Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘LitLovers pilgrimage’ Category

Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 7, 2012

We had a lovely lunch at the Royal Turenne Bistro (where the food was scrumptious and the waiters were friendly and helpful (and kind to me about my awful French) and then made our way to a most enjoyable afternoon at the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

This museum traces the history of the city from its beginnings to the present day and it is full of fascinating exhibits.  If you watch the slideshow you can see

  • fragments of a massive statue of Louis XIV which was pulled down during the revolution, locks of hair from the murdered royal family, the dauphin’s toys and a model of the guillotine
  • Voltaire’s chair, and a bust of him too
  • Proust’s bedroom where he did much of his writing,
  • gorgeous miniatures and lovely porcelain used to advertise wares in the days when people were illiterate (and a modern one of Lanvin’s boutique)
  • Fouquet’s glorious art nouveau cafe, and
  • memorabilia from the French Revolution.

All of this is in two lovely buildings with more than 100 rooms decorated in style from the 17th to the 20th century.  There are also two formal gardens and a kitchen garden, a pleasant place to sit and rest weary feet.

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Posted in Dining out, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Paris 2012 | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Victor Hugo’s House, Paris

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 7, 2012

On our way home now, and with just one full day day in Paris, we decided to dawdle around in the Marais, a district we have not explored before.

We marked an historic moment at the site of the Bastille, and then went to Victor Hugo’s house.   Like Dostoyevsky Hugo had many addresses, but I was content to enjoy this one which (though the street address is authentic) is more of a reconstruction of a ‘typical house of that era’ than the way it really was in his day.   The Chinese Room is very startling – not a restful room by any means, but there was interesting memorabilia including a photo commemorating the visit of Aung Sun Suu Chi.  (By coincidence, I ‘watched’ the recent film of her life, ‘The Lady’, on the plane).

You can read my thoughts about Les Misérables on my ANZ LitLovers blog.

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Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Paris 2012 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Dostoyevsky Museum, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 2, 2012

We spent our last day in St Petersburg at the Dostoyevsky Museum.

Like some of the other tours we’ve attended, the tour consists of transport provided by the tour company and the services of an interpreter who translates for the local guide.  It was like this at the Tolstoy and Chekhov estates and although I suppose it’s possible to go independently, (which may be cheaper) it has been a real pleasure to hear from local guides who are experts on their topics and have a passion for their work.

So it was today where the local guide enthused about Dostoyevsky, so much so that the interpreter apologised afterwards for not quite keeping up with her, but we didn’t mind at all.  It was a great experience to go through his house – one of many that he lived in, but this is the one that he wrote The Brothers Karamazov in, and the one that he died in, aged only 59.

The house had been subdivided during ‘Soviet Times’ (as locals call the era) but it has now been restored to the way that it would have been during Dostoyevsky’s lifetime.  They peeled off 20 layers of wallpaper and then made reproductions of the original, and they have decorated it with authentic furniture, including the author’s own desk, the one where he was working when he died.

In the children’s bedroom you can see a poignant little note from his son, and also a rocking horse – Dostoyevsky was devastated by the deaths of two of his children: his daughter Sofia died when an infant, and his son Aleksei died of epilepsy when only three.

In the study of his second wife Anna you can see her account books and her abacus where she kept meticulous records of their money.  Despite his fame, the family was often in debt, partly because he was a gambler but also because he had spent time in prison due to the political nature of his works. (Apparently Anna’s family was none too keen on the marriage because he was disreputable, but she was crazy about him so they married anyway).

There are family photographs on the walls, and in the reception room there are photos of the notables who came to visit Dostoyevsky once he became famous.  I thought it was rather sad that in the last home of an author who died of lung disease, they have kept his last packet of tobacco on display under a glass case.

There is also an exhibition of photos and facsimiles of his manuscripts, and of course, a monument outside!

Update: November 2013

I’m still scrapbooking this trip, and I’ve realised that I skipped a whole day of the tour.

It was the day we went to the Yuspov Palace, and had lunch at the Renaissance Hotel afterwards.

The Yusopov Palace is, apparently, one of 57 palaces owned by the Yusopovs but it was Felix Yusopov’s favourite.  It features a theatre, because it wasn’t respectable for princesses to attend the theatre, so they built one in-house.   The palace is famous for being the site of Rasputin’s murder, a bizarre tale, which you can read about at Wikipedia.

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Russian Museum, The Benois WingAfter that we took a walk and ended up at the Benois Wing of the ‘Russian Museum’, which is mostly 20th century Russian Art.  Here’s a link to a virtual tour of it.  

And we had dinner at the Vodka Museum, which has over 200 different kinds of vodka to try, which may be why I didn’t get round to writing about the day …

Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Gogol’s Restaurant, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

Last night we took the advice of our genial tour guide, Igor, and went to dinner at Gogol’s Restaurant.  We were told that Gogol himself lived here, (and perhaps it is true) and there are Bookish touches throughout the restaurant, most notably the menu which has been crafted like a novel.  The restaurant is composed of several small rooms, so it is like eating in a 19th century home, and the waitresses are dressed in simple 19th century costumes.

There is always a risk with places like this that are designed to reel in the tourists, that the food will be a disappointment, but no.  We dined with five of our new friends from the tour group – two fellow-Aussies from Heathmont in Melbourne, an American couple from New York, and a Professor of Fine Arts from the UK, and all of us enjoyed our choices.

I forgot to photograph our second courses (possibly because our Languedoc wine was so nice), but you can see our entrees in the slideshow below.  Ron’s little pastries that look like ravioli are white fish pelmeni; that little glass on the plate of fish is vodka with horseradish (which Tim said was delicious); the Prof had an excellent borscht, and Betsy had black ‘milk’ Siberian mushrooms.  Mine was a prawn salad with a delicious cherry sauce, and Tony’s was an excellent eggplant salad.   You can also see the scrumptious homemade breads as well.  The service was excellent, and the ambience a delight.  Good company, good Russian cuisine – what more could we want, eh?

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Posted in Dining out, Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Sergei Posad, and Kostroma Folk Dance, Moscow 26.8.12

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 27, 2012

We were met by Mikhail, a young seminarian not far off his ordination, and our tour guide Irina translated for us when his English failed him.  He was a lovely young man, still tossing up whether to become a monk or a priest, and the decision is a fateful one because in the Russian Orthodox Church priests must marry.  He is an only child, so I expect his parents would prefer the latter.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 001If he does marry, he and his bride can be sent anywhere in Russia, and it will be a case of the Lord will provide.  If he is sent to a remote village somewhere like Siberia, he will have a house to live in and a garden plot to raise vegetables and perhaps keep a cow and some chickens, but apart from that he will rely on the generosity of his parishioners, because unlike the wealthy churches of the west, the Russian Orthodox church has no funds of its own.  Tourists’ entrance fees and the permit to take photos help to raise funds for a monastery of historic significance like Sergei Posad, but there is no money to spare to support priests anywhere else.  (And it is highly unlikely that Mikhail would have a house like this enchanting one that we saw along the highway en route).

Moscow Sergiev Posad 008It’s a functioning monastery, and today was a Sunday so it was crowded with pilgrims and worshippers.  Services start at 5.30 am and continue till late in the evening, and I wasn’t the only one in our group who felt a bit like an interloper when surrounded by so many people who were there to light candles and to pray.  I felt more comfortable in the church where there were no services at the time, but I must admit that it was lovely to hear the congregation in song. Quite different to the professionals we heard yesterday, but very touching.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 020

The art works are lovely. Not all of them are originals; some are restorations, late additions and substitutes but in the end it doesn’t really matter, (or not to me, anyway).  They are lovely to look at, and they are symbols of a faith that means a great deal to the people here.  After all those years when these believers were denied their churches, when aggressive atheism meant that many of the churches were stripped of their artworks to be sold off or destroyed, and when the buildings were used as storehouses and museums, well, even a non-believer like me respects the value of these churches.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 014This rather unimpressive edifice is the tomb of Boris Godunov, the subject of Mussorgsky’s opera but also Tsar of Russia in the 16th century.  I can’t remember why he is buried here and not somewhere else, I’ll have to look it up to find out when I have more time.  but whatever the reason, you’d think a Tsar would have a statue at the very least but no, just this box which looks more like a potato storehouse to me.

Alas, I don’t have any pictures of the highlight of the day, the performance of the National Russian Dance Show, Kostroma.  The first half of the show was a series of tableaux depicting the history of Russia, and after interval there were traditional folk dances from all over the Russian federation. The costumes were gorgeous and the dancers were superb.  But if you hunt around on You Tube you are bound to find a clip.

Update (back at home)

Here are a couple of links:

It’s late now, very late and tomorrow we are off to see the Armoury and the Kremlin and then we’re off to St Petersburg on the train.  The plan is to upload this in the morning after breakfast!

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Gardens, Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Moscow 2012, Museums, Russia 2012, Sergei Posad 2012 | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Moscow 23.8.12, Tolstoy and Chekhov Tour

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 23, 2012

It is beginning to dawn on us that here in Moscow, Australians are exotic. It is standard operating procedure for us to announce our origins, lest anyone think we are Americans, and each time our announcement is met with surprise, a broad smile and an effusive welcome.  Nobody really knows where Melbourne is, and they all think we must be missing the hot weather, but they are delighted we are here, and are even more delighted to show off their fascinating country.  It’s very nice.

Anyway, today we made our pilgrimage to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s estate outside Moscow, and in the afternoon, to Chekhov’s.  The tour was excellent, and even though it was rather expensive, it is probably going to be the highlight of our trip. It was a private small group tour in an 8 seater people-mover, but Tim and I were the only tourists so we had it all to ourselves.  Perhaps the GFC is still affecting tourism, or perhaps it’s because it is coming to the end of the season, but there were none of the crowds I was expecting and it turned out to be a lovely day.  (And great weather too, warm and sunny, about 20 degrees C.)

Our tour guide was Oleg, a genial and sophisticated man whose English was excellent. (He speaks four languages). Yasnaya Polyana is about 200k from Moscow along the dead straight M2 and apart from the occasional clusters of dachas, the landscape is flat and monotonous.  But Oleg kept us interested with chat about all kinds of things, from the social and economic changes in Russia since the transition from the Soviet system, to the battlefields of World War II.  He often takes people on battlefield tours as well, and, fresh from my reading of Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (both of which Oleg had read), it was more than a little chastening to look out across the fields and forests and hear him talk about the Germans encircling a city like Tolya (a.k.a. Tula) as we drove through it, or to imagine them only 30km from Moscow before their advance was stopped.

According to Wikipedia, the Germans did occupy Yasnaya Polyana, and turned it into a hospital, but fortunately the house contents had been evacuated to Moscow, and subsequently to Tomsk, and even more fortunately the Germans didn’t destroy it, as they destroyed so many other places, when they left.  It was interesting that there was no mention of any of this by the local guide, Anna (ably interpreted by Oleg): it was as if they were not prepared to taint this most special of places with any mention of the interlopers.

Tolstoy 001The gardens and orchards are kept much as they were in Tolstoy’s day, as is the house.  You can see the building that Tolstoy turned into a schoolroom for peasant children, and you can see the fields where he is said to have toiled with a scythe alongside the peasants.  Inside the house there is the leather couch where generations of Tolstoys were born, the dining room where Sonya welcomed the guests,  and not only the desk where Anna Karenina and War and Peace were written, but also Sonya’s study where she transcribed, (and some say, edited), the manuscripts from Tolstoy’s near-illegible handwriting.  BTW the photo of the dining-room is from Wikipedia because you’re not allowed to take photos inside.

Tolstoy's parlor

Yasnaya Polyana is showing its age, and I must admit that I wondered a bit about preservation issues.  There are priceless original manuscripts, items of clothing, paintings and photographs that while sometimes stored in glass cabinets don’t appear to be in a temperature-controlled environment.  On the other hand it is very special to wander through the rooms and see in situ the desk at which the great man wrote and the books he read.  It reminded me a little of our visit to Ho Chi Minh’s house in Hanoi where there is a similar focus on the choice of a simple lifestyle and rejection of luxury on moral grounds.  It might spoil the message that these men tried to share if their homes were altered in the name of preserving them.  It is certainly very moving to meander down the pathway to the gravesite and find a simple raised mound without even a headstone.  People bring flowers in tribute and place them along the border of the gravesite instead.

Tolstoy 010Russia (Tim's) 029At the adjacent cafe we had a traditional Russian lunch – salad, borscht, grilled pork and potatoes – and then, running a bit late, we set off for Chekhov’s estate.  Even though the road was sealed it was in very poor condition so we were bumped around a bit as we barrelled along, but it was no worse than many a country road in Australia, I suppose.

Chekhov wasn’t wealthy like Tolstoy was – he went into debt to buy the estate but wasn’t able to make a go of it.  Even though the place is very beautiful I think the purchase was a bit of a mistake – he seemed to have had endless visitors and not much of the peace and quiet that a writer needs.  Still he was able to produce The Seagull there, and in the building which he took over for himself, you can see a little plaque that says (in Russian) ‘My Home, where I wrote [Uncle] Vanya.

Our guide here was a lovely lady called Tatiana, who still gets emotional when she talks about Chekhov so I think he is much loved even today. She told us all kinds of interesting things about the Chekhov family, their visitors and even their household staff, and there’s more I could tell but I’m nearly out of battery so I must stop now!

Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012, Yasnaya Polyana 2012 | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

National Gallery of Ireland & National Museum, Dublin, 5.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 6, 2010

This morning we walked downtown to the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Archaeological Museum, enjoying the crisp sunshine and the quiet streets.  In Baggot Street there are sculptures to admire, and also beautiful flower boxes on the Georgian houses that line this part of town.  Many of the houses have very impressive front doors, so much so that tourists can buy table mats that feature ‘the doors of Dublin’ (though one taxi driver told us that the reason they are all painted different colours is that when in the past they were all painted black, a drunk couldn’t distinguish which one was his, so now they are all the colours of the rainbow.)  The letter boxes, however, are shamrock green, not the pillar-box red that seem to be the norm everywhere else.  (I think we can guess why this is so in Ireland.)

Also, for the first time in my life, I saw locks.  There is a small canal nearby and these locks manage the flow of water as it flows downstream.   Locks have intrigued me ever since I read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, (which tells the story of their journey along the Thames between Kingston and Oxford in the 19th century) but I have never seen one and never really understood how they worked.  I was amused by the sign warning passers-by not to swim…

En route, we visited the Merrion St park, in search of the Oscar Wilde statue.  Dublin is full of sculptures of its famous men and women, and remarkably they are all recognisable representations of the subject.  Even when the statue surmounts allegorical whatnot, as some of them do on O’Connell St, the statue still looks like its subject.   It must be city policy to ensure that the statues can be identified by ordinary people, but if contemporary Irish sculptors are anything like those we have in Melbourne, I bet they don’t like it and would rather do something more abstract…

Before long we were at the National Gallery and it is wonderful.  Taking photos is, of course, not allowed (except in this little space between the galleries) so I can’t show you any of the wonderful paintings we saw in the special exhibition of the ‘rediscovered’  master of the Golden Age of Dutch painting’  Gabriel Metsu, but you should get some idea from this link.  He was a contemporary of Vermeer and scholars like to quarrel about who influenced whom, but who cares, his paintings were wonderful.  I like these so-called genre paintings because they are full of intriguing details like little foot-warmers or a lady’s mules tossed off beside her bed.  He paints a lot of dogs too, big ones and little ones, and many of game birds, but no cats, not as far as I could tell in what is quite an extensive collection.

There is also often a little story behind the image, as with the two adjacent paintings of a man writing a letter and his lady-love receiving it.  We know that the letter is a love-letter because there is a painting behind the seated young man and the frame is decorated with doves, and we can tell that the letter she’s received is a love-letter because her serving woman has pulled aside a curtain covering a painter of a ship on stormy waters.  This was apparently a common allegory for the travails of love in those days! 

The gallery also has a very good collection of other Dutch painters, a Caravaggio and heaps of his ‘school’, some very fine 18th and 19th century portraiture, allegorical and religious paintings, and scenes of rural life.  One particularly striking (and very large) painting was of some street urchins playing at soldiers.  I think it was called The Military Parade, or something like that, and it was a very powerful satire on the pomp and ceremony of the British occupation. I wish I’d written down the artist’s name…

After a cup of tea, we then set off for the Archaeological Museum, round the corner in Kildare St.  It isn’t huge, but that’s because they have split the collection between four separate museums.  We didn’t have time to visit them all so we chose the most interesting…

It features a wonderful collection of prehistoric finds from the Bronze Age, and there are numerous cabinets showcasing hoards of weaponry and metalwork that show the sophistication of Irish craftsmen in this period.  The prehistoric gold collections are breath-taking: fabulous necklets and bracelets, clothing clasps and so on…most impressive of all are a set of massive hollow golden balls, bigger than tennis balls, each with a hole through it so it is believed they were strung together as a kind of necklace. 

Once again we weren’t allowed to take any pictures, and sadly the website is a bit mean about sharing any images, so the only picture I have is of Tim outside on the steps –   wearing his new Irish cap.  I’m sure it is some kind of joke they play on unwitting tourists because it is constructed with a medley of different tartans….

Our adventures in Dublin have come to an end now for we are off to Bordeaux tomorrow.  Thanks to a flight cancellation by Aer Lingus we will be spending much of the day at Gatwick so there won’t be any updates tomorrow…

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Dublin Writers’ Museum, 4.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2010

We visited the Dublin Writers’ Museum today… 

Please visit my ANZ LitLovers blog to see my impressions.

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Chester Beatty Library & Dublin Castle, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

                                  

After lunch, we set off for Dublinia (a museum about Viking Ireland) but we were waylaid by Dublin Castle.   We were walking right past it and it was open – how could we not go in?  

It’s in excellent condition, and all open to the public except for the interior for which one has to book a tour.  After our long walk from our hotel and then the Trinity College tour we were too tired to hang around for that so we contented ourselves with wandering the grounds and visiting the Chester Beatty Library…    

It’s fascinating to imagine these places in use. Cold and draughty, I bet, but the people probably felt safe and secure inside as people in gated communities do today.      

The British had some sort of castle here from the 12th century, though what we see now dates mostly from the 18th.  They held on till handing it over to Michael Collins and the provisional government of Ireland in 1922, probably never imagining that they would end up relinquishing their entire Empire by the end of the 2oth century… 

   In amongst the grounds there is one of Dublin’s great treasures: the Chester Beatty Library. Beatty was an American mining magnate who liked collecting  Oriental art and books, and when he died he left most of it to the city of Dublin because he spent most of his retirement years here.  It’s an amazing collection, one of the best we’ve seen.       

Source: Wikipedia

 

On the first floor there was an exhibition of his artworks from the Mughal Empire in India (before they were conquered by the Iranians) and the illuminated manuscripts have the same charm as the medieval ones that were exhibited at the State Library of Victoria last year.  Texts were surrounded by exquisitely detailed pictures of everyday life, and the princes were shown engaged in all kinds of princely activity from riding elephants to loafing about on decorated chairs.  The colours were fresh and alive as if they were painted yesterday, and the originals are augmented by excellent computer generated closeups on the walls.      

Source: Wikipedia

 

Upstairs, the  Sacred Traditions gallery showcases Beatty’s collection of religious texts and artworks.  To see the 2nd and 3rd century papyrus of the gospels is a wonderful experience; I love all forms of ancient texts whether they are on scraps of Babylonian clay or the Rosetta stone. They all represent a supreme moment in human history when man moved on from the oral tradition to writing his ideas and memories down so that they could be passed on to future generations.      

      

There was much else: Beatty collected from all the great religions and there are texts from Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and so on. Definitely a must see attraction for anyone visiting Dublin, but by the time we reached the roof garden at the top my ankle was causing major grief and it was time to head back to the hotel.      

PS WordPress is jumping around all over the place tonight and moving my pictures and text about without any instructions from me, but I am too tired to mess about with layout! 

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Trinity College & the Book of Kells, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

We really enjoyed our visit to Trinity College and the Book Of Kells.     

Tim looking sceptical!

 

We signed up for a tour led by one of the College students, and although we have some doubts about the veracity of his anecdotes, it was very entertaining.  We were shown all over the college, including (because we were a small group) some parts not usually shown to tourists, and it really is a very impressive place.      

Sir George Salmon, Provost

 

This gloomy looking character at right, Sir George Salmon, (Provost of Trinity) we were told, was strongly opposed to the enrolment of women, declaring that it would happen ‘over his dead body’ which it did because he died four days before the first woman enrolled.  (Wikipedia says he actually agreed to it in 1901 three years before he died in 1904.)     

I’m inclined to think that our guide told us more than a whopper or two.  When he found out we were from Australia he told us that Trinity wasn’t letting The Book Of Kells tour any more since they’d lent it to Australia where something had been spilled on it.  Not true!  We checked, and there was some minor damage but that was from the vibration of the plane’s engines on the long haul flight, and not because some drongo spilled his coffee on it! I know (because I’ve read about it in our National Gallery’s magazine for members) that the procedures for the loan of art works are meticulous, and I’m not really happy that people went away from this tour thinking that Australians are careless with precious treasures on loan.  We are so far away from the great art centres of the world and most Australians can’t afford to see these works of art unless European galleries lend them to us so I would hate to think that anyone really believed what he said…     

Also dubious was his story about the unpopular professor who was harassed by some drunken students one night.  When they broke all the windows in his rooms (at left) he retaliated by firing at them and they promptly went back to their rooms to get their guns as well. A gun fight ensued and the professor was mortally wounded.  None of the students was convicted of his murder because they were British aristocrats, he said, but I bet it was more likely that all the witnesses were drunk and they couldn’t prove identity.    

What is true is that the books in the Trinity College library are shelved not by Dewey but by height. There are literally thousands of grand old books there (some of which were on display) and although now specific titles can easily be found because it’s all computer catalogued, it must have been a nightmare for the librarians in days gone by!   There are also splendid busts of various alumni including Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett, as well as other great men of letters,  (no women, of course), and a very interesting display about the British/Irish in India, some of which was quite chastening to read.   

What is also (probably) true is that the spectacularly ugly modern buildings (in the Brutalist style i.e. large lumps of concrete) have won architectural awards and that the plants which were supposed to decorate the one supposedly inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon all died because of the composition of the concrete.   

Source: Wikipedia

 

From the tour we went in to see The Book of Kells.  It’s beautifully displayed, augmented by other illuminated manuscripts because (of course) one book, even with four pages on show isn’t really enough to captivate a horde of tourists.  There was an ancient bible from the 6th century, and various other works on vellum, as well as cabinets showing the tools they used and the sources of the colours such as lapis lazuli.   

We found all this fascinating, but we’d walked a long way from our hotel to the city centre, so we adjourned for lunch to a nice pub nearby…

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »