Walking along a Wall

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Latimer: There are lots of things to be excited about when you’re going on holidays; you don’t have to worry about work, you’re going somewhere new and you can relax and do what you want – it’s a great feeling. Aside from the food, which is one of my most favourite things about being on holidays, one of the best things is getting to see famous places you’ve only seen on the TV!

In Beijing there were lots of famous places to stamp my foot on.

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You can’t go to China and not go to the Great Wall.

To me it was one of those places that I’ve known about my whole life; it’s a place of massive human achievement, but had it been overhyped in my mind – could it really be that good?

Yes, as it turns out! It was as amazing as people say.

Getting to stand on the Great Wall and stare around the valley (like a boss), as it criss-crossed the landscape, weaving up and down like a great stone snake slithering over hills through smog into the far north of China – spectacular!!

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The Great Wall started its existence as a series of small walls that were unified into one Great wall by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (namesake of the Qin Dynasty). This is the Emperor who also built the Terracotta Army – a busy man right? Up to a million people died building the ‘Great Wall’ and are actually buried within the wall itself. So there’s an eerie feeling walking along the wall and thinking about that!

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The part of the wall that I was on is called the Jiangshanling Great Wall; it’s a bit of a less touristy spot. It was great because there was hardly anyone else on the wall. It was basically empty, so it was even more incredible to be able to stand on one arching swell and look into the distance and see nothing but the wall and its watchtowers 🙂

As I walked I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti – people had carved their names into the wall. This started a conversation about how if the graffiti’s been there long enough it becomes historic (is a 400 year old piece of graffiti terrible… or historic?).

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When people used to visit Shakespeare’s home (a long time after his death), they used to write their names on the windows to say that they were there. Lots of famous writers (Dickens etc) signed the windows, and now they are a museum piece within the house.

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It’s an odd one and it happens everywhere; I’ve seen names carved into the stone at our own Newgrange (which is 5,000 years old, which makes this really bad).

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It is sad, and you do shudder at seeing it; ‘I’d never do that! That’s terrible’… but then if enough time passes… does it become alright? Do you start to think; ‘someone in the 1800s was standing where I am now, in awe of this thing I am seeing that they once saw too… (of course they were busy carving their name into it, so we aren’t really experiencing it the same way, but still!)’

People like to write their names on things because it says; ‘I was here, I existed once and I was here’. And I get that, but…

Argh, it’s a tough one; but people shouldn’t be doing it anymore – that’s what the visitor’s guestbook is for!

While on the wall I ate the bag of Hula Hoops I’d gotten in Dublin airport (and failed to eat on the plane – I told you we’d be seeing those food items again!)… That was bizarre!

Then it was on to the Forbidden City (give or take a day, ha). That place is amazing.

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It was built according to the rules and laws of Taoism – the cultural religion of China. For example, Taoism is crazy about numbers. The number 9 (and 5) is very important and lucky in the religion. The doors of the city’s gates have gold circle embossing – there are nine rows with nine circles across.

The Forbidden City is also said to contain 9999 rooms; the Emperor is the only one on earth who can have 9999 rooms. This is one less than the Jade Emperor (the King of Heaven in Taoism); only he can have 10,000 rooms. The Jade Emperor sounds cool doesn’t he?

There’s a lot to see in the Forbidden City, I found myself just wandering on my own at one point, enjoying my own novelty as a white foreigner (I’m hardly ever exotic, so that was fun!).

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It wasn’t long before my time in Beijing was at an end, but I did manage to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Cube before I was off on an overnight train (13 hours!) to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but that’s another post 🙂

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Previous post: Middle Kingdom Musings and next post: The Art of Terracotta

Chillin’ at Court

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Latimer: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Hampton Court.

But, I kept forgetting/never knew, what it was called, so I’d get really frustrated trying to explain to people where it was I wanted to go.

“I’d love to go to Henry VIII’s Palace… you know with the,” cue my distant expression, “with the red-brick gatehouse.”

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I would stare expectantly at the person and they would stare back rightly confused. I would get frustrated, thinking everyone should know what I meant and give me the name of said building (so I could forever remember it and not look like a fool every time I said I wanted to visit it!).

This has been the way it’s been for me for years. But finally I realised it was Hampton Court I wanted to visit.

It’s in London, so when Ridley and I went there, I just had to go!

Hampton Court is epic and after being stuck in a queue for every which-way-thing in London, it was surprisingly low on visitors, which probably made the experience all the better. We had an ice-cream on the lawn, enjoyed the sun and stared in wonderment at the gorgeousness that is the Court.

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While there, Ridley got real bohemian. She headed over to a tree, sat down, pulled out a notebook and pen, and with a big smile said –

“Let’s do book-work!”

I shuffled over to the tree, thinking this was a very quaint idea; we’d be like Jane Austen or something. A minute later I leaped up. “There’re ants crawling all over the tree! I hate nature -!”

Ridley jumped up, screaming, her dream of book-work in the park destroyed by nature. Deflated we gave up and headed into the Palace, letting the magic of Hampton Court wash over us.

If anyone watches/reads Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon reminds me of Henry VIII. I think that might be intentional – George R. R. Martin draws from history right? Well, the banquet hall has Baratheon stamped all over it – it’s so cool!

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In my head I was saying, ‘ours is the fury’! over and over again, until I annoyed myself!

Ours is the Fury!... or something.. ha!
Ours is the Fury!… or something.. ha!

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Apparently the tapestries that hang in the hall are made of gold and silver thread.

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Rich people back then got tapestries as a show of wealth, because of the cost involved in making them and the materials used. Henry VIII amassed tapestries like celebrities today buy diamond encrusted iPhones and fancy cars. Tapestries were the flash accessory of the day, and Henry VIII had the largest collection. The tapestries aren’t as bright now as they were in his day, but they are still impressive!

Throughout our holiday we were asking each other the question of – ‘what would you do if you fell back in time?’ Our hypothesis started out with the notion that we’d be gods! We’d know everything.

But, Dara O’Briain sums up the truth of what would happen…

Ridley struggled to read the tiny script writing on a massive charter in Hampton Court. Waving her hand she moaned; “And I wouldn’t even be able to read!”

Even if we could read it wouldn’t be written in the same English as it is today – we would probably not even understand what people were saying to us. That old adage by Wittgenstein that; “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him,” because his frame of reference would be so different to ours.

So, the portal that opens sucking me and Ridley into the past becomes more and more dangerous! I think our science backgrounds would also lead to us being burnt as witches!

We did conclude, on our travels, that it would not be good to get sucked back in time and end up in Edinburgh. It was hit by ‘plague’ (we never learned which plague) 11 times. We also would not have survived the closes, with people tossing buckets of waste down the narrow streets… or having to drink beer because the water was so dangerously full of bacteria (from the waste flowing down into the lake and therefore the drinking water).

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Walking around the Court is almost like walking through time (the safer version of it). You half expect to turn a corner and see a man in tights, a grey curly wig, heels and a fancy velvet jacket…

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Funnily enough, that did actually happen at one point. He was sitting talking to a 1700’s era woman.

We (the tourists) all walked past them, listening in on the conversation, confused as to whether they were in-character or not and nobody talking to them to find out.

We all kept a safe distance; blinking and straining inward to listen to them, but glancing to each other and giving a nervous laugh, like we were all thinking, ‘is this a mass hallucination?! Can you see them too?!’

We left the palace, happier for having been there! If you’re in need of an oasis of calm in London, head to Court!

Go West

Latimer goes West…

Latimer: It’s been a very long time since I ventured to the West of Ireland. I put up my hands here and admit it’s been at least ten years.

I don’t ‘Go West’ often, clearly.

Another admission here is that I don’t think I’ve ever been to Galway (I don’t think even Ridley realises this and it’ll probably come as a shock to her, because she goes to Galway pretty often and has lots of childhood memories of the place I’m sure).

I don’t want you thinking though that I haven’t travelled around Ireland much- the Irish childhood, if you were a child in the late eighties and early nineties (and before this), generally involved great family holidays travelling around Ireland because no one had money to be going abroad.

I have all these vague memories of being in odd places in Ireland; places that have become almost like dreamscapes, because back then I never knew where I was anyway. As a child the places you visit are just backdrops that weave and change without you paying real attention to where or what they are.

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I remember being in old manor houses, and stone castles, and forests with waterfalls; and I have this vivid memory of a green valley; standing overlooking massive lakes.

Sometimes it really annoys me, because these are places I would like to visit again.

There’s a massive cave in Ireland; the best way I can think to describe it, is that it appears as if the earth has caved in; you can stand around the edges and look down (WAY down) and this cave opens up beneath you. There are steps than lead down (I remember the walk was a steep decline). And, my memories tell me, that people used to hide down there during Viking raids. The roof of the cave is black from the fires people used to light down there to cook their food when they were hiding. I also have this other memory of someone saying Vikings used to throw people off the edge.

 I would love to go back to this cave, but I can’t remember where it is 😦

Back to the present, I had a ‘fly-by’ visit to Galway this weekend.

Very fly-by; two days, one of which was work related so, really I only had one day to get out and see the small city.

The thing I noticed when I was there was that it was very Irish. I imagine that the image people have of Ireland- the closest thing to it, will be found in the West. There’s this real Irish vibe to the place; which left me feeling weird. I felt like a visitor. I walked the cobbled streets thinking; I don’t know Ireland. It did remind me of when I was young and on holidays. It had been a long while since I had seen the old Ireland. Aran sweaters; the Atlantic… it had been a long time since I stood anywhere looking out at the Atlantic ocean.

I heard people speaking Irish; people just walking along… it’s a sad fact that this doesn’t happen much. I had to turn and think, ‘cad é an scéal!?’ (what’s the story!?). I saw signs in shops written in Irish; I saw the word milseáin written on a sweetshop… It means sweets, but it has been so long since I had said or seen this word. 

Galway is known for having more than the average number of Irish speakers. If you were looking for an authentic, old world Ireland, that’d be the place to go.

The taxi drivers are very chatty too; one I had was telling me all about how he had spent 30-odd days last year doing the Camino de Santiago walk in Spain.

Map of the Camino de Santiago trail

He was so happy he had done it; and he said he had spent his days walking with people he didn’t know, even a French woman who didn’t speak English (‘and me not a word of French!’ he laughed). Still, he said they managed to have a great chat. This is the stamp of a friendly Irish person; they somehow just weave and dive around with random people. He seemed really nice; he spent the drive telling me, ‘you should do it, you should’ so much so, by the end of it, I was thinking’ yes! Yes I will!’ Even though, the Camino is not something I have ever considered!

I have mentioned, our friend Orbie before; Orbie told me two places I had to go in Galway- the breakfast place Ard Bia and the tea shop (whose name she had forgotten. It’s Cupán Tae; when I told her she texted me and said ‘how did I forget that!’…. the term means ‘cup of tea’ in Irish, it’s pretty common! Sometimes Irish people will say, ‘do you want a cupán tae?’).

So I had a mission; Ard Bia for breakfast, Cupán Tae for tea. Huzzah.

Ard Bia is located under the Spanish Arch. I’d heard a lot about this Spanish Arch. The image conjured up a massive arch… actually it’s really a tiny innocuous arch.

However, it was built in the 1500s and has links to the Spanish invaders, so actually pretty historic.

Ard Bia is a tiny stone building by the sea.

It’s a bit like the TARDIS (bigger on the inside :)). But it’s sort of hanging off this stone walk-way. I was staring at if from the outside thinking… that building looks like it’s going to erode into the sea! Well, not for a while, I was alright!

It’s a very sweet and pretty place. You open the door and it smells like freshly baked warm cakes; like a country kitchen (I assume a country kitchen might smell like cakes!). 

The view from my lovely window-box seat was very special.

I had express instructions to get the veggie breakie (Orbie’s favourite).

It was scrummy and very affordable! Got to recommend this place- if you are ever in Galway!

Then, I slipped across the road to Cupán Tae.

It reminded me of Japan. That sounds strange I know; it was packed with floral stuff- cups, tea pots, napkins and tablecloths. The word that jumps to mind is ‘kawaii’.

I got the ‘bad weather tea’ (haha, it rains in Galway a lot, apparently, if not the locals really go on about it- ah the Irish and talking about the weather, we love it) and a slice of biscuit cake… oh heaven on both counts!

And I don’t often like ‘different’ teas! But I figured it was a proper tea place so I should get something different. It was sort of fruity. Very nice anyway, really was.

It cost me 6euro… that in comparsion to our Tokyo tea adventure- 20euro each! I won’t lie, I really enjoyed that tea place in Ginza…

but Tokyo-high-flyers, you got to visit Cupán Tae… put that price in perspective!

After tea, I took a wander around the city (very easy as it’s quite small and nice). Found some interesting places (Druid Lane).

And The Hall of the Red Earl… the remains of an Earls house from the 1200s (lots of history).

There’s a pub called the King’s Head… it’s 800yrs old and used to belong to the Mayor of Galway- it was seized from him by Col. Peter Stubbers following Galway’s surrender to Cromwell; Stubber was believed to have been responsible for beheading King Charles I in 1649 (ergo the King’s Head pub I guess!).

Then there’s the Saturday market- lots of handmade fudge and fresh food- looked yummy (I really love food!)

I also passed a statue of Oscar Wilde (I think I have a thing about statues now…) he was sitting beside Eduard Vilde, as I walked away a child passed with her parents. In a loud, ‘trying to sound adult’ voice she exclaimed, pointing at Wilde; “WHAT on earth is that!”

Poor Oscar!

A nice weekend trip; I should make more of an effort to go West, more often!

Myself and Ridley will be off to the Bram Stoker festival in Dublin next weekend 🙂 Hope to have a lot to say about it!