Monday, January 2, 2012

Ireland II - Trinity College and Wagons

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15 miles, July 17

A blue sky day!

Leaving our bikes at the hostel, we set off on foot for Trinity College. The buildings are downtown, covering several blocks. Originally started in the 1500s, the current library structure is 260+ years old and houses an incredible collection of art. We went to see the Book of Kells, a 4 volume text of the four gospels, 1200 years old. In a monastery west of Dublin (Kell) monks transcribed in calligraphy the 300+ pages, elaborately painting initial capitals with special pigments. The manuscript was presented to the college in 1661. I was once a budding calligrapher so I wanted to study the pages more thoroughly, but we were quickly ushered onward - the exhibit receives 3000-4000 daily visitors.

The Book of Kells is displayed under glass.

Beautiful intricate drawings, still vivid color. Photo credit: carrigdowninnishcrafts 

The Long Room, 65 meters in length, was another amazing feature. Book shelves with rolling ladders reached 15 feet high. Dark ebony stained wood with elaborate Georgian scroll work decorates each shelf end. Because of the magnitude of old volumes in the library, many are in the process of conservation. Some are rebound in calfskin, a neutral based medium which preserves the covers. The collection is open to all students and faculty. Any book predating 1850 may not be copied for reasons of preservation as the machine’s rays are harmful to older tomes.

A section of the Long Room. Photo credit:

The oldest harp in Ireland stood under glass in the Long Room. Dating from the 15th century, it’s a masterpiece of etched oak and willow with brass strings. Considering its age it appeared quite sturdy.

By mid-afternoon we left the hostel and pedaled southward through a maze of coastal towns to a campground. There are a surprising number of bicycle tourists in Ireland, more so than in the north. Most cyclist are from Europe taking anywhere from 2 weeks to a 4 month holiday. The mountain bike is the cycle of choice. I inspect others’ bike setups as the panniers and gear are unlike ours.

In the evening we peek inside a bar. The final game of the World Cup blazes from a TV, the battle between Italy and Brazil. Bars in the British Isles are enticing for the culture and thick tasty beer, but are too smoky for comfort. Unlike the U.S., 50 percent of the population has a cigarrete dangling from their lips.

We huddled inside the tent doing puzzles and writing postcards. We long to buy a daily newspaper for something to read, but Ireland’s rags are too costly for our budget, .90 pounds (1.50).

55 miles, July 18
Familiar sight south of Dublin.

Under a hazy sky we cycled south with faded Irish Sea over our left shoulder. The coast road meanders past golf courses that slope to the sandy shore.  Interspersed are sheep pastures - constant companions in fact, since we started our adventure; their fleece specks a series of whitish dots in the fields. They’re a calming presence. We’ve come to recognize that they have a range of tonal voices, like tenor and baritone choirs.

Our light Oregon skin has tanned, similar to the color of Irish wheat rolls. Daily stops at bakeries must have given a shine to our arms and legs!

Photo credit:

Horse drawn wagons slowly crept towards us, their bright red framework and green canvas covering reminded me of the hoop-framed Oregon Trail wagons. After 3 trotted past Andy stopped and spoke with the next driver who had pulled over and was eating his lunch. Apparently one can rent the setup for a holiday; it’s a modern version of a gypsy wagon. The vehicles stop at designated caravan parks for the evening, letting the horse graze. This particular man had his wife and son with him. His horse appeared to be slower than the others, he said, as it took them more hours to complete the daily 5 miles. And we thought we traveled in the slow lane!

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