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January 3, 2019

Cardiff

by Rosemary West


Our hotel was right across the street from Cardiff castle. This was once the site of a Roman fort. In the 11th century, the Normans built a mound and topped it with a wooden stockade. Later rulers built a stone keep and surrounded the grounds with a wall. Over the centuries, there were battles, treachery, strategic marriages, murders, and all kinds of political twists. Buildings were added, remodeled, removed, replaced, and updated. Eventually, the lordship of the castle was held by the Bute family, who brought prosperity to Cardiff, primarily through the export of coal. In 1947, the 5th Marquess of Bute gave the castle to the people of Cardiff.

In the 1860s, John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time, hired architect William Burges to rebuild the castle and fill it with sumptuously decorated rooms. After Burges's death in 1881, the work was completed by other architects, most notably his pupil, William Frame.


The Gothic Revival clock tower, built in the 1860s, contains a suite of luxury rooms.


A big Welsh dragon with the royal apartments in the background.

Stained glass contributes to the Gothic Revival look.


The vaulted ceiling of the Arab room is so high that two upper floors were removed to make room for it. It is covered with pure gold leaf.


Many rooms have elaborate fireplaces.


During World War II, the passages inside the castle wall were used as bomb shelters. Posters from the period are on display there.


One of the most popular features of the castle is the Animal Wall. Along a section of the wall surrounding the castle grounds are perched carvings of 15 animals.


The 3rd Marquess is honored throughout the city for his philanthropy and architectural patronage.


We walked over to Alexandria Gardens, a lovely, green park, home to a number of war memorials. The biggest and most impressive is the Welsh National War Memorial, built in 1928 to honor servicemen who died during the First World War. A plaque for WWII was added in 1949.


This beautiful angel stands atop a monument to the Welshmen who fell in South Africa 1899-1902.


The Welsh dragon appears all over the city. This particularly fierce version sits atop City Hall.


One day we took a water taxi to Cardiff Bay.

The Pierhead building was designed in 1897 by Wiliam Frame as the headquarters for the Bute Dock Company. It now contains a Cardiff history museum.


Next to the waterfront walkway is a 10-meter-long sculpture of the Enormous Crocodile from the book by Welsh author Roald Dahl. Dahl is best known as a children's author, but I have trouble thinking of him that way, having first encountered him through his stories for adults.


In the 1800s, Cardiff was the main port for exporting Welsh coal. This history and importance of coal is described in an exhibit next to the walkway. Coal has gradually dwindled in Wales, and there are only a few mines left. Cardiff is now the main center of business and finance in Wales, and, as the capital, is also the seat of government.


One of the museums we visited was St. Fagans National Museum of History. This is a huge, open air exhibit, reminiscent of Skansen in Stockholm. There are over 40 buildings, representing the architecture and lifestyles of many centuries of Welsh history, collected from their original locations and rebuilt here. (A few of the older examples are reconstructions based on archaeological finds.) The museum is on the woodsy grounds of a castle that was donated by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946.


Moss grows on a thatched roof.


The interior of an Iron Age roundhouse is complete with a cooking/heating fire. It was a cold day, and we appreciated the chance to get warm.


This stone house is from the late 18th century.


Inside the castle, which was built in the 1500s, we got a glimpse of the ways its owners lived in the 19th century.


We were here at the end of October. It was bitterly cold, but the roses were still blooming.



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December 12, 2018

Dublin: "Éirinn go Brách" ("Ireland Forever")

by Steve Winogradsky

Irish Flag, inside Dublin Castle.
While Belfast is in Northern Ireland, Dublin is in the Republic of Ireland. It is easy to confuse the two countries; the key difference is that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom with England, Scotland and Wales, while Ireland is not part of the UK, as a result of the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921 (although the conflict started years earlier). Because it is an independent country, Ireland is not subject to the laws or whims of the UK government. It is also not part of the Brexit movement, which is causing problems of its own as it relates to the currently open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Unexpectedly, the trains were sold out, so we took a bus from Belfast to Dublin, passing through beautiful countryside. The next day, we walked into town, passing through St. Stephen's Green. In many places in the city, there are monuments to fighters in the battle for independence and stories about the various skirmishes that took place in different parts of town. It was here that we first heard of Countess Markievicz, a rebel who became well known as a sniper from the College of Royal Surgeons, across the street from the park. When the rebel leadership sent the order to surrender, the Countess kissed her gun before handing it over and said, "I am ready". More on the Countess later in this post.

Passing Trinity College, we headed in to the heart of the city. Near Trinity is a statue of Thomas Moore, an Irish poet mentioned in "Ulysses" by noted Irish author James Joyce. Under the statue is a plaque that quotes from the book.


Note the roguish finger.

James Joyce
Downtown are more monuments to the rebels and union leaders as well as civic buildings, including the General Post Office, once home to the leaders of the uprising. You can still see where bullets struck the building. A couple of days later, we strolled up and down O'Connell Street, the main drag in town.

The next day, we took a portion of the hop on, hop off bus tour. We often do this to get a sense of the city as well as the locations of different places we might enjoy seeing in more detail. As part of our journey around the city, we went to Dublin Castle (it's not a real European city without a castle or a palace).




In the courtyard was a replica of a stylized David with the head of Goliath, with another version inside the castle museum.

David looks in the pink. Goliath, not so much.


While we were there, the museum had an exhibit called "On A Pedestal", with busts in a variety of mediums and styles.

"Noble Nobleman" by Ann Carringrton made out of aluminium cans.

Self portrait of Kimido Yoshida as Louis XIV

"Hipster Farnese in bronze" by Leo Caillard
On the grounds of the Castle is the Chester Beatty Museum, an incredible collection amassed by Mr. Beatty of original artworks and manuscripts from the Middle East and Asia, which he donated to the City of Dublin. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside.

As Ireland is a primarily Catholic country, the spiritual center (and oldest building) is Christ Church Cathedral, originally built in 1030 by the Norse king, Sitriuc. It was formally incorporated into the Irish church in 1152 and within a decade Lawrence O'Toole, who later became the patron saint of Dublin, was named as archbishop. Like many churches and other structures from that era, the church has been rebuilt and renovated many times. It was the choir from Christ Church that first performed Handel's "Messiah" in 1742.




In the 1860s the church organ was undergoing refurbishment, and a mummified cat and rat were found in the pipes.


Near the church is Dublinia, a reminder that Dublin was founded by the Norse. Focusing on the Viking and Medieval history of the city, Dublinia has a museum as well as a "ride" through scenes from a Viking village of that era. Here, two Viking soldiers salute each other.

Call me "Sven".
Having passed it several times during our travels, we decided to go inside Trinity College to see the Book Of Kells exhibit. The Book Of Kells is an illustrated manuscript Gospel book in Latin believed to have been created in 800 AD.

The center of the quad at Trinity College



On our last day, we went to the Kilmainham Gaol, which opened in 1796 and closed in 1924. Kilmainham housed many of the leaders of the many revolts by the Irish against the English, some of whom were executed on the site of the gaol. One of them, James Connolly, was so badly wounded in the fighting that he could not stand, so he was tied to a chair and executed. In addition to Connelly, the execution of 12 other leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 galvanized public support for the rebels and led to the War of Independence a few years later.


One of the leaders of that revolt who was imprisoned here was Countess Markievicz. Although she was sentenced to be executed, she was spared, which led her to complain as to why she was being treated differently than her compatriots.

Nameplate above her cell.
There is much more to see and do in Dublin, but our time was limited, so we moved on to Cardiff in Wales.


[Note: We were here in late October. The weather was pleasantly cool.]

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November 27, 2018

Belfast

by Rosemary West

The sinking of the Titanic in in 1912 still resonates in Belfast, the city where the ship was built. One of the the city's most popular museums is "Titanic Belfast," a huge complex with exhibits documenting life in Belfast at the turn of the 20th century, the shipbuilding industry, and everything about the Titanic, including design and construction, passenger accommodations, the launch and brief voyage, the people aboard, the sinking, and finally discovery and salvage at the bottom of the ocean.


On the grounds of Belfast City Hall is a memorial garden with five plaques listing all 1,512 victims of the disaster alphabetically.


City Hall.


Steve reads the names.

Bigger than the Titanic is the specter of "The Troubles," three decades of conflict and violence between Unionists/loyalists (who were mostly Protestant) and Irish nationalists/republicans (who were mostly Catholic), involving political activists, paramilitary groups, government security forces, and many others. At least 3,500 people were killed. In 1998, a peace treaty known as the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict, although there have been some incidents of violence since then. Belfast is now considered safe for tourists (as much as any other city), and we felt comfortable walking around there.

The so-called "peace walls" were built to separate Unionist/Protestant and Nationalist/Catholic neighborhoods. Originally intended to be temporary, they were effective in reducing violence and making people feel protected, so they became permanent, and more were added. Over time the walls become longer, stronger, and higher. There is a plan to gradually remove the walls. Some have been taken down, but residents in many areas think they are still needed. The walls, which are often decorated with murals or graffiti, have become tourist attractions.

The peace wall along Cupar Way is one of the tallest, around 25 feet high. I look tiny standing in front of it.



These gates are closed and locked at night.


Another section of wall, sometimes called the Freedom Wall, is covered with murals, mostly conveying political messages. On one side of the gate, the murals support the Nationalist point of view, and on the other side, they are pro-Unionist. Beyond the peace walls, there are also murals throughout the nearby neighborhoods. The murals often commemorate historical events and people who died for the cause. People considered heroes and martyrs in one neighborhood are seen as villains and murderers in the other. The government and various community organizations have tried to encourage non-partisan murals that celebrate shared values and culture; these are still in the minority.





If people's faces are shown in murals depicting paramilitary groups, it means they are dead. Those who are still living are portrayed with masks.


Memory and pride go back a long way.


A few years ago, one of the political murals was replaced by "Conor's Corner," a tribute to local artist William Conor.


Back in the city center is the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe (possibly in the world). During the Troubles, it was bombed 36 times. The hotel was targeted mainly because it was the place where journalists from all over the world stayed. No, the bombers weren't trying to kill journalists! (At least, not usually.) They wanted to get the reporters' attention in order to keep the conflict in the news.


The building at this intersection looks like a lot of nothing. That's the idea. It is actually a heavily-fortified police station.


This government building was given a 15-foot-thick wall to make it bomb-proof.


Clearly, people are now optimistic that peace will hold. Across the street from the fortification is a new glass-walled commercial building, and other glass structures have gone up nearby and throughout the city.


"Beacon of Hope" by sculptor Andy Scott was constructed in Thanksgiving Square in 2007.


It's 64 feet high.

Of course, it's not all about politics. Sometimes it's just about art, or fun. The "Salmon of Knowledge" (aka the "Big Fish") is a 33-foot-long ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, constructed in 1999 to celebrate the cleanup of the River Lagan. Its scales are decorated with texts and images about the history of Belfast. Supposedly, it's a tradition that anyone kissing this wise salmon will get an infusion of knowledge, but as our tour guide said, an infusion of bacteria seems more likely.




[Note: We were here in mid-October. The weather was pleasantly cool, and it rained only a little bit.]

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