Sunday, 26 January 2014

New Year Travels 5 - Iceland - Waterfalls, Volcanos, Beaches and the Fabulous Mr Tomasson

January 7th

We were up early for our day trip the South Shore Adventure.  The guide told us that modernity came late to Iceland. In 1940's the UK, then the US had a base there, when they left they left their vehicles and airports in Reykjavik and Keflavik. Gradually Iceland moved into the modern era. However it was only in 1956 that the last turf house was inhabited.

Some of the Westman Islands
The first hour and a half driving was in darkness. We passed through Hveragerdi which has the ominous distinction of being the place in Iceland that has the most earthquakes.  We had a short break at Hvolsvollur. As we continued east with the ocean to our right the Westman Islands came into sight, looking like mountain tops rising from the water, a sea mist at their base making them look as if they were floating on the water. They looked beautiful, and this belied their violent past. One of my earliest memories is of seeing the birth of one of these islands, Surtsey, on black and white TV in 1963, I can remember marvelling at this island literally being created during a volcanic eruption that started below the sea, eventually reaching the surface and once the eruption finished in 1967 leaving an island.

Heimaey, the largest and the only populated Westman Island, also had a major volcanic eruption when Eldfell blew in 1973 destroying half of the town. At Volcano House we had watched a film about this, many of the residents had said that, although destructive, the eruption was also very beautiful. Once over the people just picked themselves up and started over again.

The Westmans are also home to eight million puffins. Puffins always next in the same site, and our guide, who
seemed to know the islands well, said that during the eruption when they came back to their nesting area they flew in and immediately died with the heat, thousands of birds died this way.

We had snow covered mountains to our left, the snow lay in crevasses, ledges, some areas free of snow, it looked like an amazing abstract work of art, Mother Natures creations are pretty awe-inspiring!

Our first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that is 200 feet high. At other times of the year you can walk behind the falls, but due to the ice that was impossible today. It was a lovely setting, any direction you turned to there was a fabulous view, no houses, just wild Iceland. The falls were not as dramatic as in the summer because some of it was frozen, it was still a wonderful sight. I noted that the Icelandic word for waterfall is foss, and here in Cumbria, where there was a strong Viking influence especially in place names, it is force.

The next stop was a short, but memorable one, Eyjafjallajokull (which means island mountain glacier), the volcano that stopped air travel when it decided to stir in 2010.  Our guide joked that only Icelanders can pronounce the name and everyone else should all in E+15, which I think is a brilliant idea!  Though Dianne bravely got the guide to teach her how to say the full name, she did very well too. It looked 

deceptively tranquil glinting in the noonday sun, white farm buildings with red rooves stood at its base. A dog bounded excitedly towards us and enjoyed a play with the guide, apparently the dog comes every day when the tour bus stops there. The guide said that farm was the worst affected by the eruption. Animals died, sheep went blind, but luckily regained their sight after about two weeks and now it's up working again, until the next time. These Icelanders are resilient people!

Next stop was another waterfall, Skogarfoss. This waterfall is wider than Seljafoss but has the same drop. There was a rainbow across the top of the falls, which apparently is usual here due to amount of spray produced.  There was a steep flight of steps up the side of the waterfall which must have had a great view from the top but we had neither the time nor the stamina to get to the top. There is a legend that  the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. Locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. The ring was said to have been given to the local church and can now be found in the nearby museum.

Normally there would now have been a lunch break next but the guide said that because of the short days he had rearranged the stops so we could see places in the daylight.  The next stop was the 
Solheimajokull glacier. We left Route 1 and travelled along an increasingly windy and bumpy road that turned into nothing more than a stony track until we arrived at a small car park. From there it was a ten minute walk to the foot of the glacier. You had to watch your footing as the ground was stony with patches of ice. To the left was a frozen lake containing huge lumps of layered ice that must have calved off the glacier at some time.  There was a stillness in the air and I
Solheimajokull Glacial Lake
felt awe as I approached the glacier which was white with patches of vivid blue and black - the latter was ash from the E+15 eruption.  
There were people climbing on the glacier, they were on one of the glacier walk tours you can go on. 

There was a wall of rippled ice as clear as glass as tall as me, that stretched for yards.  I also noticed some rocks that were partially melted. I thought it was great that we could walk right up to the glacier like that, to be so close to something  like that was awe-inspiring for me. The guide said that we were very lucky with the weather as often you can't get close to the glacier because of it, and the tour itself often has to be cancelled because of bad weather. For the whole of our stay the weather had been fantastic.

We headed back to the coach and trundled along the bumpy road to Route 1 again, I noticed the flood plain stretching to the sea and it brought back memories of seeing the floods caused by the E+15 eruption melting ice and snow that swept down to the sea taking many roads with it. It occurred to me that Icelanders have
learned to live and respect their wild and unpredictable country. They harness the power it gives them via the geothermal energy (they call it white oil), they accept the eruptions and earthquakes, clear up afterwards and then get on with their lives again. 

By now I was getting very hungry, the bus continued to head east and soon we descended into the village of Vik (the most southerly village in Iceland) by the sea and stopped off at a cafe there.  We all had beefburger with a fried egg on top and fries, unusual but it really went together well. The cafe was obviously used to serving tourists and we got our food very quickly which we were pleased about!

After our meal we started west again, but first stopped at Vik beach which is on the other side of Reynisfjall mountain from the village, and takes about ten minutes to reach. Our guide said that the beach was voted the most beautiful in the world.

Vik Beach
By now the long Icelandic dusk was falling and no one else was on the beach. The sand was black and our footprint were the first since the tide started to go out.  To the left was Reynisfjall and a large cave called Hálsanefshellir which was framed by huge basalt columns. In the sea are stone pillars, Reynisdrangar, the sky is a rich blue with wispy pink clouds and a sickle moon, it is ethereal, magical, truly stunning.  I find it hard to find words to describe it, all I know is that I will never forget that time on Vik Beach, we found it hard to tear ourselves away when the time came to leave. I picked up a small stone from the beach, I had to take a small piece away with me.

We continued to head west until we were back near Skogarfoss, but this time we stopped off at Skogar Folk Museum.  The museum was first opened by Mr Tomasson in 1949, and the same man, now 93, is still the museum's curator. He wanted to preserve the area's history, even moving turf houses to the museum and built up the collection over the years. 

We were shown round the museum by a woman who looked like a blond Bjork who was very informative. Then Mr Tomasson came in, he had a friendly face with a mischievous glint in his eye.  He took over from the guide and it was clear he was very proud of his museum. He showed us how to spin wool just with a hand spindle and then took us (at a very sprightly pace for a 93 year old!) the short distance to the tiny little white church where he told us a little about its history and then played the organ.  He played
Mr Tomasson at Skogar Folk Museum
Amazing Grace, psalms, even God Save the Queen! He was a real character.  We had a look at the tiny turf houses on the museum site, people had it hard in the past!  I would have liked to have stayed longer at the museum as there is so much to see. Good job Mr Tomasson is a hoarder, he has made something very special in this place.

Skogar was our last stop and the rest of the trip was heading back to Reykjavik. What a fabulous day it had been, that trip was worth every penny.

We were booked in for a special last night meal at The Pearl Restaurant and once in Reykjavik had no time to go back to the apartment we just hopped into a taxi to the restaurant.  It is a revolving restaurant so we had lovely views over the city. The seating was comfortable and the actual restaurant very nice. The food and wine was very good, but the service was not, which was disappointing especially as it was expensive.  For me and my friends the service is as important as the food when in a restaurant. We wouldn't go back.

So that was it, our holiday in Iceland over. It exceeded expectations by a long way. Our accommodation was perfect, the weather was good, the people warm and friendly and the scenery stunning.  Iceland is a place that captivates me as few places do, it keeps drawing me back - and we're already talking about visiting one summer!

In the Pearl Restaurant

Sunday, 19 January 2014

New Year Travels 4 - Iceland, Bonfires, Elves and Talking Cows

January 6th

Danielle and I went into the city and did some shopping. Then we went to the Reykjavik 791 +- 2 Settlement Exhibition situated in the heart of the oldest part of the city.  It is a small exhibit built around a Viking longhouse that was discovered a few years ago when the area was being cleared to build a hotel. The longhouse is in the centre of a circular room and there are other exhibits  and information on the surrounding walls.  I found the Cultural Affinity exhibit especially interesting, which showed very strong links to the Celtic heritage of the British Isles, whilst male Icelanders have 80% Nordic ancestry, Icelandic women have 62%

Photos of Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 The Settlement Exhibition, Reykjavik
This photo of Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 The Settlement Exhibition is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Celtic heritage. An explanation could be that after the Norse Vikings sacked northern areas of Britain they married local women and later moved on to Iceland. There are two types of mitochondrial DNA unique to Icelanders and Hebridean women, so it seems many of the females came from those British islands. Looking at maps that is not surprising as the Hebrides are nearer Iceland that the rest of the UK or Scandinavia. Something I had also noticed in Iceland is that the people are not your typical northern lands blond, a lot of them have dark hair so the heritage is an explanation of that too.

Another fascinating thing was that Old English and Icelandic were very, very similar in the 900s and people of both lands would have understood each other.  Icelanders now can still understand their old language as it has not changed a lot, whilst English speakers cannot understand their language from that  time.  Icelanders fiercely protect their language which is good

There was an equally interesting look at the settlement of Reykjavik and restoration of the longhouse as it would have been. There was a small but good shop there too and we ended up spending a lot longer in the exhibition than we thought we would, it was a great little place.

Yule Lad Kertasnikir
We went home and had a snack before heading out for the Þrettándinn, our Twelfth Night, celebrations. It is considered to be a supernatural night in Iceland, when strange things can happen. you could bump into an elf, especially at crossroads, cows are said to talk and seals take on human form. It is also the day the last of the Yule Lads, Kertasnikir (the candle stealer, they all have amazing names lol) goes back into the mountains to join the other twelve lads. The Icelanders celebrate this with parades, bonfires and fireworks

We had been told the best place to go for this was Aegisida in the west of Reykjavik. We took a taxi there and arrived a bit early, few people were there and the marshals were just arriving. We got talking to one lady who told us that they ask locally for volunteers to marshal the event and she decided to do it.  She also told us that they call bonfires "brenna" which means to burn, so we learned another Icelandic word! We asked if people would be dressed as elves as we'd heard, she said that she thought this didn't happen anymore in Reykjavik, but in the country areas and places like Keflavik they still continued that tradition. Like all the Icelanders we'd met she was very friendly and spoke excellent English.

At half past six the parade arrived carrying torches an
At the Bonfire in Aegisida
d the torches were used to set the huge bonfire alight. I don't know what they put on it but it caught alight very quickly and suddenly the cold was gone, the heat was amazing.  there had been Christmas trees on the bonfire and people kept coming along with more, a good way to dispose of your trees! Like in the UK January 6th is supposed to be when Christmas decorations and lights are taken down. the lady we talked to said many people keep them up in Iceland now and we found that to be true.
In the Buddha Restaurant

At around seven the fireworks started and it was a wonderful display, the Icelanders love their fireworks! Once the display was over everyone started to leave.  We walked down to a petrol station and asked if they would call a taxi for us which they did.  Danielle saw a chocolate bar called Duett - the same name as her dog and just had to buy it! It was weird because her cat is called Brenna the same as the Icelandic word for the bonfire.

We got the taxi straight to the restaurant we had chosen to eat that night, the Buddha Restaurant. Unfortunately we did not see any elves at crossroads.on the journey. The Buddha Restaurant serves Asian food and we all went for Chinese. I had the Wok Fried Beef in Buddha Sauce (the sauce was fruity) and it was delicious, the others all enjoyed their choices too, we didn't leave a scrap. The young man who served us was lovely, he told us that the premises used to be a bank and there was still a safe downstairs near the toilets which we saw when we went down there. The price of the meal was also reasonable by Reykjavik standards, the restaurant had a lovely ambiance and we could watch life pass by on Laugavegur outside.  I will do a full review of this restaurant separately from this post. 

Afterwards we walked the short brightly lit distance to our apartment, Hallgrimskirkja looking glorious all lit up at the top of the street. I remember thinking just how I loved Reykjavik with all its lights at this time of year. The dark January days are anything but dismal there, it is bright and lively, it is something we should do more of here in the UK in the dark winter times. 

Skolarvodustigur at Night

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

New Year Travels 3 - Iceland, Exploring Reykjavik, the City of Lights

3rd January

We were up at 03:30, grunted at each other, skipped breakfast and then caught a taxi to the airport for our flight to Manchester at 06:30.  We had to fly to Reykjavik via Manchester as there were no flights there from Dublin.  The weather was awful, very cold and windy and it was disconcerting to sit in the plane on the runway feeling it getting buffeted by the wind!  But we soon flew up out of the bad weather heading for the land of ice and fire - Iceland.

Hallgrímskirkja at Dusk
If was dusk at 15:30 when we landed in Keflavik, and we soon got our Flybus tickets and were on the road for the 45 km journey through the lava fields to Reykjavik.  The dusk was still there when we arrived, twilight lasts a long time at this time of year in Iceland.

We were dropped off beside Hallgrímskirkja which looked stunning silhouetted against the deep blue dusk sky. We walked the short distance to our apartment in The Red House on Skolavordustigur.  The street was all lit up with Christmas lights as were the houses, it looked wonderful, Icelanders love their lights and candles at any time but at Christmas they have them everywhere.

The apartment was lovely, large, airy, very Nordic with lots of decor from IKEA :) The owner had left some lights on so it was very welcoming and we immediately felt at home.  The first thing we did was to go to the nearby supermarket to get some basic supplies in. We'd bought wine at Manchester Airport though as we knew how expensive alcohol was in Iceland!

After this we went out for a meal as it was Dan's birthday. I suggested we go to the Italia restaurant on nearby Laugavegur as I'd been there before and found it to be very good and reasonably priced. It turned out to be a good choice, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals.  I'm going to do a separate full review of the restaurant soon.

January 4th

Mount Esja
I woke up and it was still dark, checked my watch, it was 10:00! It doesn't really get light until around 11:00 this time of year in Iceland, yet darkness falls a similar time to here in the UK in the afternoon, I didn't expect that. Also they have a very long dusk.

We walked down to the ocean front and took photos with the beautiful Mount Esja in the background, it looked especially beautiful covered in snow. It was a cold and very windy day and we didn't linger too long, we took refuge from the elements in the nearby Harpa concert and conference centre, an amazing building made of glass panes. One night we were returning to our apartment and there were blue lights rippling over the glass so it looked like waves, a very beautiful effect.

We pottered around the shop for a while, you could taste some of the sweets on sale and fell in love with some cocoa coated chocolate with liquorice centres.  They were very expensive, but hey, we were on holiday so we got a jar each. Now I'm home I'm rationing them to one a day lol!

We went into the city centre and bought tickets for the South Shore Tour before heading Volcano House. We'd forgotten to bring a map and though the centre of Reykjavik is very small we couldn't find it. After asking three people we eventually found it and again were relieved to get out of that icy wind.

Icelandic Lamb Stew
Volcano House is four things in one, a geology exhibition, cinema, shop and cafe. We were ready for something to eat so we tried the cafe out first.  It was a cosy place with comfy chairs and there was even a man playing a piano, very relaxing.

We had the Icelandic lamb soup, feeding and warming, just what we needed. We also had Icelandic sandwiches of Smoked lamb, smoked salmon and lamb pate. Brave Dan ordered some fermented shark, which came in a tiny portion 1cm cubes accompanied by a tot of Icelandic Schnapps.  I had a smell of the shark and it was like ammonia, not as awful as I expected. There was so little I didn't try it (that was my excuse anyway lol!) and those who did try it said it wasn't as bad as they expected. We got a mini Lava Bar with our coffees, that started an obsession with them during our stay, they were so lovely we bought a boxful lol!

We then pottered around the geology exhibition which gave a lot of information about volcanos etc. You could even buy pieces of lava, I was surprised at how many different types there were. We went into the little cinema and watched two films. The first was about the eruption on Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) in 1973 and the other was about the imfamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Both films were informative and had brilliant footage.

All Kitted Up for the Northern Lights lol!
We spent about three hours in Volcano House in all, a brilliant place to relax and also get a bit of education. I'd recommend it to any visitor to Reykjavik.

We went home for a while and got all our layers of clothes on ready for our Northern Lights trip.  The bus picked us up and we headed south to where the sky would be clear.  Our destination turned out to be a restaurant, lit only by candles, this was our base.  I was pleasantly surprised as last time we ended up in the middle of nowhere, here we had toilets, drinks and food!  We decided to avail ourselves of the facilities and had a drink and an Icelandic pastry much like a doughnut called kleina, delicious!

Outside it was cold and very windy, there were quite a few people there but not as many as on our last northern lights trip which was good, it was quieter.  The sky was crystal clear, perfect conditions, but the Aurora was stayed away, there was not a flicker.  At midnight we headed back to Reykjavik, it was disappointing, not seeing the lights, but you can't make nature play game and I know one day I'll see a full blown display!

The Sun Voyager
January 5th

The other three went on The Golden Circle tour today, I stayed home for a lazy day as I had already been on that trip on a previous visit. I got up late and after breakfast walked the short distance to the beautiful Sun Voyager sculpture on Saebraut.  In the 1980s there was a competition for a sculpture to commemorate Reykjavik's 200th anniversary, Jón Gunnar Árnason's design won. It was unveiled 
on 18th August 1990,  sadly Arnason  never saw his creation in place as he died in 1989.  It is an incredibly stunning sculpture, and on this bright, clear day I could see it at its best

There was no icy wind so I walked along Saebraut towards the city. I enjoyed wandering around and ended up at Tjornin, a small lake in the city centre. Lots of people were feeding the birds, there were lots of very noisy whooper swans making their presence known. Most of the lake was iced over and people were skating on it or using it as a short cut.  The sun was setting it was lovely, how wonderful to have something like this so close to a city centre.  I sat on a seat admiring the beautiful sunset that bathed everything in that milky white wintery hue. Eventually, I started to get a bit cold so I headed home.  

I had dinner ready for the others when they arrived home, they had thoroughly enjoyed the tour, I''d lit the numerous candles in the apartment and along with the fairylights the place looked lovely. What we thought was quiche (we couldn't read the label) turned out to be a kind of potato flan with vegetables, but it was very good.  The rest of that evening we just stayed in and drank wine, chilled and chatted.

Friday, 10 January 2014

New Year Travels 2 - Dublin, Out into County Dublin and an Heroic Story

January 1st

Another lie-in and we then went out to The Big Brunch in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Well it was more like a damp squib! Advertised as part of the city's New Year celebrations it was described as having entertainment, food and stalls, well it had one stall, one food van and a stage with no one on it and a handful of people wandering aimlessly in and out of the square.  We soon gave up on it and went to find somewhere to eat. Normally I can't stand the tourist trap of Temple Bar with its heaving masses, but this day it was so different, a steady stream of people but not manic.

My Brunch at The Shack
Danielle spotted a place nearby called The Shack which we all liked the look of so went in for our brunch.  And a good choice it was too, I had delicious smoked salmon with scrambled egg and salad which was absolutely delicious! The others were more than happy with their meals too. The place too had a good ambiance and the service was very friendly and good.

We then went on a walk along the banks of the River Liffey,it was another mild, dry day so it was very pleasant taking a relaxing New Year's Day walk there.  We crossed the famous Ha'penny Bridge and I noticed there were hundreds of padlocks with
names written on them attached to it. I hadn't heard of them, but Dianne had, they are "love locks" which lovers sign and and attach to bridges throwing away they key, it is a symbol of their never-ending love. Apparently it is a worldwide phenomenon at the moment. Whereas the symbolism is sweet, I thought they didn't look good on this historic, graceful Ha'penny Bridge, and Dublin City Council doesn't like them either and regularly cuts them off, worried about the damage they could cause to the bridge.

Love Locks on the Ha'penny Bridge
After this we went home and relaxed for a while before getting a taxi to Dun Laoghaire.  Our friends Ken and Elizabeth had invited us for a New Year meal and we knew we were in for a treat!

As usual we got a warm welcome and it was good to see them both again.  This is another friendship borne from U2 fandom.  Don't get me wrong, they aren't fans, but we used to rent the house next door to Ken and Elizabeth (which they used to own and used as a holiday let) and so we became friends. They don't let out the house now, but we always see them when we visit Dublin.

Their home at Christmas time is like a Christmas grotto with lights, candles and animated Xmas scenes, it's amazing! Elizabeth had decorated the table beautifully and it was all very Chritmassy.  We sat down for the meal and Elizabeth said we'd have to pull the crackers before we started and put the hats on. Well, my friends, two from the US and one from Canada (who has lived most of her life in the US), looked a bit mystified, not sure what to do. Unknown to me and Ken and Elizabeth crackers are not a Christmas tradition in the US and Canada. So we told them that you get the person near you to pull the cracker until it cracks open and the person with the big side gets to keep the contents, a paper hat, a piece of paper with a joke on it and a little gift. Then you have to put on the hat for the meal and read out the always cheesy joke. They looked bemused at first but followed the tradition and ended up really having fun wearing the paper hats and laughing at the daft jokes as  per the Christmas tradition!

We had prawns, smoked salmon, toast and salad for starters. Then delicious fresh salmon, turkey and ham for the main with all the trimmings. For dessert we had mini eclairs and homemade mince pies with cream.  Again mince pies were new to our New World people, at first they thought - not surprisingly - that they were meat pies.  But once tasted they were given the thumbs up by all!

After the meal the neighbours, who we also knew (and who now live in the house we used to rent) Anna and Moni came round, along with their lovely dog Bobo. We commented on what a multi-country night it was, there were people from Ireland, England, Canada, US and India!  We then had a fun trivia quiz which was a great laugh, I won, but there was no prize boo hoo!

The evening flew by and before we knew it it was time to say our goodbyes and go back home, what a lovely night it was!

Beautiful Killiney Bay, I  never tired of this place
January 2nd

Our last full day in Dublin and we had it all planned out.  Luckily it was a sunny, blue sky day, perfect for our first stop, beautiful Killiney Beach.  We wandered along doing our usual beach-combing, though I am able to restrict my pebble collecting to one per visit nowadays lol!

We then took the DART to Dalkey with the intention of having brunch in Finnegan's, however, it was heaving with people waiting for tables, so we walked down the street to The Queens which had room for us and we had a delicious meal there.

Next and final stop Dun Laoghaire to see the Shackleton Endurance Exhibition at the Ferry Terminal.  For anyone who has heard the story of the failed Antarctic mission and the story of their fight for survival over the following months, you can't help but be full of admiration and awe.  For me it is the most amazing and heroic story, overcoming obstacle after seemingly insurmountable obstacle -  and all survived.

The exhibition is made up of  walls texts, diary excerpts and, most strikingly, photos by Australian Frank Hurley. It tells of the planning of the expedition, the Endurance getting caught in the grip of the pack ice and eventually succumbing to its power. After realising they would not be rescued, Shackleton started the fight for survival, first getting as far as Elephant Island, then he and a small crew went on in the tiny boat the James Caird and in treacherous sea actually managed to get to South Georgia. One last hurdle was that they had to cross a huge mountain range to get to the whaling station, they did the very last part of that trip by hurtling down a glacier sitting on rolls of rope, the only possible way to manage to get there as they were by now very weak. A rescue party was sent to Elephant Island to pick up the rest of the men, who miraculously had all survived too. The ship was called Endurance and that is what the whole story was about, human endurance, great leadership and faith in their leader Sir Ernest Shackleton.

There was a replica of the James Caird in the exhibition and it was unbelievably small. The photos were wonderful, hard to believe they were 100 years old as they were of such good quality. Lots of them very personal, playing with the dogs they had (and eventually had to eat), day to day activities like scrubbing the floors, larking about. Also photos of the death of the Endurance as the ice crushed it to pieces. There were stunning photos of the of the White Continent itself that showed its awesome beauty. One picture I especially remember was one taken on Elephant Island from inside a cave with a round entrance of sheer, daunting cliffs. Frank Hurley's photos really brought the expedition alive and still does, unfortunately photos were not allowed \at the exhibition but you can view some of them on them on the website link above.

A sad fact was that after the extraordinary story of survival was that nine of the expedition members were British army members and on their return were sent to fight in the First World War, within three weeks six of them were dead.

The exhibition lasts until November this year, it has a reasonable entrance fee and is well worth a visit.

We headed home after this, ate in and had an early night as we were setting off for Iceland at crack of dawn (well before crack of dawn actually!)  As ever Dublin was wonderful, I feel so at home there. Hopefully I'll be back there for some U2 gigs if they tour this year!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

New Year Travels 1 - Dublin - Lights, Bells and U2

December 30th

Got a taxi to the railway station only to find out the train I needed to get was cancelled! Taxi home and off in the car down to Manchester. Not a good start. But after that things went smoothly and in no time I was in Dublin in the cosy cottage with my friends, Dianne, Dan and Danielle. They made dinner and we had it with wine and caught up on each other's news.  I always love the first night of a holiday when the break stretches out in front of me and I wonder what delights lie ahead!

December 31st

Little Museum of Dublin
We had a lie in and easy going morning then headed over to The Clarence Hotel to have a late lunch in The Study and meet up with our friend Declan, who as usual, he was full of chat. We marvelled that Dianne, Declan and I had first met through a mutual love of U2. I've known Dianne for 25 years and Declan for 20, real friendships that have stood the test of time and, as good friends do, we can just pick up where we left of last time we met up.

After saying goodbye we walked to St Stephen's Green and to The Little Museum of Dublin. This is housed in a beautiful three story Georgian House and the exhibits are all donated by members of the public.  

Me Posing with Mr MacPhisto!
The main room  had a sofa and two chairs you could relax on if you wanted and contained a history of Dublin over the last century or so. Items from the rebellion, old typewriters and cash registers, posters, tickets, photos, you name it it was there! It resulted in a very comprehensive, yet personal history of the city. I loved how it was also very hands on, you could touch many of the items and photography was allowed. An informative talk accompanied the exhibition.

Another room held a special exhibition of photos of the people of Dublin over the last few decades which was fascinating.

Being U2 fans Dianne and I were looking forward to the U2 exhibit on the top floor.  It was a mass of photos, books you could rifle through, mementos, a statue of Mr MacPhisto, the only surviving Freedom of the City Waterford crystal joshua trees (none of the others survived the trip home after the presentation!), even a model of a Zoo era Trabant that you could sit in lol!  At lot of the items on view brought back such good memories of my 30+ years of being a U2 fan.

U2 Exhibit at the Little Museum of Dublin
Dianne and I were in our element and had to sit in the trabbie and pose for photos with the statue.
At one point I realised that Dan and Danielle were not there and found them sitting outside the room, patiently waiting. It was a very good exhibition and it was wonderful to have a U2 fix!

The Little Museum of Dublin is a good museum, absolutely fascinating in so many ways and is just the right size, not overwhelming as some larger museums can be. I like that is was informal and that it has been created from donations by ordinary people. Entry is only six Euros for adults (which includes the excellent guided tour) and it is well worth that. And I would recommend the U2 exhibition to any U2 fan wanting to see a very varied array of U2 memorabilia too.

Christmas Lights in Dublin
After this we went the short distance to Bewley's Cafe to show Danielle (this was her first visit to Dublin) this famous city institution. We had coffee and cake there before waiting further up Grafton Street for the Procession of Light, part of the New Year celebrations, to come our way. It was cool but not cold and there was no rain so it was ok waiting there.  

The procession consisted of people carrying lit lanterns, much bigger displays, some with acrobats performing within them and a marching band created the accompanying music.  It was very colourful and got a good reception from the crowd.

The Procession of Light
Afterwards we tried to find somewhere to eat but had no luck, so we headed back to our cottage picking up fish and chips from Burdock's nearby on our way.  

We relaxed at home until 11.30pm and then walked the short distance to Christchurch Cathedral to hear the bells ring in 2014 with the Dubliners who flock there for the same reason.  I find it very moving to hear those ancient bells ring in another NewYear.

Afterwards we walked home and opened a bottle of prosecco to celebrate the dawn of 2014.

Christchurch Cathedral - Happy New Year!