2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.

Travel

Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!

Culture

Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.

2014

So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.

Dublin Diary: Day 4

Our plane didn’t leave till late afternoon, so we had a few hours to wander along Dublin’s Grand Canal before we left. Near the Liffey, it’s quite commercial but further up it becomes more residential and peaceful so, apart from occasional rain showers, we had a pleasant walk. Dublin does like its street statues, and we discovered two on our route. The little girl playing is near St Stephen’s Church (also known as the Pepper Canister on account of its shape) and Patrick Kavanagh, the poet, sits on a bench gazing into the water. Rumour has it that he met Brendan Behan nearby and they thought they’d go for a drink together – but couldn’t think of a pub where neither of them had been barred. You can’t get barred from the canal bank so Kavanagh loved this spot. Someone has added some rather fetching yarn-bombing to the nearby tree, but he doesn’t seem impressed.

A detour down Baggot Street took us to Searson’s pub for lunch and a pint (my first Guinness of the weekend – it would have been sacrilege to leave Dublin without it), then we wandered back into town through the very pretty Iveagh Gardens – the end of a perfect weekend.

 

Dublin Diary: Day 3

After seeing the mummified cat and rat the previous day, we managed to top it by not only seeing but touching the mummified corpse of an eight-hundred year old crusader! The poor chap was too tall for his coffin so his legs were lopped off below the knee and neatly placed beside him. This was in the burial vaults of St Michan’s, Dublin’s oldest north side parish church which was founded in 1095 (current building 1685). There are five vaults altogether, accessed through iron doors that look a bit like coal hatches, and you can enter two. The dry conditions and constant temperature, along with methane gas from rotting vegetation beneath the church, preserved the bodies, and when some of the stacked coffins toppled over the bodies fell out. You aren’t allowed to take photographs, but there are a few on the church’s website.

Walking along the north bank of the Liffey, we rather liked the street art, particularly the street-light box painted with books near the site of Dublin’s first free public library. We then visited Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane, which was excellent. It has the actual studio of Francis Bacon, which has to be seen to be believed, and a very fine café. Just over the road (Parnell Square) is the Garden of Remembrance, opened in 1966 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

After lunch, we headed south of the river to Trinity College, the famous Old Library and the Book of Kells. The exhibition is interesting, but it’s hard to see the actual book because it’s quite small and there are vast numbers of people crowding round its glass case. There’s more to see in the Long Room upstairs, which is less crowded and contains 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and manuscripts along with busts of eminent scholars. I think we appreciated this less than on our last visit (almost 20 years ago) because we had been to the Chester Beatty Library the day before which has far more on show. Outside, we liked the Campanile (Edward Lanyon, 1852-3) and the sculpture Sphere Within Sphere (Arnaldo Pomodoro, 1982-3).

Another day done – and dominated by churches and libraries again. This was our last night, but we still had half a day before leaving for our flight home. To be continued…..

Dublin Diary: Day 2

For the next three days, we wandered round Dublin using the walking tours in our Lonely Planet guidebook as a basis. Day two was “Viking and Medieval Dublin”, though I didn’t spot a single reference to Vikings. Maybe I missed that bit. Anyway, the highlights, shown below (hover over the pictures for captions) were:

  • Evidence that Dublin loves its libraries – as proudly shown on some of its lampposts.
  • Dublin’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head. This building dates from 1668, but the pub has been on that site since 1198. It looked inviting, but we didn’t go in as it was only about 11:30 and we thought that would be decadent.
  • St Audoen’s Church. We almost walked past this one, but it was well worth a visit. It’s one of the city’s oldest existing churches (1190) and has an interesting exhibition on medieval guilds.
  • Christ Church Cathedral. Is it wrong to say the highlight here was the cat and the rat? One chased the other into an organ pipe in the 1850s where they became trapped and were mummified. In Finnegan’s Wake James Joyce describes someone as being “as stuck as that cat to that mouse in the tube of that Christchurch organ”.
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral. Two cathedrals just round the corner from each other! Here, we loved the colourful memorial to the Boyle family (including Robert Boyle of Boyle’s Law fame. That’s one for the scientists.) The decoration of the choir stalls was interesting too.
  • Marsh’s Library. Well, as our surname is Marsh we had to go there! Unfortunately, photography inside was not allowed, so follow the link to the website for pictures. The library was founded by St Patrick’s Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701 and was the first public library in Ireland. The interior has remained largely unchanged since then, and it houses over 25000 rare books dating from  the 15th to 18th centuries. We signed the visitors book with pride.
  • Chester Beatty Library. Situated in the grounds of Dublin Castle (the view of the castle below was taken from its roof garden), the library houses the collections of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), a New York mining magnate who made Dublin his adopted home. His rare books and manuscripts come from all over the world and from 2700 BC to the present day. Egyptian papyrus texts, illuminated Korans and Bibles, the finest collection of Chinese jade books in the world – just amazing.

My feet were sore at the end of all that, but they revived in time for Day 3. To be continued…..

Dublin Diary: Day 1

North Wall Quay, Dublin
North Wall Quay, Dublin

Not your usual tourist view of Dublin maybe, but on our latest visit we were staying at the Gibson Hotel on North Wall Quay. There were advantages and disadvantages to this. It’s a little far out of town – the hotel website claims a ten minute walk to the city centre, but I would say more like half an hour depending on where you want to go. There is, however, a very efficient tram service that stops right outside the door – and you need to get away. There is nothing else round about other than a cinema and the O2 – money for redeveloping the area has obviously run out. On the other hand, the advantages are that the hotel is modern and comfortable and, as I said, just across from the O2, which is why we chose it. We were going to a concert there on our first evening and were back in the hotel within about 10 minutes of the band leaving the stage. I would stay again under the same circumstances but, if in Dublin purely for sightseeing, would prefer somewhere more central.

Now who could take us all the way to Dublin for a concert? Leonard Cohen of course. This was our fourth time seeing him since he began to tour again in 2008 – we saw him in Dublin and Glasgow that year, and in Berlin last year. The first one was the best because we didn’t know what to expect, but he still charms us every time. Almost 79 now – long may he keep going!

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

Warning: there’s a bit about Dublin in this post, but a lot about Leonard Cohen. If you’re not a fan, you might want to leave now before you start looking at me in a very pitying manner indeed!

Leonard Cohen will be 77 on September 21st which has made me think a lot about the weekend we went to see him play in Dublin in June 2008. Not that I ever really forget it, it was one of the most magical weekends of my life. When I heard he was touring again after 15 years, I was devastated to find that his only Scottish date was in Edinburgh while we were on holiday. Not to worry – I got tickets for Friday, 13th June, the first of three dates in Dublin, so we planned a weekend around that. The concert was in the grounds of the old Kilmainham Hospital, formerly a retirement home for veteran soldiers and now the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The Hospital and our hotel were on two corners of a crossroads, on the others were the historic Kilmainham Gaol and a pub with an Italian restaurant. How cleverly I planned this, but things got even better very quickly.

After we arrived on Friday afternoon, we thought we’d go over to the Hospital to wander round the grounds. As we walked past the concert site, the screens burst into life and there he was. So we had the added bonus of watching part of the sound check and walking through the gardens with Leonard’s voice floating over the trees.

Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Sculpture In Kilmainham Hospital gardens
Fountain in Kilmainham Hospital grounds

Needless to say, the concert that evening was brilliant and lasted nearly three hours – there are many younger performers who barely give you half that. I won’t bore you with any more details (and believe me, I could), because the review by Bock the Robber is one of the best I have ever read and I couldn’t compete. And this is, after all, a travel blog and not a music review!

On Saturday, we went into central Dublin. This was our third visit and it’s a city we really like, but this time my focus was elsewhere and I can’t remember exactly what we did. In the evening we ate in the Italian restaurant in the pub – occasionally, we could hear snippets of that evening’s concert and I wished I was there again. But that wasn’t the last we saw of Leonard, oh no, there was more to come.

Our flight home on Sunday was quite late so we had another full day and visited Kilmainham Gaol, the place where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. This was not a “proud to be British” moment by any means.

Exercise yard in Kilmainham Jail, site of Easter Rising executions
Sculpture commemorating leaders of the Easter Rising

After lunch, we went back over to the Hospital to tour the art gallery. I said to John that we probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to coincide with the sound check this time, but when we were in the gallery we heard Leonard start to sing So long, Marianne and rushed out to watch and listen again – he stopped and started several times because he “got something wrong”. What a work ethic, what perfectionism. I hope I have that amount of stamina when I’m 73 (as he was then) , though I also hope I’m not still expending it on my job! This was a perfect end to a perfect weekend. Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen, and thanks for all the memories.

PS If any Leonard Cohen fan has wandered onto this blog and read this far, if you haven’t come across Heck of a Guy*, aka DrHGuy*, then hurry along to his sites because I can’t believe anyone knows more about Leonard, except possibly Leonard himself. He’s prepared this great birthday video tribute and has alerted me to other stuff such as “Hitler learns his Leonard Cohen tickets are fakes” on YouTube. (I thought his reaction was quite restrained under the circumstances, actually.)

PPS Leonard finally came to Glasgow in November 2008 and we saw him then too. He was just as good. Maybe he’ll tour his new album next year? If it happens, I’ll be there!

*PPPS 2016, these sites have now become Cohencentric.