Category Archives: Politics

Touring Tórshavn

September 5, 2017:

After a fairly rough day at sea yesterday, we have landed in the Faroe Islands. Upon our departure from Iceland, we again crossed the Arctic Circle after we left Akureyri (for which we have received duly signed certificates), and sailed further eastward. Jim and I tried again to see the Northern Lights, but bad weather again prevented us. Current Score: Lights-2; Jim and Stacy-0.

This morning we have docked in glorious sunshine, albeit with a wind blowing about 35 knots.

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Fort and lighthouse erected to protect shipping fleet

I have managed to come down with a cold, so I missed this morning’s sightseeing tour. Therefore, most of these pictures are Jim’s. He took a scenic drive which gave him some amazing panoramic views of the harbor, and countryside of Tórshavn.

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Jim came back for lunch aboard, and then we took the shuttle into town to walk around.  From everything we can see, this is an incredibly prosperous island, one of 14 islands in the Faroe archipelago, which are a dependency of Denmark.  The main industry here is said to be fishing, but the town looks too rich for that.

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The early history of the Faroe Islands is somewhat unclear. According to Wikipedia, “It is possible that Brendan, an Irish monk, sailed past the islands during his North Atlantic voyage in the 6th century. He saw an ‘Island of Sheep’ and a ‘Paradise of Birds,’ which some say could be the Faroes with its dense bird population and sheep. This does suggest however that other sailors had got there before him, to bring the sheep. Norsemen settled the Faroe Islands in the 9th century or 10th century. The islands were officially converted to Christianity around the year 1000, and became a part of the Kingdom of Norway in 1035. Norwegian rule on the islands continued until 1380, when the islands became part of the dual Denmark–Norway kingdom, under king Olaf II of Denmark.”

Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel that ended the dual Denmark–Norway kingdom, the Faroe Islands remained under the administration of Denmark as a county. During World War II, after Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany, the British invaded and occupied the Faroe Islands until shortly after the end of the war. Following an independence referendum in 1946 (which was unrecognized by Denmark), the Faroe Islands were given extended self-governance with the Danish Realm in 1948 with the signing of the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands.” Today, they seem to function as a Danish depency with some limited self governance. Speaking of that, this is another place which developed early traditions of democratic governance.

Like Iceland, The Faroe Islands established a parliament called the Tinganes in Tórshavn between 800-900 AD, and like the Althing in Iceland, was open to all men and was a place where laws were made and disputes settled. Although it was disbanded during norse and Danish rule, the important representative Faroese ministers still work in the Tiganes buildings dating back to at least the 1600s.

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The Tinganes buildings

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Backside of the Tinganes

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Once of the most charming features of Iceland is the use of sod-covered homes. Instead of mowing the roof, if the grass gets too long, every once and a while, the Faroese just put a goat on the roof. Jim and I wandered around the harbor and into the old town area for a bit, but then returned to the ship. Regrettably, as this is still a country which hunts whales, and mindful of my friend, Chris’, admonitions; I wasn’t inclined to support the local economy by shopping.

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Sod-roofed home

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Traditional Faroese Dress

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Raving About Reykjavik!

Sept. 1, 2017:

This morning marks the official end of the first part of our cruise. So many of our cruise mates are leaving the ship, and new passengers are coming aboard. It also means we have to change cabins, albeit just to a cabin next door. Suffice it to say it was because we failed to book the second leg of this journey at the same time we booked the first. Enough said.

OK, Peeps! Hold on to your hats because Our Lady of the Aggressive Schedule has hijacked the itinerary again today!  We left the ship as soon as we docked and made for the Europe Car rental kiosk conveniently located right on the cruise quay. Car keys in hand, we made for the central city, which is walkable from the ship (probably about a mile), but we are on a short schedule today (largely due to Our Lady of the Aggressive Schedule setting our itinerary). First stop: old town Reykjavik. We had about an hour and a half in the old town before we had to hit the road for the Blue Lagoon; our prime objective for the day.

But first, a small sampling of Icelandic history and culture!

Iceland was first inhabited  by Ingólfar Arneson in 847 AD. Written history generally agrees that the area was first settled by Viking explorers and their slaves in the late 9th century (about 874), although there is archeological evidence that Gaelic monks settled the area at some time earlier in the 9th century. The seaside edges of the country were rapidly developed, mainly by Norwegians, after that.

Interestingly, Iceland was one of the very first countries to establish a representational form of government, known as Icelandic Commonwealth (or Old Commonwealth), and it held its first parliament (called the Althing) in 930. The Althing met annually until about 1262 at Lögberg, which is the site of the Althing in Thingvellir National Park. Today, the Althingi is the seat of Icelandic Parliament in Reyjkavik.

The history of Iceland is well known today because it was one of the first countries to record its country’s history in written books known as the Icelandic Sagas.

In 1262, following a period of internal strife known as the “Age of the Sturlungs”, which weakened Iceland, it became subjugated to Norway. In that year, it was brought under Norwegian Crown, under the “Old Covenant”. In 1319, Norway and Sweden United, and then in Denmark subjugated both in 1376. IN 1397, the Kalmar Union was formed under the leadership of Queen Margret of Denmark, and all four countries were united until 1523. Following that, Iceland fell under Danish rule, which remained the case for several centuries.

During this time, Iceland suffered as one of poorest countries in Europe, and frequent pandemics killed off large percentages of its population. Perhaps the worst natural calamity occurred in 1783, when the Lakagígar volcano erupted, which thoroughly disrupted life in Iceland and killed off virtually all agriculture. One in three Icelanders died as a result of this eruption and the poisonous air afterwards. The volcano is also credited with completely disrupting natural weather cycles and causing a cold period, further limiting crop production for several years. In the 19th century, 20% of the population emigrates to Canada to escape the cold which caused devastating crop losses.

Finally, in 1918, Iceland entered into a 25 year agreement with Denmark which recognizes Iceland as a sovereign state in personal union with Denmark, but it was disrupted by the outbreak of WWII.

In WWII, Iceland assumed control over its foreign affairs, and was “neutral” after Nazis invaded Denmark. In 1940, was occupied by British troops; after 1941, occupied by U.S. troops. In 1943 when the Danish Icelandic Union Agreement expired, there was a vote on future relations with Denmark, and the people voted to become an independent nation, which happened in 1944.

In 1994, Iceland joined the European Economic Area, but maintains its own currency; the Icelandic Kronúr. In 2001, the banks of Iceland were deregulated, and Iceland became (temporarily) one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Iceland moved towards an economy based on investment banking and financial services. However, the economic crash of 2008 caused the failure of all three major Icelandic banks, and economic depression and political unrest followed. Today, the economy is stabilizing and growing, although there was another temporary setback when the prime minister was forced to resign following the disclosure of his and his family’s offshore economic holdings following the publication of the “Panama Papers” a couple of years ago. Today, Iceland appears to be a very prosperous country once again, and construction cranes dot the skyline.

We drove into old town Reykjavik along the lovely seaside promenade, and past several interesting buildings and sculptures, and parked our car near the Settlers museum, in the beautiful embassy area. Jim and I wandered around in this area for about an hour and a half. I would have really liked to have had time to tour the settlement museum, but it was not open before we had to hit the road to drive to the Blue Lagoon, which is about 35 km from Reykjavik.

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Harpa, the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Center built in glass hexagonal to resemble the basalt stones at Kirkjubaejarklaustur
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Dómkirkjan, Lutheran Cathedral
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Tungatan, “embassy row”

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Icelandic grocery store; trolls welcome
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old city center
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Tjörnen park area

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The Blue Lagoon has become such a popular destination that you must go online first to order your tickets which assures you a set entry time. To give you an idea how hard it is to get the tickets, I ordered ours online about six weeks before we would be arriving here, and the only options for entry times were at 8 a.m. or 12 p.m. Since the ship was not scheduled to land in Reykjavik until 8, we had to settle for the 12:00 tickets, which totally messed up our day from a logistical standpoint. However, it was still a great day.

The drive to the area where the Blue Lagoon is located is takes you through some amazing topography which looks like it is a recently exploded volcanic eruption. In this area of Iceland, you do not see the remaining icecaps, but today, there is a cold wind blowing across this bleak terrain. The Blue Lagoon is south and west of Reykjavik, and is very near the international airport. Actually, if you had a car and about two hours before you had to be at the airport, you could do this site as a detour on your way to your flight or immediately after you landed, assuming you had the forethought to order your tickets enough in advance.

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Upon arrival, you are given a locker bracelet, which also operates as your charging device while in the baths. There is an extra charge for towels, robes and any other services. In short, this has got to be the best tourist trap in existence, since you are totally at the mercy of the site operator.   Jim and I quickly changed and made our way out to the lagoon. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, except to say that we really appreciated the 90 degree waters after crossing the very cold deck from the changing rooms.

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While you can spend all day at the Lagoon, and there are rooms for massages and facials, a couple of steam rooms, a restaurant and the like, Our Lady was a demanding mistress today, so we set off in the complete opposite direction up to the northeast of Reykjavik. Our ultimate destination was Thingvellir National Park, which offers two important features in addition to being just a lovely park for hiking and camping.

 

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We were pleased to see the topography changed gradually to a more grassy and agricultural landscape, dotted with sheep and the famous Icelandic horses as we drove to the north. One thing Jim and I decided today is that we are only seeing a fraction of the beauty Iceland has to offer with our three planned stops here, and we will have to return in the near future to explore more thoroughly!

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The first thing which drew us to Thingvellir park is that this is one of the few places on earth where you can actually see tectonic plates grinding together. In this case, it is a rift valley where the plates are ripping apart, actually pushing western Iceland towards Greenland at a rate of a few centimeters a year. As you arrive in the park, you walk down a crazy stone path that literally dives between these plates, and the park service obviously has some challenges just keeping a working pathway with all the geologic activity!

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The other cool thing is that this is the site of where all 36 of the island’s Viking chieftains held their first Althing (general Assembly) in 930 AD. This annual parliament was held here for centuries, and attended by all of the 60,000 citizens of Iceland to declare laws and settle disputes. In the year 1,000, it was the place where Iceland decided to eschew pagan beliefs and adopt Christianity (albeit under threat of invasion from Norway).  There is still a Lutheran church onsite with a pulpit which dates back to 1683.

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Thingvallavatn, the largest inland lake in Iceland

Sadly, that was all we had time to explore, and so we made a mad dash back to Reykjavik to begin part 2 of the cruise. We’re looking forward to meeting some new shipmates, but we are left with a huge list of things to explore just in the Reykjavik area alone: The “golden circle” drive to Gullfoss waterfall and Geyser national park, Sellfoss waterfall, glacier tracking, the Inside the Volcano tour, a drive to Kirkjubaejarklaustur to see the basaltic columns, a sail down to Jökulsárlón lagoon where the icebergs rest, and Látrabjarg bird cliffs! Whew! Maybe we’d better make it two weeks!

Mooning Over Montreal

August 17-18, 2017:

I LOVE Montreal! It has all of the charm of Paris (and the excellent restaurants), with none of the attitude.

 

Jim and I arrived yesterday afternoon, and as soon as we dropped off our stuff at our hotel (and I changed into my Trump apology T-shirt), we set off to explore. We are staying at the Marriott Springfield Suites in the old quarter, right off one of the main streets, Rue Saint-Paul.

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We headed down to the waterfront (to the area called the quays—Pronounced “keys”) to see if we could find out where the cruise ship terminal is located. Mission accomplished, we gazed across the harbor at the site of an early futuristic public housing project, which is still very architecturally striking decades later.

As we walk along the waterfront, I am reminded what a livable city this is (at least in the summer). There is a public bike rental program, and there were numerous cyclists along with the walkers. We also walked over to locate the site of our restaurant for tonight.

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Walk along the waterfront
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View from the harbour

Chores accomplished, we headed back up into the heart of the old quarter to one of our favorite streets here; Rue Jacques Cartier. This is a wide pedestrian street/plaza lined with open air cafes and street vendors, which runs from the stately Court of Appeal all the way down to the harbor.

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Streetscene
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Rue St. Paul
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Rue Jacques Cartier

We were fortunate to stumble into a great rooftop bar called la Perché (accessed off an alley behind the restaurant Maggie Oakes). The views were fabulous, and the breeze was heavenly!

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After our aperitif, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. Our reservations this evening are at Gibby’s, a local white-tablecloth gem of a place specializing in steak and fresh seafood. When Jim and I were here before, we celebrated my birthday with Beautiful Nova Scotia lobsters, and we were eager to repeat the experience. Our memories did not disappoint, and the ambience of this place is really great since it is located in an ancient stone building, which was originally part of the harbor fortifications.

Replete and happy, we headed back to the room. Along the way we stumbled on a huge public light and music show down by the harbor and we detoured to see it. Wow!

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This morning, we awoke to rainy skies, about 6 hours ahead of time. No matter, we waterproofed ourselves and headed out. Even though our hotel includes breakfast, I was craving a decent latte, and we found another great restaurant called Great Eggspectations. We also walked about some more and detoured by the Place de Arms to look on the stately Notre Dame Cathedral.

Then it was time to head to the ship, the Regent Navigator. As I write this, I am sitting here with a glass of champange looking city-ward from the ship. Sail with us as the Gringos make port tomorrow in old Quebec!

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Walking in the Giants’ Steps

June 7, 2017:

Another big day in our itinerary is finally here: we are bound for the Giant’s Causeway to see this incredible geological formation that left giant hexagonal basalt columns sticking up like broken teeth or stepping stones on the edge of the ocean! It’s also time for us to get our geek on; specifically, geeking out about Game of Thrones. All along our drive today, we’ll be seeing several of the sites featured in the series, which Jim and I really enjoy. It turns out Steve is a big fan, too.

We drove out of Belfast this morning to the east to drive along the coast, for another very picturesque drive called the Nine Glens of Antrim drive.  We will spend the whole day in County Antrim, but you are very clearly still in Northern Ireland, as it seems that each successive town takes turns proclaiming their allegiance to either the Republican or Loyalist forces. You can easily tell this by the prominent use of either Irish national flags or the British tricolor. So much for getting out of the corrosive partisan atmosphere of Belfast!

Nonetheless, the drive was as lovely as advertised! Our first stop was in the town of Carrickfergus, with a fort dedicated to the English invasion of William III of Orange. Plainly, this is a Loyalist town, complete with a mock redcoat statue on the ramparts of the fort.

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Carrickfergus Harbour
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The fort
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Statue of William III

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The Redcoat on the Ramparts
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Hi, Lauretta!
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Clearly, a Loyalist town

Next, we stopped in the quaint seaside town of Glencloy, which has been used to film scenes in Game of Thrones, both as the seaside port in Braavos where Arya Stark goes to learn from the Faceless Man, and the cliffside behind the town, which was featured when the Whitewalkers attack the Wilding encampment, a  If all of that means nothing to you, just know that Glencloy is the prototypical Irish seaside town and enjoy it for that!

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Coming in to Glencloy; the wall the Whitewalkers overran above the Wildings village
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Entrance to Glencloy Harbour

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Where Arya comes ashore

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Beyond that, we drove through village after quaint village, with sheep and lambs grazing happily in the fields. One town in particular, Ballycastle, looked like it might be a pleasant place to stay at the seashore, but we would probably pick the westside of the Irish Republic before we would come back here.

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Shortly thereafter, we pulled into a carpark on the coast on the cliffs high above the sea. From here, you can see the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which connects the mainland to a tiny island that lies just feet off the coast. From here, you can also see the much larger Raflin island, and just 11 miles away, the outline of the coast of Scotland.  While I would have liked to climb across the bridge, several in our group don’t deal well with heights, and we still needed to get to the Giant’s Causeway.

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The only house served by the rope bridge?

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The island of Raflin and the coast of Scotland behind it

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Finally, we came into the town nearest the Causeway and had lunch at a very cozy pub, called, appropriately, The Nook.  Somewhat uncharacteristically for Northern Ireland, all of the young women working in the pub were very friendly.

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Following lunch, we hopped on the shuttle bus which takes you into the Giant’s Causeway area, and at last, we were free to explore!  First I hiked out along the seashore just past the main tourist part of the sight, which was TEEMING with visitors.  Then I walked up the trail behind the site to see the organ pipe-shaped rock formations, and then up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the site so I could get some perspective shots. Finally, I scampered down to the main site to see all I could before we left.  Sadly, I felt like I did not get nearly enough time here, and I would like to return someday, perhaps when there are fewer tourists.

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Then it was back in the bus to continue our tour of Game of Thrones sites.  As we drove south from the north coast of Northern Ireland, we headed for the location of the  “Dark Hedges”; more properly known as Kingsroad in the series. This location is a country road lined with twisted, gnarly beech trees, and was used a few times, including in the scene where Arya Stark dresses up like a boy to escape from King’s Landing, but is captured instead, and dragged off to the Brothers without Banners hideout (which was filmed in another part of Northern Ireland — Pollnagollum Cave, in County Fermanagh).  The actual road is Bregagh Road, outside of Stranocum, in the Ballymoney district in County Antrim.  Obviously, this is not a well-kept secret, as tour busses jockeyed for position, and it was a challenge to get a photo without other tourists in it. Some people went to elaborate lengths to strike poses from the GOT scenes.

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Finally, it was back to Belfast.  We enjoyed a super good meal at the restaurant James  Street South. Tomorrow dawns with the last day of our tour, so we all hurried back to pack and go to bed.

 

 

Buzzing Up to Belfast

June 6, 2017:

Wow! Today was a really action-packed day!  We left Lough Eske  (in County Donegal) early this morning so we could get Paula and Steve to Derry, where they were set to met with the parents of friends back in Virginia. In doing so, we left the Republic of Ireland and entered Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Dermott drove us expeditiously to Derry, also known as Londonderry (but never by anyone from the Irish Republic). It lies on the seaside, where the River Foyle opens to the north onto the ocean.  There has been a town here since 546 when St. Columba founded a monastery here. Derry is a completely walled city, which became one of the first “Plantations” after the British took power back following the Nine Years War.

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The “Peace Bridge” by Calatrava

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Looking across the River Foyle

Derry was the center of several violent incidents during the “Troubles” which resulted in armed clashes between Republican and Loyalist forces in Ireland from the late 1960s until The Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed in 1998.  The Troubles arose out of a civil rights movement by the republican (largely Catholic) residents of Northern Ireland against discrimination in jobs, housing and suspensions of civil liberties against Catholics by the unionist, (largely Protestant) local councils and police forces. The city of Derry was the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre when British soldiers shot 13 unarmed demonstrators dead, and the Northern Irish Parliament was suspended, and direct rule from London was imposed.

Dermott dropped us off at the Guildhall Building, which is situated right on Lough Foyle. The building itself is lovely, Neo-Gothic in style (it was built in 1890), with stained glass windows telling tales of Ireland’s history. Additionally, there is a really good comprehensive museum archive, which documents the British Plantation system, as practiced in Ireland, and the seeds of Irish discontent which led to the Troubles, and ultimately, to limited Home Rule for Northern Ireland.

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View of the Guildhall from the Peace Bridge

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Stained glass windows in the Guildhall

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The Guildhall is located right on Lough Foyle, and right across from it is a Calatrava-designed bridge called the Peace Bridge.  We all hopped down from the bus and started to walk across the bridge, but the wind was blowing so hard (and cold), that we decided to get a latte instead.  After visiting the Guildhall, and learning more about the Plantation system (so we could get a better idea of the factors leading to the strongly opposing political views in Northern Ireland), we collected Paula and Steve, and moved on to see more of Derry.

Then we drove around to see more of the  city.  You immediately sense the turbulent emotions underlying the divergent political positions as you drive through the streets of Derry, which are divided into strictly Republican/Nationalist and Unionist/Loyalist neighborhoods. First stop, the Bogside neighborhood, which is staunchly Republican, and in the late 1960s, barricaded its streets from outsiders, creating an area known as “Free Derry”. There are extensive murals on the walls of some of the homes depicting political themes, mostly in favor of greater civil rights, and commemorating the struggles of Irish nationalists during the Troubles.

 

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Memorial to those killed while protesting during the Bloody Sunday Massacre

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From Bogside, we drove up to a point where we could access the walls of the city, and see the city from the walkways there. There are still cannons remaining on the ramparts, ostensibly placed to protect British forces of yesteryear from attacks by the sea. However, as I look at them, it’s easy to see that they are also pointed at the largely Republican neighborhoods in the city, and the feel is vaguely menacing instead of merely historical.

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Entrance to the barracks atop the walled city
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Cannons pointing at Bogside

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Then we all piled back in the bus to drive on to Belfast. First stop: the Titanic Museum! The Museum is located right in the docklands area of Belfast, and the building housing it looks like it has a giant ship’s bow on all four sides.

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We all had signed up for this very interactive tour, and enjoyed learning more about Belfast at the turn of the 20th century, when it was the second richest city in Europe.  In addition to all the exhibits which detailed the building of the the Titanic, and its final fateful trip, there was a reproduction gantry which reached up about 4 stories, just like the two which had been built about 100 yards from the museum to build the Titanic.  You could take a motorized ride through sections of the reproduction ship, and really get a sense of what a massive undertaking it was.  There were also re-enacted rooms which gave you a very good idea of what the traveling conditions were from the those of the first class passengers all the way down to the steerage passengers.  There was also a very cool overlay on the window looking over the former shipyard which gave you an idea of the scope of the ship as it was being constructed. Finally, there was a great exhibit detailing the discovery and documentation of the Titanic wreck, with some great footage from the submersible ROV which recorded the conditions of the wreck as it lay on the ocean floor.

We then picked up a local guide, Bibi, who would be our leader to some of the more recent historical spots in modern Belfast.  We went first to the Northern Irish House of Parliament (Stormont). It was built between 1928 and 1932 as a result of the Treaty between the Irish and the English which settled the Irish War of Independence, and resulted in the partition of Ireland into the Irish Free State and the British-controlled Northern Ireland. As noted above, this Parliament was suspended after the Bloody Sunday Massacre in 1972, and the Northern Ireland Assembly not re-established until Good Friday Peace Treaty of 1998.  A huge purpose of that peace treaty was to restore limited self-rule to Northern Ireland.

Stormont sits in a very pretty parkway way off in the eastern part of Belfast. There is also a prominent statue of Edward Cason, a Dublin barrister, who was the leader of the Northern Ireland campaign against Home Rule under the banner of the Unionist Party. He is largely credited with being the force behind the partition of Ireland in the Irish-Anglo Peace Treaty of 1921.

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Stormont
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Stormont grounds
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Statue of Edward Carson

Our next stop was at the Queen’s College of Belfast. Candidly, in comparison to Trinity College, this seemed to lack a little, with the exception of  the fact that after negotiating the Good Friday Peace Treaty, Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was appointed Chancellor of Queen’s College of Belfast; a post which he held from 1999 until 2009. How cool!

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Queen’s College Belfast

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Symbol of the City of Belfast

We then drove to western Belfast, which was the epicenter of The Troubles. Many civil rights marches occurred here, among other areas in Northern Ireland, and it became a flashpoint for violence during the Troubles. In response to rising violence from both sides, the British Army erected huge walls between neighborhoods (some as tall as 25 feet high) which effectively partitioned western Belfast into Unionist and Republican enclaves, called “Peace Walls” or Peace Lines. Not only were (and are) the walls physically imposing, but the British erected armed checkpoints at the major intersections, and prohibited vehicular access (and some pedestrians) after dark every day.  Ironically, there are more peace walls today than there were before the 1998 peace treaty, but a sad fact is that a majority of the Belfast residents still think these walls are necessary for protection.

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Candidly, you could write a doctoral thesis (and many have) on the topic of The Troubles.  However, because I will undoubtedly blow the nuances about this issue, you can read more about it in the very good article in Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles.

We made three major stops in western Belfast: We stopped in the Republican Falls Road area of West Belfast, and drove through the nearby Unionist neighborhood of Shankill Road, and made stops to look at the murals on the peace walls in several neighborhoods, as well as the infamous heavily fortified checkpoint station known as “Checkpoint Charlie”. On one of the main peace walls, tourists are actually encouraged to write graffiti messages of peace, and many famous people have done so, from President Bill Clinton to the Dalai Lama.

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Posters in a Loyalist Neighborhood

 

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Republican Murals in Falls Road

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One of the gates between neighborhoods closed each weekend night

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The Peace Walls where messages of peace are left

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Bill Clinton’s Message

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“Checkpoint Charlie”

After this mentally grueling afternoon, we made our way to the Europa Hotel in central Belfast right next to the Opera House, and then made our way to dinner at a nearby restaurant, Ginger Bistro (recommended by Dermott), we had an excellent meal and went to bed.

 

 

 

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Stud Finding

May 30, 2017:

Today we left Dublin, headed south for our ultimate destination of Kilkenny.  Along the way, we enjoyed many stops along the way.  The first of those was at the National Stud Farm, where many of the premier racehorses in the world are bred.  These horses compete in both flat races and in steeple jumping.  Me; I was just there to see all the new colts!

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Our Studs
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The Japanese Gardens

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We continued to drive through the Irish countryside, admiring all the green. Every so often, we’d pass by a Norman tower house, built sometime in the medieval ages. In any other country, each of these would be its own tourist attraction. But here in Ireland, they’re just part of the scenery because they are so common.

Our driver guide, Dermott, next took us to Mount Juliet golf course so the guys could a round of golf. Jim has been practicing for a couple of months so he didn’t embarrass himself.  We all ate lunch at the golf club, and then left the boys to their torture.Kilkenny Golf and Lyrath Estate-1

For the rest of us,  we went sightseeing in the Kilkenny area, and stopped first at Jerpoint Abbey, which is the ruins of a Cistercian monastery founded in 1160.  The cloister in the middle has fallen into ruins, but you can still see the intricate carvings in the interior. Sadly. most of the front of the Abbey was undergoing renovations, which somewhat messed with the moody look of the church. Damn scaffolding anyway!

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We got into Kilkenny proper about 4:30, which gave us just enough time to dash into the Castle of Kilkenny, which was built in the 1190s. Kilkenny was a very important city from medieval times onward. The Butler family (of Anglo Norman descent) came to power in the late 14th century, and the Butlers lived in Kilkenny Castle from then until 1935. Kilkenny was the medieval capital of Ireland.  The castle is very large and well-maintained, and has a lovely location on the River Nore.

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We then checked in to our hotel, the Lyrath Estate Hotel.  The girls and I enjoyed some wine on the lovely patio, and then we enjoyed an Asian dinner at the restaurant in the hotel after Jim got home from golf, and we got ready for another day of exploring Ireland.

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 Iconic Ireland

May 29, 2017:

Yesterday we arrived late afternoon in Dublin, and reunited with our friends literally on Grafton Street here in theTemple Bar area of Dublin,  it was really too late to do any sightseeing.

Well, we survived Day One with our intrepid travel group in Dublin, the Terrific Ten!  True to form, it was a day of aggressive schedules!  We’re staying in the Brooks Hotel, which has a fabulous location, right off Drury Street.

Our first activity of the day was a tour of the Kilmainham Gaol.  The Gaol was completed in 1796, and was originally intended to house only 400 inmates, but ultimately came to house over 8,000 inmates. This happened largely as a result of the Potato Famine from 1844-50, because as the crops failed, tenant farmers were thrown off their farms, and winded up in the cities.  So many people came to the cities that the Parliament passed so-called “vagrancy” laws, and started throwing people in jail just because they were on the street.  However, the most infamous use of the Gaol came after the Easter Rising in April, 1916, when the Irish Republicans rose up and tried to throw off British rule.  In all, 14 leaders of the rebellion were housed in Kilmainham Gaol, sentenced to death and shot before a firing squad.  While many of those in southern Ireland initially were against the rebellion, the cruelty with which the executions were carried out ultimately turned the tide in favor of the independence movement, and Ireland was granted limited “Home Rule” in the Irish Anglo Treaty of 1921, which partitioned Ireland into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, which remains a British dependency. Sadly, although the war against the English ended with the treaty, Ireland itself devolved into a civil war between those who supported the treaty with limited independence from England, and those who still wanted complete autonomy.

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Kilmainham Gaol
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From left; Faye, Chuck, Jeff & Lauretta
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Mark & Shelly

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Two people who probably should be in jail

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Interior courtyard
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The Gaol Chapel
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Cell block

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View into a cell
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Stonebreakers’ Yard

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The last prisoner was released from Kilmainham Gaol in 1924, and the Gaol was allowed to go to ruin as an emblem of English oppression. However, a group of private Dublin citizens pitched in to restore it in the 1960s, and its care was subsequently taken over by the Irish state as an important site of the history of Ireland.

After that uplifting visit, we walked a short distance to take the tour of the Guinness Brewery, established in 1759 by Arthur Guinness. We dutifully propelled ourselves through the self-guided tour, and hopefully, learned something about brewing beer. Then we stopped for lunch in one of the restaurants, and collected our complimentary pints of the good stuff!  One other cool thing about the Brewery tour is that the top floor of the main (former) storehouse building has been turned into a bar with a 360 degree view of Dublin.

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Entering the Guinness tour
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The 9,000 Year Lease Signed by Arthur Guinness for the Brewery Site

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Sampling Our Guinness
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View from the Vertigo Bar
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Our Terrific Ten

Dublin, like many cities these days, has its own set of “Hop On, Hop Off” double decker busses with open viewing on top.  Not only does the Guinness Storehouse have its own stop on the circuit, but there’s even an express bus that goes there directly.  Jim and I have found that these bus tours are an excellent introduction to any city, particularly when you don’t have a lot of time in town (as we didn’t on this trip).  We availed ourselves of the red bus system, and were able to ride it directly to another main sight on our hit list: the Trinity College and its Book of Kells exhibit.  Trinity College was originally established as an Augustinian monastery in the 1200s. After the purge of the monasteries by Henry VIII, Trinity College was founded by Elizabeth I in 1592.  it was originally started as a Protestant university, and the first Catholics were not admitted for over 200 years (in 1793). Still, they fared better than women, who were not admitted until the early 20th century.

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Trinity College Courtyard

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We took the brief college tour, and admired the disparate architectural styles while learning about some famous Trinity graduates, including the playwrights, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde, writers Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker and politicians Edmund Burke, Conor Cruise O’Brien and and  John Redmond.  Without a doubt, though, the most outstanding feature of the college is its Book of Kells, an exquisite illustrated manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark Luke, and John, which were written/illustrated by monks about the year 800 A.D. (possibly on a monastery on the island of Iona).  Words cannot describe how beautifully written and painted these pages are!  However, no pictures were allowed, so you’ll have to use your imaginations (or Google).

We finished up our visit to Trinity College with a tour of the Long Hall, home to \Trinity’s fabulous old library. If you’ve ever imagined a traditional European library, this would be it; complete with a single hall with coves of books reaching up to the ceiling , some thirty feet above.  It was magnificent!

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The Long Hall
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The Stacks

Then we jumped back on the double decker bus and toured as much of Dublin as we could until it stopped running at 6:00 p.m.

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Christ Church Cathedral
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Christ Church Cathedral

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Wellington Memorial
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Four Courts
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Collins Barracks
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Ha’Penny Bridge

We finished our day with a fabulous meal at an Italian restaurant in the Temple Bar area called Il Vincoletti!  Tomorrow, into the countryside of Ireland.

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