I mean, nudity’s all well and good, don’t get me wrong. (Apart from nudist beaches, which seem to be frequented by people you’d rather not see naked.)  But warriors in battle are *not* running around nude. (Aside from a handful of crazy Teutons.) “See this super-pointy sword I’m holding!  Ha ha! If only you’d thought to wear a bit of brass over your soft squishy bits, you might have some defense.  Instead, I shall kill you with stabbings, and in 1,000 years an artist will portray your extreme defenselessness and tourists will stare at your nakedosity!  Have at thee!”  In truth, the actual reason for it is the same reason that superheroes wear spandex: artists like drawing the human form more than they like drawing folds of cloth, and humans like looking at same.  Everybody wins.  (Except for the guys with the squishy bits. They lose. And get stabbings.)

While George is getting the photographs, Lucy tries to sneak away to the left, and George catches her at it and insists that she’s not well enough to be on her own.  She, quite understandably, objects — but he wins by saying, “Besides, that way, you’d have to fly over the wall.”  I always wondered about this, because it didn’t *look* like there was a wall in that direction.  Turns out: there’s not.  The left side of this loggia is about 5 feet above the street level though, so it would be a bit of a drop for a woman in an Edwardian corset and bustle.  Not that Lucy couldn’t have scurried down the front steps and around, if she was motivated.  But she’s clearly spending much of her teen years being frustrated and scowling and peevish from playing too much Beethoven, and actually solving her own problems instead of resenting the impediments of others would distract her from those recreations considerably.

The neighboring Uffizi Gallery is a bit of courtyard/street leading east from the plaza to the Arno, and it features a number of statues of famous Florentines (many of the same Florentines whose tombs were in the Santa Croce cathedral).  That dramatic sequence of stills, that included the beheading of the Medusa, also included a bunch of shots of those statues, which all appeared to be looking down threateningly or at least unapprovingly.  In fairness, that’s just how they look.

Guess who this is. No, guess! Come on!

Guys, guys, guys! Guess what!? I found a huuuuge group of people we can rip off and slaughter. Over here, quick!

Guys, guys, guys! Guess what!? I found a huuuuge group of people we can rip off and slaughter. Over here, quick!

Oh, hey, is that the time? Sorry, Galileo, I'd love to stay and hear the story of your Piza experiment. Again. 4th time now, right? But I've got to go. I've got... a thing. Over... there. Next time though, for sure. Love you. Mean it.

Oh, hey, is that the time? Sorry, Galileo, I’d love to stay and hear the story of your Tower of Piza experiment. Again. For the 4th time now, right? But I’ve got to go. I’ve got… a thing. Over… there. Next time though, for sure. Love you. Mean it.

Figures that Macchiavelli would be the cheery one here. (That's unfair, really. Despite his bad "ends justify the means" rep, his book The Prince is a surprisingly rational set of advice for how a ruler should rule. It just emphasizes pragmatism in service of the realm, over then-traditional views of honor.) Also, hella cute!

Figures that Macchiavelli would be the cheery one in this group. (That’s unfair, really. Despite his bad “ends justify the means” rep, his book The Prince is a surprisingly rational set of advice for how a ruler should rule. It just emphasizes pragmatism in service of the realm, over then-traditional views of honor.) Also, hella cute!

This, btw, is the length of the Uffizi Gallery, starting from the corner (with the Medici Museum on the left) and the Arno just down the street beyond the arch. There's some construction going on around the middle of it, and the ground level statues are actually street performers.

This, btw, is the length of the Uffizi Gallery, starting from the corner (with the Uffizi Museum on the left) and the Arno just down the street beyond the arch. There’s some construction going on around the middle of it, and the ground level statues are actually street performers.

One more thing, before we leave the area:

This, in the center of the plaza picture from earlier, is *not* Michelangelo's statue of David. It is a cheap and scaled down copy, clearly designed to confuse tourists and keep them from seeking out the real thing. I was surprised to see it out here, subject to the wind, rain, and pollution, until I realized that it wasn't what it appeared to be.

This, in the center of the plaza picture from earlier, is *not* Michelangelo’s statue of David. It is a cheap and scaled down copy, clearly designed to confuse tourists and keep them from seeking out the real thing. I was surprised to see it out here, subject to the wind, rain, and pollution, until I realized that it wasn’t what it appeared to be.  Bastards.

Lucy and George end up staring out over the Arno, and George describes how transformed his view of the Universe has been by the day’s experience.  Lucy thanks him, which I always thought was misunderstanding him and thanking him for the compliment of saying how transformative her presence had been — but more recently I’ve come to think that maybe it was for more general assistance.  I like the first interpretation better.

Under A Loggia, by Eleanor Lavish

The Movie Tourist website stops tracking the movie locations after this; they say the movie goes back to England, and maybe they’ll be able to explore that later.  But they leave unexplored one of the major Florentine parts of the movie: when everyone rides into the country for a picnic, driven in carriages by Italians, and Lucy encounters George in a Field of Barley and he Kisses her — and she begins to Kiss him Back, before Charlotte Interrupts and Ruins Everything.

TheKiss

It’s a field a barley with two people kissing. How hard could that be to find?

I could find no online reference to the exact location at which this happens.  The group dives out over windy country roads, past a small rural home, and — I swear to gods — when I first thought of trying to track this down I thought: “There’s no way. That was 100 years ago, it will all be built up and gone by now.”

No joke.  Sigh.

Once I realized my mistake, I started looking more closely. Most of this sequence is shot in a sort of valley between a few hills and out of direct line of site of anything recognizable — understandably, given the need to keep modern buildings and traffic out of view.  But there is one interstitial scene, just after the Kiss, that shows Florence in the distance — and for this, I must actually grab a screenshot from the movie:

ARWAV_Countryside

Notable here is the cathedral of Santa Croce front and center, and the tallish tower about 1/5 of the way from the left and a bit back, the tower of Arnolfo (aka, of the Palazzo Vecchio) which is the town hall next to the Uffizi Gallery.

If we accept this as representing the actual location — and who can really know —  that puts the setting as being in the hills north east of the city, towards the town of Fiesole:

Fiesole has a fascinating little history all on its own. It lays claim to having once been the equal of Florence, but I have to wonder what color the sky in that world was, because it's a cute little town now, but that's about it.

Fiesole has a fascinating little history all on its own. It lays claim to having once been the equal of Florence, but I have to wonder what color the sky in that world was, because it’s a cute little town now, but that’s about it.

With that in mind, a Google search of ” ‘A Room With A View’ Fiesole” turned up a bunch of links identifying the town as the location — not the least of which is E.M.Forster, who describes it in the book as their destination.  I think this can reasonably be considered as definitive.

Some hunting around turned up links to a bus line that ran up that way, but Google Maps said it was a 94 minute walk and I thought, what the hell?  I’ll get to see more of the city and the countryside, and after all George Emerson walked back to the Pensione afterwards and I can do the same.  Of course, George only walked one way, and it was downhill.  But, on the other hand, it was also raining on him. And I have better shoes.  And I’m not an effete British accoster of damsels in barley fields, I’m an American gods damn it.  I’ll walk.

This was Saturday, February 20th. (Wow, 4 months ago.  I have fallen behind, haven’t I!)  Two days before I was meant to leave Florence for Split.  So, at about 8:15 in the morning, I started walking.  It was a bit nippy — around 43° — but I left my jacket at home, which was a good choice.  I set a brisk pace across the city, it was a bright sunny day, and I was perfectly comfortable.  And I got to see some pretty majestic sights along the way.

If there's one thing I've learned about foreign countries, it's that they are unafraid of superlatives.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about foreign countries, it’s that they are unafraid of superlatives.

I've heard that Italian smog can be a bit rough, but this was the only Koffing I saw. (Ok, only Jane and Holly going to appreciate that. Good enough! 😀)

I’ve heard that Italian smog can be a bit rough, but this was the only Koffing I saw. (Ok, only Jane and Holly are going to appreciate that. Good enough! 😀)

In case you were wondering what an average Florentine Street looks like, outside of tourist areas. This was about 50 minutes into the walk, near the edge of the city.

In case you were wondering what an average Florentine Street looks like, outside of tourist areas. This was about 50 minutes into the walk, near the edge of the city.

About 20 minutes later, on the approach to Fiesole. It's all uphill from here, and steeper than you'd guess from this image.

About 20 minutes later, on the approach to Fiesole. It’s all uphill from here, and steeper than you’d guess from this image.

Look I don't mean to tell the local Department of Highways how to do their business. But if you're going to rename a town, surely you can spring for a new sign, instead of just crossing out the old name and writing the new one underneath. Show some professionalism.

Look I don’t mean to tell the local Department of Highways how to do their business. But if you’re going to rename a town, surely you can spring for a new sign, instead of just crossing out the old name and writing the new one underneath. Show some professionalism.

Walking up this road, I did get slightly sidetracked and walked about 20 minutes uphill the wrong way.  This worked out, though, as I got what was probably my best movie-location equivalent shot:

The view southwest towards Florence. As with the movie clip, you can see the dome of Santa Croce, and the tower of Arnolfo to the left.

The view south towards Florence — to see details, you’ll have to open up this picture and zoom in, but they’re all there. As with the movie clip, you can see the dome of Santa Croce, and the tower of Arnolfo to the left.

Comparing the shots, I'd guess the filmmakers were a little ways to my left and a bit closer, though the closer part is hard to say, given what they might have been doing with camera lenses. But you can clearly see that, in the movie still, the dome is almost hiding a white tower behind it, and in my shot that tower is more to the right, so they must have been more to my left. Good enough.

Comparing the shots, I’d guess the filmmakers were a little ways to my left and a bit closer, though the closer part is hard to say, given what they might have been doing with camera lenses. But you can clearly see that, in the movie still, the dome is almost hiding a white tower behind it, and in my shot that tower is more to the right, so they must have been more to my left. Good enough.

I backtracked to get to the correct road up, and continued on to Fiesole.

The road was steep enough that they posted warning signs: 18% grade. At times like these, I'm reminded of The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerold, about a guy who inherits a time machine hidden in a belt, and doubles back on his own timeline so heavily that he has estate parties crowded with older and younger versions of himself. Then, gradually, the older ones start dying of heart attacks, and the narrator-viewpoint can see his future approaching. I lack only the belt.

The road was steep enough that they posted warning signs: 18% grade. At times like these, I’m reminded of The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold, about a guy who inherits a time machine hidden in a belt, and doubles back on his own timeline so heavily that he has estate parties crowded with older and younger versions of himself. Then, gradually, the older ones start dying of heart attacks, and the narrator-viewpoint can see his future approaching.

I lack only the belt.

That said, it's still scenic as hell. I was not the only tourist walking these roads. (Though I was probably the only one that had started back across the Arno.

That said, it’s still scenic as hell. I was not the only tourist walking these roads. (Though I was probably the only one who had started my walk back across the Arno.

Eventually, I made it to Fiesole, a little medieval town on top of the hill.

I think the "city hall tower" must be the central feature of every medieval Italian town.

I think the “city hall tower” must be the central feature of every medieval Italian town.

Had a coffee and a bit of pastry and a rest, in the central town square. It was moderately busy and entirely pleasant.

Had a coffee and a bit of pastry and a rest, in the central town square. It was moderately busy and entirely pleasant.

I confess, my original plan in Fiesole had involved seeing some ruins and a museum.  As you can see from the Fiesole Wikitravel entry, these things exist (and not much else, it’s a small town).  But, after the cafe, when I wandered over to where the ruins were, I found that they were gated and that there was a substantial gate fee.  That fee would also admit me into the museum, but I realized that I was really kind of done looking at crumbling stonework if they were going to charge for it — even with the bonus of viewing more religious iconography.  Not that stiff, 2-dimensional saints, reluctant Annunciations, and bored Madonnas aren’t enjoyable — but I’d seen a lot of them already and I was very unconvinced that Fiesole was likely to add anything likely to transform my experience of such things.  Perhaps I was wrong — well, we’ll never know.  So, instead, I wandered around the outside of the gated area and took shots from the fence:

Hey, look! Crumbling, mostly buried, stone walls! Gasp!

Hey, look! Crumbling, mostly buried, stone walls! Gasp!

The view from the west side. Oh, what I am missing!

The view from the west side. Oh, what I am missing!

Look, I don’t want to get too sarcastic about this.  (Just sarcastic enough to do the job.)  I confess that even at the time I knew I was being unnecessarily cross and grumbly about this.  I don’t clearly recall why, though I suspect it was because they were attempting to charge me in the range of €6-€9, as much as a full museum in Florence, for what was basically a bit of park.  And, of course, I’d walked 94 minutes to get there, not solely for the purpose of seeing these things, but expecting to, only to find them unacceptably priced.  It’s pretty bit of park, to be sure.  But no prettier than the large park near my Airbnb that I could walk through for free.  So, no.  Even when I was still drawing a salary… no.  I can milk a museum for easily twice or thrice the time the guide books suggest you’re likely to spend in it, and enjoy every minute.  But this?  20 minutes to look at some bits of wall, and then I’m going to be having a nice sit in the sunshine and listening to the birds, and I can do that anywhere.  I can do it at the cafe in the town square, and have something to snack on while I do it, and for half the price!

So, yeah.  Not impressed.

That said, it is a pretty area.  Here’s the view from the other side of the ruin, facing north away from Fiesole:

After wandering about for a bit, I had a light pasta lunch at a cafe with a view out towards Florence — not this view, from the very top of Fiesole, but one rather like it.

I honestly don't get how people live without views. I mean, plenty of city dwellers don't, I guess. But, come on!

I honestly don’t get how people live without views. I mean, plenty of city dwellers don’t, I guess. But, come on!

And, after lunch I started the walk home.  I was honestly more worried about this part.  My knees have a been a bit problematic since I was about 20; it doesn’t generally stop me, but I’m never keen on long downhill treks.  Still it worked out Ok, with one exception.  While I was sitting up there having lunch, my eyes started to get itchy and I got a bit sniffly, and it was the first warning of the hellish Spring to come.  I kept them under control until after I got to Split, and then had a remote session with Roger and was better afterwards.  But, as foreshadowings go, this went.

The trek home was about as enjoyable as the trek up, and rather less strenuous.  I kept to the same route, pretty much, until I got into the city, but there were still sights.

You want something... unconventional, Lithuanian Peat is the guy to get it for you. Just don't ask too many questions.

You want something… unconventional, Lithuanian Peat is the guy to get it for you. Just don’t ask too many questions.

Since the bad acid in 2005, Lithuanian Peat used to joke that the Flamingo of Transcendence followed him everywhere. He'd laugh when he said it, but his eyes... his eyes did not laugh.

Since the bad acid in 2005, Lithuanian Peat used to joke that the Flamingo of Transcendence followed him everywhere. He’d laugh when he said it, but his eyes… his eyes did not laugh.

Traveling in Europe, you realize how much of the door technology of our ancestors has been lost to the ages. We just don't make impressive doors anymore.

Traveling in Europe, you realize how much of the door technology of our ancestors has been lost to the ages. We just don’t make impressive doors anymore.

I lived in the LA beach area for 25 years, and never once happened across a Chocolate Festival. Why is LA bad?

I lived in the LA beach area for 25 years, and never once happened across a Chocolate Festival. Why is LA bad?

If memory serves, I found some gelato after this, and had a quiet evening at home.  It was a *long* walk.

And that brings to a close my A Room With A View pilgrimage, all Florentine locations accounted for!  I did have some other things that I did in Florence, that were not strictly A Room With A View related, but I’m at about 4K words so far in this post, so I’m going to leave the other 1/3 of my visit for the next one.  Which will be soon, as there’s nothing much going on in my little farmhouse in Southern Ireland, and I’ve got 2 more months here, and a great deal of time on my hands.

Ciao!

 

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