Groundhog Day in the Terminal: The Journey Home

In which I finish exams and depart Ireland, become an overnight resident of the Philadelphia airport and eventually make it home after having my sanity preserved by the USO.

After four months in Ireland, having all sorts of academic and travel adventures, I was looking forward to going home. I knew I would miss the new friends I’d met in Ireland, the nice cool weather and the beautiful Irish landscape, but it was time for me to go back to my family, friends from home and pets. The trip back to the States turned out to be a little more interesting than I wanted, though. I finished my last exam (2.5 hours writing Japanese) on May 16, said goodbye to the people I wouldn’t see again before leaving and waited up until it was time to go catch the 4 AM bus to Dublin. At least I wasn’t alone for this part: Maddie and Sarah Eberle were taking the same bus with me. We went down to the bus stop in the misting rain and were pleasantly surprised to find that the bus was more or less on time. We dozed on the long trip to Dublin (me mainly because I was seriously motion-sick and trying not to puke) and eventually arrived at the Dublin airport where this trip began.

After saying goodbye to Maddie and Sarah, my next concern was customs. I’d never been through customs before, so I was a little worried about it. Fortunately, it turned out to be no big deal. I got through regular security just fine and went through to U.S. pre-clearance where I declared that I was carrying 8 bars of Guinness chocolate, 3 cans of Guinness, 2 packets of instant noodles, and 1 packet of Greek sauce mix. After being asked mostly the same questions about whether I had packed my suitcase myself or been given anything by strangers (answers: yes, no) the customs guy decided that my Irish souvenirs were no threat to the American people and let me go on my way. My flight from Dublin to Philadelphia was similarly uneventful, but Philadelphia was where everything would go haywire.

After getting off the plane in PA, I went to look for a departure listing to find out what gate I needed to go to. However, instead of finding a gate number, my flight was CANCELED. This was a new situation, so I tried to follow the friendly advice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (DON’T PANIC)  and went to find an information desk. I was directed to customer services for a flight change and got tickets for a flight to Pittsburgh, then to connect to St. Louis. The problem with connecting flights, though, is that if the first one is delayed, the second one isn’t much good. Which is exactly what happened. Back at customer service, Jewell the desk lady did her best to help me out and put me on standby for a flight to Charlotte. She seemed to think that it would work out, but it was not to be. When the time came, I was just about to get the last seat on the plane when some lady who had a seat booked and had just been late ran up and stole my hope of getting home. By this point I was utterly depressed and couldn’t help dropping into a nearby seat and starting to cry. The airport employees didn’t even look at me. I went back to Jewell who gave me the next possible flight…at 5 AM the next day.

My saving grace in this unfortunate situation was that my dad suggested I go look for the USO, the airport sanctuary for people in the military and their dependents. Luckily for me, I had my military ID with me. I trekked through the terminals to the USO and they let me have a bunk for the night. After trying to sleep in a chilly gate seating area, it felt like utter luxury to be in a real bed somewhere quiet, dark and safe. I got a few hours of rest and then headed out again, hoping I was finally going to get out of this weird Groundhog Day loop…but not quite. Yep, flight number 4: canceled. I got a new set of tickets for an 8 AM flight and dragged myself back to the USO. Since I was at least slightly more rested, I investigated the rest of the facilities offered there. I got a shower, some food and even a toothbrush and toothpaste. They had a nice living room type area, computers, and a movie room. It was absolutely wonderful. I was so glad to be able to go there, but also glad that someone thought of establishing something like that for military people. They do so much for their country, the least that country can do in return is make sure they are taken care of when stranded in airports.

To make this long story a little shorter, the fifth time was the charm and I made it to Charlotte, NC. I had to make a mad dash for the next gate and arrived almost hyperventilating, nearly passing out with relief that they hadn’t even started to board yet. I made it back to St. Louis at long last, about 19 hours after I was supposed to have done. But even though my return had been delayed, it just made the sight of my parents and boyfriend waiting there at the end to take me home even better. My suitcase made it back way before I did, but we retrieved it from the unclaimed luggage office (Office Guy: What does it look like? Me: Well, it has little African animals all over it… Office Guy: Oh yeah, it’s here.) and I finally got to go home.

The study abroad experience was great, it really was. But there was one thing I figured out while I was away. New experiences and places are amazing, but you can’t really just up and leave your life behind. There were a lot of times I wished my friends from home were with me to explore the Irish countryside. There were lots of animals around, but nothing replaces being able to cuddle my own cats. I missed my boyfriend even more than I thought I would. I made lots of new friends and had an awesome time, but it’s good to be home.

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Bogey’s Adventures in Ireland

In which the McKendree mascot invades Limerick

Before I left home for Ireland, the McKendree study abroad people gave me a little plush Bogey to take along and maybe get some pictures of him in Irish places. Here’s a few pictures of him enjoying some Irish sights.

Outside St. Mary's Cathedral in Limerick

A wall of souvenirs on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin

A window in the Tower near Dromroe Village. He fell out the window the first time I tried to take this picture and I had to go retrieve him from a ditch.

At the top of the Tower

Bogey chillin' with UL's own Brown Thomas

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A Europe of the Non-Irish Variety

In which Sarah, Colleen and Maddie venture to France, Italy and Greece; have things to do, people to see, shady vendors to avoid and a trade-up is made from buses to airplanes.

When I’m at home, my spring breaks are pretty unremarkable. Some people go off to Florida to swim with dolphins, some people go on the service trips my school offers to help the needy. I usually go back to my house to hang about and play with my cats. Since that’s not really an option here in Ireland, I had to make an alternative plan: going on a breakneck-speed tour of three big European capital cities.

You know, you work with what you’ve got.

Paris, France

Days: 3

Hostel: Absolute Paris

Hostel Roommate: Will

Points of Interest Seen: Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Champs de Elysees, Arc d’Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Moulin Rouge

Paris was the first stop on my trip with fellow study abroad students Colleen and Maddie. We had a long bus ride to Dublin Airport, but got through our flight with relative ease. Our hostel was small and everything about it was rather closet-like from the room to the rattling elevator. Aside from an exciting episode with a cockroach discovered in the sink (scooped out with the trash can and thrown out the window) our stay was pretty comfortable. The shower had hot water and the breakfast would prove to be the best we’d get at a hostel throughout the trip. Sharing our room was Will, a laid-back guy from Australia who had apparently quit his job to go roaming around the world. We chatted with him a little in the morning and at night, but otherwise didn’t see him much.

Our explorations of the city were mostly on foot, with some use of the Paris metro (almost always managing to get on the wrong tram or off on the wrong stop). The buildings were beautiful and the weather was too. Even the graffiti and trash in the streets didn’t detract much from the beauty of the City of Lights. With our first stop at Notre Dame, I was almost tearing up because it was so hard to believe I was really in Paris, standing in front of such a well-known monument! That disbelief kept hitting me again and again: seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo in the Louvre, our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, realizing just how big the Arc d’Triomphe really is. We even ventured out of our hostel in the evening the second day to see the Eiffel Tower at night and were in the right place at the right time to see it sparkle with flashing white lights – up until that moment, we had thought the flashing models in the gift shops were just gaudy junk, but it looked just like them!

The City of Light for a Reason

Aside from the big sights we were obligated to hit, we had other miscellaneous adventures along the way. Watching pigeons doing mating dances outside the Louvre. Maddie getting pushed out of the way by an aggressive Asian tourist taking a photo by the Venus de Milo. Wandering down a very steep, very dark and rather scary pathway through a park trying to get to the Eiffel Tower at night and practically stumbling over a sleeping homeless person. Going to see the Sacre Coeur started as just a tourist thing, but we got an unexpected bonus: walking right into Palm Sunday mass. It took us a minute to figure out why all the other “tourists” around us had foliage in their hands. We also sampled local cuisine including crepes, terrine du canard and baguettes…lots and lots of baguettes.

Welcome to Notre Dame

Incidentally, people really do walk around carrying baguettes or bags with the bread sticking out of the top like you see on sitcoms.

Rome, Italy

Days: 4

Hostel: Legends Hostel

Hostel Roommates: Tristan, Beck, “Samoa”, That Chinese-German Guy, Makeup Girl

Points of Interest Seen: Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colusseum, Pompei, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon

The main thing I can say after experiencing Rome during Holy Week is that I’m glad we weren’t there on Easter Sunday. Regardless of any opportunity to see the Pope  and his Popemobile, the crowds would have sent me into stress fits. Rome was very crowded and busy! Our first two stops, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, weren’t too bad because they were mainly large, outdoor areas. As with most areas where tourists congregate, both were clogged with street performers and people trying to hawk useless souvenir toys to the masses. We saw a guy playing “O Solo Mio” on glasses down one street by the Pantheon and shifty guys selling imitation designer handbags were everywhere. The most persistent were the people trying to get us to join tours while we were waiting in line to go into the Vatican. We (mostly) politely declined and 20 questions to pass the time.

The Trevi Fountain at night was beautiful. Colleen’s friend Katie, who had joined us for the Rome part of the trip, said that she had heard people say it was a letdown to see in person. After seeing it, none of us agreed. It was like a white stone waterfall full of statues of gods and winged horses and we stayed long enough to see the fountain lights go on, illuminating the falling water. We tossed Euro pennies over our shoulders into it, which is supposed to ensure that we return to Rome someday.

The Vatican and Sistine chapel were gorgeous, but probably my most stressful times in terms of the crowding and small spaces. It’s a long maze through rooms full of incredible statues and tapestry displays to the actual Sistine Chapel. I must say, it seemed weird to have statues of Roman heroes and gods in the Catholic capital of the world. The stone menagerie (just what it sounds like, lots of animal statues) was very cool though. The Sistine Chapel itself was surprisingly small and monitored by guards who took the opportunity every few minutes to shush the crowd and remind them of the mandate “NO PHOTO!” So of course, everyone was talking and taking pictures on the sly.

Our hostel roommates were a little more interactive this time, at least some of them. Tristan, who was actually on break from the same school that Katie is studying at in Grenada, joined us for the journey to Naples to see Pompei. Beck was an Australian teacher on her own sojourn who chatted with us at breakfast about sights we’d seen. The remaining bed in our room got a new occupant every night, starting with some guy of undetermined nationality whose name sounded kind of like “Samoa”, a guy who looked Chinese but was from Germany, and a girl who we only really saw emerge from the bathroom carrying more makeup than anyone staying in hostels should really need.

Pompei was a day in itself and required way to much time sitting on the floor of a train. By the time we got on the train, there were no seats, so we huddled in the connecting corridor between cars and had to move every time someone came out. Somehow it was still fun, and we did make it to the huge expanse of ancient, half-walls that is Pompei. We got to see some of those famous preserved people and even had the opportunity to try limoncello at a stand outside the city (sort of like highly alcoholic lemon syrup). Unfortunately most of the day was spent in transit rather than actually in the city, but it was quite an adventure.

The Quest for Pompei Completed

Our last day’s experience was probably my favorite: St. Peter’s Basilica. It was huge, so not so much crowding. The sounds of a choir singing somewhere within also kept people from being too noisy. The basilica really is magnificent, full of beautiful sculptures, a carved list of all the popes ever, and even of few of said popes in glass boxes. Go figure that one. It was even all decked out for Easter service and it was easy to see why that high dome over the altar is supposed to represent heaven.

Heaven?

Almost as exciting to us as seeing all these amazing things was the sight of a certain kind of shop, selling a certain kind of sweet treat: gelateries. We made it our mission to try five different kinds of gelato each before leaving Rome and ended up with seven or eight. My favorite was the one I had first, Ciocciolato. The prize for most creative name, though, goes to Viagra flavor gelato (bright blue, but mostly just tasted like vanilla). If you make it to Rome, look around the Pantheon for the shop that sells it.

Athens, Greece

Days: 2

Hostel: Athens Backpackers

Hostel Roommates: John (Fruit Loop) and Linda (Space Cadet)

Points of Interest Seen: Acropolis, Parthenon, Lycabettus Hill, Hadrian’s Arch, Olympic Stadium, Changing of the Guard

Athens was the shortest part of our trip, but definitely my favorite. Why? It was less crowded than Rome, cleaner than Paris and you could get a gyro and a soda for dinner for less than €3. Weather was the characteristic Greek blue sky with few clouds in sight. Athens Backpackers had helpful staff and offered a €5 walking tour, so we took advantage of that. Our guide was fantastic, telling us all sorts of neat things about the stuff we were seeing (this was the first time we’d actually taken a tour on the trip) and answering every silly question we came up with. He told us history behind monuments (like how Hadrian’s Arch is a combination of Roman and Greek style arches and the old participant democracy system of Ancient Greece) and told us where to go for fun and food. He was so nice I actually gave him a tip later even though he didn’t ask. I don’t mind when I feel it’s well deserved.

The Acropolis

We appreciated the architecture of the temples even more after the tour and later went down from Acropolis Hill to see the Changing of the Guard across from Syntagma Square. If you don’t know anything about this, search it on youtube. It’s one of the weirdest things you’ll ever see. And if you feel like laughing at the pompoms on their shoes, consider that their original function was to conceal knives.

Changing of the Guard

If the hostel was nice, our roommates this time were certainly an odd pair. Linda (40-something) seemed just a little off in the clouds and John (29) seemed kind of opinionated but okay – up until he started going off about how Obama is a Muslim and the justifications for racial profiling of Muslims. Colleen and I were afraid that Maddie was going to punch him in the face, so we suddenly found it very important to go do something ELSE. Luckily for us, they were up and away early in the morning to catch a flight so we had no further encounters with Fruit Loop and Space Cadet.

The last event of our trip was to venture out at midnight to witness Easter at a Greek Orthodox church. We found one easily (they were everywhere) and watched as the priest came out and read/chanted while people gathered in the street and lit candles. Right at midnight, the bells started chiming and loud fireworks started going off VERY close to us. They sounded like gunshots, but since nobody who actually knew what was going on was panicking, we figured we were okay. It was amazing and the perfect ending to our spring break tour.

Happy Easter

Our trip home required almost 20 hours of flying, layover and bus riding before we made it back to Limerick sometime around 4 A.M. And strangely, after being away from it for so long, Ireland seemed like home.

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Fighting With Irish (and French and Korean) Style

In which I wear a sieve on my head, no shoes on my feet and learn ever more new and interesting ways in which to assault people.

When I am not traveling or trying to survive bathrooms and shopping (although I concede to Rachel Sterrett’s point that Irish bathrooms have nothing on the Chinese for sheer dodginess) I also need other things to do to keep me from throwing eggs at people’s houses. One such activity for keeping me off the Garda’s hit list is fencing. This was a new endeavor for me, since I intended to try at least one new activity during my time at UL. Most people are familiar with fencing terms like “en garde” and “touche” but I learned quite a bit more than that in just a few weeks and even ended up attending a competition!

There are three different sword types in fencing: foil, epee and sabre. The UL fencing club practices epee (pronounced EH-pay) so that’s the style I learned. Fencing gear is called “kit” and consists of padded breeches, jacket, and glove; the sieve-like mask, long socks and a chest protector if you happen to be female. In training sessions, we donned our kit and began with warm-ups that could be anything from jumping jacks to a game involving trying to nab the gloves from each other’s pockets. We then proceeded to footwork or bladework and would usually end with some free fencing. Sometimes we also got to use “the box,” the electronic fencing scorer. The scorers have long, flexible tethers connected to a wire that runs inside the fencer’s jacket and plugs into the bell of the epee so that the scorer registers when the tip makes a hit. So fencers at competition look rather like leashed dogs or toddlers.

The competition was rather intimidating at first, but ended up being a lot of fun. I came early both days to help set up the scorers and stayed for some of the men’s competition on the first day to cheer on other club members. On the second day, the women’s competition, it was a funny thing that as soon as I got on the piste (the strip fencers have their bouts on) the whole thing seemed to get a lot easier and I did even better than I usually had done at practice. As one of the guys said, “The main thing when you are fencing people who have a lot more experience than you is to not get beaten like a cheap rug.” I’m proud to say that I was at least a slightly more upscale rug in this case. I applied all the parries (deflecting an attack) and ripostes (counterattack) that we’d learned in training and my team ended up placing second out of the four women’s teams. Our final match was very close, but the opposing team’s lefty seemed to get the better of us. Left-handed fencers are an odd breed. I wasn’t sure the competition was a good idea at first, but I’m glad I went and got a chance to use my new art.

En Garde!

Lunging for a point

To the victor goes the shiny bit of metal

Aside from learning French swordfighting, I also joined the UL Tae Kwon Do club to keep in shape a little for when I head back home. Training is usually run by Mr. Will Power, who is head instructor at a nearby do jang. The sessions are a little longer and more intense than I’m used to since there are no little kids to worry about here. Other than that, the techniques are pretty much the same, which was nice at the beginning of the semester when everything else was so strange and unfamiliar. I tried to go to training sessions two or three times a week. A couple of things are different here: some of the forms I know aren’t included in this do jang’s regime and there’s a lot more punching involved in the sparring. The forms were no problem, but the allowance of punching to the face got me a sore nose several times since I wasn’t used to guarding my head against hand attacks. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I suppose.

This week we had a “fight night” demo in the courtyard of the student pub. We came out to demonstrate some of our techniques and style along with the UL Krav Maga, Judo and Jiujitsu clubs. We were the only ones breaking boards though (Mr. Power broke several with his head) so I am pretty sure stuff was the most crowd-pleasing. People love the flashy stuff, of course. I didn’t love walking around in the courtyard with no shoes on, especially knowing how common it is to find broken bottles on the ground around here. But the whole thing went on well and I didn’t get glass stuck in my feet, which is always a plus.

Sychronized forms

Breaking

We're a rather fearsome bunch

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When in Ireland, Do as Muintir Na hEireann Do

In which are described some of the different words and things to be found on the Green Isle.

As interesting as trips and beautiful sights are, everyday things also keep life in Ireland interesting. Here are some things that it might be handy to know should you ever go to visit.

Irish Words

Footpath: Sidewalk.

Car Park: Parking lot

Term: Semester

Tap: Faucet. One of my friends in the fencing club had apparently never even heard the word “faucet”.

Sweet: Candy. Or, if you are one of my other friends from Tae Kwon Do club, “surprises”.

Fizzy Drink: Soda. You’ll also see them called “minerals” in restaurants and shops, but apparently nobody actually uses that in conversation. :P

Chips: French fries. Most people know that one, but I had to mention it.

Crisps: Potato chips.

Class: As in “That’s class”. Impressive, cool or otherwise really good.

To Let: For rent. Bathroom signs usually read “Ladies/Mens Toilet” and clever university students often scratch or black out the I in “toilet” in an apparent attempt to rent out anybody who goes in.

Cheers: Can be used like “thank you” or “good-bye”.

Ground Floor: The first floor. What we would call the second floor is actually the first floor, etc. I think this is common in European countries.

Craic: Prounounced “crack”, it just means fun. The word “crack” meaning cocaine is also in use, so just make sure you know which was meant.

Trolley: Supermarket cart.

Pissed: Drunk. Different from “pissed off”, which still means angry.

Taking the piss out of you: Teasing, but in fun.

Banter: The kind of talk used when taking the piss out of someone.

Leaving Cert/FYP: Graduation test/Final Year Project.

Laser: Credit/debit card. As in “Will you pay by cash or laser”?

Till: Cash register/check out.

Shopping

Grocery shopping in Ireland can be a complicated affair if you are not properly prepared. People from the United States are spoiled with free carts and their choice of paper or plastic.  Not so in Ireland, but read this and be prepared for anything.

First of all, you need something to put your food in. Some stores have baskets for free use, but not all. Otherwise I hope you have a €1 or €2 coin, because you’ll need it to get a trolley. The trolleys are chained together at the front of the store and you have to insert the proper coin to release one. Sound expensive just to hire a cart? Never fear: upon your safe return of the cart, just connect its chain back to the row of carts and your coin pops out again. Genius, really…you don’t see carts drifting around and putting dents in people’s cars in Irish parking lots. No basket and no change? You’ll just have to go about it the ghetto way: if food is stocked in cardboard boxes, just find one that’s almost empty and steal it to carry your items around in. I’ve done this the last two weeks shopping. >_<

Most grocery stores do not give you bags, so you had better bring your own. If you forget, you can get them at the till, but you will be charged around 40 cents for a plastic bag or more for canvas bags and freezer bags. I usually bring my backpack and a plastic bag or two. By the time you get to check out, you had better be ready to move fast. Cashiers don’t mess around and they whip items across the scanner with blinding speed. If you don’t keep up by packing items as they come across or putting them back in your trolley/box, you’ll have a few awkward minutes holding up the line while you move your stuff.

Bathrooms

Ireland is the nation of dodgy bathrooms. Don’t be surprised to find toilets that don’t flush, soap dispensers with no soap, doors that don’t close and dryers that don’t work in a lot of them. Ireland has increased my frustration with “automatic” dryers and taps due to spending even more time waving my hands around like an idiot trying to get them to function. I can’t really say why bathrooms should be so unsatisfactory regardless of where you go, but it really makes you appreciate the nice bathrooms you find in the better hotels and restaurants.

Food

 Ireland is more known for its beverages than its cuisine, but here are some interesting food items.

Wheat Bisks: Extremely dry ovals of oatmeal-like stuff sold as breakfast cereal. You’re supposed to mix them with milk I think, which results in a brown mush. All I will say is that you had better eat that because I don’t want to clean that stuff out of a bowl.

Fruit Pastilles: An interesting name which just means gummy candies coated in sugar.

Blackcurrant: A flavor that seems to replace grape or blackberry in foods like jam and candy.

Elderflower Soda: Not very common, but I did come across it in Dublin. Tastes kind of like a less-sweet version of sparkling grape juice.

Bulmer’s: A kind of cider that comes in apple, pear and berry flavors. It’s not too strong and you can get it in pubs if you don’t care for “the black stuff” (Guinness, of course). In Northern Ireland you can find a similar cider called Magner’s.

Bacon Ramen: Bacon flavoured instant noodles. What more can you say?

Brown Sauce: A condiment found in most restaurants. What is it, exactly? Well, it’s…uh…brown sauce. The taste evades accurate description, but it’s kind of like less-sweet barbecue sauce.

Soda: Is made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. In other words, Europe is full of “throwback” soda. Don’t be surprised if it tastes different.

Beef Stew and Clam Chowder: Popular “real Irish” dishes.

Digestives: Thin, crunchy cookies. You can find them plain or chocolate-coated.

Titan, Aero, Roar, Romeo, Wacko, Dreemy, Jive bars: Various kinds of candy bars. Of those listed, I like Titan (chocolate-coated nougat and caramel) bars the best.

Yorkie Bars: Another kind of candy bar, but worth mentioning on its own because the packaging is mysteriously labelled “YORKIE: It’s NOT for Girls!!” and I have yet to discover why.

Beans on Toast: A popular, easy breakfast food. Sounds weird, but actually quite tasty.

Black and White Puddings: Not your kindergarten teacher’s pudding. Black pudding is made from blood heated until it congeals and white pudding is made with pork meat, fat and suet. I just put these in here to mention that I did try them and they actually weren’t too bad.

The Irish Language

Still as much of an unpronounceable mystery to me as the day I landed in Dublin. You don’t pick up much Irish unless you’re taking the class since most people don’t actually speak it. Signs are always in both Irish and English, but without knowing pronunciation rules of Irish, I still can’t read it. While people in the U.S. seem to think they’re being “proper” in referring to it as Gaelic, most people in Ireland just call it Irish. Irish is only really spoken in certain towns or areas called Gaeltachtai where language revivalism is big. While efforts are being made to bring Irish back, the official language of Ireland is still English.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go (Part 2)

In which is given an account of a trip to the secluded hills of Glendalough and there are far too many sheep for comfort.

Trip 3: The International Society Goes to Glendalough (GLEN-duh-lock). Location: Glendalough, County Wicklow. Bus time: 8 hours

The International Society at UL is popular with international students who want to meet other international students and see some of Ireland. The first interesting trip they (together with the Outdoor Pursuits Club) offered this term was a weekend excursion to mysterious and distant place called Glendalough, which took about three hours to reach and was probably twenty miles from anything besides sheep and tiny towns. After boarding the bus, one of the society leaders (?) informed us over the multiple different languages being spoken that we were going to stop at a supermarket on our way and buy food for the weekend. No McDonald’s anywhere near Glendalough, apparently. The market turned out to be a store with the oddly German name of Lidl and there we bought snacks and sandwich-type foods. Another hour and a half on the bus brought us to a dark foresty area where we had to walk down a gravel road to our hostel. Naturally, it was raining.

The hostel was actually pretty nice once we got the jumble of  people sorted into rooms. Each room had low beds, some bunked, for 4-10 people. The bathrooms had showers with the kind of tap button you have to hold down to prevent it from shutting off and the water was generally scalding hot (okay with me; I’ve had enough bone-chilling showers in my life). But the rooms were comfortable and we could use the kitchen downstairs as long as we cleaned up after. The hostel was run by a nice man and woman whose names I never did pick up; a black cat named Cookie and a sorrow-eyed setter dog who smelled like fish could also be found running around. Breakfast and dinner were communal and just as crazy as the first night. After meals, everyone was supposed to take turns helping wash dishes and clean the dining area.

Once morning came and we could actually see where we were, the mountains (Irish mountains are rather small, but they call them mountains anyway) and lake were absolutely beautiful. The Glendalough hotel was just down the gravel road from the hostel and sheep were everywhere in little fenced pastures. Here’s what there was to see in Glendalough:

The Monastic City: A lot of gravestones and the ruins of some old stone buildings that used to be inhabited by monks in centuries past. These included what looked like a church and a tall, straight tower that was apparently used to save the monks’ treasures and writings from invaders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avoca: Adorable Avoca is home to the oldest working weaving mill in Ireland. Scarves, blankets and crafts from the mill go all over Ireland (we saw an Avoca store in Dublin) but their area of origin is pretty modest. The town was tiny and quiet with a church, a couple of restaurants/pubs, and of course the gift shop where you could purchase discounted scarves for €10, herbal “hangover comforts” and cat-shaped hot water bottles. Guess which of those I bought?

Sheep: Well…they’re sheep.

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go (Part 1)

In which several sights of Ireland are visited and described, the country lives up to its reputations for being green as well as incessantly raining, and much time is spent riding buses.

It has been some time since that last blog post, but rest assured the time has not been wasted. Most of my time during the week is taken up with classes, homework (they lied about not having much homework here), TKD and fencing clubs, and the occasional quest for fresh groceries or clean laundry. That last is particularly perilous due to the shady washer/dryers that sometimes eat your wash tokens and the Laundry Nazis (aka campus security) who lock the wash room after 11 P.M. The last few weekends, however, have been devoted to sightseeing and adventures in various parts of Ireland. These expeditions were accomplished student-style: small price, large group and loooooong bus rides. Here is presented brief descriptions of some of what the Green Isle has to offer in the tourism department.

Trip 1: “Into The West” Located in: Clare County. Bus time: 4-5 hours. Weather: Rainy

The Cliffs of Moher: High, beautiful cliffs that look out into the Atlantic Ocean. Supposedly you can see lots of stuff from them, but not on days when it’s raining (About 90% of the time). The cliffs are crazy steep with lots of little seagulls flying around and nesting on them. We had the opportunity to walk along the tracks to a couple of lookout points, including one with a little mini-castle by the name of O’Brien’s Tower on it. The guard-walls and fences along the tracks had helpful signs on them showing pictures of stick figures tumbling off of cliffs and listing the numbers of suicide hotlines. The cliffs were awesomely windy and look like some lost island or Jurassic Park.

Cliffs of Moher

 

Rock at the Burren

The Burren: A rather difficult place to describe, the Burren’s name comes from an Irish word meaning “rocky place” and that’s pretty much what it was. We hopped out of the bus and walked down over smooth, slippery, reflective rock with deep fissures in it to the edge of the ocean. These rocks were especially treacherous on such a rainy day. There were lots of shells around and big waves crashing on the rock edges. It was sort of a wild and desolate place that made me think of how a lot of Irish legends came about. 

Aillwee Cave: Dubbed “Ireland’s Premier Showcave” (by who or what, don’t ask me), Aillwee Cave is small potatoes compared to big caverns like Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, but still pretty nifty. We were taken through by a guide who had a voice nice enough for audio books and told the story of how some Irish guy found the cave when his dog ran off after a squirrel. Aillwee offers some usual cave formations like a frozen waterfall, “drinking straws,” and stalactites and stalagmites in varying states of lumpiness. We also got to see hibernation pits of cave bears that used to live there.

Trip 2: Northern Ireland Weekend. Located in: Counties Antrim and Derry. Bus time: 18+ hours.

Waterfall in Aillwee Cave

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: This rope bridge is suspended 100 feet above water and rocks, so no horseplay! The surrounding cliffs and caves were very nice as well. The bridge is actually sturdy enough, but the ferocious gusts of wind that blow between the cliffs it connects make it seem like you’re going to fall off anyway.

Dunluce Castle: Much more satisfying than Bunratty on our last trip, Dunluce is the kind of castle ruin people go to Ireland to see. We actually went into the completely roofless ruin and got to wander around through stone archways and up narrow stairs to lookout towers. There were even picnic benches inside where you could enjoy some food on a sunny day (about once a month).

Dunluce Castle

Giant’s Causeway: A strange beach full of mysteriously perfect hexagonal rocks. The creation of this place is explained in Irish legend through a fantastical myth about the giant Finn McCool. It was VERY treacherous going with the rocks being so wet, but that just kind of added to the experience. The rocks formed “staircases” and big heaps that we climbed all over while avoiding the high waves that crashed around us. Beware the darker black rocks if you want to stay out of the “splash zone”

Rocks at Giant's Causeway

 More sights described later in Part 2.

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