qatsi: (baker)
Through a variety of logical twists centred on other events, we opted for a short break in Dublin last weekend. Leaving directly from work, the flight from London City Airport was much less hassle than Heathrow, and although we didn't depart at the advertised time, there seemed to be a fair bit of padding in the schedules. Transfer from the airport at Dublin was very straightforward with the regular bus service.

We arrived at the hotel to find we'd been "upgraded" to a "suite" in the "Georgian wing". The room looked lovely, but was in fact rather noisy (poorly fitting windows looking out onto a main road) and cold (with minimal bedding, which we addressed and resolved the following morning.) We quickly established that a global search-and-replace of "English" with "Irish" had taken place: for example, "Full Irish Breakfast" and "Irish Breakfast Tea". But fair enough, I suppose. We were, after all, in Ireland.

Fri 15th: Though cold, it's bright and sunny at first, and we take in our surroundings. The Custom House is close by.


We move on to Trinity College, Dublin. The Book of Kells exhibition is expensive and badly laid out, but really it's an excuse to justify the charge to see the books and the Old Library. The books themselves are interesting, although I'm disappointed I didn't see any comparison to The Lindisfarne Gospels, especially as there's a comment in the exhibition that one of the other books (The Book of Durrow) may have come from Northumbria.


Like the Bodleian, it appears that the books are filed according to their size.

Before lunch, we fit in a visit to the Natural History Museum. It's small and quiet, but well-stocked and, compared to its correspondent in London, unreconstructed and of more concentrated interest. In the afternoon, we move on to see Dublin Castle and the cathedrals.



Sat 16th: The forecast isn't good, particularly for later on. In the morning we visit the National Gallery, which turns out to be very interesting and well-stocked, though many of the names are unknown. Some of the Irish landscapes are particularly beautiful, though there are also some scenes in which nature has ceased to be beautiful and merely looks bleak. Later on we visit the National Museum of Archaeology. This is smaller than expected and balances the day, though it is quite packed with exhibits. The bog bodies are striking, if disturbing; the Bronze Age canoe is impressive. The Viking section is interesting; the museum finds a diplomatic solution to colonisation by describing the invasion of 1169 as "Norman".



Sun 17th: It's bright again, intermittently, and we go for another walk along the Liffey before heading up to the City Gallery. There are some interesting pieces, and a lot of modern rubbish, although among the contemporary collection, Close by Elizabeth Magill and Mist by Paul Seawright stand out. By lunch time, the city is heaving with crowds for the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final, but we catch the bus back to the airport. The trains from Paddington are replaced with buses due to engineering work, so we depart from Waterloo instead; a slow train, but not a crowded one.



Food-wise Dublin was disappointing, because it seems you are expected to pre-book (no doubt by "app") everywhere. Even in a Japanese noodle bar the welcome was dampened by being told we'd have to be finished by 7:30. It was interesting that, like the UK, a significant portion of the hospitality sector is staffed by eastern Europeans.

Things conflate. The poor value of the accommodation and the impossibility of spontaneous discovery on the food front combined with the almost brainwashing-intensity signage of Irish (i.e. anti-British) history on every street corner to make me feel barely welcome. We left, taking the unused coffee sachets with us "in retaliation for the [lack of] blanket". As I observed, the lack of blanket was probably "in retaliation for the [lack of] potatoes [in the 1840s]". My overall impression was that (even allowing for the post-Brexit exchange rate) Dublin charges more-or-less London prices but doesn't deliver as much.
qatsi: (baker)
I was hesitant about booking a holiday in Portugal in mid-June, but was persuaded to go ahead. We had a good time - eventually - although, really, much of it was too hot for me; generally into the 30s and possibly hitting 40°C in Lisbon yesterday.

Things didn't get off to a good start, when we tried to check in on Thursday evening, 12 hours beforehand; BA's website just gave us an error message and told us to go to the airport. So we waited for the exit poll, raised our eyebrows, and went to bed, getting up the following morning at ridiculous-o'clock. There was an unexpected queue at 5:30 in the morning at the entrance to Purple Parking, but the airport wasn't too busy.

Unfortunately, we were told, BA had overbooked the flight. We were given standby boarding passes and told to wait. Later, we were told to take everything airside. This didn't seem entirely correct, but it was a new experience, so we did exactly as we were told. Security, however, insisted that our hold baggage had to go back to the drop-off desk; so, we did that, returned, and ended up having to run through Heathrow Terminal 3's delightful "retail experience".

We made it onto our flight, but our checked baggage did not. Though we both had suspicions, we weren't informed of this until a semi-decipherable tannoy announcement at Lisbon told us to go to the baggage enquiries desk. Many years ago I had a colleague to whom this happened, and I knew his luggage had been couriered to his hotel by the evening, so I had hopes this was a standard process. It seemed to be so; but BA promised the luggage would be on the afternoon flight, and it wasn't. Our hotel was informed that it would be on the overnight flight, and it did indeed turn up by the following morning, but it didn't make for the most relaxing of starts.

Fri 9th: Arrival, somewhat discombobulated. The Metro appears to be straightforward to navigate and we head to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which houses a considerable collection, including some interesting Persian carpets and Turkish ceramics. We walk across the Parque Eduardo VII to the Aqueduto das Aguas Livres, a survivor of Lisbon's 1755 earthquake.

Lisbon - Aqueduct



Sat 10th: After reacquainting ourselves with our possessions, we head off to explore the city centre - Baixa and Chiado. It comes quickly to our attention that there are many people wandering around the streets more-or-less openly offering drugs; one assumes that the police don't care much.

Lisbon - Elevator


Later in the day we head over to the Castle. As well as taking in the building and museum, we pause to listen to the tango band rehearsing on an outdoor stage in the gardens.

Lisbon - Castle



Sun 11th: We take a tram to Belém. By this point it is becoming apparent that the Vivagem cards for public transport (basically like Oyster in London) aren't of the greatest quality (they're made of cardboard) and are prone to failure. Although the card only costs 50 cents it's quite annoying that you have to be so careful with them. The tram is packed and Belém is even busier; it's about a half hour queue in baking sunlight to get in to the Mosteiro doe Jerónimos, which is very ornate but otherwise not especially spectacular. The queue for the Tower on the riverfront is shorter, though not trivial.

Lisbon - Tower of Belém



Mon 12th: We head out to Sintra. The train from Rossio station is straightforward, but once there, the Rough Guide map isn't entirely clear and the text doesn't explain strongly enough that you should get the bus to the palace at Pena. Naïvely I reckon it's about a kilometre, but I haven't allowed for poor signage. We do eventually make it on foot, but our patience is tried. Fortunately, it's worth it. We return via the Moorish Castle.

Sintra - Pena Palace


Sintra - Moors' Castle



Tues 13th: Another trip to Sintra, this time for the Palácio Nacional and the Quinta da Regaleira. Though I've only visited the house at West Wycombe Park, the cave system in the grounds at Regaleira suggests to me the Hell-Fire Caves; the Initiation Well seems like an inside-out Tower of Babel.

Sintra - Initiation Well



Wed 14th: We wake up to the news of the Grenfell Tower fire; after the attack in Borough Market and the coalition of crackpots, it adds to the stream of disturbing UK news. We spend the day in Lisbon, firstly in the Alfama district, visiting the Paneão Nacional (Pantheon), São Vicente de Fora, and the Water Museum at Barbadinhos. Although there's an exhibition we're really there for the steampunk of the preserved pumping station.

Lisbon - Barbadinhos Steam Pumping Station


Later we trek out to Estrela; the basilica is disappointing, but the nearby park is pleasant and a granizado is refreshing.

Thurs 15th: More museums. There's a queue of about 15 minutes just to use the automated ticket machines at Cais do Sodré station, but once we get to Alcântara, the streets are quiet. The Museu do Oriente is excellent, but sadly it's almost deserted. After lunch we go to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which has a respectable number of visitors but is far from busy.

Lisbon - Musical Instruments of the Chinese Opera at Museo do Oriente



Fri 16th: We take a long-distance trip to Porto. We're a bit pressed for time, given the hilly nature of the city, so we don't venture too far from the centre, and don't make it to Vila Nova da Gaia, where the wine lodges are. But we do experience a Franceshina for lunch, and see the famous Lello bookshop.

Porto - Bridges across the Douro


Porto - Lello Bookshop



Sat 17th: It turns out the botanical garden is closed, so we skip that part of the plan and move on to the Decorative arts museum. After lunch we take in the small Casa Museu Dr A Gonçalves. Although Lisbon Airport is chaotic and the check-in machine tells us to go to gate "undefined", the flight home is smoother. I notice smoke on the ground as we ascend from Lisbon Airport and wonder if it's a wildfire; we are oblivious to the catastrophe going on a few hundred kilometers away, though the train to Porto passed through Coimbra. On return, only about half of the electronic passport gates are in use for some reason, and Purple Parking's IVR is awkward and unforgiving, hanging up rather than repeating a question when you didn't hear it clearly the first time.

Lisbon was busy, but it didn't strike me as particularly commercial: the metro doesn't start until 6:30 in the morning, and there are often long intervals between trains. Likewise, the local trains were patchy - good for Sintra, but not so good in the direction of Cascais. Food was good though sometimes slow, and the hawking waiters in the city centre were even worse than the drug-dealers and selfie-stick sellers.

Lisbon - Trams

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