Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celtic Britain travel journal part iv

Britain TRAVEL JOURNAL--part 4 (England tour extension)

Monday, July 2, 2001, Kensington, London
Good thing I don't gamble. I didn't find any tombs or stones. Please! They must have thousands of graves around there, at York Minster. Where were they moved? Are they covered by a plaza?
Well, let's do it chronologically. As a group, we hiked through the medieval streets to the Yorvik Viking Museum. It was probably close to two miles, some of it uphill. I fell behind, and stopped for a public restroom, so I was separated from the group, very early on. The museum was a multi-media presentation, a ride through a real archaeology dig, populated by animatronic humans and animals. It was dated ca 975 AD. The fossils and finds were interesting.
 I'd heard (well, overheard) about a York Castle museum in the gift shop, so I inquired. It was three blocks more, which I walked, of course. "It's only a five-minute walk," was the response everywhere I went. When the castle (Clifford's Tower) came in sight, I totally blew off the museum idea! I climbed steep concrete stairs up the motte, the keep's bank, paid a £2 admission, and was in the bailey of my ancestors' castle. Eventually, I climbed the steep and uneven spiral steps up a tower, to get to the top battlements. I had a stranger take my picture up there on the battlements, with the Minster in the background. He didn't seem to know English, but he could press the proper button on the camera! The man was tall and Nordic looking. The castle was built by Henry III and named Clifford's Tower (I have Cliffords, Marcher lords, back there, too). By the time I got down all those steps, there was no way I could walk the 1.5+ miles back to York Minster, where everyone else was, so I called a taxi from a nearby hotel desk.
I got into a group tour after photographing the carved stone statues of my ancestors from William I to Edward III. I visited the crypt in hopes of finding tombs, but it was actually Roman remains and the Norman foundations of the existing gothic cathedral. I walked the half mile back to the hotel and waiting bus.
We drove for five hours to Central London, with me in the jumpseat taking pictures, again, and here I am!
A tour guide met us and rode along for 90 minutes while pointing out sites I've read about for years. The guide reminded me, in a subtle way, of a person I loved very much, for a long time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2001, Kensington
It's 90 degrees in this hotel room, with no fan. The window opens eight inches at the bottom. No breeze. This sucks. Actually, it was hot all day. This was the day our tour group split. Some went walking and shopping; others took a city sightseeing tour. All who were flying back today met at 1 p.m. to shuttle to Heathrow. But I wouldn't know about that.
I was on the sightseeing double-decker bus. Included was a 50-minute cruise on the Thames. That was a cool and breezy oasis in the warm day. I had a fish-n-salad (substituted for chips) at an outdoor restaurant in a small park on the Embankment, and listened to a live jazz band and watched pigeons. The pigeons know when diners are finishing up, and start flying in closer, like short, fat vultures.
I shopped for an hour in the very hot Picadilly Circus area, and at Victoria Station. I got back to the tour bus and saw another loop or two of London. I was making my way back to Kensington, where my bags were stowed at the Hilton, but the traffic out to the West End was gridlocked. Took two hours to crawl from Baker Street station out to Holland Park. I was the last person on the bus, and I told them I'd walk the last two blocks, which thrilled them. Would have been another 30 minutes in the bus! Then I waited a further 90 minutes, 'til 8:30 p.m., to call a taxi, so I wouldn't have to pay to sit in traffic on the transfer to my hotel reservation in South Kensington. I was hot and gritty from the bus rides, my feet are sore and swollen. Finally I got here, to the Kensington Edwardian, and had to schlep my own bags to the top floor, via the lift. It's now 11 p.m. and still 90 degrees in here. I've had a cold shower, and begged for a fan, but it's unavailable. I've got a wet hand towel over my shoulders. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2001, Kensington
Right. My patriotic American-versus-British revolutionary act, this Independence Day, was to get my hotel room changed. Told the manageress, very politely and quietly, that a 90 degree room and bad mattress left me in agony, that my attempt at makeup had melted off, that I needed better accommodation and a fan, and that their two lifts were not working, and I wasn't willing to climb up five floors in an airless stairwell to boot. They moved me to a first floor (actually mezzanine) corner room with cross ventilation, and brought a fan. It's still not exactly cool, but 15 degrees off, plus moving air helps a lot. I was finally on my way at 10:30.
I have to walk about half a mile plus a block, to get to the Tube at Gloucester Road Station. So I'm hot and footsore before I'm started. I got off the airless train at Westminster Station, and came up right at the Thames River, with Boudicca's monument above me. Big Ben was ringing Westminster Chimes (natch) at 11, as I walked to the Abbey church.
Tons of people had the same idea as I did, and Westminster Abbey was very crowded. I rented the audio guide and made my way through all the side chapels. Thousands of monuments, graves, wall plaques, floor stones, etc., honoring the dead. I was touched by one eighteenth century monument to a young woman. It extolled her Christian virtues in beautiful prose, and actually made me wish to have known her. Now that's good writing! Eventually, I got around to the back sides of the ancestors' graves around the chancel, and close to the Edward the Confessor shrine. I caught glimpses of the sides of the effigies, but the place tourists could stand was much lower than even the bottom of the sarcophagi. Also a strict policy on photos (as in, NONE), but no books or postcard photos have pix of what I want: overhead shots of the burial effigies of my forebears. The chancel was roped off, so no access to the sarcophagi that way unless I was an on-staff Anglican priest.
I stopped several times to rest my excruciatingly painful feet. At 12:30, I took Anglican Communion in the far west part of the nave. The prayers and parts of the Protestant "mass" were really beautiful. I visited the undercroft and museum (cool: I'd read about the undercroft treasury/exchequer in Sharon Kay Penman books), the bookshop, and the evensong service. Only no song! Just prayers. They only sing every other Wednesday, and I was there a week too early or a week too late.
I stopped at a restaurant for tomato basil soup, and bought grapes and a bottle of milk in the Gloucester Rd Tube station, and walked by the McDonalds and Texas Lone Star Grill, Burger King and Starbucks.
Hotel room is much cooler than starving-artist garret of last night. Wrote postcards this evening.
I keep wondering, Could I be more tired? And then I answer myself, Yes, I'm more tired and in more pain than the last time I asked myself that question. 

Thursday, July 5, 2001, Kensington
Oh, my burning and aching ankle stubs. Have worn off original, God-given feet issued at birth. It's so hot and humid, too! OK, enough groaning.
Walked through hot, damp haze to Tube station, rode Picadilly line to Great Russell Square. Then it was at least three-quarters of a mile to the British Museum. (Another "five-minute walk.") Must say, however, that anyone I ask for directions, including Tube personnel, are very helpful and friendly, despite that Five-Minute Walk they keep telling me.
Anyway, at the British Museum, I walked up the front, outside stairs. Then after buying my special exhibit ticket, up two more flights to the Cleopatra show. This is six stories so far, if you're keeping track, not even counting the many flights in the Tube stations. After seeing Cleo-baby, Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus, Marc Antony, and lots of naked Egyptians, I had to leave the blessedly air-conditioned exhibit. Probably the only a/c in the British Isles.
I had to go down four stories to get to the other halls, and then up four stories plus a long gallery walk, to the Celtic and Roman Britain displays. I was following directions in the Visitor Guide. It was hot and airless in the display rooms, and no benches or chairs to sit on, either. A security guard let me have his chair and fan for about 20 minutes until my soaking wet hair dried off, and my body temperature came back to normal. Have I mentioned that nothing in Britain is air conditioned? (Oh, I have. Sorry.) My makeup had of course melted before I got halfway to the Tube, and my hair was dripping with perspiration.
But for all my aches and pains and fever, it was worth the effort. I saw so many artifacts I'd seen in history or art books. In fact, every time I saw something amazing and beautiful in a picture, the photo credit always said, "The British Museum." So here I was, seeing Lindow (peat bog) Man, Sutton Hoo mask, Rosetta Stone, Easter Island Head guy, Elgin marbles, Cleopatra, Ramses II, the Ram in the Thicket, mummified people and cats, Assyrian winged beasts, etc. So impressive.
I had lunch in the nice restaurant: cran-blueberry sparkling mineral water on ice, and strawberries with clotted cream. Took Tylenol several times to little effect. After begging a warden, I was shown the well-hidden and discreet lifts! They'd been holding out on me.
At 5 p.m., I changed into my gold metallic top and black jacket I'd been carrying in my bag, and walked a few painful blocks to a bus stop. Caught one to the Strand, and then tanked up on bottled water and skim milk from a market, then a mocha frappucino at Starbucks. Man, I was dehydrated after all the heat, perspiration, walking, stair climbing, etc. Finally, though, I was feeling better (probably the caffeine and sugar). I walked around the corner to the Lyceum Theatre and picked up my ticket to the show, Lion King. (Up stairs, down stairs, up stairs once more.) I shared a box in the baroque theater with a Kentucky university student. When the show started, an actor in full costume came into our box, and I involuntarily whispered, "All right!" So he bent down and kissed me on the lips! A spotlight was shown on him, and he started singing across the theater to his counterpart in the opposite box. It was over in a minute, and the show started on the stage. The choreography of the dancers, dancer/puppeteers, and people who played scenery (trees and grass) was very creative and so beautiful. Genius, really, to conceive of it.
After the three-hour show, I was told to walk for "five minutes" to Charing Cross Station for the Tube. Wrong station, but I did snap a photo of Eleanor of Castile's Eleanor Cross, recreated after Civil War dismantling. (Yes, Eleanor's another ancestor.) After another Five Minute Walk (sure, sure), I got to the Embankment or Strand Station, whatever. There had been a rain shower during the show, but now it was cleared off, cooler, and there were puddles. Took the Tube back toward the hotel, and walked here again. I can't write this without dozing off again and again.

Friday, July 6, 2001, Kensington
I'm actually writing Friday's entry on Saturday morning, but DEAL WITH IT. I'll write as if it's still Friday:
By 8:45 a.m., I set out for the Tube station, took the subway as far as it went, at Ealing Broadway, then bought a £3.40 round-trip train ticket via Slough to Windsor/Eton station. Walked up the slight hill to the castle ticket office, and was there at 10:40. Then I hiked up a steeper hill, around the castle keep, then down the hill to the castle's lower ward to watch the changing of the guard at 11. No short cuts in England. The fife and drum band was good, but there sure was a lot of fuss and ceremonial slapping of guns and stomping! Took half an hour, too. Guy stuff. If they were women, they'd do it faster, more efficiently, and there'd be more music and no stomping.
Scoped out the St. George's Chapel, where some of the English royalty were buried. None of mine, however. One of the exterior gargoyles or grotesques was a cow. Go figure.
 Much of Windsor Castle was built by successive generations of my ancestors, so I was eager to see it. We weren't allowed in the oldest part, the round tower, and the private apartments, of course. Still, it was gratifying to see the Norman Gate, the stonework of the walls, the hilltop view of Berkshire, and — kind of bizarre — 747s taking off from Heathrow, over the Norman round tower. What would Henry I or any of them have thought of UFOs in their view of the sky? Demons? Angels?
Then I climbed back up the hill to the entrance to the State Apartments. I climbed lots of shallow steps. The first couple of large chambers were very crowded with tourists. The rooms were lined with lit glass cases of 200-300 year-old china. One that I liked very much was a set of wild flowers, a different flower on each piece. My 20 year-old flower pattern mixture back home seems like such good taste now!
The next rooms, up another flight, were martial in nature. Lots of spears and armor and swords. Couple of spare crowns, too, from Thailand (King Mongkut of Anna and the King presented gold crown looking like Thai temple to Queen Victoria), and one from Ethiopia. There were notations that certain items were "taken" at the Battle of Wherever. (In the name of the British Empire, I demand that you hand over your ancestral lands, keys to the treasure, your government, etc., at once.) There were jeweled swords and daggers, covered in emeralds, rubies, maybe diamonds.
Then we continued through dining and reception rooms, bed chambers and "closets," etc. I expected to see great art, and I really did. The three faces of Charles I (so a sculptor in Italy had an almost 3D model), the Holbein paintings of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Rembrandt self-portrait, fresco ceilings, huge tapestries, sculptured busts, silver furniture, gold-leaf woodwork, etc. The carpets we walked on were tourist ones, and the lanes were roped. The carpets the Queen and guests walk on are huge room-size Persian ones. (I think Bernard Brandstater's carpet, maybe one-eighth the size, but still really large, took seven years to weave and knot.)
Finally, one of the last state rooms was the Knights of the Garter guard room. I was limping and hurting badly despite the Tylenol at 11:30 a.m., so I asked a guard if there was a bench or chair to sit on for a few minutes, "obviously not the throne," I laughed. He brought a red side chair for me and I massaged my foot through the sandal.
When I did make it to the throne, in blue velvet over polished dark carved wood, the appliqued embroidery said "E III R 1350." Hello, grandfather! Edward III, whose 6'8" steel sword I'd seen in St. George's Chapel earlier in the day, founded the Knights of the Garter. No pictures were allowed, but I had my camera around my neck. I put it on wide angle, and from tummy-level, I aimed in the general direction and snapped a couple available-light photos when the guards were far away.
Well, there was a lot more walking and hiking. I went to an Internet café for half an hour, hoping for a cold drink, but the cooler had just been stocked with room-temperature pop. Forget it! Checked my e-mail, though. Got directions for the inevitable Five Minute Walk down to the Thames River for a £4, 35-minute cruise. That was nice: although we didn't see anything important, it was good to sit and enjoy the cool river breeze, and watch swans and blue dragonflies. A piece of fried fish (no chips) and a 15-minute walk of pain brought me back up the hill to the train station. Two trains and two subways later, I was back here at the hotel. That half-mile walk hurts more every time! 

Saturday, July 7, 2001, over Arctic Circle, maybe
I'm miserable. Not as miserable as the screaming toddler only 8 feet away. Not as comfortable as the idiot teenager who sits in front of me, reclining his seat into my space. I'm so sick of being pressed on every side and bumped on the aisle. My knees hurt, my head hurts. Had an argument with the bloody teen's mother, who said if I didn't like it I could call the flight attendant. So I did. She asked him to move up and he did, microscopically. We boarded the plane before 4 p.m., for 4:35 takeoff, but didn't take off 'til nearly 6:45. When my seatmate, a Danish-born Egyptian, came back from his walk, I got up to let him in and OOPS— jolted the teen's seat back.
You'd never know it by my mood now, but I actually had a pleasant morning. Woke around 6, and finished organizing my bags. Then walked to the Tube and took two different subways plus walked about 2 blocks, to get to St. Paul's Cathedral, in the City of London. Got there at 8:07; unfortunately, Communion mass started at 8:00. A deacon showed me to a seat in a chapel to the rear left of the nave. There were only about six of us there, but the priest and a robed helper read the prayers from the missal, leading up to Communion. We took the bread (papery wafers) and a sip of wine from the chalice, kneeling at the rail. Ow. Then I stayed and prayed silently in the large nave, under the famous and massive dome, for about 30 minutes.
About 9 a.m., they let the tourists in, and I tailed along on a guided tour. Aside from the gold ceiling mosaics, the fact that Charles and Diana married there 20 years ago this month, the beautiful architecture, etc., I guess the thing that was important to remember was: During the WWII London Blitz, men risked their lives to save God's house. I'd rationalize, myself, that God lives in my temple, me, not one made by human hands. But these men saw beyond themselves, to the greater community and the symbol of hope that St. Paul's was to them. They'd go up the roof during bombing raids, and if something fell and didn't explode, they'd pick it up and heave it away. I think just the east chancel was destroyed, and of course was rebuilt after the war. That was my Saturday morning in London. It was both inspiring and instructive.
After a couple photos on the plaza outside St. Paul's, I walked and Tubed and walked again back to my hotel. Checked out. Waited for the Heathrow transfer van. When the driver got there, he pulled down a seat for me, and its metal bar fell on my right toes. "OW!" I yelled involuntarily at the other 14 passengers, then apologized for my outburst. But my face must have shown the pain, because a British lady said, "You're putting a brave face on it, dear." If by brave, you mean strained and white.
I walked a lot in the airport terminal, was not impressed by duty-free prices, and then got on this excruciatingly crowded Air New Zealand jumbo jet. Doesn't feel at all jumbo. In fact, they should take out a row of seats at the back of every section, and install treadmills and exercise bikes, and sign people up for 5 or 10 minutes each. It is unconscionable that they cram 450 people in here elbow to elbow, with nowhere to walk except to the tiny toilets and back. We'll be on this plane for 13 hours. They did call for a physician over the speakers, but I don't know what for. Probably for the nervous breakdown of a passenger crammed between a sleeping seatmate and a beverage cart. Oh! That was me! Sorry.
I've read countless pages of the sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary (very funny), and am worried that I'll run out of book before I run out of plane. I mean, it's been seven hours already, and we're only over the Labrador Sea. Not even Canada yet.
Somewhere over Wyoming, 3 a.m. London time, 7 p.m. LA time.
Managed to doze between screaming baby bouts and sore knee. Foot swollen, not recognizable as human appendage. If this flight was on time, we'd be flying over the Colorado River right now. My seatmate was leaning on my shoulder to sleep, and I was hanging into the aisle with a back ache. The crew are serving hot sandwiches that smell of ham and spinach quiche. I guess they don't know if it's dinner or breakfast, either. Combined with slight turbulence, makes me queasy. Finished the book two hours ago. Now what do I do? It's the same in-flight movie they showed three weeks ago on my way to London.
St. George, Utah, 8:39 p.m. LA time — Almost there. So exhausted. Been awake now, 24 hours. The sun's finally gone down. This day was almost 31 hours.
LAX airport international terminal, arrivals, 11 p.m. — My "friend" Mr. P was supposed to be here about 9:00 to pick me up. We did get in 90 minutes late, but I'd built that into the pickup time. I was out at the curb, and no Mr. P. I started trying to call by 10:25, but no luck, as I don't have the correct number for him and the phone is in his girlfriend's name, and I'm pretty much brain dead so can't remember her surname. Finally called collect to Richard Tinker in Yucaipa, and he's coming to rescue me. Probably be here after midnight.
Sunday, July 8, 2001, Redlands, CA
10:15 a.m. So good to be home. Richard and Colleen dropped me and luggage at about 1:40 this morning. I greeted the cats and was in bed by 2:20. (Had been awake more than 28 hours.) Cats plastered themselves to me. Major purring.
Back and front yards have huge weeds. The peaches are nearly ripe, and have more tomatoes and squash. Today I do laundry (first time in 3 weeks), get groceries, and check mail. Mundane ending for great trip, but I can live with it.
Saturday, July 14, 2001, Redlands
Worked every day this week, and when I'd get home in evening, all I could manage was to feed cats, have a bowl of soup, and a little bit of pasting photos into album, but had to sleep by 9 p.m.. That is so not me. Afraid I spaced the pastor's sermon as I could barely stay awake. At Cross Culture service, we had many technical problems owing to absence of several key team members. While they worked on solutions, I took a mic and told of my Lindisfarne experience, when God spoke to me. They "amen-ed" heartily. This afternoon I slept three hours. I think this is the end of the jet lag, though. My body is back on Pacific Time.
Been gluing pix into scrapbook. At it for a week, but have barely made a dent.

Random observations
Sheep and cattle and horses in Britain are happy, content critters. Ours must be stressed to stand in muck in feedlots. Here, they graze and wander and ruminate, and nap actually stretched out in the sun.
Music: most shops have music playing. Really annoying techno-pop, mostly. In Starbucks on the Strand in London, I heard (the first and only time) British superstar Sting. Found a couple CDs of his in Picadilly Circus that aren't available in US. Heard jazz in the park on the day I went on the London City Tour and Thames cruise.
Clothes: would pay any money for a laundromat. Nothing. Michelle and I went through half a bottle of Febreze fabric deodorant spray! People here dress the same as in the US. No special trend that I can see. Love to see men in Shetland sweaters!
Tans: the Brits are known for their pasty white complexions. Yet I've got a tan since I came here. Every park you pass, there are many people sitting on beach towels or blankets, just sitting and doing nothing. No urge to be productive during lunch or break. Just go outside and SIT.
Food smells: Dublin and Edinburgh smelled divine. Until you realize that the smell is malting barley, destined for whiskey! Oh, man, everywhere I went, the barley smell was there. I craved a good barley stew, but never found one. I think I also enjoyed the smells of bar food in Dublin. If you could get past the vile cigarette smoke, the fast-food or bar pickup stuff smelled wonderful. But oh, the barley — it's enough to drive one to drink!
The telly: Hey, no problem with saying the F-word or showing uncut R-rated movies on regular broadcast TV. The prime-time has soaps, game shows, etc. They have BBC 1 and 2 morning news, and also a Good Morning news/chat thing. One station was sports-only. And it was Wimbledon time. I watched a two-part detective show that I suppose will turn up on PBS Mystery, soon. Looked in vain for a "British comedy," but maybe they're not on in the season or time of evening that I watched. Hardly any commercials, and never during a show, but they were pretty funny. The hotels only have five or six channels. It was funny to see 500 year-old stone buildings with 18-inch satellite dishes mounted on the sides.
Exercise: I deserve a huge medal (ala those wrestling belt buckles) for all my walking and stair climbing. When I ask for directions, the people say, "Oh, that's just a Five Minute Walk." Maybe for them! But I was fooled every time. What a sucker I am. I trudged miles, every day. Stairs everywhere, always. No escalators, either.
I'm proud that I've done so much, though. I kept going even when the young and fit 20-somethings were dragging. When the group was climbing up to Durham Cathedral, although I was tired, I wasn't out of breath. When I asked to stop for a moment to rest, everyone else stopped, too — not out of pity for me, but because they were also beat! With all the exercise, one needs hydration. I haven't seen one drinking fountain or water dispenser anywhere, but plenty of people haul sports bottles around. They seem to prefer mineral water to "still" spring water. However, it finally occurred to me that spring water and mineral water were synonymous. The drink coolers are set at about 55 degrees, I think, because stuff is just barely cool, never cold. Never ice!
Restaurants: Do these people ever eat at home, or cook? Every block has many restaurants and pubs and deli-type shops. The supermarkets aren't really very super. Everyone must shop a little each day and carry it on the Tube. No station wagons or mini-vans backed up to a Costco loading dock! Even the lower-priced restaurants use tablecloths and cloth napkins, and serve the meal in leisurely courses. Wish I could have my tea/coffee with my meal instead of after. When I ask, they seem surprised! The servers don't come around very often, and that's a plus. Aside from "the frozen kind" of fried fish, which was perfect, the other fish-minus-chips I've bought had skin on, which was gross! So I ate the top layer, but threw away the skin and attached batter. I also bought sandwiches or a pasty, and soups, and once just ordered strawberries with clotted cream. I'm always on the run (almost literally) so I don't want anything to slow me down. What kind of foods on the menu? (Not saying I ate these, just that they were available.) Pork (sausage, bacon, ham), seafood (salmon, shrimp, tuna), beef and lamb practically non-existent because of hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak, eggs (fried, poached, scrambled), various cheeses, beverages (hot tea and coffee after meal, wines, hardly ever water and never glasses of milk or iced tea, cola and other sodas), breads (baking-powder biscuits, croissants, scones, sliced white and brown and rye bread, pita), breakfast cereals (Special K, Cornflakes, muesli that looked like lawnmower outflow, oatmeal), vegetables (potatoes, carrots, zucchini, etc.), fruits (melon, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, same as at home), dessert (almond or Bakewell tart, strawberry/ rhubarb pie, strawberries and unsweetened cream, ice cream, trifle, etc.). The vegetarian offerings weren't very good. No meat analogs. Either eat strange vegetable medleys in pasta or buried under crumbs, or go for the cheese/egg thing.
Flowers: The foxglove and lobelia and iris flags and many other flowers are blooming wild, everywhere. In the cities, I see buckets and buckets of cello-wrapped arrangements. They'd be $15-20 arrangements in the US. Lots of people buy flowers, men and women, and carry them with the shopping. Home, presumably.
Ancestral ties: Early on, I sensed that my tour mates wouldn't share my fascination with the ancient and medieval history of Great Britain, nor in such a personal way. How many times could I crow, "My ancestor, King So and So, built this castle or commissioned this cathedral." (But he did!) Well, it slipped out a few times, but I decided to keep most of it to myself. There were many, many times when I COULD have said something about the ancestors! The docents at Windsor/St. George's Chapel, Durham Cathedral, etc., though, were pretty excited to talk about (really, really) old times with me. They were interested that a descendant of the Angevins and Plantagenets would be living in California. I suppose I have lots of distant cousins all over the US, and probably many of the Commonwealth countries, but one doesn't really think of it. You think of the current Royal Family as being the only real descendants that count! Dorothy and Robert knew of ancestral ties in Ireland, and John and Carl are of Welsh descent, so I wasn't the only one feeling the sense of deep roots.
Alone in a crowd: Even though I was part of a 22-person group, somehow I managed to be alone in most places — alone to meditate, pray in the holy places, appreciate the quiet or the memory of someone's loved one encapsulated on a tombstone. Maybe this was anti-social, but while others were figuring out where to go and what to do and how to do it together, I just took off and got started! While others were getting ready to explore Bath, I was on the tour bus, then exploring the abbey church during organ rehearsal, and then dipping fingers in the hot pool. At Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, I did my own exploring, and at Iona, while the group walked to the abbey, I was hiring a bike. At York I was entirely alone. How slippery of me. But it's hard to pray, or soak in beauty when you're surrounded by others. I suppose it could be considered selfish, but I doubt anyone paid their bucks to be entertained by me, anyway! 


If you enjoy life sketches, anecdotes, and historical details like these, you can find them in the book Effigy Hunter, by Christy K Robinson. It's available in print from CreateSpace, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon

Celtic Britain travel journal part III

Celtic Britain TRAVEL JOURNAL--part 3 (Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, York)

Wednesday, June 28, 2001, late night, Edinburgh, Scotland!!!
We drove out of the Irish ferryboat and onto Scottish soil, port of Stranmaer, at around 7 p.m. We drove about three hours, and passed through Ayrshire ("Haste ye back," said the road signs at the village borders), Strathclyde, Midlothian, and whatever we're in now. Irregular fields of hay and barley, and the odd potato farm. Cattle, a palomino horse or two, sheep, a donkey. Views of the sea off to our left, with a sugarloaf mountain island out there. All beautiful, the whole way. The buildings don't seem as old as the Irish ones, though.
Since it's summer time and we're far north latitude, the sun goes down really late, after 10 p.m. We got to Edinburgh while there was still fairly bright twilight, after 10.
Oh, man, you can see the Edinburgh Castle across the street from our hotel on Princes Street. The tour mates were squealing with delight at our posh surroundings and address. Although our hotel faces the Royal Mile and the Walter Scott Memorial, etc., our room faces an alley and fire escape stairs!
After getting our bags into the room, six of us went out for a walk, and bought super-cheap paperback books at a nearby store which closed at midnight. Back at the hotel after midnight, I did laundry in the bathtub, and hung it on the heated towel bars to dry. I've fallen asleep multiple times trying to finish this entry.

Thursday, June 29, 2001, Edinburgh
Today was great all day, but I had my really special moments before noon.
Cobbled plaza at Edinburgh Castle, Firth of Forth
 After the hotel breakfast, we were taken to Holyrood Castle, which was unfortunately closed as of today, to prepare security for the Royal Family's visit on Sunday night. Holyrood was famous for its later occupants, Mary Queen of Scots, etc., but was started by David I, my ancestor, to memorialize his mother, St. Margaret, as the guest house for the nearby Holyrood Abbey, now in ruins. We drove through the medieval streets, up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. We bought admission for £7.50, took a 30-minute guided tour, and then at leisure, we toured the crown jewels and Stone of Scone ("skoon") exhibit. My ancestors sat on that stone to be consecrated or crowned king, from Kenneth MacAlpin in the 800s, to 1299, when my ancestor Edward I of England swiped it and carried it off to Westminster. Then every monarch since has sat above it. Just a sandstone rock, but it's seen a lot of royal arse. Oh, sorry, revered ancestral spirits.
Then I went to St. Margaret's Chapel, a barrel-vaulted little stone building, whitewashed inside, with small stained glass windows of St. Margaret and St. Columba (1800s). There were fresh flowers in the roped-off chancel. I could almost pray to the sainted ancestor, as millions have believed is right. As it is, I thanked God personally, with no mediator, for allowing me to visit this place I've wanted to see for 20 years. It was a moving experience, and I was able to block out, for a minute, all the other tourists.
Our bus took us away at 1 p.m., after the cannon was fired as a time keeper for the harbor. Walking from the hotel, I took 13 rolls of film for processing, got a sandwich in a department store café, took a narrated bus tour of Edinburgh, and shopped or browsed near the hotel. My feet are soooo bruised from walking the cobbles and the pavements. Ow, ow, ow. I wanted to shop in the touristy places in the Royal Mile, and see the mews and closes, but just couldn't. Too painful!
Our tour-mate Dolores has a single room on the seventh floor of the hotel, with a balcony that faces the whole west front of Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle is lit with floodlights, and there was a break in the clouds so you could see the half moon shining over the castle. Took a picture of that.

Friday, June 29, 2001, Edinburgh
What a long day. We had to be ready for the day and on the bus at 6:20 a.m. We drove about four hours northwest of Edinburgh to the west coast port of Oban. We were the last group to catch the ocean ferry to Craignure, Mull. Our bus drove off the ferry there, and we went another hour, the length of the island, to a passenger ferry at Fionnport, which took us a mile or two across the strait to Iona. While everyone else walked to the abbey, I rented a bike and got up there that way. With my knees to my chest, I chugged up the path. It was my first time on a real bike (not the stationary kind) in some years. Pretty fun! I parked it on the shoulder outside the several churches, and prayed at the altars.
I stopped first at a ruined stone church, and saw some ancient unmarked grave stones that might have been monks, priests, or my MacAlpin ancestors (or not), then rode along the blacktop path to the newer church down the road. I looked all over the churches and graveyard for the ancient kings of Scotland said to be buried there. There were some uncarved or eroded tombs that looked ancient, but no modern plaque to identify.
 The day, which had been drizzly on the drive and first ferry trip, cleared up miraculously while we were on Iona. Two hours later, after unmitigated gorgeosity (breeze, puffy clouds, warm and bright sun) just when it was time to head back, a few drops from a squall started hitting, but not really raining. It was exhilarating to ride the bike lickety-split downhill, into the teeth of the wind! Wheeeee.
I stayed out on the ferry deck again, and watched a castle, a lighthouse, and sailboats pass my view. Donna and a cute kid (with an even cuter father) were feeding shortbread to a seagull as he floated in the boat's slipstream.
We reversed the ferries and bus rides, along the same roads to Edinburgh, and were back by 9:30. I walked to Hard Rock Café and had soup, came back here, and then Michelle and Jimmie and I went to an Internet shop three blocks away, to do two hours of e-mail and web surfing. In case you're keeping track, it's now 2 a.m. Saturday.
My impressions now: Everything is as green, or greener than, the Emerald Isle. On the morning drive, it was raining in places and misty drizzle in others. As we drove through Perth and Crieff, and into the highlands, we saw much heavier runoff than we could account for by rain. Must have been pouring at the mountain tops! We saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of considerable brooks and waterfalls. They'd just appear at the top of the crag, and within a few feet, were strong enough to be seen for miles. Inevitably, the creeks and waterfalls became burns and flowed into the lochs. A couple of really large and beautiful ones were Lochearn and Lochawe. Near the latter, at about the mid-journey point (if you count the long drive on Mull Island) was the mountain, Ben Cruachan. My map says 1100 feet (must be meters); the guidebooks say 3600+. Coming from the mountainous US southwest, I wasn't expecting it to look like much. But I was impressed! It's all basalt covered in greenery, with shreds of mist for a crown, and waterfalls for a necklace. Puffs embroidered on its finery were thousands of sheep and lambs.
The first ferry ride, we barely drove on, and the boat took off. It was a bit rainy at first, but soon it was just damp and cold. Didn't keep me off the decks!
The island of Mull was 40 minutes off the mainland, and looked similar. This time, we had only a single lane, and we had to pull over for oncoming cars. The sheep and lambs walked through downed fences and grazed or ruminated on the shoulder or even on the road. We saw highland cattle, which look like a devolved, retrograde breed. They're a pretty red color, with horns, and their hair is all shaggy, with bangs on their foreheads. Really interesting! Yak-ish. At the end of Mull is a broken-off island with two volcanic humps, Iona.
As the legend goes, St. Columcille/Columba came to this wild place, maybe on a day like today, with 12 disciples, to found a monastery. When the guys decided this was too ascetic, treeless and rocky, and suggested going home, the future saint told them to burn the ships. The conquistador Cortez in 1519 did the same thing, and I used to think: what a waste of good transport, and how cruel. But the Steven Curtis Chapman song analogizes it to the Christian experience: we've come too far to turn back now, our goal is still in front of us, Satan may block our paths, but we still have a victorious leader, Jesus. 

Saturday, June 30, 2001, Edinburgh
It was so sweet to sleep 'til almost 9 a.m. The bus took us to the Adventist church in the Royal Mile, where our group took over the service. I played Brother James' Air for offertory (it is Scottish!), and O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go for a piano solo. To precede the solo, I explained that the tune is called St. Margaret, and here we were a few blocks from St. Margaret's memorial chapel at Edinburgh Castle. I said I'd play to God's glory, and to my ancestress' memory. Kit, Robert, Donna, Nancy, Dorothy, and John also contributed heavily to the service. There was a three year-old girl there who was so beautiful I could barely keep my eyes off her. She belonged to the organist, Audrey. After the service, Audrey and granddaughter took me up to the balcony to let me play the old pipe organ. The keys were stiff and uneven to the touch, and the pedals seemed spaced slightly different than modern ones. The "presets" were three sets of levers you pushed with your foot, which unstopped certain voices. When Audrey played the prelude, though, it was beautiful, so she's found a way to overcome, maybe even exploit, the handicaps of the old instrument.
The church members served a delicious lunch in their basement. The soup was pea and mint! I'm not sure if I would choose that one again, but it was delicious for the once. I sat with some Scottish ladies for lunch, and we chatted about their grown children and grandchildren. At 2:30, we were taken back to our hotel, as our Scottish "sistern" and brethren waved from the front steps of the church.
In the afternoon, I walked all the way to, and on, the Royal Mile. I poked my head in the closes and listened to a piper. Tried to get into St. Giles' Cathedral, but it was closed. I had a pint milk carton to discard, but could find no trash, so I talked to a policeman. "Your city is really beautiful and clean, but I don't understand how that's possible when there are no rubbish bins for blocks around!" He smilingly responded that today was the Opening of Parliament, and the Queen was coming tomorrow night… "Ah! No trash cans for security reasons," I said, and he nodded.
I was at the entrance to the Castle by about 5:30, but took a taxi back to the hotel because I was meeting Dorothy to taxi up to the bagpipe concert. However, she'd discovered there was no seating available, and we'd have to stand for a couple hours, so she decided to miss the concert. Michelle and James, those young whippersnappers who had walked as much as I had and seemed just as exhausted, taxied with me instead.
The concert started at 8:00, and we were there at 7 to get a good place. A security guard saw me leaning on my cane, and brought me his chair from the guard shack! So I got to sit, which was a blessing. (I'd never have made it back to the hotel later, otherwise.) We heard the rehearsals behind the castle walls, the pipes and the military band. Even though a bit muted by the thick stone walls and distance, it was beautiful. When they emerged from the gate and crossed the bridge, you'd get goosebumps even if there wasn't an extremely frigid wind off the Firth of Forth/North Sea. (And there was.) What is it about bagpipes?
Instead of taking a taxi back, I strolled with Robert and Janet back down the mountain with its curving canyons of old buildings. We stopped for supper in a café. I had broccoli/asparagus soup. It tasted great, but it was pureed or strained, so no chunks. Then we continued our long walk back to the hotel.
After a long, hot foot soaking in the tub, bedtime.

Sunday, July 1, 2001, 11:30 a.m., Holy Island, Lindisfarne, England
What a bucolic spot. I'm sitting on a grassy bank at the harbor. To my right are two boats, keels up, with double doors at this end. Either they're boat houses or sheds for equipment. Three fishermen just walked by, and in their Yorkshire or Northumbrian accents, said, "It was six feet long." The guys chuckled, and one said on a gust of wind, "Yeah, right, and 150 pounds for sure." Fish stories.
There's a blond retriever running around with a big doggie smile, and he met up with two friendly beagles who bayed happily at him and wagged tails all around. There are sheep in a pasture behind me. They were grazing quietly, but suddenly started doing the baa-thing and moving en masse. There are some pretty sea birds who spotted my lunch bag and are squawking angrily at me. One flies over, and you see an expectancy of chips or bread crusts in his beady eyes. Sorry. I have crackers, but I'm not sharing!
We drove south from Edinburgh this morning, along the coast route, with the North Sea on our left. What pretty country. Fields with red poppies, barley, or grazing sheep. Hilltop farmsteads. I was sitting in the jumpseat, as I've often done on this trip, snapping pictures out the front and left windows. We stopped at the Scotland/England border to take photos, but by then it was too late to see if we'd passed over Hadrian's Wall, because it was behind us. I never saw a sign for it, so maybe it doesn't reach the North Sea coast. Saw the sign for Thirsk, James Herriot's headquarters, and expected to see steep hills and deep valleys like the All Creatures movie and TV show. However, it was just a gently rolling landscape.
Later: Here in Lindisfarne, I bought a piece of fish (no chips) from a vendor in a roach coach. This guy could have been a Herriot character if he' been born 70 years ago! I asked where he was from, and he answered mostly monosyllabically, Yorkshire. Had he always lived around here? Yes. Do you have tartar sauce? No. Brown sauce. (Tasted like barbecue plus ranch.) What kind of fish is in the filet? (Cod? Perch? Whitefish?) He opened the freezer and brought out an 8 x 12" box. "This kind," he said, and returned it to the freezer. So, the UK version of Gorton's or Mrs. Paul's. (Unless they drop a net and the boxes float up from the deep.) Oh, well, it was crispy and delicious. Best I've had in years. I took my paper plate of fish up the road to the little village, munching all the way.
 Found the museum to look at the Lindisfarne Gospels on a computer (because the real thing is in the British Library in London), but decided to buy the CD rather than take time to look at it on their computer. Walked on to the priory, and paid admission to the museum and ruins. The apse was a semi-circle in which St. Cuthbert was probably buried at one time. I sat for awhile in the chancel, built in a semi-circle, on a block of stone, enjoying the perfect day: not too hot or cold, fluffy cumulus clouds in a pure blue sky, birds fluttering between the arches of the crossing, and the sun spotlighting me from a gothic stone arch. A golden moment. I was sitting at the place where the high altar had been for 700 years, and bare stone had been for another 600 years since. Then I heard God speak to my heart: "Present yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship." This moment was very powerful for me, there in that quiet and holy place. God spoke. I was a living sacrifice on the stone altar of a holy place.
The puffy clouds scudded by peacefully, but it was nearly time to go. Back through the museum and gift shop, I found Lisa looking for gifts for Dorothy and John, in appreciation from the group. She'd picked out an assortment, and asked my opinion for the final decision. I thought John would like the Chi-Ro illumination because of the Greek letters that begin Christ's name. Dorothy had told me months before that her house, like mine, is all in blue and white, so I thought the blue Celtic-design plate would be a nice choice for her. Apparently, Dorothy and John had already been in this shop, and had salivated after the very things that we decided upon, but we didn't know that until later!
When the bus got underway at 2:30 p.m., the causeway was still wet, and the tidal flats still held a lot of water. We just got to the island in the nick of time this morning, and then we had three and a half hours to relax before we could leave. Time and tides wait for no one. How profound. Wish I'd made that up. I'd have been as famous as the guy who really did make it up. Born too late, I was. Oh, yeah, and in a land-locked desert city. So I doubt I would have thought of it anyway. 

Durham and Yorkshire — About an hour or more down the road, we hit Durham. The coach wasn't allowed in the medieval, twisty streets, and had to park at the bottom of the very considerable hill. We started walking: up a hill, up stairs, up a small street, across a square, up a curvy street, up and up, and finally, there was the gigantic cathedral. Just massive. We got a tour from a soft-spoken woman who showed us the tomb of St. Cuthbert, the nine chapels or altars, took us into the chancel, and explained about the Caen limestone in the Neville Screen. HUH????
Neville, you say? I knew the Lords Raby (Nevilles) were buried at important sites around Northumberland and Yorkshire, and I remember there were several Ralph Nevilles, Lord Raby. I told our docent/steward that I was descended from Nevilles and Percys and Ros, etc., and she got very interested that this American chick knew the ancient names and places. She's a medievalist, and lived in Alnwick Castle one summer, she said. That's a Percy place, and some are buried near there. (We'd passed the turnoff in our bus, and I only got a picture of the Alnwick sign.) The docent said that there were two Neville tombs in the cathedral, and then showed them to me while the rest of the group went with the guide. Photography is prohibited, and there were no postcards or guidebooks with pictures of the tombs. I asked if I could make a donation as I did at St. David's in Wales, but apparently, that too is out of the question. The docent whispered that she could just disappear and I could snap the picture, and if the verger came around, she could appear to scold me. So I got my shot and no one noticed anyway. Yea! I did buy postcards of the chancel and the Neville Screen, though.
We then hiked back downhill, over cobbled streets. Those things kill my feet. I can see how they'd be good traction in rain or snow, though. Janet and Robert had bought McDonald's ice cream sundaes for the whole busload. Really hit the spot. How did they haul 23 cups of ice cream all the way to the bus? 

11 p.m., York, Yorkshire, England — Wow. Ancient city walls. York Minster. Funny streets like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Cobbles, bricks, stone buildings and sidewalks. Our hotel room looks right out at the north city wall. We had the group dinner tonight, and presented the gifts to Dorothy and John, who were thrilled with the choices. The hotel restaurant served this great soup, and I asked if I could just have another serving of soup instead of the entrée. They looked at me strangely, but said okay. Crazy American, only eating the potato/leek soup.
Even though sore and tired from all the walking already today, I convinced Michelle and James to go walking into the old city, only a block away through the Monkbar Gate. We saw the east face of the Minster, the largest medieval building in the UK, then we walked down a few streets looking for a convenience market. Nothing but pubs after 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. Finally found a roach coach with bottled spring water. Then we turned to come back, and we'd gone really far! Maybe a mile each way. And we were tired to begin with. Now I ache. Probably will tomorrow, too. I just BET I'll find more graves or mentions. My families ruled York for hundreds of years.
All the blue blood in my veins is throbbing in my feet and knees and hips. Must soak and medicate! 

Read on to Celtic Britain part 4


If you enjoy life sketches, anecdotes, and historical details like these, you can find them in the book Effigy Hunter, by Christy K Robinson. It's available in print from CreateSpace, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon

Celtic Britain travel journal II

Celtic Britain TRAVEL JOURNAL--part 2 (Wales and Ireland) 

Friday, June 22, 2001, 10:40 p.m., Dublin, Ireland
It's still twilight, even at this hour. We reached the hotel an hour ago, and I've been out to find an ATM. I just insert my Bank of America debit card, input the PIN, and out comes £50 Irish money. Such a deal, and so much easier than money changers or ordering currency at the bank at home.
Market cross, Welsh flag, St. David's in background
 Today began with packing up, riding the bus across South Wales (Glamorgan), through rolling hills with bazillions of sheep and milk cattle. The hedgerows, which line every road, were very often tall enough to block my taking photos. There would have been vistas in the soft haze, with gentle green slopes dotted with sheep, hedgerows of shaggy blackberry vines and ferns, stone walls with lobelia and foxglove growing from the gaps, and occasionally, as we came close to the coast, half a horizon of deep blue Irish Sea. We dipped below the sea cliffs several times, and found inlets with sailboats standing on their double keels in the mud — maybe 20-30 of them. Perhaps with the new moon, the tide is exceptionally low. We drove west from Newport, past Swansea, through Carmarthen (missed the castle), through Haverford West (wanted to investigate castle ruin, but no time), past St. Brides Bay to St. David's in Dyfdd.
St. David is the patron saint of Wales. He was an apostle to my wild Welsh ancestors, and turned them from druidism to Christianity. We had an hour to hustle down a steep street, stairs, another steep path, and then into the cathedral. (About half the group took the wrong street, and ended up at St. Non's church, in honor of St. David's mother. Oops.) It was very interesting where I went! I read some churchyard and interior grave stones. Every grave faces east, as does the chancel. Again, I prayed at the high altar, as several (or many) ancestors must have done. I found the sarcophagus of Edmund Tudor (brother of Henry VII), who was a first or second cousin to my ancestors. And I found the ossuary of St. David. I had to hurry up the steep walk, the stairs, and the steep street to get back to the meeting point, but the coach wasn't back yet, so I had a cup of coffee with Dolores in a shop. (This British coffee needs a lot of milk, I've found. The tea is better.)
"Family butcher." YIKES!!
 We headed northeast to Fishguard, another Newport, through Cardigan, Abermeron, and Aberystwyth (after which a hymn is named). I took a photo through the trees and bushes, of the church there. Must be some church or town, if they named the hymn after it. Somewhere around there, we entered Powys. It was pretty country already, but now we found more forest and gradually higher and more rugged volcanic mountains. It was, incredibly, a more intense green. The forests thickened, and it was easy to image the Welsh patriots materializing to fight the conquering English, then melting back into the forest. When we passed Machynlleth, we started up a glacial valley.
I could imagine my Welsh people building those rock fences, carrying water, hunting deer, racing horses by the river, singing and harping by the fire in winter, and tending sheep. I felt such a bond with these anonymous Welsh people from hundreds of years ago. It's not like I share any of their experience or their DNA after all these generations of dilution. It's that, as I learn about their lives, who they were, what they felt and how they reacted, I take in part of their spirit and they grow and live inside me. It's a mysterious feeling, this Circle of Life. I don't believe in Fate. I'm not pre-destined to believe or act in a way that my forebears did. But I choose, willfully, to be a hardworking, independent, educated, opinionated, free spirit who also (paradoxically) knows when conservatism might be warranted.
This quick drive through Wales, even though we didn't have one minute to drive slowly past a place of interest (like standing stones at Portmeirion and Carnarvon, or even Carnarvon Castle), was still an epic journey. We were hurrying to catch our 6:30 p.m. Holyhead, Anglesey, ferry to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.
We drove up in a lather, almost, at 6:20. We drove the bus right into the huge ship. It was a hydrofoil or catamaran, I think, and we did about 50 mph across the Irish Sea. Beautiful weather, with a warm, strong sun and chilly wind off the water. In less than two hours, we'd crossed the water and drove off into the agriculture inspection. There has been a foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain and Europe, and we were walked across disinfectant mats and the bus was sprayed around and under, with disinfectant (so now we really were in a lather!) at the Irish port. Our Dublin hotel room is downtown, and there are thousands of young people in the streets this Friday night, drinking and smoking.
I must sleep!!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2001, 5:30 p.m., Dublin
Well, no need to come back here any time soon, unless they pass a smoking ban. Everyone smokes vile cigarettes, nonstop it seems. The hotel corridors and lifts and especially the lobby by the ubiquitous bar — all just reek. My throat and eyes burn with it. Makes me nauseous, too. Need to break out the inhaler. The streets are absolutely jammed with young people. They're not carrying shopping, just walking and wandering. I don't see the attraction of standing packed into a smoky bar (too jammed to get served), not able to talk to your date because of the loud music. The food smells here are great, though.
We were bused to the Dublin SDA church for study and worship. The pastor suggested I try the piano before the service, to get the feel. So I played a few lines of a hymn to warm up. The pianist came over and fussed with hymnals on top of the studio piano, and looked very cross that I was on HER piano bench. I hastened to get off the bench, and told her, no, I wasn't playing for the hymns, I was just warming up. She sat down and played for song service, and once she put her foot down on the damper pedal, that foot never lifted for the next 10 minutes.
I'd say the church would fit 70. With our 22 people, they had to bring in seven extra chairs. I played Brother James' Air (The Twenty-third Psalm), and tour member Donna played her psaltery, doing The Water is Wide. The pastor had to leave for his other district church, so a woman preached. Who knows on what: I was so fighting jet lag.
After church and changing clothes, I bought some food at a convenience market for lunch, then joined the group for a narrated tour of Dublin on our coach. We were set down at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells on display. In an environmentally controlled case in a dark room, I saw this 1200-year-old book of Gospels, drawn on vellum. I liked the humor inserted into the fanciful illuminations. The artists couldn't have known their work would be seen and admired and even revered after 1200 years! If I believed my work would be worth that much so far down the line, how much more exacting would be my labors! How much more care and thought would go into the planning!
As I exited the exhibit, my stomach was cramping, and I was overcome by more vile smoke coming in the open door of the gift shop. I was sick in the gift shop store-room bathroom. Then after that, I had to walk 3-4 blocks through the crowds, past Molly Malone's cockles and mussels, before I could get back to my room and puff on the albuterol.
11:30 p.m.: The noise in the street below is increasing exponentially, as the people get more blotto. There's nothing but bar after pub after licensed establishment after nightclub out in Temple Bar, which is the district this hotel is in. After I got back from seeing the Book of Kells, I took a 45-minute nap, then went to the tour group dinner in a private room over a pub. The group told a bit of who they were and how they came to be on the trip. After supper, tea was served. Kit and Cherrie confused the paper packets in the serving dish, and instead used packets of salt and pepper in their tea. The waiters must have rolled on the floor laughing. I walked around Temple Bar and over to the River Liffey, where I stood for a while on the bridge to get some air before returning here. Now there's a British comedy show on TV: short takes of comedy sketches. Faster paced than Saturday Night Live, but still ensemble based. 

Sunday, June 24, 2001, 11 p.m., Cork, Ireland
Ow. I'm sitting on the narrow edge of the bathtub, soaking my feet in the hottest water I can bear.
Wicklow Mtns near Glendalough

Today was a good one. We left beautiful but stinky-smoky Dublin! A couple hours' drive south are the Wicklow Mountains. Really pretty country. I could barely stay awake on the drive, but I'm forcing myself not to miss a thing. (Some of the tour members are sleeping through the whole trip, it seems. They wake when the bus stops. But we're always in the bus!)
Our first stop was the Glendalough Abbey ruins, and the lakes where naked women tried to seduce St. Kevin. (He pushed one off his hermit's ledge, and she died from the fall or drowned, I'm not sure.) The ruins of a very old scriptorium and church were very pretty. I planned to visit the lower lake, but tripped on a stone in the path, and fell. So instead I went back to the visitor center to wash up and bandage my palm. We had a group lunch at the Glendalough restaurant (some bizarre veggie medley, not good), and shopped for 10 minutes.
We then bused through the Wicklow Gap (a glacial valley and mountain pass). After a lifetime of seeing pictures of ruins (abbeys, churches, monasteries, houses, castles, and keeps), it's almost not amazing to see so many of them for myself. Through the trees, I glimpse a Norman square church tower, or gothic spires. Sometimes the 900 year-old keep is attached to a 400 year-old house, or a house that was once a crofter's shed is now a cottage or sheep shed. The longer buildings were probably a stable at one end and home at the other.
Our next stop was the Rock of Cashel, a 13th century abbey and castle, and one of St. Patrick's missionary sites. The weather is still gorgeous, and we climb around in the sun and wind. The views are incredible, and with the long, long days, the sun is still quite high at 6 p.m..
After two more hours of driving, we came to Cork, near the bottom of the island. We got our rooms (nice hotel — quiet, view of quiet river, no smoky pubs in sight!), then most of us took off walking and exploring. Mind you, this was after 9 p.m. on a Sunday! Only one shop was open, a convenience store which had Internet terminals, £1 per 20 minutes. Janet and Robert and I checked all our e-mail accounts and answered several notes. Next time, I'll send messages to Brian, Jan J., Jan K., Nancy, etc.
Janet and Robert and I got iced drinks at McDonalds and came back to get ready for tomorrow. 

Monday, June 26, 2001, 10 p.m., Limerick, Ireland
I'm sitting in the hotel courtyard (I think close to Shannon Airport), maybe three miles from King John's Castle on the River Shannon. (Evil King John, who was forced to sign the Magna Carta by his barons, some of whom are my ancestors, was also a forebear of mine.) We probably can't go see it, because it's not Celtic (it's English/Norman), and it would really screw up our packed itinerary. We always seem to hit the hotels after 8 p.m., long after the town shops close at 6, and we leave town again at 9 a.m., before the places open! I asked Dr. Jones if we might visit the castle first thing tomorrow, and he said he'd ask around for consensus. So maybe.
 Today was another gorgeous day. We left Cork at 9 and went 8 kms to Blarney Castle. I skipped the 120 steps and hanging upside down to kiss a dirty rock (yes, the famous Blarney Stone), and went with most others to shop at the factory outlet. Got gifts for Dad and Susanne, a teal wool ruana for me, had my photo taken by Christy's Pub, and then we bused across the south of Ireland to the Dingle Peninsula.
We saw bogs, lakes, lots of sheep and cattle (no goats, hmmm…), stone fences, Norman and gothic churches both ruined and restored. I noticed some stone outbuildings had ancient shapes still evident in cross section, then they were altered to have added height or different roofline. Across the valleys, we could see the remains of round towers or the skeletons of castles. Everywhere are stone fences, running around irregularly shaped pastures or hayfields, lining the roads, running up hillsides, shoring up steep places. I asked if the rocks were quarried, or just gathered and stacked after being left by glaciers. The answer is the latter. So our Celtic ancestors carted rocks around, cleared fields, built fences and walls, in addition to every other survival skill and leisure arts. We made a restroom stop at Inch Beach, a pretty bay. The women’s restroom was out of TP entirely. Catalino had to steal a roll of tissue from the men's room to help out the desperate women who would otherwise have had to wait 'til the next stop.
We lunched at Dingle, a fishing village/tourist trap. Actually, it was really pretty, and I had the opportunity to run up the hill to the first supermarket I've seen in this country. I bought spring water, crackers and milk, and film.
After lunch, we found a stone beehive hut, the Gallarus Oratory, from 1400 years ago. We swarmed around and took photos and heard about monastic life and the copying of manuscripts. Penny took a picture of me "pulling" out a stone from the dry masonry foundation. Sort of like pulling the bottom can of soup on the shelf. Me? The Ugly Tourist?
Back on the bus, I had to present my paper on Celtic-era musical instruments, reading into the microphone as we bumped along. I skipped over whole portions of the paper, and no one protested, so maybe they were all asleep. Then I unloaded the copies I'd brought, for their notebook collection. Dr. Comm said she thought "the gods would smile kindly" on me when it's time for a grade.
Then we drove and drove and drove, and came to Limerick, as I said, about 8:00. We drove past the castle and I snapped one or two through the window. Some of us went next door to the restaurant for dinner. I just had a hot chocolate, and a slice of rye bread. I tried to write this entry in the hotel courtyard, but 15 people came out to be sociable, so I put it away 'til now. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2001, Navan, Ireland (50 miles northwest of Dublin)
It was drizzling and overcast this morning when we went down to breakfast. It's really nice, even so. Although we couldn't take time for the castle tour, we at least stopped at King John's castle for some pix. I shared some stories about Bad King John with some of our tour members.
 Our first visit was to Clonfert Cathedral, a rather small stone church in the countryside near the River Shannon. It's a Protestant Church of Ireland site, and I doubt it gets much business, since 90% of the Republic of Ireland is Catholic. (I'm sure there are a few atheists and Hindus and Muslims, evangelicals, and the odd Adventist, among the 10%.) Anyway, the tiny Romanesque church entry is probably from around 1000 years ago to judge by the barrel arches, but 1200-1400 years ago to judge by the carvings. Little disembodied heads of stone decorated the round arch. That's actually a holdover from the pagan Celts decorating their camps or forts with enemies' heads. The power of the slain warrior is transferred to the victor with the taking of the head. Inside the church, we found birds flying around, a locked pipe organ (very, very old), stone carvings, and Celtic symbolism, as well as modern benches for worshipers, and big electric space heaters stored in the back. The church is associated with St. Brendan the Navigator (he may have visited Iceland, Greenland, and Canada), and it's believed he's buried there. At the chancel entrance is carved a mermaid holding a Gospel book in her hand. The bishop's chair had a carved panel of Brendan with seaweed and fishes. I was impressed that at some time, the church was rebuilt bigger and higher, but retained the original Celtic art.
I've seen barns and houses built up that way. I've also seen city walls melt into castle walls, with bricked-up window or door arches. I could visualize a window in a row of windows, with lean-to buildings or sheds behind the stone wall, as probably shop counters on market day.
Clonmacnoise Abbey
 Anyway, next stop was Clonmacnoise Abbey, with Celtic high crosses and ruined churches, and hundreds of tomb stones. It was a very impressive sight on a hill above River Shannon. The Whispering Arch was interesting, and the clusters of stone churches, ruined for centuries, were pretty. Our docent/guide was very entertaining, and had the best Irish accent I've heard so far. (Whatever that means, I'm sure she'd say. However, I think she'd be perfect for a Maeve Binchy novel.) The drizzle had stopped, but the chilly wind whipped around. Still no complaints on the weather. It's what makes Ireland the Emerald Isle, and its lack thereof is what makes the desert southwest so brown and scorched this time of year.
Well, back on the bus we climbed for another couple hours. We passed more cattle than sheep, quite a few Norman churches, maybe five or seven castle keeps, and some unidentifiable but romantic stone remains. One was a couple of walls, a tower broken in half the vertical way, and vines softened all the edges. Sheep grazed right in the bailey. At one River Shannon crossing, I saw a low, fat, round castle keep in the "front yard" of a modern house. SUVs were parked next to the keep.
Our final destination was the visitor center for Newgrange Barrow, a Neolithic barrow built long before the pyramids, out on a high hill by the River Boyne. Apparently, you have to have reservations a couple years in advance, for a group, and we were too late in the day to be able to hike around the barrow. But at the interpretation center, we viewed an A/V presentation, and went into a hallway with cast stone replicated from the real barrow, which is on the hill across the Boyne, about a mile away. The rocks inside were big slabs of stone laid in a spiraling corbel, dry masonry method, at the end of a long passage of even more upright slabs. Then rocks and gravel and finally earth were heaped over it. White quartz rock from the Wicklow Mountains, maybe 60-70 miles south as the crow flies, was hauled to face the sides of this huge monument. Since Neolithic people couldn't do a lot of flying, they or their beasts of burden had to drag the rocks over hill and dale, around lakes and bogs, and through rivers and streams. If I was a Neolithic woman, I'd feel compelled to tell my death-obsessed priest, "Sorry. I don't do rocks. This religion needs to get a life!" And then he'd probably sacrifice me at the front door of the barrow. Still better than hauling rocks, I say.
Now we're back at the hotel in Navan, having had dinner. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2001
We left Navan for nearby Kells (as in Book Of), which was a monastic town where St. Columba/Columcille lived. We went through the interpretive center, seeing a video and a very nice museum. All the exhibits were replicas, but we couldn't tell the difference, anyway.
 We bused north to Newly, and over the Mourne Mountain range into Northern Ireland. There was no checkpoint on our side, but the Garda (Republic of Ireland police) had one on the southbound side. They must be pickier about who gets into the Republic than the Northern Ireland folks are. There's been violence in Belfast the last week, after a long time of relative ease. Gasoline bombs had been thrown at police.
We didn't go straight there: we went to Downpatrick, which was a really good choice. They had a beautifully designed multimedia presentation at the visitors' center. Patrick, if one believes what is written by him (I do) and about him (well, some), was an apostle to the Irish. He seemed to have a real understanding of God's grace. The video, as good as an IMAX, showed aerial shots of the places Patrick ministered. On the way out, I bought an incredibly beautiful stained glass goblet with Celtic designs for £37, about $54 US. It would be $200 at a U.S. studio, I'm sure. They'll ship it to me.
Then we drove north a bit more to Belfast. It was just a busy, late-afternoon day like any other. We saw a Sinn Fein office and political poster, but no demonstrations. Just uniformed boys in short pants, walking home from school.
Our driver Charlie found the docks, and before they allowed our bus to drive onto the ferry, a security officer boarded and looked at each of us, and glanced over our suitcases in the hold of the bus. He didn't smile or act friendly, and I'm sure we all looked fairly solemn, as well. We treated it as a security point at an airport. We drove onto the ferry, and all of us went up to the passenger deck. It was interesting that Ireland and Scotland are so close at the Belfast-Stranraer beeline, that you can see both countries from the middle of the Irish Sea.

Be sure to read on to Celtic Britain Travel Journal Part 3 (Scotland, north England)


If you enjoy life sketches, anecdotes, and historical details like these, you can find them in the book Effigy Hunter, by Christy K Robinson. It's available in print from CreateSpace, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon