The pandemic closed life down on our little island just days after Christmas.
After a long winter’s hibernation, Ireland has just started to lift the lid. For months, I’ve rarely left home. Aongus got Covid the week his worksite opened back up, just after Easter. But despite staying right by his side, I didn’t contract the illness. I actually tested negative twice, but had to isolate (for what seemed like forever) nonetheless.
I did, though, get a wave of something while Aongus was sick. I felt drained, although not to the same extent as Aongus was.
It hasn’t helped that the big volunteer/publication project I’m currently wrapping up has taken five-times the effort it should have. I couldn’t be happier to see the backside of this lockdown. Or this project….
Fortunate for my sanity, things are gradually opening back up in Dublin, and the sun sometimes shines. My flat is still a nice sun trap which makes life bearable.
In the past couple weeks, Aongus and I have had a few nice outings.
We had a lovely coffee and pasta last weekend sitting outside the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge on our cycle ride to Dun Laoghaire. I’ve always admired this majestic Victorian building but had never ventured onto the grounds.
Last weekend, visiting friends’ back gardens was finally allowed again. We had an absolute ball visiting our friends Diana, Stefan, and Diana’s mum on Sunday evening. We’re looking forward to the day we can welcome them to our place for a meal. (Inside visits are off limits until one of the two families is fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid. We’re well in our way to meeting the criteria!)
Yesterday we ventured out again, taking the local commuter train down the coast to Bray—the town where Aongus and I met over five years ago—and this time we hiked to the top of Bray Head.
I thought I’d been to the summit before, but I’m now sure I remembered wrong. It’s a surprisingly steep and rugged path. Back in the 50s and 60s, there was a chair lift, seen as necessary since it’s so steep.
We chose the climb since part of the Bray to Greystones cliff walk had collapsed, and that favorite path wasn’t an option yesterday.
There’s a spectacular view from the summit, and I’m glad we’ve had that experience. It’s not likely I’ll have it again!
I can’t wait to get fit again. The gym opens tomorrow and I’ll be in the pool bright and early!
Although tomorrow is a bank holiday here, Aongus and I working so we can take off Friday for a new adventure on wheels! We’re going to re-live a favorite itinerary from last summer. Stay tuned!
Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.
You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.
The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin
We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.
Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.
I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.
At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.
The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.
Working it out during Covid-19
I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.
I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.
I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.
The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.
My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.
As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.
A Sunday at Greystones Beach
Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.
On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.
And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.
The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.
We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.
Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand
St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).
Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.
Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.
Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.
My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.
Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.
By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.
As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.
The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.
As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.
That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.
During my February trip to Vienna for the MCAA General Assembly, I had the chance to look around the city center as well as some sectors not far from the center.
Vienna is an architect’s dreamland, full of beautiful spaces and artifacts old and new. In fact, the architect/urbanist/painter/historian Camillo Sitte documented many of the world’s most successful plazas in his quest to define what makes a public space beautiful. Many of his favorites plazas are located in Vienna. I often referenced his book “The Art of Building Cities”, published in 1945, when I was an architecture student and later an architecture professor.
Although I actually only had six hours to explore Vienna after the Assembly concluded, I took in plenty of sites. Below, I’ve posted my slide shows of spectacular architecture.
The slide shows start in Alservorstadt, with the Votive Church (Votivkirche), Hotel Regina, and University of Vienna. The slides proceed downtown and show visits to two more churches (Stephansdom and Der Graben), concluding with the Globe Museum. In other posts, I share photos from Hundertwasser and Otto Wagner ‘s Austria Post Headquarters or “Osterr Postparkasse” (blog forthcoming).
We’ve had a lovely St. Patrick’s weekend here in central London.
Yesterday, we visited the National Portrait Gallery to see “Only Human” by photographer Martin Parr. After lunch at Chipotle, some gelato and hot chocolate to honour my dad, and a quick break at The Courthouse Hotel, we got to the Photographers’ Gallery for the last hour (for free entry!) to view a show I’d found don Time Out and another to boot.
We ended Saturday at Backyard Comedy with four hilarious comedians.
Our Art Fund pass and memberships with Tate and Backyard are really paying off!
We learned a lot this weekend about being British, thanks in no small part to Martin Parr. Here’s a selection of photos from yesterday:
Thanks fo the ideas, Time Out!
Grayson Perry and family
Gelato and hot chocolate in honour of my dad.
Protests left and right yesterday
Today, we breakfasted beside Whitechapel Gallery, walked to the Tower of London, took the boat down to Embankment and walked to Tate Britain. We visited two photographers’ exhibitions–seeing the second half of photojournalist Don McCullin’s show (we hadn’t allotted enough time in our first visit). Then we took a double decker bus over to Trafalgar Square, enjoyed lunch at Thai Spice, and took in the last hour of the city-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day music festival.
While it feels surreal to sing Irish Republican songs in Trafalgar Square, particularly because it’s not considered entirely kosher to sing such songs in Dublin these days, we truly felt our love for Ireland by singing along–without having to love London any less!
Ireland’s Call by Phil Coulter
Come the day and come the hour
Come the power and the glory
We have come to answer Our Country’s call
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Together standing tall
Shoulder to shoulder
We’ll answer Ireland’s call
From the mighty Glens of Antrim
From the rugged hills of Galway
From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Hearts of steel, and heads unbowing
Vowing never to be broken
We will fight, until We can fight no more
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Aongus and I were making the most of our last day together for a while. I’m heading home to Virginia help my Dad who hasn’t been well.
We ended the day at the Blind Beggar, site of a notorious gang murder long ago (see the plaque for further explanation). I’d not been there before, despite it being just blocks from our London home.
A couple of weekends ago, we visited Holland Park on both Saturday and Sunday. There was too much to see in the area for just one go. We had to spread it out. In fact, we’d also visited a weekend prior, bringing our 2019 total to three days.
In this blog, I’ll show you around the park and give you a peek inside one of the nearby Victorian house museums, 18 Stafford Terrace.
On all three of our recent our visits to Holland Park, we were en route to the Design Museum.
In addition to using the handy walking cards pictures below, I also referenced my guidebooks and the internet to sketch out our trips.
Kyoto Japanese Garden
These beautifully designed and cultivated gardens boast a waterfall and a pride of peacocks.
This house was greatly destroyed during the Second World War, but part of it lives on to delight the park’s visitors.
There’s a lovely, posh restaurant in the park. We had a splurge.
18 Stafford Terrace
This is one of two Victorian house museums near Holland Park and the Design Museum. This one, on Stafford Terrace which runs parallel to Kensington Hight Street, was once home to an illustrator for Punch magazine, Edward L. Sambourne. It’s a lovely house filled with his artwork. It’s a delight to see how the stately homes on this terrace are laid out and lived in. This one is furnished in the “Aesthetic Movement.”
Last week at UCL’s Engineering Front Office we celebrated birthdays, for my colleague Inês, and for me as well. A group of us had lunch out together on Wednesday and we also enjoyed lunch in the office together on several other days of the week.
It’s really not so bad getting old when you’re surrounded by loving friends! Even if they keep rubbing in my nearly-senior status….
At the end of the day, Friday, Aongus and I darted out of the city for a weekend away in historic and picturesque Oxford. This blog post recounts these birthday adventures using pictures.
Birthday Lunch at Sagar
On Wednesday, a group of us enjoyed a south-Indian lunch together at Sagar, which our lovely colleague, Sital Thanki, has introduced us to. In addition to a few photos of the birthday lunch, I show below some of the many kind cards and gifts I received from colleagues, friends, and family. The packages, calls from parents, and online messages I received from friends via Facebook and LinkedIn were also heartwarming.
Weekend in Oxford
As a birthday present, Aongus booked a weekend away in Oxford. We left London after work on Friday by bus (cheaper than the train, but with its own unique pitfalls). Overall, we enjoyed two nights in one of the world’s loveliest university cities before re-boarding a bus back to London.
Exploring the City
We ventured out briefly for dinner on Friday but focused on resting up for Saturday.
On Saturday morning, we wandered through the city fairly aimlessly. We wanted to see the high street areas, visit some of the shops, and get a feel for the University of Oxford.
Natural History Museum
On Saturday afternoon, we visited Oxford’s museum for Natural History, which I’d read about in one of Bill Bryson’s books. In addition to the exhibits on dinosaurs, mammals, birds, and insects, we also took in the special exhibit on bacteria. I’d need an extensive blog to tell you what I learned about bacteria, and I held off posting all the photos I took. But you’d be surprised to learn how bacteria created oxygen, photosynthesis, and cell-splitting that enabled human life to form.
Really amazing stuff!
Visiting this museum, you see the huge value that researchers add to our knowledge of everything in the physical world. Curious minds want to know! And many of these curious-minded people become life-long researchers–exploring the world to find answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, as well as questions we knew!
History of Science Museum
We narrowly missed the departure of the morning “Footprints” tour on Sunday, but we booked in for a later tour and headed into the History of Science Museum, originally a stockpile of curiosities, and now spread across three floors. My favorite parts covered sundials, photography, and penicillin–crucial research on penicillin was done at Oxford. Also fun were the measuring devices, calculating machines, and astronomical gadgets. Again, thank goodness for curious minds, figuring all this stuff out over time!
To escape the cold–and take a little rest between the science museum and the planned walking tour–we stepped inside Blackwell’s Bookstore. A mindboggling collection indeed! It’s multiple floors and the basement sprawls far under Trinity College. Incidentally, at Oxford, the colleges are residential–they are where the students live, eat and sleep. Every student belongs to a college, and every student studies in a department.
Thankfully, Blackwell’s also features a coffee shop, which is optimal for a welcome and well-deserved rest.
Footprints Tour of Oxford
The Footprints company offers free walking tours as well as paid ones. To ensure we were part of a small group and could enter some Oxford sites where there are entry fees, I purchased tickets for the two-hour walking tour at £15 each. Although the plan seemed ideal, the weather turned ugly. Just before the tour started it got very cold, and shortly after the start, hail pounded down. The tour guide had to skip the first two sites and run straight into a library. Aongus was frozen solid by the tour’s end.
The large hall with its ornately carved stone ceiling at the Divinity School is featured in all sorts of films–from Harry Potter to the recent Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite. Our tour guide brought us inside for a stop off–and I was thrilled to see this space.
New College: squares, dining hall, chapel and cloister
Of the 38 colleges at Oxford, we peeked inside only a few–they have entrance fees, and what you are permitted to see varies from one to the next. I wasn’t sure how to manage all that without insider knowledge, so we hired a guide! There were only ten of us in the tour group.
Our tour guide brought us to her favorite, the New College. You’ll likely recognize the dining hall, which is featured in movies. Of note, the cloister and the tree in it appeared in Harry Potter, but the dining hall used in that series of films was custom built, a near replica of a hall on campus that has only three actual long tables for the students. As Hogwarts had four schools, they made the studio version a bit wider to accommodate the extra row. Most college dining halls at Oxford also have a high table where the privileged sit and eat superior food.
The chapel in the New College is exquisite, and we heard a bit of organ practice while seated in there. Many colleges destroyed their historic old chapels and replaced them with more modern ones. What a waste. This Gothic one is stellar, though the ornate end wall was a somewhat recent addition.
Perhaps the most iconic building at Oxford is the round Bodleian Library, a reading room for students. Turns out, a cylinder isn’t quite conducive to storing books. It’s better for studying, we hope!
Overall, Oxford has a massive collection of books. This library is second only in size to the British Library (a copy of everything published in the UK goes there, similar to the Library of Congress in the USA, which is the world’s largest library collection). Like these other two libraries, you can view books only on-site here–it’s not a lending library.
Oxford provided inspiration for C. S. Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Hobbits. Although I must admit I know little of Harry Potter, I did read some Hobbit stories and all of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Near the end of our tour, we saw the door that inspired Lewis’ lion, witch, and wardrobe. We also saw the Oxford lamp post he made famous.
We also learned about some very destructive and badly behaved boys who attended Oxford (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and their political cronies). We learned about others who misbehaved in the town less aggressively (Bill Clinton) and we learned of people burned for political crimes on Broad Street, where our tour had started.
Look for the Footprints office there on Broad Street, near the shop Boswells of Oxford. Pick up some new luggage and an Ameribag while you’re there! It will take your mind off the stories of deviant behavior.
We took things pretty slow last weekend — but in addition to reading a couple of journals manuscripts in my queue to peer review, I hit the town with Aongus en route to two design exhibitions.
Saturday, we visited the Barbican’s Art Gallery for the exhibition called “Modern Couples.” It was packed with visitors since the show is scheduled to close soon. And possibly also because it was so cold outside!
Aongus always delights in seeing a price tag on an Eileen Gray table, since we found one in the trash one night and carried it home. It was raining that evening in Dublin, and Aongus truly didn’t comprehend the table’s value at the time I hoisted it over my shoulder to carry home. Now he does! Ours is chrome, but there’s one in black matte finish in the book store there as well as on formal display.
The things you can find abandoned in dark alleyways…. It’s always best to have a tall, fit companion when you’re transversing such places at night, I have found. Especially if you wind up carrying furniture home! He soon was doing just that — but I made a good start in an effort to convince him of my undying love for this table. Now he loves it too.
After the Barbican pics below, you’ll find videos and snapshots from our Sunday adventure as well. We went westward, to visit the newly-renovated Design Museum in Holland Park, just off Kensington High Street. It’s about time I got to the new building, especially since my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson, has become so involved there.
I might not have made use of Celtic Manor’s pool and spa during the mid-December SRHE conference in Wales, but I invited Aongus to join me out west for the weekend following SRHE so we could make up for missing out on those amenities. The Manor was already booked, but I found rooms in Newport (in Wales, for Friday night) and Bristol (in England, for Saturday night) so we could relax and explore new sites.
We stayed at the quaint and reasonably priced Knoll Guesthouse on Stow Hill in Newport. It was a great value! This stately Victorian home was built in 1897, a year after my former home in Portsmouth, Virginia. The gorgeous stained glass surrounding the entry vestibule delighted us. Also noteworthy were the cooked-to-order breakfast and the friendly and knowledgeable host, Barry Peters.
Double rainbow viewed from Stow Hill, looking across the street from Knoll Guesthouse. We knew good fortune would follow us for the weekend!
Belle Vue Park
Barry from Knoll Guesthouse suggested a visit to Stow Hill’s Belle Vue Park and gardens. Despite the rain, we admired the park’s Victorian-era bandstand, conservatories, and tea house, all restored but dating back to 1894.
St. Woolos/Newport Cathedral
Then we found St. Woolos (aka Newport Cathedral) which has a lovely Romanesque design. Our experience was made complete with a very talented choir singing delightful Christmas carols.
We wandered through the shopping streets in the center of town, admired Calatrava’s innovative pedestrian bridge, and purchased salads-to-go before dashing to the Newport train station, en route to Bristol Temple Meade train station.
Mid-day o Saturday, we boarded a train for Bristol.
Around Temple Meads Station
Entering Bristol via Temple Meads Train Station is always a delightfully Victorian experience. The splendor of this station’s exterior is unforgettable. I’d booked a room at a luxury hotel a short walk from the station, which would give us a place to store our bags the following morning when we checked out.
Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa
This Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa are located directly across the street from St. Mary Redcliff Church. We booked in for massages in the hotel’s spa.
St. Mary Redcliff Church
We spent several hours exploring St. Mary Redcliff Church, which was adorned with Christmas trees donated by local organizations.
Old Town and Waterfront
We walked through Queen Square and the Old City on Saturday evening, visiting St. Nicholas Market and a restaurant in the charming (but grungy) Old Stock Exchange.
The next day we retraced our steps through Queen Square as we headed toward the Watershed craft market and then walked along the quays to Brunel’s SS Great Britain (which we had not enough time to see). Heading back, we stuck to the path along the northern side of the river, so we could catch the best sun.
On the way back to the hotel to pick up our bags, we made a stop at Bristol Cathedral and listened to the choir practice.