Friday, June 6, 2008

And this...

It's taken me an entire week, but I have finally, on my last full day here, figured out how to do in Dublin what I have been doing in Venice for years - walk from A to B without the crowds!

Of course, the answer is to take all the small and charming and interesting little byways and side streets, this avoiding the throng (which on other days in other moods can be perfect fun) and discovering local treasures.

I think for many Dubliners, Life must not be easy. This is an expensive city. The streets clogged with some of the worst traffic I've ever seen were not meant for these cars. Fortunately, few are SUVs; most are tiny and relatively efficient. But the price of gasoline is even higher than in Canada.

On the other hand, if one can afford it - and you have to wonder how anybody outside of the illegal drug trade does - there are sections of the city that are so beautiful and livable. On the southeast side, the Grand Canal is tiny and willow-lined and there are rows of Georgian and Victorian houses and flats facing or running off the water. A lady sitting on a bench tells me that a million Euros might get you something here.

An elderly man explains the National Health Plan to me. It is a combination of the Canadian and British, I suppose. You can be automatically part of the government system, but, if you have the money, you can top that up by buying further coverage that will get you into a specialist without a very long wait. Either way, he assures me, the service once accessed is first-rate and everybody has a family doctor. Nevertheless, the hospitals can be overcrowded, the local authorities are sharply criticized for spending national money unwisely (sound familiar) and the topic of health care is a fixture of public debate - which, in itself, is healthy.

I stopped in my travels this afternoon at the famous and revered Shelbourne Hotel, thinking I might rest with the afternoon tea and finish a book I've been enjoying. Afternoon tea, much like the kind of thing we'd find at the Empress, is a flat 29 Euros. I like my tea steeped, but not that much. Soon, I was basking in the lovely garden cafe of Dublin castle.
The photo is of The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. It occupies one whole city block and is to me one of the most beautiful buildings Ive ever seen.

Buon viaggio a tutti!

By the Sea

As no smoking is allowed in any buildings here these days, Dublin is one big ashtray. The streets and doorsteps are littered, and one has to run inside to catch a breath of fresh air.

Or get on the DART, and head up coast to the aptly named GreyStones and Sandycove.

Sandycove is a special pilgrimage because this is where Joyce's "Ulysses" begins with "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan..."

So Joyce nuts like me come to see the Martello Tower, shown in some of the photos below. But the real revelation is the town itself.

I'm sure it cannot be cheap to live in Sandycove, but I am also sure that it is pretty close to heaven. Those houses face the Irish Sea and some are grand and some are sweet cottages.

Louis, the waiter in the Eagle pub, who served me a delicious veggie, tuna and egg sandwich is from Beijing. He is marrying his Beijing girlfriend because she is expecting their baby. So much for his fascination with Irish women.

In the evening, I went to another play at The Abbey, this time in the smaller studio theatre round the corner and down the stairs, "The Peacock."

Amazing, beautiful piece of work called "The Brothers Size." Three black New York actors and a local white Irish percussionist at the side of the stage telling a powerful story through words and music and movement and dance. Lovely second to last evening in Dublin.

Today, just casual strolling. Tomorrow, fly to Heathrow for one night to catch a morning flight home on Sunday.

I hope you've enjoyed these pictures and musings.

Travel is always great and coming back home even sweeter.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Wicklow Tour

A quick hour bus ride out of Dublin brings you into the Wicklow Mountains, pass Blessington Lakes, the positively ancient site at Glendalough (The Valley of Two Lakes) and the lovely little weaving village of Avoca, whose scarves and blankets and caps are sold round the world.

Even in rain and mist, this is a marvelous day excursion.

I told our guide that whatever they were paying her, it was not nearly enough. A born Talk Show Host, with an Irish lilt in her voice, a prodigious encyclopedic knowledge of practically everything including economics, history, religion, health, education, literature and the blessed ability to call up any file from her memory as needed.

In the perfectly charming hotel in Glendalough (You couldn't ask a movie set designer to improve on this Irish Country Inn.), it was the Annika and Annika Show. two very funny friends from Holland in their 50's who started chatting me up and became my lunch buddies. What a riot and one of the joys of travel, meeting lively interesting people like these two ladies.

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