Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Isle of Skye

On the Isle of Skye we left the harbor town of Portree to visit Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and the stronghold of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.  The castle's treasures include a letter from Samuel Johnson, thanking the laird for his hospitality and mentioning that Boswell is grumpy about the rainy weather (they were waiting for the ferry at the time).  We were a little grumpy about it, too, but the rain is probably why the castle gardens are so lush.  On the way back to the ship we stopped for a quick view of the Black and Red Cuillin; the Black Cuillin are among the most challenging mountains for climbers in Britain.


The chips smelled really good, but Sue and I resisted

Dunvegan Castle and Gardens:

Part of the Cuillin:

That knuckle-end of England -
that land of Calvin, oat-cakes, and sulphur.
~Sydney Smith, British clergyman and essayist, on Scotland

Friday, November 14, 2014

Edinburgh in the Rain

Our next stop was the port of Greenock, Scotland.  My sister and I took a bus trip from there to Edinburgh, where our group meandered through some of the Georgian neighborhoods, stopped for a few minutes at Holyrood Palace, drove slowly up the extremely congested Royal Mile, and finished with a tour of Edinburgh Castle.  The neighborhoods were beautiful; we saw where Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle had lived and where Sean Connery went to school.  The stop at Holyrood Palace was so short that Sue only got to see the inside of the ladies' room; I spent my time there mostly in the gift shop, drooling over the reproductions of royal china.

Despite the cold, the wind, and the rain, the castle was perhaps the most crowded tourist attraction I've ever visited.  The line to see the Scottish crown jewels was even longer than the lines on a busy day at Disneyland, but at least it wound through interesting historical exhibits and wall murals.  Annoying new tourism trend: packs of teenagers absorbed in their cell phones, standing where they block the view of the attractions, with their backs to that very view.  Maybe they're all taking selfies, but I was wishing for a time limit on how long anyone was allowed to stand in a single spot.

Just as we left the castle a tremendous downpour started, so Sue and I ducked into a nearby building that had been converted into a vertical mall.  We briefly watched tartans being woven, had dinner in a practically deserted (covered) rooftop restaurant, and bought lovely Scottish cashmere pullovers to augment the layers we'd brought on the trip.  (The heavier sweaters were even prettier, but when could we ever wear them in Arizona?) 

Shottskirk, halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh
Roadside art for the benefit of commuters

Holyrood Palace:

Edinburgh Castle:


“Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence; it has long trances of the one and flashes of the other; like the king of the Black Isles, it is half alive and half a monumental marble.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Belfast with a Leprechaun

In Belfast Sue and I again decided to see the sights on our own.  For part of the day, though, we were escorted by an elderly man who adopted us on a street corner; he was walking his granddaughter's dog, and saw us struggling with a map.  He was a chatty, energetic little guy who told us about his work with a group that sponsors joint trips for Catholic and Protestant children so they can learn to live together peacefully.  I think he would have been happy to show us the entire town, but unfortunately my sister couldn't understand anything he said, so we parted with joint expressions of goodwill after he had shown us the cathedral and the waterfront.  (He sounded just like some of my late husband's cousins, so I was able to catch most of the travelogue and tell her about it later.)

The highlight of the day was our visit to the First Presbyterian Church of Belfast, with a small but beautiful oval sanctuary where a singer and pianist were practicing for a concert to be held that afternoon.  We couldn't stay for the official performance, but even the warmups were lovely.  We also toured the photography and vintage poster exhibits on display at the historic Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Ireland.

And yes, it rained off and on all day.

The row of sculptures to the left is a collection of ship memorials:

St. Anne's Cathedral
Trompe l'oeil bicycle, next to rings for locking down real bikes

First Presbyterian Church of Belfast:

From the exhibit of vintage posters at the Linen Hall Library

"I certainly notice the vitality in Belfast, which wasn't there in the Seventies.  There was a war going on then.  Now there are cranes everywhere.  There really is a sense of renewal and hope." ~Liam Neeson

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Day in Dublin

Our next stop was Dublin, where Sue and I chose to walk around the city center on our own.  Highlights of the day included a visit to Dublin Castle, which had lovely grounds and was hosting an exhibit of early Chihuly glass cylinders (the "Ulysses" series); lunch at a pub where we downed pints of Guiness in memory of my husband (he loved the stuff); and the carriage horse we saw wearing knitted ear warmers (yes, by the end of the day, more cold rain).  BTW, I have repeatedly read that corned beef and cabbage is more American than Irish, but they served it in the pub we visited, and mighty tasty it was, too.

This piece by artist Seaver Leslie was the source of the images on this glass cylinder:

The Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle:

The people on this "Viking Tour" are all wearing Viking helmets:

"...I live in Ireland every day in a drizzly dream of a Dublin walk...” ~ John Geddes, A Familiar Rain