Saturday, August 27, 2016

Europe By Train: Train/Ferry to Dublin: Books, Art, and Pubs

Based on the recommendation of the Man in Seat 61, I was excited to take the Virgin train-ferry to Dublin. We left London's Euston station around 9 a.m. and settled in for a three-hour ride to Holyhead, Wales.

Soon we had left London behind and were passing through pastoral countryside. 

Before long we reached Wales...a land of rugged seacoast, tidy farmland, and ancient castles.

Across a causeway, we reached Holy Island, and Holyhead Port. Inside the city is one of Europe's few remaining three-wall Roman forts, the fourth being the sea. It is believed that people have been traveling between here and Ireland for four-thousand years. 

After boarding our Irish Ferries vessel, we sat back and enjoyed our blue sky passage across the Irish Sea. 

In less than two hours, we reached Dublin port.

En route to the hotel, our taxi driver showed us the sights, including the Central Post Office, its bullet holes marking The Rising against British rule. 

This is the centennial of the bloody 1916 event--and no one seems to have forgotten.

Our hotel was on Stephen Street across from the Hairy Lemon Pub, a local landmark, our driver told us. Remember the name and we would never be lost. I looked forward to having my own neighborhood pub!

The next morning, we met a friend for breakfast and wandered to Dublin Castle, seat of the UK administration until the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

We wandered the Old Town streets, cobbled and quirky.

Our morning's highlight was the outstanding Chester Beattie Library, with its superlative collections, "Sacred Traditions" and "Artistic Traditions," featuring manuscripts, prints, books, and artifacts of the Islamic, Far Eastern, and European worlds. Photos are not allowed, so you must visit yourselves!  

Afterward, we happened upon a popup exhibit by Alison Hackett, author of The Visual Time Traveller, a unique history of the world that should be in every school. Alison commissioned artists to create pages grouping major landmarks of time. The following image notes such events as the forcible relocation of the Cherokee people in 1835 and the first photo of the moon in 1839.

In the style of the late '60s Fillmore concert posters, this image commemorates the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Neil Armstrong's 1969 walk on the moon, and, in 1966, Indira Gandhi becoming prime minister of India, one of the first women elected to lead a nation.

We ended the afternoon at Trinity College and the Long Room Library. 

Here we visited the exhibit of the Book of Kells, an ancient manuscript of the Four Gospels, with lavish illustrations by three monk-artists. Four monk-scribes transcribed the text. The following poems make two of them come alive.

That evening, we crossed the River Liffey to North Dublin and gawked at the soaring spire.

A block away, we paused to chat with James Joyce.

The next morning I walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral.

I lunched at a popular local spot, Fumbaly, which quotes Don Quixote, "All Sorrows are less with bread." I agree heartily.

Continuing through south Dublin, I encountered a cottage with this plaque: Here in Joyce's Imagination was born in May 1966, Leopold Bloom, Citizen, Husband, Father, Wandered, Reincarnation of Ulysses.

 I soon reached the Grand Canal, following it for several blocks.

I circled back up to St. Stephens park, which was packed on this lovely Sunday afternoon. Here I again met up with James Joyce, the patron saint of Literary Dublin.

That evening we bid farewell to Dublin at our favorite neighborhood pub, the Hairy Lemon.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Europe By Train: London #2: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"

Horse of Selene, the Greek moon goddess, British Museum
With Samuel Johnson's famous quote in mind, I gorged on London museums, most free. I wanted to devour everything, an impossibly rich buffet. The British Museum is, simply, mind-boggling. With self-deprecating British humor, they state that here they display the best in the world, since the Empire had the world to plunder.

Centaur fighting Lapith warrior
A controversial exhibit is the Elgin Marbles, a massive group of Athenian sculptures from the temple of Parthenon and Acropolis citadel. The British ambassador of the early 19C was given "permission" by the Turkish (Ottoman) ruler to remove many tumbled and crumbled pieces. These are now on exhibit, along with a fairly impartial history of Greece's position regarding their attempts to reclaim them. I will not go there, except to say that both sides have valid points. Although Lord Byron called it looting--and the Greek government still does--the museum takes its role of custodian for these ancient artworks with utmost gravity.

 There is also a magnificent Asia collection.

I am particularly fond of Ganesha, the Hindu god of good fortune.

London is a theater town, bar none. One evening we went to see "A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time." Before the curtain, we strolled through Soho's Chinatown.

In the Gielgud's lobby were some wonderful drawings of famous theater personalities. This is Noel Coward, who played the effete but was in fact a brave spy during WWII.

Here is John Gielgud as Hamlet.

I paused to chat with Oscar Wilde.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is in a class by itself, quirky and crafty. The entry hall marries modern and traditional with a gorgeous Chihuly glass sculpture.

One of my favorite pieces is this wood carving from the collection of Tipu Sultan, the powerful, late-18C "Tiger of Mysore." I imagine when British officials of the East India Company came to call that nervous laughter ensued. 

The maharajas were patrons of the arts. Look at this beautiful instrument!

In the Islamic world, the purdah screen became its own work of art. This is carved sandstone.

I also admired this samurai. Look at his tabi-clad feet.

There are so many nooks and crannies at the V&A, always something to discover. In a back corner, we came across this old spiral staircase.

Plaster casts of many important art pieces were collected for art students and archival purposes. Here is David.

Wouldn't we all love to spend some time here ?

And wouldn't we love the many lifetimes it would take to feast at the table of London?!

Next stop: Dublin, By Train and Ferry