Saturday, November 11, 2017

Finbar Visits Ireland, Part Two: Beyond Dublin City

Day Trips from Dublin

Finbar had proven that he is a fine, low-maintenance travel companion, so I had no reservations about letting him tag along with our group and subsets of it on excursions further afield. He slipped easily into my travel bag which was the same color as him and provided some camouflage where toads have not gone before.
Finbar views Howth Head on Dublin Bay, our first excursion into the scenic countryside
Trim Castle, which is haunted
Finbar suns on a flat rock outside Trim Castle; clouds filled with rain begin to form above
Another toad-friendly flat rock, this time in Glendalough in County Wicklow, south of Dublin

A small group of us took an independent bus trip to Northern Ireland to check out the coastal sites and the city of Belfast where it rained and rained and rained. Finbar came out to see the Giants' Causeway, but stayed in the waterproof travel bag for Belfast.

This is some challenging terrain, but not for toads.

Finbar requested that I show this photo of the basalt columns which make up the Giants' Causeway

Galway and the West

After the writing program residency was over, newly-graduated Kathy and I took a train across the middle of Ireland to Galway. We enjoyed the train ride as the people inside were merry and the scenery outside was green and lush.

I shared my snacks with Finbar.

We had a nice table which was similar to a flat rock (and the train filled up soon after I shot this.)
We walked around Galway, shopped, and ate in some swank pubs and restaurants. There was more music than usual as our visit coincided with the Galway International Arts Festival! Our real motivation for this westward journey was to launch from our Galway hotel on day trips to Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, and Inishmor, the largest of the Aran Islands.

Connemara is a region just south of Galway, and we toured it on a comfortable motorcoach with a very entertaining and informative driver. We cruised through the area where the movie "The Quiet Man," starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, was filmed. We saw a stone bridge which figures prominently in the film.

Finbar approves of this brand of water.
We visited Kylmor Mansion which features an outstanding garden.
Finbar inspects the rhubarb...

...and the flowers

A village called Leenane

I had heard of the Cliffs of Moher, but couldn't imagine their grandeur. (Although, after the Giants' Causeway I was starting to get the feel for Irish scenery.)

Finbar approves of the castle...
...and the Cliffs
Kathy, Finbar, and I agreed that Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, was our favorite Irish spot. We did some hiking on rocky terrain, but the views were worth it!
We took a bus to the ferry and then a minivan around the island.
The highlight of the trip (besides purchasing a green Aran cardigan) was this fort, Dun Aonghasa.
This is what we were walking on!
We stopped for lunch near Galway Bay. This is a veggie burger.
We sat on this little piece of beach to eat our ice cream, purchased at the only place on the island that seemed to sell it!
Finbar and I loved Ireland and thought it a very friendly place for humans and toads. We walked a lot, and much of it was uphill. We saw more sheep than people, and thatched roofs, and stone fences. Everywhere I pointed my camera, there was scenery...or a small brown toad. Finbar is now back on my desk at work, in the shade of a spider plant, but I'm sure would be willing to accompany me on another visit to his favorite destination in the safety of the brown travel bag.

Back to Part One, Dublin

Finbar Visits Ireland, Part 1: Dublin

Finbar is a toad. He accompanied me on my 2016 trip to Ireland and graciously posed for many photographs. Finbar usually hangs out on my desk at work, among the plants, and as I was closing up shop on the last day before this three-week trip, he jumped into my bag to demonstrate how easily he could travel. He squishes to almost flat in any bag, he's quiet, and therefore can sneak into any Irish tourist destination. Finbar was a nameless toad when we set out for this trip, but would acquire an Irish name in Dublin. More on that event below....
A nameless toad helps me pack for Ireland
On the turnpike to the airport on a stormy day in July
We made it to Newark Airport safely, but our plane was delayed.

In Dublin

Nameless Toad surveys the menu at Bobo's in Dublin. We would eat a lot of burgers these three weeks.

The trip to Dublin was a requirement for my MFA writing program. A group of twenty-or-so of us were to stay at Trinity College in the center of Dublin to learn about the location, its history, and its literary importance. Nameless Toad and I flew from Newark Airport to Dublin with Kathy, a fellow Creative Nonfiction writer and student who would graduate this year. The three of us arrived at Trinity via taxi ride with the most friendly driver ever. Our rooms weren't ready yet, so we stashed our bags on campus and went exploring in the Trinity neighborhood. We had lunch at Bobo's and shopped at Carroll's where I would later buy a box full of fun souvenirs, including an Aran sweater, and have it all shipped back to New Jersey.

Even the extra small sweater is too big for a toad.
After a few hours of weary wandering, we were allowed into our rooms. These were single dorm rooms, comfortable but small, and I would share the facilities with two other students new to the program. We had a nice window at treetop level, and the Toad found his favorite spot here.
Nameless Toad looks for flies

Through this window we would hear the sounds of nearby Grafton Street at night, revelers, singers, and buskers including an electric guitarist who played famous guitar solos of the 1970s and 1980s. Some nights we would hear the rain on the leaves just outside. It rained every day in Ireland, I think, even if only for a short shower. Carry your rain jacket or umbrella always.

Every morning we'd have breakfast at The Buttery on campus, scones and yogurt mostly,

There's a toad eyeing my Irish scone
and then we'd be off for lectures, workshops, excursions, and general exploration.
Waiting for the seminar to start
Preparing for workshop where our work would be scrutinized
The little Nameless Toad finds Trinity College on the map
Everyday, we monitored the line to get into the Old Library to see the Book of Kells.
One day we found a short line and went inside to view the Book of Kells and the Long Room. Chills!
In the evening, we would listen to the presentations of the graduating students, attend (or speak at) an Open Mic, or experience the literary life of Dublin at a Faculty Reading in an old bookstore or a play at the famous Abbey Theater.
Nameless Toad listens to the graduates
The little toad listens to me read about Prague at the Open Mic event
Our group + a toad attended a play called "The Wake" at the Abbey Theater.
I don't attend many plays without music, and the toad doesn't attend many plays at all, so this was a special event. The title refers to a gathering after a death, not the wavy water in back of a fast-moving boat. In this play, there was a memorable character, actually a goofy but lovable  guy, whose name was FINBAR! And that is where the Nameless Toad picked up his Irish name.

We did some other exploration of the city of Dublin:

Finbar at the City Hall Arch
Stephen's Green was our favorite grassy spot.
Finbar found a great spot to perch on the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square Park.
Later, I learned about that Wilde statue and all of the exotic materials used:

We even got to attend a hurling match at Croke Stadium in Dublin. Neither of us can say we understand the game, but it was fun!
Before exporations further afield, we'd better do some laundry at the college laundromat.
  Finbar Visits Ireland, Part 2

Monday, September 4, 2017

The World War II Tour, Part Three: PARIS!

from the Seine
I was struggling to reconcile my purpose for being in Paris with the harsh reality of the May heatwave. I felt compelled to explore this favorite city, but I struggled to stay moving in the steaming hot fondue that was Paris. Another conflict appeared: I wanted to learn about the Parisian experience in World War II, but my guidebook warned me that Parisians did not much want to talk about that war. Can we blame them? Their city was overrun by Nazis. Here's one World War II fact that I took away: Paris was not bombed. Its architecture survived so that I could gaze upon it from the rooftop of a department store in the scorching heat. Sure there are bullet holes in the Ecole Militaire, the German stronghold during the last days of the occupation. These pock marks for all I knew, could have been part of some fancy concrete effect. When I learned that these were bullet holes, after the chill in my spine subsided, I realized that they remained to serve as a subtle reminder of that dreadful time, but more importantly that this beloved city survived the war and its culture flourishes today.

Our group visited the Eiffel tower and walked through the Marais to a quiet courtyard garden where our Parisian guide, Christoph who had been with us since London, told us he takes his family on weekends.


What is that? Anybody know? Please don't tell me it's an artichoke.


Christoph pointed out subtle clues on the surrounding buildings that designated them as royal or governmental. He also brought us to a department store which is also kind of a mall called Galeries Lafayette where we ascended by elevators to a level where we could see a fantastic glass dome.
The glass dome and the upper levels of shopping
Then we ascended further, by stairs to that rooftop for an incredible 360-degree view of the city.
The famous tower right of center, and on the left...the Paris Opera!! (You can't tell from the photo how HOT it was up there!)
This is the back of the Paris Opera, a sign that I must examine the front and inside ASAP!
 It was hotter than fondue up there: I was now a noodle swimming in a boiling saucepan of water. The roots of this mega-shopping experience date back to the late nineteenth century, but the Art Nouveau elements, including that grand dome and the opera-inspired staircase, are from a renovation and enlargement in 1912.

I got to walk around the Arc de Triomph on this trip,

Kinda artsy.

This sign is telling you that you have to walk under the street to get to the Arch.
Photographic evidence that I was, indeed, there.
 and explore the neighborhood around Notre Dame.

When they are holding their own head like that, it means they were a martyr.

It was in this neighborhood that I found a pink Eiffel Tower for my cousin's granddaughter who is obsessed with Paris and I scored a purple tower for her sister. I ended up with three Eiffel Tower scarves because I couldn't decide which color to get, and I'm a bit obsessed myself. There was a relaxing cafe lunch near here, too.

There was a World War II site on our itinerary, the Shoah Memorial.

eternal flame
This site is a moving memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. In another section, names are carved into stone, and photos displayed with horrific stories attached. Visitors are moved and tears are shed. There was a display of World War II comics on the top floor. I was fascinated to learn how many comics were inspired by war, not just in the U.S., but other countries, too. The bookstore attached to the memorial had books on this subject but they were in French and I'd be kidding myself to think I could read my way through them. I could read the titles easily, though!

Many of my fellow travelers elected to visit the Louvre on our free afternoon, and we walked around this museum's fountains and pyramid to get the lay of the land ahead of time.

 There was a dog by one of the fountains who looked a lot like my Gladys, but at the same time she didn't really look like a Sheltie. But she kind of did.

She was friendly and took edible handouts from people, and my heart was breaking to think that this distant cousin of my loyal canine companion was having to walk the hot streets of Paris in all that fur scrounging to make a living. Alas, no. She had humans sitting by the fountain, but like most dogs in Paris is allowed to walk leash-less. Later we walked under the Louvre where there is a kind of concourse in order to learn where the Metro station is, and where to buy museum tickets without standing in a long line.

I learned most of this on a different trip to Paris ten years before, and toured the crowded Louvre, too. I decided on this trip to do something different. I remembered how much I enjoyed touring the Vienna Opera and seeing as how opera and ballet are traditionally so important to Paris's music scene, I planned a trip to the Palais Garnier (L'Opera de Charles Garnier). Christoph, our guide, showed me how to get there efficiently, by foot in the hot oxygen-less heat and since I arrived an hour before a tour in English, I bought some cold water and sat on the steps with many other exhausted Parisians and Paris visitors to rest my feet, drink my water, and people-watch. I can do that for hours in a good spot, and this was a great spot with vehicular traffic circling around the opera island of culture and no shortage of people walking every which way.

Finally it was time for the tour and I got to explore this monument to Paris culture. Our guide was exceptional--I think she came from Sweden--and told us stories about the building and its symbols. There's a lizard, a brass lizard, creeping up one of the staircases because to the French lizards are good luck. I actually did narrow down the collection of photos to this group, nonetheless you have a ton of Palais Garnier views coming at you right now!
L'Opera de Charles Garnier (He's the architect. There are other opera houses in the city, but this is the GARNIER.)

"Use the entrance under the eagles," he said, "because that's the King's entrance!"

IMAGINE attending a performance here!
Even the floors!

The floors! (detail of photo just above)
Good luck lizard

Marc Chagall painted the chandelier.

Even the seats in the auditorium are fancy. ('Abonne' means a subscriber sits here.)

This is where you hang out during intermission.
I was exhausted after this tour, but it was that happy-exhausted that comes from finally touring the Paris Opera. I found my way via the Paris Metro back to Notre Dame where our group met for a farewell dinner (duck confit) and dessert (Creme Brulee) and another kind of dessert, a cruise on the Seine! I did this on my ten-years-ago trip, too, but it was pouring and my photos were not so great. I'll end with the 2017 shots:

Pirate ship?

The Musee d'Orsay, formerly a train station.

Notre Dame