Tag Archives: The Naked Investigator

Another Day, Another Peninsula

17 May

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Friar's Glen

Friar’s Glen

We started our last full day in Ireland by backtracking. After another amazing breakfast at Friars Glen we set off back down the Ring of Kerry in the clockwise direction toward Kenmare. Within about fifteen minutes we reached Ladies’ View. Ladies’ View is pretty much what it says on the tin, a scenic view. There’s a car park, a cafe and a gift shop, and a spot where you can look north across the Killarney National Park. The panorama takes in Black Valley, the Upper and Middle Lakes, McGillycuddy Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe. The location is named for Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, who are said to have exclaimed and made much of the view when the Queen visited Ireland in 1861. After a brief stop we headed back toward Killarney Town.

We pulled over on the south side of the Upper Lake and walked a short distance through the scrub to the shore. The Upper Lake is one of the three in the park, the others being Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. We stopped just south of a short tunnel carved out of the side of the mountain that appeared to be nearly a feature of the landscape it looked so old. Indeed, I found an illustration of the same tunnel in The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, by J. Stirling Coyne and N.P. Willis, published in 1841.

The Upper Lake

The Upper Lake

We admired the view across the lake and I put a hand in the water (I have to touch everything), then we hopped back into the Suzuki Swift and scooted up to Killarney Town. We needed Irish stamps for a few postcards, and of course who can resist the “Everything’s €2” store? It was midday before we were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula.

The Beach at Inch

The Beach at Inch

Our first stop was the beach at Inch. It is nearly a mirror image of the beach at Rossbeigh on the Kerry Peninsula across the water to the south, a spot we had visited the day before, though the beach at Inch is sandy where Rossbeigh is rocky. We followed Bridget’s directions and after visiting the beach stopped about a mile outside of town to look back and take in the view. We drove west through the countryside, stopping occasionally to simply get out and stand and stare at the endless green patchwork of fields. After rain in London, rain in Paris, rain in Normandy, and rain in Amsterdam, we had a spot of good luck in Ireland. The weather was clear and stunning for the two full days that we were exploring the Kerry and Dingle peninsulas.

Strand Street facing the harbor in Dingle

Strand Street facing the harbor in Dingle

We stopped at Dingle Town in the early afternoon and did a little shopping. The shops and homes are painted lovely bright colors. From the look of it, Dingle is still very much a fishing town and is the largest settlement on the peninsula. Rather than stopping for lunch we simply snacked our way down the road. We purchased a few things for family and friends and then set out for the first real planned destination of the day.

I actually had a fair amount of trouble finding the Gallarus Oratory and it wasn’t the first destination in the area I chose. I wanted to see an ogham stone. I very badly wanted to see an ogham stone. There are a few websites dedicated to their locations and translations, and I had located one at the far west end of the peninsula. That the Gallarus Oratory was only a few miles away was an added bonus.

The often repeated story of the structure’s purpose is that it was a church for pilgrims. Séipéilín Ghallarais in Irish translates to “House of the foreigners” or “Shelter of the foreigners.” Like the stone forts we visited in Kerry, the oratory is difficult to date with certainty. The generally accepted time frame places its construction anywhere from 1,500 to 1,200 years ago, although according to at least one historian it could have been constructed a mere 900 years ago. I recall my humanities teacher touching briefly on the oratory’s construction in high school and I remember thinking it was a fascinating building.

Like everyplace else in Ireland the best I could manage as far as directions was a latitude and longitude obtained online (52°10’17.2″N 10°21’02.4″W, or 52.171440, -10.350660). This translated to a slightly less accurate location once it went into the GPS. This got us to a pull-off on the side of an unnamed road. I pulled over, looked left and right and directly ahead and saw hedges, fields and low stone walls. I knew I had to be in the right area but saw nothing to indicate where the oratory might be. I decided that this was a good spot to get the picture of the two of us in our tiny little rental car that I’d been wanting to take. I got out, put the camera on a handy stone wall, set the timer and then got back in the car. Smile! I noted that the car was all in frame and that we were both looking at the camera, and rolled on down the road. A short distance away I found the entrance to the Gallarus Oratory Visitor’s Center. What I did not notice until more than a year later when looking at the car selfie, was the little brown sign at the far end of the pull-off that pointed the way to the footpath that lead directly to the oratory.

So to be clear… you can park your vehicle on the side of the road and walk to the oratory any time, night or day, free of charge.

Or…

You can go to the visitor’s center and pay €6 per person. That may sound like a bum deal, and if you’ve studied and just want to have a look at the building I encourage you to park at the pull-off (It’s actually a shorter walk), but you do get something for your €6. There is a small gift shop, a cafe (Not open when we visited), a parking lot, a short film on Irish archeology, and toilets. We also got to meet Katy the Kitty, who was very sweet. As I understand it, the visitor’s center is a private venture put together by the fellow who owns the property adjacent to the oratory. Good for him I guess.

The Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory is of cut stone assembled into a single long corbel vault. Howard Goldbaum points out on his really really awesome website Voices from the Dawn, that this method of construction continued in Ireland with only minor alterations for thousands of years. At a glance it looks to have been put together with no mortar, although apparently a thin layer of lime was used internally to hold the stones in place. There is a single entrance just over 5′ tall and a narrow window set into the east wall. The roof has a just visible sag in the middle. I remember that in my humanities class it was introduced as an example of an “Upturned boat” building.

Katy Kitty

Katy Kitty

While it is traditionally said to be an early Christian church, the name suggests it may have been quite literally a shelter. A place for people from outside of Dingle to spend the night while in the area. The building bears no markings and practically nothing has been recovered from the sections taken in the area. It’s true use may remain a mystery.

After watching the film, seeing the oratory, using the toilets and giving Katy Kitty a scritch behind the ears we headed on to the Church at Kilmalkedar, about 4 km away in a loop around R559 through Murreagh.

The Church at Kilmalkedar

The Church at Kilmalkedar

I first learned about the church solely as the site of an ogham stone. The church itself is fascinating. The current structure is a ruined church from around the 12th Century with some Romanesque features. While the area is associated with Saint Brendan, it is thought to have originally been a monastery founded by the local Saint Maolcethair. There are finials atop the three gables (The roof of the church is gone), incredibly beautiful arches throughout, and a columned gallery.

Day15 Ireland (59)

The Latin

The Latin “Alphabet Stone”

Inside the church is also an alphabet stone dating perhaps from the 500’s covered in Latin with an inscribed cross. One local legend has it that the church was built in a single night by the faeries. The church is surrounded by graves from various periods, and a modern cemetery that appears to still be in use sits adjacent.

Sun dial

Sun dial

In front of the church there is a huge rectangle stone cross of unknown age and a sun dial. The dial has beautiful carving on both sides and the dial face is divided into four sections, likely for the five canonical hours that made up the divisions of the monastic day.

And then there was the ogham stone. This was essentially the reason for our visit to the area. Well, what brought us to this particular part of Dingle at any rate. Ogham is the written expression of Primitive and Old Irish. The earliest inscriptions date from the 300’s, although the belief is that the form originated sometime in the 1st Century BC. It is composed of a series of slash marks along a vertical or horizontal line.

The ogham stone at Kilmalkedar

The ogham stone at Kilmalkedar

The vast majority of surviving inscriptions are proper names, and are believed to be funerary in nature. The ogham stone outside the Day15 Ireland (64)Church at Kilmalkedar bears a partial inscription on one face, and “ANM MAILE-INBIR MACI BROCANN” on another. This translates to “the name Mael Inbir, son of Brocan.” It is likely that this was a local religious leader of some import and there is the possibility that the inscription was made on an existing Standing Stone. The stone also appears to rest in it’s original position, something of a rarity.

You can download fabulous 3D PDF renderings of the ogham stone, the alphabet stone, and the sun dial at the Ogham In 3D project website, here.

We continued to the end of the peninsula on R559 and around Slea Head. We pulled over to admire the view of the Atlantic and the Blasket Islands from the cliffside.

The whole country s like this exercise caution.

The whole country is like this, exercise caution.

Further along are the Dunbeg Promontory Fort and several bee hive stone huts. I’d have loved to have visited them as well, but there are only so many hours in a day, even on the ould sod. There are as many as 30,000 ancient stone sites in Ireland. Not enough time indeed.

Slea Head

Slea Head (You can see Valencia Island and the Fogher Cliffs across the water to the right of the headland)

As you make your way along the southern coast of the peninsula you’ll also be treated to an up close view of a lovely stream that comes rushing down the hillside and crosses the road before continuing on to the sea. I’ve checked, this is a permanent feature. As if the narrow road loaded with tourists in rental cars (Like myself) wasn’t enough, you now have to contend with running water over a hairpin turn on a cliffside road. We learned pretty fast that in general you had nothing to fear if the folks behind the wheel were a little severe-looking and wearing a hat. They were locals. Four girls in a Kia looking EVERYWHERE but directly ahead? Tourists. Watch your butt.

It's not bug, but a feature.

It’s not a bug, but a feature.

We made our way back to Killarney Town, parked near the town center, and wandered about on foot until we found a likely looking pub. We had a nice dinner, throughout which we kept hearing shouts from the back corner of the pub. Bachelor party apparently, and the lads were having a grand old time. At one point I got up to use the gents and rounded the corner headed toward the gathering. There were two of them. I smiled and nodded and got the standard Irish greeting “Y’ aright?” (Gotta love a people who don’t say “Hello” or “Good evening” but ask “Are you ok?”)

I replied “Yeah. You?”

“Yeah.”

One of the things I find wildly entertaining about Ireland and the UK is their approach to bachelor and bachelorette parties. They are very, very, very easy to identify, and we encountered them everywhere. They wear shirts. We encountered far more “Hen Nights” than “Stag Do’s” while on our trip, but these guys were wearing the uniform. White t-shirts with photograph on the front and the groom-to-be’s name across the back with the date. But the guy on the front didn’t look like either of the gentlemen before me. I asked which one of them was getting married. Neither, as it turned out. The groom was stuck somewhere hours away yet and they had no idea if anyone else from the do was going to make it. They’d started without them. Congratulations, offers for me to join them, and fist bumps all around, and I went back to join Julia.

We finished our dinner and returned to Friar’s Glen. Mary was fantastic as always. We settled up our bill and she made sure there was a lunch packed for us in the mud room refrigerator, since we’d be up and out at fist light to make the drive to the Shannon Airport. We were heading into the last week of our trip, and the downhill run would begin… in Scotland!

Take good care

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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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