“Inspircation” Day 12: Viewing the Book of Kells


Today was an exciting day as we visited the old library at Trinity College in Dublin and got to see the Book of Kells. We couldn’t take any photos of the book itself, but that’s okay—this meant that we could just immerse ourselves in the beauty of the book. Marcie and I have been especially excited about seeing the real thing since we had recently watched the wonderful animated films The Secret of Kells.


If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. The artwork is beautiful—it’s like watching a picture book that has sprung to life before your very eyes.

In any case, after viewing the exhibit that featured the Book of Kells, we ventured into the old library. As fate would have it, the current theme of the exhibit in the library is “Upon the Wild Waves — A Journey Through Myth in Children’s Books.” The exhibit features panels discussing the history and evolution of children’s literature through the ages, and making connections to various world mythologies. There were some interesting copies of contemporary children’s literature in the display cases, such as a Gaelic translation of Harry Potter.


The timing of my visit here is quite fortuitous. Since starting this trip, I’ve undertaken a project that is connected to the mythology of the world established in my Kendra Kandlestar series. I’ll say more about that project in future posts; for now, it’s enough to celebrate just how creatively rewarding this trip has been.

As for the library itself, it is simply stunning—a literary cathedral, with tome after tome staring down at you from on high. Here are a few photos, though they hardly do it justice:

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After the library, we did something of a complete opposite nature, and that was to take a tour of the Guinness brewery. The bartender back at our local pub in Vancouver is originally from Dublin and advised us weeks ago that this tour was well worth doing. So, even though my mom doesn’t even drink, we decided to join the lengthly line up and explore one of Ireland’s cultural institutions.

The tour actually outshone my expectations, consisting of seven floors that take you through the process of brewing Guinness and its history in the city. I actually found the section on the coopers one of the most interesting parts of the tour. Of course, they don’t use wooden barrels anymore, so it was quite neat to learn about this more-or-less lost craft.

Here’s a photo from the tasting room, about half way through the tour. This is Marcie smelling one of the different aromas.


After you sniff the different aromas, you then get taught how to properly taste a Guinness by sampling it from a miniature glass. At the very top of the tour, you can enjoy a regulation-size pint of Guinness (free with your ticket admission) and get a 360-degree view of the city.



After this tour, we just walked about the city and explored. It’s actually quite busy in Dublin this weekend due to some football matches. Actually, I’m not sure it’s football. A woman on the bus tried to explain it to us, but the only thing I really understood from her is that only Ireland plays this game, and that makes them quite happy, because they always win. So, whatever they were playing today, I know it was Dublin versus Mayo. The arena isn’t that far from our hotel, and so we found ourselves in the crowds whenever we were out on the street and could continually here the cheers emanating from the local pubs. It’s quite a fun atmosphere—it reminds me of the Grey Cup celebrations we have in Canada, in which everyone seems to flood into the host city for one weekend. There’s another match tomorrow, of sort of the other, so I expect the festivities to continue—though we ourselves will be headed out of the city to explore New Grange and the Hills of Tara.

Can’t wait! In the meantime, here are a few doors from the day . . .



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“Inspircation” Day 11: In the Land of Leprechauns


I wrote that title for this posting with a bit of cheek, only because one of the first signs I saw once we arrived in Dublin was the one above!

Not much to report for today’s inspircation. Mostly, it was a travel day, driving from Bath to Bristol then taking a quick flight to Dublin, where we’ll spend the next few days. We did manage to get lost quite a bit on the drive to the Bristol airport, but in our defence, we came to several roundabouts where the signage for the airport just simply seemed to disappear, so we had to intuit our way there. And intuit we did, and eventually managed to drop the car off with plenty of time to spare. Turns out that I dinged up the rear left hubcap of the car and was walloped with a hefty damage penalty. I guess it was all those narrow roads in the Cotswolds.

In any case, these are the types of bumps in the road that you have to shrug off when you’re on a long trip. We made our way into the airport with all of our luggage and both Marcie and I enjoyed some writing time while waiting for our flight. (I have a project due in October, so I’ve been trying to squeak in some writing time here and there as we go along.)

As for Ireland, it is my first time in this wonderful country, and it is definitely distinctive. The signs are in both Gaelic and English and I’m hoping the people are speaking both, too, because I can’t seem to understand half of what is said on the street. But that’s okay—the people here are so wonderfully friendly that you can’t help but to be warmed by their spirit. The taxi driver who took us to our hotel had us all laughing with his jokes and stories within a minute.

We’ve only been here for a few hours, and my mom has already been hit on twice. I asked her the last time she had been hit on twice in one day and she just stared at me blankly.

Well, after getting to our hotel, we quickly got settled and hit the neighbourhood for a bit of a walk.


We found a store front showcasing Star Wars—I’ve been reading that it’s “Force Friday” and that they’ve launched lots of merchandise today in advance of the upcoming movie. I salivated over some of the new action figures in the window, but the store was closed. Just as well; I was just as happy to take this photo in front of the window art:


We then came upon a local pub and while we were reading the menu at the door one of the patrons told us that the fish had just come off the boat yesterday and that we’d better try it. So we did (at least I did anyway; mom had cottage pie and Marcie had lamb schtew (that’s “stew” in our vernacular, but we were educated by the barkeep in the correct Irish pronunciation).


To my mom’s great delight, they had bread pudding on the menu. Her own mom used to make it when she was a kid and she’s been looking for it everywhere in the UK. At last, she found it in Ireland, and even though she was stuffed from dinner, she ordered it and wolfed it down in a heartbeat.

We’re really looking forward to exploring the city in more depth tomorrow. In particular, I’m thrilled to see that the Writer’s Museum is just outside our window; I think I could hit it with a rock. So we’ll definitely be checking that out during our stay.

I didn’t get much chance to discover any doors today, but here’s one from the down the road, show casing a pair of regal knockers.


“Inspircation” Day 10: In the footsteps of Jane Austen

Even though the main purpose of our trip to the UK and Ireland has been to escort my mom to the street where her dad was born (now accomplished!), Marcie and I had a secondary motive, and that was to explore sites related to literature and theatre, so as to feed our inner geeks.

We were really excited to explore Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and, now, Bath has been mostly about Jane Austen.

In actuality, there seems to be a bit of controversy about Austen’s connection to Bath. As soon as we arrived here, we asked our B&B host about the Jane Austen Centre and his comment was that she only really lived in Bath for “three weeks” and that she hated it.

Undeterred, we decided to spend our last day here to explore the city through an “Austen” lens. After all, two of Austen’s books (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) are set here.

On our first day, we found the home where Austen lived with her father, mother, and sister on Sydney Place. I showed this photo in an earlier post, but here it is again:


Today, we went to the nearby Victoria Art Museum, where they currently have an excellent exhibit on called “Jane Austen’s Bath.” The exhibit features some of the actual letters between Austen and her sister Cassandra:

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Also on display was the marriage certificate of Jane Austin’s parents.

In my opinion, however, the best part of the exhibit is that it allows the visitor to explore Bath in the Regency period (Austen’s time in the city) and put everything into context by matching quotes from her books with contemporary paintings of the city. All three of us—Marcie, my mom, and I—really enjoyed this exhibit.

Afterwards, we went up the hill to the Jane Austen Centre. You can’t miss this due to the fellow in the top hat standing at the entrance. In fact, we seem to pass by this centre every time we go out. Finally, today, we went inside the centre itself. We found a lot of the exhibit to be a reinforcement of what we had already seen at the Victoria Art Museum, though we did learn a lot more about Austen’s family.

There are a few portraits here of Austen, though it seems likes no one is really sure what she looked like, since she was quite an introvert (my words, not the guide’s). The centre does feature a wax statue of Austen, but it’s just a best guess as to what she looked like.


After our tour, we headed up to the second floor of the centre and enjoyed afternoon tea. Or, more aptly said, Marcie and my mom enjoyed afternoon tea. I enjoyed soup.


Afterwards, we walked down Milsom Road (another street that Austen lived on for a time) and went past The Pump Room one more time. The Pump Room, part of the Roman bath house, is a restaurant that seems to have been a center of Bath cultural life even in Austen’s time.

bath_milsomstreet_marcie bath_pumphouse_marcie

After a few days here, what I’m left with is that Bath and Austen are certainly bound, each leaving a lasting impact on the other.

Of course, it’s hard to explore any city in England and not discover interesting doors. Even though I’ve already walked the length and width of Bath for the past two days, I still found some new gems . . .

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Tomorrow is a travel day (read: getting lost day). We’re off to Ireland!

“Inspircation” Day 9: Dipping into the Roman Bath House


Today marks the half-way point of our “inspircation”—our inspirational tour through the UK and Ireland.

Great things have been happening creatively for me, and since I’ve been on this tour I’ve even agreed to an amazing project for when I return back to work in the studio. And, wouldn’t you believe it, the theme of that project is “travel.” So the universe continues to do its work.

But that’s the future! As for today, we spent it exploring the city of Bath and enjoying some arts and culture.

Our day began with a tour of the Roman bath houses. Our host at our B&B advised us to get an early start, so as to avoid the larger tour groups. This was good advice; we arrived by ten, just in advance of the first large group. This meant that we could enjoy the site amidst a relatively sparse crowd, allowing us to take lots of great photos and linger at the baths themselves.

I love this particular photo, which shows the main bath and the abbey in the background. In Roman times, this bath house was covered, first with a wooden roof, and eventually with stone. Now, as you can see it is open.


The bath house truly is remarkable. This is most likely the oldest site I’ve ever walked through since my time in Egypt many years ago, and it truly is humbling. So much of the structure is still intact, still working the way it was designed all those hundreds of years ago. Here are some other photos of our exploration . . .

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You’re not supposed to touch the water, but, of course, my mom did. (If it’s not her, then it’s Marcie—they seem determined to defy all the no-touching rules.) Thankfully, we avoided a lecture from any number of attendants lurking about the site.

Below is a photo showing the structure of the subfloor. Originally, these were pillars to support the floor, and this would have been the place to heat the floor. Apparently, in some places in the bath house, the floor was so warm that one needed to wear sandals to avoid burning!


The photo below is of a mosaic tile floor. It caught my attention in particular because it shows a herd (school?) of hippocampi. I have dealt a lot with hippocampi recently, since I taught a workshop on mythical sea creatures when I was in Korea in July.


After the bath house, we ventured up to the fashion museum, which is situated in a Georgian style house. We took a quick spin in the ball room . . .


. . . and, afterwards, took a guided tour through the special exhibit of the Georgian clothes. As luck would have it, it was just the three of us on the tour, so we really were able to soak up a wealth of inspiration. The exhibit consists of original items (NOT reproductions) and gave me a lot of inspiration for character design.



My favourite piece was this embroidered coat from the 1720s. It has me thinking, in particular, of one specific character in a book I’m currently writing. (But more on that another time.)


After the Georgian exhibit, we came across an area where we could dress in Victorian clothes and pose for photos. Marcie leapt at this opportunity. I was a little bit more reluctant at first (didn’t they have lice and all manner of vermin in the Dickens’ time?), but eventually my inner kid took over.

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There was a group of older woman nearby, and they absolutely thrilled with how Marcie looked. “Oh, my, don’t you look lovely,” they kept saying.

For our evening entertainment, we went to the Theatre Royal to see Mrs. Henderson Presents. Before the show, we chose to eat in The Vaults. This is a restaurant located right beneath the theatre in . . . well, vaults. It’s a very cozy and intimate space and the food was delicious.


As for the play, it was a riot and it was good to hear my mom laughing out loud. (Really good, because the play was a bit racy and I wasn’t sure exactly what she would think of it first. But it wasn’t ME who booked the tickets; that was Marcie). Some might know Mrs. Henderson Presents from the film version; myself, I had never heard of it, but it was the perfect sort of play to see, as it is based on the real-life Windmill Theatre that was running in London during World War II. It was funny, dramatic, and poignant all at once.

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Tomorrow is our last full day in Bath. Not sure what we’ll get up to. Perhaps it will be a day of taking it easy.

As usual, I leave off with some door photos. There’s a chapel we pass by on our walk into town from our B&B and it has some very interesting doors—I’d say rather steampunkish.


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“Inspircation” Day 8: Bath from Above

Yesterday, we left Exeter and headed to Bath. Believe it or not, we did not get lost—in fact, we did not get turned around once! Of course, that still doesn’t mean that we didn’t experience any glitches. We arrived at our B&B, smug because we didn’t get lost, only to discover that we had actually arrived too early. The place was locked tight and there was not a soul to be found.

We went for a walk, grabbed a bite to eat, then came back only to discover the same. We were finally able to borrow a mobile phone from a kind local and phoned the number on the outside to track down our host. Turns out, he was just down the lane picking blackberries with his kids!

One of the reasons we came to Bath was for the history, and the other was for the Jane Austen connection. Marcie has been re-reading Jane Austen this whole trip and has been most excited to explore the city where she wrote her great works. Alas, our B&B host told us that Jane Austen only lived in Bath for three weeks and rather hated the city. He said that he thinks her connection to Bath is a rather tenuous one! Still, we found the house where she lived:


You can’t go in—just look at the plaque. Still, kind of neat and we might go explore the Jane Austen centre later on in our stay, even though it was not recommended to us.

Otherwise, we had fun exploring the city. This is Great Pulterney Street, which is supposed to be the widest in England:


And this is the view of the bridge over the River Avon. It is one of those old-fashioned bridges that have shops on either side—though cars now back and forth, so it’s not quite as romantic as I had imagined.


Perhaps the greatest fun of the day was visiting The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

bath_abbey_arches_interior bath_abbeyturrets

We decided to take the tour to the top. We made the last one of the day and climbed up the 212 steps to the top. The way was narrow and tight (though not as much as previous towers we’ve climbed). However, it was my mom’s first time making such a climb and I was worried how she handled it. Thankfully, it was not a problem.

Our guide was a senior himself (by my guesstimate, 110), and he pretty much jogged up those stairs. I was right behind him and felt compelled to keep up. By the time we reached the first level, both he and I were minutes ahead of everyone else. I asked him how many times a day he climbed up those stairs and he said it was sixth time that day!


Finally, Marcie appeared, panting behind us (and I was waiting to photograph her!):


On this first level, we could see the bells, the bell workings, and the clock face. There are ten bells in total and we got to see how they were rung and chimed (which are two different things, apparently).

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After this stage, we headed up to the very top to get some fantastic views of the city.

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There was a small wooden door in one corner of this rooftop terrace:


One of the tour members asked what it was for and our guide responded by saying that, as far as he knew, it hadn’t been opened in years. Got me wondering . . .

Here are a few other doors and knockers that I found throughout the city. (My favourite one is the door knocker enshrouded in a spider’s web.)

bath_abbey_woodendoor bath_doorknocker_facewithorns bath_doorknocker_lioninwaiting bath_doorknocker_withspider

Next up: the Roman Baths!