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Posts tagged ‘Ireland’

An American Watches Eurovision 2012

eurovision 2012

Walking home from dinner in Istanbul, I noticed the Eurovision Song Contest Finals being broadcast on a cafe TV and zipped back to the hotel to watch.  From what I can tell, Eurovision is a American Idol/Pop Idol combined with good-natured European nationalism.  I have some vague recollection of years past when the musical acts were either terrible, super avant garde or kitschy traditional music.  Always one to watch European countries compete, I followed eagerly, only to realize that I really don’t like European pop music!

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day Book of Kells

Google has the best logo today to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2012.  It’s based on the Book of Kells which you can see in Dublin at Trinity College Library.  The four gospel volume was created by Irish monks around 800 AD.  It is richly decorated and draws from traditional Hibernian Gothic design elements.  The text and its excellent exhibit at Trinity College is definitely one of the top things to see in Dublin!

Book of Kells, Folio 291v contains a portrait of John the Evangelist (Wikipedia)

Book of Kells, Folio 7v contains an image of the Virgin and Child. This is the oldest extant image of the Virgin Mary in a Western manuscript (Wikipedia)

Book of Kells, Folio 34r contains the Chi Rho monogram. "Chi" and "Rho" are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek.

Happy Winter Solstice Newgrange!

Winter solstice sunrise illuminating the main passage at Newgrange (Photo: Alan Betson, Irish Times)

Earlier in my UNESCO World Heritage Site series, I discussed the Neolithic mound tomb Newgrange which is outside Dublin.  Around the winter solstice, approximately Dec 18-23, the morning sun enters through an opening over the doorway and illuminates the main stone passageway and the central burial chamber.  It’s interesting to think of the religious significance this event – cremated human remains being touched by the sun –  must have held.

Newgrange winter solstice sunrise

Diagram of winter solistice sunrise at Newgrange (Newgrange by G, Stout & M. Stout, 2008, Newgrange)

Over the last few days, a handful of lucky lottery winners have huddled inside the chamber to watch what is usually a magnificent spectacle.  (It’s actually been a little overcast this week so the effect may have been reduced.)

Prehistoric sites of Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth)

On my Irish road trip, I saw a lot of impressive things – jagged mountains, green valleys and wild coastline.  I also saw a lot of historic things – overgrown monastic ruins, abandoned farm houses and the ever present round tower.   But the most impressive and historic sites were Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, three Neolithic mound tombs along the Boyne River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Newgrange, part of the prehistoric Brú na Bóinne complex

Predating the Egyptian Pyramids, the mounds are passage tombs, meaning they contain one or more stone lined corridors where traces of human remains were found.  Newgrange is the largest and more famous of the three.  It aligns such that on the winter solstice the sunrise illuminates the inner chamber in what must have been a highly potent spiritual moment for its prehistoric builders.  You are allowed to enter the somewhat claustrophobic passage and view a chamber formed by an impressive corbelled ceiling.

While it looks beautiful, the stone exterior of Newgrange is a reconstruction from archaeological guesswork.  The white stone and river stone in the facade can be traced to sites quite a distance away.  It is possible that the stones were brought as offerings and left outside the portal and therefore might never have been part of a collapsed stone wall as the restoration assumes.

Stone carvings at Knowth

I am far more interested in prehistoric carvings and so I enjoyed Knowth a little more.  Both mounds are encircled with meter tall stones but those around Knowth are more extensively decorated.  While it is easy to try an interpret the swirls (everlasting life? rebirth?) and organized dots (there’s 12 on one rock, is this a lunar year reference?), I prefer to enjoy them for their design and to appreciate the ancient conviction that created these deep stone markings.  You cannot go far inside the Knowth passages but you can climb on top of the mound.  The Knowth site was occupied by humans in later periods so in restoring the prehistoric site, archaeologists had to go down through the remains of a Cistercians farm, Norman dwelling and Bronze Age village.

Newgrange as viewed from atop Knowth

The sites are only accessible from the Visitor Center which runs timed tours of 15-20 people by shuttle bus to each tomb.  You can choose just to see just one tomb but you are completely cheating yourself if you don’t visit both Newgrange and Knowth!  (Dowth is closed for posterity with plans to excavate it someday.)  During the obligatory wait before your tour time, the visitor center has a good video about Neolithic religious practices and some interesting exhibits.

Tips for Visiting

While the River Boyne site could be an easy day trip from Dublin, it’s worth spending the night nearby.  (And this way, you can see the carved crosses at Monasterboice before the tour buses show up!)  I found the Scholars Townhouse Hotel in Drogheda about 15 minutes from the UNESCO site.  The hotel is decorated with dark wood paneling and antiques making it feel elegant but very cozy.  When we arrived in the evening, candles lit the reception area and the staff could not have been nicer.  I loved the huge carved Victorian bar and the Cromwell battle ceiling paintings in the breakfast room.  (Disclosure: I am not receiving anything for writing about the hotel.  I just liked it and thought it was a good tip to pass along.)

Retailers and Themed Travel

Maybe this is a new trend or I am just now noticing it, but I am starting to see retailers sponsoring travel tours.  Obviously there are retail travel companies that run tours, but this is something new.  What I am talking about are companies that actually make a product and are offering trips for their connoisseur customers.  These trips almost strike me as pilgrimages for committed fans.  Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Pub Tour of Ireland

See if Guiness really does taste different in Ireland.

Obviously a brewery sponsoring trip to Ireland is no stretch of the imagination.  But if you combine the fun folks from Harpoon in New England with like-minded beer enthusiasts, you’re in for a fun four days in Galway and Dublin in November 2010. With airfare it’ll run you $1445, and I’m guessing that doesn’t include the bar tab.

Chocolate’s Homeland

Magical Belize (without Oompa Loompas)

If you crave rich dark chocolate, then you have probably already heard of Taza Chocolate.  They are offering a chance to see how chocolate is made – like really made, starting from cacao farming to harvesting to bean fermentation.  While in Belize for 13 day “Chocolate Week”, you’ll also be able enjoy the jungle and relax in a pretty nice looking lodge.  I still have not heard back on the cost and inclusions but since this isn’t until March 2012 you have some time to save up.

Study Russian Art in Russia

There is plenty more of this in Russia.

This is not exactly a retailer but the specificity of the tour made it too good not to mention.  I am actually really mad I missed this one.  Not because I have already been to Ireland and Belize but because this would be the height of nerd art-lover travel!  The Museum of Russian Icons sponsored a 17 day Russian Sacred Art Trip which just wrapped up (July 15-31, 2011).  From the itinerary, they visited what seems like every well-known cathedral and obscure rural church between Moscow and St. Petersburg.  And since they do not even go to the Hermitage (it has to be added in a trip extension), you know this is a legitimate, hard-core Russian Icon educational tour.  Just about everything is included and its only $3800.  Sign me up for next year!

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