Ireland: Kilkenny and Carlow

We spent our last morning in the south exploring Kilkenny and Carlow before dropping our friends off at Dublin airport and heading north to spend a few days with relatives in North Antrim. Kilkenny has a lot of history with a medieval mile starting at the castle. The castle dates from 1192 having been constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure but has been remodelled several times, most recently by the Butler family.

We did not tour inside but walked around the park surrounding the castle and the garden around the Dower House.


The park was busy with the Saturday Fun Run so we walked over to the Castle Yard which hosts the Design Centre and several craft studios. One display in the Design Centre Gallery called ‘Lustre’ was of jewellery produced by students based on the Faberge egg concept. They explored this theme and produce their own works encased in the egg. I also looked at some copper plate etchings as this is something I have planned to do at some point.

We looked in at some of the studios and found some ceramics we liked. After a coffee in the restaurant upstairs it was time to leave the tourists gathering outside the castle and return to the hotel for a cocktail (non-drivers only) and to digest the Irish Times before beginning our drive northeast to Carlow.

This is another town I had visited many years ago while working but I could remember little about it. Just as we were getting out of the car I met an elderly gentleman walking up the hill who paused just to take a breath. He told me that he was 88 and knew everything that there was to know about Carlow. He was keen to tell me that the river used to be bigger and have ‘really big’ boats on it. Now rowing seems to be the main waterborne activity. We walked over to the ruined castle

and then along the river path to the Millennium Bridge. Swans and a rook were keen to befriend us in case we had any food for them.


In the park ‘Bridging’ an installation containing works by teenagers on a 14-week project exploring life as a teenager in Carlow was on display.

This is one of the panels.

Carlow does have an art institute and walking back to the car, we passed some street art entitled ‘Wall R Us: is it a wall or is it us?’.

Having dropped our friends off at the airport we continued on the motorway to the border. Just north of Dublin we noted that we had driven 700 miles on this trip so far. There were still tractors on the motorway and the six-lane road it becomes across the border. Summer seemed to be ending as we made our way to North Antrim in rain. Fortunately this did not last and the sun and blue skies returned for the remainder of our trip.

Ireland: wandering about Cork


We began our day in Cork with coffee. The aim was to plan our day and this cafe near our hotel was very appropriate for me as a writer, reader and someone who does voluntary work in a bookshop.

It did not disappoint and Having topped up the caffeine levels, our first destination was Cork Old Gaol on the other side of the river. We took a slightly circuitous route along the Mardyke Riverside Pathway which is a tunnel of green. This is the Mardyke Bridge.

This part of path we were on is entirely within the city near the university. It took us past Cork Museum which is situated in a park with sculptures among the trees and plants. The museum is free to visit.

Our next destination was Cork Old Gaol which was closed in 1923. You can go on a guided tour or by yourself with an audio guide or guidebook. We chose the last option.


Some of the rooms have models and furnishing depicting life in the gaol and there are also displays about notable prisoners. If you wish, you can have your photograph taken in the stocks. Caffeine levels were topped up again at the cafe here before heading back towards the city centre. We were aiming for the Crawford Gallery but in the block on Lavitt’s Quay just west of it is Vibes and Scribes, a bookshop selling new, used and secondhand books. We found a few gems in the secondhand store. It also has a book group which meets weekly and an arts and craft store across the river in Bridge Street. At the Crawford Gallery which is also free to visit (donations are invited) we saw Harry Clarke’s drawings for stained glass windows entitled ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and based on Keats’ poem.

The display also included two of his stained glass windows. We also watched Aideen Barry’s 2015 stop-motion film ‘Not to be known’ looking at the role of the ideal homemaker and working woman as she is seen by the media and enjoyed Danny McCarthy’s installation ‘Beyond silence: a bell rings in an empty sky’ is composed of ceramic and other bells he collected at car book sales and is on display until the end of August.

There is also a good collection of Irish artists’ work in both oil and water colours dating from the 18th to 21st centuries. We did not look at everything as we were beginning to flag and so wandered back towards the hotel picking up a late lunch at the indoor English Market in the city centre. One of the fish stalls had this large fish on display.

This evening we are off out for some food, drink and music which should not be hard to find in this great city where there is so much to choose from.

Ireland: Waterford to Cork

I experienced a first this morning in our Waterford Hotel: whisky on my porridge. There were other offerings including a whisky liqueur but I stuck to a small dash of the local hootch. Before leaving Waterford we visited Waterford Crystal to buy a gift and then wandered along the waterfront. This artwork was produced during one of the annual arts festivals and represents positive mental health. One of the hotel staff told us that the artist had started to paint, it had begun to rain but he continued, much to the amazement of everyone.

Back on the road we passed Dungarvan and then diverted via R674 to Helvick Head (Ceann Heilbhic in Irish). Irish Gaelic is still spoken in the community around here. Just before the end of the headland there is an old building which used to house some Turkish Baths. The nearby cafe now offers spa facilities. There is a short path which leads down to a small pebble beach where some families were enjoying the sun. There are also views over Dungarvan Bay.

There is a small harbour where one guy was fishing from the wall.

Just as we were about to leave, a fishing boat returned and was offering his scraps to the gulls who crowded around his boat. There were drifts of wildflowers and some crocosmia that had escaped from someone’s garden and was flourishing. Pollinators were feeding and I spotted this Painted Lady butterfly which is declining in number.

We sat outside the cafe enjoying our drinks while this Pied Wagtail hung around hoping for some crumbs.

All too soon it was time to return to the main road and continue towards Cork. I made a note that south of Youghal there is a large sandy beach and a bird reserve to visit on another occasion. Before we got to Middleton there was a long delay due to road works and then the satnav tried to send us down a pedestrian passageway in the middle to Cork when we were trying to find our hotel. We got there eventually and settled in to plan our exploration the following day.

Ireland: two days in Dublin


We had had a trip to Ireland with a couple of friends planned for several months. They arrived last Friday evening and we drove to Holyhead to catch the early afternoon ferry to Dublin on Saturday. The crossing was smooth and we managed to navigate our way to the hotel which is on the banks of the canal. We had a reservation at Chapter One, a Michelin starred restaurant in Parnell Square. I had eaten there many years before but none of the rest of the party had. Aside from being a little slow to take our order and one of us thinking their starter was uninteresting, it did not disappoint. The centre of Dublin was very busy as we took a taxi back to the hotel. On Sunday morning we had breakfast in a nearby cafe and then walked into town. We passed an interesting shop.

It made me wonder if my local hardware shop would consider branching out.
We had a look around the grounds of Trinity College but the Book of Kells exhibition needs to be booked in advance – the queue today was extremely long. We will visit the next time we are here in the autumn.

The next stop was Merrion Square which is described as Dublin’s prettiest. It has statues of a number of people including Oscar Wilde and is situated in the southern Georgian quarter.
.
Later in the afternoon we walked along the canal and explored the National Art Gallery. We looked a the permanent collection which included many 16th and 17th century paintings and some more recent Irish ones plus some stained glass. There was an exhibition of the work of Margaret Clarke, a 20th century artist that I was not familiar with. We also saw the exhibition of the work of Vermeer and his contemporaries in the Netherlands who influenced him. Fortunately it was not as busy as the exhibition we saw in London the previous weekend. In the stairwell were these 1996 paintings of Felim Egan entitled ‘The Four Seasons’.

After a couple of drinks including the obligatory Guinness in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn to escape the rain, it was time for dinner. Tonight we were dining at the Winding Stair Restaurant. It is on the banks of the Liffey and on the ground floor is one of Ireland’s oldest independent bookshops – The Winding Stair Bookshop. Unfortunately as it was Sunday, it was closed. This meal was very enjoyable (we even sampled some Irish haggis) and finished off the evening well. I have made several notes of other places to explore on future trips.

Catching some culture in London


The day before we left for London, the West Coast Mainline was closed for a while between Watford and Milton Keynes due to an incident and the British Museum had been evacuated because of what was later discovered to be an unfounded security scare. The media were obsessed with this being the busiest weekend of the year as schools in England and Wales break up for the summer holidays and our airspace was described as full with more aircraft taking off than ever before. Fortunately our early morning train journey was without any problems. We walked up to Islington as James was keen to ferret about in the antique market in Camden Passage. We found a gift for some friends on one of the stalls. Chatting to the proprietor of an antique print shop we heard how floods had hit both his shop and his home nearby in December 2016. Caffeine levels were topped up in a cafe with a tiny sun trap at the back.

The next stop was at the Southbank Book Market which is close to Waterloo Bridge. I did not find any books but instead bought an 18th century map of Africa. When we were heading back over Waterloo Bridge, a large posse of Vespas passed underneath. As we waled up to Covent Garden we met numerous Italian and Chinese school trips all wielding selfie sticks and umbrellas at eye level. My destination was Stanfords to study Australian maps and atlases for our big lap next year. Afterwards we popped into a bar on Tottenham Court Road so that James could catch up with some football. That evening we had a pre-theatre dinner and then saw ‘The Ferryman’ at the Gielgud Theatre. This recent play written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes is set in Northern Ireland in 1981. It lasts three hours and was very well done. On Sunday morning we walked to the Tate Modern, crossing the Embankment in the middle of a cycle race. We had tickets to see the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibition, getting there early enough to avoid the long queues for security searches.

The exhibition covers her largely forgotten work from early figurative painting, her move to abstract and back to figurative work. The building is also interesting.

On the way back to our hotel a cold beer was needed and in a Covent Garden pub we met someone from Alsager who also volunteers in the Book Emporium. Dinner that night was in Chinatown. The wine list in the restaurant raised a smile at the spelling of ‘Congnac’. In the nearby market, a man was explaining Durian, known as the world’s smelliest fruit, to potential customers.

Soho has largely been gentrified but there are still glimpses of the old area down some side streets as we were heading back to the hotel. On Sunday morning we had tickets for the very popular Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum.

It was very busy but still very enjoyable.
We met up with some friends and looked at some of the marbles from the Parthenon before escaping for lunch.

Fresh air was needed so we took a ferry trip on the Thames
and after disembarking at Westminster, walked back past the Houses of Parliament to St James’s Park.

As always there were plenty of waterfowl including this pair of black swans with their cygnets.

Our return train journey was on time but there were notices all over Euston Station reminding people that there will be no trains on the August Bank Holiday Saturday and Sunday.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: first 24 hours in Auckland


Having arrived the evening before it was already dark by the time we ventured out for dinner. The doors of St Patrick’s Cathedral just down the street from our hotel were open so we looked inside. It was built in 1907 in the Gothic Revival Style with lots of polished wood and stained glass inside.

This morning we visited the Art Gallery which sits on the other side of Albert Gardens from the University. The original building dates from 1887 with a modern extension.

On the top floor was an exhibition entitled ‘Shout, Whisper, Wail: the 2017 Chartwell Show’ including works by ten contemporary New Zealand and Australian artists in a variety of media. This is ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ by Janet Lilo, 2017.

The first floor has modern New Zealand and international art of which this is one example from a UK 20th century family.The Boyle Family’s ‘The Gisborne Triptych’ 1990 is one work from a project in which they invited friends to throw darts at a map of the world. They then visited as many sites as possible and gathering materials from 1000 sites using what they called ‘earthprobes’ which comprised samples from the ground and resin casting. Gisborne was where Captain Cook first landed hence the significance of this work to New Zealand.

The lower levels have New Zealand paintings from the early colonial settlement, Maori portraits by Charles F Goldie and modern works exploring migration, exploration and arrival from the earliest settlements to today. There are free tours in English and Mandarin but we preferred to wander around by ourselves.
Just outside is Albert Gardens with some sculptures and plants still in flower. The University Clock Tower looks over the gardens.

The Sky Tower at 328m is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and you can go up it and look at the view and have a drink in the bar.

We might do that when we are back in Auckland for a couple of days at the end of this trip. We met some of the other people on the trip in the bar at Happy Hour and then found our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the city centre. Tomorrow we leave for our next destination: Rotorua.