Discovering Dublin: Isolating at Home (3/)

At the start of Ireland’s lockdown, we had some adjusting to do. New ways of living and working, for sure! Aongus was working from home for about six weeks, with the occasional visit allowed to his work site to make sure things were locked up tight and everything looked right. We found new ways to exercise and study together, expanding out the balcony during nice weather. Such weather is rare here, and even our south-facing balcony isn’t usually warm enough for outdoor work.

I really started to notice little things, like how dramatically the sky changes from hour to hour, day to day here. The view from my balcony was every-changing–a painting of gorgeous pastels and a hundred different types of clouds.

Early on, Aongus was completing a training model online. I tried to stay fit with online zumba and Down Dog yoga.

This day was warm enough for balcony use, so I took a little break with one of the books I’ve read this spring, a gift from Inês, called “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”. Appropo for this period of isolation!

On the other hand, the look of work didn’t have much diversity. As I do educational/social science research, I don’t require access to a lab. I already had plenty of data collected that I could work with and study during Lockdown.

For me, life during lockdown looked a lot like this, each and every day:

Don’t get me wrong, each of these images captures something I found interesting! The diagrams, for instance, came from a UCL ‘show-and-tell.’ Researchers in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) are doing fascinating work tracking Covid—looking for patterns—from how droplets move, to tracking the flow of a sequence of coughs by someone tapping to pay on a bus (shown here), to transmission patterns across cities and countries. Really interesting and important stuff! I was Tweeting up a storm that day, to share knowledge with others. Took care not to give away too much detail as the researchers were reporting, to close colleagues, research they had underway.

For me, it has been fun to attend meetings and events in places and with people I’d not have had easy access to in the spring of a teaching semester—like these UCL events and the Big Engineering Education Research Meet Up.

Here’s a screenshot of our UCL team coordinating one of the EER Meet Ups of the spring–Paula, John, Inês, and me (providing perspectives from REEN and TU Dublin). I love this group of people and was glad to work with them over the spring even though we live in two different countries.

There was also teaching to be done online, and new teaching arrangements to be planned for next year as well. I’m preparing materials for the Tech Graphics modules on hand drawing for the autumn, as the pile of tools on my dining table testifies.

And there was meal after meal after meal to prepare, as you’ll be well aware. Sometimes fancy, sometimes new (fried peaches on the suggestion of my cousin, Rebecca). A colleague from TU Delft, Dr. Gillian Saunders, crated this nifty mask and mailed it over to me. It’s coming in handy, especially since the Irish government has recently stated asking us to wear masks, and requiring them on public transit.

In addition, there’s been the occasional birthday party, with Zoom allowing us to gather from all around the world. Happy b-day, Tarrah Beebe and Mike Miminiris!

Aongus has gone back to work now, and I’m here working from home as has been my norm. I like working at home better when it’s sunny, but I pray most for sunny weekends. I must admit, most of my religious/spiritual intentions have gone for those less fortunate than we’ve been—this facing sickness, stress, and hardship due to Covid or living with addicted or abusive people.

We’ve been blessed and have been able to grow together during this time. We attempt to make each day new and interesting, whether it’s learning a new theory or just pulling out our Frank Lloyd Wright socks (a gift of my recently departed Dad). Other ways I’ve passed the Covid-time include studying for the Driver Theory Test (scored 40/40, yeah baby!) and—now that businesses have opened—finally getting haircuts and new glasses to match my improved prescription. I didn’t buy the Corbu specs (shown below) but they were fun to try!

Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Northside (4/)

During lockdown in Ireland, we started with an allowable 2 km radius exercise zone from our homes. This eventually increased to 5 km, then 20 km. For Aongus and me, the entire center of Dublin falls within 2km. If you’re thinking “Wow, that’s small!” I agree, yes, Dublin’s central core is quite small.

Our circle expanded, very slowly, from our immediate neighborhood of Smithfield, to 2km with Phoenix Park (described in another post), Blessington Basin and the Royal Canal (described below). At 5km, we expanded to the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park. At 20km, we cycled further, challenging ourselves to 20km there and 20km back, which would get us to Howth, cycling along the greenway at Clontarf or even over onto Bull Island and along Dollymount Strand. I’ve shared photos of all this below, as it’s just too picturesque to miss.

I wanted to document the experience for historical purposes (the life of empty nesters in Dublin during lockdown!?). I think the post has wider value, too: if you’re ever visiting Dublin, these are great places to explore!

Smithfield Plaza was empty for weeks.

Days before lockdown started, I reminded myself that I wanted to climb the tower at Jameson’s Distillery, shown above, which one could then access for a €5 fee paid to the Genesis Hostel on Smithfield Plaza. The tower could, I told myself, become inaccessible again, for any reason, at any time. It had been closed most of the time since I moved to Smithfield in September 2012.

Due to Covid, the tower certainly became inaccessible once again.

During lockdown, I rarely ventured out Monday-Friday. I tried to get indoor exercise during the week, but it wasn’t easy. With the Liffey four blocks from home, I motivated myself to get out and walk that far some evenings, between work and dinner. Below, Aongus and I are pictured on one of Dublin’s two Calatrava-designed bridge, which is five blocks from our home:

You can see the tip top of the giant obelisk in Phoenix Park peeking from the trees between our heads.

Below are photos of “northside” streets close to our home: (1) along the Liffey with Smithfield to the right/north, (2) cycling the new protected lanes along the Liffey, (3) the lovely steeple of St. Paul’s @ Smithfield shown as second time, and (4) a morning view of, vacant, taken by Aongus on his way to work once lockdown started to lift.

During the height of lockdown, the streets of central Dublin were actually quite eerie in the evening. The Irish police (called the Gardí) set up checkpoints all around Dublin—mostly to prevent drivers from exceeding their boundaries without reason.

On one walk we were stopped on O’Connell Street by a Guard. He asked us why we were in town, and since exercise was allowed and we were within our allowable zone, there was not problem and the guards let us pass. Other acceptable reasons were shopping for medicine or food shopping, or assisting someone who was cocooning.

We got stopped one other time, on the way to Phoenix Park because unbeknownst to us, a right-wing radical individual was trying to stage a protest. It didn’t work for her. People didn’t show up to join her shenanigans. The Irish are quite reasonable politically, in my opinion, and such radical views are unpalatable here.

Blessington Basin

Although Aongus initially thought 2km would be too restrictive, it turned out there was more to see than he realized. Within our 2km small radius there were urban delights to be found: we joyfully ‘discovered’ Blessington Basin for ourselves.

I’d seen it on the map while searching the web for property (I might as well be looking for leprechauns or unicorns as a sunny and affordable flat or house in Dublin). Though I knew its name and location, I’d never had reason to venture there. Until lockdown. It’s easily reached from our flat by foot or bicycle.

Ultimately, we ended up near the Basin while exploring on Dublin Bikes (which we both subscribe to for a very reasonable annual fee).

Aongus was flabbergasted. He had no inkling of the existence of this Basin– even though he was raised not far away, on the Northside of Dublin in Glasnevin!

There are several delightful murals in the park surrounding Blessington Basin, and the one pictured above, with me sliding through an illusionary door, is appropo. A step into Blessington Basin park feels like you’re entering Sinclair Lewis’ Narnia or Alice’s Wonderland!

Royal Canal

A week into lockdown, I got my previously non-working bike up and running. At about the same time, Aongus borrowed a bike from his sister, because he was the one appointed by his family to keep his 82 year-old aunt supplied with food and meds.

With these bikes, we were able to explore more easily and we found more joys, like the footpaths, the little canalside park beside Shandon Gardens, and cycle paths aside the Royal Canal (with one of its locks shown above). We determined to return again when we’re allowed more distance to roam.

National Botanic Gardens

Our allowable zone eventually expanded to 5km. Inside that we found the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park, although these photos were taken after we’d gotten 20km access. The Botanical Gardens had been closed for months before opening its gates to the public. The caretakers must have been there during lockdown, as the place is still meticulously manicured.

When amenities began re-opening on the northside of the city, the gates of the National Botanic Garden sprung open with colorful life:

The flowers had been developing nicely in the peace and quiet.

Aongus loves this place. It’s near his childhood neighborhood and one if his mum’s favorite spots for a weekend walk.

Griffith Park

Aongus brought me through Griffith Park one day. It’s just to the south of his auntie’s house. Here’s I’m decked out in bright orange and a crash helmet, which I found helpful as cars returned to the streets of Dublin. Most drivers allowed me plenty of space, but of course, I was only cycling on weekends.

We had a snack beside the canal this day in Griffith Park, and then enjoyed a short and distanced front-year visit with his aunt.

Dollymount

Bull Island with its Dollymount Strand fall just beyond our 5km, so we had to wait for the 20km radius to enjoy these coastal amenities again. Fairview and some of Clontarf were allowed, but we couldn’t go up as far as Bull Island. It’s too bad that we couldn’t enjoy the Wood Bridge without cars.

Our visit to Dollymount Strand came after our cycle to Howth (described below). We took the long route on the way home from Howth, to enjoy the views, and the challenge of cycling in the sand. It’s much easier to cycle where the sand is wet than dry!

The wildflowers were stunning! Which is why I couldn’t decide which photos to include… so you get a bunch!

Howth

The real jewel in the crown of our 20km radius northward from Dublin is the little fishing village of Howth.

There’s a picturesque little harbor, protected by a lighthouse (and seagulls), that is today filled with pleasure craft in addition to work boats.

We have cycled out to Howth twice now. Once we bumped into friends of Aongus and enjoyed a distranced chat (after months of isolation seeing them was a highlight of the day).

The pictured below show us getting caught in the rain. We ended up taking the DART home that day and, as I had no mask, I had to improvise with a beach blanket.

Fortunately, there was also lots of space and sun in Howth.

And so very many eye-catching views.

Plus, some darned good company.

I couldn’t be more blessed than to spend this lockdown with the fun, kind, generous, patient, energetic, optimistic, healthy, share-the-load and ever-loving Mr. Aongus Coughlan. Now, if only I can get him hiking that Howth cliff walk with me (see the map below). Since the 20km rule has been lifted, it’s in our currently allowable zone. And yet, it’s still a bit too steep for the man. Never on a windy day!

From Lockdown to Lisbon

Lisbon 1Over Thanksgiving week, I was part of a panel to evlauate EU grant applications. These events are normally held in Brussels, and since the flight and accommodations were both cheaper starting on Saturday, I flew in early. Suffice it to say, I arrived just in time for the lockdown. Our evaluation activities were not held in person as a result, but nevertheless, our  panels conducted all the necessary meetings using online tools. We successfully completed all our evaluations on schedule, using software that I believe was to be implemented in January in any case.

The highlights of my time in Brussels are captured in the attached photo gallery, which includes a gratuitous cat photo to mark Brussel’s cat postings on Twitter. The authorities asked citizens not to post info on their activities, so the folks in Brussels posted fun pictures of their cats’ activities during the lockdown, including quite a few PhotoShopped images just for fun. I didn’t have any time free to PhotoShop, but I Tweeted this cat photo in solidarity.

After spending a full week indoors–evaluating work, attending online meetings, submitting reports, reviewing and approving reports, finalizing and submitting my own grant proposal to Science Foundation Ireland, and finishing my read of a PhD thesis (what we in the USA call a dissertation)–I was more than ready to hail a cab to the airport and fly off to Lisbon.

The sunshine, good cheer, and fabulous food of Lisbon were so very welcome after a cold and lonely week alone in Brussels. I’ve attached a gallery of snapshots from Lisbon and, in a post to follow, I’ll tell you about the thesis evaluation panel I attended there.