Monthly Archives: September 2017

Bye bye England

In the hostel I was unpacking my bags and talked to a German student who was happily bubbling about his upcoming studies while a slug fell out of my backpack. He hadn’t even noticed and while he kept talking I surreptitiously picked it up and disposed of it in the toilet.

unfinished_horse

Sketch of a dog or a horse or something

From Cardiff I cycled in one day to Bristol.

Bristol was known in the eleventh century as Brycgstow and most citizens still seem to pronounce it that way. In 1497 the Venetian explorer John Cabot sailed from here to North America. He was commissioned by Henry VII, who, years before, had turned down Bartholomew Columbus who had an idea for a similarly outrageous expedition to be undertaken by his brother. This was the second of three voyages that John Cabot made. On the first he discovered nothing but more of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s very big, he told bystanders after coming back. On his second voyage he sailed in the Matthew a caravel of which I saw a replica in the harbour of Bristol. It was unbelievably tiny and seemed to me hardly sufficient to discover Ireland, but it was with this vessel that he made landfall in New Found Land which seemed to be as good a name for a new country as any. On coming back to England he received the sum of ten pounds which at the time seemed ample reward for discovering America. Some thought it was way too  much. Little seems to be known as to the results of his third voyage… maybe he discovered America again, maybe he didn’t.
Reading through the Wikipedia pages I found some more interesting stuff on Hy Brasil, a mythical island off the coast of Ireland where it was said to appear for one day every seven years out of an impregnable mist. Having been in Ireland now recently, that suddenly didn’t sound so outlandish. It was said that Bristol men in trying to find this island had discovered North America before 1470 (that is twelve years before Columbus) but later couldn’t find their way back to America. It’s not that big after all…

In Bristol I tried some watercolours on an equestrian  statue of William III in the park.

Horses are difficult.

Another famous person from Bristol is Banksy, a mysterious street artist whose identity is not known. Several of his works can be admired in Bristol. His paintings sell for millions and he doesn’t pay any taxes. He is very much against it.

Banksy

Banksy in Bristol

 

More conventionally, there is the Bristol Museum which had some nice works. I liked Harry Watson’s Holidays which showed the artist’s magic with sunlight. Watson had lived for two years in Canada but it had been too cold: his paint froze solid and his fingers turned blue.

Bristol_detail1

Photo of a detail of Holidays, a painting by Harry Watson

Then I got an email from Lukasz who I had met several years before in Faro in the south of Portugal. He was going to drive his van to Poland and asked if I wanted a lift. Since I had done most of my most rewarding cycling in Wales I didn’t feel the need to ride all the way back across England again and gladly accepted his offer.

The hostel in Dover was a disgrace. It was said to date from the 18th century and it showed. But it had to do for one day. The bar man cracked jokes with two elderly ladies. They looked like caricatures and after making some polite small talk I excused myself from their company. Then I made the mistake of using the toilet in the bar and wished I hadn’t. It looked like the Worst toilet in Scotland that famously features in the movie Trainspotting. A sign on the door of the hostel said the premises would be open 24/7 but most of the time it was locked up. Eighteen dear pounds it cost me.

dover_coffee

Having a coffee in St. Margaret’s Bay, Dover.

Bye bye, England.

 

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Cardiff sketchbook

In Cardiff I was happy to check in at a hostel. After many days of camping it was heaven. It even had a toilet in the building so I didn’t have to get out through a soggy,  slug filled field every time I needed to go to the toilet.

The National Museum (of Wales) in Cardiff was free so I took my sketchbook and tried my hand at a few of the works on display.

women

Sculptures

 

Monet

Sketch after Monet

 

Boudin

Sketch after Eugene Boudin

Then there was the park where I sketched a tree. Because my watercolours were ruined by the rain, I used GIMP to add some violent colour.

cardiff_park_riot_crop

From Cardiff I cycled to Bristol which brought me back to England.

In Bristol I stayed in a hostel with a lot of long term residents. An old Punjabi was making chapattis and Brazilians seemed to be cooking rice all day long while a black man sat in a corner reading the holy bible. We even had a Scotsmen who actually said aye. The hostel was a bit rundown but it felt genuine just as the city itself.

Back to the big island

More Irish history. The Romans never made it to Ireland. They planned to but somehow they never got around to actually get there in a meaningful way, that is, to subjugate the people, build roads and bridges, introduce money and new gods, and educate the local population about the pleasures of hot baths and floor heating. And gladiators, to do all the gladiating.
Maybe because the nasty Picts kept jumping over Hadrian’s Wall in the North.
Will you please keep behind the wall?  Civilised people stay behind their wall. You want to be civilised now, don’t you? Sorry? You don’t want to be civilised? Look, we really don’t have time for all this…
After the Romans had left the British Isles, pagan Angles and Saxons invaded England and Wales, but Ireland, that was converted to Christianity before, was spared that fate and it was thus that England was later converted to Christianity again by Irish monks.

abbey

Another abbey

In Dublin I visited Trinity College which is very famous for it’s cheap coffee.

On my Ordnance Survey map of Wales, highly accurate but useless in Ireland, and which shows features in both languages, showed the Irish Sea in Welsh as Mor Inwerdon. ‘Mor’ meaning sea and ‘Inwerdon’ meaning Ireland. The Old Celtic root for Ireland was Iveriu from which both Eriu and Hibernia, respectively Irish and Latin for Ireland, are derived. And Inwerdon of course, maybe most relevant because of the Celtic languages Welsh is the only one that is not considered endangered.
In Ireland I haven’t heard any Irish at all but many road signs and place names were in Irish. Number plates were always in Irish [Dublin = Baile Átha Cliath‘]. The Irish accent is pleasing to the ear with its soft rolling r and short throaty vowels. It sounds friendly.

bilingual_irish

Bilingual sign

 

I love it how every now and then I find, for example, sachets of shampoo from Egypt or an Uzbek coin somewhere in a corner of my backpack. Sainsbury’s automatic cash machines don’t accept Uzbek coins. I tried.

When I was sitting in front of my tent making cheese on toast the family from hell arrived. They came from Germany. The children were shouting at each other. The mother was yelling at the children. The children then started screaming at their mother. And there was no joy. The mother looked haggard, her hair loose, her voice shrill. They had driven all the way from Munich to pitch their tent on the soggy grass of this Irish field. Then it started to rain again and the sound it made mercifully muffled the noise of the Teutonic plague.

Too late I realised I had only taken 12 photos in Ireland. So I made one of the ferry.

IrishFerries

I had to be at the ferry at 8.15 which meant I had to leave a little before seven. I woke up at six and breakfasted with pleasant routine nursing my coffee. There was ample time for a second mug. Then making sandwiches for on the ferry and changing the map of Ireland for the map of Wales.

In Pembroke Dock I cycled off the ferry and up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. It was roughly 5 miles to the country pub where I could pitch my tent in a field with lush grass. After that I needed some groceries and cycled the same way back to Pembroke Dock. Up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. Then I raided the Lidl before riding back up the hill and down the hill and up the hill again.

The weather forecast for Pembroke was promising: temperatures in their mid twenties and mostly sunny. Unfortunately, it happened to be the weather forecast for Pembroke, Ontario. Which is in useless Canada.

I’ve come cycling from Holland.
Crikey!
Crikey?? People actually say that?

In Swansea I visited the well done Dylan Thomas Centre and after that I wanted to be a poet.

 

Ireland

It rained steadily when I left the ferry in Dublin Port. By the time I had reached the hostel, water was sloshing in my shoes and navigating was nearly impossible because I couldn’t make the pattern on the wet surface of my smartphone to unlock it.

History of Ireland
On Wjkipedia I read that the earliest evidence of human presence of around 10,500 BC was ‘a butchered bear bone found in a cave in County Clare’. That was very poetic. It  was followed by Neolithic field systems, dry stone walls and then the old Bronze Age that came with bronze (duh), the newly invented wheel and the brewing of alcohol.
Soon followed by the first road casualty.

In Ireland I made it a point to read James Joyce. A portrait of the artist as  a young man. It was nice to read about Stephan Dedalus expounding his theory on aesthetics in the streets of Dublin and not much later walking around there myself.

JJ

James Joyce, Dubliner

My favourite street was Moore Street off Talbot. It was lined with fruit stalls where I could buy cheap pears and oranges. At the end of the street was a Lidl supermarket.  Walking around that part of Dublin it struck me that there were very few benches to sit down and have a moments rest. They want you to keep moving, to buy stuff, to do things.
On my way to the museum I passed Sweny where Leopold Bloom (the main character in Joyce’s Ulysses) bought a piece of lemon soap.

Ireland meant back to kilometres and euros but for some reason everything looked further away and more expensive. The island was much bigger than I had anticipated and so I had to skip a large chunk of my itinerary and missed the western part of country. I was running out of Summer.

From Dublin I cycled in two days to Kilkenny. The second half of the day it rained.  After that it cleared up and I got some nice days in Kilkenny. Or Kilkenny Rogers as I found it easier to remember, humming Islands  in the Stream, as I strolled through the town.

Some roads allowed a speed limit of 100 km/hr, which was way too high. Curves in the road and at some points a complete lack of shoulder meant it was dangerous. Signs that say 100 km/hr also have a psychological effect on drivers. It creates a sense of entitlement: I am allowed to drive it, so I will and everybody who is keeping me from it is wrong. This sentiment can result in severe road rage. Irish drivers proved repeatedly to be reckless and dangerous. What would mean a scratch on their paint or at most a small dent, might fling me into a tree with fatal results.

DunbrodyAbby

Dunbrody Abbey ruin

DuncannonBeach

Duncanon beach

Ireland differs from Wales in the fact that there are noticeably fewer sheep.