Belfast, Northern Ireland

On my last day in Dublin, I took a day trip to Belfast. The city is only two or so hours away from Dublin. My tour group was very small, two couples, two single men, and the tour guide. It was an interesting experience. The day started off rainy and dreary. As the day went along, it was still dreary but the rain held off a bit and we were able to do some sightseeing.

Part of the tour was meeting someone from the north that had lived through the terrorism that gripped the North up until the peace accords in the 1990s. He took us around the parts of Northern Ireland where there was trouble all those years ago. Now there were political murals in many places. They reminded me of Greece, where I took some pictures of political murals. These murals, however, were very artistic and done very, very well.

We got to go through the wall that the British were building to section off parts of Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. This wall was continuing to be built right up until the peace accords were signed. The gates to neighborhoods would be open at a certain time one day and closed the same time the next. There never seemed to be a rhyme or reason when the gates were open–or closed for that matter. Of course, people who lived there knew their way around the wall and could get into their neighborhoods by taking side streets and going around. We stopped across a section of the wall that cut though backyards of houses; where the road was once were part of those houses’ backyards. We were given markers to write on the wall, which many others had done before us. I only wrote “Peace!’ with my initials.

We also got to see the Northern Ireland Parliament Building. Parliament has not met for at least two years in the North, which does make one wonder. It is a beautiful building up on a high hill surrounded by a high fence and with no other buildings around it. It reminded me of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. but there are a lot of buildings around.

We were given some free time to wander around downtown Belfast. One of my fellow travelers was from New Zealand, so we hung out together. We had a late lunch then walked around town. The City Hall was a magnificent building made of marble. A huge statue of Queen Victoria stood in front of it. There was also a statue to the Boer War. We peeked inside and it was well-decorated. Then there was the Titanic Memorial at the side of City Hall. It was the one built right after the disaster and it recognized the loss of life that Belfast suffered. There’s a new memorial not too far away, on the City Hall grounds, that lists all those who were lost.

I was so excited. I GOT TO GO TO THE TITANIC MUSEUM! We spent two hours in the museum. The museum is built right on the Harland and Wolff shipyards. In front of the museum, marked by poles, are places where the Olympic and the Titanic sat while being built. Unfortunately, the museum itself was a bit of a letdown. I know the story of the sinking and the structure of British society at the time of the sinking, which is what much of the museum was trying to explain. The museum was packed, though, so it is a major tourist attraction, which is good for the city.

What really did thrill me was going on board the SS Nomadic, the last White Star Line ship in existence. It was a tender that took passengers out to the Titanic and other White Star ships. The ship later was a restaurant in France when it was “rediscovered” and was bought and brought back to Belfast, where it belongs. My ticket to the museum did not cover the cost of going aboard the Nomadic (the tour company did not pay the extra), so I had to pay. It was worth it. Although everything was restored, it was nice to see the accommodations for first class and third class passengers carried over even on the tenders. I did not want to leave, I enjoyed the ship so much.

The day ended, and we went back to Dublin. I left the next day for the United States. I really enjoyed my trip to Dublin and Belfast. I’d love to go back and visit someday.

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Dublin, Ireland

The church across from my hotel

Way back in September, about two weeks after my trip to Kamloops, British Columbia, I flew to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. My ethnic background includes Irish and I had never been to Ireland. I got a good price on a ticket, so off I went. I got into the city really early in the morning. My room, unsurprisingly, was not ready, so I stored my luggage and went to walk around O’Connell Street. (My hotel was right off it.)

Across from the Post Office, there were tour groups led by locals. They were free, so I decided to do a little sightseeing to kill some time. Little did I know that the tour would wind all around Central Dublin and last close to three hours. The tour did not go into the Trinity College grounds because Trinity College wanted a cut of the profits. No charging fees equals no profits, so the locals leading tours were banned from the campus. There was still a lot to see.

We made our way down to the River Liffey. There we got an overview of the city. Dublin is very diverse, with ethnic groups from all over the world. One of the recent immigrants were the Brazilians who, we were told, fit into the city quite well. We were told about Daniel O’Connell and his contribution to the Irish nation. It was he who pushed to have the anti-Catholic laws that had been enacted repealed. (Every time I would pass this statue, there was a bird on top of his head.) We walked over the O’Connell bridge and towards Trinity College, turning away from the campus. We were shown the Parliament Building. Dublin, after London, was the most important city in the British Empire. It was granted its own parliament, which was later rescinded after an attempt at independence failed. The Bank of Ireland is now in the building.

After a stop in the Temple Bar district, which is very popular with tourists and the young Irish, we walked over to Dublin Castle, which doesn’t look like a traditional castle, except it does have a keep. This is where offices of the government are, with a chapel next to the keep and the State Apartments behind it. The tour ended in Dubh Linn Garden, where there was much talk and picture-taking of the castle. I tipped my tour guide.

I went onto the Trinity College campus, mainly to see the Book of Kells, which has several parts. I was disappointed with what I saw. For the price of admission (which was high), I was not impressed. First off, there was not much to see. They had a huge exhibit about the Book and the different illustrations, but when I finally got to see two pages of the Book, there were a lot of tourists around it. How about displaying several pages? I left and wandered around the campus, enjoying the academic vibe. I went into the Old Library to look around. There was a harp that has been called Brian Boru’s, but it is from the late Middle Ages. However, it is the oldest Irish harp in existence. From here I went to The Perch, a small cafe on the campus that has an owl on the sign. I had something before I left the campus.

From Trinity, I walked over to Merrion Square, which I found enchanting. It has some wild overgrown parts, but the lawn was well-manicured. I had an ice cream (real cream!) while walking around there. I came across a pyramid. Intrigued, I went and looked in one of the four windows that stretch the entire pyramid. Inside I could see four figures standing around a flame. Here this is Defense Forces Monument to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the state. There used to be an eternal flame in Madison Square Park in New York City. There used to be a plaque explaining that it was in memory of those who died in World War I. Then they turned it into a flag post, and now I don’t think that the plaque is even visible since the park entrance it was near has been reconfigured. This isn’t the first time World War I monuments have been conveniently forgotten or destroyed. It has quickly become a forgotten war. Anyway, I found the Irish monument to be quite nice–not monumental, yet elegant in its simplicity–and I like an eternal flame that is lighted.

My stop at Merrion Square was on my way to the Archaeological Museum. I had heard good things about the museum (thanks to Rick Steves’ Dublin travel book), so I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the exhibits. The grave reminded me of one in the Corinth Archaeological Museum, which is also under glass. The silver chalice was beautiful. They had several bog bodies on display in special round rooms. They were, of course, protected by glass and these areas were temperature-controlled. They were amazing, but I wasn’t sure that I could take a picture of a bog body.

Nkisi figure, Angola

There was an exhibit on an Irish explorer who traveled through Africa and South America. Roger Casement discovered how King Leopold was mistreating the natives in the Belgian Congo and brought it to the attention of the world, which created a scandal and helped bring changes. He was also a naturalist and collected many different things on his trips. One statue is a power (Nkisi) figure from Angola. According to the display, it was created by a Senhor Oliviera. The ritual specialists (nganga) used the Nkisi to focus spiritual power. They would put things in his stomach compartment depending on the need of the client. It would then be given to the client, who would then activate the Nkisi in different ways, one being by blowing smoke over it. The mirror covering the stomach was symbolic of the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead. When I took the picture, I was a bit creeped out. It still unsettles me when I look at it.

Next I visited the Chester Beatty Library. Chester Beatty was a rich American who left his entire collection to Ireland if they would give him a state funeral. Well, Ireland complied and got the rich man’s collection. There was a East Asian book exposition going on, and I took quite a few pictures. These were not the traditional books that we are used to. These books came in all shapes and sizes.

There were so many books with so many beautiful colors. A Nara ebon could either be a regular manuscript or a scroll. I got excited when I saw a Nara ebon with a painting on silk of Prince Shotoku. Shotoku was the Regent of Japan for Empress Suiko (reigned 593-628) and had an influence on the development of Buddhism in Japan. I remember him from my Japanese history class.

The final books were of Christian Ethiopia. The Praises of Mary was interesting, with the annunciation, Mary posing with Jesus and Joseph, and Mary standing at the foot of Jacob’s ladder. I liked The Gospel of Matthew, though. The image of Jesus asleep in the boat as the boat rocks and dips because of the rough waves and blowing wind was really nice. I enjoyed my time at the Chester Beatty Library.

I had to take public transportation to get to St. Michan’s Church. Built on a Hiberno-Norse site, St. Michan’s was the only church built above the River Liffey for over 500 years. It is a parish of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. It was a nice little church, but what I came to see were the mummified bodies in the crypt below. Supposedly, the temperature and environment are perfect for preserving bodies. There are bodies 800 years old in the crypt.

You are not allowed to take pictures of them, so I took a picture of the postcard I bought at the church and the program I was given. There is still one crypt still in use by parish members. The most interesting one of all was the one called “The Crusader.” This man was 6′ 5″ tall. He must have towered over the people around him. He was so tall that he would not fit into his coffin, so his legs were broken. Whether or not he was really a crusader can be debated; his name is not known, nor is his family.

I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art while I was trying to kill time. I had gone to the Kilmainham Gaol to see if I could book a tour. Unfortunately, all the tours were booked except the last one. So after going around the museum (they let me take a tour of this before going to the gaol because it would already be closed after the tour), I walked over to the museum. The grounds are huge and beautiful. There were people playing with their dogs and just enjoying being outdoors. There are artists’ exhibits that you can see, but this is only a small part of the museum. I accidentally wandered into an area where you only had access if you bought a ticket. Needless to say, I didn’t bother. I really don’t like most modern art. I have a standard that I always apply to art. It is quite simple: if I can do it, then it isn’t art. What I saw did not impress me. To top it off, I LOST MY TICKET TO THE GAOL, so I was never able to take the tour of the place, which really disappointed me. A friend told me that I had to see it because of its significance to Irish history.

The rest of my trip will be in my next posting, because although it was part of my trip to Dublin, it was well outside of Dublin and the Republic of Ireland.



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Kamloops, British Columbia

Calgary, from the airport

Way back in August, I took a trip to Kamloops, British Columbia, to visit Pat and Mike. I used to work with Mike at the Graduate Center years ago. Pat invited me to come and visit them, so I took them up on their offer. I flew from JFK to Calgary, getting stranded there because of storms in the Greater New York area. So I arrived in Kamloops the next day, and Pat met me at the small airport. I was there for nearly a week.

I stayed in a room that’s for people who know people in the complex way up on a hill above the downtown, and I house-sat for Pat and Mike’s friend Joanne. Her house in the complex was very nice.

What I loved was the faux running stream outside; it ran on the other side of her patio wall. Though you couldn’t see it unless you peered over the wall, you could hear it. The first evening I was there Joanne had a little get-together for the four of us. Joanne used to be a librarian. Pat was a medical librarian; Mike, like me, is an academic librarian.

Mike was usually busy at work, so I hung out with Pat. Mike works at the Thompson Rivers University, which Pat took me to the first day I was there.

It is an up and coming university, and the campus is beautiful. Pat showed me an auditorium based on a First Nations communal house. Though the acoustics isn’t too good, the interior was beautiful. And the door was absolutely gorgeous.

We went walking along the trails above Kamloops. This is what the interior of British Columbia is like: much more arid than the coast. Pat told me that the area was usually much more brown and yellow at this time of year, but they had more rain than usual. Matter of fact, Pat arrived at my room the first morning with a coffee. She was soaked as it poured around her. “This is not a typical day in Kamloops,” she explained.

We also went walking along the Thompson River–North or South I couldn’t tell you. Pat explained that the river is known to have a

Path along the river

very swift current. It is a very cold river as well. People drown in the river every year, fooled by the docile look of the river.

One day Pat took me to a nearby provincial park. This area is what people–at least people I know–think of when British Columbia is mentioned: green, green, green, with water. It was very different from the arid area not too far away by car.

Kamloops held its fourth annual Pride Parade. Pat, Mike and I attended. The parade was about fifteen minutes long; we stood three times that waiting for it to start. I have never been a fan of parades, but this one was nice and short. However, there were very many people marching in the parade, and there was a nice crowd looking on from the sidewalks. Afterwards, there were vendors in the street and in one of the parks.

I enjoyed myself in Kamloops. I ended up as an unofficial judge–and celebrity–at a drag show that we attended the night before the parade. The MC asked who was from out of town. Pat just had to point me out. I came the furthest than anyone, and the MC would occasionally ask my opinion on this performance or that one. It was all in good fun, but I am not used to being a focus of attention.

Sid Vicious and I confer

Pat and Mike have a three-legged cat, Sid Vicious. Sid could be vicious if he was played with too long. Pat blamed it on Sid’s not being socialized as a kitten. (Sid was a rescue cat.) You needed to know when to break off the play before things got nasty. I was good at this. For three legs, Sid could move around quite well. Sid was certainly the king of his domain. He had a penned-in area open to the weather, and grass growing on the balcony for him to snack upon.

Pat, Mike and I took a walk in one of the downtown parks where they have music in the summer. There was another path in the city along one of the rivers. The path was also a place to display art.

Before I knew it, it was time for me to go back to New York. I had a fun time with Pat and Mike. Actually, I was sad to go. Still, the old saying about fish and guests smelling after three days is something to keep in mind when visiting friends and family. Pat and Mike saw me to the airport and we said our good-byes.




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Beekman Avenue getting New Lights

Sleepy Hollow’s main drag, Beekman Avenue, just had new streetlights installed. Not that there was anything wrong with the old ones. It looks like the new ones might be energy-saving, so this might be precipitating the change. (The shorter ones are new.)

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Good-bye, Silver Tips Tea Room

(2018-03-25 007)This posting is a bit late, as the Silver Tips Tea Room closed its doors for the last time on March 25th. Longtime readers of my blog knew of my fondness for this place in Tarrytown. Aniupa, the owner, was traveling abroad quite a bit on family business and it became too hard to manage her tea company and the Tea Room, so she decided to close it.

The Silver Tips was open for 18 years. There was a feeling of family there, a feeling of belonging. There were lots of hugs and tears as the day approached. As my friend Chris said, where are we going to hang out now?

Aniupa believes that someone else may open a tea room in Tarrytown. However, the former Silver Tips space is being taken over by Lefteris Gyro, the Greek restaurant next door that is going to expand, thus more than doubling the restaurant’s space.

The windows of the Silver Tips are papered over. Soon even the empty storefront will change, all evidence of a tea room disappearing. All the Silver Tips Tea Room will be is a memory, a warm, fuzzy memory to keep us fans warm on cold nights as time marches on.

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End of the Voyage

I celebrated New Year’s having port with two new friends up in the Commodore Room. It was subdued as opposed to the racket in the Grand Lobby (way too loud music) and in the Queen’s Room. Though I love having the day off and using it as a marker for the Christmas season, I really don’t consider New Year’s something to celebrate. To me it was always an excuse for people to get drunk—basically a drinking holiday. The decorations for the holidays quickly disappeared as the days progressed.

Now the trip is quickly coming to an end. Where did the time go? It seems like I’ve been on this ship for many weeks instead of twelve days.

Here’s a picture of the plate that Cunard gave all passengers as a holiday gift. I guess I could use mine for nuts or candy.




And the characters that stood at the base of the large Christmas tree on the Queen Mary 2? They were Badger, Mr. Toad, Rat, and Mole from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.


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Barbados, and Christmas Door Decorations

I walked into Bridgetown and got sunburned on my neck and arms as a result. At least the distance to the town wasn’t as great as it was on St. Thomas. I walked around a very busy town. Lots of traffic. I passed by the Old Town Hall and went into St. Mary’s Anglican/Episcopal Church’s yard.

I watched us leave Barbados, and took some pictures of the ship leaving the harbor. What struck me were the people around me snapping picture after picture—of what? I took several photographs, but not one after another. These people had big cameras, too. I’m happy with the results of my little camera.

Some of the people decorated their doors for the holidays. It never occurred to me to pack decorations for my cabin door. Some of the decorations were clever. Here’s a sampling of some interesting ones.


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St. Kitts

The Queen next to a Royal Caribbean ship

I took a tour of “the best of” St. Kitts. Someone I know who is from there told me that the island highlights could be done in one day. I saw four of the highlights, two from the bus.

Romney House was named by the Earl of Romney when he bought the house from Sam Jefferson, the great great great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. The site was originally the settlement of the king of the Caribs, who were slaughtered by the French and the British. (I saw the massacre site from the bus.)


Then we ended the tour by climbing the Brimstone Hill Fortress, restored at the behest of Prince Charles. It was the biggest fortification in the Caribbean at one time. Climbing up the hill reminded me of the Acrocorinth, as the “steps” were all at an angle; you never stod on a level pavement. Unlike the Acrocorinth, though, at the top of the hill you were standing on level land. The views of the island were excellent.

Oh, and to answer the questions I’ve been asked: yes I can see your comments; and no, the Internet is not free nor is it cheap. It’s actually by satellite and it isn’t very good.

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No Antigua, a Day at Sea

We docked in Antigua, but unfortunately the sea was too rough to allow the tenders to take the passengers ashore. As a result, we bypassed Antigua and had a day at sea.

There are huge, shiny steel objects bolted to the deck at the bow. They look like abstract art, but in reality they are extra propeller blades for the Queen Mary 2. This is in case the ship loses one on a voyage, there is a spare available. Throwing of propeller blades can happen. I have heard of it, but on older ships.

There are four strange plates displayed along the walls on the main floor. They represent four of the six continents. What is displayed as each continent is quite interesting. Europe is presided over by Zeus while North America by the Statue of Liberty. Past and present are represented in each. Quite interesting.


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St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

We docked in St. Thomas even though I was led to believe that the Virgin Islands had not recovered and that we dropped one number in ports. I was wrong. The Queen Mary 2 was the first ship to dock in St. Thomas—along with the Celebrity Equinox—since the hurricane.

There was still damage evident from the hurricane. There were trees that had large branches missing, but it was most evident near the port itself. A sign of welcome was faded and had been knocked over. I photographed the stump of a telephone pole; near which was the destroyed top off of a lamppost with the light cover shattered. Along the street to Charlotte Amalie were newly planted palm trees that (presumably) replaced destroyed ones.

I walked into the town from the port, which was about two or three miles. I got a good workout. I sat in one of the parks and watched the chickens and roosters walk around and look for food. Three times it rained on me. I only wanted postcards, so I got stamps at the post office. Turns out that the vendors right outside the port were selling postcards. I got them on the way back to the ship.


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