10-04-2018 Day 10 The Accademia, “The David”, and Visiting the Baptistry

Florence weather on this day: clear and sunny, with a high of 81 Degrees F/27.2 C

One of the great thrills of visiting Europe for many people is seeing Michelangelo’s David in the (stone) flesh at the Accademia Gallery of Florence. I knew it was going to be a thrill for me.  Michelangelo in my opinion is the greatest sculptor that ever lived, and there have been some great ones. 

There are several “David’s” in Florence, and some might choose to skip the crowded gallery and simply view the copy that is placed in the square where the original once stood.  Not me.  Several months before our trip I contacted the Accademia directly online and purchased our “skip the line” tickets for a day early in our visit to Florence.  I decided that since this particular gallery is small enough to be manageable we could do it without a guided tour.  Instead, we used Rick Steve’s Accademia Gallery Tour in the Florence and Tuscany book that was our little bible while visiting the city.

A view of our apartment from the bridge, with Piazza Michelangelo in the upper background

Our entry time was at 10, and the Accademia is about 45 minutes to an hour walking time from the apartment.  We left early enough to walk slowly enjoying the uncrowded streets. We arrived in time to enjoy a cappuccino and a croissant at a nearby cafe before our designated entry. Deanna and I both came to love those morning stops for capuccinno.

Early morning walk through Florence to the Accademia

The main stars of the show at the Accademia are Michelangelo’s David and his sculptures later named “The Prisoners”. There are several exhibits in the museum in addition to these that are lovely but not completely overwhelming.  Visiting all the magnificent museums full of art and all the overpowering architecture in a city like Florence can be a bit much at times.  There is even a syndrome named for this.  It is called Stendahl Syndrome, and can be caused by seeing too much art in Italy. According to Wikipedia, “Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal’s syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place.”

I know that after a few days, in addition to the vertigo, I started getting a neckache from looking up all the time, always up.  There is a lot of tall stuff to look at in Florence.

This morning visit to the Accademia was perfect for us.  I didn’t waste a lot of time initially looking at anything else, heading with single minded purpose to the room containing Michelangelo’s David.  It is probably his most famous sculpture, of many, and not even my favorite.  I love the Pieta that is in the Vatican most of all, but seeing his work in person, for real  and up close is incomparable.

Michelangelo was only 26 when he was commissioned to carve a large scale work for the Duomo.  This particular block of marble had been rejected by other sculptors as too tall, too flawed, and too shallow to be valuable.  Much has been written about whether the sculpture depicts David before or after the kill of the Giant, of the purpose behind the huge outsized left hand, about the changing expression on his face as the statue is viewed from different directions.

We stayed in the David room for quite some time, viewing from many angles, taking our turn up close to get photos.  I was so excited about seeing it and didn’t mind in the least that the gallery was crowded with people, all vying for their position in front of the David.  Some were being silly taking selfies, others posing for photos as I was, and others sitting on the benches along the sidelines contemplating the statue. 

After getting our fill of David, and finally leaving that part of the museum, we returned to the gallery we had passed through previously unseen with our eyes only for David.  In this gallery were the unfinished figures of Michelangelo’s Prisoners. Michelangelo believed that as a sculptor he merely revealed the figures that God had already embedded in the marble.  The figures are in various states of completion appearing to simply emerge from the stone as Michelangelo envisioned.

In the same gallery was another later, unfinished Pieta by Michelangelo and a bronze bust of Michelangelo himself, depicting a craggy, wrinkled old man at the age of 89, with the famous broken nose.

On the second floor are the Florentine Paintings, with altarpieces showing saints and Madonnas.  These paintings are from the last part of the Middle Ages, the time after the Great Plague almost destroyed Florence, yet before the Renaissance hit in full force.

As we finished our tour, I wandered back into the nave where The David stood, and tried to imprint on my mind the actuality of seeing this great piece of art up close, in real life.

Emerging into the early afternoon sunlight, we were a short 15 minute walk from the Duomo.  We had planned to spend the next day (Friday)  climbing the Duomo stairs and viewing the interior of the great cathedral.  With a bit of energy left to spend we decided to visit the smaller and older Baptistry this afternoon to simplify tomorrow’s explorations. 

The Baptistry is the smaller octagonal building to the left of the Duomo across the crowded piazza

The Baptistry is Florence’s oldest building, built 1,000 years ago.  It is the soul heart of the Florentines, more so than the Duomo itself which is close by. The difference in the crowds by late afternoon was dramatic. The piazza was teeming with people lining up to see the sights, eating in the cafes, and strolling the square. 

The interior of the great church is rich with ceiling mosaics made of Venetian glass, added to the church in the late 1200’s.  The Last Judgment on the ceiling shows a glimpse of the medieval worldview where life was a preparation for the afterlife. Some of the scenes look like the hells of Dante with demons and monsters.  Dante himself was baptized in the waters in this church.

After leaving the Baptistry we braved the ever growing crowds and stopped at a few shops along the route.  We discovered one of the most amazing arts to be found in Florence.  The images below are created from inlaid colored natural stone.  The smallest start at 350 EU, for a piece about 3×4 inches, and the larger pieces were many thousands of dollars.  I decided against putting out half a years worth of income for the one I loved most but so enjoyed looking at the artistry up close.

Our meandering route led us almost by accident to the Piazza dell Repubblica, which has a long and incredible history.  The statue of Neptune was in a state of disrepair, and as is the case with many displays of outdoor art in Florence was draped in tarps with photos depicting what we would be seeing if it weren’t all covered up.

By this time, in this part of the city, the crowds were truly horrific and we were beginning to show some wear and tear on our bodies as well as our psyches.

Wandering aimlessly to Piazza della Signoria we discovered the fake David (a truly awful rendition of the real thing) adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio, the palatial Town Hall of the Medici.

We spent a bit of time in the Palazzio Vecchio courtyard in the free zone, and skipped the paid tour of the interior.  This was the original home of the Medici’s before they decided that it was too “dated” and moved their residences to the brand new Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno River.

We were both getting very tired and hungry. Wandering in the general direction of the river, we found another take away bakery with fresh, hot pizza slices.  We later decided these were the best pizzas we tasted during our entire time in Italy, but we could never find that little bakery again.

After devouring our pizza, we had another gelato before following the main road along the river back home to the apartment. After napping a bit we settled in the warm sun on the terrace, made some calls to home and tried to decide it if was time to hike up to the Piazza Michelangelo for a traditional sunset view.

Although this gorgeous and quite famous piazza is just blocks from our apartment, the roads leading there are winding and steep, including many steps and stairs and more switchbacks.  I am ashamed to admit that even though we talked about it several times, this evening was our only visit to the famous square overlooking the city.

As with most everything else we had experienced on this day, the square was very crowded.  There is a small cafe but all the chairs were filled, and the open spaces along the walls were filled with people and cameras getting ready to shoot the famous view of the city at sunset.

I am doing this just for fun, and as much for Deanna and for me as anyone else, but if you want to, check out the google map street view of the Piazza.  You can walk all around and see it as we did with LOTS of people waiting for sunset and the view. There is another fake David in the center of the square, a somewhat newer addition to the city of Florence, only created in 1869.

We looked at the bright early evening skies, not a cloud in sight for interest, looked at each other and said, “Nah, Tired, Home”.  It truly was a gorgeous, expansive view of the great city that would no doubt be magnificent on a day with some clouds for interest, or on a day when we would be willing to wait another hour and fight the crowds for a photo. 

We had a perfectly lovely view of the quiet evening sunset from our very own terrace where our dinner consisted of an entire container of fresh green olives, tomatoes, and the last of our yogurts.  Those olives are addictive, and every time we would run out of them we had to buy more.  My goodness, I can taste them right now but have no clue where in the world I would ever find them here at home.  Maybe some things are best saved in the memories of visiting Italy.

Photos from our visit to the Accademia are here

Photos from our visit to the Baptistry and Piazza Michelangelo are here

10-03-2018 Day 9 The Wonder that is Florence

High Temperature on this day, 78 Degrees F/25.5 C sunny and clear

When I started planning this trip I immediately bought some guidebooks.  There is a ton of information on the internet but I wanted hard copy to peruse on cold winter nights.  I had Rick Steve’s Florence and Tuscany, and Lonely Planet Florence.  I read and read, studied maps, walked around the city using google street view, and tore out the hard copy map. 

Isabella had said, “Always look for the Duomo, it will keep you oriented”.  What she didn’t say is that the huge dome of the Duomo is not visible when you are wandering the narrow canyons that are the streets of Florence.  As Deanna and I must have said a thousand times, “Thank goodness for Google Offline Maps!”.  I have no idea how one would navigate Florence with only a paper map.

We dressed comfortably for the warm day ahead, making sure that we also had appropriate leg and shoulder coverings for the churches.  The only way to begin to understand Florence is to head first for the piazza of the  Duomo, formally known as the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Our apartment on the east side of the Arno River is about half an hour’s walk from the Duomo, and on that first morning we chose to walk the west side of the Arno River toward the Ponte Vecchio.

Built in 966 very close to the original Roman crossing, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge”, was the only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On  November 4, 1966, a devastating flood destroyed much of downtown Florence but the bridge miraculously withstood the floods.

There have been shops on Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers, fishmongers and, tanners, with the associated rank smells. Understanding the history of the Medici’s is central to understanding Florence and the Renaissance.  Their wealth and power during the 15th century was unprecedented.  They decided that the smell wasn’t acceptable and in the  mid 1500’s, Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge in order to improve the wellbeing of everyone, including that of the Medici as they walked over the bridge between their offices at the Uffizi buildings and their home at Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the Arno River.

We followed the walk to the right. the Uffizi Gallery is the tall grayish building beyond the Galileo Gallery

The bridge looked interesting in the morning sunlight with rowers from the local elite rowing club on the water.  We were glad to be walking rather than driving as traffic was crazy all around us.  Even walking was a bit of a challenge on the narrow footpath along the river with crowds lining up and couples stopping to take photos of the famous bridge.

We didn’t realize that we were in front of the famous Uffizi Gallery when the foot traffic got really thick, and we had to thread our way through the crowds to try to get past the entry lines. On that first morning, we didn’t know much.  It is fun to look back on that first  wandering walk and compare it to how much we learned of the city in the ten days or so that followed.  It was a bit intimidating, but not really too much as we continued to wander in the general direction of the Duomo.

I thought you might like an overview of the city as you read.  Our apartment in on the lower far right corner

We turned at a side street just past the bridge, and there was the gorgeous red dome of the famous Duomo, gleaming in the morning light.  The cathedral is huge, and the complex includes not only the main cathedral, but the bell tower, “Campanille” and the Baptistry.  Our plan for this first day included no formal tours, with the idea that we would wander, get to know the place a bit from the outside before venturing inside any of the famous cathedrals and galleries that we planned to visit.

An aerial view from Google of the Piazza Duomo, the Baptistry to the left, the Campanille so the south of the Cathedral, The Dome on the right, and our little Duomo Caffe along the Piazza

That plan worked out fairly well.  We had read that the only way to begin to deal with the huge crowds of tourists was to begin the day early, and we were in time to get tickets to climb the bell tower without having to wait terribly long in the lines.  Even at that early hour, around 10:30, the lines for entry into the Duomo itself were all the way around the block and would be at least a 2 hour wait.  Lucky for us, not many folks were excited about climbing the stairs of the bell tower.  It is the tourist thing to do to climb the Duomo, but the guidebooks suggested that climbing the bell tower actually provided better views and the line was often much shorter.  The guidebook was right!

We did have to stand in line at the Duomo Museum building, around the square some distance to get tickets for the bell tower.  At that time we also got  an entry time to climb the Duomo, with the first time available being the following Friday night. 

Hurrying back to the bell tower line we discovered that in just the few minutes it took to get our tickets, the line had grown quite a bit.  Still, the wait was tolerable.  The ticket taker looked askance at my walking stick and my white hair and made sure that I knew the bell tower was 414 steps to the top.

Giotto was a painter and architect from Florence during the late middle ages.  He was the main architect for the graceful “Giotto’s Campanile” as the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is called in Italian.  The tower is a beautiful example of Florentine gothic architecture of the fourteenth century.

As we began to explore the beautiful churches and museums of Florence, the evolution from the Dark Ages and the Gothic period to the brilliant realism of the Renaissance in art and architecture was evident everywhere.  This was the heart of Florence, the reason is it such a magical place to experience the leap that mankind made during the Renaissance.

Deanna and I didn’t notice the diamond shaped sculptures here until AFTER we saw the real ones in the museum.

Giotto began the construction of the bell tower in 1334, and it was completed after his death in 1359.  The bell tower is 269 feet/82 meters high and requires climbing all 414 steps to reach the top. The climb up the tower isn’t terribly difficult and there are three open middle floors where you can rest and enjoy the view.The steps are rather narrow and it is the only way up and down, so you need to share it with people going in both directions. Everyone is quite polite, with bodies grazing each other in the narrow space, and lots of laughter.

The view from the top was thrilling, with red tiles roofs far below us in all directions, the narrow winding streets of Florence looking like a huge maze. We had a gorgeous bird’s eye view of Brunelleschi’s Dome, (more about that in another post).

Going down was easier on the legs and lungs but harder on the knees and balance.  Once again, in the narrow stairways on the crooked steps, I relied on Deanna’s shoulder in front of me for balance.Once we were back in the piazza, lunch seemed like a great idea.  We were hungry!  The shade under the umbrellas look very inviting and a cool drink would hit the spot.  Lunch was not inexpensive, but so delicious.  Italian salami, cheeses, more fabulous tomatoes, and panini bread that was done to perfection, crispy but tender.  As always, the question about water, sparkling or still? No such thing as tap water in a glass in most Italian eating establishments.Topped off with a cappuccino as we watched the crazy crowds milling about it was a delightful treat.

The tickets we had purchased earlier at the Duomo Museum included the Bell Tower, the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Crypt, and the Duomo Museum.  There were many reasons to visit this museum, but I had an agenda:  it was time to view my first Michelangelo sculpture.

However an even more important reason to visit this beautiful newly remodeled museum is that almost all the original sculpture from the facade of the Bell Tower and the Duomo is here.  In order to protect the priceless art from vandalism and the weather, copies have been made for display in their original locations and the actual pieces are inside the museum.

While I was searching around on Google attempting to locate the Caffe Duomo as I was writing this blog, I suddenly found myself right inside the museum with a 360 view.  Google is now doing interior spaces of some of these great world treasures.  Before you continue with my story, check out the link here. Deanna, this means you too!  You will be amazed!

The figure on the left is Donatello’s St John the Evangelist originally on the exterior of the Duomo

The interior of the museum is a newly recreated facade of the original cathedral with the sculptures in place as they once were on the exterior of the church.  The display of sculpture by so many artists was thrilling, with familiar and unfamiliar names from old art history classes.

Viewing the original Ghiberti Baptistry doors is so much better than seeing the copy from the street at the Baptistry. According to some, the Renaissance officially began in 1401 with a citywide competition to build new doors for the Baptistry.  Lorenzo Ghiberti won the job and built the first set of doors for the north entrance.  He was later commissioned to create another set of doors for the east entrance, facing the Duomo.  These bronze “Gates of Paradise” revolutionized the way Renaissance people viewed and depicted the world around them.

The aging Michelangelo’s later Pieta, with the face of Nicodemus a self portrait

In room toward the back of the building, showcased in a way to honor the artist, is the Pieta by Michelangelo.  This is his later Pieta, unlike the one in the Vatican which is so famous.  I was close enough to touch the marble, but of course I wouldn’t think of it. If you reach your hands toward any of the art loud alarms will go off triggered by the lasers that protect the pieces. 

A work of art that isn’t exactly beautiful but is so compelling is the wood carving of Mary Magdalene by Donatello. Donatello as a sculptor preceded Michelangelo and was at times a mentor to the younger sculptor.  Between 1415 and 1435 Donatello and his pupils completed eight life-sized marble prophets for niches in the Campanile of the Cathedral, and we viewed these original sculptures in the Museum. This wood carving was a complete departure of style and material for Donatello, and shocked the people of Florence.  The carving was completed during the later years of Donatello’s life and reflected the intense depression he experienced at that time.

This image is “The Weaver” by Andrea Pisano from the south side of the Campanile

This image is “Orpheus, the Musician” by Luca Della Robbia from the north side of the Campanile

Another display that we thoroughly enjoyed were the diamond-shaped, blue glazed panels that once decorated the Campanile, seven per side. The original design may have been Giotto, but his successor, Andrea Pisano and his assistants completed most of the panels.

The gallery for Brunelleschi’s Dome contains the architect’s models and his death mask in addition to details about the construction of the brick dome that was the precursor to the dome at St Peter’s in the Vatican.

We spent more than 2 hours in the museum.  A happy circumstance was the lack of crowding.  We did have to wait about half an hour in line to enter, but once inside the crowds were fairly well dispersed and not terribly intrusive.

I took a LOT of photos, and my museum interior skills definitely need some honing.  I will include some of them but if you want to see more here is a link to the rest of the photos for this day.

We were darn tired by late afternoon after our first day seeing just the beginning of what Florence has to offer.  Following our offline maps once again, we found a different route home, behind the Santa Croce Cathedral, and crossing the Arno River and the second bridge east from the Ponte Vecchio.  It was a  good route and we used it often in the coming days.

Once again we cooked a great dinner with some of our stash from the fabulous COOP grocery, with fresh veggies, tomatoes and zucchini of course, a salad with lettuce that was the least exciting thing we ate in Italy, and a great little steak to top it off.

We knew the next day would be another big one, and we fell into the almost decent mattress on the sofa bed with grateful hearts.




10-04-2015 Last day in Ireland

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-28 As we fly high over the Atlantic Ocean on our way home, (I wrote this post from the airplane) it is fun to roll around in my thoughts a bit, examining what stands out most for me from the last two weeks.  Surprisingly, the last day we spent in Ireland was also a highlight, and that will be the next story.

Park-Inn-by-RadissonIn Belfast, the night before our day in Northern Ireland, Mo and I skipped going out into the seedy streets of the city and opted instead for dinner in our hotel.  It might have been the very best dinner of all for me, with succulent baby back ribs, corn on the cob, cole slaw, and sweet potato fries, all done up high end chef style.  Wow!

Belfast to Dublin (1 of 1)-2 The next morning, we were on the road at 8:30 as usual, and with Dublin just over 100 miles south, didn’t expect much.  Our route was along A1, the very fast, very smooth, very nice “flyover” between the two cities, but again, within minutes of crossing the border back into the Republic of Ireland, we all cheered.  It was nice to see the Gaelic signs again and the castles dotting the landscape which seem to be missing in Northern Ireland, at least the parts that we saw. St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-5

Isabella stopped again at one of her little trip extras at an historic site with one of the most magnificent Celtic crosses in Ireland.  The ancient monastery on the edge of the Boyne Valley was founded in A.D. 521.  Although none of the original buildings are still there, there are three high crosses and the round tower that all date from the 10th century. 

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-11 St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-14 The crosses are beautiful, intricately sculpted with biblical scenes.

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-26 The cemetery site was wonderful, with graves marked back some hundreds of years. 

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-20 The round tower seems to have been the treasury as well as the belfry since the records indicate that it was burned in 1097 along with all the books and treasure of the monastery.

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-27 It was a lovely place to visit on a beautiful sunny morning after our somewhat dreary days in Belfast.

We arrived in Dublin around noon, with plenty of time and unbelievable weather once again to explore the city and see one of the most important things that we missed on our first time around.  We walked from the hotel, via O’Connell Street across the Liffey River toward Trinity College, beyond Gaston Street and down Kildare Street to the entrance to the National Museum of Archaeology.

The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-6 What surprised me most was how different the city felt from our first day when we explored it on foot.  After two weeks in Ireland, we had a much better sense of how things worked, and how Dublin was put together as well.  On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, the city was absolutely teeming with life and people, there was some kind of demonstration across the bridge and people literally thick everywhere.  Walking in Dublin requires concentration, the Irish walk very fast, at least in the city.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-34To our delight, we arrived at the Museum at 1:59 only to find out that on Sundays it was only open from 2 to 5PM.  How incredibly lucky!

I couldn’t help thinking of Erin as we perused the magnificent displays.  She does such an amazing job of documenting these world class museums.  I can only hope that the photos I took are as good as I think they are and that the camera, set on the “hand held night shot” setting, caught the beautiful detail of the art and archaeology that we experienced.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-9 The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-12 The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-19 The gold “hordes” were magnificent, dating from the Bronze Age around 1200 B.C.  I enjoyed the extremely well done interpretive displays, and got a real kick out of image of a person draped in gold.  It must have been incredibly heavy to wear.

The current special exhibition of Brian Boru, Irish King who brought the Celtic tribes together and defeated the Vikings in the late tenth century was impressive.   The name had been bandied about throughout our entire time in Ireland, and it was good to see this famous king with some kind of perspective about when he lived and the great battle for which he became famous.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-24 Precious religious pieces from the 12th century were beautiful, including this gorgeous silver chalice and the relic cross that allegedly once held a piece of the original wooden cross of Jesus.The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-26 However, nothing I have seen can quite compare with the special display Kingship and Sacrifice, the story of the Bog Bodies of Ireland.  Preserved for centuries and in some cases millennia, in the boggy peat lands, are the bodies of people who were killed somewhere around 300 B.C.The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1) It is incredible to look into the faces of real people who lived thousands of years ago.  It is an unforgettable experience.Hiking to the tower with Melody and Mattie (1 of 1)

The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1)-11We were impressed with the tasteful and respectful way that the remains were displayed.  The mood is somber, respectful; the lighting subdued. The written material is displayed on the exterior of simple circular enclosures that contain the softly lit preserved bodies in glass cases. The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1)-9 Mo and I were both enthralled with the kind of painstaking work required by archaeologists to retrieve everything from the peat bogs. We read with fascination how archaeologists have determined what each person ate before they were killed as well as what they ate for several months prior to their death.    Here is a link to more extensive information about the Bog Bodies of Ireland

Ireland is 17 percent peat land, only Finland and Canada have a greater percentage of peat.  I have mapped organic soils, knew of fens, peat bogs on a slope but really had no understanding at all how these thick peat deposits formed over bedrock and on hills.  I loved the detailed animated video of the development of these peat soils on this landscape.

When our own bodies finally wore out and we left the museum, we walked with the huge happy crowds toward Temple Bar to look for a good pub to have one last glass of Guinness and a bite to eat.  The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-7The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-11 The Temple Bar area was teeming with tourists.  We found an outside table at Gogarty’s, where the music was loud and lively, but certainly not Irish.  A sign proclaimed music to start at 10:30 PM until 2 AM.  Not for us.  We still enjoyed sitting there for a time where we had one last plate of crispy chips and watched the people walking by.  The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-8 It was easy to pick out the tourists: they were walking slowly and gawking up at the buildings.  The locals walked fast and never looked up at all, and were outnumbered by the tourists at least 3 to 1.

Back to the hotel, we actually had time for a short nap before our farewell dinner at the hotel with the group.  Once again, it was just OK, but gave Isabella the chance to give us instructions for our morning departures and to say goodbye to everyone.

This morning when we woke it was raining.  Actually dark and drizzly and raining.  Just such amazing timing!  even 12 hours earlier would have seriously messed with our 7 mile walk about the city yesterday.  Breakfast was included, and our group didn’t have to leave until 8:30 am for the airport.

Dublin airport is really quite nice, but the security level is definitely time consuming.  Isabella had warned us that three hours wasn’t too much and that we would need to be ready.  She got us as far as the first check-in kiosk and then we were on our own with a few other travelers to negotiate the security checks, two of them even before you get to Customs, the tax refund kiosks, US Customs, and then two more security checks in the US Pre Screening process.  Shoes and even iPads out four times!  Then more passport checks with some kind of screening machine before we finally made it to our gate.

Before entering the fray, Mo and I stopped in the main part of the airport to fortify ourselves with one last Irish Coffee.  With only 7 Euro left, it wasn’t enough for the coffees, but I did manage to find a trinket at the Duty Free shop just before our last gate.  We left Ireland with no excess pounds or euros.  Meaning money pounds.  I won’t know about personal pounds until I get home, but even with the food we have been eating, I am reasonably certain that all the walking (always much more than 10,000 steps per day according to the FitBit), the pounds added will be minimal.

Once on the plane, it pulled away from the gate right on time.  Perfect.  I was impressed.  Until the pilot informed us that we were overweight and would have to return to the gate to offload cargo and burn up some fuel before we could take off based on the conditions.  Bummer.  We finally pulled away from the gate 2 hours late, so what would have been a 9 hour flight became 11 hours on the plane.  At least they brought us water and let us get up and about to use the bathrooms.

Once again, we are satisfied with the GoAhead experience. Although the focus on education isn’t as strong as some other travel companies, we were lucky to have an excellent tour guide who taught us much about the country. I would love the  luxury of staying in one place long enough to really explore an area, and do hope to do that when I visit Italy with daughter Deanna in the future.  For now, however, I am at a time in life where I have no idea if I will ever get the chance to return to Ireland.  I would rather see as much as possible in the time I am here.  GoAhead kept us moving, with only 2 or 3 nights at the most in one place, and days packed full with activities. I can’t think of any of the sights I would have chosen to miss, but now that I have seen a good portion of the country, I do know which places I would chose to return.

A tour like this is a bit like a cruise, it gives an overview, and a taste, and if you want more there are other ways to do that.  The hotels were OK, and some were quite nice.  The included tours were good, the excursions that we chose were excellent.  Of course, another highlight for us was the Newgrange Tour which I researched and booked myself.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.  I am so glad I took the time to study a bit  and booked that tour a couple of months prior to our trip.

We will be in Portland tonight, and we are both so ready to get back on the road to Eugene to pick up Mattie!  Joanne has sent a few photos and stories of the time they spent, and it is wonderful to know Mattie has been loved and coddled and so well taken care of.  Now we have to hope that she still remembers us!  Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep at the Radisson Portland Airport we will once again have the little dog safely tucked between us for the long trip home.IMG_5329

Ambling around Bishop and Lone Pine

Current location: Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, California; Current temperature: 101 degrees F Hi 102F Lo 70F
We are at the Furnace Creek Ranch RV Park hiding in the MoHo shelter with the air going full blast.  It isn’t very cool in here, but it is a good place to be at the moment, and lots better than outside.  The swimming pool is great as well.
desert peach in the SierrasWednesday morning May 1 in Bishop, CA
It is great to wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep to know we have absolutely nowhere to be at any time at all.  We are hanging out in Bishop, a town we have traveled through often, but never really stopped to visit.  We knew that a few things were on the list, including a visit to a famous bakery and a drive into the mountains.  The rest of the day would be fleshed out after we checked out the lovely visitor center directly across the street from the previously mentioned bakery.
Day 4 Bishop_013DSC_0015The visitor center didn’t open until ten, and since it was only 9:30 we had no choice but to spend time in Schat’s Bakkery.  Awww…too bad.  even though the place was established in 1904, it is clear that now it caters to the tremendous tourist industry that plies the road between LA and Reno.  There is no way a tiny town of under 4,000 people could begin to support a bakery of this size and quality.  They are famous for their sheepherder bread, but the rest of the choices are fun as well.  We had a great pastry and sipped perfect coffees while we watched the tourists come and go with their big bags of bread and pastries.  I left with a bag of bread as well.
Day 4 a day in BishopMo parked at the visitor center, adjacent to the city park, with a large sign once again proclaiming “No Dogs”.  We keep seeing these signs in most of the small city parks along this route and it is a bit discouraging.  Mo waited in the car while I picked the brains of a very informative young woman, a local resident for her entire life.  She told us about some of the places to go, but more important she knew the history of the little Rovada Village that we had seen yesterday afternoon.  It was built by the owners of the Tungsten Mine up Pine Canyon, now closed because even though it was the largest tungsten mine in the US, it is cheaper to mine tungsten in China.  The village is a leftover, and consists of old, somewhat poorly kept rentals.  The young woman lived there until very recently, and didn’t think it was nearly as charming as it appeared to us yesterday as we drove through.  On our list today: drive the canyon to the tungsten mine.
great Bishop Dog ParkFirst things first, however.  We needed an Abby place, and just around the corner from the visitor center and city park we found a wonderful dog park.  There were even toys lying around, lots of doggie bags, grass and trees for shade.  Another young woman there with her dog told us that the locals all take their dogs on the road on either side of the canal, just 1/4 mile east of the park, where there are old cow wallows that are perfect for doggie swims.  Hmmm.  Maybe not today, but good to know.
galen-rowell-0By the time Abby had played to her heart’s content, it was time for the opening of the Mountain Light gallery down on Main Street.  No one except maybe Ansel Adams has photographed the Sierran light the way that Galen Rowell did.  His images are breathtaking, and the gallery was incredibly beautiful.  I have wanted his book, Mountain Light, since forever, and a 25th anniversary edition was right there in front of me.  Yes, I bought it.  Galen and his wife were killed sadly in small plane crash right here at the Bishop airport in 2002, but his legacy lives on, not only for the Sierra, but for all the other magical mountains in the world that he climbed and photographed.  I stayed in the gallery a long time while Mo waited patiently with Abby in the car and read brochures about more things to do in the area.
Round ValleyMid day we went back to the campground to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and rustling breezes before wandering off in the  opposite direction north of town to find Pine Canyon and the tungsten mine.  Bishop has a long history in cattle and mining, and the valley was once magnificent with the waters of the Owens River.  Now that river has been diverted for the thirsty developers in Los Angeles, and the valley looks nothing like it did before the 1920’s when the LA water district bought up all the water rights.  Our helpful history woman at the info center told us that Round Valley, on a narrow road west of 395, still was naturally sub irrigated, and looked like it did when her family ranched there 4 generations previous. 
Rovana village built by the mining companyWe drove through Rovada again with different eyes.  Yesterday we came through the town trying to find our campground, but that was just a little mistake.  Today it was on purpose.  Pine Canyon was beautiful, with huge glacial boulders strewn on the canyon floor and the steep crest of the eastern Sierra directly above us.  The natural stream has been diverted by the mining company, and according to our local resident, there is something in the soil, left over from mining, that interferes with growing veggies to any decent size. 
found a place where she could get in at least a little bitWe looked for a place to let Abby go swimming, and took some bumpy hidden old dirt paths that looked like they went to the river.  Once down there, we found some perfect spots, except they were completely taken over by large groups of campers.  Not RV types, but more like the kind of campers who might be living there permanently.  So much for a swim, Abby.  Near the diversion gate we did finally find a little place where she could at least get her feet wet, but the water was much too fast to let her get even knee deep.
desert peach on the east side of the SierrasThroughout the canyon we saw desert peach in full bloom.  Somehow I knew nothing of this common eastern Sierra shrub, in the prunus family, that has a bitter small fruit and blooms all over the hillsides in spring.  It stands out because it is so rare to get desert flowers that are this shade of pink.
Home in the afternoon to chicken quesadillas at our picnic table with cards and wine and more beautiful breezes.  I loved this little wayside park and am so glad that we decided to stay here more than just overnight.
Thursday morning we knew our travels to Death Valley would be less than 150 miles so we decided it was a good day to see some of the sites along Highway 395 we never seem to have time for.  Sabrina Canyon was first on the list, but after missing the turn in Bishop we ended up driving out to Keogh Hot Springs Campground and Resort.  A drive around was enough, and  I don’t think we really need to think about staying here.  The pool is developed from the spring and the place didn’t look very clean.  I would much rather have a natural spring or a really clean pool, no in between for me, I guess.
the cemetery at ManzanarA few more miles south and we passed the small town of Big Pine and then arrived at Manzanar.  This was our day to actually stop and go to the visitor center and drive the grounds.  The story is daunting, and the visitor center is filled with eloquent words and evocative photos and exhibits.
Day 4 D Valley_009DSC_0070There were ten “relocation centers” for American citizens who happened to be Japanese, and the largest of them was near where we live now in Tulelake.  Can you imagine having to suddenly leave your home and business with only what you could carry?  The homes and businesses were almost completely gone years later when the people were allowed to return after the war. Much to think about as we viewed the center and drove the now empty sites. 
Continuing south to our beloved Alabama Hills, we finally made the stop at the Film Museum in Lone Pine. The Hills are a primo boondocking site, and lots of RV folks have written about them, but once again, the museum was something we just hadn’t made time for in the past.  We parked in the nearly empty huge parking lot, in the shade of some big cottonwoods, and paid our 5. entrance fee to see the museum.
Day 5 Manzanar and into Death ValleyThe short movie about the area was fascinating.  As we went in and Mo saw all the huge movie posters, she was skeptical that there were really THAT many movies made in this area.  But there were.  Literally hundreds of them, especially in the heyday of the B westerns and then the TV era that was so dominated by western series.  My first radio memory was The Lone Ranger, and then TV brought old black and white films of Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid, and so many more.  It would be fun to have a list of all the movies made in the hills, but I didn’t actually see that anywhere amid the displays of posters and old cars and gun belts and sequined outfits that belonged to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  An era long gone, I am afraid.  It was a fun stop, but the only photos I took were of the murals on the outside walls.descent into the valley
The afternoon was waning and it was time to head east from Lone Pine on Highway 136 toward Death Valley.  Tonight, Stovepipe Wells and hopefully a site with hookups.  Reservations are not taken after April 30 at this park, but a phone call assured us that only 1 or 2 of the 14 available hookup sites were taken. 
We are ready for a few days in the beautiful valley of death, or as the Paiute’s and Shoshone’s called it, the Valley of Life.

Day 14 July 19 Delta Junction to Fairbanks

moose north of Delta Junctionrain and gray on the Richardson HighwayWhen we left Delta Junction this morning, it was raining hard, but within minutes of getting on the road, we were treated to our first moose of the trip.  She was running along the road, but then conveniently stopped for me to take her photo.  Along this part of the highway, moose are a constant problem, or I should says cars are the problem, with hundreds of moose killed every year by motorists.

the Fairbanks Visitor CenterOur drive to Fairbanks was short, and we arrived in time to spend the afternoon visiting two places on our list of must-see sights.  2 Morris Thompson Visitor Center-6The Fairbanks Visitor Center is at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in downtown Fairbanks along the Chena River. The display gardens are wonderful, filled with the huge flowers and vegetables that thrive in the long daylight.  The center itself is filled with interesting and lovely displays, including painted dioramas and artifacts from the area.  We really enjoyed it.

3 Museum of the North-5greenhouse at the University of AlaskaWe then traveled across town to the northwestern hill above the river to the dramatic Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  This university is in the perfect place for studying polar climates, and for materials testing in climatic extremes. The Museum itself is fantastic, with a controversial architecture that represents the landscapes of the north, tremendous displays from all the regions of Alaska, and a gallery dedicated to Alaskan art.  There are hourly movies scheduled, one that we are sorry we missed was called “Dynamic Aurora”.  These cost an extra $5, but it was more the time than the money that kept us from attending.  We also knew that we were going to see another aurora presentation at the Ice Museum in town, so thought we could skip this one.

the mummified steppe bison, Blue BabeWe spent enough time there to get “museum fatigue”, with our eyes and brains overloaded with tons of information and our legs and feet tired from all the standing around reading rather than actually moving.  I loved seeing “Blue Babe”, the steppe bison killed by something with teeth that may have been a lion and then preserved in the cold climate with skin and hair that could be studied by scientists for clues about his existence.

the outhouse of the northWe had already decided to stay at Pioneer Park in their pavement parking lot for $12 no hookups, but with a nice row of shade trees behind us. It seems we managed to arrive in Fairbanks during their Gold Rush Days and the parking lot was full.  I still laugh at the fact that we never managed to actually go inside the park to see all the stuff there that was drawing the crowds.  It was a noisy place, and for the first time on the trip, I used my ear plugs to sleep.  Once the shades were drawn and the ear plugs were in, we could have been anywhere!

After a bit more exploration of Fairbanks we found out that we could have joined the many RV’s at the east side WalMart for free and had access to shopping and probably less noise.  Also, just up the block from where we were parked was a lovely, quiet state park, with access to the river and hookups for a bit more money.  Still, it was kinda fun being in the parking lot directly across from the famous Salmon Bake.

3 Museum of the North-17This is supposedly another great thing to do in Fairbanks, and I had my heart set on doing it.  Mo agreed to the spendy $32 per person, but she wasn’t in the mood to do the ‘all you can eat’ thing and was going just for the ambience since I didn’t want to do it alone.  After our museum visits, we came back home and I decided to go read the blogs and then checked in with TripAdvisor about the bake.  I am sooo glad that I did. Even though some folks may have enjoyed it, the reviews were less than stellar, and we decided  to skip it.  Lots of money saved on that one, I think, and we won’t have to try to walk off all the unneeded calories.

3 Museum of the North-15While we watched the cruise buses and Salmon Bake blue bus shuttles started rolling in, one after the other, unloading people by the dozens.  The bake is offered from 5 to 8 and there must have been hundreds of people in that place.  No wonder the food is reputed to be cold and the service non-existent.  Remember, this observation is rumor only and not my personal experience.

I also can’t believe that I never took a single photo of our parking lot campsite or the mine entrance to the Salmon Bake.  I guess that may have been because it was actually pretty warm out there, and there were so many people that we would quickly retreat to the safety of the MoHo when we arrived.

CaptureMiles traveled today: 95

Road condition: excellent paved highway

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here