The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 8 – Kilkenny

Recently, in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny, I heard a small choir sing the original version of Handel’s “Messiah.” It was just one of the many offerings of the Kilkenny Arts Festival presented over a ten-day span in August. A few years ago I attended an opera performance in the old theatre in the town. In Kilkenny I’ve enjoyed Irish music in lively pubs and toured a castle, part of which dates back to the year 1195 when the city began. I’ve shopped and dined well. The city is small but it’s successfully filled with many enticing businesses.

Kilkenny is my favorite Irish city. It is called Ireland’s “medieval city.” An ancient city, it provides a perfect blend of history, interesting shops, traditional pubs and good restaurants. There are a number of centuries-old buildings to explore. The recent addition of the “Medieval Mile Museum” installed in a very old church in the very center of the town promises to make experiencing the town’s long history easier for visitors.

Like many Irish towns, the shops that line the streets of Kilkenny are painted in bright colors. Some of the shops retain identifying signs dating to the 19th century. My favorite shop is called “Yesterdays.” Located on Lower Patrick Street, just a few steps from the center of town, the shop, packed full of artful objects for the home and for gifts. There’s always something new and delightful on offer. A lovely small hotel called Butler House is just across the street.  Many old houses now occupied by businesses feature Georgian-era doors brightly painted such as the bright yellow doors of Butler House.

The location of Kilkenny in the middle of southern Ireland and an easy drive from Dublin and the south on modern highways makes it an ideal location from which to discover much of Ireland. There are many hotels in the town and self-catering cottages scattered about the surrounding countryside.

Libbie

The photo above was taken just prior to the performance of Handel’s Messiah in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny.

Resources:

Kilkenny City Online is a fun site, useful for planning a visit there.

Wikipedia has a detailed description and history of Kilkenny.

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The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 9 – An Original Local Food Movement

Ireland’s 21st century restaurant and hotel offerings begin with traditional, home-grown foods: delicious soda bread (called “wheaten bread” in some places) and smoked salmon and the famous “Irish breakfast” of sausages, bacon, beans, broiled tomatoes and eggs. In old pubs all over the country visitors enjoy delicious seafood chowder and other longtime favorites.

In restaurants around the country, however, innovative chefs are combining fresh local ingredients, traditional recipes and new ideas to create an exciting new Irish cuisine. One of my favorite places is a small restaurant and inn called Zuni in Kilkenny. Its upscale dining room overlooks the open kitchen where chefs turn out original dishes that are always excellent.

And there’s Avoca, a successful Irish company that combines clever retail shops, food markets and really good restaurants in a number of locations around Ireland. The chefs create ever-changing seasonal menus offering the freshest local dishes. Recently I had a spectacular crab salad at Avoca.

Another of my favorites is a small bakery and café called Ormond’s Café located in Dungarvan, a busy seaside town. The offerings at lunch here are very un-lunch like. Large servings of fresh fish are accompanied by original side dishes. (The photo above was taken at Ormond’s – isn’t their take on ratatouille appealing?)

Local food isn’t confined to restaurants. Grocery markets offer many of my favorites. I love “West Country” yogurt made in west Cork with fresh cream and Irish milk. The tiny fish market in New Ross offers a wide choice of fresh fish including salmon, crab and haddock. In the southeast, Wexford strawberries are sold from small booths along the highways throughout the summer. A new facility covered by greenhouses is located near the place where I stayed this summer. I suspect tomatoes, strawberries and other fragile fruits are being grown there. Chicken is especially good in Ireland where a photo of the farmer who produced it along with his name and county are shown on package labels.

Pride is a chief ingredient in delicious Irish cooking and it can be tasted in every bite!

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The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 10 – a calm, centuries-old way of living

I had the good fortune to spend all summer this year in Ireland. Irish immigration laws allow Americans to stay there for only 90 days. Now that I’m home again, I’m feeling a bit sad about leaving beautiful Ireland.  Beginning with this post, I’ll be sharing the characteristics of Ireland that have caused me to fall in love with that small green country.

Ireland is littered with small towns, smaller villages and many wide-spots-in-the-road with very strange names. These places are hundreds of years old and many of them retain some very old buildings and the atmosphere of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Narrow farm roads crisscross the green hills. Often traffic on them is slowed by big blue tractors driving no more than 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 mph). Farming appears to be the main occupation supporting many families – perhaps a majority. Farms spread over the green hills, divided by ancient hedges and stone walls that are relics of centuries past when Ireland was a colony of Great Britain.

The people who live in these towns and villages and farms are gentle souls, always polite and friendly, speaking with the gentle brogue for which Ireland is well-known. In the west of Ireland many people still prefer to speak the gaelic “Irish” language. Signs are bi-lingual everywhere.

Dublin and other Irish cities are fully engaged in the 21st century but in the countryside life seems to be as gentle as a misty Irish morning. And I loved that!

Libbie

The photo above is of the ten-arch bridge in Inistioge, which gets my vote for “most beautiful Irish village.” Read my earlier post about it here: https://in-my-suitcase.com/2015/11/07/the-loveliest-village-in-ireland/

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A Daytrip to Vienna

I really like the great art that was created in Europe in the 17th century, particularly the genre art of the Low Countries.  My favorite artist is Johannes VerMeer of Delft, Holland. You may know him for his famous painting of the “girl with the pearl earring.” Because he died at the age of 43, there are only 34 paintings attributed to him. It’s been my goal for a number of years to see all of them. This summer I saw two of his works for the first time. The painting shown at the top of this post is called “Allegory of Art.” It’s believed that the artist shown in the painting is VerMeer. It is owned by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where it is exhibited.

Under the great dome at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

For years I’ve wanted to go to Vienna to visit its grand museum and to see that painting. Because Vienna is only about 120 miles from Budapest, my friend A. and I decided to travel there for a museum visit during my recent visit to Hungary. We were not disappointed! We spent an entire afternoon just viewing the paintings of Holland and Belgium. The collection of great art in this museum is so great that we must go again some day to see the many fine Italian and French paintings also exhibited there. There are many other wonderful things to be found and awed by in this great museum.

On our way back to the train station we paused to admire some of the grand buildings of Vienna. The art museum and the Natural History museum facing it are almost twins, constructed in the late 1800s when Vienna was the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Tourist abound outside the Hofburg palace where many of the enjoy a quick ride in a gracious carriage.

As we returned to the street we were drawn to the Hofburg palace, formerly the home of emperors and of Empress Maria Theresa. We didn’t have time to tour the interior but the exterior is sumptuous.

Libbie

Earlier this summer I saw an exhibition entitled Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry at the National Gallery of Art in Dublin. There are at least ten VerMeer paintings in the exhibition along with many other works by contemporaries of VerMeer. The exhibit is jointly curated by the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It will be in Dublin until September 17. It will open in Washington on October 22 and run until January 21, 2018.

Resources: the website for Kunsthistorisches Museum and its collection

Here are two other great buildings in Vienna, in photos I took years ago with an early (and poor) digital camera. Shown here is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Below is a shot of the lobby of the famous Viennese Opera House.

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On the Buda Side of the Danube

The star of the show in Buda (the west side of the river) is the great castle on the hill. Built in the mid-1700s under the direction of Empress Maria Thersa of Austria, the castle has its roots in the 1200s. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries since. A detailed history of the castle and a room-by-room description with old photos is on Wikipedia – click here.

 

Occupying the ridge at the opposite end of the castle hill is a charming neighborhood of lovely old buildings painted in pastel colors. The cathedral of Budapest is placed between the castle and neighboring residential district.

Below the castle on the Buda side of the Danube there are gracious old apartment buildings in busy neighborhoods.  The apartment where I stayed was built in 1907. My friend’s grandparents bought it in 1947 and it has passed down to her. It’s a large apartment of the grand old style. Three large rooms overlook the city street below. At the rear of the apartment is the maid’s room (now storage) and a tiny original kitchen, obviously designed for a maid as well. Because this apartment has been handed down intact it contains the memories, the artifacts, the style of many decades. I felt lucky to spend a few days there.

Although Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain for much of the 20th century and on the losing side in both World Wars 1 and 2, the people of Budapest continued to preserve the great buildings and neighborhoods constructed when their city was a co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. That pride of place can still be seen throughout the city today. Despite its difficult past, there is a charm to Budapest that many modern cities have lost. As with many places that were once behind the Iron Curtain, the damage inflicted during bombardments during the 1940s was repaired long ago and the gracious style of the late 1800s can be seen throughout the city today.

I hope the pictures I’ve shared here will give you a bit of the sense of beautiful Budapest.

Old meets new on the Danube

This is where my friend A. attended grammar school. It remains a school today. It was originally a convent.

 

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The Famous Gellért Hotel

If you’ve seen a travel guidebook about Hungary chances are you’ve seen a swimming pool at the Gellért Hotel on the cover of the book. There are not many hotels in the world featured on the cover of guide books; not many with names recognized by international travelers. The Gellért is one of that select number. The history of the hotel is a story of destruction and interruption during the wars of the 20th century and rebirth during the Soviet occupation. Wikipedia’s article about the Gellért provides a good, brief history.

The hotel is obviously grand but it’s the spa and its swimming pools that attract attention and draw people from everywhere. I’m borrowing from Wikipedia a description of the spa at the hotel: “Hotel Gellért is famous for its thermal baths. The Gellért Spa, connected to the hotel directly, is a special attraction and its indoor and outdoor swimming pool, wave bath, sunbathing terrace and thermal spa can be used by the hotel guests [and the public]. Thermal baths are used for healing different diseases and illnesses. Jacuzzi with its glass roofs, which is opened in the summer, and the wave bath are the favourites among guests.”

Although I didn’t stay at the Gellért Hotel I was able to walk into the art deco interior of the spa and to snap some pictures, indoors and out.

If you have the opportunity to visit Budapest, grab it! If you’re considering a river cruise on the Danube, make a point of beginning or ending here. If your time there will be outside the summer season, look into staying at Hotel Gellért. It’s location in the center of the city is perfect for touring fascinating Budapest.

This is a view of the spectacular entrance to the famous indoor pool at the spa. Above the area shown here is a gorgeous stained-glass dome.

This is the best picture I could get from the closest point to the famous indoor pool.

 

But this borrowed photo shows you how fabulous this place is!

By poking my camera’s lens through rails on a fence I was able to capture this scene of the outdoor pool area on a very hot day.

No one from New Bern NC (birthplace of Pepsi) could skip this shot, also taken from the other side of the fence.

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Gell%C3%A9rt

http://en.muemlekek.info/monument/gellert-bath.php (great pictures here).

Here’s Anthony Horowitz’s take on Budapest.

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A Walk in Pest

My friend A. and I spent a day walking through the edge of the Pest section of Budapest, near the Danube river. (Budapest is actually two old cities, Buda and Pest, which were combined into one city in 1873.)

We began at the large old market hall which is two stories high plus an Aldi store installed in the basement.

The large old market hall is located at the edge of the river, just off one of the principal bridges. It’s filled with fresh food and items designed to appeal to tourists.

Those are peppers piled up beside the shopper.

Here, from another stand, a peck of peppers. The price is a bargain: about 40 U.S. cents for two and a quarter pounds.

From there we strolled through a popular tourist area, then on to the mercantile town center.

The splendid Cafe Gerbeaud, a Viennese style café and bakery serving Budapest since 1858.

Two little curious shoppers, tempted by something good.

When we stopped to visit the Basilica we were briefly entertained by a band of young musicians from Friedberg, Germany.

A lunch time concert from the visiting band with the facade of the Basilica behind them.

The basilica is richly decorated. It’s in the Greek cross shape, that is it has four arms of equal length, making an X shape. As with many (most?) of the public buildings in Budapest, it has a beautiful dome.

From there we walked on toward the Parliament building, which is very large and very richly “dressed,” much like a flamboyant French cathedral.

In the course of our walk we passed many people, many shops and stores and sidewalk cafés, many old buildings – some recently restored, some still in need of restoration.  I hope these pictures give you a bit of the sense of fascinating Budapest.

A tourist having his picture taken with a statue of Ronald Reagan.

 

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