Uncategorized22 May 2010 08:51 am

 

Our Salzburg hostel the first night was located just outside of the city. It was actually this woman’s house- Haus Christine, so I suppose it was a sort of B &B cross over. Since we would have to get back on the train if we wanted to go eat in the city, Christine herself suggested we walk up the road to the next village, where there was a restaurant. While we were wandering somewhat aimlessly towards the town on the side of a lonely little road in the middle of Austria, the views were absolutely incredible- the sun was just sort of setting and you could just turn around and bam- there were the alps. Salzburg is situated in sort of a valley- Haus Christine was situated on a hill up one side and the Alps provide breathtaking views on the other. It was amazing. We found the Austrian cuisine to be remarkably similar to that of Germany, and, stomachs happily full, we wandered back to the hostel-haus to head to bed.

            The next morning, we ate breakfast in Christine’s glass breakfast room- another beautiful panoramic Alp-en feast for the eyes. The mission for the day was the Sound of Music tour, which I’m pretty sure is the biggest tourist attraction in Salzburg. The guide picked us up in a shuttle and drove us to the main bus, where we joined tourists from all over the globe for four hours of Sound of Music sights, trivia, and so much more! Interestingly enough, the film itself didn’t even last a week in Austria, but, nonetheless Sound of Music and other types of tourism has become the biggest employer for Salzburg-ians. I won’t waste your time attempting to rehash every detail of the 4 hour experience, but we did see several sites where the Von Trapp villa was filmed, the famous gazebo from “I am sixteen, going on seventeen”, the church where Maria and the Baron Von Trapp were married, and of course the Alps that they crossed to escape into Austria (fun trivia fact- they had to use a double for the littlest Von Trapp because Christopher Plummer insisted she was too fat for him to carry for those scenes). And I picked up some fantastic sound of music related jokes, but those are for another day.

(tour guide) Why did the Sound of Music take so long to film? A: You can't get a Plummer to work on Saturdays!

 

Mondsee

  

            After the tour, Maura and I hopped off the bus and set out to find an internet café to book our second night in Salzburg. While standing on a street corner contemplating a map, a very kind Austrian man passed and pointed across the street- “Yoho?” and walked away. No, he was not exchanging whitey pirate jargon with the confused tourists, he was pointing out the Yoho Youth Hostel, which was to become our home for night #2! (Unfortunately this remarkable stroke of luck made us cocky, and our ideals of the simplicity of finding hostels would soon be discounted in both Rome and Florence). After dropping our belongings, we wandered around Salzburg for a while, visiting the Mirabell Gardens, a beer garden, and the AltStadt (Old City) area before calling it a day and heading back to YoHo for the night. (Our first hostel mates: girl who was never awake and angry German lady who yelled at me for not drying my hands.) Nonetheless, I slept like a log.

Guten Nacht Salzburg!

            The next day, we decided to explore outside of the city on bikes! After a bit of confusion and some helpful direction from our Sound of Music tour guide, Peter, from the day before, we found a bike rental and chose our destination- the Hellbrunn palace and gardens. We ate lunch in the park and soaked up the sunshine. Have I mentioned that there was yet again a fantastic view of the Alps? After the return of the bikes, the afternoon played out much like the previous one, a relaxing wander around. Since we had already checked out of the hostel, we had to sneak back into to take illegal showers. It’s lucky that there really was no one around because sitting in a hallway repacking all of your belongings into your newly purchased hot pink suitcase is not a very surreptitious way to make illegal use of hostel facilities. After showering, we indulged in an Austrian McDonald’s and headed to the train station to catch our night train to Florence, Italy. It was Auf Wiedersehn to Austria, and Ciao Italy!

Bike riding in Austria!

Uncategorized19 May 2010 03:00 pm

I think Maura and I caught the slowest train in Germany to Heidelberg. It didn’t help that we initially went about a half an hour in the wrong direction first I suppose. And I’m not complaining- it was fun to spend a long time on a train and nice to see the surrounding area. The villages I saw driving with Karl Heinz and on that train were all very traditional- with the orange terra cotta roofs and the whole nine yards. I loved that- I thought it was one of the neatest parts about Germany- all the small little villages. We did get there eventually, safe and sound. We’d researched the first couple hostels before we left Oma’s, so we were headed to Stefi’s Nature and the City Hostel. Not a bad place to start out considering we got the double room and I had a double bed all to myself. Not exactly the authentic backpacker roughin’ it lifestyle, but I figured it was best to ease oneself into the hostile-er hostel – environment.

View from Heidelberg Castle Heidelberg Castle from the outside

Heidelberg’s is a small city in the west of Germany. Its main tourist-y features include a student prison, a neat old market place, an old university and a really, really cool castle. We spent a good few hours just walking around the castle and grounds. We had this tour guide that looked like Mary Poppins, which I found highly entertaining an informative, because without her I would never have known that Heidelberg Castle is home to the world’s largest barrel, which used to store wine, but now lays empty. Heidelberg was also where Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. I remembered all of the important parts of course, for the benefits of all my readers…and all my friends and family, but, I suppose they are one in the same…

Downtown historic Heidelberg

We had a lovely German dinner on the old market place and had McFlurrys for desert, which start the trend that we would eat at a McDonald’s in every country we visited. I don’t really eat at McDonalds in the US, so I really don’t know why it was that this became such an important highlight to me, but nonetheless, we stuck to our guns and persevered. I think German McDonald’s will remain my favorite… but that could be because someone tried to pickpocket me in Rome, which caused Italy to lose out on the title- but that’s a story for another day. Maura and I had plans to spend the evening playing cards, but were interrupted from doing so by field geologists from Australia who wanted to go out for the evening. Heidelberg on Easter Monday is a pretty tame place, so we just sat and talked. One was Canadian and one was actually Australian and they were going traveling for the year. They made for pretty interesting conversation- it’s sort of strange atmosphere, the whole hostel thing, where you meet people knowing that you will never see them again. We left early the next morning, said farewell to the geologists at breakfast and hopped back on the train. The hills were alive with the Sound of Music and beckoning us to Salzburg, Austria!

The sun sets on the Germany!

Uncategorized18 May 2010 02:55 pm

Hohe wart Haus : Ihr Ausflugslokal mitten im Spessart

(Our local excursion in the middle of the Spessart [woods])

My mom and me outside of the Hohewart-haus

Now, my whole life, I’ve been hearing about the Hohewart Haus. The Hohewart Haus is my mom’s ‘adopted’ family’s restaurant in the middle of the woods. Ok, that is an exaggeration, I have not been hearing about it my whole life, but my parents do speak of it on a fairly regular basis. At any rate, I was excited to go. When we got back to Oberbessenbach with Rosi and Richard, it was decided that that was our destination. Even Oma came with us, which was a very big deal. Oh, and she may be in her upper 80’s, but even Oma had one of the home brewed Hohewart Haus beers. The restaurant is a Gasthaus, which is sort of a tavern, restaurant, and lodging rolled into one. It’s owned by Herbert, the third and final of Oma’s children and he gave Maura and me the official tour, with Richard serving as translator. By the end of the European trip, Maura and I estimate that we’ve been to about 5 or 6 breweries. Although I should have the beer-making process memorized at this point, I can’t quite remember how it goes. I can, however, remember Herbert/Richard’s translated description of the chemical process- “The yeast eats the sugar and shits the alcohol”. Yep, yep- I’d say I learned quite a bit in Germany. In addition to beer, which I gazed/sipped upon with a completely new perspective after Herbert’s chemistry lesson, there was delicious, gastronomically twisting heavy, homemade, authentic German food. I recommend fasting for a day or two before attempting consumption. People will go on long walks through the woods to get the Hohewart Haus (Spessart woods, to be specific)- and I think I’ve discovered why. You need some serious exercise after attempting one of those meals.

Hohewart Haus all decorated for Easter festivities!

Other uniqueness of the German dining atmosphere at the Hohewart Haus? Well, for one there is a tree growing in the middle of the restaurant. For another, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your dog along to dine with you. That and everyone seemed to know each other. The waitress was like a member of the family, and the grandkids (9 and 11) helped to shuttle dishes from the kitchen to the table. However heavy the food, I loved the German dining atmosphere. It just seemed so communal and relaxed. I wish I could convey it a little better, but I suppose there are limits to the sensational experiences I can express through my furious laptop-key pounding.

Herbert, the Gasthaus owner and grandson Manuel searching for Easter eggs!

Easter Sunday followed in much of the same fashion as the previous night. Of course, my mother couldn’t let tradition slip and Maura and I still got Easter baskets. I suppose beer steins aren’t exactly the typical Easter chocolate vessels, but somehow Maura and I survived. It’s just too bad I’m only 19 and those beer steins will just have to collect dust for another year and a half… We drove back out to the Hohewart Haus and there was an Easter egg hunt for Herbert’s grandchildren. Grandpa (Opa) sent them on a rather entertaining 10 minute hunt on the wrong side of the road, which the bystanders/photographers (Maura and myself) found rather entertaining. Don’t worry, the kids got their chocolate eventually. The restaurant was packed for Easter Sunday – apparently the Easter walk through the woods to the midday meal is a big deal. Maura and I played with the youngest grandchildren and I attempted to talk to the slightly older ones in my very limited German. Luckily the little ones couldn’t speak much more German than Maura or I (meaning that they couldn’t really speak at all), so that worked out very well. We ate another massive German meal and said goodbye to everyone, then Karl Heinz took us on driving tour #2.

Couldn’t tell you where we went, but we passed through this massive vineyard, saw some cool regenbogen (rainbows) and quite a lot more over the course of the three hours. I think I’ve seen quite a lot of Germany with all this driving…

3 hour tour of the Deustche countryside

The next morning, we drove to Frankfurt with my Mom and hopped on a train to the first destination on our own travels- Heidelberg!

Uncategorized17 May 2010 10:04 am

Next up was Cologne, Germany. After an hour or two spent trying to figure out the rail system (for the record, it was Good Friday – the timetables get all switched around, a secret unbeknownst even to many of the employees, apparently, in particular, all of the employees we attempted to ask). So we got to the Bahnhof, (German for train station) in Cologne slightly behind schedule. We were supposed to meet my Mom’s friend Rosi. One little problem- I’ve never met Rosi and had no clue what she looked like. Cologne’s a pretty big city, too, so the chances of us meeting up by chance in the massive train station seemed pretty slim. After a minor panic attack, I finally figured out how to call her and she designated a meeting point, to which Maura and I stayed glued to for a half an hour until this small little German woman called out, “Lindsay?” and I turned around to have said small German woman throw her arms around me. These Germans, I tell you, were just the nicest people!

Die Dom in Cologne!

With Rosi, we got the express tour of Cologne. I can’t tell you half of what Rosi told us because she moved at light speed and I had to practically jog to catch up with her. She showed us the Dom, the famous cathedral; the Rathaus where JFK spoke years ago;  told us about Karneval, the massive Lenten celebration that the city is famous for; and took us up a huge tower with a panoramic view of the city. Cologne was different from all the other cities we visited- alright, all of the cities we visited were different, but I’m trying to make a point, so go with it- anyway, it was different in its since of pride. The people have such passion and loyalty for the place they live- there is a Kolsch beer and a special Kolsch way of drinking it, and so much Cologne paraphernalia it blew my mind. The city was still, to me, incredibly overwhelming and I don’t think I would ever consider living there, but it was fascinating to visit. Oh and the street culture- all the performers and musicians and artists, was more prolific than I have seen in any other city. It seemed that everywhere you turned, there was someone dressed up in costume, or recreating the work of a Renaissance artist in chalk, or playing an instrument. Such a lively atmosphere! That, in combination with the Rosi Schute express tour, wore me out, so I was rather grateful when we got to head back to her house for dinner!

Street performers

  

It was there that I met Richard, her husband. Three things to know about Richard: 1) He likes his motorcycles- a lot. He has two. 2) He likes red wine- a lot. He has a ‘hobby room’ in his basement, which is a temperature regulated cellar that is solely responsible for housing red wines from around the world. 3) He won Rosi’s heart by his ability to eat a brotchen (a hard, fist sized breakfast roll) in one bit. Unfortunately, he did not perform this talent for Maura and me, but, nonetheless, I still believe the legend. We also met her daughters, Lisa and Maria, and Maria’s boyfriend, Daniel. They all speak incredibly good English, thank goodness, and we talked for hours. I think to say that was the funnest night in Germany would be both grammatically incorrect, and would undervalue the rest of my time spent in Germany, but it was definitely up there on my list of favorites.

The next morning, after a breakfast of brotchen and MilchKaffee (in which we all ate our brotchen in multiple bites), Rosi and Richard drove back to Oma’s with us for the Easter Saturday and Sunday celebrations.

Uncategorized15 May 2010 03:27 pm

First Lessons of European Travels

 1. Research you are going [Better]:

2. Don’t take number one lightly

3. Buy appropriate luggage

*** A Northface backpack a piece plus the black bonus bag is not sufficient. This may cause you to have to purchase a hot pink suitcase because you get tired of lugging the stupid bulky black bag that you only have in the first case because your suitcases were 16 lbs. over the limit when you came to Ireland.

4. Establish a budget. The parents who will bail you out and fund your gallivanting through Europe will especially appreciate this.

5. Book hostels ahead of time. Failure to do so may result in you finding a lodging in which past residents warn of the mold that you can smell in your sleep

6. You can’t do it all. Best to make the most of what you can do.

7. You will get tired and the bad days are inevitable. Maintaining a positive perspective is important.

8. Your parents once told you not to talk to strangers. However, if you don’t talk to strangers, you will get bored fairly quickly and miss out on enlightening conversations. Nonetheless exercise your judgment and do not talk to sketchy looking individuals

9. Capitalize on as many free things as possible: i.e. free hostel breakfast, free chocolate samples, free attractions, free lodgings from your mother’s wonderful German family, etc.

10.  Be aware of your surroundings and have fun!

We left Dublin on March 29th. It was snowing. Snow follows me everywhere. Not only does it Never snow in Ireland, but it also never snows in March. Luckily it did not hinder travel plans and we made it to the Frankfurt airport safely. My parents were on a different flight, and the German airports have these really great “Treffpunkt” (meeting point) that we had planned to meet up at. Two hours after the intended meeting time, however, both parties- my parents as well as Maura and I, were rather concerned. I believe that my mom actually had us paged on the airport intercom system. Eventually, we somehow figured out that there were two terminals and the whole debacle was sorted out and we went to go get lunch.

Castle where we ate lunch in Aschaffenburg

            After a German meal in SchlossJohannisberg (Johannisberg Castle in Aschaffenburg, we drove to Oberbessenbach, where my mother lived for several years and where my adopted German Oma lives. This was my first opportunity to encounter a language barrier. Oma speaks no English. I speak a little, my Dad speaks even less, and my Mom has enough of a vocabulary to get by, but never bothered with grammar, so she sounds like she’s about 5. Maura speaks absolutely no German. But somehow, we all managed to get by. Mainly because Oma would just sit there and babble away in German- regardless of whether you understood her or not. The essential topics of conversation were, for all you non-German speakers out there:

–           “Kuchen?” (Do you want cake?)

  • Response: Nein

–          Gute Schlafen? (Did you sleep well?)

  • Ja, ja!

–          Guten Morgen/nacht/tag! (good morning/night/day)

And that’s how things went for a while. Oma’s son, Karl Heinz, took it upon himself to play host to us, since Oma is very old, and we saw the greater Oberbessenbach area on our first 2 hour tour, which included a presentation at the town hall  (Rathaus) of the area on Googlemaps and a tour of Karl Heinz’s house.

Me, Maura, and Karl Heinz at gastthaus dinner! Oberbessenbach - picturesque German village!

 

            Day 2 of Germany with my parents began with a drive to Nurnberg, a medieval walled city that was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the 1960s. It had a wonderful market place, where, my mother, Maura and I found things to buy and my Dad found things to complain about. After a German lunch of bratwurst and desert of Spaghetti Eis (vanilla ice cream in the shape of spaghetti with strawberry spaghetti sauce and white chocolate “cheese” topping- I have no idea why this is such a big thing in Germany, but it was delicious :), we drove on in attempt to find the church where my parents had been married. (This is how that went: “David that’s it!” “No Gayle, that house wasn’t there when we got married” “Oh, I guess you’re right, let’s keep looking” [drive on for 20 minutes] “David, I think that must have been it” “Yeah, I suppose they could have built that house in the last 27 years, must have been it”[turn around and go take pictures]). Then we went to Rothenburg, another medieval walled city, where we were staying for a night.

My parents and I in Nurnberg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

            We met up with my mom’s best friend and spent the following day in the city, wandering in and out of shops, visiting a slightly boring medieval crime museum, and partaking in the consumption of Schneeballin, which are these pie crust fried balls covered in chocolate or sugar or whatever you chose. After that adventure, we drove back to Oma’s for a little longer. It didn’t take too much time to realize that another 4 days at Oma’s were probably not ideal for Maura and myself, so my Mom and I formulated another plan. The next day we decided that Maura and I were going to go to Rosi’s, another one of Oma’s children, for a night in Cologne, Germany! And this was where the train adventures began!

Uncategorized11 May 2010 10:51 am

I’ve managed to put off writing this blog entry for as long as possible now. I got back to Cork on May 1 after my month of travels, then hit the books hard for two exams I had last week. Now, however, the next exam is not until the end of the month, and I am suddenly finding myself with a surplus of time on my hands and I should put off blogging no longer.
It’s not me being lazy, I promise. I think this blog has been the most enjoyable school credit I have ever done, really it has, but I just don’t know where to start. I kept a journal for my month in Europe, to serve as a cross-reference for this blog, and so I can have “The Notebook”-style moments with myself in my old age. The journal is over 75 pages long, and it is accompanied by about 1,100 photos. But the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to realize that I could spend hours typing out word for word what I did, where I went and what I recommend, and do this blog up Rick Steves’ style, but I think in doing so I might overlook the most crucial parts. On the way home, and on our last couple days traveling around, Maura and I talked and I thought a lot about all the things we’d done. There really are no words to describe how truly amazing it is to have an experience like this. I have learned what it’s like to see the world from another perspective, to see my own country from another perspective. I’ve learned about the Coliseum, the Sound of Music, refined my German and learned that it needs a hell of a lot more refining, learned how to negotiate train travels through France, how to make Belgian beer and chocolate, and how to get through UK border patrol with a slightly illegitimate train pass. I learned that the best lessons are the ones away from the chalkboard, and that at the end of the day, it’s not really up to a school or an institution to educate you (no offense, Mary Wash or UCC). It’s up to yourself to decide how much you really want to learn from your teachers, from your parents and from your friends, and from the everyday world around you.
The most important lesson I think I did learn has been just how much is still out there to learn. That, and that I should appreciate minute of it. Thanks Mom and Dad for everything. I’ll never be able to tell you just how much all of this has meant.
But I’m done being a sap for now. So, without further ado, let me present the German, Austrian, Italian, French, Belgian, and English travels!

Uncategorized28 Mar 2010 08:58 am

Well Folks, Friday was my last class in Cork. I now have the month of April off before the exam month in May. With three finals in four weeks, I’m looking forward to some quality bloggin time to tell you all about the academic side of my travels here, which I will openly admit to have neglected. But that will all have to wait for May. Because tomorrow, I begin the big trip- the one to Europe! My parents flew in yesterday (due to time zone changes plus Irish daylight savings time, I think they are a bit exhausted- this is find it gives me the opportunity to be a bloggin’). Tomorrow afternoon we’re leaving for Dublin and we’re all flying to Germany, where I will get to meet my mom and dad’s German family and see all of the places the loved when they lived there. They leave us on April the 5th, then the backpacking adventure begins!

ITINERARY

March 30: Depart from Dublin with Mom & Dad
March 31- April 4: Germany with the Cutler’s
April 5: Mom leaves; we leave for Heidelberg
April 6: Heidelberg
April 7: leave Heidelberg
April 8: Salzburg
April 9: Salzburg
April 10: leave Salzburg Arrive in Venice
April 10- 16: VENICE with Meghan!!!
April 16: Leave Venice, go to Florence
April 17: Florence
April 18: Florence, leave Florence, go to Rome
April 19: Rome
April 20: Rome
April 21: leave Rome, go to Naples and Pompeii
April 22: Naples
April 23: Naples, leave Naples, go to Pisa
April 24: Pisa, leave for Pisa (at end of the day) and go to Paris
April 25: Paris
April 26: Paris
April 27: leave Paris, go to Brussels
April 28: Brussels
April 29: Leave Brussels, head to London
April 30: London
May 1: Leave London, head back to Cork

I’m looking forward to the hotel in Venice with Meghan, and to- ok, basically I’m looking forward to EVERYTHING! It’ll be a busy, busy month, but I think it will fly by! I’ll leave it all there, I suppose and will say good bye for the next month. I’ll keep track of my travels for sure, though, and bore you with them when I return!

Slan Leat!

Uncategorized25 Mar 2010 12:51 am

            In an experience like no other I’ve had yet in Ireland, Maura and I went home with our Irish roommates this weekend. For the most part, I’ve written just about the out-trips we’ve taken from Cork on the weekends, but I’ve neglected to mention some of the most enjoyable times we’ve had, where all of these lovely trips have ended- in the kitchen of Apartment 19 with Emma, Fiona and Mairead. Accuse me of not taking full advantage of the night life and legal drinking age, not to mention the off-license (liquor store) down the street that delivers, but I have spent many a night sitting around drinking tea (eating chocolate), and just talking in the kitchen. And I swear I have learned more in my 3 months with them than in any classroom. Maura and I could not have been luckier than to end up with them. I’m not exaggerating, I’m just being cliché- the time spent with the five of us is what I think I will remember and miss the most when I leave in just two months.

            I got to see a different side of them this past weekend, though. The Irish girls took us home to meet their parents. Friday and Saturday we spent in Fermoy, in County Cork, with Fiona where both she and Mairead live. Sunday Fiona’s mum drove us to Waterford, where we spent the day with Emma (home of the crystal- or it was, but the worldwide economic slump has impacted the crystal industry and unfortunately the factory is closed until further notice, but that is another matter entirely and irrelevant to my weekend spent with the girls). All three girls live up to the Irish agricultural tradition and live on family farms. I don’t know what I expected, but their families were absolutely wonderful people- they welcomed us with open arms- literally, both Emma’s and Fiona’s mothers greeted us with hugs. (And although I will get to see my own mum in just a few days when she and my dad come to visit, it was really nice to have a bit of motherly love after 3 months!).

            Fiona took us all around her town and we got to hang out with all her friends, including Mairead, who she grew up with, in town. Friday night? Not that atypical- out to dinner, and then for a drink at the local pub before going home for a cup of tea. It wasn’t that different than what I would do in America, but I found it all really interesting, entertaining- I was just content to sit back and see what her everyday life was like. Saturday, we saw her farm and had dinner with her family (yes, yes there were indeed potatoes served 😉 and went to see one of her friends play the drums for a benefit at a pub in a nearby village. That was another experience altogether- we walked into the pub and instantly it was like everyone’s heads turned and they knew we were outsiders- and not just us, Fiona and her friends from Fermoy didn’t fit in either. I was used to standing out in a crowd here with my Northface jacket and lack of boots and jeggings (jean-leggings, the latest fashion trend), but this really opened my eyes to the regional differences and fierce local loyalty that characterizes Ireland. I live in Northern Virginia- an area where local regional distinctions have been blurred; I couldn’t tell Burke from Springfield from Fairfax- but in the pub in Araglin, just 20 km away, there was definitely a unique character, distinct and unique from that of Fermoy. In such a small country, there is still remarkable diversity. It would be more than a bit ignorant to complete write off Ireland as being uniform, but I still find the regional differences, from the accents to the houses and land

            We got even more of a taste of the diversity of Ireland when we met Emma. We drank tea with her mum and dad and drove all around the county- to Waterford city; to Dunmore, a beachy town; to meet her sister; to a trail in the woods and an old stone tower that offered an amazing view of the five counties that connect to Waterford. I think I’ve seen a lot of Ireland on all the bus trips, but it was really cool to be with Fiona and Emma in a car (oh, how I miss my Ford Taurus!) – I think you see things in a different way when you are whipping along down those narrow country roads- you are just closer to it all. We ended our day back at Emma’s farm (Emma has a dairy farm, with cows for milking, while Fiona’s dad raises cattle to be eaten) and her mum cooked us dinner as well (again, potatoes were served- I told you I had an authentic Irish weekend, didn’t I?). We drove back to Cork with Emma Sunday night and headed right to bed, visions of cattle and Irish countryside dancing through our heads.

(Lack of photos=  Maura took ‘em all, I kept forgetting my camera!)

Uncategorized22 Mar 2010 03:59 pm

Doubling up on the school sponsored trips last weekend, I went on UCC’s “Ring of Kerry Heritage Weekend” this past Friday through Sunday. Biggest highlight? Two delicious 3 course meals. And we stayed in a hotel! With a pillow top mattress, hot shower, and 2 pillows!

            But really, besides the accommodation, the trip was wonderful. The Ring of Kerry, in case you don’t feel  like Wikipedia-ing it, is a world-famous 100+ mile driving route in south-western Ireland. Full of fantastic scenery, gorgeous lakes and ocean, and breath taking views, it was a definite must-see in the Study Abroad Ireland Experience. The woman leading the trip, Marian, is a spoken Irish- teacher at UCC, and was from the Kerry area. She seemed to know everyone that we came across and really tried to give us an authentic Irish cultural experience.

Skellig Islands. Isolated ancient Christian heritage sites- pretty cool!

Night #1, for instance, began with the aforementioned delectable dining experience, followed by a talk by Maurice Fitzgerald, a famous Kerry Gaelic footballer, who explained the game and brought along his nine year old son to help teach us some drills. After Maurice, we hs a group of musicians that played while we had a Ceili (pronounced Kaley) Irish dancing class. After working off the dinner, we went to bed to be up early the next morning for the Skellig Ring Tour. The first stop on this more off-the-beaten path area of Kerry was Valentia island, where we stopped at the world-known Valentia slate quarry and took a walk up a mountain with a farmer’s family. Valentia Island looks out on the Skellig Islands and is home to the Skellig Experience, a World Heritage Site. The Skelligs, which were too much of a journey out to see for our group tto go on in our limited time table, were inhabited in the 8th century by Monks looking for complete solitude, which they found (their only company were the massive bird colonies), at least for a while, until the Vikings invaded in the 13th century. We hopped back on the bus (we were on a rather tight schedule) to see Ballinskelligs, where Marian grew up and where her mother (who we got to wave to) still lives. To say it was a lonely area isn’t quite right, because, although the area is very rural, the sense of community that I felt was remarkable- there were so many locals that we got to interact with and that were willing to come meet us as a favor to Marian, one of their own. It was eye opening to see such a different way of life.

The Ballin'-Skelligs. Waterfront view AND a castle? I'll take it!

After an afternoon free to ourselves, another speaker was on Saturday evening- a woman who told us about her life growing up in South Kerry, a large part of which she grew up without electricity, speaking Irish, and attending all of her school years in a one-room school house which required each student to bring in daily a piece of peat for the school fire. After listening to her speak, we were offered a Q and A. Reluctantly, I raised my hand and asked how old she was (in hopefully the politest way possible-  I think that even in Ireland it is a social norm violation to inquire as to a woman’s age). She was 60. Just miles from where our Ring of Kerry Hotel sat, she had lived without electricity for the first 9 years of her life. Do the math- Southern Ireland didn’t have electricity until nearly 1960. And some regions went without until even the 70’s. It’s not a backward area, either. It’s just a different way of life- a simpler way, more personal way of life. Sure they exist in the Internet Age, yes, they have cell phones, but, unlike me, they just don’t spend hours social networking. Their Facebook is the local pub. I can’t really compare it to my way of life- neither better nor worse- just different. Hearing and seeing all that firsthand was probably my favorite (although I remain ever reluctant to use superlatives here) part of the Ring of Kerry weekend.

Table Quiz- still "studying" abroad, even at a pub. It's dedication.

Cahersiveen harbor view from the stone forts

But there was still Sunday. After a table quiz, in which I unfortunately did not succeed in winning the Skellig chocolate prize with my fellow teammates on Saturday night, most of us (those who had not had one too many table quiz pub beverages) left early Sunday morning for a walk around Cahersiveen and up to an ancient Stone fort. We took the rest of the trip in a rather speedy fashion- we met up with students from Galway on the trip and were tightly pressed for time to get them back to the bus station in Kilarney. But we made a few photographing bus stops with commentary provided by the knowledgeable Marian, and visited Daniel O’Connell’s- who is famous for winning Catholic Emancipation for Ireland house in Derrynane. We returned to Cork 5:30 on Sunday, and collapsed in the kitchen of The Spires Apartment 19 with a cup of tea- satisfied and sleepy.

County Kerry

Uncategorized11 Mar 2010 11:14 pm
 

The most recent expedition in the adventure of Irelandia was to the west of the country on a school-organized trip to Galway! We left on Saturday on a bus with the International Student Society and our first stop was Bunratty Castle and folk village. People joke about there being a ton of castles in Ireland, but really, where in America we see trees or more lanes on the side of the highway, in Ireland you see castles- there really are loads of  ‘em! Bunratty, was admittedly, a particularly cool one- I largely accredited the bouncy little Irish tour guide who was absolutely ecstatic about the wonders of the 15th century castle!!

  BUNRATTY CASTLE

Bouncy Little Irish Tour Guide!

We hoped back on the bus after Bunratty (try saying that three times fast!) and headed towards destination Numero Dos- The Cliffs of Moher, the Irish tourist destination short listed for the 7 New Natural Wonders of the world. It might sound rather anticlimactic to describe it but imagine standing on the edge of a 700 foot drop straight into the Atlantic. They were pretty awesome- and allowed plenty of opportunities for Titanic-esque moments, in which many of our American travel partners partook in.

The Windy, the Cold, the Epic- The Cliffs of Moher!

We spent both Saturday and Sunday night in these little white cottages with red trim and red barn doors. There picturesque-ness made up for the fact that the heating in them ran on 2 Euro coins that you had to put in every hour and a half for heating. We were miraculously gifted with a clear weekend in Ireland, which, combined with the rural Connemara locale made for the brightest stars that I think I have ever seen. Other than the light from our cottages, the whole area was pitch dark. I also had to get up at 6:30 to take a shower (6 girls all showering in the morning = limited supply of hot water), so I got to see a heck of a sunrise. The cottages were surrounded by water on both sides, so it really was beautiful.

  CONNEMARA SUNRISE!

Sunday was Aran Island day. Armed with my antimotion sickness bracelets, we boarded a ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands and took a bus tour with our group around the island. The region is primarily native-Irish speaking and the islands are thought to be very “authentically Irish”- our guide pointed out several famous thatched roof cabins and a woman we met in a wool shop told Maura and I how Amy McAdams had been there a few months back to film “Leap Year.’ Inishmore is topped by a nice 2,500 year old fort-Dún Aonghasa , which sits on the edge of cliff and basically feels like the end of the world. The Aran Islands are also home to the authentic Irish Aran wool sweaters, which I found rather exciting… and did a large bit of souvenir shopping! The last place we stopped on the bus tour was at a lighthouse- the Western most point in Ireland- possibly- (apparently our tour guide was out of practice- Irish tourism season just began in March, but he claimed it was the last stop before New York City!)

  CONTEMPLATING THE EDGE OF THE ATLANTIC…

   SHE KNIT MY HEADBAND HERSELF!

After the tour, we rode the ferry back (with some dolphins and seals alongside) to the mainland and back to the Connemara cottages. Monday, I enjoyed sleeping in through the Irish step dance class I should have been in back in Cork, and spent a few hours in Galway city before heading back home. To say any one place is my “favorite” in Ireland feels like a little smallminded- like I’m trivializing everywhere else, but suffice to say the Aran Islands  were most certainly beyond breath taking!

From the top of Dún Aonghasa

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