Nicoline’s Trip Diary

These are Nicoline’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.

Nicoline Going home
Nicoline (September 30, 2014)

Last modified: October 1, 2014 at 17:28:06

We've had a wonderful vacation, in which we saw and did lots of stuff, but after 3 1/2 weeks on the road, both of us were ready to go home. After breakfast and packing, we went to my parents' house for one last cup of coffee, and then it was time to say goodbye to them as well. It was kind of emotional, but at least they didn't insist on coming to the airport, which would only have prolonged the inevitable, and added an unnecessary train trip as well. Besides, they had to be home in time for choir practice. The other choir members were planning a party for them, to which we would also have been invited, but we had to be at the airport in time.

We returned the rental car, checked in, and went through security. We didn't need to take off our shoes, but our backpacks, full of electronics with all kinds of cords, probably looked like bombs on their machines, so they insisted on unpacking my backpack completely, while they gave up halfway through Eric's, probably because they didn't feel like fiddling about with expensive photography gear. The only thing that didn't make it through security was a half empty bottle of sunscreen, but bringing a souvenir lighter is no problem, apparently.

We were flying Iceland Air, which meant traveling by way of Reykjavik. The plane for the Amsterdam-Reykjavik leg left 75 minutes late, but we still made our connection. Passport control at Dulles took about forever, but at least customs didn't search our suitcases.

We hadn't eaten anything since we treated ourselves at Schiphol, so by the time we got to our car in Sterling, Va., we were famished and stopped at a McDonald's. After a big mac and a coke we drove home, where Cleopatra was happy to see us, and Butterscotch voiced her displeasure with us loudly.

Nicoline Zandvoort to Bovenkarspel
Nicoline (September 29, 2014)

Last modified: October 1, 2014 at 17:34:49

Today was the day to say goodbye to Frank and Mark, Catry & Peter, and to Zandvoort. After breakfast we took Frank and Mark to the station so Frank could be back in time for classes in Enschede. Mark was going with him so they can spend some time together, which doesn't happen very often.

After everybody had loaded their stuff in their respective cars, and plates, silverware and other stuff had been returned to the appropriate bungalow following last night's dinner, we said goodbye to Catry & Peter and their kids. Maybe they'll come visit us some time, but they're moving next month, so that's probably not something that'll happen in the near future.

After all the excitement of the past few days, my parents were glad to be home. We ate dinner at 1 p.m. so we wouldn't have to worry about cooking anymore, and we spent the afternoon just sitting and talking. By 8 p.m. they were ready to call it a day, so we went to our Airbnb and were asleep by 9.

Nicoline Zandvoort
Nicoline (September 28, 2014)

Last modified: October 1, 2014 at 18:06:31

Most of our party went to church in Haarlem today, but since neither we nor our kids did, we had an old-fashioned Sunday morning together, and since services lasted a long time, our Sunday morning did, too.

After coffee and cake when the churchgoers returned, Frank and his cousin Michelle went grocery shopping, while my mom went with Catry to take the dog for a walk on the beach, and we went for a stroll on the boulevard with my dad. Lots of memories there, too, of course :-)

When we came back it was time to go bowling, and though I'm usually no good at all at games, I managed to roll a couple of strikes by accident and ended up second. We got back to the bungalow in time for drinks, while the grand-kids cooked dinner: tomato soup with cheesy garlic bread, pasta with meatballs, and fruit skewers for dessert. Yummy!

Anneke & Rudo decided to leave Sunday evening, so as not to waste their day off by driving and unpacking and what not, so we said goodbye to them and the kids tonight. It was great seeing them again!

Nicoline Zandvoort
Nicoline (September 27, 2014)

Last modified: September 28, 2014 at 3:55:03

I took a trip down memory lane today. After everybody cleared out right about lunch time and my parents said they were too tired to go anywhere and would prefer to sit and read quietly for a while, Eric and I went for a walk on the beach.

We headed north, towards Bloemendaal, where we used to have a cottage on the beach almost every summer when we were kids. Zandvoort was the larger town where we'd go grocery shopping. We'd be out playing on beach all day, building forts against the tide, never once losing hope that tomorrow's fort was going to be the biggest and sturdiest ever and would definitely not get washed away by the tide. With our back to the dunes that form the first line of Dutch sea defenses.

I don't remember there being quite as much trash, though. Or we'd go looking for shells, and sometimes found real pretty ones, though probably not among the ones the seagulls got to first. I don't remember seeing those little crab-like creatures, though. Hopefully it's a sign the water is getting cleaner.

Just to the north of Bloemendaal is IJmuiden, home to the largest steel plant in Holland, and a major shipping port at the mouth of the North Sea Canal that connects Amsterdam to the sea. When the prevailing winds failed to prevail, clumps of tar or smudges of oil would sometimes drift down the coast. We'd step in them while playing or swimming and nothing but a vigorous rubbing with an old rag soaked in mineral spirits would take it off. People who camped on the beach kept jugs of that stuff on hand.

If we felt very adventurous we'd sometimes go into the dunes and play in and around disused World War II bunkers. In the 1970s they hadn't yet deteriorated to the point of being unsafe to enter, but we weren't allowed to go there anyway because those bunkers were in lonely spots where nobody could see or hear us if anything happened. Or if we were very disobedient, we walk north until we came to the nudist beach and goggle at people not wearing bathing suits. The nude beach is still there, but we didn't feel like walking there. It was much too cold for sunbathing, nude or otherwise, anyway. There were plenty of people in the water, despite its being barely above freezing. We used to swim here as kids and the cold never bothered us, but nowadays I really only consider the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean suitable for bathing.

We didn't feel that adventurous, so we climbed back to the top of the dunes and allowed ourselves a treat: ice cream for Eric and Nutricia chocolate milk for me. It's the only ready-made kind I like, and I only ever get to drink it in Holland. When we were kids we rarely got an ice cream. Maybe twice in a four-week vacation, but we no doubt nagged my mom and dad about it much more often than that. Sometimes they'd let us get what we called a "sour bomb," a large pickle at one of the fish stands that plied their trade right on the beach. Those were only 25 cents each, but we could never manage to eat the whole thing.

One thing that hasn't changed at all is the Dutch coast's popularity with German tourists. I remember walking in seaside towns and seeing sign after sign in people's windows advertising "Zimmer frei." It was an early analog version of Airbnb, just folks with a spare room who didn't mind sharing their personal space with strangers for a couple of days or weeks. We didn't see any of those on our walk today, but we did see a camp site completely booked up, even though the tourist season is really over by now. It was so busy because there's some kind of race going on at the Zandvoort circuit, which is right next to the bungalow park. How they ever managed to get a permit for a racing circuit in the middle of the Dutch sea defenses (zeewering; literally to bar the sea) and a water filtration area from which most of western Holland gets its drinking water I don't know, but it was there when I was a kid and we would sometimes hear ambulances and fire trucks rushing over there when accidents happened.

For dinner we all 17 of us went to a stir fry restaurant in Hoofddorp. It sat right next to one of the newest runways at Schiphol, but the place was so noisy we never heard any planes. My mother asked if celebrating a golden wedding anniversary qualified us for any discounts, but they didn't buy that. Instead they made them stand for a fire cracker display and gave them a boxed set of Chinese bowls and chopsticks.

Nicoline Bovenkarspel to Zandvoort
Nicoline (September 26, 2014)

Last modified: September 27, 2014 at 3:50:18

After an excellent breakfast at our AirBnb we went to my parents' house for coffee (and cake, of course). As if we hadn't gorged ourselves enough already we then went to Enkhuizen to stock up on goodies for <undisclosed location>.

After lunch we loaded up the car with suitcases, backpacks, and other assorted carriers to the point that I think we couldn't have fitted in a box of matches. We had just enough room for the four passengers too, but <undisclosed location> wasn't far, so we made do.

Taking the highway exit to Haarlem was all the confirmation my parents needed to realize we'd be spending the weekend at the beach. We used to rent a cottage in Bloemendaal, just north of Zandvoort, when I was a kid, so the route was very familiar to them.

And so we arrived at Zandvoort, settled ourselves into the various cottages, took the first of what will no doubt be many walks on the beach, and continued the party.

Nicoline Fiftieth anniversary
Nicoline (September 25, 2014)

Last modified: September 26, 2014 at 3:06:32

Today was the day of days! The house was all decorated and Eric and I were with them from about 9 a.m., after having bought flowers and cake. We kids gave them a vase engraved with "Henk & Rina 1964-2014" so they'd have a tangible reminder of their special day, and my father had ordered a corsage for my mother, which made her brand-new outfit even more festive.

Everybody, up to and including the city council, marked the occasion with flowers, cards, phone calls, emails, or visits. My mom's youngest sister drove their oldest brother and his wife over for a visit, which was a great surprise to them. Friends and neighbors also dropped in to congratulate my parents, so it was a va-et-vient of well-wishers all day long. I took care of the coffee and cake end of the day, so my parents could focus on being the anniversary couple.

By about 5 p.m. the last of the visitors left and I put out the delicious fish platter my mom had bought which we enjoyed between the four of us. We just sat and talked and relaxed after the day's exertions. By 8 p.m. we were all so tired (and more than adequately fed) that I cleared stuff from the table, loaded up the dishwasher, wrapped what needed wrapping, and Eric and I took our leave.

I think they had a wonderful day, and the festivities aren't over yet. Tomorrow we take them to the bungalow park on the coast, where we'll celebrate the anniversary with all the kids and grandkids.

Nicoline Enschede to Bovenkarspel
Nicoline (September 24, 2014)

Last modified: September 25, 2014 at 2:07:34

Frank took us on a tour of his new campus today. It's a very American-style campus, with student housing and a baseball field. The school is actually called "University of Twente" instead of by a Dutch name. It seems odd to me because Frank told us it attracts lots of German students, partly because of its proximity to Germany, I suppose. But it has some very Dutch aspects, too.

After the campus tour we left Frank to go to his classes and we got in the car to drive to Bovenkarspel. We had rain on the way there for the first time in nearly three weeks, but the trip was otherwise uneventful.

My parents were apparently on the lookout, because the door flew open as soon as we came around the corner. We spent an hour or so catching up on the news of our vacation and other stuff, and then got in the car to take our suitcases to the AirBnb, and figure out what we needed to get for dinner. My parents have lived in Bovenkarspel for more than 40 years, so they know *everyone*.

Sure enough, we met a lady who used to live next door to my parents but has recently moved to an assisted living place nearby. She was leaning on her walker while waiting for her ride home under very threatening skies. We stopped to talk for a minute, and it turned out that she had been waiting for half an hour already, so my mom asked if we could give her a ride home, since we had to go in that direction anyway. Sure, no problem, so we helped her into the car, but unfortunately the walker didn't fit in the trunk. Well, it was only about a block away, so I just grabbed the walker and started walking to where it needed to go, when I got caught in an absolute downpour. Within minutes I was soaked to the skin! But the elderly lady got home more or less dry. I think I earned a major karma upgrade today.

When we got home my mom let me borrow a comfy pair of pajamas while my clothes hung out to dry, so there I sat in "my" jammies while everybody else was in their Sunday best. Well, Saturday best, probably. The big day is tomorrow, so we'll dress up then. Seeing as how tomorrow will be likely be a busy day, we said goodnight around 8 and went to the AirBnb. Sure enough, when I opened Facebook, my mother's youngest sister asked if she and another of their siblings could come by tomorrow, and I expect to see lots of acquaintances, in some cases people who knew me when I was in first grade, so it will be interesting.

Nicoline Enschede
Nicoline (September 23, 2014)

Last modified: September 24, 2014 at 3:34:25

Today was the first of the family-oriented days that will make up the closing phase of our vacation. Frank recently began taking classes at the University of Twente in Enschede, and I also have aunts and cousins who live in this area. We'd fallen out of touch with them over the years but in the last year or two discovered one another again on Facebook.

One of my cousins, Ineke, had suggested that since we also wanted to do some sightseeing, we drive to Enschede following the Twente route. We stopped on the way in Groenlo, a fortified town that played an important role in the Dutch Revolt in the early 17th century. It also used to be the hometown of a major Dutch brewery, Grolsch, though the brewery has moved to a huge new plant on the outskirts of Enschede since. We found a store where we bought a pound of licorice, which we ate for lunch :-)

At 2 p.m. we met with Ineke at her office because she was going to a nearby nature preserve for a walk. The nature preserve was in what used to be some nobleman's estate, and it was very beautiful. We spent about an hour and a half there, and then we drove to Ineke's house, where we met her husband Jan and her son Eric. We just had time for a cup of coffee, before we had to head out to the university to pick up Frank, with Ineke acting as our guide. Neither Eric (hubby) nor I had ever been to Enschede, so we had only the vaguest idea of how to get around town.

We picked up our son, whom we hadn't seen for over two years, and introduced him to Ineke, who guided us back to Groenlo where we were going to meet the rest of the family for dinner. We were the last to arrive, so my aunts Ina and Joke and cousins Ulco, Petra, and Anya, and her husband Ben, and Ineke's husband and son (who had gone ahead) were already waiting for us. There were twelve of us at dinner, all told.

It was strange seeing them all again after so many years, but we all enjoyed talking and kidding around, and of course it helps to have the whole thing lubricated by good food and beer (Grolsch, of course). We caught up on the news of the last twenty years over the course of a good three hours!

After dinner Frank was able to guide us back to Enschede and his new digs. He'd only moved in last Sunday, so a lot of stuff was still in boxes and suitcases, but we could at least give him the stuff we'd been schlepping all over Europe the last three weeks and make room for a supply of licorice to take back with us to the States.

Nicoline Brussels to Arnhem
Nicoline (September 22, 2014)

Last modified: September 23, 2014 at 3:18:55

Today was a day of rest, though we drove between 400 and 500 hundred kilometers. After all the walking we've been doing we were looking forward to sitting on our behinds! I got my exercise anyway, because the elevator of the apartment block where we stayed this weekend was being serviced as we got back from the station where we'd picked up the car, but the suitcases were still in upstairs. Thank the gods it was only a second floor apartment!

Eric drove the first leg of today's trip, because I hate driving in strange cities. We headed southwest, to Mons (Bergen), where I wanted to visit the St. Symphorien military cemetery. I'd been on the fence about going there, to be honest, because there's really nothing to see but graves. But in the end I was glad we went. The cemetery is on land donated for the purpose by a local, on the condition that it be used to honor the dead on both sides of the conflict. And so there are nearly as many German as British war graves. Some are unidentified, and those I found most moving. As a parent, I couldn't help feeling for Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the text on the headstones: "A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God." Kipling's own son was killed in 1915 and his body was not identified until 1992, more than 50 years after his father's death.

From St. Symphorien we drove east toward Dinant, Namur (Namen), and Liège (Luik), fortress towns on the Meuse near the Belgian-German border, which came under heavy German attack in early August 1914. Their resistence, at great cost to soldiers and civilians alike, may have cost Germany the chance to complete the Schlieffen plan, but it was also a factor in creating the static trench war that followed. Some of British graves at St. Symphorien are believed to be both of the first and last casualties of the war, which underscores what a criminal waste that war was.

After Liège we drove along a scenic route into The Netherlands, where we ate a dinner of pancakes in a very pretty little town called Thorn. Its nickname is "the little white town" because all the houses in the historic center are painted white. I have no idea why.

After dinner we decided to take the highway instead of smaller roads, but until after we'd checked out a view over the Meuse that was worth going out of our way for!

By then it was about time to think about finding a place to sleep. We'd stupidly thought that since we were driving pretty much along the Dutch-German border (now disused, but still indicated on the map) we'd find at least some motels. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case, so we ended up having to drive into the center of Arnhem to find a hotel. Oh, well. It's all part of the adventure!

Nicoline Last day in Brussels
Nicoline (September 21, 2014)

Last modified: September 21, 2014 at 15:06:10

Yet again we've been incredibly lucky. It was drizzly when we got up, and by the time we left it had begun to rain. But by the time we reached Kleine Zavel/Le Sablon park it was dry, though overcast, and later in the afternoon the sun even came out. But let's start at the beginning. We had a leisurely breakfast with coffee, orange juice, and fresh croissants from the corner bakery, while we worked on updating our blog and figuring out what to do today.

As it turned out, the statue we couldn't find yesterday was actually close to where we were, just in a different park. In addition to the statue depicting counts Egmont and Hoorne, there were statues of Guillaume le Taciturne (William the Silent, the pater patrias of The Netherlands) and Philippe Marnix de Ste. Aldegonde, who is traditionally credited with composing the acrostic that later became the Dutch national anthem. The other statues there most likely depicted other nobles at the court of Margaret of Parma, half-sister of king Philip II of Spain, whose territory included the Low Countries, but I must admit I didn't recognize any of their names.

I wanted to visit the Army Museum (Musée Royal d'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire/Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis) because of its special World War I exhibit. To get there we had to go through their regular exhibit of earlier uniforms and weaponry. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky it didn't go back as far as the Roman conquest. There has certainly been plenty of bloodshed in this small corner of Europe. Again, hurray for European unity! Warts and all, it sure beats the heck out of what came before.

The World War I exhibit was very well done, with plenty of attention to the causes of the war and last minute efforts at diplomacy, but also individual soldiers' accounts in French, Flemish, German, and English. I must admit that I relied on subtitles for French. Poor Belgium suffered terribly, starting with their gallant but futile refusal to allow the German army to pass over Belgian territory unhindered. The German ambassador, upon learning that the Belgians would not accede to their demand for safe passage, said "The poor fools!" It did slow the German army considerably to have to fight its way past the fortresses at Liège, Namur, and Dinant, and it was certainly a factor in why the Schlieffen Plan didn't work out. The Kaiser allegedly summarized this plan as "lunch in Paris; dinner in St. Petersburg."

I was surprised to see how Germans have always had a talent for making people hate them. Not just because of the violation of a neutral country, or the atrocities committed against the civilian population of more than one Belgian city, but the most minute regulations of every aspect of everyday life by proclamation upon proclamation, until the walls of city halls were simply covered in them. It's something I'd always associated with World War II, but that's possibly because the First World War never received much attention in grade school history lessons.

By the time we'd finished our tour of the exhibit and stepped outside, the sun had come out and the car free Sunday celebrations were in full swing. There was something going on in nearly every square and park we saw today! Say what you will about Belgians, but they sure know how to celebrate. We took the metro back into town to find a chocolaterie where we could buy real Belgian bonbons for my mom, but the streets around the Grand Place were so crowded in places you could barely move. But we did manage to find the bonbons, as well as souvenirs of Brussels: a metal cat to keep Aapje Interstate company, and a silk scarf that will go with nearly every item of clothing I possess, including my County Donegal socks. To cap it all, we had a great dinner in town, with mussels "diablo" for me and duck with orange sauce for Eric!

Nicoline Brussels
Nicoline (September 20, 2014)

Last modified: September 21, 2014 at 5:14:32

Today we explored Brussels. Since the tourist information office on the Grand Place (French pronunciation, please) was already closed when we got there last night, we decided to go there first, so we would have some idea of what's happening here this weekend.

For example, Sunday is a day without cars. A few times a year, Brussels declares a car-free Sunday, on which public transport is free and people can walk or bike or rollerblade where they please (though still keeping an eye out for trams and buses, of course). I remember having car-free Sundays when I was a kid, not because of local government largesse, but because of a shortage of oil caused by events in the Middle East, and what a thrill it was to rollerskate on blacktop roads that were normally reserved for car traffic.

Since the famous statue of Manneke Pis was only a block away from the tourist information office, we decided to stop there first. It was very crowded because there was some kind of celebration going on at the base of the statue. A men's choir sang a cappella, and later lead a procession pushing a cart with a Manneke Pis replica that squirted water. I have absolutely no idea what it was about, but it looked and sounded very festive.

Unfortunately, the information bureau didn't have a road map of Belgium and Holland, which we'll need Monday once we pick up the rental car. The lady referred us to a shopping mall some distance away, and we decided to walk there, but not before we'd done another tour around the square. There we happened upon an explanation for a sight that had puzzled us last night: The strange flags flying from the "maison de roi" (the king's house), now the city museum.

The flags are black, white, and red and are the colors of Imperial Germany, which occupied Brussels during World War I. Of course we have to go inside and see the accompanying exhibition, and also the other works of art that are on display. I knew Brussels was famous for its painting, sculpture, and tapestry, but I didn't know it had also been famous for its porcelain painting and silver work.

The exhibition on Brussels during the First World War was interesting. I was shocked to learn that food shortages were already noticeable by the end of August 1914, barely a month after the outbreak of war! The Allied blockade of Germany worked as planned, and I doubt that the German plan of using Holland - which remained neutral because Germany chose not to attack it in August 1914 - as a lifeline was much help. Indeed, my late paternal grandmother once told me that the bread they had during the First World War was worse even than the bread soup kitchens provided during the last winter (known colloquially as the Hunger Winter) of World War II.

On the same floor as the World War I exhibition we also found a Manneke Pis exhibition. The little fellow has quite an impressive wardrobe!

From the king's house we walked toward the map-selling shopping mall, stopping along the way for french fries. The proper kind, with mayonnaise, in a paper cone. We stopped to enjoy them in a square which happened to be the Mint Square, home to the Royal Theater of the Mint ("La Monnaie" in French, "De Munt" in Dutch for short) the cradle of Belgian independence from Holland in 1830. But since I know next to nothing about that period, except that the Dutch went to war against the Belgians for all of 10 days, after which the major powers pressured the Dutch to give in, we decided not to check it out any further.

Besides, we spotted a promising-looking bookstore at the far side of the square. They did indeed sell road maps, so that saved us quite a hike. The weather was still holding, despite a forecast calling for mid-day thunderstorms, so we hopped on a bus (Eric had bought two passes for unlimited use of public transport for 72 hours) to the Atomium, home of the 1958 World Expo. His father had visited it the year it opened, but neither Eric nor I had ever been there.

To be honest, it was rather disappointing. It looked fascinating from the outside, very futuristic still, despite its 56 years, but only the first two or three "floors" were interesting. It told the story of the Atomium's design and construction and had a lot of 1950s memorabilia. But the upper floors are exhibition spaces for contemporary artists who work in wool, ceramics, and wood, in an echo of the city's artistic heyday of the 13th to 17th century. I suppose I'm rather a philistine, but I rarely like modern art. Also, I am sad to report, there was a group of Dutch kids at the Atomium who had not yet been instructed as to the proper modulation of their voices for indoor use. There were only about half a dozen of the little hooligans, but they sounded like a monkey house. On steroids.

From the Atomium we went to the Egmont Park, thinking we'd find a statue to counts Egmont and Hoorne, who were publicly beheaded in Brussels in 1568, following the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt (also known as the 80 Years' War, part of the Wars of Religion during that era). As it turns out, the statue is in another park, Le Sablon. Perhaps we'll get around to visiting that tomorrow.

From Egmont Park we took the tram back to the flat, and after stopping at a local supermarket to buy dinner, spent a quiet evening reading.

Nicoline London to Brussels
Nicoline (September 19, 2014)

Last modified: September 20, 2014 at 4:34:41

Well, that was easy! From the flat directly to St. Pancras Station (with a brief stop at King's Cross Station next door, where officials have felt the need to put up a sign for platform 9 3/4, complete with half a luggage trolley sticking out of - or rather into - the wall), check in & passport control by *French* border police and from central London to Brussels in a little over 3 hours. Old Napoleon must be turning in his grave!

Brussels-Midi Station took a bit of figuring out, but we managed and found the flat where we'll be staying for the next couple of days pretty easily. As it turns out, our host is a craft brewer who is in the process of starting an export business to Russia. I tasted one of his beers, and it's very good!

It's weird seeing shop names and street signs etc. in Dutch again, but weirder still to find out that there is a *Stalingrad* street in Brussels, off Constitution Square, of all places! I'm amazed they didn't change that after we stopped calling Stalin "uncle Joe, " especially when you consider that Brussels was (and is) home to NATO's European HQ. There used to be a Stalin Avenue in Amsterdam, just as there are still a Roosevelt and a Churchill Avenue, but it was renamed Freedom Avenue in 1956. Even Stalingrad itself is no longer called that. The Russians renamed it Volgograd in 1961.

We walked through Stalingrad street and others that made rather less of an impression to the Grand Place, where we had dinner al fresco. Incredibly, the beautiful weather is still holding! It seems the Grand Place is getting ready for a Lady Gaga show, or so someone told us. At any rate, they're building a stage. After dinner Eric used the guide book we bought to figure out how to get back to the flat without having to go by way of the railway station again, and it worked out perfectly. We were back by about 9:30.

Nicoline Last day in London
Nicoline (September 18, 2014)

Last modified: September 19, 2014 at 4:45:23

We took it easy today, and worked on updating our blog and other chores before setting out for another day of exploring London.

After spending yesterday looking at some very upscale shops, we decided to head to Brixton today, a decidedly un-posh neighborhood. I remembered watching news footage of riots in Brixton, and I thought they were about the poll tax introduced by Margaret Thatcher's government in the late 1980s. But they weren't about that.

There were two riots, in 1981 and 1985, and in both cases race was the major factor. In 1981, police in Brixton tried to reduce street crime by stopping and searching people on the mere suspicion of criminal activity. This amounted to young black men being targeted disproportionally, and community protest erupted in a riot. The 1985 riot began when police used excessive force to search for a young black criminal at his mother's house, severely (and permanently) injuring her. Her son wasn't even home at the time.

Things may have improved over the last 30 years, but I thought it was interesting that there is a funeral parlor next to the police station, and a lawyer's office directly opposite that provides legal assistance in cases against the police. We leisurely toured the Brixton market our guidebook recommended, bought Jamaican meat patties for lunch, and spent a fun hour or two in south London.

From Brixton we caught a bus to Marble Arch, at the corner of Hyde Park, and just sat in the shade of a tree for an hour or so, enjoying the weather and people-watching. I took a picture of the little boy because he reminded me of Frank at that age :-) Then we hopped on another bus, which crawled up Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road so very, very slowly that the London Transport Authority or whatever they call themselves nowadays made an announcement that bus travel within zone one (which includes most of central London) would be free due to excessive congestion! Of course it didn't bother us any, since a slow bus trip gave more time to take in the sights, but it's the thought that counts.

We made it to the British Library in time to take in an exhibition on British morale (and the upkeep thereof) during World War I, and we also had time to tour the "Treasures of the British Library." These include, among many others, a 3rd to 4th century papyrus with fragments from one of the gospels and the book of Revelations, 11th century prints from China made with moveable type, a 12th century Worms bible, a copy of the Magna Carta from1255, a Q'uran dating back to 1304, the Barcelona Haggaddah from 1370, a Gutenberg bible (1450), Sir Thomas More's interrogation in the Tower from 1535, a bird's eye view map of Amsterdam from the mid-16th century, original music scores written by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Elgin, and original compositions by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The latter's middle name, I learned just yesterday, was Winston in honor of Winston Churchill, though Lennon later changed it to Ono. No pictures of any of this, since the library doesn't allow taking pictures.

By then it was dinner time and I wanted to eat Indian food, the spicier the better, to help clear up a head cold I unfortunately seem to have picked up. The restaurant also offered fish & chips, possibly the least authentic in the entire city, but Eric wanted to have fish & chips in London. So we both got our choice. And if that wasn't lucky enough, the bus we needed to get back to Lambeth not only stopped in front of the restaurant's door, but was standing and waiting for us as we came out of the restaurant!

Nicoline London continued
Nicoline (September 17, 2014)

Last modified: September 18, 2014 at 6:38:15

We'd booked tickets for the Eye at the last minute, hoping to outsmart London weather, but it didn't quite work out that way. First, we'd lost track of time working on updating our blog, so we had to walk down the Albert Embankment at a pretty brisk trot. It did have the virtue of making jackets unnecessary, but we got to Westminster Bridge all steamy and sweaty. Second, it was pretty overcast, so the view was somewhat disappointing. Doubly so for Eric, because the capsule's glass wasn't very clear and that interfered with picture taking, though he did managed to doctor most of them up considerably. Look at the last picture in the set below to see the difference. We were on the first ride of the day, and shared the capsule with a couple from Kentucky, who were kind enough to take a photo of us together, and we of course returned the favor.

Next we visited the Cabinet War Rooms (also called Churchill War Rooms), from where Churchill and members of his cabinet (plus a host of typists, switchboard operators, map room attendants etc.) directed the British war effort. There was one closet, which was made to look like the PM's private toilet, which was actually the secure transatlantic phone line over which he used to talk to President Roosevelt. Churchill couldn't stand noise of any kind, so his typists had to use special quiet typewriters. The Cabinet or Churchill War Rooms were actually not a bunker, but a converted basement underneath the Treasury building, which had hastily been converted into a somewhat safer bomb shelter by placing a thick slab of concrete over the ground floor. In one spot they'd had to fill a stairwell completely with concrete to make it as safe as possible. It had been drilled through to make it possible for tourists to complete a circuit. Sound effects like air raid sirens and muffled explosions made it as realistic as possible. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like during the Blitz, though. Working in such a rabbit warren without seeing daylight for days on end, and being conscious all the time that the basement wouldn't offer real protection in case of a direct or near-direct hit, plus of course the knowledge that people all around were being killed in air raids all the time. We are lucky indeed only to have heard air raid sirens being tested. They used to do that every first Monday of the month at noon when we were kids, but the practice has been discontinued for years now.

From the Cabinet War Rooms we walked through St. James's Park, just as Churchill used to do during the war. He only had one body guard, in a capital at war, whereas nowadays you can't even get close enough to 10 Downing Street to see the house number. Huge gates, security checks, armed policemen, the works.

We were on our way to some of the poshest street and shops in London. First we walked down Picadilly to Fortnum & Mason's, a huge delicatessen, where we thought we might have lunch. But the lunch menu looked a bit too posh for us, and we didn't want to wait for tea. That would probably have been pricey, too, but at least one would be able to say one had had that most quintessentially English meal at a London institution.

Instead we walked back up Picadilly to the Waterstone's book shop, which has a 5th floor (6th for us Yankees, who count the ground floor as the first) restaurant. After lunch I only had to descent one floor to be in the history department. I happily spent a few hours browsing and reading.

After Waterstone's we spent an hour or two aimlessly wandering about Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square, until it was time to go to the Wyndham Theater to see King Charles III. Not only was the play very well done and at times very funny, it was also a great cultural experience to watch a West End show at a theatre where Tallulah Bankhead made her stage debut, which has put on plays by Daphne du Maurier, and where Diana Rigg - immortalized as Mrs. Danvers in the film version of Du Maurier's "Rebecca" - appeared on stage. It's probably not the sort of play that would find any great audience on the other side of the Atlantic, but if it does, I recommend it wholeheartedly!

We walked back to Trafalgar Square to catch a night bus back to Vauxhall bus station almost like natives and were back at the flat a little after 11.

Nicoline London continued
Nicoline (September 16, 2014)

Last modified: September 17, 2014 at 19:20:43

We didn't get started until almost 10 this morning, because we needed to figure out what we wanted to do first. We hadn't yet booked tickets for the London Eye yet, for example, because we didn't want to run the risk of going up in that thing when it rains. When we went to the website, it said people need to book at least 24 hours in advance to get the discount, so we booked it for tomorrow. Incredible as it may seem, the weather here is just as gorgeous as it was in Ireland.

Instead of going to the Eye we went first to the Imperial War Museum (IWM), which is having a special World War I exhibition. The first thing we saw as we walked up to the entrance was a pair of huge 15" naval guns, which had seen action on D-Day and in the southwest of The Netherlands in October 1944, when the Allies bombarded the dikes surrounding Walcheren in order to flush out the Germans and make the port of Antwerp available for the Allied war effort.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the IWM is one of the very few tourist attractions that are free here. This city is horribly expensive. If they could charge you for breathing "their" air, I'm sure they would. As it is, they just make you pay through the nose. But you get that in any major metropolis.

The WWI exhibit was very interesting. One of the things I found most moving was a letter from soldier in France who apologized to his wife for writing such dull letters, because there wasn't anything going on at the front. I simply don't understand how people lived with the knowledge that a telegram might arrive bearing terrible news. Not just during the Great War, but for anyone who has or had a loved one on active duty in a war zone.

From the IWM we walked on towards London Bridge, underneath which a market was in full swing. We also stopped at an optometrist's to see about getting Eric's glasses repaired. One of the legs had broken off for no apparent reason, but unfortunately the lady wasn't able to repair them. So we stopped at a stationery store and bought a tube of Superglue. It's holding together so far, so keep your fingers crossed. Fortunately he had a spare pair of glasses with him!

After crossing London Bridge we walked along the north bank of the Thames east to the Tower, where over 888 thousand ceramic poppies planted in what used to be castle's moat represent British and Empire casualties of World War I. I had seriously considered buying one of the poppies, but as they cost 25 pounds and only 10% of that is to benefit veterans' charities I decided not to.

The Tower itself is actually a far larger complex than either of us had realized. We knew it was part of the city's medieval defenses, of course, but we thought it was just one tower, not an entire castle with moat and chapel and even exotic animals like lions and polar bears, which didn't get moved to the London zoo until the 19th century. The Queen is so considerate as to send a detachment of her personal guards (the guys in the bear hats) to the Tower every day to help with guard duties, which saved us a trip to Buckingham Palace to snap a picture of them. The Yeoman Guard who conducted the tour was a really funny guy, who started by asking if there were any French people in his audience. No one identified him or herself as French, and he continued to sprinkle his narrative with funny snide remarks about the French.

Everybody in Europe is supposed to be all chummy and whatnot, but that enmity runs so deep the Brits don't even realize they have it anymore. For example, the restaurant where we ate last night had warnings about possible pickpocket activity in six or seven different languages. Guess which one was last on the list? German, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, all came before French. The English have fought the speakers of all these languages at one time or another. You get that in the process of becoming an empire that covered a quarter of the earth's surface at its height. This is why the European Union, for all its considerable faults, is such a great idea. It's a hell of a lot better than everlastingly going to war, at least in my book.

Because it was Eric's first visit to London he absolutely wanted to ride in a double decker bus, so we took the bus from the Tower back to Trafalgar Square. It also allowed us to sit down after being on our feet almost non stop since 10 a.m. It was rush hour, so the bus took its time crawling westward along The Strand and through Fleet Street. From Trafalgar Square we walked to Leicester Square to see if we could get tickets to the play "Charles III" which is about prince Charles planning a coup with the help of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. It's getting great reviews, and going to the theater is a very London sort of thing to do, so why not? We'll see the show tomorrow, as the only tickets they had left for tonight were close to 90 pounds each!

We decided to visit Harrods before heading back to the flat, but I was disappointed with it. It it obscenely expensive, and almost the only people buying stuff there seemed to be ladies from the Emirates or Chinese business people. In fact, the Emirates even have their own tube line, going straight into the City, where a consortium of Emirati businessmen has constructed a glass tower known as "The Shard," and to Harrods, apparently, so their wives can go shopping.

Harrods was our swan song for the day. We dragged ourselves back to the flat by way of the Tesco's around the corner for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's breakfast, as well as a quick shower and a chance to put our feet up.

Nicoline London
Nicoline (September 15, 2014)

Last modified: September 16, 2014 at 3:37:41

I'd read in a Sunday paper at the youth hostel in Dublin that there was to be a demonstration against Scottish independence at the foot of Nelson's column today, and I'd told Eric half in jest that we should go there. Well, it never does to tell Eric such things jokingly, because we did end up going there. Even Marching Monkey expressed his disapproval of a dissolution of the 300+ year Anglo-Scottish union. And so we ended up taking part in a demonstration at Trafalgar Square.

We'd arrived in London after a long but pretty easy trip from the Dublin hostel to the ferry port by way of Eric's brilliant discovery of an express bus just around the corner. The sea was calm and the Jonathan Swift hydrofoil or catamaran or whatever it was took barely two hours to get to Holyhead. The Virgin (as in Richard Branson) train was on time and we arrived at Euston station after a journey that took us down the length of Wales, and we passed the station with the world's longest name. Must be fun if you have to fill out forms there. Eric hunted down an ATM and figured out where to get a rechargable fare card for the tube (it actually works for London buses as well, which is brilliant), and we arrived at The Oval (yes, the famous cricket field) without any trouble. Our host's directions were flawless, so we found the Airbnb easily.

After we'd caught our breath from dragging the suitcases from the tube station to the flat, we figured out that the center of London was within walking distance, and having sat most of the day, we decided to go for a walk. One thing led to another, and we made it as far into the city as Trafalgar Square and the London Eye. It happened to be Battle of Britain day, so it was highly appropriate that we came across the monument that bears Sir Winston Churchill's famous words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

We walked back to Lambeth by way of the south bank of the Thames, and we began to realize just how far we had really walked. We fairly dragged ourselves the last couple of blocks, and were thankful to be able to take a quick shower and park our behinds in bed.

Nicoline Back to Dublin
Nicoline (September 14, 2014)

Last modified: September 16, 2014 at 4:56:14

After an excellent breakfast we spent some time updating our blog, then took a taxi to the station. We could have walked there if it hadn't been for our suitcases.

The railway journey was interesting. They have some very modern, Korean-made (Hyundai) trains there, and luckily the information panel told what it had to say in both English and Irish. Sometimes you can pick out a word or two in the latter language, but mostly the letters and words seem to have no relation whatever to what is being said. For part of the way it looked as if the train was just about running on the beach!

I can't remember which of us decided to book a room at a youth hostel, but it was as conveniently located as the map suggested. Barely three minutes' walk from Connolly Station, where we arrived, and also very close to the bus station. While I did the laundry, Eric figured out which bus to take to the ferry terminal tomorrow, and went to pick up our ferry and train tickets for tomorrow's journey.

By late afternoon we had accomplished our respective chores, and went for a walk to the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square, a monument to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. It's actually dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. I don't know what the exact numbers are, but you come across plaques like the one we saw in Rathdrum in many places. There was also one right on the corner of Pearse Street, where Padraic Pearse surrendered to the British in 1916. For all their public school spirit, the English really conducted a reign of terror in Ireland for centuries. There's clearly a reason there is not the slightest chance of forming a union of the British isles. Instead they seem bent on balkanization.

Having accomplished that mission we sat down to dinner at Toddy's Bar & Brasserie on O'Connell Street, since we're leaving Dublin tomorrow. But we walked to a nearby Aldi store to buy a bar of chocolate for dessert :-)

We found out that staying at a youth hostel has its challenges for old people like us. There was only an overhead light fixture in the room, no bedside tables with lamps or anything like that. And since the bed was a bunk bed with a double below and a single on top, the mattress on the top one blocked much of the light. But Eric soon fixed that. How's that for a convertible bed, eh?

Nicoline Glendalough to Glenmalure
Nicoline (September 13, 2014)

Last modified: September 14, 2014 at 4:44:02

We did it! We hiked part of the Wicklow Way without blisters or any other kind of injury, and really enjoyed it! If you ever feel like walking the Wicklow Way, I highly recommend using "Wonderful Ireland" as your tour operator. The arrangements and facilities were excellent!

We were lucky enough to leave Glendalough just early enough to avoid a big event at the upper lake, which is spectacularly beautiful. As it happened, they were having a triathlon, and for about the first third of today's hike we shared the path with runners. I have a great deal of respect for triathletes anyway, but especially for the folks running up the path that we could only just manage at a walk.

The scenery was again spectacular. Words won't do it justice, so I'll shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves.

Today's hike ended at the Glenmalure Lodge. I assume this the B&B "Wonderful Ireland" normally uses for its hikers, but where they apparently had a wedding or some big to-do going on. The last day's instructions call for a not inconsiderable hike starting and ending there. But since we're booked into the Stirabout Lane B&B in Rathdrum, about 10 miles away, which is also where we'll be catching the train back to Dublin, it would involve having someone drive us back to Glenmalure, and pick us up again to take us back to Rathdrum. That's too much effort in my book (and Eric's, too, luckily), so we'll skip that and catch an earlier train back to Dublin.

Nicoline Roundwood to Glendalough
Nicoline (September 12, 2014)

Last modified: September 14, 2014 at 4:52:10

Lots of people on the trail today, and not one of them looked a day over 25. In fairness to the youngsters, though, most of them were backpackers carrying tents and all kinds of camping accouterments, while we only carry day packs and have a proper bed and other creature comforts waiting for us at the end of the day. I wonder if this trip signifies that we are well on our way to becoming "oudere jongeren"? You know, the kind of "matured youngsters" who desperately cling to the stuff they did when they were young in a doomed effort to stave off old age.

At any rate, we walked our second section of the Wicklow Way today. It was almost a rest day, just 10 km (6.2 miles), again in gorgeous weather and a spectacularly beautiful countryside. I'd managed to get a slight sunburn yesterday, so I doused myself in sunscreen and wore a hat most of the day.

There's not much to say about the hike itself that the pictures don't convey much better, so I'll let them do the talking.

When we arrived in Glendalough it was still early, so we strolled into a craft store, where I bought myself a pair of red wool hiking socks as a souvenir. They're actually from county Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland, instead of county Wicklow, but that's okay, since the Donegal corridor was an Allied lifeline during World War II. The new Irish republic absolutely refused to join the Brits in their fight against the Nazis, but they didn't quite slam the door on Allied war effort by letting American pilots fly in from the Atlantic over Irish territory in order to have a straight route into Ulster, which was (and is) part of the United Kingdom. I've decided that my county Donegal socks make up for missing out on the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, which includes a German war cemetery with graves from both world wars, but which turned out to be too far off the trail to include in this trip. Maybe next time :-)

Glendalough is not only famous for its two mountain lakes, but also for being the site of a 6th century monastery, the remains of which are open to the public. There's also a modern visitors center where we watch a short documentary about early Christian Ireland in general and Glendalough in particular. In German, because a tour bus full of German tourists had just arrived, and we didn't feel like waiting for the English language version. I'm pleased to report that neither of us had trouble understanding the German, even if we're badly out of practice speaking it. Or I am, at least.

Sixth century cathedrals (or the remains thereof) can't be a very common experience even in Ireland, so I was surprised to see that the ancient site is still used as a cemetery today. Most of the gravestones were very old and faded, but I found at least two from last year. Seeing it's already September, there are probably one or two newer ones as well. However, I'm happy to report that the newer the gravestone, the more likely it is that the person who lies beneath it died in his or her eighties or nineties, instead of forties and fifties for the 19th century ones and sixties and seventies for 20th century graves. Of course one must always have terrible souvenir stalls. They even sold Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls, for unfathomable reasons, and greasy spoons, but the monastic site is worth visiting all the same.

From the cemetery it was another kilometer or two to the B&B, and Wonderful Ireland's instructions explicitly said that we were to cross the river by way of stepping stones. That sort of thing offends my Teutonic sense of order. To quote our instructions: "Very rarely the river may be swollen and it may not be possible to cross over. In this case please phone the guesthouse at [phone number] and they can come and collect you." Seriously, you get enough people that you can earn a living operating a B&B, but you can't figure out it might actually be helpful to build a bridge?

At any rate, we made it to the B&B (without falling into the river), where we found we were booked into a three-person room, so Marching Monkey has a proper bed all to himself tonight:-) After Eric and I had had a shower and a rest we went out for an excellent dinner at the Wicklow Heather restaurant. Pictures will have to wait until Eric processes tomorrow's batch.

Nicoline Enniskerry to Roundwood
Nicoline (September 11, 2014)

Last modified: September 12, 2014 at 12:09:14

So much for the lackadaisical Irish.... The driver who picked us up in Dublin displayed an almost German punctuality and actually arrived 5 minutes before time. And when the same guy picjed us up outside Ferndale to take us to the starting point of the hike, he was even earlier.

After an Irish breakfast we were packed and ready to go, so we got to the trailhead at 9:35. We knew it would be a long hike, of course, so we started at a leisurely pace through a spectacularly beautiful area.

The first endurance test came when we walked up on a heather covered hillside that rose very gradually. But it did so for a very long time, and about halfway up we simply had to take a breather, much to the dismay of the sheep. They'd left their droppings all over the hillside, of course, so it wasn't easy to find a spot to park our derrières without sitting in sheep shit. But we managed.

Part of the trail crossed areas of peat, over which the park authority had layed a boardwalk to protect against erosion. The boardwalk was made of repurposed railroad ties sitting atop cross pieces also made from railroad ties. The walking surface had been covered with chicken wire stapled to the ties, so that you don't lose traction when it rains. I wonder who carried all those railroad ties and other stuff up there. Can't have been easy, that's for sure!

The boardwalk ran for several kilometers to the J.B. Malone monument. He's the guy who came up with the idea for a walking trail as early as 1942. Malone (1913-1989) was an Englishman who moved to Ireland to work as a cartographer for the Irish army. The monument was pretty much at the halfway point. It overlooks a beautiful lake and there was a boulder to lean against, so we sat there for half an hour and rested.

After lunch we continued through a clear-cut section of pine forest, which was rather depressing, even if new trees had already been planted. A little farther along we walked through a pine forest so dense it was almost dark. There was another section of boardwalk, though I'm not sure why, this time made from lumber.

When we came to a road, we happened upon a procession of oldtimers. It turns out there is a Rolls Royce enthusiasts club and they were having a rally.

At that point we had walked about two-thirds of the way, and the scenery wasn't quite as spectacular anymore, possibly because we (or rather, our feet) were getting too tired to notice much else. But we kept going like the Energizer bunnies that we are. The worst part was the last turn, 300 m from the guest house, which went up pretty steeply, and then the guesthouse driveway, which was another climb. I was never so glad to arrive at a destination before!

Our hostess immediately brought out a large jug of water and two glasses and we absolutely guzzled it down. We had brought a extra water, but the weather was unusually warm and 2.5 liters were no more than adequate. She showed us to our room, which was very beautiful and spacious and we showered and rested for a while. Then our hostess gave me a ride into town to pick up Chinese food for dinner, since neither of us had the least desire to go anywhere or do much of anything after an 18.85 km (11.7 mile) hike. We ate dinner and went to sleep by 8:30.

Nicoline Enniskerry
Nicoline (September 10, 2014)

Last modified: September 10, 2014 at 17:29:31

Today we left Dublin to start the hiking part of our trip. The driver for "Wonderful Ireland" picked us up at the appointed time and place and drove us to Enniskerry, south of Dublin, where we're staying at Ferndale B&B. The B&B is splendid, and the owner put us down for "proper Irish breakfast" tomorrow morning. I doubt we'll need to carry much in the way of lunch, but we'll definitely take extra water. It's pretty warm for hiking.

Tomorrow we start hiking in earnest, but today we walked the Knocksink Wood nature reserve bog meadow trail near Enniskerry, and for good measure threw in another hike to Powerscourt House, where we sat down for a cup of tea in one of the fanciest places I've ever been to. Fancy right down to the tea bags :-)

The house is one of those grand Protestant ascendancy manors, although the original castle dates back to the 13th century. In fact, the entire town was built just to accommodate the servants close by but out of sight. They were all Catholics, who didn't even have their own church, but had to worship in a barn until a mid-19th century viscount was kind enough to give them a proper church. Even the police (garda) station is housed in what used to be a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks.

The manor is now a luxury hotel & spa, with its own golf course next door, and we were actually a bit embarrassed, since we were dressed for hiking rather than a fancy afternoon tea, but we decided to go for it anyway. What the heck, we're leaving tomorrow anyway, right? As it happened, our trusty Marching Monkey sat right on the table and was a great ice breaker, with waiters and waitresses coming over to pet him and tell us how cute he was.

Enniskerry is a "blink and you'll miss it"-sized town, but it does happen to have a great Italian restaurant, where we had dinner tonight. The food was excellent! We speculated as to what could have brought an Italian to begin a restaurant in Enniskerry of all places, but couldn't think of a tactful way of bringing up the subject. My favorite is that the owner may be from the southern Italy and wanted to escape poverty, though if I'd asked, he'd probably have turned out to be from Turin and just didn't fancy going to work for Fiat :-)

Eric took pictures, of course, and the owner of the restaurant said, half jokingly, that if we really liked it, we should post pics to the restaurant's facebook page, and Eric went and did just that. If you ever happen to be in Enniskerry and want something to eat, Emilia's Ristorante & Pizzeria is an excellent choice!

Nicoline Last day in Dublin
Nicoline (September 9, 2014)

Last modified: September 10, 2014 at 17:34:19

Yesterday was already our last day in Dublin. Knowing we'd be out and about all day, we decided to start with a full Irish breakfast: eggs, sausage, bacon, fried tomato & mushrooms, baked beans, and toast. The kind of breakfast that sticks to your ribs :-)

From the breakfast place just down the road we walked down to the waterfront where Eric wanted especially to take a picture of a beautiful white bridge we'd seen as we rode the bus into town last Sunday.It also gave a great view of the Custom House. From there we walked along the quay towards the city, where we saw the monument to the mid-19th famine that drove many millions of Irish people abroad. Most to the U.S. but also to Canada and Australia. The monument wasn't dedicated until 1999. I expect they had more pressing concerns than monuments before that.

At last we made it to Trinity College to see the famous Book of Kells. To be honest, I thought it was disappointing. The way the introductory exhibit is laid out, it's really hard to see all panels without getting in front of people, and when we got to the room where they keep the real thing in a glass case, there was such a crowd you could barely catch a glimpse of it. The exhibit upstairs, about an early Irish king, Brian Boru, was interesting. Medieval history isn't my forte and I had always thought he was a mythical figure, like king Arthur. He died in battle at Clontarf at the beginning of the 11th century. The library that houses the Book of Kells and the Brian Boru exhibit was well worth seeing itself. THAT'S what a library should look like, instead of Ikea shelving for cheap paperbacks.

We really lucked out with the weather! It was beautiful for walking, so we walked through Grafton street, a big shopping area, to St. Patrick's cathedral, which has a beautiful park next to it where archeologists discovered a well that is most likely the one from which the saint baptized the first Irish converts.

From St. Patrick's we walked to a disused church that's home to the Dublinia exhibition, which gave a great overview of the city's earliest history. It was founded by Vikings who didn't feel like rowing all the way back to Scandinavia and decided to winter at a black pool, from which Dublin derives its name. The church is connected by a skywalk to Christ Church cathedral tower, which you can climb up and have great views of the city!

We walked back into the center of the city by way of Dublin Castle, which is open to the public. We could have taken the full tour, but it was getting a bit late for that and we didn't feel like it. Instead, we walked to St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful park, where we watched the people of Dublin and tourists from all over the world walk by. Then we walked to O'Donaghues pub for dinner & a pint of Guiness, which I had to try if course, Guiness having been brewed being in the city since 1759. That pretty much did me in for the day, so we walked back along the Grand Canal for an early night.

Nicoline Exploring Dublin
Nicoline (September 8, 2014)

Last modified: September 9, 2014 at 4:35:23

Dublin must be a great city for biking. They have a bike rental service similar to the one in New York City or Washington, D.C. and contrary to what I expected, the terrain doesn't seem to be very hilly (although looks can be deceiving). But after two days in Ireland I keep catching myself looking the wrong way before crossing or waiting for the bus. It's probably safer for us (and the people of Dublin) to stick with walking, and wait for the pedestrian light to turn green, even if the signal for the blind sounds as though something is malfunctioning.

We walked back into town this morning to catch the tour bus to Kilmainham Gaoll, a prison that housed most of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising before their execution. Although hanging seems to have been the method of choice for the execution of "common" criminals, the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed by firing squad, with one of them so badly injured in the fighting that he had to be strapped to a chair.

Although the government may have tried to reform the prison to make it more humane by implementing some of Jeremy Bentham's ideas, it must have been a kind of hell on earth, particularly during the years of the famine (ca. 1845-52). The prison was supposed to house about 200 inmate, but at one point people became so desperate that they committed crimes with the intent of being thrown into jail so they would at least have something to eat, and the inmate population rose to over 9,000. The government's solution was to reduce prison rations, while continuing food exports (grain etc.) Convicts were also transported (i.e. deported) to penal colonies overseas. Great are the uses of empire.

Surprisingly, the prison did have two chapels, one protestant and one catholic. I wouldn't have put it past the English to make prisoners attend Anglican services, just because they could. Still, the Irish had ample reason to hate the English, and had in fact been agitating for Home Rule since Charles Parnell was elected to the House of Commons in 1875. By 1914 the issue had become so fraught politically that some believed Britain to be on the verge of civil war, from which only the outbreak of World War I "saved" them. Promises of home rule after the war in exchange for help against the Kaiser didn't stop nationalists from trying to force the issue by means of the 1916 revolt. However, it lacked public support and fizzled after a few days of savage fighting. Some of the pictures we saw today could easily pass for pictures of towns like Ypres or Reims, which gives you some indication of the pitched battles fought in and around the General Post Office on O'Connell street.

After touring the jail and the museum we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather in Phoenix Park. The park is home to what used to be the viceregal mansion and is now the official residence of the Irish president. In 1882, Irish nationalists murdered the newly appointed viceroy, Lord Cavendish, on his very first day in the country. The murderers were hanged at Kilmainham, but the prison museum had no information about them whatever. So we walked about the park none the wiser in that respect, but it was pleasant all the same.

From the park we rode the bus back into the city to buy postcards for the express purpose of mailing them from the O'Connell street post office. In the entrance, a plaque commemorates Patrick Pearse's reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916. I couldn't swear that the holes in the wall we saw were actually made by bullets, but a nearby memorial clearly does have bullet holes in it.

From there we walked to the Temple Bar by way of the ha'penny bridge, which got its name from the half penny toll it cost to cross it. Temple Bar is the culture & night life district of the city, and though it is home to a great many bars, it seems to have been named for a former provost of Trinity College. We've yet to visit that, and lots of other places as well, but we decided that we'd done enough for one day and walked back home to downl0ad today's pictures and update the blog.

Nicoline Dublin
Nicoline (September 7, 2014)

Last modified: September 8, 2014 at 3:54:16

We arrived in Dublin after a very late flight. It didn't leave until 10.30 p.m. which was much later than we'd ever flown before. It was also *packed* so no opportunity to stretch out even a little. The weather in Dublin was beautifully sunny, though we went from the lower 90s (30C) to the upper 50s/low 60s (15C). A bit of a shock there!

Finding the Airbnb took some doing, as the city of Dublin is stingy with street name signs. But it turned out be in a fairly new apartment block opposite Google's European HQ. Our hosts are an Italian-Polish couple, who seem very friendly. After parking our luggage in their spare room, we went out again and explored the center of Dublin, which was only about a 15 minute walk from the apartment. Having skipped a night's sleep, more or less, we decided to take it easy and see Dublin from the top floor of a double decker bus.

For such an old city, I thought Dublin had a lot of new construction in the city center. Even Trinity College had new office buildings and things built around it. But the bus took us through areas that did have historic buildings, so maybe we just walked in from the wrong direction, or perhaps the city of Dublin is big on slum clearance and urban renewal. Who knows.

By 6 p.m. we were both ready to pack it in for the day, so got off on the stop nearest the apartment and walked back. There's a great Spar supermarket & deli just around the corner where we picked up a baguette and some cheese for a quick dinner & an early night.