Today I took a bit of time to run over to Kilkenny Castle, one of the main attractions in my current town.
It was built in 1195 in Kilkenny, right on the river, and was initially home to the Pembrokes. At the end of the 14th century, the Butler clan bought it and owned it for more than 500 years; in the 1930’s, they immigrated to the USA and their family still lives in the Chicago area. The castle was sold to the city of Kilkenny by the last Butler for 50 £ in 1967.
The castle itself was beautiful and old, and the exterior is a wonderfully haunting grey limestone. I’ll have to post photos later, as I went on a bit of a whim today and didn’t have my phone or camera.
The interior is grand and much had to be restored, because for 32 years the castle was uninhabited and dry rot corroded a lot of the building. They were able to restore the family’s drawing room to a replica, and their portrait and painting collection has been preserved, too. One of the cool pieces is a huge marble table in the reception room, which was also the family’s wake table where their deceased would rest for 3 days while family and friends would come and pay their respects.
My favorite tidbit I learned on the tour was about the “pole screens” that were in the drawing room. Basically, a pole screen is exactly what it sounds like: a little screen on a pole, often decorated, that was used to shield the ladies’ faces from the heat of the fire. They would use these to a) retain their ladylike complexions, and b) prevent their make-up, with a base of wax, from melting off. We get the phrase “saving face” from this.
The other thing I asked about at the end of the tour was, of course, the ghost stories. I had this romantic notion upon coming to Ireland that I’d query every barman in the old pubs about ghost stories of the pubs and such, and so far have been disappointed. At Kyteler’s Inn, which should have some killer ghost stories,* the bartender just shrugged and said he didn’t know any. Lame. The guide at the castle, though, had a few tidbits for me. Here they are:
- Unexplained whistling, especially in the west wing of the castle
- Footsteps/sounds of running children, especially in December & January, coming from a locked room
- Seeing a woman going down one of the corridors
- This one’s the best: multiple people spread years apart have toured and said they’ve seen a man reading a newspaper in one of the bedrooms the tour group goes into.
Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted! I am noticing a trend with this…I will try to get better about it!
|Beautiful antique door handles at the Noordermarkt flea market|
Last week I was lucky to be hosted by some amazing friends, and spent more time in Amsterdam, a beautiful and historic city. Here are 5 of the things I’ve enjoyed doing the most from my trips there:
Lately, I”ve been blessed to be a guest in many homes of dear friends. I am reminded all the time how much I have to be grateful for, and the most important one of those is the love I am surrounded and supported by. Obviously, there aren’t many real gifts I can give to repay them for their love other than to return it; one of the tangible ways I can do that is to prepare some delicious food for them, and put my love into that, with the hopes that they can enjoy it. I totally support Penzey’s Spices motto: Love People. Cook them tasty food.
So, here’s an easy recipe that I’ve used among family and friends, both old and new, which was taught to me by one of the most incredible women I know, who always does things with love and care. I may have posted this before, but I find that it’s relevant and worthy of a new posting! Plus, I’ve learned a few things in the many times I’ve made it that might be important to share, too.
So, in writing this post I realize that not once but twice before I have written about this town. Once in 2007, when I visited with my study abroad roomie, and once again in 2009 when I was working in Orvieto. Both of these entries seem like lifetimes away, yet I say practically the same thing about the town in both–and also here! (I read them after I had written this post.) It’s also interesting to note the difference between my 25-year-old self’s writing and my 20-year-old self’s, although the voice is much the same. Food for thought.
|This is what it looks like from the clock tower. Sorry it’s so small.|
For those of you who have either a) known me for a while (which is to say, probably most of you), or b) seen the backlogged entries from 2007 and after about my love affair with the Umbrian hill town of Orvieto, you know this will be a difficult post to write. But, dear readers, I am always excited to spread the Orvieto love, and this weekend I got a chance to show some Tucson friends around. So I give you my top 5 recommendations for sightseeing in my dear Orvieto, especially if you’re only there a couple days.
Also, I’ll give no excuses, but I do offer my apologies for such sparse updates lately. More to come soon, I promise. Also, photos, once I get my cell phone working.
|Umbrian countryside. Just chillin.’ (Unedited photo)|
- Atatürk established a committee to change Turkish script to a Latin-based alphabet, rather than Arabic script.
- ” Atatürk” actually means “Father of the Turks,” and nobody in Turkey is allowed to use the surname. It was given to him in 1934.
- Atatürk adopted 12 daughters and 1 son.
- It is against Turkish law to insult Atatürk’s remembrance or images depicting him.
- Atatürk worked hard to promote equity for women, including in politics. By 1935, there were women serving as representatives. Women’s suffrage in Turkey took place before France, Italy, and Belgium, to name a few.
|The men’s statue group. On the left, the young intellectual, on the right the soldier, and behind, the farmer.|
|Women’s statue group. The women’s determined expressions represents the strength of Turkish women, despite Ataturk’s death (the woman in the back is weeping in grief). The wreath they are holding shows the abundance of the country.|
|A lion from the Road of Lions. These flank the road on the way to the tomb itself.|
|The flowers all over the grounds of Anitkabir were beautiful and perfectly tended.|
|Ceremonial Plaza with the Hall of Honor, where the tomb is placed.|
|The symbolic sarcophagus. The real one is down below, and there is a live-feed video of it in the museum.|
|Two of the “towers”|
|Ataturk’s ceremonial car|
|Ready for my first Turkish bath! Note the sweet wooden footwear.|
A traditional Turkish bath consists of a sauna/steam, an exfoliation and a soapy bath, all while lying down on a marble slab in the middle of a room. Other services available depend on the hamam, but you can usually get an oil massage and, on the ladies’ side, sometimes waxing or other spa treatments. We (a Turkish friend and I) opted for the basic steam/scrub/bath option, which sort of includes a mini-massage when you’re being soaped up, but not really.
The hamam we went to did a great job with online marketing, making it look like the masseuses were all these toned, attractive folk and that people regularly play music and eat while in the bath house. My friend had also heard that it was a hamam where people like John Travolta would rent out the whole thing; it was famous. That wasn’t quite the experience we had…
We walked in to the ladies’ entrance–hamams are segregated by gender–and there was a room with changing stalls that had windows (so no real privacy existed in the place, period). Prices were listed in Turkish Lire, which was probably a better sign than some of the hamams that straight up list them in euro and know the clientele they’re working with are all foreigners. Prices, though, were a bit steep (85 Lire–$47– for a basic service).
The women who were running the place were older, probably in their 60s, and were basically just wearing underwear. Gravity had definitely worked its natural magic and the rather well endowed women were completely blase about hanging out at work half-naked. Cool.
We were shown to a changing room that we shared, and were given these wooden sandal things that were more an accident waiting to happen than any kind of proper footwear, since they didn’t fit and the wood was heavy. It was easier to slide along the floor like a skier than pick up my feet and walk, so I kind of did that until we got into the bathhouse part, and then stopped using the shoes altogether.
We changed into our towels, and walked into the steam room. The room itself had high ceilings and it only took about 10 minutes for us to break a healthy sweat. The point of the steam part is to open your pores and get the sweat going, so that when you get exfoliated, more of the grime and gunk that has built up in your skin will come out.
I think even 5 years ago, I would have been a lot more uncomfortable with all the nudity in the bathhouse; it’s optional whether you want to keep your bikini on or go the way the Lord made ya. Maybe it’s maturity, or confidence, or just the fact that women of all ages and races and shapes were willing to let it all hang out, but I was totally unfazed by the skin, and I rolled how most of the other chicas in the place were rolling, too. And I’m glad about that.
Back to the bath. My friend and I chatted for awhile, getting in some valuable girl talk time that, although I love him to death, Boris cannot provide. Maybe after about 20 minutes, the scrubber lady (kecesi) summoned me to the block. See, in the middle of the room, which on all sides has water basins for washing, there is a big block of marble where the massage/scrub takes place. About 4 women could fit on this block, one on each side.
She gestured for me to start lying face down, and donned a special exfoliating mitten thing. She proceeded to scrub every part of me, front and back, with the rough mitten (called a kese) until there were huge, grody rolls of dead skin all over the place. In my defense, I’ve never had a full body skin exfoliation done, so there was a lot of grit to get rid of.
My friend told me as I was lying there, “You should have her do your face, too!” and instructed the woman to do so in Turkish. I was compliant, although I have to say that I tried really hard not to laugh when she gave me no warning and clobbered my face with her huge, mitten-covered hand to scrub it.
I was sat up and got scrubbed some more, then led to one of the water basins and doused with water to get off all the dead skin that had accumulated during the exfoliation.
Next came the soaping. Again, face down on the marble, but this time she had a soapy bag that got frothed up and lathered all over. Its aroma was sweet without being overpowering, and we definitely smelled nice afterwards.
Again, I had no notice when not only the mitten-covered hand but a soap-lathered one descended onto my tiny face. In that moment, and later, too, when she rinsed it with a bucket of water, I was grateful for the childhood games of “Let’s Hold Our Breath As We Pass By The Cemetery,” because it must have built up my lung capacity for moments like these in a Turkish bath when my keseci is possibly trying to drown me. Who knew.
Soaping over, I was again rinsed at the water tubs and told I was all done. I felt cleaner, for sure. We were given new towels to dry off as we exited. Somewhere on the price board it had said there were free teas and coffees, but we were ready for dinner and didn’t take advantage of it.
Overall, I’m really glad I went. There are upsides and downsides to going to more touristed hamams. One upside is that the staff are used to dealing with tourists who have no idea what the frack is going on, and if I hadn’t had my Turkish friend with me I would have been a lot more intimidated to do it alone.
A huge downside is just price; the really nice places, ones that actually have nice architecture to admire, are even more expensive than where we were, meaning you’d pay maybe 100 TL for what we got. We were told about another hamam where they give you a bag of your own stuff–soap, sandals, shampoo–but that place was 70 euro, not even in lire.
In 2008, Boris went to a hamam in the countryside. He paid something like 10 TL for all of what we got and a massage, and has a pretty funny story to tell about the whole experience (ask him sometime, he’ll surely share with you), but did say that the hamam was pretty dingy.
I’m still unsure as to how many Turks really frequent these places. Obviously the ones in Sultanahmet are mostly for tourists, but I’ve heard mixed things.
Have you ever been to a hamam, or another kind of bath house? What did you think?
When I agreed to go a bit out of my way to hike in the Scottish Highlands, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Scotland was on my list of travel destinations, to be sure, and hiking in the Cuillins with a photojournalist sounded pretty good, despite the fact that we had never met in person before. Turns out, Scotland is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been privileged to visit, in every sense of the word.
Here are my favorite 5 things we did in Scotland:
|View in Oban|
Isle of Skye (#1-3): Kat, my travel companion, really wanted to head for the hills on this trip. She’s an avid hiker and has summited a jillion things. I was game to try to keep up as well as I could, and so we took an early morning bus to the Isle of Skye.
|How the heck can anything be so beautiful!?|
|Clouds drifting in above the Fairy Pools waterfalls|
|After our swim in the Fairy Pools. It was COLD.|
1. Glen Brittle: Not even a true village or town, Glen Brittle is where you want to position yourself if you ever go to the Isle of Skye. It’s along only one road, at the end of which is a campground and lake reaching into the sea. We stayed at the Glen Brittle Scottish Youth Hostel, which was located minutes away from trailheads leading to some of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on. We swam in the Fairy Pools and made our way up a mountain to find a stunning lake. I think specific posts deserve dedication to what we did and saw there, so stay tuned for more on the jaw-dropping beauty of Glen Brittle. (And also, a post on how we got there…)
|Me at the Storr|
4. Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Every August for most of the month, artists from all over the world descend on Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is clobbered by tourists, performers and locals just trying to get to their bus, and acts ranging from general street performers (you know, fire eaters, magic, balancing acts, guitar) to music to mime to dance to experimental theatre to whatever the heck one can qualify as “art.” Hundreds—yes, hundreds—of shows take place, many of which are free or very cheap. If you hate crowds and the risk of hit-or-miss performances, avoid Edinburgh at this time, as accommodation prices skyrocket, but if you’re interested in the quirky, thought-provoking or plain old funny, definitely check out the Fringe. (FYI: We stayed at a great hostel, Castle Rock. Highly recommend!)
|Team USA during the Opening Ceremonies! We watched from a pub in Portree.|