Well, since I left off in Chester, I have been to five countries — England, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United States. I have also walked through five counties in England Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire — and also Powys and Denbighshire in Wales.
I am going to try to catch up on my nearly month-long silence, and describe what has been rather a whirlwind tour — or parts thereof. As I’ve been in the (lengthy and convoluted and slightly expensive — due to the charges at the hostel for use of the computer, which then doesn’t read SD cards, and required shufflings-around with Dropbox and my WordPress account and uploading from my tablet and downloading to the computer and, oh, all sorts of things that if I were better with computers would probably not have taken nearly so long) process of uploading my pictures to the blog, I discovered that I have rather a lot to share. So this will take me through the five countries — leaving the five counties for next time.
Ireland I have now visited in three short trips, each of them under a week. I first went in 2003, to Dublin for two days; I saw the Book of Kells, Phoenix Park, two different union parades, Bewley’s tea shop, and the highlights of the Irish National gallery – some paintings by the poet William Butler Yeats’s siblings among these.
and then, near Sligo on the West Coast, Yeats’ grave and this lovely memorial outside the churchyard:
Ireland in general was flatter and somehow less atmospherically historic than I was expecting; I found many of the buildings new, and the ancient past much less in evidence than it is in, say, North Wales, where there’s a standing stone in the field down the road from my granny’s house. We did manage a bit of historic Ireland, with this privately owned castle in dramatic position:
or indeed prehistoric, with the Creevykeel cairn, still visited by people leaving mysterious offerings.
Passing through into Northern Irealnd, across a border less noticeable than the one between England and Wales, we came to Londonderry and/Derry.
Derry comes from the word for oak trees, which there were on the hill where the town was founded; London because the borough of London gave money (and, I think, people) for the founding of the English colony there, back about the same time the Hudson’s Bay Company was exploring Canada.
The troubles have been bubbling away since, really, though at the moment they are moving into the category of ‘historic’ — one hopes for good. The witness of the murals in the town below the old city walls is powerful and not entirely settling.
But the peace bridge across to the site where there was an English garrison, with cannons pointing at the walls, is more hopeful.
(That’s my dad, taking a picture for his own purposes — he does a lot of educational work with places recovering from conflict, currently Afghanistan.)
We drove past the evidence of police stations that are locked behind barbed wire and plate metal walls, and on the advice of an Ulsterwoman B and B owner (who lives, confusingly, in one of the three non-Northern Irish counties that make up Ulster), we went to see the third-most popular site in Ireland — one which none of us had ever heard of! The landlady had called it a Neo-Gothic site, but since one really only goes to see the Neo-Gothic in Canada, we assumed she meant Neolithic — as indeed she did.
Newgrange, as it is called, is a stretch of burial mounds, tumuli, and other remnants of Ireland’s ancient inhabitants. We went round the interpretive centre, but didn’t have enough time for the tour out to the accessible tomb — plus it was raining and my grandmother didn’t fancy the crouch through the stone passages.
From there we returned on the ferry to Wales, and a little bit of driving around looking at places like the curiously Italianate village of Portmeirion, famous largely for its pottery and for being one of the odder examples of a Victorian model village.
(I think I liked Port Sunlight on the Wirral better.)
But the landscape of North Wales (and, certainly, mid Wales, but that’s for next time!) is glorious, even without the heather in blossom as it was last time I was there.
From Wales I took several forms of transportation to reach Florida, in totally other weather — hot, humid, sunny — around 30 degrees Celsius hot, in fact! Not what I was expecting for the first of October. My wedding outfit was not something I’d been carrying around with me (note one of my earlier posts, on my lack of formal wear); my Dad had brought me a dress, shoes, and scarf, via Istanbul of all places! The wedding present I acquired in Wales — Ireland not proving the source of quirky pottery I had hoped for — and off I went to the Spanish moss
Somehow this seems such an quintessentially American sight to me — from the monorail, looking out at the vast (I had no idea how enormous Disneyworld is! It’s huge!) panorama of the various parts of Disneyland, with the flag flying bravely in numerous places and Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the background. The wedding was a lot of fun. As I haven’t asked permission I won’t share pictures of my friends, but I will say that Mickey and Minnie Mouse came to the reception, much to everyone’s amusement! (And occasional perplexity and oscillating should-I-make-a-complaint-about-the-patriarchy-at-a-wedding? feelings.) I had a great time visiting with friends from Toronto, and even had a bit of time with the bride the morning after, as we rode the monorail around after brunch before they went to their honeymoon proper.
Two days in Florida was enough to encourage me to return one day, on the road trip I would like to do down the eastern US. I didn’t get the chance to go to the Everglades, which I should dearly like to see; this is, after all, my Europe trip, and although I managed to finagle a flying visit for the wedding, a longer one wasn’t in the offing. Another time.
and had fun looking at various curiosities there,
We then went exploring for some story research, and I determined where one character lives. It’s a good thing he’s rich (in fact, the Prince of the Fairies, in my story universe), as when I looked up one of the houses for sale on this street I discovered it’s going for a cool £28 million!! It was great fun spending vicarious money; especially since my cousin had worked several places in the area, and could give me suggestions about places to go and little anecdotes about who goes where in Shepherd’s Market, and so on.
And so — Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, the US, and England! And now it’s quarter after eleven in the morning, and I’m quickly running through my rest day in Stratford. Off to go look at touristy things and take notes for a different story. (Though it is one that will probably also involve the Prince of the Fairies …)