Wednesday, August 31, 2016

East Side Gallery

Today I went to the East Side Gallery, which is an open-air art gallery along the banks of the Spree River; the walls of the gallery are parts of The Wall. I think there is a 'permanent collection' on parts of the wall, but the part I visited was a temporary exhibit of photographs from war-torn Syria.




I am a Berliner!!

Humboldt University - where 20,000 books from the library were burned in 1933
Well, not really. I'm IN Berlin, but I literally only know one word of German ("danke") so no one is going to mistake me for a Berliner. It's a little odd being in a big city after all the days in the Irish countryside and the few days in the tiny Welsh village. My last two days in Liverpool felt very neighborhoody, but the area I'm in here is quite urban and busy. The apartment I'm in is nice though, despite being a 4th floor walk-up, and I spent yesterday on a bike tour of the city, which was both a very nice ride and a great history lesson. It's hard to think of the city as it is now divided so severely, and it's harder still to think of it under the rule of a lunatic, as at the moment, it looks like any European capital, and the only remaining Nazi buildings are now being used as a tax office and a public bathroom.
our affable Aussie guide Dave explaining German geopolitics
using sidewalk chalk.
one of the last vestiges of the Wall - it wasn't that high... 
...but if you tried to go over, you'd most likely be shot
by an East German guard from a tower like this

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
part of our tour was a ride through Tiergarten, a huge urban park
the president's house - he has no power but has a nice pad; Angela Merkel
on the other hand, lives in the same apartment she's had for 30 years.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen... The Beatles!!

If on Saturday I didn't quite know what I thought about Liverpool, by Sunday it had a place in my heart. First of all, due to a reservations snafu, I ended up moving from the center of Liverpool to a neighborhood in a nearby suburb, next to a giant park reminiscent of Central Park, and a couple blocks from a street filled with boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops, one of which I walked to on Sunday for a breakfast of creamy mushrooms on toast with a fried egg. Then I strolled through Sefton Park for a hour, stopping in the Palm House and generally enjoying the nice weather and the "neighborhoody" feel. This trip has made me realize that I'm better off in the suburbs than the center of any city - you can always get close to the action on a bus or subway, but it's much nicer to be "home" on the outskirts, and as it happened, for my last two days in Liverpool, I ended up moving from Andrew's which was a 10 minute walk from the central train station to Eliza's, which was 20 minute bus ride into town, but near the park, by the quiet cafes, etc., etc.
the street where Eliza lives
Peter - Fab4 Taxi Tour
John's Arts College (left), Paul's school (right), me (center) 
My flight out of Liverpool wasn't until the evening, so after brekkies and a stroll in the park, I went back to Eliza's, packed up, and waited for my Fab4 Taxi to pick me up. There are many tours in Liverpool which take you around the sites of Beatles lore; the Fab4 Taxi tour does this by squiring you around in an iconic British cab. My driver, Peter, arrived at 1 and off we went. Our first stop was the Liverpool Arts College where John went to school as a teen, and which was next to what was then the Liverpool Grammar School for boys 11+ which is where Paul went to school. We stopped by the Maternity Hospital (now student accommodation at the University of Liverpool) where John was born, and we went to all their childhood homes. We visited Strawberry Field, which was a Salvation Army children's home when John was a boy (he reportedly liked to hang out there so he could hear the Salvation Army Brass Band), Wooten Village Hall, where John and Paul met for the first time, the cemetery where Eleanor Rigby is buried (Paul claims the tombstone is not where he got the name), and of course, Penny Lane. We did this while Peter filled me in on Liverpool and Beatles history, and listening to Beatles' music. Three hours later, Peter dropped me off at, fittingly, John Lennon Airport, where I caught my flight to Berlin.
John's teenage home
Paul's teenage home
Ringo's birthplace - childhood home
George's teenage home
..the shelter in the middle of the round-a-bout;
the church where Paul sang in the choir
"in Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs..."
the village hall where John met Paul

"above us only sky"

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Liverpool

public art
I'm not sure about Liverpool. After the vivid greens of the Irish countryside and the carpets of purple heather on the hills in Wales... I'm not sure about Liverpool. Liverpool these days is nothing like its gritty past self; the docks have been cleaned up and are no longer the center of smuggling, slavery, and warehouses filled with tobacco (granted, that was in the 19th century, but still...). Liverpool was actually quite wealthy in the 19th century (due to smuggling, slavery, and tobacco, among other things), and it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that things got dicey-- it was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s, it was heavily bombed during WWII, and in the 1970s, the shipping and manufacturing industries went into a sharp decline. Things started picking up in the 1990s and now Liverpool is considered one of the cultural capitals of Europe. I had a nice time yesterday and today; yesterday walking around the docks and the central shopping area; today taking the ferry across the Mersey River and going for a walk on the riverside promenade on the other side... but I still don't know about Liverpool.

I love it when buildings like this:
 
are across the street from buildings like this:



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Aber Falls

Yesterday, as I was walking down from the hills, trying to stay on the trail, which sometimes was a path barely the width of my body with nowhere to go on either side because to the left was a stone wall and to the right was a huge thicket of stickery bushes, I finally came to a clearing near a small sheep farm, which was surrounded by meadows with a few houses in sight. I had no idea in which direction I was supposed to go to get to the town, although it was clear that I was getting close, so I wandered around the meadow for a few minutes, and then noticed that there was a woman hanging her washing in the back yard of one of the houses. As happened at every point (4 times) yesterday when I was out on those hills and not sure which way to turn, there was someone I could ask. I saw literally fewer than a dozen people while hiking for five hours yesterday, but half of those times when someone did cross my path, it was just at the right moment. I walked over and asked directions into the town which she very nicely gave, and then, noticing my American accent, she asked where I was from, and when I said Seattle, she told me that one of her friends who is Irish, just moved to Seattle! We ended up chatting for about 15 minutes - the people I have met on this trip have been so nice! Of course there were the folks whose homes I stayed in - Julie and Matt in Doolin were fantastic as were Con and Angela in Dingle; Here in Wales I'm with Hilary and her daughter Zoe, who have been so nice to me -- all the BnB folks have been great, but there was also Susan whom I met because I was sitting next to her on the bus into Dublin, she made sure I knew how to get where I was going once I got off the bus; there was the guy who was working as a caretaker at the church with the stained glass windows in Dingle, we talked about the high cost of college in the U.S. (random...); there was the German lady and her son whom I met at breakfast in Waterford, they shared their peanut butter with me; and yesterday there was Julie on the outskirts of Llanfairfechan who pointed me into town, has a friend in Seattle, and who during the course of our conversation, suggested I got to Aber Falls today, which is in a nearby village west of Penmaenmawr, so I took the bus there today and had another great walk.

After the falls, I took the bus to Conwy, which is east of Penmaenmawr, and is a medieval walled village; I walked around there for a while, had a cappuccino and some carrot cake, and took the bus back to Penmaenmawr. I definitely feel like I did a good job of exploring this bit of Welsh coastline, a place I ended up in for no other reason that it was a spot on the train line with what looked like a nice place to stay, and which put me between Dublin and Liverpool, where I'm headed tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fields of Purple Heather

Penmaenmawr
Prince would have loved it here, at least during at this time of year when the mountains (such as they are in Wales, hills, really) are literally covered in purple heather.

This morning, Hilary and I drove back to the same spot we went to last night, but this time we walked all the way around the hill together before she headed back to town while I continued on to what became an epic walk down the paths, through the pastures, by the sheep, past the stone circles, past more sheep, over another hill, down the road, behind the quarry, past MORE sheep, along-side the wild horses, down a crazy-narrow path, and 5 miles later, I walked into the town of Llanfairfechan (people around here say the names of towns as though they are saying "cat" -- I have no idea how to pronounce the name of that town even though I made Hilary repeat it several times; in the Welsh language, certain letter combos translate to certain sounds; it's a code I have not cracked). From Llanfairfechan I caught the bus back to Penmaenmawr; tomorrow, I'm going to Abergwyngregn. Seriously.





After my hill-walk, I dropped down into this village and caught a bus back to Pen. 

"The Sea Was Angry that Day, My Friends..."

George Costanza said that while describing how he came to pull a golf ball out of the blow-hole of a whale (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHF7EWCJqQI), and I thought it on the journey by ferry from Dublin to Wales. It was a little rough and I got a little queasy, but arrived in Holyhead, Wales not feeling too bad, but having missed my connecting train. I had to wait about half an hour for the next one, and then catch another one going back in the direction I had come, because the town I was going to is so small, you can't get there from here, if here is the train station at the ferry dock. So one train forward, another one (which was almost two hours late) back, and I finally arrived in Penmaenmawr (pron: "Pen-men-" then make a sound like an angry cat), on the Welsh coastline. It is a gorgeous little town, snug against a hillside and on the edge of the Atlantic. Hilary, whose house I'm staying in, met me at the train station and we walked up the hill less than ten minutes to her place. The entrance to the house is a little odd, it's nothing much to look at, but it's homey and comfy inside.
Hilary's house on the left
After I got settled, I went for a walk around the village - it's like something out of a fairy tale, or a romantic comedy, or a grisly British murder-mystery, if that's the way your mind works, with a few antique shops, a used bookstore, some restaurants, and a couple of boutiques. I walked through the town, all two blocks of it, along the main street and then saw a sign for a footpath that took me through a gate, through a pasture, past two ponies, and up behind some houses. After walking for a bit, I went back to the house and Hilary's daughter Zoe and her friend Emma who is visiting from England came in a couple hours later, and the four of us had dinner at the house and drove up to a path up on the hillside for a walk. It was stunning. It was just before twilight and the lights in the town below were twinkling, the coast was visible, and the purple heather which covered the hills looked like a carpet of amethysts. I'm here for three days and at first I wasn't sure what I was going to do with myself, but now I don't care. I could do that walk every day for three days and not get tired of it.

Penmaenmawr