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It’s December 31st. Again.

31 Dec

It’s the last day of the year. An arbitrary marker in the passing of days, but there are forms that must be observed.

This post is all about me. All blogs are all about “Me me me me me me,” that’s the point. Maybe you will see something that will help a little with the “You you you you,” or maybe you’ll get a chuckle and a hint of schadenfreude. Never know.

My aim for today is to do as little as possible. I’m already hearing rumblings of an upcoming case that I can guarantee will be a nightmare and given that I’m being copied on the emails it looks like they intend to put me in charge. But that hasn’t… happened… yet.

Right next to spending time with family from whom I am absent most of the year the thing I love most about the holidays is a respite from care. Gonna grab me some of that today before the to-do list encroaches on my peace of mind.

Well, after I make the year-end charitable donations.

… and after I write this.

Then I’m gonna relax LIKE A BOSS.

My year that was:

2015 was the year White Castle finally came to Las Vegas. Glory hallelujah.

Cadbury Dairy Milk bars became contraband in the USA thanks to Hershey. Screw you Hershey. Screw you unto even the 7th generation.

Jeff Gordon ran his last season in NASCAR. My wife is not amused.

Our house is now 10 years old. So everything broke. Ok not everything, just the air conditioner fan, the water heater, the disposal, and the capacitor in the ac condenser. (In related news, your big-ass flat HD smart tv is a computer. Plug it in to a surge protector. Trust me on this one.)

We began the Great Flooring Project of 2015 in February. We are now forced to rename it the Great Flooring Project of 2015/2016.

10 blog posts this year! (11 if you count this one)

We lost our cat Sir Andrew and it was just devastating. First Christmas without either of our boys in the house for 16 years was a little tough at first.

SpaceX started the year with a spectacular rocket crash into a barge on storm-tossed seas and ended with a perfect touchdown at Canaveral. I am a big proponent of space exploration. We’ve gotta go.

The Colbert Report ended and Jon Stewart left The Daily Show. Both much to my dismay.

We went to Disneyland 5 times. This is what keeps me from murdering my coworkers.

Took a second trip to Death Valley. Made it to Racetrack Playa and back. In the snow.

The world lost the philosopher Terry Pratchett. He took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. Just what the hell am I supposed to do now?

I’ve tried to cultivate a more zen attitude in my day to day life. This rarely works. I still spend much of my time angry, but I don’t use the car horn as much.

I learned that having the ventilation fan in the Mystery Machine Mark III break down during a surveillance when it is 110° outside instantly turns me into a passable electrician.

I got to go get a tetanus shot because I didn’t listen to my wife.

In 2014 I learned I can run flat out in my Justin cowboy boots. In 2015 I learned I can run flat out in the pouring rain in my Justin cowboy boots. I recommend you go buy some Justin cowboy boots.

Marriage Equality is now the law of the land. About damn time.

I was introduced to the hard cider ice cream float. Where has this been all my life?

We learned it’s ok to shoot down drones that are bugging you. How could this possibly come back and bite us in the ass?

I discovered the “Angry Scotsman” video and can now laugh myself stupid whenever I choose.

Star Wars came back, which is epic.

Bloom County came back, which is epic to the 10th power.

And there was joy, and sadness, and anger, and resignation. Politics makes me crazy. Hatred and stupidity and bigotry continue and there seems to be nothing I can do about it but I try anyway. We met people, we found old friends again, and we lost people.

And we go on.

I doubt I managed to really learn anything this year. I usually don’t. I still make the same mistakes but I keep trying, because what else is there to do?

Be kind to one another. That’s the best I have to offer.

Happy New Year.

Take good care.

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© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

The Castle Is Just Up The Street

19 Dec

Day 16

We were up before it was light to get on the road to Shannon. Mary was as good as her word and there were fruit and drinks in the refrigerator in a sack with our names on it. We were definitely going to miss Friar’s Glenn.

It was about a 2 ½ hour drive from Killarney Town to the Shannon airport. We had the road largely to ourselves at that hour. The N21 was mostly a two lane road through endless green pastures with the occasional village and roundabout as we sped on toward the airport. We had a tense moment or two looking for an open gasoline station before 7AM on a Sunday in Ireland but did finally make it to the one closest the airport that was likely only open for the rental car refueling trade. Because I always leave a hefty buffer in the schedule in case something goes wrong we were at the airport well ahead of the counter staff. I managed an a la carte breakfast with the very last of our Euros and ate at one of the tables on the upper level of the terminal decorated with the works of Irish poets. We checked our bags once the ticketing counter opened and, dodging fuel trucks and baggage carts, made our way out onto the tarmac to board a little turbo-prop commuter for Scotland.

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You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.

With apologies to Louis C. K., these are not our favorite planes. They are bumpy, slow, and incredibly loud. Add in the duty-free pitch and it’s very much like riding a city bus with someone trying to sell you perfume and whiskey the whole time.

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We overflew several peat-cutting operations. I cannot remember where I read the phrase but it has been lodged in my brain for years that “The children of Ireland burn her very body to survive.” Unfortunately my pictures of them were a wee blurry with engine vibration.

We landed at the Edinburgh Airport and walked the 27 miles from baggage claim to the taxi stand. We took what I will always consider a “London” taxi to our bed & breakfast, the Hanover House in Windsor Street. Our innkeeper was Jasmin. She was incredibly sweet but always seemed just a little overwhelmed. Due to a booking snafu we ended up in a triple room that was absolutely freezing. Jasmin provided a space heater to get the chill off and after dumping our bags we set out.

Memory is a funny thing. I’d spent several days in Edinburgh in the late 80’s and I talked the city up to Julia for years. One of the things I mentioned most often was the city’s compactness. I described to her a city center that is really just two streets wide (Queen Street and Princes Street, which I’d always confused with High Street and the Royal Mile) where everyplace is just a 5-minute walk from everyplace else. A European city one can navigate like a village. At least that’s how it lived in my mind in the little box labeled “Weekend in Edinburgh, April 1989.”

Not so much.

I’m not positive just what happened to my memories of Edinburgh, but near as I can tell, in order to clear up space in my head I long ago jettisoned all those memories having to do with walking anywhere. In my mind’s eye I stood on Calton Hill and but a step or two took me to the Scott Monument. I turned left and in a few paces stood on the Royal Mile, where the Camera Obscura sat next door to Edinburgh Castle. In my head I somehow managed to traverse the city in much the same way that we today navigate Google Maps on Streetview.

All of this was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

It was about 15 minutes from our hotel to the Princes Street shops above the train station. This is where Julia had a full-blown meltdown. If you don’t know my wife, that’s a shame because you would immediately understand how incredibly rare it is that something like that happens. She’d had the snacks Mary provided hours before, whereas I’d eaten a full Irish at the airport. We were now on completely different meal schedules and I was blithely charging ahead with seeing the sights of the city, assuring her that everything I’d talked about for years was just around the block. When it continued to not be just around the block she eventually lost her temper. She said she needed a bite and asked that we stop for something to eat. I said sure and then insisted we push on to a “Local” place.

We had some ugly words on a sidewalk outside the train station, and then we landed up in the food court having a croissant and a bottle of soda.

Pro Tip: The second polite request from your wife is actually an order. Heed it.

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Fleshmarket Close

After a small snack to stave off impending doom we left the station via Market Street. From there we made our way up the Fleshmarket Close to the Halfway House for an actual lunch.

A Close is an alleyway between blocks of flats along the Royal Mile. They carry various names:

Cooper’s Close

Bakehouse Close

Paisley Close (More about this in my next post)

World’s End Close

Advocate’s Close

Wikipedia lists more than 80 named Closes, Courts, and Wynds along the Royal Mile.

The Half Way House at 24 Fleshmarket Close was cozy and toasty and we had fish & chips and soup and cider and were much the better for it. It’s billed as “Edinburgh’s Smallest and Friendliest Pub” and takes its name from its position half way up the Close. There’s been a pub on the site for centuries, at least since the Close was the location of Edinburgh’s slaughterhouses (Hence “Fleshmarket” Close) in the 1700’s. Halfway House was previously Bennet’s and then the Suburban Bar. It was named pub of the year in 2009. After sustenance more substantial than station food court fare we stepped back out into the Close.

As a woman at the bar had put it moments earlier, it had “Gone cold.” We’d left the sun and clear skies of Kerry behind and it had been cloudy and cool since we’d landed in Scotland, While we were inside the Half Way House the temperature had plummeted and it was now a good bit below 32 F. I’d expected a rainy day, not a freezing one, and so had zipped the liner out of my raincoat. Normally in my role as an “Over-prepared American” I’d have put the liner in the bottom of my bag but for some reason I neglected to do so. I didn’t even have my gloves.

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Edinburgh Castle

We walked up Cockburn to the High Street, stopping in shops along the way more for warmth than a desire for souvenirs. As we approached the castle we took a turning down Upper Bow Street. At least, we think so. We found ourselves eventually on a lane with a view of Edinburgh Castle that I’ve not been able to duplicate. We worked our way through shops that looked interesting (Or heated) and eventually found ourselves at the gates of Greyfriars.

Most people think of Greyfriars as a cemetery. The Greyfriars Kirkyard surrounds the Greyfriars Kirk and the main entrance is off Candlemakers Row at the south end of the George IV Bridge. The site was originally a Fransican friary and was named for the “Grey Friars.” The friary was dissolved in 1559 and the church founded in 1561. The church and kirkyard figure in the history of the Covenanters, with the National Covenant being signed on the site in 1638. After the defeat of the Covenanters in 1679 more than a thousand of them were imprisoned in a yard just to the south that was incorporated into the kirkyard in the 18th century. Greyfriars Kirk is still an active church.

We love visiting cemeteries. Greyfriars is amazing. A number of famous figures are buried within the yard. Many of the monuments feature incredible relief sculptures and several are set into the back walls of the surrounding buildings. There are also 2 surviving mortsafes.E (6) A mortsafe was a steel cage set low to the ground to discourage grave robbing for dissection in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Families could lease the safes until the bodies of their loved ones had decomposed sufficiently to be of no interest to a “Ressurectionist” (A for-profit body snatcher who supplied corpses to the medical college). E (7)We wandered through the yard and marveled at the massive monuments and the few obvious mass-produced pieces that served as examples of what was popular in the world of grave goods two hundred years ago. Then we stopped to pay our respects to Greyfriars’ most widely famous internee. People who don’t know Greyfriars’ history, or even where it is, do know one of the very best of man’s best friends, Greyfriars Bobby.

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The monument to Greyfriars Bobby

The most popular version of the story runs thus….. one John Gray of Edinburgh died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. His dog, a Skye Terrier named Bobby stood watch at his grave for the next fourteen years. He eventually died and was buried next to his master.

At least some of this is true. There were 2 John Grays, one a farmer and another a night watchman. The consensus is that Bobby was owned by John Gray the night watchmen even though the closest thing to a contemporary journalistically rigorous account says Bobby’s master was John Gray the farmer. Bobby lived an awful long time, leading some to posit that there were 2 Bobbies (He became a tourist attraction within his lifetime, so is it too much of a stretch to believe local business owners might not have supplied a younger Bobby to meet visitors’ expectations?). Some even question Bobby’s loyalty, pointing out that dogs in graveyards were common in the 19th century, and that they remained not to be near their dead masters but because they were fed by mourners. There are dozens of documented stories very similar to Bobby’s all across Europe. Who knows? It’s a nice story that reinforces what we choose to feel about dogs.

E (5)Upon his death in 1872 Bobby was buried just inside the south gate. A local baroness commissioned a monument to Bobby with a sculpture by William Brodie. The monument was unveiled the year following Bobby’s death. After falling into disrepair (And being hit by a car in 1984), the monument was restored in 1985 and still stands just outside the gate. A red granite headstone was erected on Bobby’s grave in 1981 by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland. Many visitors leave dog toys and sticks.

After leaving the kirkyard we wandered slowly back toward our bed & breakfast. We warmed up for a bit and then had dinner at the Theatre Royal bar. The inside of the bar is stunning, and I would show you pictures if I had any. Alas, it was dark and I was blurry. Well, the pictures are blurry anyway. You can see photos and check out the menu at their website.

Next up, the Queen of England’s summer digs, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle!

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Memorial Day 2015

25 May

I originally wrote this back in 2010 and have re-posted it each year since. I decided I was going to update the average this year so I went looking for casualty updates from Afghanistan and re-did the math from the other 72 named conflicts I can find statistics for. Turns out my numbers were off. I can’t account for the discrepancy, as I have no record of the source I used for the original numbers (I’m going to go out on a limb and say Wikipedia and iCasualties.org). 

In the original post I used the term “Died in combat.” I presume this to mean I elected not to use non-combat deaths from the American Civil War, where between 500,000 and 700,000 are reported to have died of disease. Not sure why I made the distinction, and even if that was it precisely the numbers still don’t match the documentation I find now. The verified numbers for death due to enemy action are lower than I originally published. This could mean that more granular information has been posted to the sites I used. Again, I can’t come up with a definitive reason for the discrepancy. Including all deaths of all American service members while serving in a named conflict I come up with a very different average. 

It’s much higher. 

With that in mind I have re-written the piece. To the best of my knowledge (And bearing in mind that counts from the 18th and 19th Centuries are in many cases only estimates) these numbers are correct as of May 22, 2015. When the 40,917 missing reported since the United States entered World War I are included, the total of all American military lost while serving in time of war is 1,380,751. 

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. Sometimes we lose sight of what these holidays mean. We’ve Labor Day, President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, New Year’s…and the big ones, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In our secular nation, inclusive of all faiths, these are our high holy days. In keeping with our worship of nearly unlimited personal freedom we observe these days in whatever fashion we see fit. I notice that lately this mostly means get-togethers with friends, vacations and mattress sales. I’m not going to take up a bunch of your time bemoaning the lack of ritual in our modern and very diffuse society, but I am going to ask that you take just a little time to remember the meaning of this particular holy day.

“Freedom Isn’t Free,” a bumper-sticker cliché we’ve all used at one point or another. It implies a cost for the largely care-free existence we enjoy in these United States at the beginning of the 21st Century. But how often do we stop to examine that cost? Certainly at election time when we hear a lot about the defense budget. The deficit. The incomprehensible price of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The efforts of this Senator or that Representative from whatever district who is trying to save jobs by saving the defense contract for a company in their hometown (Or a Senator or Representative from a different town who wants to look fiscally responsible by stopping it). But when do we examine the greater cost? The cost in lives? The bill that comes due and is collected in the blood of our sons and daughters, our neighbors and our friends when they put on our nation’s uniform, pick up a weapon and purposely put their bodies between us and our enemies? When?

Today.

There are many who answer America’s call to serve. Many will serve in a time of peace. Most will never see a battle. Many who do fight will return wounded in body and spirit, and some will not recover. We honor them on another holy day, and I certainly hope we all do our best to let them know every day that we appreciate their service. But this is not their day. Today is when we honor our dead. Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day when we count the cost, and that cost is high.

On April 19th, 1775, British troops arrived at Lexington to find an American militia drawn up on the village common. The first American soldiers fell there. Since that time Americans have fought in more than 70 named conflicts around the globe. Men and women wearing our uniform have given their lives on the beaches of tiny islands thousands of miles from our shores and in green fields here within our borders. They’ve flown into the sky and out of view forever. They’ve died in dusty streets and the sight of them remains burned into our mind’s eye. They’ve died in forests in France, in Central America, China and gone to sea never to be heard from again. The life of every father, mother, son and daughter lost goes to that debt.

In all those years since Lexington well over 1,380,000 service members have died in America’s wars. That is a rough average of 16 lives for every single day since April 19th, 1775. Today is the day we remember that in order for each of us to get up, leave our homes and go about our day freely and in peace, 16 fellow citizens have died. So that you and I can take our family vacation, so that we can sit and laugh with our friends by the pool, so that we can cook burgers on the grill and drink a beer…

A land owner carried his own musket to Concord and died fighting the British.

A marine officer fell to gunfire on the deck of the USS Constitution.

A father from Pennsylvania charged into massed cannon at Fredericksburg.

A man from Harlem died fighting alongside the French to take the village of Séchault.

A sailor died on a river in China.

The Captain of the USS West Virginia was killed by shrapnel at Pearl Harbor.

Someone’s brother drowned at Omaha Beach.

Someone’s husband fought the controls of his B-29 all the way down.

A marine froze to death at the Chosin Reservoir.

A young woman’s fiancé died in Vietnam.

A sailor burned to death rather than leave his post on the Intrepid.

An Air Force sergeant died in a prisoner of war camp.

Someone’s sister died tending the wounded at Anzio Beach.

A 19 year-old from Barstow was killed when a missile hit the USS Stark.

Someone’s son died in Afghanistan.

Someone’s daughter was killed by an IED.

“Freedom isn’t free.” 16 lives for every single day. That is the cost. That is why we take this day to memorialize.

Remember.

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© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

There’s Ancient, and then there’s ANCIENT

7 Feb

The sun came up on Day 14 of our trip. On the advice of our innkeeper, Mary, we slept in. She suggested we let the big tour coaches get a head start on the Ring of Kerry so we’d not be stuck with them on the roads or stopping at attractions swamped with tourists. We went down for breakfast a little after 9AM.

Breakfast at Friar’s Glen is a work of art. Traditional Irish breakfast as well as fruit, muffins, scones, butter, cream, oooooooooh just plate upon plate of fabulous food! This was the absolute best breakfast I’ve had anywhere in England, Ireland, or Scotland. Seriously. According to our waitress everything we ate for breakfast was made by Mary’s own hand. Her name was Bridget, and she was incredibly friendly. Bridget, like Mary, was full of helpful hints about the Ring of Kerry, excitedly giving us exact directions to specific locations and suggesting things to see and do that weren’t on the map.

As for Friar’s Glen… our room had what I consider a standard hotel room layout and was spacious and well-suited to our needs. You can control the radiator in your room but be advised that as with other places we stayed in Europe, the heat will shut off overnight during the hours that you are (Presumably) asleep. There was a refrigerator just down the hall in the mud room for guest use. I believe I mentioned in the previous post the common room that had a lovely peat fire burning when we arrived. The room is stocked with books and games and is quite cozy. Friar’s Glen does have WiFi, but I had trouble picking it up on my device.

I highly recommend Friar’s Glen for a number of reasons. It’s out away from Killarney Town and so very quiet and secluded. It is within the Killarney National Park, with a number of pleasant trails just across the road. The price was reasonable for what you get and Mary offered a cash discount. It is a great base of operations for both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. Visit their website for information and reservations. 

Armed with Mary and Bridget’s recommendations and fortified by the amazing breakfast we marched out to the car and fired up the GPS. Since you can’t just tell the GPS “Follow the Ring of Kerry” we programmed Killorglin as our destination. This would start us on the Ring in the “Anti-clockwise” direction as per Mary’s recommendation. The tour coaches also travel anti-clockwise. This means that you are unlikely to encounter one coming at you on the very narrow cliff-side roads, and if you do… you’ll not be on the side of the road with the several-hundred-foot drop to the sea. (Having taken Mary’s advice about the late start as well, we hoped not to encounter them at all).

We made our way north through the countryside. It really is unbelievably beautiful. Much of the land is divided into countless stone-walled fields. Each field is often a fractionally different shade of green from its neighbor, making the whole of the landscape seem like a never-ending emerald quilt dotted with cotton-white sheep and golden flowers.

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Dingle Peninsula from the beach at Rossbeigh (You can always click on any picture to open a larger image in another window)

We made it to Killorglin without incident but even with the GPS we got briefly off the track, found our way back on, and proceeded to our next marker, Glenbeigh. Here we left the Ring and followed directions from Bridget to the beach at Rossbeigh. The entire time we were in the southwest of Ireland we were constantly amazed at the deep blue of the water. I’m not sure what I expected… green perhaps? Or maybe the gray of the Irish Sea I remembered from a very rough crossing 20 years before? Dunno. I just wasn’t prepared for the startling sapphire blue of the waters around the Kerry peninsula. It was windy and cold. There were a few whitewashed cottages nearby, and the ubiquitous sheep were scattered about on the far side of some sports fields near the rocky beach.

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It’s hard to capture an incline in a photograph when you’re sitting on top of it. Trust me… very steep, narrow road.

Rather than backtrack, we continued along R564 (A one-lane road over the mountain above the inlet) through the countryside. We hooked up with the N70 (The Ring of Kerry) near a place called Drom and continued on toward Cahersiveen. Once we reached the town we turned north on Bridge Street/Castlequin. There are signs for “Stone Forts” and in a few minutes we’d reached a wide spot in the road, the parking area for Leacanabuile (10º 15′ 43” W, 51º 57′ 30” N, if you took my suggestion and you are using a GPS).

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The interior of Leacanabuile

We’d found the location of the fort by searching Google for ancient sites along the route of the Ring of Kerry. As well as can be determined by the archeological research carried out thus far the small hill fort dates from the 9th or 10th Century. Habitation could stretch back as far as the 500’s, but there’s just no way to be certain. Inside are the low remains of several stone buildings. Day 14 (42)Within the circular structure built against the western side of the enclosure is an entrance to a narrow subterranean passageway that leads to a small chamber built into the outer wall, at least according to the information placard posted near the fort entrance. Day 14 (46)We had to take their word for it, because try as I might, I was unable to get more than my head and the top of my shoulders into the tiny opening. According to the really fantastic website Voices from the Dawn put together by Howard Goldbaum of the University of Nevada, an excavation of the site conducted over 1939-1940 records the passage as being one meter tall.*

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t dream of sticking my head (Or any other part of me) in a hole in the ground. Ah… but this is Ireland! No snakes! Unlike where I grew up, you may tramp through field and over rocky dale, even reach into dark crevasses, without the slightest fear of meeting a Copperhead, or a Water Moccasin, or a Timber Rattler. Nope. Not so much as a garter snake in the grass of the Emerald Isle, and it is a glorious thing! In fact, at breakfast that very morning two women seated next to us remarked upon the great number and diversity of songbirds they’d encountered on a hike through the Killarney National Park. I suggested that this may be in part because there were no snakes. One of the women said “Oh! No we didn’t see any. I didn’t think of that at all, we should have been more careful.” I explained that she’d mistaken my meaning, and that there are no snakes to be found. She had no idea. Neither of them had. I was frankly amazed. How does one grow to adulthood, make the conscious decision to travel to Erin, make arrangements and then actually board a conveyance and make their way to Ireland and not know this single, simple fact? I’m afraid I sat there staring at her with my mouth open for longer than is polite in anybody’s book.

I digress…

As much as I would have liked to make the trek to the wall’s interior it was not physically possible. Even Julia (Who is less than half my size) could not wriggle inside. I’ve learned now (Doing more detailed research almost 3 years after the fact) that had I exited the fort and walked down to the bottom of the western wall, I’d have found the other end of the passage covered by a (Most likely unlocked) gate.

While I was unable to make good a full impression of Darby O’Gill, we enjoyed looking about the interior of the fort, and looking off to the east we saw another. We descended the hill and walked a few hundred yards to Cahergall.

Cahergall

Cahergall

 

Cahergall stone fort is very similar in appearance to the Staigue stone fort on the opposite side of the Ring of Kerry near Sneem. Like Leacanabuile, this type of fortification is difficult to date with precision, one reason being that the naturally defensible sites were built upon again and again over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.

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According to a placard at the site the upper portions of the outer walls have been restored.

Again I refer you to Voices from the Dawn for a high resolution photograph of the site as it appeared in the late 1970’s for comparison. While we stood atop the fort we looked to the south and saw…

A castle….

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… as it turns out….

… another McCarthy castle!Day 14 (77)

Ballycarbery Castle sits on a grassy hill on the north shore of the Ferthy River estuary that feeds into Valencia Harbor. There is a gravel parking area just at the bottom of the slope. The lot is at the end of an unnamed road that runs southwest from Castlequin about 100 yards east of Cahergall. There’s a brown sign on the south side of the road.

(n.b. While there are signs leading you to the castle, and a sign at the site giving some of its history, it is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence which you will have to climb over/shimmy under to access the site. Sooooooo, strictly speaking you’re probably not supposed to be in there. Explore at your own risk.)

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Looking out from the ground floor

Ballycarbery Castle was built in the 16th Century and is associated with the powerful Mac Cárthaigh dynasty (My wife’s ancestors), however habitation on the site goes back perhaps as far as the late 12th Century and Tagdh Mac Cárthaigh is recorded as having died in a residence on this site in 1398. Tradition says that the current ruin was constructed by Carbery O’Shea “Using the blood of bullocks to cement the stones.” However, the region was controlled by McCarthy Mor and a constable clan chief from the Clan O’Connell was installed in the castle.Day 14 (88)

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Arrow slit in the curtain wall

The castle was surrounded by a curtain wall but only a fraction of it remains. Even though half of the castle is missing, blown up by Oliver Cromwell’s forces (Curse his name forever) in 1652 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms , it is an easy climb to the intact sections of the upper floors, and part of a stairway is still passable within the western wall. The weather was gorgeous and it would have been a lovely spot for a picnic had we thought to bring one. We pushed on, hoping to make a creamery and a candle maker on Valencia Island that Bridget had recommended.

We arrived at Portmagee and made a quick stop at the Village Public Facility (Runner Up for Ireland’s Top Toilet Award, 2002 according to the sign) and then crossed the bridge to Valencia Island.

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Keeping watch in Knight’s Town

Valencia is about 6 miles by 2. The modern spelling appears most places as “Valentia” while it is “Valencia” on tombstones on the island. I’m not sure exactly when the spelling changed. We drove to Knight’s Town and had lunch and a pint at The Royal Pier Bar then got back in the car and immediately got lost looking for the Fogher Cliffs. We found a ruined church and parish cemetery on the north side of the island before we found the road leading up to the cliffs.

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Looking north from the churchyard

 

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Many of the stones in the churchyard had a nautical theme

 

 

 

Geokaun Mountain is the highest point on the island. There’s a self-serve parking area where you feed €5 into a machine for a ticket to put on the dash. A short walk leads you to an overlook where you can view the cliffs. The Skellig Islands are visible in the distance, as well as the Dingle Peninsula, the Atlantic, and all of Valencia Island. There was a roaring wind coming off the water as we stood above the 600′ cliffs. Day 14 (115)We weren’t able to stay put for very long, and even taking a photograph was difficult as I could barely hold the camera still. Placards along the path relate the history of the area, along with tales of the Fianna and Fionn Mac Cumhail.

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The Skellig Islands from the path overlooking the Fogher Cliffs

 

We beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of our little rental car and drove back down the mountain. Next up on our list of things to see was a very ancient site… the Tetrapod Trackway.

After seeing it on the local tourist map of Valencia Island I recalled having watched a brief blurb about Ireland’s Tetrapod Trackway on PBS or some similar network not long after the prints were discovered in the 1990’s. It wasn’t something we’d set out to see, but we were in the area and I certainly didn’t want to pass it up.

The Irish just aren’t that interested in naming roads, so you’ll need to rely on your GPS again to get you into the vicinity of 10° 20′ 38″ W, 51° 55′ 51″ N, or ask someone local for directions. As you approach the radio station at the northernmost bit of the island there’s a car park on your right. From there you proceed on foot along a path right down to the shore.

Day 14 (127)

The Tetrapod Trackway

Back in the Devonian Period the land that would one day become Erin was situated down near the Equator. One day about 385 million years ago one of the earliest creatures to make their way out of the sea and up onto dry land was wandering about the tidal shallows. It was about a meter long, about a third of that length being its tail, and it had four legs lately evolved from fins. As it walked along, or perhaps pushed itself along the bottom in the shallow water just off shore, it left footprints in the soft mud. It’s belly dragged the surface and here and there it’s tail cut an S pattern as it trailed along behind. After these few minutes of activity our Tetrapod friend (Or friends) passed again out of our knowledge to whatever end, leaving behind only those few impressions in the mud. The impressions were filled in with silt and over the eons hardened into rock as the plates of the Earth shifted and Ireland wandered north. Eventually the stone with the prints was again exposed and a geology student discovered them in 1993. They are the oldest known in-situ tracks made by a living thing on earth.

It was getting on in the day and the sun was sliding down toward the sea. We made a circuit of the island looking for the candle maker and the creamery recommended by Bridget but neither were open, either due to the lateness of the hour or the earliness of the month (We were still a few weeks from the start of the high season). We did find a heard of deer and ever more stunning views of the Atlantic and the islands to the west. Day 14 (129)In season you can take a boat from the visitor’s center just by the bridge from Portmagee out to Skellig Michael, the site of an ancient monastery from roughly the 6th to 13th Centuries. Fun fact: Skellig Michael was used as a location for the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens during the summer of 2014.

Day 14 (135)

Valencia Island. The white line center-left is the bridge from Portmagee.

 

We crossed the bridge, took a wrong turning, and ended up on the Skellig Ring track over the mountain to the south toward Ballinskelligs, which Bridget was horrified to learn of later and declared us to be “Very brave” for going that way. We survived the trip to the southern part of the peninsula and once we found our way back to the N70 we stopped in Kenmare for supper.

We had dinner at The Wander Inn, where the food and drink was very good. There was live music in the form of two young men playing original contemporary compositions on a guitar and accordion that I didn’t really much care for. We listened to a set and then decided to get on. Julia was disappointed for me that it wasn’t Irish music. Well, it WAS Irish music. They were Irish musicians. We were in Ireland… but her point was taken. Traditional Irish music had been the hope. The food was still good.

We had the last 20 miles to go back to Friar’s Glen. We’d saved the most twisting and mountainous leg to do in the dark. I’d built up a fair bit of confidence over the course of the two days I’d spent driving in Kerry and was feeling pretty good about it as we made our way.. SHEEP!!! All day they’d been fluffy white accents to the landscape but now that it was pitch black the sheep were no longer in the pens but out IN the bloody road! I had this picture in my head of them all looking around at each other once the sun went down and saying, “Farmer O’Connell is down the pub boys, over the wall!” then lacing their front hooves to boost each other over. They were around every 3rd or 4th bend in the road. It was nerve wracking.

We made it back all of a piece. We’d passed a spot with the intriguing name “Ladies View” just a few miles out of Killarney and decided we’d head back in the morning.

We’d spent the day driving back in time. From medieval Ballycarbery Castle and the more ancient Leacanabuile, to just about the deepest pre-history imaginable and the Tetrapod Trackway. For tomorrow there was the Dingle Peninsula, but before that another amazing breakfast!

 

 

*Much of the information for this post I obtained long after the fact. Several of the places we visited on this particular day became destinations only the night before and only the information printed on placards posted at the sites was available to us. We had a great time anyway, but maybe a third of the information in this post I discovered only recently. For ancient sites in Ireland I refer you again to the excellent site Voices from the Dawn. Loads of additional information on Ballycarbery Castle can be found there, as well as on the North American McCarthy Clan website.

 

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

6 Feb

I have been trying, gentle reader, to set a better pace for myself when it comes to writing in these pages. So far my output since the beginning of the year has been greater than nearly the last two years combined. At a whopping four entries I realize that’s not saying much. This week I must plead a busy caseload (Yesterday’s surveillance ran to 15 hours) and a wealth of information on the places we visited in Kerry that I’ve collected since our visit. It is my hope that along with honing my writing skills I make sure that when you decide to visit some of these places I’ll have imparted more to you now than I knew then.

 

This afternoon it is sunny and 72º in the Wild Wild West, so… I’ve called all my clients, I’ve written (most of) my reports, and I’ve decided to clean the kitchen at some future time to be determined later. Here I sit, and here I shall remain.

 

Until my wife comes home and I have to make our dinner.

2015-02-06 16.17.14

 

I should have the next travel post together by Monday.

 

Take good care.

 

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Van Gogh, and the search for Mountain Dew

19 Jan

(I was looking through our notes recently preparing another post. At this point we’re 12 days into our trip. At the end of each day we’d usually sit down and look through the day’s pictures together. Between our 2 phones and the 35mm digital SLR we’d taken 1,980 photographs by the end of the day described in this post!)

I got to try out the kitchen in The Collector the morning of our second day in Amsterdam after a brilliant night’s sleep. Well, ok… I tried out the kitchen after walking a mile or so in ever-widening circles trying to find a grocery to see if I could buy Julia a bottle of Mountain Dew. I found a bakery or two, but I kid you not gentle reader… aerospace companies were thicker on the ground than grocery stores in the area immediately around The Collector. I went back sans Mountain Dew and made omelets in the kitchen. We gathered ourselves and headed out to the Van Gogh museum.

A word on the photos on this blog. As a rule I try to make sure that I personally generate everything that appears in these (figurative) pages. I’m going to stretch that just a bit for this entry. There is no photography allowed inside the Van Gogh museum. Soooo… I took photographs of poscards we purchased of paintings we found interesting.

Our innkeeper Karel booked our entry to the museum online the previous day. The entry price for the museum is currently €15 for adults, with kids under 18 admitted free. On April 1, 2015 it will go up to €17. Check out the museum website here. There isn’t an online discount but you can select an entry time and walk past the queue. We left The Collector and made it to the museum in about 10 minutes on foot, during which time it started to rain, and walked directly inside without pause.

The museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world. At the time of our visit the pieces were arranged in roughly chronological order against neutral wall colors. The museum has recently undergone a 7 month renovation and much of the collection has been re-arranged. Additionally, several works are now displayed against backdrops of vivid colors, or even enlarged images of the paintings themselves.

SkullOfASkeletonWithBurningCigarette

Obviously I don’t hold the copyright on this one

Julia found a new favorite Van Gogh during our trip. Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette was likely painted sometime in 1886 while Van Gogh was studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He was bored with the classes and would later claim that he learned nothing. Julia finds this painting hilarious.

The image produced in a painting is really only half the story. Seeing a Van Gogh (Or most any painting really) in a book is like listening to music with only one headphone and the bass turned off. In person you can see the size of the piece, which may carry with it a message about the artist’s intention or circumstances. The Mona Lisa, for example, is tiny and by way of contrast is displayed opposite The Wedding at Cana, which is the size of a house. When you’re standing inches from the painting you can see the medium, observe the artist’s attack in the brush strokes (“Attack” is a particularly apropos term with Van Gogh’s work). At the d’Orsay in Paris and at the Van Gogh museum I learned that you don’t really look at a Van Gogh so much as experience it. This entire trip was chock full of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. I find I appreciate them much more now and I am very glad that Julia insisted we make the trip to Amsterdam.

We left the museum and began to simply wander. It was still raining off and on and I was still looking for Mountain Dew for Julia. We’d visited the two major attractions we’d come to see and so decided to simply soak up a little of the atmosphere. It was at this point that Julia decided she could speak Dutch.

Here’s the thing. It entered Julia’s head that if she simply put “-en” on the end of any random English word it became the equivalent word in Dutch. Problem is, it kind of worked. “En” is a plural form in Dutch and there ARE a number of words that are much the same, so everywhere we looked she was being proved right. She found this all manner of amusing.

Rivieren= rivers

Prinsen= princes

Armen= arms

Doctoren= doctors

Handen= hands

Amerikanen= Americans

See what I’m up against here?

We walked north and east, meandering along the canals and peeking into shops here and there. Amsterdam was founded in about 1250 around the dam that gave the town its name. “Aeme Stelle Redamme” translates from old Dutch to “Dam in a watery area.” Successive moats dug for protection wound up inside the city as it grew and were re-purposed for local transportation. Canal-building began in earnest in the 1600’s and swept in a great arc from west to east. When I asked Karel about the cleanliness of the water he informed me that it was his understanding that the water authority opened gates that allowed fresh water in from the IJ and Amstel rivers at night.  Before you get any bright ideas you should be aware that swimming in the canals is prohibited except for during two annual charity events. We saw purpose-built tourist boats on the canals making incredible precision turns in spaces I didn’t think possible and squeezing through channels and under bridges only inches wider or taller than their hulls.Day.12 (13)

Also, for what many in America would consider a European “Nanny” state, I noticed a marked lack of railings around the canals.

Parallel parking with CONSEQUENCES

Parallel parking with CONSEQUENCES

A number of people asked if we hit the Red Light district or one of the drug bars. Neither of these held any appeal for us really. Alcohol is our drug of choice and a pint of cider or a glass of wine or whiskey is quite enough. Our student tryouts for the varsity binge-drinking team are many many years in our past. Although we did find a shop that sold the most intriguing vases…

The National Monument

The National Monument

After ducking into the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch (Average food. I had a burger and Julia had chicken. We ended up there because it began to pour as we were passing, and a friend of mine collects the pins) we eventually found ourselves in Dam Square, where there was a carnival going on, complete with “Spuk House.” Yes, that means haunted house. The dam for which the city is named was built on this site in the 1200’s. As the dam was expanded over the years it grew large enough for a market square. It was for a long time the center of commerce and eventually government. The Netherlands National Monument also sits in the square.

We made our way back toward our B&B walking along the Rokin looking at the buildings and stopping in at P.G.C. Hajenius for a gift for a friend. The clerk offered to let me sample a few of their cigars in their smoking lounge, but I was still recovering from a near-miss with bronchitis and so declined (Although back in the states our friend Drew graciously let me have one of the cut tobacco cigars we’d given him for his birthday and it was quite good).

Oh yes, I nearly forgot…. the bicycles. The Dutch, at least the sampling of the population I was able to observe in Amsterdam, make great use of the bicycle for everyday transportation. Bikes are everywhere in their hundreds and thousands. In England I worried that I would step off a curb and get hit by a car after looking the wrong way before crossing. In Amsterdam I worried that I’d be hit by a bicycle. Anywhere. No matter which way I looked.

    We saw every manner of bike employed for every purpose imaginable. My particular favorites were the multi-passenger child transport models. Imagine a standard bicycle frame with a front fork that extended down and then out in front several feet with a wooden barrow equipped with rows of bench seats with straight backs and ending with the front wheel at its tip. They came in sizes from single, to three-seaters arranged bobsled style, and (Parked outside a kindergarten) a couple that could seat perhaps as many as five children.

I saw these last examples while out searching for Julia’s morning Mountain Dew. Sadly I did not think to take a picture and while I saw several others in use it is not advisable in any culture to photograph a stranger’s children without obtaining their permission ahead of time. Do an image search for bakfiets (“Tricycle” in Dutch) and you will see several examples of both the two-wheel and three-wheel varieties. You can also check out Work Cycles

Any activity you’ve ever witnessed a driver engaged in while behind the wheel of an automobile in America we observed a cyclist doing the same on the streets and sidewalks of Amsterdam. We saw men and women peddling along at speed while eating, smoking, talking on the phone, texting and yes, even putting on makeup. Bikes make up such a large proportion of the traffic on the city streets that they have not only their own lanes but their own traffic signals, which all the riders I happened to see ignored vigorously.

This is not grape Fanta. Ooooooh no... this is redcurrant Fanta.

This is not grape Fanta. Ooooooh no… this is redcurrant Fanta.

We walked across the Museumplein and stopped in at the grocery located under the southwest end of the park (Says “Supermarket” in huge blue letters above the door. Not sure how I missed it.). We picked up some fruit and meat for supper and some ice cream bars and went back to the Collector to write postcards and get ready to fly out the next morning. We’d intended to each have one of the ice cream bars after supper and leave the rest in the freezer for other guests. Turns out the refrigerator at The Collector doesn’t HAVE a freezer. That a full-size fridge wouldn’t have a freezer didn’t even cross my mind. I posted the cards from a silent square a block or so away. 

    

I never did find any Mountain Dew. 

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Bayeux → Paris → Amsterdam

13 Jan

Up again early. Really early. “Taxi’s coming at 5:30” early. We got our crap together and into our cases and schlepped down to the parking lot to wait for the taxi we’d arranged the previous day in the bitter cold. He turned up on time and whisked us back to the train station in Bayeux.

The station was just a smidge past too warm and only thinly populated at quarter to six. It was also very very brightly lit and mostly institutional green & white. The population consisted mostly of long-distance commuters and us. There was a young woman mopping the floor. It was a wide mop and the mop head attached to the handle via a wide flat piece of plastic that hinged in the center. I’m confident it was meant to interact with the rolling bucket in some fascinatingly efficient manner. I watched transfixed as she swept the mop from side to side across the floor, lifted it, wrung it with her bare hands into the bucket, and then dipped the mop in the black water she’d just squeezed into the bucket. She continued in this way from one side of the waiting room to the other.

The train arrived and we shuffled out to the platform. We had assigned seats for the morning train back to Paris but couldn’t find them. We changed cars twice before settling into a pair of empty seats (That were still not correct) figuring we’d move if someone turned up to claim them. No one ever did.

We arrived at Saint Lazare station in Paris at 9:00 AM and began our trek across to Gare du Nord. As I’ve mentioned in these pages before I’m bit of a paranoid traveler. I’ve tried to cultivate a more Zen attitude over the years with varying degrees of success. We had just over an hour to make the connection for our train to Amsterdam. No realizing how close the stations really were from this side of the Atlantic I sorted a public transit route that utilized the Paris RER (Réseau Express Régional) so as to avoid weekday morning traffic on the surface. A taxi would likely have gotten us to the station in about 12 minutes. As it was we rode the practically empty express train to the station in about 30 minutes. That includes the time it took us to take the escalators down to a level so far below the city I fully expected to see Le Fantôme paddling by. This was another jaunt where I greatly appreciated both the construction of our medium spinner rolling cases and the uncharacteristic wisdom I displayed in choosing them. We encountered a young woman pulling a traditional two-wheeled case equal to herself in height, carrying a full duffel, and wearing a backpack. She looked very put out.

We arrived at Gare du Nord with about 30 minutes to spare and boarded the train. Early in the planning stages of our trip I had determined that we would take at least one First-Class train trip. The Paris-Amsterdam leg offered us the opportunity to sample this mode of transport over a long ride.

You must travel by First Class train at some point. Really. Do it.

We were traveling on Thalys, a Belgian-owned line. Thalys was one of the few lines that would allow me to purchase tickets online from outside the country and board with only a printout (A couple of years later I booked an overnight on the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Dundee. I had to have physical tickets mailed to my home in the United States. It seems you’re able to print your own pass for international train travel but not domestic, at least in the UK. I have no idea why boarding with a confirmation number isn’t more common). Ticket information here.

A porter helped us stow our cases at one end of the car and we found our seats. On the recommendation of The Man in Seat 61 I booked Club Duo seats (Individual seats facing each other over a small table as opposed to two seats among a grouping of four). They were large and comfortable and finished in a soft maroon velvet, as was much of the interior. There was a small lamp on the table near the window and an outlet under each seat.

One of the attendants approached and addressed me in English (Again, everyone in Europe can peg me as an American on sight);

“Do you need a taxi sir?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Do you need a taxi?”

“I just got on the train.”

“In Amsterdam, sir. Do you need a taxi from the station?” It is a testament to the level of her professionalism that I could not hear a trace of “… idiot.” in her tone even though she MUST have been thinking it.

“No, thank you.”

“Very well sir. Someone will be along with refreshments shortly.”

And so began the non-stop food fest that was our train trip from Paris to Amsterdam. Within moments another attendant appeared and asked if I would like coffee or something else to drink. After tea appeared I was offered pastry. About every half an hour someone turned up to offer me something to eat. I was always addressed in English without anyone having to ask. More than the plush seats… First-Class is never having to ask for food & drink.

We rolled out of the station on time to the second and were soon cruising along at a top speed of 300 kph (About 186 mph). The train ran incredibly smoothly, occasionally slowly banking to one side or the other through long gentle curves. A lunch menu turned up. I ordered cold roast duck with carrots and potatoes. It arrived accompanied by a very sweet salad, warm bread, an organic red wine and a chocolate tart with raspberry glaze. Would sir care for more tea? A croissant? Yes sir would.

We slowed for track work near the Belgian border. This put the train just over half an hour behind schedule. An announcement in French, then English, then Dutch informed us that because of the length of the delay passengers would be entitled to a partial refund of their ticket price to take the form of a credit to their Thalys account. Please look online for further details (You could do this on the moment in fact. Free WiFi on board). Try asking United for a refund of one thin dime next time you land a couple of hours late in Houston.

Day 11 (8)

Fast moving tulips

We got back up to speed for the rest of our journey. As we neared Amsterdam we began to see bars of vivid color in various hues extending from near the tracks off into the distance in the grey fields through which we passed. They were neon-bright and gone in a flash. It took me several moments to realize that these were fields of tulips. Like most things European I had a very outdated notion of what a tulip field would look like. They appeared to be arranged like any other factory-style farm and they came in more colors than I thought possible. After a few fields zipped by (186 mph, remember?) we reached the greenhouses. Thousands upon thousands of greenhouses that extended off to the horizon. I’ve since learned that The Netherlands produces about three million tulip bulbs a year. I can believe it.Day 11 (7)

 

We arrived shortly before 2:00 PM at Amsterdam Centraal. We walked the length of the station and boarded a tram (Still € Euros, no need to stop for currency) to De Lairessestraat and our bed and breakfast, The Collector.

The Collector is just two blocks down from the Museumplein. De Lairessestraat is a main thoroughfare with bus and tram lines. I’d been emailing back and forth with the owner, Karel. We had a couple of hilarious moments when Karel answered the door. Apparently my misapprehension was one Karel runs into with Americans a lot, who invariably translate the name as “Carol.” Karel is a man. He said I should think of it as “Carl.”

Karel was very laid back and personable, and answered every idiot tourist question I asked about the canals. He offered (And I accepted his offer) to book attractions for us online. We’d already done so with the Anne Frank House and Karel sorted our tickets to the Van Gogh museum.

We stayed in the “Clock Room” on the 1st floor (2nd floor if you’re an American) facing the street. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was a large en-suite room with a very comfortable bed. Double french doors lead out onto a narrow balcony.

Instead of a dining room there was a dine-in kitchen next to the Clock Room. The arrangement at The Collector is that the kitchen is stocked with staple items and you make use of them in your own time. We found cheese, salami, fruit, eggs, milk, juice, etc. There was also a little space in the fridge for items you might purchase (I had no end of trouble finding a supermarket. Finally learned there was an Albert Heijn at 33 Van Baerlestraat about two blocks away. Helpful hint… it’s UNDER the Museumplein). On the plus side, it gives one more of a home away from home feeling and you needn’t worry about missing breakfast if you sleep in. Of course, it’s also nice to have someone else do the cooking and washing up so you can get out the door to see the sights. It made for an interesting change in our routine. The Collector’s website is here.

The Collector is so named for the various collections of every kind everywhere you look. Plates, matchbooks, figurines, etc. The Clock Room was filled with… clocks. All the clocks were set to 4:20.

We got ourselves sorted as quickly as we could and asked Karel the best way to the Anne Frank House. We had an appointment for entry a little before 4:30PM. Karel pointed out a pleasant route on a map he lent us and assured us that we could reach Prinsengracht in 15 minutes. We shortly learned a valuable lesson about Karel’s directions. No matter where you are headed in Amsterdam, Karel is under the (Often wildly mistaken) impression that you can reach your destination on foot in 15 minutes. I never actually saw Karel walk anywhere, so maybe he’s telling the truth from his own personal experience. He seemed like a pretty laid-back kind of guy, but it is possible he turns into an Olympic power-walker the moment he hits the straat, I couldn’t say.

Leliegracht just north of the Anne Frank House.

Leliegracht just north of the Anne Frank House.

It did not take us 15 minutes to reach the Anne Frank House, more like 25, but we still arrived in plenty of time for our appointment after a lovely walk through the Vondelpark and along the canals. You really must book an entry time online if you want to avoid standing in a very long queue. When we approached the house there was a line going around the block. The Anne Frank House is open 9:00AM until 9:00PM from April 1 through October 31, and 9:00AM until 7:00PM through the winter. Admission for adults is €9, €4.50 for children 10-17, and children 9 and under are free. There were long stretches of entry times already blocked out when I made our reservation weeks in advance, so I advise seeing to it as far ahead of time as you can. There is an online booking fee of €.50 per ticket. You can find all of the details and book a time at www.annefrank.org.

A few thousand years ago I was a professional actor. My wife and I worked on a national tour of Anne Frank in the 90’s. I played Victor Kugler (Anne gave fictional names to her companions and protectors. In her diary and in the stage play he is Mr. Kraler), one of the Annex protectors. We spent nine months inhabiting the play. Seeing the real Annex blew us away.

The facade of Gies & Co., behind which sat the Annex where the Franks went into hiding.

The facade of Gies & Co., behind which sat the Annex where the Franks went into hiding.

The building is empty of furniture as per Otto Frank’s wishes and no photography is permitted inside. You ascend cramped, narrow stairs through the building until you reach the entrance to the Annex. In a front room is a model of the hiding place as it would have appeared during the time it was used to hide the Franks. You proceed down a hallway and up into the Annex via the opening behind a moveable bookcase. The first thing that I noticed was that despite the individual spaces being very small, overall it was bigger than I had imagined, but certainly not where I’d choose to spend several years.

On the first level of the hiding place you pass the Franks’ room and then Anne’s. She shared the 16’x7′ room with Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist from Germany who went into hiding with the Fanks and the Van Pels. Looking at the walls in Anne’s room was really unbelievable. In the years she spent in hiding Anne pasted pictures from magazines on the walls of her room. They’re still there. I stood for a long time struck by the notion that these were items that passed through her hands. More than anything else I saw or read this detail served to humanize Anne. I had trouble concentrating on anything else. She’s a figure wholly owned by history now, but she was also the teenage girl who pasted movie star pictures on her wall.

We made our way through the floors of the Annex and learned the ultimate fate of the Franks, their friends, and their protectors. We knew, of course, having done the play for months, but first person accounts filled in a number of details. Somewhat incongruously I found myself thinking of Whoopi Goldberg. In her one-woman show she relates her visit to the Anne Frank house, and seems incredulous at Anne’s ability to forgive. She says of Anne’s famous quote “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart;”

“And she didn’t even make it.”

The house is one of the places where I feel like its history is tangibly close by, like at Gettysburg or the Tower of London. It may be that we knew most of Anne’s story so well. We wandered out of the building into a bright and sunny afternoon a little shell-shocked. The Normandy American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, and the Anne Frank House in the space of about 24 hours. It had been a heavy couple of days.

We walked aimlessly along the canals. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, but I honestly recall very little of what we saw for the remainder of the afternoon. At some point we decided we wanted supper. We passed an Italian place but figured we should take a swing at Dutch food. We wandered about some more, unable to find anyplace to eat at all.

The Irish are everywhere.

The Irish are everywhere.

We found ourselves in the Leidseplein, a tourist square south of Prinsengracht. Everything in the area seemed to be food from other countries… pizza, burgers, Argentinian steakhouses and places that offered barbeque ribs and fries (Always together, not sure what that was about). I found an automat, about which I became VERY excited, but that didn’t really scream “Dinner in Amsterdam” to me so we kept looking. On a few side streets we found places that served “Traditional Dutch” food. It appeared to consist largely of pickled fish mashed in with other things and that’s where our usual spirit of adventure fled.

Eventually we found De Veir Pilaren (The Four Pillars), a pop-up restaurant in the Leidsebosje. Dutch pancakes as big as your torso, the ultimate comfort food. Huzzah! De Veir Pilaren was, according to the cook, originally an eatery that traveled with a carnival. Brightly painted and decorated with carousel accents, it can be disassembled, loaded on a truck, and moved elsewhere in a couple of days. As far as I can tell it now stays in the park several months out of the year. If you find yourself in Amsterdam I highly recommend it. I consumed a massive pancake topped with bacon and cheese while Julia had one covered in strawberries, whipped cream, and powdered sugar. It helped take a little of the edge off.

Der Veir Pilaren

Der Veir Pilaren

 We spent another hour or so simply wandering about. We made our way back to The Collector once it was dark and the streets grew very, very quiet. The vast majority of people in the city center ride bikes or take public transit. We saw a number of automobiles parked along the canals but less than handful in operation. Apart from the occasional rumble of a tram it was another quiet night.

After a couple of days of looking for the uplifting and noble amid some of the greatest horrors of the last century we were looking forward to the balm of reckless beauty from the century before. Tomorrow, Van Gogh.

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator