May 31, 2009

Dublin Day 2

I was keen to see the Georgian Merrion Square where Oscar Wilde, his parents, and other famous Dubliners resided. In the square itself, now open to the public, is a bunker that could accomodate 1500 during airstrikes.

I have always been fascinated with how "ordinary" people (as opposed to royalty and generals) lived and the Number 29 House Museum was perfect for me. Olivia Beatty was a wine merchants's widow who raised seven children on her own with money settled on her by her father-in-law (her husband left no will). Olivia decorated her public rooms (e.g. back drawing room below from museum website) as opulently as possible, but she could only afford three servants - housekeeper, manservant, scullery maid - and one governess. The housekeeper kept all the accounts and ran the household - she enjoyed the luxury of her own room in the house. The manservant, responsible for such chores as getting the carriage and horses ready for an outing, probably lived in the carriage house. The scullery maid did most of the work including lugging water up and chamber pots down - all for breakfast and beer. She had to go "home" every night to her desperately poor room. The governess was usually a relative or family friend whose family fortunes had taken a turn for the worse. The introductory film and guided tour of the home made life on Merrion Square starting 1794 for Olivia Beatty and her family and servants come alive.

After all this history, Kris felt he deserved to tour the Jameson Distillery. This was touristy but on a much smaller scale than the Guinness Storehouse. Kris successfully volunteered to join the panel comparing the tastes of Jameson Irish Whiskey (distilled three times) to Scotch Whiskey (distilled only twice with peat smoke blown through to give it a characteristic smokey taste) and American Bourbon (made with corn instead of barley and probably only distilled once). Under no pressure at all, Kris agreed that the Irish Whiskey was of course the best!

The Jameson Distillery is not in the best part of Dublin and after getting lost for several hours in some of the more unsavoury neighbourhoods, we made it back to Temple Bar in time for the Irish Musical Pub Crawl. A group of about 70 of us met in one of the upstairs rooms of the Oliver St. John Gogarty's pub. Two musicians told us about Irish music and instruments and played for us. Then they led us to another pub for more music and information. A third musician joined us as we made our way north of the Liffey to the third pub. After some more music, they asked if anyone wanted to sing a song. I raised my hand and sang a carefully abbreviated (to tell the story without singing ALL of the verses) version of "Maids When You're Young Never Wed An Old Man" - very appropriate for the venue and well-received (although Kris is still a bit shocked that I would sing in front of such a large audience, he said several of our fellow pub crawlers came up to him later complimenting my nerve and voice).

May 30, 2009

Dublin Day 1

We enjoyed two days of spectacular sunshine in Dublin!

Our first destination was Trinity College for the Book of Kells, a richly decorated medieval (9th century) manuscript of the Christian Gospels. The Long Room contains 200,000 of Trinity College's oldest books. The special exhibit was on mystery writers, our favorite genre. Of course, no photos were allowed so I copied a few from the Trinity College website.

Then it was on to the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art at Dublin Castle. Beatty was an American mining magnate and collector. We spent hours admiring copies of the Koran by master calligraphers, Greek papyri, Chinese jade books, Japanese woodblock prints, and even Western European manuscripts. Courtesy of the museum website, photos of a Chinese rhinocerous horn cup and a Qur'an fragment.

After such intellectual pursuits, it was time to find the Guinness Storehouse. This is a tourist destination where thousands could be handled comfortably! We kept walking up and around a spiral for many floors, learning about ALL aspects of Guinness (family history, beer production, advertising, and safe consumption). We tried to get a free pint at the viewing bar high above the city but it was hot (all that sunshine) and crowded. We went back to the 4th floor to get our free pint and learned we could draw our own. We learned where in the glass to fill the first draw, to wait 2 minutes, then fill to the brim. That was fun!

Based on the recommendation of our neighbors Dace and Bill, we ate dinner at Bentleys Oyster Bar and Grill on St. Stephen's Green - a delicious end to our day.

May 29, 2009

Dublin Train and Ferry

When we found out we could take the train and ferry to Dublin for ~£30 each way, we were on that offer like a duck on a june bug. So what if the journey took us almost a full day, that was part of the adventure. We made our arrangements using guidance from THE Source for all rail journeys . We were advised to get a seat on the right hand side to get a best view of the sights including Chester walls and Castle Conway. We also learned we would be rushing past a local station with the longest name in Britain:

On the way to Dublin, we took the slow (~3 hour) cruise-like ship Ulysses where we were met at the Dublin Ferry Port by a bus (2.5€) that took us to the central bus station. On our return, we took DART to DĂșn Laoghaire (pronounced "Dun Leery") for the fast ferry. We had some time to spend in Holyhead before the next train to Chester (Kris had some business there for a few days) and it was depressing, except for the modern bridge over the tracks into town

May 19, 2009

Soane Bowood House and Rhododendron Walk

Bowood House (Grade I listed) was first built ~1725, expanded and contracted over the centuries. Many famous architects and garden designers were employed, including Robert and James Adam, ‘Capability’ Brown, C.R. Cockerell and Sir Charles Barry. Interior photos were allowed, and I captured the room in which Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen (1774) while a tutor to the 1st Marquess’ two sons. All of the scientific equipment was sold when the 1st Marquess died.

A rockwork garden, cascade, grottoes and hermit's cave were developed in the 1780s.

In the 1800s, the 4th Marquess moved the small Doric Temple from the Pleasure Grounds to the far side of the lake. The boathouse was fenced off from visitors.

We enjoyed lunch at the new Golf Club restaurant before proceeding to the Rhododendron Walks, only open during May and June when the rhododendrons are in bloom. The first rhododendrons were planted by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne around 1854 and have been augmented regularly.

The Mausoleum was designed by Robert Adam and commissioned in the early summer of 1761 by the Dowager Countess of Shelburne as a memorial to her husband, the purchaser of Bowood.

May 15, 2009

KCWC Dulwich Picture Gallery and Horniman Museum

Caroline MacDonald-Haig first brought us around to the rear of the Dulwich Picture Gallery to show us the mausoleum of Sir Francis Bourgeois and his business partner Noel Desenfans (and wife) who bequeathed their art collection (much of which had been commissioned for the King of Poland in 1790 but Poland dissolved before the collection was completed or paid for) to Dulwich College IF Sir John Soane would design the gallery.

Caroline led a spirited tour of the gallery but I slipped out to see the special Sickert in Venice exhibition (I wasn't travelling all the way to Dulwich without seeing that exhibit.) Some of you may recall that Walter Sickert is sometimes accused of being Jack the Ripper (e.g., Patricia Cornwall is convinced) but I found his paintings benign and beautiful.

After a pleasant lunch in the Gallery restaurant, we set off (via Dulwich College) to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

Frederick John Horniman was an eclectic collector and I LOVED this museum. Exhibits included a typical Victorian home aquarium, a walrus stuffed so much that its skin was smooth (they had the skin but neither the taxidermist or anyone else realized a walrus has wrinkly skin), a Spanish Inquisition torture chair, a music gallery, and many other odd artifacts. The museum has hundreds of thousands of items but the museum itself was well-curated and not overwhelming.

May 12, 2009

KCWC New Covent Garden and Judith Blacklock Flower School

Judith Blacklock gave us a personal tour of the New Covent Garden. She showed us her favourite shops and gave us great buying tips. My favourite store was a supply shop where I bought a big bottle of floral preservative and a gadget to comfortably strip the thorns of the vast quantity of roses I purchased.

We went back to Judith's classroom and after tea, we began creating our own flower arrangements. I was quite pleased with my "masterpiece" and it survived for at least two weeks. Judith is famous among floral designers and her brochures indicate her courses cost about £200 per day. The KCWC ladies got quite a bargain.

May 06, 2009

Soane Heale Garden and Wilton House

Angela Akehurst of Soane & Partners organised our trip to Heale Garden and Wilton House. I had visited Heale
Garden on another trip but was keen to tour Wilton House.

Wilton House has been used in films including "Pride and Prejudice" and "Young Victoria." Hudsons claims Wilton House contains one of the finest art collections in Europe (unfortunately, no interior photos allowed). The oil paintings of the new Earl of Pembroke were especially fine but every volunteer (ticket seller, home tour guide) mentioned that the Earl just got engaged to a Victoria from Scotland.

Angela's summary: "Wilton House, the home of the Earl of Pembroke, is filled with art treasures, and stands in 21 acres of gardens and parkland. Inigo Jones’ Double Cube Room is one of the finest C17 state rooms in England, and was designed to display family portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, none of which were shown in the Tate exhibition. During World War II this room was the top-secret Operations Room for Southern Command, and it was here that the logistical support for the D-Day landings in 1944 was planned. The house was associated with the literary circle surrounding Mary Sidney, including Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, John Donne and Sir Philip Sidney. Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ was first performed here."

May 02, 2009

Spring in Isabella Plantation

Isabella Plantation is a located near the southwest corner of Richmond Park. Getting to Isabella Plantation on public transportation is quite an endevour. We took the bus to Dysart Arms and walked through the Petersham Gate. We followed the too-infrequent signs and finally found the entrance to the fenced 42-acre garden. On the way out, we took a wrong turn and got totally disoriented. We finally asked directions and the very nice person drove us to a southerly gate. Several buses later, we made our way home.
Despite our transportation travails, Isabella Plantation was definitely worth it! Although the park deputy ranger Lord Sidmouth fenced off the area in 1831, most of what we see now was the work of the park superintendent George Thomson and his head gardener Wally Miller 1951 - 1971. They introduced new varieties of rhododendron and azalea, dug a stream and enlarged the site to include Peg's Pond. More recent changes include a new wild stream in the northern section and reconstructing the Bog Garden.
Per the Richmond Park website: "The garden now has 15 known varieties of deciduous azalea and houses the national collection of 50 Kurume Azaelas, introduced to the west around 1920 by the plant collector, Ernest Wilson. There are also 50 different species of rhododendron and 120 hybrids." Camellias and magnolias were also in bloom during our visit. Needless to say, we took MANY pictures.