Music on the move.

I’ve recently become a devotee to Spotify (everything, wow) , though I still insist on buying the occasional CD to ‘stay connected’ and get the all-important liner sleeve notes. I still have my irreplaceable vinyl collection (obviously) since some of those 12 inchers carry almost as many memories for me as a photograph album. But somewhere around 1980 I bought my first ‘separates’ CD player (Denon, since you ask) and it’s still going strong. Of course it’s been supplanted and supplemented by multiple other CD players around the house, and when I am going on holidays and renting a car, I will tend to bring a stack of about 10 CDs (no boxes) to compensate for the God-awful radio stations I encounter. Of course going forward I may well be connecting my iPhone to the car radio, and I recently had the distinctly odd experience of hiring a car WITHOUT a CD player. But old habits die hard.

Allied to this ‘CD packing list’ I tend to buy second hand CDs in markets wherever I go. They’re a bit bigger than the ubiquitous fridge magnets (which I also buy). But they do tend to link (in my memories) with the place I bought them – though mostly the music bears no resemblance to the country, it’s just something I ‘always meant to get’ and suddenly there it is, for a cost of about $2. So some unusual juxtapositions emerge. Here’s five of the best – the place and the music.

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  1. Teenage Fanclub – Best of

Bought in a second hand CD/vinyl shop in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the strange environment of an earthquake-ravaged city centre I found a small CD shop and stumbled across this treasure from Glasgow’s finest (and one of my favourite bands of all time). This CD took us all round the South Island – down to Dunedin, across to Queenstown and further afield – until finally my long suffering wife said she could take no more. Having said that, by then she knew all the words. A fantastic combination of a quirky, melodic, jangly-guitar band with some of the most fantastic scenery in the world. Heaven on a plate.

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  1. Grace Jones – Nightclubbing

Picked up this gem in Toulouse, the rose pink city in the Southwest of France. I had gone there for about five days to help my Erasmus-year-headed daughter get settled in. In reality this took about one day, but while she was off ‘getting organised’ I was discovering that this rugby-mad town is packed full of second-hand record/CD shops. And kebab houses. Nirvana. Basically it’s a huge student town, and these are the signs of same. So I think I bought about 10 CDs over a few days where I browsed for hours on end. This funk/crossover gem was one of them and I think it might have cost about 2 euro. Pull up to the bumper, baby.

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  1. The Travelling Wilburys

I actually paid almost full price for this in Boston in 1989. It had been out a while by then, but I hadn’t chosen to buy it in Ireland. But the combination of Tower records and a weak dollar meant I could rationalise it to myself. So this, and a few other American AOR classics provided the soundtrack to our driving all round New England and even down to Cape Cod. Get your motor running, head out on the highway…I also bought many other CDs (the dollar y’see)…

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  1. Derek and the Dominoes – Layla

I think I actually inherited a vinyl copy of this in my wife’s record collection when we got married. But we went to South Africa in late 2007 and began to head out of Capetown East toward the Garden Route, the scale of the journeys began to dawn on us. Beautiful scenery, very little traffic, decent roads and awful radio stations. So I got this at a knockdown price in a bargain bin in Capetown, and off we went. It’s actually great driving music, especially when you only need to change gear once every half hour or so. It might even still be my favourite album of all time. I got the ‘Key to the Highway’ indeed. There’s a reason it’s one of the biggest selling CDs of all time from the pre-Spotify era…

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  1. The Band – The Band.

A family fly-drive holiday to LA, the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park in 2006 caused a bit of a controversy, given that all members of the travelling party were adult by then. And into music. And into hearing ‘their stuff’ on the entertainment system. So we compromised by listening to the radio quite a lot, and the stations were pretty good, to be fair. I had brought The Band with me, the CD that is. And so we heard quite a lot of that – I was pretty good at sneaking it on when everyone else was dozing, and I ‘had the wheel’ . I didn’t actually buy it in the US, but It’s part of the memory for me. And needless to say, The Joshua Tree by U2 was also on heavy rotation.

It’s ironic that if you asked me what kind of car I drove on any of these trips, I’d struggle to tell you. But I can definitely tell you what I was listening to…

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Adventures in Sourdough (part one)

It’s like when the Ray Liotta character in ‘Good Fellas’ said – ‘I always wanted to be a gangster’. I think deep down I have always wanted to have a crack at making sourdough bread. The irony is that while I love bread, it loves me right back, and is a major hurdle to my keeping my weight under a semblance of control. But my fall-back plan is that IF I manage to crack this particular nut, I’ll manage my addiction by making and not (necessarily) eating the product, so my family and friends may become the beneficiaries.

So to kick-start my ‘journey’ – as many of the Sourdough websites tend to call it – I went to a four hour class given by a master Sourdough baker. I won’t name names just yet, to protect the innocent. I have to confess that the mysticism that tends to accompany this topic on the web is more than a bit off-putting, but the foodie in me got the upper hand on the sceptic, so for now at least, I’m bought-in. Back to my class.

First surprise. About 60% of the attendees were male. A few were chefs of some kind, and you could tell by the questions they asked that they knew their way around a kitchen. Some people were ‘failed Sourdough bakers’ – we all had to go around the workbench at the start and reveal (confess) our backgrounds. It felt a bit like AA – not, I hasten to add, that I have any direct experience there. An interesting and diverse group, though.

Introductions over, our master-baker told us in a soft, slow voice (think Zen) that making Sourdough was part-art, part-science, and variables like room temperature, fridge temperature, flour composition, flour mix, quality of the ‘leaven’, oven temperature, the age of the flour and the water all made a difference. By now I was beginning to experience mild symptoms of panic, but I kept them in check (albeit barely). I also scribbled copious notes, in the hope that these would make some sense later.

You’ll be glad to hear that I don’t propose to chronicle the entire four hours that followed. Netting it down though, we each got a ‘chunk’ of dough, we stretched it, twisted it, folded it, let it ‘rest’, shaped it, re-shaped it, and let it prove under a tea-towel. In the meantime the master-baker offered advice, told war stories, observed our efforts, and baked two loaves using different methods. These were more or less torn to shreds by the ravenous class, well before they had cooled down. And in fairness I think they could have tasted better cold, but they were truly excellent. Nutty, chewy crust, flavoursome. Just lovely.

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So at the end of the day we each brought our own ‘loaf to be’ home, and I guess the next test will be to bake it and see how it turns out. Having said that, this (first) loaf will be a dough that was created for us. I think the true acid test will be when I have to create my own product end-to-end, and try to figure out a cycle that I can manage around a working day (or days, more precisely). I also need to go out and get the basic materials for MY first 100% effort. So I guess this journey will begin with a trip to a shop where I can find organic strong white flour, fine sea salt and the like. And then, I hope, practice will begin to make perfect.

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And a footnote: Sourdough Number1 turned out great (see Pics above, last two) and is almost eaten. It’s chewy, airy, salty and pretty amazing, all in all. Tomorrow I plan a buying trip for raw materials. And then it’s practice, practice, practice. And reading all I can find online about Sourdough. My new tribe. To be continued…

Going back.

My earliest memory is being carried on my father’s shoulders across the Barrow bridge that led from County Kildare into County Laois, the river being the border. I think I was about three years old and I was very scared as he walked along the verge beside the bridge wall. I was a long way up, the river was a long way down and I was a bit of a wimp. We were headed about a mile from our house to a local farmer to pick up the fresh milk in a tin billycan – a regular evening ritual. Pasteurisation was unknown – this was milk warm from the cow. Before we got to the Barrow we had walked across the ‘high bridge’ over the canal (below). You could see the grooves in the bridge walls where the ropes had cut, as horses towed barges up and down the canal. That era had ended by the late fifties, with barges now powered by engines. But the grooves remained, testimony to an earlier era.

I was brought up by two strong women, and a good father. We lived with my granny, she had one child (my mother) and I was an only child too. My granny’s husband ‘disappeared’ in the Somme mud near the end of WW1, and my granny had raised my mother alone, with help from her family. So their bond was deep. Basically I never had a chance of ‘getting away with’ anything – if one didn’t catch me, the other one would. Of course the upside of this was that I got all the attention too, I’d like to think I didn’t abuse it but in retrospect I may well have done (time to ‘fess up’, finally).

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I visited that old house recently – my granny’s – for the first time in many, many years. It was never re-occupied after she died. She rented it from someone who lived far away, and it was a damp house due to its proximity to the Barrow navigation canal. Which probably meant it lay fallow thereafter. The canal loops in and out to enable barges to skirt the shallow stretches of the river, and was a key element in enabling produce like barley to be carried to Dublin and the Guinness brewery. So I grew up beside the canal, with the Barrow a few hundred metres beyond.

The house is now completely overgrown, and as I expected its smaller than I remembered it (I think that’s normal). I saw huge trees shooting from the adjacent former garden area, and I remember those being put in as seedlings. I am however glad that nobody lived there after we exited. Somehow it seemed nice (but weird) to see the wallpaper that we put up round 1973 still hanging tattered from the walls. Shows what a great job I did (he said, immodestly).

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I was a bit surprised that I did not feel more emotional about the experience, but it’s been a long time and – as they say – a lot of water has flowed under that Barrow bridge since then. And life goes on.

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In the land of Never Dark…

I guess the first question is probably ‘why go to the Arctic Circle’? Followed perhaps by a second question. ‘So where is it, exactly’? So let me try to explain the situation, in reverse order.

In terms of where it is exactly, surprising it seems to move (a bit) based on various forces. But generally it’s in or around latitude 66 degrees north of the equator, with the North pole itself being 90 degrees North (but I guess you knew that).

In Sweden it runs about 10k South of a town called Jokkmokk, which is generally seen as the capital of Lappland and is an indigenous Sami word for ‘a bend in the river’.

My brother in law is a very keen fisherman and so for the last ten years or so he has owned a house in a town called Nordmaling, which is on the Baltic coast a short trip South of the city of Umea. We were lucky enough to be offered the house, and then we thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to drive up into the Arctic Circle’? It was ‘only’ a six hour drive due North and we had two drivers, so why not? Thus we had a great line ready when anyone innocently asked us ‘Any holidays planned this year’? We’d idly trot out the line ‘Ah yes, well we decided that for a change we’d go to the Arctic Circle’.

And so it came to pass. We got to Umea, found the house, and marvelled at the fact that even there it never really got dark in early July. What would it be like in the far(ther) North – I was reluctant to over-bill it as the actual FAR North?

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We had a great time around Nordmaling, enjoying the beautiful wildflower-filled meadows, the cute wooden houses, the salmon jumping up the rapids in the many rivers, and the Elk (Moose) farm where I fell in love with an impossibly cute baby. But the day finally arrived, so we piled all our overnight bags into the cavernous back of our estate car, and off we set.

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There are a serious number of trees in Sweden, but in combination with lakes, wild lupins growing on the roadside, cute villages with not a hint of litter and perfectly painted houses the trip sped by. We halted to have the picnic lunch we had prepared on the banks of a beautiful river at Moskosel near Arvidsjaur (there was a spotless toilet nearby, these Swedes know how to run a country) and then back in the car and on Northwards.

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Finally near Jokkmokk we saw the big sign on the roadside ‘You are now entering the Arctic Circle’. We stopped, we took photographs, shook hands and felt fulfilled. A bit like the top of Everest, but a lot less hassle and you can drive there. We went on to Jokkmokk and out to our cabin on a campsite at the end of town. This was beside a lake, and had lots of places to build campfires, which was great fun. Something we had not done in a long, long time.

It was simply weird to see – at half past Midnight – the sun still visible in the early July sky. You felt you should go to bed (there was no-one else around) but you sort of wanted to stay up just to be able to say you had done so. The bedrooms had good blinds on the windows, so that helped us to get to sleep. But the light was a strange shade, very hard to explain, but just different. By 7am next day the sun was high in the sky, and we were very lucky to get three straight days of sunshine on our trip. On the way from the circle marker up to Jokkmokk we had seen a number of reindeer on the road, and on the second evening we observed a group of about 12 sauntering down the main street in Jokkmokk. Which added to the surreal aspect of the whole experience. Mosquitoes were a bit of an issue whenever we walked in the woods, but we had lots of repellent, we had hats to wear, and so we generally managed to keep them at bay. On the second day in town we went to the famous Sami museum which told us all we needed to know (and more) about the indigenous people and their culture. Well worth a visit. I also had reindeer for lunch in the museum restaurant – and very palatable it was too.

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We drove about 40km further North that afternoon and visited Muddus national park for a very scenic walk. It’s a huge National Park and a big part of Laponia, which is what the Lapp people’s cultural area is called and occupies a huge swathe of Northern Sweden. On the distant horizon we could see some snow-capped mountains, which we reckoned were on the Swedish-Norwegian border to the far West. We heard several cuckoos calling – something I had not heard for many years. The whole area is a vast but beautiful wilderness, and surprisingly – despite the Winter snows – the roads were generally in great condition. Which made a big difference when driving. You see ‘moose crossing’ signs everywhere, as well as ‘snowmobile alerts’. So I’m pretty sure that in Winter there are a different set of challenges.

We finally said goodbye to Jokkmokk and the Arctic Circle on the third day, and headed South, this time along the coast road. We visited the perfectly preserved ‘Church town’ of Gammelstad near Lulea, and then stayed on the E4 coast road all the way back down to our temporary abode in Nordmaling. In fact, because we saw so much and had such a tidal wave of experiences in a short space of time, it was only looking at the photographs that made the expedition seem real.

I really enjoyed the experience, and also rural Sweden itself. It’s quite beautiful, easy to get around, lots of wildflower meadows and cute little houses and villages. And pretty much everyone speaks perfect English while the roads are excellent and have very little traffic. I’m already looking at flights that land further North (like Kiruna in Sweden or Narvik in Norway) so who knows, the bug may call me back to the Arctic Summer sometime in the future. And I have the great line ready for my next dinner party ‘ Well when I was in the Arctic Circle’…

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Travel: 72 hours in Stockholm

The first thing you notice about Stockholm is that while it’s a pretty place, it’s also expensive, and bargains are few and far between. It is however undeniably beautiful, and when the sun shines and the ferryboats ply back and forth between the islands that the city sits upon, you sort of forget about the fact that the beer in your hand is half as expensive again as it would be back home.

 

The core of ‘downtown Stockholm’ is based across 4 islands. The northernmost one has the main shopping drag – Drottingatan. It’s filled with chain stores, home design shops and upmarket clothes shops, but relax, you won’t be able to afford much more than a teeshirt, so focus on the city itself and just soak in the scenery.

The end of that island (Norrmalm) facing the water is a bit of a mess due to roadworks, but opposite that and approached through a smaller island is Gamla Stan – which my guidebook says means ‘old town’. And that’s pretty accurate, with a winding main street packed mostly with tourist shops and so on, but with loads of side streets that have nicer bars, quirky shops and generally interesting places to linger. Once such place that I wandered into was the heaving jazz pub called Stampen, where there was quite a buzz already at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon. On Gamla Stan also are a number of museums (incl the Nobel museum), the Royal Palace, and more. Plus Stortorget, which is a very nice little square with bars and restaurants waiting to take some more of those Swedish Kroner from your wallet. People watching is relatively free however, and this is one of the best places to linger over a beer or coffee, and observe the populace in motion.

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Just at the other side of Gamla Stan (walking N to S) is the ferry port at Slussen, where you can catch a ferry to go over to Djurgarden, the island to the East. There you find a whole cluster of Museums and a very scary looking amusements park. I should say in passing that we bought the 72 hour ‘all Stockholm public transport’ card, which cost about 27 Euro apiece. I think they are great value, and apart from saving the hassle of having to keep buying individual tickets, they cover that ferry from Slussen to Djurgarden and back. Which is a nice scenic ride in itself across the harbour.

There is also a Stockholm Card that covers many attractions (though crucially NOT the ABBA museum, of which more anon) but it’s about 100 Euro a head and unless you are going to literally go to museum after museum, I don’t believe it’s worth the outlay. Back to our trip. After the short hop from Slussen to Djurgarden, we nipped into the VASA museum for an hour to see the perfectly formed royal warship that sank in the harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628, just a few hundred metres from it’s launch-point. It’s huge, ornate, impressive, and there are good tours that tell you all about it running all the time. Ironically it survived intact because Stockholm Harbour was so polluted that the micro-organisms that would have eaten the wood could not have survived. It was top-heavy, by the way, which was why it keeled over, to public horror and disbelief.

And then, the main event. 300 metres away, the ABBA museum. Let’s just be charitable and say that we all suspended belief and wallowed in nostalgia (even those who were unborn when the Swedish fab four burst onto the scene). It’s quite scary how many of the songs were familiar – two weeks later I’m still humming ‘The winner takes it all’….

 

And then I explored Skansen (also on Djurgarden) which is a sort of ‘folk park’ with historic houses from many parts of Sweden transplanted into a wildflower zone, adding in some folk-dancers and a small zoo of mostly indigenous animals. Plus petting animals for the kids. The sun continued to shine and it was all very pleasant indeed. There was an entrance fee, but it is a quick way to get a sense of Sweden’s rural roots – even if it is a tad artificial to see them all in close proximity to each other. The other fellow tourists had gone their separate ways, but we connected later and headed down to Sodermalm, due S again from Gamla Stan. This is a quieter, less touristic and residential area, but with lots of great restaurants and bars quite close to one another, and easy to reach by the underground. And very easy to walk around. By the way, I should have said that Stockholm feels like a very safe city, and there is zero litter. Not a scrap.

We ate in a well-known Stockholm restaurant called Pelikan. Good Swedish food, but expensive, but then so is everywhere else. We then walked back up the bluffs overlooking the harbour on the N edge of Sodermalm and had a drink (with about 1000 other people) in the grounds of the Sodra Teatern ‘venue’. It’s a concert venue, a nightclub and a great place to see the sun set over Stockholm from the grounds. Finally we grabbed the underground back to our hotel. The ‘T-bana’ is the underground and, as you would expect from Stockholm, it’s regular, efficient, clean and hassle free.

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Sunday was, happily, another sunshine day and we walked all over the city (by now our feet had grown used to the regular pain). We got the T-bana over to Kungsholmen island and sat and had coffee on a floating garden moored on the water. Then we walked all the way up to City Hall and on to the island of Skeppsholm (light lunch) followed by the Modern Art Museum (free). A bit of souvenir shopping for fridge magnets (affordable, light, addictive) and we were thinking about packing our bags for the early start on Monday.

 

All in all, a great city to visit. IF you are lucky enough to get good weather, it’s even more enjoyable.  They have the islands and the water. They have history and beautiful buildings and ferries and a first class public transport system. They have expensive bars and restaurants filled with mostly beautiful people who – btw – ALL speak perfect English and like to practice. They have ABBA. So no matter how you look at it, there’s a lot to see and do, and I’m acutely aware of how many things we never managed to do or sights we missed. But it’s a beautiful place, and I have a feeling a return visit at some stage could be on the cards. Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

It’s not all rosy in the garden…

 

A few years ago I decided that I’d create a mini-allotment at the end of my suburban back garden. In the main, I did it just to see what I could actually manage to grow in a relatively small space, and I also reckoned I’d get a lot of satisfaction from actually managing to grow a few things that we could eat. When I was a kid and lived in the country, we used to have a small vegetable garden that provided a lot of the food on the table (potatoes mostly!) so in some ways my little current venture has a ring of ‘full circle’ about it too.

 

A few things have emerged as this interest has evolved. The ‘man-garden’ behind the so-called ‘real garden’ also contributes some potted flowers on occasion, not just vegetables. I have a small cheapo plastic greenhouse that I’m considering replacing with a small poly-tunnel ( read – garden envy), though space is limited. The vegetables have also become a bit of a chore when dry-weather watering is required. But my biggest gripe is the pests and plant diseases that seem to conspire to eat/kill/attack my little garden zone.

 

I am (hands up) very much an amateur, so I fear I have also contributed in part to my own problems by trying to cram in too many plants. And that enables the rapid spread of diseases, unfortunately. Plus it creates a mini-forest for slugs and snails in their thousands (it seems) to roam and munch. So what’s doing well and what’s doing badly this year?

On the positive side, I have a nice crop or Rocket, Salad leaves and Lollo-rosso, and with these the main challenge seems to be phased sowing to avoid gluts. I have a nice little bed of strawberries, which my regular watering seems to have helped with. So now I have a crop that I am at war with the slugs and snails over – even though I know the plants are packed too tight. The runners they put out tend to fill up any gaps.

 

Herbs are another success, generally. I have pretty much everything in this vein growing well now in beds or boxes, only problem is that when they tend to go to seed I’m unsure what to do. I have a box full of vigorous Celeriac (first time) that I have no idea how or when to harvest (research required). In my greenhouse I have seven tomato plants that are growing rapidly, plus one cucumber plant (again, a first) and I’m hoping that because I moved the greenhouse to a sunnier spot this year, I may get a better crop. I also have a few tubs of basil seeds growing well in the greenhouse. This is an ongoing interest/concern because I normally get them to a particular point and then they all fall over and die en masse. So every time I open the greenhouse door, I hope they’ll still be standing.

And on the negative side, what’s happening? Well my four courgette plants are flowering well but have mottled leaves, which has me a bit rattled. Though my extensive online research into ‘miscellaneous garden issues’ suggests this may not be a terminal condition (for my courgettes). I planted a bed of Swiss Chard that basically died when all the leaves turned papery – apparently this was a fungal attack, but I may have contributed by planting when the weather was quite wet. And finally my spinach plants are pretty much hit with the same condition, and written off. I have a few small tubs with French beans where the leaves are being eaten, but I’m hoping to figure out shortly what’s happening there, and try to resolve.

 

And last but not least, the slugs and snails create an ongoing moral dilemma about eco-friendly ways to kill them. I am aware that some proprietary solutions are potentially going to affect my garden birdlife, notably our resident robin family who have successfully raised a brood for the past two years. So that’s another angle to mull over and address. But I swear on wet nights you can almost hear the sound of an army of munching, predatory slugs and snails spreading out across the garden. So it’s them or me. Overall though I am still enjoying the ‘garden experience’. And I think the abundance of TV programs on this topic and  the existence of online gardening forums and Q&A sessions indicates that I’m not the only one enjoying the idea and the reality of ‘growing your own’. No matter what the challenges and speed bumps that emerge may be. Persistence is the key (he said, confidently).

 

Travel: When in Dublin…

In recent times, and partly driven by the need to ‘find things to do’ for friends visiting Dublin, we’ve begun to explore the city a lot more ourselves and to discover things and places that are easy to do/visit, and in many cases free or with a very modest charge. Of course, not wanting to look silly having sent someone on what ‘we heard’ was an interesting outing, we’ve done these things ourselves first as a sort of acid test. The question being ‘would we do these things ourselves, and are they really going to give a visitor a sense of what Dublin is all about? All of the items listed below tick those boxes and more.

 

Most of the ‘big ticket’ Dublin tourist attractions are not on this summary – they’re already well known and probably over-subscribed. I also did not include any hot links to websites in this post, but if you type the name of most of the below into Google, you’ll find them easily enough. There’s a premium on history, and what this exploration has revealed – in most cases via the well-informed and articulate guides who staff these outings – is that there is a rich and multi-faceted interlocking historic theme to many of these outings. But relax, it’s not the stones and buildings that engage, it’s the stories of the people that moved through them. It’s not that I have anything against Trinity College (for example) but more that everyone knows about it. The items below are a bit less obvious.

It’s important to offer a huge compliment to the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW for short). The more we visited the places below, the more we appreciated the great work they do in restoring, maintaining and promoting  many of the places on the list. Plus in most places, they have incredibly well informed, articulate, friendly and engaging guides to enrich the experience and answer any questions, however bizarre. Sometimes from me. So in deference to them, the only websites I’m listing are theirs, below.

http://opwdublincommemorative.ie/

http://www.phoenixpark.ie/

 

 

  1. National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge. Designed by Luytens, beautiful tree-lined memorial to Irish participants in WW1 – ‘down by the Liffey’ and with a great riverside walk and rowers gliding by.
  2. Kilmainham Gaol. Refurbished and renovated and where the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed. Very evocative
  3. Richmond Barracks. A (long) stone’s throw from Kilmainham and once the biggest British Army barracks in Dublin. Where the 1916 captives were held, also adjacent to historic Goldenbridge cemetery. Hard enough to locate (use Google maps).
  4. Phoenix Park Visitor Centre/Walled Garden/Coffee Shop. Lovely historic house, cool walled garden and engaging coffee shop and restaurant. Smack in the middle of the Phoenix park. Beloved by dog walkers and child minders alike. But you don’t have to have either with you in order to be served.

 

  1. Tour of Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park. Starts in Visitor Centre above (Fri & Sun only) and participants are bused over to the ‘under renovation’ former ammunition holding point. Amazing views of the city, the Liffey below, and back up toward the Papal Cross/15 acres.
  2. Farmleigh House. Top end of the Phoenix Park, near Castlenock. Well restored house and gardens, cute donkeys and a great café on the lake. Should be combined with walk in Phoenix park to see the fallow deer who roam around.
  3. Grangegorman Military Cemetery (WW1 servicemen). Just outside the park boundary in Blackhorse avenue and many of the graves are from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Close to the Hole in the Wall pub if refreshments are needed.
  4. Little Museum of Dublin (and the Green Mile St Stephens Green tour). Quirky, fun, comprehensive little (doh) Museum at top of Dawson Street, City centre. The tour with the added Stephens Green element (Saturdays) is absolutely the best value around for an informed and fascinating whistle-stop tour of Dublin/Irish history.

 

  1. The 1916 Walking tour (starts Wicklow Street). Specifically about the 1916 Easter rising but a magic introduction to Dublin/Irish history, delivered by passionate, informed, opinionated guides prepared to debate ‘the meaning’ of it all. Great.
  2. Marsh’s Library. Close to St Patrick’s Cathedral but a quirky and rewarding add-on to its bigger and more famous neighbour. A very old library, seriously antique books and a wonderful snapshot of its time.
  3. Glasnevin Cemetery (Daniel O’Connell, Michael Collins ++). Basically a who’s-who of Irish history. They’re all buried here. Not a short visit but a very rewarding one and again a great primer into Irish history. Check out Kavanagh’s pub (the gravediggers).
  4. City Hall. Top of Parliament Street, beside Dublin Castle. Great architecture, great view from front steps, beautiful building. Well worth a look.
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Sunset on Dublin Bay

  1. Walk the South Bull wall from Ringsend or the equivalent on Bull Island West end. Get a sense of the city, looking back West. See the ferries coming in. Approach any seagulls with caution. Dublin seagulls have ‘attitude’.
  2. Arbour Hill cemetery and the graves of the 1916 leaders. Hard to find, up behind Collins Barracks. Evocative site though, and interesting (and very old) gravestones propped against the wall – this was an old British army barracks originally.

15. EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum – it’s in one of the older wharves in Dublin and just on the N side of the Liffey. Basically it’s an extended history of Irish emigration, and what we did when we arrived wherever we went to. Good for a rainy day (not that it rains in Ireland…).

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And if you have any other favourites worth adding to this list, let me know…

 

 

City Cycle: Down the Dodder

While on a recent hill walk with mates in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains, we ended up ‘having our break’ overlooking Lough Bray and sitting on the East flank of Kippure. Talk turned, as it does, to the fact that the Dodder river rose nearby and thereafter makes it’s may down through Tallaght and on though leafy South Dublin suburbs to the sea, at Ringsend. One of the guys had recently walked the river ‘from source to sea’ (about 25Km) so I made a mental note to have a random cycle along the middle part to see what it looked like. There are periodic and sporadic announcements in Dublin that ‘a cycle path is to be created along the river’, but I’m honestly not sure how much of those pipe-dreams to believe any longer.

I did however recognise that the path was unlikely to have any positive effects upon my road bike, so I hauled my trusty (and underused) Lombardo hybrid bike out of the garage and sprayed most of the contents of a can of WD40 on the chain and other moving parts. Feeling reassured, I set off for Oldbawn, which is – more or less – where the ground flattens out at the foot of the mountains.

I did have an ulterior motive. Pretty much every night, on her walk, my ageing and overweight dog splashes around in the Poddle ‘river’ which flows near my house. In reality its more of a stream, but she’s not proud and neither am I. However the Poddle is a river with its own story. About a kilometer beyond where I live – heading toward central Dublin – it ‘goes underground’ and – as far as I know – never surfaces again. It flows under Dublin’s historic City Hall and then into the River Liffey. And apparently it was the Poddle that created the ‘dark pool’ that eventually translated into ‘Dublin’ once the Vikings arrived and set up a settlement. So we’re not talking about a meaningless stream here, this one has quite a pedigree.

Final part of the jigsaw: I was recently in my wonderful public library in Ballyroan, and as I was exiting, my eye was caught by a Dublin County Council publication called ‘The rivers Dodder and Poddle’. Needless to say I grabbed it and, to be honest, it’s so good I will probably treat myself to a copy. It was written by Don McEntee and Michael Corcoran, two long time council employees  – an engineer and a draughtsman. As evidenced by the book, they REALLY know their stuff, and the book brilliantly reproduces many historic and old Ordinance Survey maps of the two rivers and, indeed, of most of South Dublin city. I can’t say enough positive things about this ‘living history’ book.

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So armed with added knowledge, I huffed and puffed my way out to Oldbawn and set off down the Dodder. The paved path runs through an open park on the Southeast bank of the river, (which more or less runs from SW to NE). It’s easy cycling, once you evade the many dogs being walked and children learning how to cycle without stabilisers. There are a few security gates to maneuver through along the way, I guess to prevent crazed motorcyclists, which is fair enough. Just before the M50 ring road, there’s a big weir on the Dodder. This used to be called Balrothery weir but is now – it seems – known as City Weir. It’s impressive, but what’s more interesting is the full story. Back around 1200 AD (no, really), this area was controlled by a monastery. And someone had the bright idea to create a sluice gate off the Dodder at this point and channel the water across to – yes – the Poddle, flowing about 1km to the North. This water then flowed down through Kimmage (where my dog splashes) and on down under Sundrive road, heading toward the city centre all the time (and slightly downhill).

Just beyond Sundrive road, there used to be a ‘fork’ where one channel headed off to the left. This was known as ‘city channel’ and wended a tortuous path across to a reservoir at James St. There it was NOT used to make Guinness stout (that started in 1759), but was effectively the city water reservoir, which delivered about eight gallons a day to the 140,000 or so citizens. Apparently it flowed on channels down Thomas street and thereafter down into the Liffey. I have – lest you ask – no idea how anyone living on the Liffey’s north bank was supplied. This fork was called ‘the tongue’ and had a wooden ‘divider’ in it which diverted some water left into the city channel. The rest stayed in the Poddle, and headed underground toward the city centre. At some point the wooden unit was replaced by a stone equivalent, called the Stone Boat. It’s still there – I looked. Which explains (finally!) why there is still a pub called The Stone Boat’ on Sundrive road  – I often wondered about that. So that’s what happened the water taken from the Dodder. QED.

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Quincy paddles in the Poddle

Back on my bike I continued to make good progress down the South bank of the river, the tarmac path is perfect for cycling. And remember, it’s all downhill, which helps. Under the M50 ring-road I kept going through nice, wild-ish terrain behind the playing pitches which are closer to the road. At the next bridge the underpass is at the road up to the Spawell roundabout. Sliding under there, I made good progress down toward Rathfarnham. I emerged from the park out onto the cycle path on the R114, and then a sharp left turn toward Templeogue bridge, with the river below on my left. The bridge proved quite an obstacle, as although there is an underpass, it does not seem to go anywhere. Painful.

So I came back up onto the R187 road, crossed Templeogue bridge, took a vaguely illegal right onto Templeogue road and on into Templeogue village. Leaving the familiar Templeogue Tennis Club on my right, I took the lane on the right just beyond Hollingsworth cycles, and down the back of the tennis club to the semi-circle of terraced artisan houses facing the river. Familiar territory, although the pathway deteriorated rapidly as I headed East toward Rathfarnham bridge. At this stage I was on the North bank of the river.

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City Weir aka Balrothery weir

With Tesco overlooking the next bridge, from the riverside bluffs on the right, I slid under the low bridge and was at the Southern tip of Bushy park, which hugs the river for the next while. The path is good for cycling, but there are a few ugly channels cut across it (to let water flow across into the river?) which deserve caution. In fact Bushy Park itself has a very pretty manicured lake, which seemingly is fed from a channel cut in 1937 from the Poddle back down into the Dodder, to let floodwater flow away and prevent downstream issues around Kimmage and Harold’s Cross. So in a way, the Dodder used to feed the Poddle, but there was a circular flow father downstream to control the waters. Interesting facts.

Eventually I got to the end of the riverside path along Bushy park, and I had to cross on foot at the ‘stepping stones’ that lie about 300m W of the bridge where the R114 (Rathfarnham Road) crosses from the south, heading in towards Terenure. There’s no way under that bridge so, still on the S bank of the river, I crossed the road at the traffic lights and down into the cul de sac of Dodder Road Lower, which adjoins the river. It was quite pleasant, marked with cycle paths, encouragingly. This offers a few options after about 1km but, with the big landmark of Ely’s Arch from the former Rathfarnham Castle visible on the right, I headed sharp left over the small footbridge and into the tiny Orwell Park. I stuck to the riverbank, with banks of Cow Parsley on either side, and soon I was cycling through the underpass that leads down into Dartry Park and on to the big weir on my right. This is a very pretty little spot, dropped into a big loop on the river, and with a cute little bridge just S of the weir. I used to bring my dogs here for walks a long time ago, and it’s one of my fantasy housing spots in Dublin (where I’d live if I won the Lotto).

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Dodder in Donnybrook

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Wild Garlic

I looped around the river and back out the other side, up the sharp and steep hill at Milltown. I dimly noticed a golf course green on the other side of the river, which I later realised belonged to the nearby Milltown golf club. By now I was (briefly) on the pavement, and then dropped back onto the river at the big weir just upriver from the Dropping Well pub.

Here  at Milltown bridge I switched banks and transferred onto the South bank of the river – now flowing roughly E-W. There’s a nice surfaced path along this side, which glides under the bridge at the end of Dundrum road and on to the ‘nine arch bridge’ that now carries the LUAS light rail in that direction. A few twists and turns later (uphill) through a nicely manicured park, and past the oldest (pedestrian) bridge on the river, I was at Clonskeagh bridge. So at this point, I decided enough was enough. I knew exactly what happened the Dodder after this, as it wound its way down Beaver Row to Donnybrook, Ballsbridge and Ringsend, emerging near the mouth of the Liffey. Plus the cycling from then on was largely on roads, so I headed homewards instead, finally crossing the Poddle about 300m from my house. I clocked up 20km round-trip, and certainly saw a few parts of the Dodder that had been unknown territory before this outing.

I’d also venture that there is great potential in building a cycle-way all along the river, but there are a few ‘black spots’ that will require some ingenuity to avoid cyclists having to dismount and trek around a barrier (such as a bridge). But it’s an idea worth pursuing and with the recent interest in creating greenways all over Ireland, why not aim for one that is in the heart of the city?

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Pollardstown Fen

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Pollardstown Fen

Postscript: I learned (from the book) that back in 1775 the Poddle was supplanted as the city water supply by the grand canal, bringing water into the city from County Kildare and Pollardstown Fen, which I had coincidentally visited about two weeks earlier. And in 2016 my son and I had cycled from our house on hybrid bikes all the way down that self-same canal to Newbridge. So I think I’m starting to see the big picture, and plan further explorations on two wheels to fill in some of the remaining gaps in my knowledge of the city and it’s suburbs.

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Travel: 72 hours in Munich

When I think of Munich, I think history, green spaces, and beer. And not necessarily in that order. To this, after spending 72 hours in Munich, I can add cycling and tennis. Not to mention museums, of which Munich is extremely well-stocked.

The primary purpose for my recent visit was to attend the BMW Open tennis, held annually in Munich. Myself and a few tennis-playing friends have a habit of going to one tournament a year, and this sustains our ill-founded belief that ‘one day we’ll be as good as these guys’. I also have a friend of long standing who has been a Munich resident for many years, so this was a good opportunity to catch up with him. He in turn volunteered to give the travelling group a ‘Munich tour’ when we were not attending the tennis tournament. Sorted.

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It’s well known that Munich was the hotbed where Adolf Hitler rose to power, and as we walked around we were shown many historic monuments which had had particular significance for the emerging National Socialist movement in the 1920s and 30s. Munich is a great city for strolling around, and obviously (unlike Ireland) everyone obeys the ‘walk-don’t walk’ green man signs. However, be warned. There are cycle paths everywhere which criss-cross with the pavements. The city is flat, so ideal for cyclists. And they do NOT take any prisoners. I was almost mowed down on multiple occasions and began to feel more scared and wary while on the pavements than when crossing the roads.

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And on those roads, the number of top-end BMWs, Mercedes and other luxury cars were a clear indication that there’s a lot of disposable income sloshing around Munich. The tennis was held at a club at the North end of the English Garden, which acts as a sort of N-S ‘green lung’ for the city (at least that’s how my guidebook described it). I was a bit surprised that the attendance at the tennis was sparse, but then the field is mainly German and Austrian players, with a few ‘top 20 players’ added in, so not the upper echelons of the sport. However the grounds were very easy to get around, accessible by public transport, and the sun came out and shone each afternoon which meant I got burned, having packed beanie hats instead of sun cream. The perils of travel at times of changing season were evident, as most of the clothes selection I had brought proved redundant. Next time I’ll get it right.

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So apart from the tennis, the sense of history and the killer cyclists, what to see and do? In no particular order of appearance (it’s a bit of a blur) I’d mention the Neue Pinakothek (mostly modern paintings up to the Impressionists), the Design and Modernist Museum – aka Pinakothek der Moderne (even more modern paintings and iconic design objects like Volkswagens, portable typewriters and coffee pots), and parts of the Residenz (old palace that takes up a big block in central Munich). There are too many churches to mention, but my favourite would probably have been the small, perfectly formed and totally baroque Asamkirche. It’s a treasure trove of gilded cherubs, angels and some disturbing skeletons also peering down from on high. Beyond this, there are probably another dozen churches in central Munich, with the double-towered Frauenkirche the main city landmark and symbol. Not for the first time, I resolved to educate myself about the differences between, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance and so on. I will one day (he said confidently) be able to look at a church window and immediately go ‘Romanesque, obviously’. But I’m not there yet…

Back on the museum front, on the final day our guide took us to a recently opened museum near Konigsplatz which charts the inexorable rise of the Nazis with a particular focus on events in Munich. It’s huge, engaging, easy to follow, and – obviously – disturbing. It pulls no punches, and is located just beside the actual building where the premiers of England and France effectively signed away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938 in a doomed policy of appeasement. It’s called, deep breath, the NS-Dokumentationszentrum Munchen. By now my legs and feet had given up the ghost, so the only solution was to repair to the nearest beer garden and explore their range of products.

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Effectively, Munich and beer halls or kellers are synonymous. People of all ages go there to drink, socialise and eat (more anon on that last part). The strict Bavarian laws on brewing mean that high quality is assured, and local brews predominate – effectively these are brewery-sponsored premium outlets. Most are equipped with enclosed gardens and chestnut trees which were just coming into bloom with their candle-like buds. We became especially fond of the Lowenbrau-keller, near Konigsplatz. But any are a very pleasant place to while away the time and watch the locals parade their lederhosen. The Hofbrauhaus is probably the best known to tourists, but for all that it’s mostly populated by locals. As for the food, it’s hearty cuisine (to say the least). Nouvelle cuisine may never catch on in Munich. So we ate large portions of pork, duck, chicken, mixed grills and wurst (sausage). And a few token vegetables on the side to cover the small patch of bare plate. Vegetarian hell.

A final word on the English Garden. It’s a huge city park with pleasant walks, lookout points, an iconic ‘Chinese tower’ and a surfing spot on the river where they have cleverly managed to create an artificial wave. Definitely worth a look. And at its southern end is the Bavarian State Chancellery with bullet scarred columns, facing the Hofgarten and the tomb of the unknown soldier. A nice place to ramble round and/or have a picnic, especially when the sun is shining.

So all in all, a great trip to Munich. There’s lots of very interesting and disturbing history, decent tennis, good food, a walkable city centre and more museums and churches than you can shake a stick at. Just look out for the cyclists and you’ll do fine. And you can always repair to the nearest beer-keller and reflect on the near-misses.