, ,

Staying local at Kányavári sziget

We dream of islands in the sun. Exotic places where we can get away from it all. We spend hundreds if not thousands of whatevers getting there and then come home full of the experience. Too often, we forget that just down the road there might be somewhere just as interesting, somewhere that offers an opportunity to explore, to get away from it all, but because it’s so near, we don’t consider it travel. Travel seems to be measured by a physical distance rather than a metaphorical one, even if just ten minutes from home a whole new world awaits. Kányavári sziget is just an example.

I have a fondness for islands. For water. For bridges. And for quiet. And were I to ask any of you for your recommendation, that one place that has all that and more, I’d be reading for a week. There are myriad places around the world that would fit the bill but I’m fortunate to have all that and more within walking distance. Practically at the end of the garden.

Hungary is known for the Balaton, the Hungarian sea, the massive lake that is choc-a-bloc in the summer with Hungarians on holiday and tourists on vacation. And in the winter, it’s quiet. And it has water. But I’m not talking about the Balaton. I’m talking about the Kis-Balaton (the little Balaton), even farther to the south-west. It has its own island, Kányavári sziget and its own bridge.

Kányvári sziget

Wooden bridge on Kányvári sziget

Part of me is reluctant to do anything that might put this place on the tourist map but that’s me being selfish. It’s a gorgeous spot that I’ve written about many times. We went down there this evening, for a walk, to catch the sunset. We passed two couples fishing and a couple of lads trying their luck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone catch anything, but it’s certainly not for want of trying. Perhaps though it’s the fishing that’s important, not the catching. We passed another couple out walking their dog and then two other friends scuffing through the leaves. It was quiet and peaceful, the only noise coming from the ducks and the geese.

Kányavári sziget sunset kis-balaton

viewing tower on Kányavári sziget

We climbed the 44 steps to the top of the tower and watched the sun go down. Beautiful. Peaceful. Rejuvenating. And it’s only down the road. Perhaps 2018 might be the year to go local, to explore more of Zala megye and the surrounding counties.

Sunset on kis-balaton Kányavári sziget

, ,

Biennale (2): Arsenale

Biennale Venice

People travel to Venice every other year specifically to see the Biennale. Me? I just happened to be there when it was on. If it’s your first time (planned or spontaneous), here are a few tips. In a previous post, I mentioned the Giardini exhibition. Today let’s visit the Arsenale. It’s possible to walk between the two, and while you’re walking, a couple of other countries have free exhibits along the way. Built back in the late 1400s to house the Venetian armory, this complex of shipyards and armories is quite something. The buildings themselves have withstood the tests of time and are hauntingly beautiful. Not in an ornate way, but more evocative. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up a picture of bustling docks with navvies and uniformed officers wandering about, readying themselves to visit foreign shores.

 

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Aresnale Venice

Perhaps even more intriguing though, are the myriad alleyways that lead off the walk between Giardini and Arsenale. Take the time to wander through the archways and discover the communities living on the other side. This is neighbourhood Venice. This is the real Venice. The place where people get on with their daily lives, for the most part uninterrupted by tourists. Signs remind us that we’re not in Disneyland or Temple Bar, we’re in a residential neighbourhood that deserves our respect.

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

The main exhibition hall is quite something with lots of installations to see. Walking in through the curtain of hanging ropes, you can’t but wonder what awaits you inside. At this stage though, I was on sensory overload, so I’ll let this video do the talking for me.

The last of the installations in the main exhibit hall was quite something. I think what I was hearing was the sound of an avalanche. Not that I’ve ever heard an avalanche or would know what it sounds like, but I think this was it. I’ve seen the aftermath, I’ve no problem imagining what it could be like, but this was quite something. I’ve noticed shades of black before but never quite experienced so many shades of white. The light changes with the sound and the single sculpture seemed to move of its own volition. All quite amazing.

Biennale Arsenale

The Albanian Pavilion was quite something. I was particularly taken by the doors.

Tirana’s Zero Space, where cosmos and chaos are fused with no predetermined contact point, is exposed in this installation through a sensorial experience created by composing elements that aim to include all the senses and guide the visitor in a journey perceiving the free space and true essence of the city. The public is therefore engaged with its sounds, shadows, lack of perception of the verge, but at the same time free to create the space and modify the physical configuration of the pavilion. Intentionally or not, the public becomes not only a spectator but also the protagonist creating a spatial form, growing cognitively into a tourist, or even more a citizen of Tirana.

Albanian Pavilion Biennale

 

But what I’d really come to see was the Irish Pavilion. I was curious to see what we’d installed, what angle we’d taken.  And while visually, I was a little disappointed, the substance was there. The recorded voice of a rural Irish architect recounting the importance of people and communities was quite sobering.

The exhibition charts historic data, documents contemporary life with photography and gets out onto the streets recording sounds and talking to people to build unique portraits of each town.

And the accompanying newspaper was the icing on the cake. Nicely done, lads. Nicely done.

Biennale Irish Pavilion

By the time we got to the end, we were exhausted. We’d walked the bones of 8 km. And it was hot. Rather than walk the whole way back, we decided to take the boat shuttle to Arsenale Nord and then catch a waterbus. But he didn’t take us to where we expected to go. Instead, we found ourselves wandering through the entrance of the Arsenale, through the café, out the back through what perhaps was once Navy housing. We headed for the water and spotted a bus stop – Biacini. But this wasn’t a stop that is on the regular route; it’s one where you have to request a stop. Don’t waste the time we did trying to find the button – it’s on the pole immediately inside the ticket barrier to your left. For a few minutes there, we felt a little like castaways.

If you’re in Venice in the next few months, be sure to take the time to visit the Biennale. You won’t be disappointed.

 

, , ,

Biennale (1)

Biennele

People travel to Venice every other year specifically to see the Biennale. Me? I just happened to be there when it was on. If it’s your first time (planned or spontaneous), here are a few tips.

Take the time to do the Biennale justice

We just happened to be in Venice and noticed it was on. I was living in a flat in London eons ago when I first heard of the Biennale. My then flatmate arrived home from work, all excited that she was going. She was appalled that I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. I’ve been carrying a vague notion with me since that it has something to with architecture and sculpture and it was the sculptures I expected but didn’t see. More than 70 counties have individual exhibits tied to an overarching theme – this year it is Freespace.

With the theme of FREESPACE, the Biennale Architettura 2018 presents for public scrutiny examples, proposals, elements – built or unbuilt – of work that exemplifies essential qualities of architecture which include the modulation, richness and materiality of surface; the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing  the embodied power and beauty of architecture.

The map is pretty self-explanatory but even sticking your head into each pavilion is going to take time. Engaging with the interactive installations will take more. Reading the bumf will take more again. Think at least one whole day for Giardini and a good half-day for Arsenale.

Don’t overdose

Tickets for both main exhibition areas (Giardini and Arsenale) are valid for consecutive or non-consecutive days – if you overdose on Tuesday, you can take Wednesday off and come back on Thursday. Tickets are €25 with an extra €7 for a guided tour in English.

Dress appropriately

Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll have no problem getting in your daily 10 000 steps at one site alone. Don’t carry any additional weight – it gets tiring lugging bags and backpacks around – some exhibits (UK and Hungary) include climbing steps – lots of steps. Bring water, though. And there’s plenty of space to sit and enjoy, so if you fancy bring lunch, too. But there are cafés and such on site.

Remember to breathe at the Biennale

It can all be rather overwhelming. There’s so much to see and not everything will resonate or make sense. Don’t try too hard though – let it all wash over you and you’ll remember the bits that make an impression.

Swiss Pavilion at the Biennale

Swiss Pavilion at the Biennale

The Swiss played with perspective. Walking through this designed space with its small doors and massive doors, low countertops, and high countertops gave those of average height a good sense of what it might be like to be really tall or really short. At least, that’s what I left with. What they had in mind was to draw attention to the bland interiors of rental properties. Sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out to me.

Biennale

Russian Pavilion at the Biennale

The Russian exhibit was more of my style. It included a basement room of open luggage lockers, each with something significant inside, be it a photo of a famous person or a book or a hat. Each had a story. The piles of suitcases reminded me of something Maya Angelou said when I saw her speak in London all those years ago – about getting on the next train with as little luggage as possible. Of all the pavilions I visited, this is one I’d like to have spent more time in.

German Pavilion at the Biennale

German Pavilion at the Biennale – Wall of Opinions documents the voices of people who live with walls, in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, America and Mexico, North and South Korea and the EU’s external border at Ceuta.

The German Pavilion explores the concept of walls, with an interesting series of opinions from real people. It also focuses on various plans by architects for replacing the Berlin Wall space… Another one I’d like to have spent more time at.

French Pavilion at the Biennale

French Pavilion at the Biennale

Many of the exhibitions invited audience participation, the French Pavilion being a case in point. I quite like the idea of rebirthing disused buildings and spaces.

Hungarian pavilion at the Biennale

Hungarian pavilion at the Biennale

As we wandered around, I tried to spot which pavilions have been built by the exhibiting country and which had been adapted from previous years. It was hard to tell. Except for Hungary. From the roof tiles to the mosaics, it was obvious that this had a Hungarian imprint. Inside, the exhibit focused on the public occupation of Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) in 2016 when it was traffic-free.

The bridge instantly turned into a restorative place, altering the understanding of liberty and autocracy, formal and informal, public and private in a city context. The placemakers were mainly Millennials, growing up after the political changes of the late 1980s, giving the historical place a dierent function. The event draws attention to a transforming post-social mentality into a new, entitled and free enjoyment of urban public space by recent generations. What happened on the bridge? The exhibition examines fundamental urbanistic issues based on the ideology-free occupation of the bridge. What makes a public space free? How does a city bridge become a symbol of freedom? How can we change our own identity by transforming our city? How an image of a tram route covered by yoga mats can challenge our view of public spaces? The exhibition aims to create an innovative viewpoint within the Hungarian pavilion, allowing for a liberating experience of new perspectives.

Australian pavilion at the Biennale

Australian pavilion at the Biennale

The Australians brought the outside inside in their exploration of the relationship between architecture and endangered plant species, a marked changed from the focus on the built environment.

Nordic pavilion at the Biennale

Nordic Pavilion at the Biennale

The Nordic exhibition was otherworldly and one of those that needed a little more imagination than I was bringing to the table.

Biennele

Main exhibition hall Biennale 2018

The main exhibition hall in Giardini hosts with individual projects and exhibitions and is quite something.

Biennale

Biennale main exhibition hall Giardini

The Biennale runs until 25 November this year. If you’re in Venice, with a day to spare, put it on your list. And if you’re going and know an architect who isn’t, pick up the leaflets and brochures available in most of the pavilions. There’s hours of reading in them.

, , ,

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice. So different yet so much the same. Watch teenagers pilot their boats through the Venetian canals, music blaring from the radio, and you think – all that’s changed is the mode of transport. See buildings rise out of the water, their concrete facades crumbling slowly, damp marks rising, and you wonder if they’ll last another generation. Get inordinately excited when you see the DHL guys make a delivery in their boat festooned in the ubiquitous company colours and you think – duh – of course, but how else would they do business. Spot the garbage boats pulling alongside the yachts and the crew toss their rubbish overboard and you think everything adapts. What topped it for me though was the cops and their radar gun checking boat speeds. And, when I stop to think about it, why wouldn’t they?

And yet life on the water is no different from life on the land except that it’s a little less steady. I don’t think I could ever tire of watching the hustle and bustle and what occasionally amounts to a traffic jam. I keep meaning to check if there’s an equivalent of rush hour. Is there chaos on Sunday when all those boats pull up for mass at the church in Salute? Is there an Audi equivalent in the boat world? What would I trade my 12-year-old Toyota for?  Would I cope with life on the water in Venice?

Viewing the city from the water is quite something. Seeing the hoards of tourists concentrating more on their selfie sticks that on what’s around them is comical. Hearing the chatter cast between the Gondoliers leaves me wondering what they think of it all. Were I living in Venice would I be happy with the daily onslaught? Or would I want everyone to stay home?

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice speed trap

 

, , ,

Tintoretto

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco

Tintoretto. What a great name. With a great story. Of course, there’s always the chance it might not be quite true. I heard it from an Irish man who can spin a great yarn. Tintoretto was a nickname (meaning ‘little dyer’) for one Jacopo Robusti, who was born in Venice back in 1519. The way I’ve heard tell it, he considered himself the one true Venetian painter, as he was actually born in the city – the others were mere blow-ins. From what I’ve heard,  Tintoretto did something to upset the powers that were and there was no way in Hades that he would ever get a city commission to paint as much as a fence, let alone a church ceiling.  This was a tad strange, given that he trained under Titian himself and at the age of 20 was already considered a master.

When the bods at the Scuola di San Rocco were looking for an artist to paint their ceilings and walls, more than one hopeful showed up. From what I gather, Tintoretto was told not to bother. He wasn’t going to be the one hired. But he showed up anyway. On the day, he was the only one not carrying some rolled-up canvases under his arm.

Out of manners, most likely, the bods called him in and asked why he’d bothered to show up. They were commissioning just one small circle in the dome on the understanding that whoever got that commission would paint it all. Tintoretto, so the story goes, or at least the story I heard, calmly went over and pulled a string. Away came a cloth and behind it was the painting St Roch in Glory already painted. A real Blue Peter moment – and a classic ‘here’s something I prepared earlier’.

He stood before them and solemnly bequeathed his painting to the Institute in the name of God,  knowing full well that in the fine print in the Deeds of Foundation (or the Venetian equivalent) it had been written that nothing given to it in the name of God could be refused.

For the next 20 years, Tintoretto worked at painting the walls and ceilings. If you see nothing else in Venice, the Sala Capitolare in the La Scuola Grande di San Rocco is not to be missed. Words can’t describe the magnificence of it all. And my camera phone doesn’t do it justice.

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco
His painting of the Crucifixion is quite something. You could lose yourself in it and not notice the time passing by.  And, if the paintings themselves weren’t enough, the wooden allegoric sculptures by Pianta that surround the room add a sense of otherness that is compelling.

Pianta Scuola grande di San Rocco

Pianta Scuola grande di San Rocco

St Roch is the patron saint of plague victims – and back in the sixteenth century when his type of miracle was often needed, the money poured in. Granted a special title of Arch-Confraternity by Pope Pius VI, it was the only one of its ilk to survive the fall of the Republic. Today, it has 300 members who continue its charitable works as well as look after its artistic heritage.

Admission €10. Waterbus to S. Toma. San Polo, 3052 – 30125 Venezia. Wesbite. Open 9.30 to 5.30 with the last admission at 4.30 pm.

Tintoretto Scuola grande di San Rocco

The Glory of St Roch

, , ,

From Treviso to Venice

Gondalas in Venice

Someone was telling me recently that the best way to be a responsible tourist is not to travel to places that are being overrun. They cited the example of the island of Bali, which gets about 10 million tourists each year, doing untold damge to its ecosystem. Venice has to be up there (billed by the NY Times as the Disneyland on the sea) but I figured if I stayed on Lido, I’d do less damage. That said, getting from Treviso to Venice, to Lido, is quite a chore.

The airport in Treviso is about 40 km from the city and strangely, is actually in the middle of the town – or so it seems. People live directly across the road from it. Mad. The flight from Budapest took just over an hour so I was all set for a quick turnaround, on to the bus and away with us. But we had to wait for those who’d checked their bags – the bus wasn’t going until every seat was full. At €22 return to the Piazzale Roma, and taking 40 minutes, it was quick enough in the end. Tickets are on sale in the arrivals hall with no advance booking required.

Venice

Venice water busFrom there, we had to get a water bus 5.1 or 6 to Lido. This was quite the experience. Water busses are the way to travel in the city but they’re not cheap. A daily pass is €20 with each trip costing €7.50. It was all very exciting. I was like a kid at Christmas. I’ve been to Venice before but still, there’s something about travelling by water that makes the commute special.

Venice from the Water Venice from the water Venice from the water

As we passed one magnificent building after the other, I was consumed with thoughts of flooding – it wouldn’t take much of a rise in water levels to do some serious damage. The Guardian ran a post back in 2016 about what they called the ‘sinking city’. The pictures don’t do much for real estate potential. I was rather amused, too, at the familiars, who were taking it all in the stride, preferring their mobile phones to the stunning views outside.

Is it possible to be jaded by the city? Budapest can hold her own when it comes to beauty and I’m still marvelling at what she has to offer. I can’t imagine losing interest in Venice. But I’m a tourist – so perhaps it’s different for me.

All told, it took us three hours to get from Treviso to Venice, more specifically to Lido. But it was some commute.

 

 

 

,

What to do in Budapest

Hardly a week goes by without someone asking me for advice on where to eat and what to do in Budapest. Usually it’s friends asking for friends or colleagues with different interests and requirements. In anticipation of a raft of questions coming as the summer holidays approach, I thought I’d spend some time drafting a summary of where I like to eat and what I like to do in Budapest, a list of personal favourites, for what it’s worth.

Fricska Gastropub, Dob u. 56-58, in District VII, is still my favourite upmarket restaurant. The chalkboard menu changes daily and usually offers a choice of four starters, a couple of soups, half-a dozen main courses featuring everything from fish to steak to wild game, and a few tasty desserts. When they run out, they run out. It’s a popular spot, so reservations are recommended and can be made through their website: http://fricska.eu/en/. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.

For Hungarian fare, I like Huszár Étterem, II. János Pál pápa tér 22, in District VIII. They do a particularly good Jókai bableves (bean soup) and an excellent goose with red cabbage. Their trout is worth trying, too. It’s within spitting distance of Keleti train station, which makes it a popular spot with tourists and locals alike, who seem to enjoy the live music offer. It’s often booked out for private parties, so best to check ahead of time to make sure it’s open. And it’s great for large groups. http://huszar-etterem.hu/

Kompót Bisztró, Corvin sétány 1/B, in District VIII, is a favourite for lunch. Their buffet breakfast is popular as is their daily menu (at about €5). It’s a nice place for dinner, too, with terrace seating on the bustling sétány. Corvin sétány is a pedestrian zone boasting myriad cafés, restaurants (including fish, Italian, Indian, sushi, a hummus bar, and one of the best burger joints in the city, Epic burger), a craft beer pub, a casino, and my favourite wine café in the city, Vino és Wonka. They, too, have a chalk menu featuring wines from smaller Hungarian vineyards, a few nice antipasto plates, and some great chocolate.

And while in the Corvin area, there are a couple of interesting museums worth checking. Like the Holocaust Memorial Center, Páva utca, in District IX. If I had to choose between this and the House of Terror on Andrássy, this is the one I’d visit. The museum is linked to the Páva utca synagogue, once the second largest site for Jewish worship in Budapest. It’s closed on Mondays.

Further down, on Dandár utca 1, also in District IX, is the Zwack Unicum Museum, which, to my mind, is one of the best in the city. Exhibits showcase the history of the Zwack family, makers of the famous black liqueur and a video biography of the firm’s history gives a rare insight into how life once was and now is in Hungary. And, as with all good liquor tours, tastings are included. Closed Sundays, tours are available in English. www.zwackunicum.hu. And you can get a combination ticket that includes entry to both this and the Holocaust Memorial Center.

National History Muesum - what to do in Budapest

Back then to District VIII, to the Hungarian Natural History Museum, Ludovika tér 2, which dates to 1802. This is a fascinating place with all sorts of exhibits including a dinosaur park. The interactive games make it all that much more interesting. It’s closed on Tuesdays, by the way. It’s practically next door to Orczy park, Orczy út 1, which is a lovely spot to walk or picnic and has a great kids playground and adventure park. And over the road again, are the ELTE botanical gardens on Illés u. 25, a lovely spot to while away the hours looking at interesting plants and flowers. Open daily.

Further out on this side of the city, at Népliget, is the Planetarium, with its fantastic photo display and tours of the solar system (in English, too). It’s currently under renovation but check to see if it’s open when you get here.

Budapest has plenty to offer in terms of music and exhibitions. One of my favourite venues for live music is Kobuci kert, Fő tér 1, an outdoor venue in District III. Set on a rather lovely square, within walking distance of the Danube, it’s a happening spot that offers ticketed events (from as a little as €5), reasonably priced drinks, and decent grill food. BudapestPark , Soroksári út 60, in District IX, is another rocking spot, as is Barba Negra, Prielle Kornélia u. 4, in District XI. Check their websites for details of what’s on.

Downtown, Akvárium Klub on Erzsébet tér 12, is more central, with lots of outdoors seating. Across the river, Mátyás church, 2 Szentháromság tér, in District I, offers free organ recitals on Sunday evenings at 6pm. It’s a great way to get to see the church without paying the admission fee and while there, you can enjoy a spectacular view the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is breathtaking at night. Lot of churches in the city offer musical events as does the famous Liszt Ferenc Academy on Liszt Ferenc tér

But while you’re over in the Castle district, the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum is worth a visit, at Lovas út 4/C.  It’s a little pricey, but worth the money. The guided tours are excellent. And when it comes to things in rocks, visit the Gellért Hill Cave in District XI which, in its day, has been a chapel, a monastery, and a field hospital for the German Army during WWII. It re-opened as a church in 1989. The self-guided tour (headphones) is available in many languages and well worth the admission. It’s across the road from the famous Gellért baths, high on the list of Budapest spas, but doesn’t come close to my favourite, the Rudas baths, Döbrentei tér 9. They open late (10pm to 4am) on Fridays and Saturdays. Quite the experience.

There is so much to see and do in Budapest that I could go on and on. And perhaps I will. Next time.

 

First published in the Budapest Times 11 June 2018

,

Currency exchange

Before we travel, we check weather forecasts. We check places to eat. We check museums,  galleries, churches, places of interest. We shop around for places to stay. We research flights and itineraries. We check visa requirements. And, for more exotic locations, we check vaccinations. But, it would seem that far too many of us don’t bother checking currency exchange rates. We’re ripped off. Regularly. And it’s all our own fault. Fair exchange is no robbery but currency exchange? That can be daylight robbery. Budapest is a case in point.

Noting the spread with currency exchange

With currency exchange, the buy rate and the sell rate will differ. The currency exchange booths are in it to make a profit and commissions don’t always cut it. So they buy from me at one rate and then sell to you at a higher rate. The difference is the spread. Fair enough. Personally, if the spread is more than 2 points, I walk away. I might sometimes stretch to 3, but that’s if I’m desperate or am only changing a small amount. Coming through Budapest Airport, for example, I see lines of people at the currency exchange booth. The spread there can be as high as 70 points. Yes, 70. And people still buy. The same can be said for booths at the train stations around the city. Massive spreads. The touristy areas, too, have wider-than-usual spreads and yet people don’t bother checking. Madness.

I have, on occasion, gone over to someone in the queue at these places and pointed out the rate to them, telling them that they can get a much better rate in elsewhere. Most are happy to hear it; others just shrug as if it’s part of the cost of travelling. I wish I had their money.

They then turn to the ATM in the arrivals hall, which is a Euronet machine. These machines popped up in the city overnight (or so it seems – one day nothing and the next day they were everywhere). They make a fortune off unsuspecting tourists.

currency exchange

Using ATMs

Like a lot of ATMs, they offer you the option of a guaranteed conversion rate, which is usually considerably lower than what you would get on the high street. My rule when using a debit card or credit card abroad is to always charge in the currency of the country I am in and NOT in the currency of  my bank account. Don’t believe me? Check it next time you’re asked if you want to accept the charge in euro (or dollars or sterling or whatever) or forints? Note what they’re offering you. And then accept to pay in forints. When it hits your bank account, check how much you were actually charged. On my last hotel transaction in Ireland, the difference was €25 on a €320 charge. This adds up. Let your home bank do the currency exchange for you. It’s cheaper.

When you use Euronet to take out euro cash (and if you find one that does, fair play – even if they all say they do, they don’t), then you’re subject to a double exchange. Your home currency is converted to forints (possibly at your home bank rate) and then to euro, internally, using the Euronet rate. They can charge what they like to convert from forints to euro, so be warned.

Checking shop rates

If you know the exchange rate of the day, you’re better positioned when it comes to shopping. Sometimes, supermarkets and shops don’t update their rates in real time. For a while there it was cheaper for me to pay in euro cash and get my change in forints at one supermarket than to use the atm or to convert euro cash to forints. Likewise, when buying from shops that offer both euro and forint prices – sometimes the euro price is cheaper. Not so the fixed price taxi rate from the airport though – paying in euro rather than forints has always been more expensive.

There are better things to spend your money on than bad exchange rates. Be smart.

 

 

 

 

, ,

Night life in Dublin

I find it hard to pass an open door. There’s a curiosity about me that wants to know what’s inside. This was rewarded last week when we ventured into the Customs House, and this week when we stumbled into the Liquor Rooms on Dublin’s Wellington Quay. Night life in Dublin need never be boring.

We’d gone to the Workmans Club to see ReDiViDeR – a two-horns-no-chords contemporary jazz quartet whose founder and drummer, Matthew Jacobson has been billed by the Irish Times as one of Ireland’s most exciting young talents’. And while I’ve no doubt that the four lads have talent oozing out of their pores, I didn’t get it. Judging by the nodding heads and tapping feet in the room, though, I was the only one. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was worth it to see the inside of the building on 10 Wellington Quay, with so many of the original features still in place.

Night life in Dublin workmans club

The Workmans Club bills itself as having:

…a simple mission to provide a space where musicians and independent thinkers can witness their ideas come to life. From down and dirty rock gigs to intimate acoustic performances, comedy nights, book readings, multimedia take overs, themed markets, to diverse indie clubnights, The Workmans Club has become a haven for those who create music and art and those who consume it.

The building itself has been around for more than 160 years and for most of that time, from 1888 to 2003, it housed the Workingmens Club. It’s a mad place. The colours, the wallpaper, the furniture. It’s as close as I’ve seen to a Dublin take on a Budapest-style ruin pub with a nod to stately grandeur.

The whole concept of a working men’s club is a quirky one.

Victorian social reformer and strict teetotaler Henry Solly first launched the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (CIU) in 1862. His aim was to give the working man an education, middle-class values and, most of all, keep him out of the pub.

Something went wrong and the Clubs attracted boozers of a stellar sort. They were massive in England in the 1970s and 1980s and I remember frequenting a few. Neil Anderson wrote a guide to them, reviewed in the Irish Times and worth a quick read if you’re interested.

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Next door is the Clarence Hotel – of U2 fame. By the side was a flashy looking door with steps leading down to a cellar and some interesting framed portraits dotting a wallpapered wall. We had to go look. The Liquor Rooms, a sister to the posh Peruke and Periwig over on Dawson Street, is a little gem and home to Burlesque in Dublin (note to self duly made to catch a gig next time I’m in town). Night life in Dublin has it all. It was quiet enough on a Sunday evening to have a good nose around and while the place probably wouldn’t stand up to daylight scrutiny, it does shabby chiq very well. Blessedly, the staff know their cocktails and for a tenner a piece (€10), these miniature works of art were worth the investment. I fell in love with the bathroom, the wall of fireplaces, and the indoor garden. Oh, someone give me a building and a budget…

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

, ,

By the Liffey in Dublin

Let’s just wander, I said. And see where we end up. We were headed to the IFC in Dublin’s docklands, down by the Customs House, to see the 140th annual exhibition by artists of the Dublin Painting and Sketching Club.* Way back in October of 1874, a group of artists got together to start the club, one of whom was Bram Stoker, perhaps better known as the creator of Dracula. This year’s exhibition has the River Liffey as its celebratory theme and features work by both members and invited guests. The catalogue is impressive and just a week into the exhibition, quite a number of the works have sold. I found myself wishing I had €3000 to purchase a painting of Achill Island by John Kirwan and a way to get it to Hungary. It is absolutely stunning. A painting I could lose myself  in, over and over again. I have a week to figure out the logistics.

John Kirwan painting of Achill

M’s choice, Bluebell Meadow, by Vincent Smith, had already sold.

Bluebell Meadow, by Vincent Smith

Heading up the Quays, we passed the Customs House and saw a sign pointing to a Visitor Centre that neither of us had known was there. Admission was free and we had time, so we went inside. This neo-classical stunner was completed in 1791 with a bill of £200 000 (equivalent to about €40 million today). Said to the jewel of James Gandon’s portfolio, it is an iconic part of the Dublin skyline.

During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, it was burned down. I was a little shocked to hear that Michael Collins had given the order. The first round of restoration was completed by 1928 and the second by the bi-centenary in 1991. The part that houses the Visitor Centre is apparently the only original part left.

The exhibition is in four parts:

  • Met Éireann’s ‘weather-themed’ room looks at the development of scientific meteorology in Ireland with a special focus on the weather of Easter Week 1916 and the weather on 25 May 1921, when the Custom House was attacked.  It highlights the unfailing commitment of weather observers who took daily weather readings, sometimes against all odds.
  • The Custom House and 1916, including the story of some Local Government staff dismissed for participating in the Rising, Bureau of Military History statements of prisoners in the Custom House after the Rising, and activity in the area of the Custom house during the Rising.
  • Gandon, telling the story of the architect James Gandon and the construction of the Custom House.
  • The Custom House Fire 1921, covering the events of 25 May 1921 and the subsequent restoration.

Aerial view of the Customs House

It’s an imposing building with much to note and a classic example of why we should look up more. I’d never noticed the Irish harps beside the English roses, or the very Indian-looking bull face on top of the pillars.

Customs House Pillars

I don’t know much about architects or architecture, but Gandon seems to have taken a delight in this one. And then I read that this was a game played by architects of the time – creating different shaped spaces for people to wander through. How very, very different from the functional stuff we see today.

Customs House Visitor Centre

Having watched the documentaries and read our way through the exhibit, we wandered towards the Irish Life Mall, passing for the millionth time the statue of James Connolly. But this time, we were walking. And we stopped. And saw the Talking Statues logo that gave us a link to tap into our phones to hear the story of Connolly and the part he played in Irish history. Written and narrated by Brendan O’Carroll (of Mrs Brown fame), it taught us stuff we didn’t know and reminded us of stuff we’d long forgotten.

James Connolly statue by the Customs House

Next time I’m in town, I want to find the statue of Joyce to hear what Roddy Doyle wrote about the man, as told by Gabriel Byrne.

I was born in Dublin. I love the city. And I love the fact that even now, I’m still learning about it.

 

*PS The art exhibition is on at CHQ, in the IFSC, in Dublin city centre from April 15 to 29, 2018. Admission free.

, ,

Dithering around Dublin 7

Visitors to Dublin can get caught up in the tide of tourists that flows around the hot spots like Trinity College and its Book of Kells. They dip in and dip out of the tidal pools neatly mapped on the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. They sip their way through the Guinness Hop Store and the various distilleries around the city each selling a liquid taste of Irishness.  And yes, there’s plenty to do, and even more to see. But there’s another side of Dublin, the backstreets, the ‘burbs, the lived-in places like Dublin 7 that are more than worth a wander.

Heading to the fab Slice of Cake for breakfast on Sunday morning (56 Manor Pl, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7), I went for a wander and found myself oohing and aahing like a love-struck tourist. There are some amazing buildings in the ‘hood and as I engaged in fantasies of winning the EuroMillions and buying a terraced cottage around the corner from Lucky Lane, I realised that neighbourhoods like these are gems just waiting to be discovered.

Terraced houses in Dublin 7

Cafés, bars, and restaurants line the streets while terraced houses speak to generations past who must be turning in their graves at the thoughts of the €300 000+ their 50-60 sqm former homes are commanding. These two-bedroom terraced houses ain’t cheap. But they have everything on their doorstep.

Stanhope Street school Dublin 7

Once a home for orphan girls, the Stanhope Street House of Refuge is now St Joseph’s School  for Girls. Dating back to the early 1800s, the gardens of the building have been likened to an oasis in the heart of the city. The 1970s monstrosity that extended the school leaves me wondering where the planners were that week, but perhaps the mix of styles simply reflects the student mix – 40% are of international orgin – and indeed that of the city in general.

Manor Street Dublin 7

I was more than intrigued by a banner calling for equality for all pollinators. On further investigation, it turns out that Bí URBAN has a master plan to

…create a green corridor that will connect the Botanic Gardens with the Liffey in Dublin 7, providing an amenity for the public and a living laboratory where DIT [Dublin Institute of Technology] can study the importance of nature in the urban environment.

What’s not to like?

Blackhall Place Dublin 7Closer to the River Liffey sits the magnificent building that is Blackhall Place, HQ of the Law Society of Ireland. For about 200 years, up till 1968, this was home to

a charitable school for boys of poor families […] called the Hospital and Free School of King Charles II, Dublin. It became known as the King’s Hospital or Blue Coat School because of the boys’ military-style blue uniform.

Carmichael House Dublin 7

Over on North Brunswick Street, also in Dublin 7, I stopped outside Carmichael House. From this impressive building, once the Doctors’ residence for the nearby Richmond Hospital, 48 charities operate. From Alcohol Action Ireland to Young Horizons and everything in between, the centre has been in operation since 2011.

Carmichael Centre KnowledgeNET brings together a full spectrum of management and governance knowledge needed to run Irish Not For Profit organisations.

What a resource.

Richmond Hospital Dublin 7

Photo: S Jacobs

But my vote for the day went the old Richmond Hospital itself. This stunningly gorgeous building was on the market in 2013 for €3.5 million. I didn’t have the money then, and I don’t have the money now, but wow …. what a place to live.  Back when it first opened as a hospital in 1901 (for the 100 years before that it had been a convent), there was one window for each bed. When the hospital closed, five of the Dublin courts moved in and operated from here until 2011. Some nasty rumours are going around that it might end up as a casino!

Richmond Hospital Dublin 7

Lisa Cassidy posted this 6 years ago on BuiltDublin.com:

I’m drawn to it by the roofline, the copper roofs tapering to a stack of ornaments, the little finials on the gables of each wing, the curves of the ridge line on the pitched roofs and the chimneys popping up throughout. The double loggias (covered galleries open to air on one side) on the ward blocks seem like useful facilities, outside without being outside, and covered outdoor spaces are to be welcomed in this climate. It’s a big, striking, formal building, and I would love very much to see the interior.

Me, too. I’d love to get a look inside. This is the sort of touristy thing I like to do. Wander and wonder.